Long day into town. Stayed at Shaw’s. Monson seems like a dying town. The hostel is for sale, the general store just closed. Most of the town is falling apart, and pretty much all that’s left is a gas station that looks like it’s brand new. Of course, that means that the gas station is the only resupply option and we have the 100-mile wilderness ahead and need six days of food. Gonna spend this week with minimal protein and lots of junk food. Sending home anything I don’t absolutely need for this last week or so.
Insane numbers of people near us on the trail. Last night at the shelter was crowded, tonight I set up my tent near the shelter area without even going to look at it. There’re a few good people around like Munchies, Nomad, and Sir Stooge, but then there’s about a dozen that spend time smoking cigarettes, lazing about town, and then skipping entire sections of trail. Impossible to get away – hike fast and you meet again when they skip a section, hike slow (i.e. two 0 days in Rangeley, and we stay on their pace). There’s probably close to 15 people at or near the shelter tonight, and luckily my tent is now my preferred sleeping arrangement. Staying in a shelter right now is sure to lead a night of trying to sleep through snoring after an evening of carcinogenic smoke. We would much prefer climbing Katahdin without a horde of people there so hopefully not many of this crowd will match our intended pace of 18-20 miles per day to wrap up the trail.
Other than the big crowd it was another good day. Early fall in Maine continues to yield fantastic weather once we made it past the Saddleback ice fields. On top of Lost Pond Mountain today it was totally sunny and nearly 70 degrees – hard to believe three days ago I had three layers of clothes on going over an icy summit.
The most important landmark of the day came early, about 4 miles in – The Kennebec River – and our ferry ride across. The ferry is a three-person canoe (one spot is the guide) operating four hours a day specifically to get hikers across the river. There’s even a white blaze painted on the bottom of the boat. Everyone made it across safely and shortly we came on US 201 where I had originally planned on connecting for lunch with my Uncle Mike for a bit of trail magic, but thanks to lack of phone service in the Maine woods I couldn’t get word that we would be hitting the road very early in the day and we had to cancel.
Instead it was another day of trail food for lunch and the climb up Lost Pond Mountain. We got a little surprise there when half way up we met a Maine ATC volunteer who was out working on finishing up a new section of trail. Just a week or two ago they had carved out a fresh reroute to become the official AT path next year. Little pieces of colored ribbon on trees uses to tag the path of trail construction were still on trees and there were brand new white blazes. It was designed to skip a couple tricky rocks that can be dangerous when wet, and the volunteer said we could be the first hikers to try out the new trail if we wanted. We did, and it was pretty neat. Instead of a well-worn treadway eroded down so that every rock and root is exposed on top of a hardened dirt pack like the normal trail this fresh section was raw forest floor – soft and mossy, the ground felt like a sponge as it absorbed my steps. The reroute was less than half a mile, but it was a unique experience and a nice change of pace.
Just miles the rest of the day. A long slow downhill with a few too many little sections of quick dips back uphill mixed in, crossing Moxie Pond by hopping across rocks, and then about three miles of gradual uphill to camp. Like I said, didn’t even bother looking at the shelter itself, found a sweet tent site on the way in just a few yards from a little stream. One week from tonight we should be camping at the foot of Katahdin.
Destroyed 22.7 miles of Maine woods today. In the final stretch now and we mean business. Up at 6 am, walked until sunset. One of the best pure hiking days of the trail. Not much in the way of spectacular views, trail magic, or other events – just beautiful weather, good terrain, and generally feeling good. The theme of the day was ponds. After coming down from Little Bigelow the trail wove between several ponds as it progressed mile by mile toward Baxter State Park.
The showcase of fall colors continued, fallen leaves litter the trail, the night was cool, and the day was warm. As we walked along the edge of one of the ponds our progress was watched from a canoe by a man and his dog. It was super nice to have so much of the day on flat ground, probably climbed less today than any day in over a month.
Two thousand miles. Sounds awesome, but it doesn’t feel as exciting as I expected. Nothing really matters now except the final mountain. Today marked the end of a rough three day stretch through some of Maine’s more famous mountains – Tuesday was the Saddlebacks, yesterday Sugarloaf, and today the Bigelows. Each day brought rugged climbs, several 4000+ foot peaks, chilly wind, and rocky descents. Tonight, though we camp knowing that today was the last time above 4000 feet until Katahdin, that there’s only one more mountain range reaching 3000 feet, and the vast majority of the rest of the trail is much closer to 1000 feet and often almost flat for miles at a time. Could be standing on Katahdin in as few as 10 more days.
