Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wait for it, wait for it....

"To those who would see the Maine wilderness, tramp day by day through a succession of ever delightful forest, past lake and stream, and over mountains, we would say: Follow the Appalachian Trail across Maine. It cannot be followed on horse or awheel. Remote for detachment, narrow for chosen company, winding for leisure, lonely for contemplation, it beckons not merely north and south but upward to the body, mind and soul of man."

-Myron H. Avery, 1934


So here we are in Monson, Maine, the last town on the trail! This is totally surreal. From here we have about 10 days left, including the 100-mile wilderness and the big climb up Katahdin (big as in 4,500 foot gain in elevation in like 4-5 miles). All in all it's 114 miles left.

We are extremely tired. Mentally, physically, totally - drained. But for all we lack in energy we match in motivation because the end is near, and all we have been walking toward for so many miles in so many months is about to become a reality.

Surprisingly our bodies are holding up really well for having hiked 2,061.7 miles. No serious foot or knee pain, and I thought at this stage in the game we would be hobbling! Aside from some toe numbness and chronic hangnails, we are feeling good and strong. What a blessing! There so many hikers that have battled Lyme's, the flu, mono, you name it.

Speaking of blessings, here are some other amazing things that have been happening:

Number one: The sun came out and decided to stay! This is my hallelujah.

Another great thing. The 2,000 mile marker. Best one yet!

Here's a third. Our most amazing campsite of the whole trail came at East Carry Pond here in Maine on a sandy beach. Dusty built a roaring fire right on the shore that we bathed by. Then we watched the moonrise.

In the morning a layer of ice had formed on our tent (it was down to 28 degrees that night) but our good friend the sun melted it off by 7am and warmed us up before we even started hiking.

Oh, but there were leeches there, and they were huge.

More gorgeousness from Maine. As you can see, we've found the mystical and the magical.

Here was another something I've been reading about and waiting for since, oh...March. Crossing the Kennebec River via ferry (canoe) because it's too dangerous to ford on foot. Here you can see our guide who manages all thru-hiker ferries coming over for us.

And here we are in life jackets getting ready to hop in a canoe. What a nice change of pace for about 3 minutes!

Love is on the trail, and I'm glad I spotted it.

Oh boy oh boy I love my junk food.

But not as much as Brahma. He loves his even more. This was the cutest. I said "Pull out your junk and show me whatcha got in your food bag." Without hesitating he proudly displayed his goods - Fritos, double time, Nutella, Poptarts, you name it. And this isn't even the half of it!

Dustan on top of Avery peak, named for Myron Avery who plowed through bureaucracy and helped make the AT a reality back in the day.

Parting shot: Nature's symmetry. An upturned shroom.

So on this Sunday night we have been watching movies and eating ice cream and Swiss cake rolls. We're saving all our chores for tomorrow - post office, grocery store, packing up and heading out. The next time I update - well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. All I know is that the end is very, very near and we couldn't be more happy, more ready, more amped! I miss my mom, my cat, Dwight Schrute - just to name a few. Thank you for all your comments and phone calls!

Much love from the Bulls.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Only 2 Weeks Left!!

Dang, that's hard to believe. As Eli said, turns out Maine is not on the dark side of the moon and the land of moose has internet after all. That's us above celebrating our fifth anniversary under a wall of deer antlers, which is fitting for this rural footpath through backwoods Maine.

We just arrived here in Stratton. I take back everything bad I've said about the hitchhiking in Maine. The first vehicle to pass us was Peter in his pickup truck who spends most of his time at sea, hauling around big weapons for the government. In his spare time he picks up thru-hikers and gives them tours of the town. Peter dumped us out at our most favorite place to be: the local diner. One cheeseburger with egg and an order of fish n' chips later, we crossed the street to the Stratton Motel where we'll be spending the afternoon mapping out our remaining days on the AT. From here to Monson, from Monson to Katahdin.

It's not uncommon for our current hiking conversations to center on days gone by since Georgia. "Remember that one shelter where we met the crazy chain-smoker?" "Remember that descent into Delaware Water Gap when we almost cried from exhaustion?" "Remember that couple we met on the trail in Connecticut that was so cool except that they looked like brother and sister?" "Remember the wind was so bad coming over Baldpate we were a little scared for our lives but felt so alive?" Ahhhh, so many memories. We're definitely not nostalgic, absolutely not trying to stretch the trail out any longer, and absolutely never undertaking this trail again - but it is kinda startling that our days of hiking are coming to an end. Almost as if we've been trudging with heads down and someone just elbowed us and said, "Look up, finish line's ahead." We're going huh? wah?

Because just as impossible as it is to imagine quitting, it's ridiculous to assume you'll really finish. Even now, with only about 13 days left, I can't wrap my head around climbing that final mountain.

I'll be back later to upload pics.


