Rangeley to Andover (Grafton Notch)

After taking several days off for Christmas it was time to get back on trail. I was taken care of by good people in Rangeley and I was happy for the experience of meeting new people, even being so far from family and home on such a holiday as this. But the break did me some good. My body, my mind, my spirit, I was ready to return to the trail with a great attitude. 
I did the stretch from ME Route 2 to ME Route 17 fairly easily but it was a very blustery and cold day. My beard was filled with icicles almost instantly upon getting dropped off at the trailhead. It was only a 13.1 mile stretch between the roads and there wasn’t any serious elevation standing in my way. I got it done well before dark. 

But the kicker was that there was a bit snow storm blowing in late in the night. It was scheduled to dump about a foot of snow in the area. Now, a foot of snow doesn’t sound like a lot to me. Anybody can walk through a foot of snow. We’re not talking the end of the world here. But if you could get picked up at a road and avoid sleeping out in a snow storm by going back to Rangeley where it’s warm inside and you have already made good friends with some of the locals, wouldn’t you? Kind of a no brainer. So I got my friend Amanda (a volunteer with the ATC) to pick me up at the end of my day and take me back to the Farmhouse Inn where I rode the storm out the following day. The roads were pretty treacherous even after the storm passed and once for I got back on trail the following day, the trail was a whole new experience.

I had already hiked through fresh snow before but this new storm had dropped a more considerable amount on top of the previous two snowfalls that I had already been hiking on top of and through. This new snow fall slowed me down much more than what I was already accustomed to. Hiking is way different like this. It’s almost impossible to predict your pace, or so it seemed. I was trying to hike up and over Bemis and Old Blue Mountains to get to South Arm Road that night. Both mountains were a bit of a hassle. Darkness set in pretty quick on me and I still had miles to go. Headlamp hiking proved to be a challenge going through fresh snow and poorly marked trail on the peaks. And when I say poorly marked I mean the snow had completely hidden the cairns. It was only a 13 mile stretch like the day before, but the terrain was so much more difficult and then throw on all that fresh snow, and I had a recipe for a couple hours of night hiking. I followed all kinds of animal tracks that led in all different directions. The crystalline snow flakes sparkled and dazzled as I made my way through and over the white and frozen mountain. 

Finally I reached my descent off of Old Blue Mountain. It was steep and filled with many mini switchbacks that made it difficult to keep on the trail. I found myself sliding down on my bum both on purpose and completely by accident so many times due to the steepness of the trail. But after plenty of effort to not completely bust my ass I made the road where Earl was waiting for me in his truck. He was sitting there with the engine off but the headlights on. He had his headlamp on in the drivers seat reading his Reader’s Digest as he has done probably hundreds of times in the past. 

I called Earl weeks ago when I decided to hike the trail. I wanted to see if his hostel was open during the winter. I told him who I was and even though he didn’t know anything about my wing thru hike attempt prior to this phone call, he said him and Marjie were waiting for me. Now, Marjie and Earl (Honey and Bear) are petty much like the epitome of everyone’s favorite grandparents. They run a hostel in East Andover Maine called “The Cabin In Maine”. I probably say this about every hotel I’ve ever been to (I’m sure we can find some exceptions of course) but this was one of if not my favorite stop on my whole AT hike back in 2013. They hosted the Warrior Hikers that year (and I believe all the years after as well) and they did it big for dinner one of the nights we were there. We’re talking full lobsters, steak, corn on the cob, and all the fixins, not to mention giant tubs of ice cream for dessert. They have just the nicest cabin and the hostel is run out of their basement. It’s basically a bunk house and an apartment for hikers. 

Being in their company is just second to none. They love to take care of hikers. They themselves have been hikers their whole lives. They were friends with Earl Shaffer when he was still alive. They are very well connected to the hiking community, every year. Besides getting support hiking through their section of trail, I really wanted to see them again and spend time with them. They are a delight to be around. Plus they feed me like a hiking king. Now, they run a business, this is not pure hospitality, but they do it in such a way where you feel like you are getting more than your money’s worth. 

I hiked the next two sections out of their hostel being able to start every morning with a full breakfast, and I mean a Jabba style breakfast. And ever y day I came home I was able to dry out and eat hearty with a warm bed. Not to mention great conversation everyday. I even zeroed one of the days that I was there due to extreme cold temperatures and wind, even more so than what I had already been experiencing. Some people call this slack packing. And while I certainly wasn’t carry every piece of gear with me each of those days, I was still carrying my entire sleep system, plenty of food, plenty of extra dry layers, because you should never really be without those things when the conditions are as such. My pack wasn’t exactly light, but it was definitely lightER. Looking at it you would think that it was still a full pack. 

Going over Moody and Wyman mountains were a bitch. I lost a crampon out there so if you see it, pick it up. Return it to me and I’ll give you a finders fee. Fee to be determined. I won’t get into all the particulars because in behind on my blog and I feel like I just wanna phone this shit in. Just know those mountains kicked my ass. 

The last stretch of mountains that I had before getting to Grafton a notch were the Baldpates. I could feel the presence of the Mahoosuc Range as I traversed this exposed set of mountains. High winds and steep, icy, snowy, slab rock. I had stretches of beautiful views peppered with clouds bouncing in and out of obstruction. This whole hike, way back in the 100 Mile Wilderness, way back in Baxter State Park, I’ve been thinking about the Mahoosuc Range. I mean, I’ve definitely been thinking about the Whites too but the Mahoosuc came first, and that was an obstacle to be reckoned with. I was basically knocking on its doorstep. I had no idea what to expect. I honestly didn’t even know if I would be able to make it through. I’ve never even heard of anyone going through The Notch in winter. I feel like I’m as prepared as I’ll ever be for it…one thing is for certain, I’m goin’ down without trying. I’m not goin’ down without knowing. I couldn’t give up without a fight. 

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