Man, have I ever been so spoiled these last two years. I have been mostly hiking out west and those trails are practically sidewalks compared to the shit storm of ruggedness that I threw myself into here in Maine. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. ALL of it. But it is a whole different beast. Especially here in winter (albeit mild but most December Maine standards). I remember Maine’s beauty when I hiked the Appalachian Trail just back in 2013. It really wasn’t that long ago. But you all too easily forget the ruggedness of it all. I budgeted 7 days through the 100 Mile Wilderness 15 miles per day. I literally lost a whole day within the first 3 days. 10 miles per day was a struggle during the beginning of it. I had basically 10 days of food (which I consumed in 9) and had all the winter gear that I thought I might need. Snowshoes, ice ax, crampons, micro spikes. I had no idea what to expect from the 100 Mile Wilderness in winter. Hindsight will always and forever be 20/20, always. My legs are strong. They could handle the weight of all of it. I think my pack tipped the scales at around 60 pounds the morning I set out from Monson. But what I couldn’t account for was my slow pace over that terrain WITH all that weight. I just couldn’t foresee it. So really the 100 Mile Wilderness was like my tune up hike for the rest of the trail, haha. Now, THAT’S planning. The most remote and one of, if not thee most, rugged stretches on the entire trail was to be my tune up hike. Pretty ideal.
But if there is one thing I have always been good with in my life is rolling with the punches and taking it all in stride. So that’s what I did. I just kept one foot in front of the other. And then the fords hit. My plan beforehand (and I did legitimately no research on other people’s methods for safely doing this) was to just strip down on my lower half and cross all fords either barefoot or maybe with my neoprene socks on (these are actually my vapor barriers too). The first ford went pretty smooth. It was snowing on me on the first day and it was close to sunset. There was ice and snow all around. I realized that this was crazy what I was doing. But you can’t stop for too long and I didn’t let myself get psyched out. I just did the damn thing. Once I dipped my feet and legs in it hit me like a ton of bricks. Freezing cold. I powered to the other side as fast and safely as I could. Using my trekking poles to steady my balance as I fought the current over top of large slippery rocks under the water. It came about thigh deep. My legs and feet were numb well before I reached the other side. I got out safely and threw everything on as fast as I could. It took about a mile or two before I could feel my feet and toes again but I never felt like I was in legitimate danger of hypothermia or frost bite. Just had to suck it up for a little bit. The next ford was Big Wilson Stream in the dark. I don’t even wanna get into it too much. But there is a rope that goes across the whole stream. It’s a wide and swift current. The rope was too high to reach. Usually someone is on shore to help pull it down for you. I didn’t have this luxury. In the dark I couldn’t really see my footing even with my headlamp on high. I took two minor spills in while losing my balance on the slippery rocks. One I caught myself with my arm as my hand braced me on the bottom of the stream. The whole arm was drenched. Rain jacket and all layers underneath. The second spill I caught myself with my trekking poles but not before my whole ass went under. Getting my merino boxers soaked. Again I just threw my stuff on and had another mile to go until the shelter where I could get dry and warm in my sleeping bag.
The shelters were my savior, every night. I think I will do everything within my power to sleep in one every night if I can. Just having that dry space is a mental relief. I share them only with the mice. They creep up to me every now and then, and I don’t care. I talk to them a little. I make sure to keep my food away from them, but in the morning I leave a few crumbs for them. Kids gotta eat right? I stayed one of the nights in the Cloud Pond Lean To because I heard it’s been a favorite of hikers. Even though it wasn’t ideal for my miles that day, I just simply had to. I was exhausted anyways. While laying in the shelter, the massive iced over pond was just through a patch of trees, I heard this loud crack echoing through the terrain and the shelter. It woke me up. I had no idea what the hell was going on. When I finally came to my senses I heard another loud crack and realized that it was the ice on the pond. It was incredible. It was such a loud and powerful sound. I could literally feel the echo through the shelter floor. I got out of my bag to go use the privy in the wee early morning hours and as I am walking up to the door of it, I realize the moon is it. It is a crescent moon, the exact size and shape of the crescent moon on the door of the privy. I chuckled to myself. Some things are just perfect.
I wake up every morning at 430am and I am hiking by 6-630. Headlamp hiking both before sunrise and after sunset. 9 hours of daylight (and still losing) up here in Maine and I simply can’t afford to not hike just because the sun isn’t up. Plus I might go crazy with all that down time.
By the time I made it to the top of White Cap Mountain I had realized I had lost a day of hiking by how slow the going was over all the peaks. Ice, roots, rocks, snow, it was slow and dangerous going. I took my time with my micro spikes over the terrain. Slow and steady wins the race. And I am in no race. Safety is paramount as a solo hiker out here. And I do mean solo. I didn’t run into a single soul. Not even a sign of another human. Nothing. It was glorious. I did ditch the snow shoes on day two. I had my trail angel John meet me about a mile off trail at the base of the Barren Ledges on a forest service road. After the Long Pond Stream Shelter there is a rock cairn marking a side trail down into the valley. We coordinated and linked up. I will be bouncing those forward until I feel I might need them. Dropping that cumbersome weight really allowed me to move a lot better over the terrain.
Losing a day was kind of humbling, I knew I had a specific day for my permit to summit Katahdin. Gotta follow the rules out there though. I am clearly a more advertised hiker and setting the example is important. I would try everything in my power to make up the miles in the coming days in the lower elevations but it wasn’t looking good. The going was a little smoother but my biggest day was still only 19 miles and that was giving it everything I had. So used to crushing 30+ mile days out west with my ultralight setup on those groomed and graded trails. I thought about how I would come back once I got down to Georgia and summit Katahdin in spring. I could then have the luxury of doing it on a sunny and clear day. Something I did not have on my first AT thru-hike in 2013. But mark my words. I will complete the entire trail. No matter what. I feel extremely motivated out here. Going through the `100 Mile Wilderness was giving me plenty of confidence moving forward. I was really enjoying the challenges and being alone.
On the day I reached the base of Katahdin, I was indeed a whole day late. I had already come to terms with it. I still had a monster journey in front of me. My mind is on it. I am ready for it. When I got to view of Katahdin at Abol Bridge it was just before sunrise. I had already been hiking for a couple hours. But upon making it to the point, the mountain was totally clouded in. I had been walking through fog and rain for the past 3 days. But on this morning, enough of the clouds had cleared in the low land to see the foot hills of Katahdin and Abol Stream in front of her. The sun crested over the horizon and below the clouds for just long enough to see a golden scene of serenity being cast upon her base and the foothills. A rainbow sprouted up and I had one of the most glorious scenes that I could ever hope to experience. I might not have been summiting the mountain on this day but this beautiful moment was enough to appease me and give me surge of energy and excitement to set the tone moving forward. Especially after a few days of not being able to see further than a few hundred yards. I was in a good place. I was in the right place at the right time. I was exactly where I was suppose to be. A place I often find myself. The omen was good.
The whole trail was before me…