Eyes on the prize!

Hurd Brook Lean-to, ME, AT NOBO mile 2,166.7, Sunday August 3, 2014 — Finally! A clear view of Katahdin. Not the best , mind you, but at least the camera saw it clearly and unmistakably.

Katahdin rises like a ginormous humpbacked whale breaching a flat ocean surface. It’s simply overwhelms everything around it. Simply put, it’s impressive.

I actually was so l busy picking blueberries, which are ripening on the rainbow ledges where hikers get their first up-close and personal view of the mountain, that I almost missed it. I looked up just at the right time. The sight took my breath away. Photos do not do it justice.

Earlier this morning a longer distance view was very hazy with Katahdin barely visible to the camera. I’m disappointed in my photo ops so far.

Tomorrow it’s breakfast at the Abol Bridge camp store, then on to The Birches where thru hikers stage for their assents. The weather remains a mystery given how long it’s been since I saw a forecast.

One caveat. The mountain is closed by the park rangers if weather conditions endanger hikers or possible rescuers. If that’s the case, I may have to hang in Millinocket until it clears. I’m hoping for a clean first attempt.







Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to, ME, AT NOBO mile 2137.0, Friday August 1, 2014 — With only 48 miles remaining, I’ve done it again. I have a deeply bruised left foot that hurts like hell. It’s the same wet sock mess I got myself into in Massachusetts.

When I switched out some socks recently, I managed to grab a pair of medium weight Smart Wool socks instead of the heavy ones. I wore them today. Somehow my left foot got wet and the socks bunched up under my toes just like the lighter weight polypropylene pair did in Mass.

I’ll assess the damage in the morning when my feet are dry and repair what I can. We have rain forecast for the next three days which does not help.

Fortunately, with the food drop I picked up at JoMary Rd. today, I have enough supplies to do the 100-mile wilderness twice over. Therefore I have the flexibility to zero in a shelter if need be. Note to Swayed, my food bag now weighs nearly as much as yours did, but not quite.

Otherwise, the walking today was good. The trail was relatively fast with the exceptions of several muddy and rocky stretches. I managed 19.5 miles in 12 hours which is good in Maine.

No views today. Only green tunnel. I did capture a photo of a grouse. I am now tied with Karma in the category of grouse photos – one a piece. No moose sightings yet and time is running out. Still, another great day on the AT.




Rich Maine mud.

These pants got much dirtier over time.


Lo and behold

Logan Brook Lean-to, ME, AT NOBO mile 2,113.9, Thursday July 31, 2014 — Let’s start at the end. A late afternoon thunderstorm was just passing, the clouds parted and behold — the holy of holies, the end all and be all, the ultimate objective, Katahdin. Mind you it was itself shrouded in clouds, but it was unmistakable nonetheless.

There it was, plopped on the far horizon like a great mound of blueberry ice cream snuggled in a cloud of cotton candy draped like a baby blanket over its shoulders. Where’s the cherry on top? That’s where I’ll be in a few short days I smiled before planting my right pole in a thru hiker pirouette to soldier on under the dripping sky.

The end is actually in sight with just 71.4 miles remaining in this little party. My emotions are mixed. On the one hand it’s time to turn out the lights on this little fiesta. On the other, following the white blazes is pretty uncomplicated employment. It’s hard to give up life at two miles per hour and return to interstate speed.

Today was another good day. The trail was in excellent shape. At the river ford, just after the 2,100 mile mark, I met a senior trail overseer from the Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC) who advised me that the trail ahead of me was fast. Most of it was her responsibility. She told me the story of taking 11 years to build 1,100 stone steps down the north side of White Cap Mountain, the day’s big climb. On my way down, I realized that steps help make today’s 17 miles a relative snap.

The thunderstorm caught me below treeline. Fortunately it didn’t drop much rain, just enough to freshen the mud and slicken up the roots. I thought I’d lose out on the first view of Katahdin, but luck was a lady this afternoon.

All the young hikers are talking big miles tomorrow. The trail flattens and everyone is anxious to speed up their finish. Such competition is the coin of the realm for young men.