Ok, here are some pictures of the recent days. We got a text from Blaze that said "So far neither mystical nor magical." We had to laugh, because it's just so true. It seems like once we entered Maine we have been constantly wet. It gets old! Hiking isn't so bad because you do warm up and just end up splashing and slogging through whatever the trail throws at you. It's the end-of-day setup at camp and the morning greeting that includes putting on cold, wet hiking clothes, socks and shoes from the day before. Oh well, I guess it's a little late in the game to whine. Though that does look like what Brahma is doing here:

Look at that lovely trail!
Check the water gathering on Dustan's beard. This is what happens when you hike in a cloud. It's unlike rain or fog or ...anything else really. When summits are cloudy, even the finest hairs on your face will be crystalline water.

Summiting Saddleback.

Even when the water stops coming down from above, it still comes up from below. Our first real ford.

My feet always look like this - pruny. I am so proud of these feet!

There are some living things that flourish in this environment. There's not much scale in this photo - I wish you could see how fat this guy was, and big!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Rangeley, Maine and 220 miles left

So it turns out Maine is not so out-of-the-loop as I'd figured as I've been able to update twice now! Here we are in the little, charming, hard-to-hitch-into town of Rangeley where the BMC Diner makes some mean homefries and serves the coffee in huge pottery mugs. So far me likey.

Things are looking up. The rain has gone (supposed to come again tonight but we don't care cause we'll be in a real bed) and the trail through Maine sure is beautiful. Lots of ponds and sunsets, no more moose (yet), but lots of good friends on the trail. It turns out everyone has experienced the blues to some degree because after the Whites the difficulty of the trail really didn't relent. Plus the roots, rocks, rain and muddy bog crossings can really take a toll mentally. Check out Blaze's site for another slant on this. My shiny new pair of La Sportiva's are poor sad slaves to the mud now, and have caused me some raw spots, but overall I would say our spirits are up. Even more encouraging than the recent sunny skies and serene ponds is the fact that the end is really in sight!

We only have a few trail towns left. After this we'll hit Stratton, probably in about 2-3 days, then we'll have about a week to Monson and then a week from there to Katahdin. We are planning to rent a car in Bangor and take our time getting home via roadtrip. That should put us back in "real life" around October 5th or beyond.

Last thing - check out Gonzo's blog to see some amazing pictures of the Appalachian Trail. You'll find me and Brahma in some of them.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hmm, so far I disagree. We made it to Maine. Woo.Hoo. Crossing in to the final state was easily the worst day on the trail so far. We fought, I fell, it rained, I cried, and then - we crossed into Maine. Dustan said, "Do you want your picture by the sign?" I shrugged and said, "What's the point?" Sooo, no picture. Since we've been here, it's been rainy, raining, or about to rain, foggy, drippy, lame, cloudy - not the way life should be. Don't get me wrong, it's gorgeous, we just can't really see it from under the hood of our rain jackets. Both of us are just beginning to feel over it. The chills and sweat and constant workout are starting to really wear us down. Pulling ourselves out of each trail town gets harder and harder. I think that's natural, though.
I remember back when I was going to graduate high school, I started feeling really ancy and beyond bored when my guidance counselor said to mom, "That's the way she should feel, she's almost done." These words have stuck with me for life. Any time I'm nearing the end of a big season and I get really impatient, I think, This is okay. It's almost time! And that makes me feel a little better. (Thanks, Debi Campbell).

The climbs haven't relented at all after the Whites and the infamous Mahoosuc Notch. The Notch is regarded as the toughest mile on the AT, and it's basically a long stretch of bouldering up, around, over, and under a bunch of house-sized rocks. Nothing really dangerous, just kinda nerve-wracking and time-consuming. Many times we had to take our packs off to squeeze between rocks. None of Dust, since he had the camera.

Also - we crossed the 1900 mile mark! That was cool.

Tortellini over a campfire.

Me, not ready to crawl out of my sleeping bag. We usually always tent because it's warmer, more comfy and just our "system," but on this rainy night we opted to sleep in the shelter with about 13 other people. Wet boots, balled-up socks, funky foot-marinated sleeping bags unfurling in every direction. Smelled delicious.

We are currently in Andover, Maine and man, did it feel great to get here. We took hot showers and then took a walk down to the corner diner. I would have been happy to just sit and read the menu all day long. Dough boys, egg salad sandies, calzones, bacon cheeseburgers, buffalo wings, mmmmm. Tomorrow we'll hit up the diner for breakfast and then get back on the trail to the next town, Rangeley, where we'll celebrate our fifth anniversary! The weather says the sun should visit us again and the news says Barak Obama is speaking at my high school. Ok - in fact - there he is right now on national TV in the gymnasium where Mrs. Adams made me dress out just to play badminton. Am I dreaming?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Last Post Office Stop

Post Office
Monson, Maine 04464
Please Hold for AT Thru-hiker

We will stop at this PO before entering the "100-mile wilderness" and will have 114 miles left of our journey when we reach Monson.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Whites

