Monday, October 13, 2008

The 100-mile wilderness

Last night I picked up an issue of Backpacker magazine that was sent to the house. An article claiming to make your hike easier gave 3 tips for alleviating stress on one's body when hiking downhill, which "can be very difficult with a heavy pack on steep terrain for extended periods of time." Those were 3 good tips. I told Dustan why didn't I read that article before I walked 2,000 miles? Coulda helped.

Now the closest I get to the Appalachian Trail is skimming an article in a magazine, or reading over newspaper clippings Mamaw has saved for me. Or stepping a few paces into the woods to call my cat. Yesterday I dismantled our gear and gave everything one last good scrub, hung it all on the line and watched the sun glare on it until it stopped dripping. On the trail it was impossible to dry anything. If the sun was there, the time wasn't. And if we had the time, it was raining. I retrieved our backpacks, now dry as a bone, and was pleased to find they passed my scrutinizing sniff-test with flying colors. Our backpacks are clean. Dustan's beard is gone. My toenails are red. The trail is over.

Even so, I didn't want to end this blog without a few more tributes to the AT. The 100-mile wilderness turned out to be, along with some hem-hawing, pretty mystical and magical. It took us awhile to see the beauty of Maine, but after she dried up and smiled, we were delighted by the ponds, the craggy summits, a tiny frog, carpets of crimson leaves, eerily quiet forests due to the soft, sound-absorbing moss. The trail planked over bogs and wound around boulders and disappeared into rivers we had to ford.

Here's the last thing I saw on pavement:

And this was our final hitch. I'm smiling, but it was scary. He had a family in that cab with him but he still went really fast in the rain.

We entered the wilderness with about 13 pounds of food in our packs, ready for as many as 7 days without the chance of resupplying. That's a lot of mac n' cheese.

Hikers pass hikers on the trail all the time, usually every day. It was no surprise that we continued to meet sectioners and day hikers even in the 100-mile wilderness because it's a beautiful, popular place to hike. What I came to learn about other people on the trail is this: you never know what you're gonna get. I'm not talking safe or unsafe, more along the lines of crazy or sane, experienced or Walmart boots, haughty or down-to-earth, curt or chatty, couch potato or fitness trainer, old or young, dog or no dog, cologne or patchouli, these are the things that you inevitably notice. One couple stopped us in Connecticut and learned we were thru-hiking. I'll never forget them because the man, with his Gandalf walking staff, sized us up real good and said, "I... don't think you're gonna make it." Gee, we're not? Then would you mind giving us a ride into town? Because we should prolly just stop trying now.

Another guy met us coming down the trail somewhere in New England and made some small talk. Then he kinda locked his gaze and said, "Well, it's a good thing you like living in the woods. Because our economy is tanking. We're probably going to attack Russia and it's a scary world now. You don't see the news do ya? I'm telling you, it's all going to hell. Well. Good to talking yous. Happy trails." Thanks. Happy trails to you too.

But the best were these guys. The most inspiring, interesting and baffling people we met on the whole trail came in the 100-mile wilderness.

We're walking along in the 100-mile wilderness and catch up to a guy and three little chipmunks wearing tiny boots and HUGE backpacks. We introduced ourselves and Dustan immediately thought someone had kidnapped 3 boys so he politely asked to take their picture, thinking later he would be releasing the photograph to park rangers. But we ran into them that night as we were all chilling at the shelter. It was dark, raining and in order to reach the shelter you had to cross a large stream, almost hidden by a maze of slick rocks and tangled roots. We see 1 tall and 3 tiny headlamps bobbing in the darkness and someone says, "Who is night hiking in this weather, over that river??" Sure enough, here come the chipmunks, and they like to night hike they tell us. They are hiking with their dad, Maniac. Maniac is a celebrity on the trail because in the 80's he thru-hiked in 55 days and set a bunch of records, ruined his body for little while and released what he calls "too much testosterone." Now he is a dad but that hasn't slowed him down much. The youngest, 6 years old, tells us that when he turned four he was hiking from Springer to Fontana. So you were three when you started? Yes, he grins proudly through his missing teeth, in the winter. These kids made us feel like a bunch of pansies. They didn't complain, they didn't interrupt, they didn't fight, they didn't whine and they adored their dad. Who wouldn't? But still, a three year old? We were all totally inspired. Pretty much I'm taking my kids hiking while they're still in diapers. Oh, except that, I'm never going to hike again.