My resupply is supposed to be delivered sometime tomorrow, tho I don’t know what time. So as for my planned speed, I’m making sure I get fed.

That’s all I have to worry about at the moment. No deadlines. No hurry.



The big K is one huge chunk of rock.



Full speed ahead

Chairback Gap Lean-to, ME, AT NOBO mile 2096.8, Wednesday July 30, 2014 — Maine is a land of contrasts. For the past several days we’ve been breezing along at 2 mph or better. Today slowed to molasses plodding along around 1 mph.

Rock falls and ledges may not have dominated the landscape today, but there were enough of them to seriously erode progress. In between the pacing was brisk.

The shelter popped up at 4:15 pm, too early to stop, but too late to start the nine- mile push to the next one. So, I stopped and used the extra time to cleanup.

Right now it ‘s 6:30 pm and two NOBOs I met in Monson just pulled in. One fell yesterday about four miles into the day and cut his hand requiring four stitches. They’re just now catching up.

This morning’s gift was the most spectacular view on the trail so far. The vista sprawled well beyond the scope of of the grandest cyclorama imaginable. Purple mountain layers rippled across the horizon snuggled by cloud boas weaving in and out of the distant valleys while an azure blue lake invited a high dive from the high cliff where I perched.

The light was just right. I didn’t want to leave. I plan to return to the 100-mile wilderness in the future when I can stay put and dig for treasure when and where I find it.

I beat the rain now drumming the shelter’s tin roof. The prob is for more tomorrow, slowing the next day. I am thankful for small victories like this.

The daily temps are blessedly cool enough that strenuous up hill doesn’t generate extraordinary amounts of sweat. Tonight , as last, a light jacket was necessary to ward off the chill at dinner time.

Tomorrow is a rough day of rock fall and steep but short hills. “Can’t wait,” (he lied).



River ford.

Young moose. Far bank. Did not survive.

Old trail marker.








The beginning of the end

Long Pond Stream Lean-to, ME, AT NOBO mile 2085.9, Tuesday July 29, 2014 — The Hundred Mile Wilderness is neither 100 miles nor is it a true wilderness. There are logging and other access roads everywhere. I even saw six muggles (day hikers) today. All of that is irrelevant, however. I’m in now, and when I get out, this journey will be complete.

There are 99.4 miles remaining. That’s less than 100 folks. Yea!

In Maine you never know how to plan. I estimated a daily rate of 10 miles knowing the average is 8-12 days. We got a ton of rain yesterday and I thought the additional fresh mud and rising rivers would slow me more than it did.

We did have an unexpected ford today bringing the total to four thanks to the rain. Changing foot gear on either shore is a pain, but now that I have it systematized, it goes pretty quickly.

Today’s hike passes two spectacular waterfalls. I got some slowmo video that will look great in the final anthology video.

I’ve run into several southbounders who have fallen into the rivers. Of course their packs weren’t properly packed for rain let alone a dunking. Needless to say, there is gear hanging out to dry everywhere around the campsite. As a hiker named Hutch might have observed about them, “Ain’t never gonna make it.” This is a teaching moment.

FYI, my pack is packed in such a way to make its contents waterproof. It is so water tight that it could serve as a floatation device for an indefinite period. Nothing vulnerable will get wet or damaged. This is the product of my own teaching moments over the years.

The weather will deteriorate through the week. If I get too far ahead of schedule, I’ll risk over-running my supply drop which will be cached at the mid-point Aug. 1. I may have to weather zero at a shelter to slow down. That does not mean I’m hoping for crumby weather.

Beautiful day today. Cool temps. Few bugs. What a life!

Not exactly accurate.

A sample of the lost and a abandoned gear along the trail.

Beaver dam.


Nature is mysterious.


Stopped short

Wadleigh Stream Lean-to, ME, AT NOBO mile 2147.1, Saturday August 2, 2014 — The morning dawned promising rain. The cloud deck hung low, the barometer was falling and the air thick and slow. I dallied in my morning routine, lingering over my coffee and pop tarts. I was in no hurry.