Yay! We have just finished traversing the dreaded White Mountains of New Hampshire. We have been fearing these climbs since Georgia where every experienced hiker likes to say "You think that was bad, just wait til you get to the Whites." Well, the Whites have come and gone, we are still alive, but boy are our knees feeling it! (Fortunately our hotel here in Gorham, NH has a jacuzzi and an ice machine). Overall, the Whites were amazing and I'll just plop a bunch of pictures on here to prove it. Tremendous views, impossible climbs and even more impossible downhills caused our mileage to decrease significantly and we took our time to enjoy and cope with the severe elevation gain and loss. We're happy to be 1,878 miles into our journey leaving us only 297.9 miles to Katahdin. To see that number hit the "2"s is really incredible.

I want to say a word about the hut system in the Whites since it was a totally different method of shelter/food/camping for us. Huts were built as a refuge from the extreme weather throughout the White Mountains and they replace the normal shelters and campsites you find on the rest of the AT. It costs $90 for a night for a non-thru-hiker to stay at a hut and we saw large families day hiking over Labor Day weekend from hut to hut. Yes, that means a family of four is paying for a hot meal and a wooden bunk bed with cooties - no hot shower, flushing toilet, continental breakfast, deerskin rug, roaring fireplace or Swedish massage. Upwards of $360 for one night. You tell me. Lucky for us hiker trash, we have the option of doing a work-for-stay at most huts. In exchange for an hour or so of work we get to eat the leftovers and sleep on the dining room tables. As with everything on the trail, every hiker has a different experience, and we have heard some hut horror stories of hikers getting turned away late at night or scrubbing the gunk off the bottom of the dining tables for a tiny bowl of rice in exchange (sound a bit like the caste system?) but Brahma and I have a good report of the huts nonetheless. We ended up getting our fill of soup and bread for lunch at a hut almost every day and a few nights we timed a work-for-stay and got to get out of the weather. Ok, on to the pics. They may be out of order but I'm seriously rushing at this pay-per-minute library. And since I got literally yelled at by the Library Nazi in Dalton, MA I'm still a little touchy...

Nightly planning with maps in our cozy tent.

Brahma, me, Hoot and Sundance climbing Mount Washington. Mt. Washington is socked in with fog and clouds 55% of the time but our day was crisp, clear and craaaaaaazy windy. We were really really fortunate for beautiful weather throughout this scenic part of the trail.

On top of Mount Lafayette.

Hoot on Lafayatte.

Looking at the Franconian Ridge.

Dustan going up above treeline for the first mountain of the Whites, Mt. Moosilauke. This was our worst day of weather.

Looking at a mountain from our first hut pitstop, Lonesome Lake Hut.

I made it! To the top of some mountain, don't even know which one.

Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Gorgeous sunset, sunrise and all-the-time.

Up on the summit of Mt. Washington with Hoot, Sundance, Gonzo and Rub-a-Dub.

We're cold. And Brahma's been growing hair in all directions.

Do you spot this bad boy? Our first and only moose (so far) was a large bull with antlers like massive plates, crunching a maple tree and looking at us like So what?

We'll be in Maine in 16.5 miles and I hear the connection to the outside world in rustic Maine becomes pretty scarce, so I'm not expecting to be able to update that much. From what all the southbound thru-hikers tell us, Maine is the sublime part of hiking the trail. It's not uncommon for many Mainers to place their hand over their heart when talking about their home state. So bring it. I want crystal lakes on mountaintops, another moose, but this time raising his majestic head, grass hanging from his velvet antlers, as he wades in a pond. I want eagles at sunset and forest sprites jumping out of waterfalls, and most of all, I want a clear day on Katahdin.

Ok, just got my first warning from the library lady - that's my cue. Love to all!


Wanted to add: I'm back to the library once more for the day. Many of you have called and asked for a post office to send a last piece of mail or care package to. I will post this at a later time when we have the last section of the trail more planned. From what we understand Maine is the most rural of all states, hard to get hitches in and out of town because there's not much traffic, the towns are small, etc. But we will definitely be stopping a few times to resupply, so I'll call sis and have her post a Maine address asap.

Also - I got new shoes today! They are so beautiful I dread messing them up in muddy Maine. Our guidebook describes Maine as being "281 miles of lakes, bogs, loons, moose, hand-over-hand climbs and a 100 mile wilderness that is neither 100 miles nor truly a wilderness. It is the most mystical, magical place on the AT and a great way to either end or begin a hike." For the AT Companion to wax all poetic with words like "mystical" and "magical" is pretty significant since it's just a dry guidebook. So yeah, we're pumped. Just so you know, the 100-mile wilderness is another one of those sections you hear about as soon as you start the trail. It's a stretch through the backcountry of Maine where resupply is scarce so you're forced to pack many days of food, and the end of the section dumps you out right at the bottom of the Big K. Woohoo!