This morning we had to do a lot of the town chores we usually do the night we arrive. Went back to the laundry, had opened at 7, everything normal inside, found the hours sign posted INSIDE the room. Got the clean clothes, sent home broken trekking pole, had breakfast, resupplied. Got another quick ride back to the trail. Friendly Mainers must like hikers! Only a bit over 10 miles today with our long day yesterday and chores this morning. A slow 10 though, finishing up those mountains. The worst part has been the dichotomy between weather forecasts and weather reality. Forecast the last two days has been “mostly sunny.” Reality: Maybe 10 minutes total of sun not blocked by an overwhelming massive gray cloud. Three awesome chains of mountain peaks and no real views to show. Always just up in a cloud, blowing wind, and a veil of gray. Nice campsite tonight, got another fire going. Matt Munchies is here with us, as is Sir Stooge who I hadn’t seen since Erwin, so many months ago.
To Katahdin: 188.2
Long day into Stratton. Up early and didn’t slow down all day. The first several miles were easy going, nice to see some fast miles. Several more mountains to climb after that, a nice long descent to a stream we had to ford, and then straight up the other side. Lots more fall colors and a couple views of entire valleys in the midst of their autumnal transformations. From the top of the last peak, a long, unending, 5.2 mile luckily not steep) descent to the road into Stratton. Easily the longest day mileage wise since well before the White Mountains.
Hit the road not too long before sunset, yet another successful hitchhike in Maine – the first car, again! That makes two first car, and one ride without even thumbing it. Stratton is a small place, a few inns for the hikers and skiers, a small grocer, and a gas station. Not much else. Would have had more time to get stuff done tonight except the restaurant we went to took an hour or more to provide our food after we ordered. The White Wolf Inn & Restaurant – famous on the trail for the Wolfburger. 1/2 pound of beef topped with mushrooms, cheese, bacon, and a sausage patty. Pretty good, too bad about the poor service though. Most memorable part of the night was trying to do laundry. It was late but we wanted to get it down, a lot of laundromats open 24 hours so Landon and I headed out to find it with all our clothes. Found the place, part of a condominium building, sign above the door announcing “Old Tyme Laundry,” went inside the outer door and just inside to our left was a doorway (no door) leading to all the machines. The room was dark but I stepped in looking for the lights or the hours. Immediately inside the doorway a burglar alarm goes off! No locked doors, no posted hours…We quietly went back to the hotel, the alarm still blaring.
To Katahdin: 207
Miranda was much improved after two days rest and the first dose of metronidazole so we’re back underway, closing in on Katahdin. Very ready for the end now. After two days off in a comfortable bed and breakfast, eating real food for over 48 hours straight, finally getting to see the new Star Trek, playing more MTG, watching football, and being indoors when the high outside was about 40 degrees, returning to civilization, especially in the desert, will be amazing. With thoughts like that in mind I started climbing the Saddlebacks this morning. It was a cool day, not as cold as yesterday, I think the forecast for Rangeley was about 50 degrees. Of course, town is at 1500 feet, Saddleback Mountain almost 4200 and totally exposed. Even before the summit the wind was rampaging across the alpine landscape, whipping the light drizzle falling from the sky into a sideways frenzy. It felt like being back in the Whites, except this was worse weather than anything we experienced there, fortunately the terrain in Maine is more forgiving. And there was ice. Not on the ground but all over the small alpine brush and short trees. Everything green was crystallized, frozen in place barely into autumn.
We weren’t expecting such ferocious winds and cold, or to be above tree line for so long. We stopped somewhere between the summit of Saddleback Mountain and The Horn to add another layer of clothing and get a quick snack. After The Horn, 1.6 miles from Saddleback, the wind died away rather abruptly and that took away most of the chill. 50 degrees by itself isn’t bad, 50 degrees with 40 mph winds is pretty uncomfortable. The last peak of the range was Saddleback Junior; the most notable thing here was that I snapped one of trekking poles in half catching a fall near the summit. Covered by Leki’s warranty, but now we’re in rural Maine with no outfitters nearby – don’t know how long I’ll have to go without.
Made it down the mountain without them though. We ended up camping along a woods road near a stream and waterfall. Still not getting done as many miles as planned usually, gonna need a big day tomorrow to get to Stratton.
Miranda was still recovering but well enough to get out of the B&B and visit the local coffee shop where she did this. [There used to be a photo from this day, but it got lost]