My feet dried out nicely overnight. The damage was less than I feared, but I was worried about making them worse. My choices for distances were, in round numbers, between hiking 10 and 20. After doctoring my foot, I opted for the lesser mileage and rest that might aid in the recovery.

Tomorrow will require 19 miles which will put me in perfect position, four miles short of Abol bridge and 13 short of The Birches Lean-tos and campground, the launch point for summiting Mt. Katahdin.

There’s a store at Abol that sells ice cream! Be absolutely certain that I’ll be there when it opens.

Barring some setback, it looks like Tuesday is the big day. The forecast is for clear weather. Fingers crossed.

Saw loads of fungi along the way and will include some of what I saw.

Meanwhile, my hiking day stopped at 1:30 pm when I reached this shelter. I learned reading the register that Swayed, my partner for 750 miles, pulled up here also rather than pushing too hard before he summited last week. The immediate threat of rain is gone, so I hope to dry some things out while I am here.

About two hours after my arrival, Saturday struck with a vengeance. I did note that this place is neither 100 miles nor a wilderness. In proof, I offer the loud and I noxious Boy Scout troop that just pulled in, fresh after a short walk from a nearby road. So much for the rest. The good news is that their leaders just took them swimming at a nearby pond. Those who opted not to swim are upstream contaminating the shelter’s water source. Didn’t work that way when I was a Scout, and particularly when I was an adult Scout leader.

More rain is in offing for tomorrow. Unfortunately, today’s opportunities to view Katahdin were clouded out. Maybe my luck will change, but I doubt the clouds tomorrow will offer much of a break. I also plan to blow this pop stand really early. I want a running start to what promises to be a long day – much longer if it rains heavily. On – on!
















Zero Day

Monson. ME, Monday July 28, 2014 — It’s 62F outside and rainy. Dreary is more like it, and an apt description for this threadbare and struggling little backwoods hamlet.

Monson doesn’t have much – only a few streets and a very nice lake. Unfortunately the lake doesn’t stand out. It’s one of a thousand just like it dotted all over Maine.

The slate industry that founded this once prosperous hamlet is all but defunct. The mill still makes a few counter tops and sinks but not much else. It’s a tiny shadow of the massive industry that operated here until the 50s. After that, the railroad left and pulled up its tracks. It doesn’t get much more final than that.

There’s still a Finnish community here. They came originally to quarry the stone. Names ending in NEN are the legacy of the hope and opportunity that once attracted their immigrant forefathers.

Most of the dilapidated buildings along Main St. are for sale as are what seems to be about one-third of the houses. Monson is just too far north to attract a ton of urban folks in search of summer cottages. So, the sellers hope and wait patiently for their escape ticket.

Life here is hard. The climate is harsh. The ground is rugged. The winters are brutal. The conditions toughen and harden the souls who survive here. Hardly anyone smiles.

A southern hiker at Shaw’s observed this morning that the people here aren’t friendly like they are in the south. In fact, he described them as rude. That’s not the whole story when life is as unforgiving as the stone upon which this town is built.

I’m having lunch at Pete’s. It’s a new business that radiates optimism through the gloom that seems to hang around here like the stale smell of garlic in a turn of the century New York tenement. I hope Pete’s prospers. Hikers will love the homemade baked goods.

Monson seems like a metaphor for dozens of dying towns in rural America. I’ve hiked through too many of them not to see the pain of their slow spiraling demise.

I’m reminded of the dying farm towns and whistle stops in the mid and far west. Change can be Darwinian in it’s callus destruction of lives, culture and place. As Americans and humans, we should remember that these are people, not statistics.










When you say “For Sale,” you’ve said it all.

2018 Update:  This story has a happy ending!



Three Fords. Not a Chevy in sight.

Shaw’s boarding house, Monson, ME, AT NOBO mile 2070.8, Sunday, July 27, 2014 — Three river fords today. It took more time to take off my boots than it actually did to cross the rivers.