Here's me, fording a river.

Teeeny, tiny snapping turtle.

Hiding frog, the size of my thumbnail.

Maine forest.

Our last mile-marker on the trail, made out of moose poop.

Hmmm...somewhere, not sure where. But a great view!
We got our first view of Katahdin at this pond in the wilderness. But look at Longshot's, his is so much better.

One of the many board walks across one of the many bogs.

And this is us, pictured on our last day of backpacking. So hard to believe! All those miles, all those times I unbuckled that funky waistbelt, rummaged for toilet paper and a trowel or a map or my sunglasses or a Milky Way. All those times of hoisting that pack up, my sweat-soaked shirt now icy cold pressing against my back, making me dream of jacuzzis and cheesecake. All those moments of first drops of rain, fishing that pack cover out and readjusting in a fury. And now, here we stand backdropped back Big Niagara Falls with our fingers locked and our smiles relieved, less than 4 miles from the end of the wilderness and less than 10 miles from Katahdin, the realization of our dream. Even though at this point our clothes were worse than wet dog and the ammonia smell still clung to our socks and the rain was only coming down harder. The trail really didn't let us off easy.


Amy said...

ya darn hippies.

Anonymous said...

Hey guys! I am so excited for you!!! :) Mom told me the other day that you were home and I was ecstatic!
On a different note, alumni weekend is this coming weekend and I wish you guys were coming! (I am hoping maybe Justin and Bekah Blakenship will come) But I hope to hear from you soon!
love ya!

Anonymous said...

Hey, we ran into Mainiac and his kids too! We were quite amazed and inspired ourselves. I love your blog...brings back some great memories!

-Fire Crotch & Banana Hammock

Anonymous said...

I ran into Maniac and the boys as they were crossing the West Pleasant River. Maniac crossed with his pack. Maniac returned and crossed carrying his youngest while the youngest had his pack on. Maniac returned and carried son #2 with pack. Maniac returned and carried son #1 without pack. Maniac returned for son #1's pack. Each time I chatted with him. He met Geek when Geek thru hiked in '90. I met Geek when I thru hiked in '02. And I met a couple of '08 hikers who hitched from Stratton to Bar Harbor and ended up staying for a night or two with Maniac. Nice to complete the circle and meet a trail "celebrity" to boot.

Pop Tart '02
The Jerry Garcia caretaker on the West Pleasant River

Anonymous said...

Pop Tart...are you the ridge runner? I'm pretty sure you told us this story when we crossed the West Pleasant River. Also I can totally see the Jerry Garcia!

~FC & BH

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Anonymous said...

Nice pics. Im hiking the 100 mile in late Sept of 2010. Looks like a great hike.

Anonymous said...

Awesome site! If all goes as planned, I am hiking the 100 mile trail in Sept. 2011. Quite a goal for a 60 yr. old who just had a total knee replacement. That 100 miles should really test it out!

Anonymous said...

Can I just say, that when you write Dustin immediately thought someone kidnapped three boys, I cringed. What does that say about you, that the first thing you assume, when you see a guy hiking with his kids, is not that he's their dad, but that they've been kidnapped. Watch less TV and be less cycnical, this is part of what's wrong with this country...sorry, not trying to be hurtful, but it's true

Anonymous said...

Great stories!! I love to hear about peoples experiences out on the AT, the good, the bad and everything in between!!
I am plaining on hiking the Hundred Mile Wilderness this Septmember (2011) and any advice would be more then welcome!! As well as knowing who else is out there -just in case.

Anonymous said...

Did 20 miles in this section myself - very rugged! Recognized several of the shots here too. Lake Onawa and what looks like the cliffs of Barren Mtn. 83 miles to Katahdin from the Hermitage/Gulf Hagas.

Phil Mont Phil AT9' said...

Great article.
I met Maniac back in 1989 when he was walking the trail for the second time. This was just before he set out to break the speed record. He was also mentioned in a book National Geographic published in 90' about the trail.
It is good to hear he is still around.
Phil Mont Phil AT9'

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