Today was mostly non-eventful. I was at the edge of the pond at 0500 a.m. looking for, what has been for me, the elusive moose in situ. So far, no dice. The loons were still at it, though. I got some decent recordings of their serenade that I’ll use for soundscape in the composite video that will follow the conclusion of this hike.

Rain punctuated today’s hike for about the last hour. I didn’t much care. After all, I was headed for a hostel. There I could dry out and get ready for what comes next.

Monson is another down and out trail town. It once was the center of the slate roof industry. One that dried up, the slide has been precipitous.

The trail was rerouted from passing through town to where it is now, by-passing the outskirts of the village. Not sure why this was done. Without doubt, right now it is not doing Monson any favors. The trail passes directly through several towns along the way, so it’s not unusual for it to do so.

I’ll try to learn more tomorrow as I work my way through the items needed for a successful transit of the hundred mile wilderness.






Moxie Bald Mountain Lean- to, ME, AT NOBO me 2,052.9, Saturday July 26, 2014 — Today looked like a mundane bust with absolutely nothing about which to write until late this afternoon when everything changed.

This morning Eric, the owner of the Sterling Inn dropped me off at the Caratunk (don’t ya just love that name) trailhead around 0745 a.m. The walk would be an easy 18 miles with only a couple of bumps along the way, and that’s the way it was.

The mud is drying, but thunderstorms were forecast for late afternoon just In case the bogs need refreshing. Not to worry, this is 2 mph + territory. Compared to most everywhere else in this state, I was flying along today averaging nearly 3 mph. I’m surprised I didn’t get a speeding ticket.

As the approach climb to Moxie Bald Mtn. accelerated, a miracle happened. Ripe blueberries were everywhere! Yup, and having been forewarned by Tim at Harrison’s Camps, a half gallon zip lock was at the ready. Filled it, I did — and ate ’em too! All of them. Yum!!!

Just past Moxie I noticed that the water bars used to control erosion on hiking trails had been freshly scraped out. The brush had been pruned too. I was hoping to meet the trail crew at the shelter, and there they were.

We talked the finer points and challenges of maintaining trails in Maine. It was cool to learn how they canoe in because that’s not only the shortest route, but it’s the easiest way to carry heavy tools. They were also boating in new lumber piece by piece to build a replacement privy. That’s dedication.

Never again will I complain about tough times in Shenandoah National Park. In comparison, we have it easier than we’ll ever know.

Tomorrow is a 15 mile jaunt to Monson, the gateway to the “Hundred Mile Wilderness.” I have two food packages and I’m hoping my replacement tent poles are there. The only wrinkles are two river fords and the predicted rain. I’m going to try to burn up the trail anyway. I can use all the extra time I can get. There’s a bit of logistical arranging to be done including food caches and the extraction from Baxter State Park to Millinocket.

Only one hundred thirty two miles remaining before the final sunset on this most excellent adventure. Until then, I am enjoying the noisy loons this evening. It seems there are two nesting pairs on the pond arguing over territory. Their audio fireworks are forming a spectacular memory.








Parting the water

Sterling Inn, Caratunk, ME, AT NOBO mile 2013.1, Friday July 25, 2014 — The sun-splashed Kennebec River sparkled as its icy water spilled along an ancient path to the sea. On the far bank ferryman “Hillbilly Dave” Corrigan’s paddle thrust a fire engine red canoe forward as he charted its path to where I stood.

What appears to be a lazy river belies the danger within. The icy water can cramp a swimmer in seconds. A dam upstream releases water that rises up to two feet in no time. The river also is wide. Wide enough to be called a real river anywhere.

After a hiker drowned several years ago, the Appalachian Trail Conference established a free canoe ferry service in the interest of safety. It’s a welcome ride, not to mention that the white blaze painted on the canoe’s deck marks it as part of the official pathway.

The 3.4 mile jaunt from Harrison’s camp passed in a blink. My package was at the friendly post office here in Caratunk. I forwarded most of the food ahead to Monson where I’ll be by Monday; from there to plan my march through the hundred-mile wilderness.






A new privy under construction.