Better than Disney World

Kennebunkport, ME, Friday August &, 2014 — Reintegration back into non-hiking society began in earnest this morning with a visit to a local coffee shop called Morning in Paris. Can’t get much further from the back woods than that.

Later we jumped on my friend Ed’s Vespas and scooted to the beach to watch some friends surf. His daughter Katie is home from her job with the United Nations, so naturally we posed for our “life is a beach” pic.

The adrenaline drained from my system during the shuttle from Millinocket yesterday. I was too exhausted to join a party in progress at a local Irish pub. Instead, I sat on the front deck sipping wine and let the sound of the crashing waves massage my cares away.

I can tell that I’m still suffering from adrenaline withdrawal because I’m dragging a bit. It feels a lot like the aftermath of a long business trip.

I can’t get too far in front of my ski tips. I have two short sections of trail I skipped over, about 27 hours total hiking time. I’ll get the first six hours on Sunday and the remainder Monday and Tuesday.

Tuesday or Wednesday I hope to meet with some Appalachian Mountain Club officials to offer them some requested feedback centered on their brand image with thru hikers. These are the Appalachian Money Club folks.

Then it’s off to my cousin’s to retrieve the gear I Ieft there. After that it’s home to join my trail crew working next Saturday in Shenandoah National Park.

Thanks to everyone for your kind kudos since Katahdin, especially HOBO whose congratulatory text reached me on Katahdin’s summit. His timing was perfect.

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Note the genuine Paris bistro chairs.

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After you hike the AT, life truly is a beach!!!

Made for TV movie

Baxter Peak, Mt. Katahdin, ME, AT NOBO mile 2,185.3, Wednesday August 6, 2014 — Today was like a made for TV movie with perfect scenery, a thickened plot and surprise casting.

Imagine two thru hikers hiking in successive years. Each has walked all the miles except the climb to Katahdin.

Better yet, each one has vicariously hiked with the other through their respective blogs month by month, day by day; mile by mile.

What are the chances that they would find each other and summit together? Well it happened.

Tie Dye wrote a fascinating blog during her 2013 hike. Along the way, we struck up a conversation. In fact, she was responsible for shaping the tone of my own hike. I blogged about it in a post entitled “Conversion on the road to Damascus.” Who knew she was working at the AT Lodge in Millinocket.

Conversely, Tie has been following my blog and has encouraged my progress. I bumped into her when I popped into the Lodge to wait out the rain.

Today was her day off and we summited together. How cool is that?!!! Two hikes, two years and one goal.

We piled into the van, a bunch of hikers headed to the top of a mountain, bound together in common purpose.

The trail can be divided into thirds. The initial portion resembles most of the trail in Maine – roots, rocks and mud. It even has bog bridges. At treeline, boulders resembling Mahoosic Notch add challenge with less difficulty. The end is a tableland walk with a surprise ending. The final exam has a bit of everything.

The dark leaden sky blocked dawn’s early light as the forecast’s twenty percent chance of rain threatened. About 45 minutes in, the sky dropped its load. With those odds, maybe I should head for Las Vegas.

As we scrambled through the boulders, the clouds parted like the Red Sea and we could see forever. It was indeed a perfect day.

Thanks to family, friends, followers for coming along for the ride. Special thanks to Tie for sharing this special day. Without Fitness Together, this would have been a struggle. Please stay tuned for follow-ups , the anthology video and to see what comes next.

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Go for launch

Millinocket, ME, AT Lodge, AT NOBO mile 2,180.1, Tuesday August 5, 2014 — Lies, damn lies and statistics? Wrong! It’s really lies, damn lies and weather forecasts.

Where have all the T-storms gone? Not here. No time passing.

Today dawned cloud free and has remained so all day. I feel like an idiot to have missed another opportunity to put the cherry on top of this most excellent adventure.

The forecast for tomorrow is now for clear weather. Therefore I’ve decided that we attack at dawn come hell or high water. It’s Katahdin or bust ’cause I am about to bust just sitting around here twiddling my thumbs. The hostel is a nice place, that’s not the issue.

Of course I am psyched. Let’s rock and roll kiddies. It’s time.

Now for other news. Sadly Millinocket is another small town drifting toward oblivion. It’s paper mills have closed taking its middle class down in the process. Deferred maintenance and for sale signs characteristically define Main Street in what has become a hiker town trend.

It is sad that the theories of Adam Smith and Darwin are evident one more time. In Smith’s case, the prosperity always seems to accrue to someone else or elsewhere. At least the hiking community brings in a few bucks.

Some of the businesses look like the owners left in a hurry. Names remain on marquees. It looks like they might be open, except they aren’t. Potemkin would be proud.

This town supports its troops. Communities like this have been sending their sons, and now their daughters, to defend our nation’s interests on muddy fields for centuries as monuments to their service attest. It’s ironic that no one seems to have defended them in the hour of their need.

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Outside. The desperation is evident.

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Inside. Working harder didn’t solve the problem.

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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.

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Twenty four hours later…

Harrison’s Pierce Pond Camps , AT NOBO mile 2030.5, Thursday July 24, 2014 — Today reminded me that Maine has more mud than Vermont and more rocks than Pennsylvania in spite of it’s glorious splendor. Yesterday’s rain dumped a lot of water on the Maine landscape with predictable results. It did what water does.

The mud was deep and black as onyx. It would make pretty good glue I suspect. I’ve written enough about slippery rocks that the eponymously named college probably owes me something for the ads. We had it all, in spades.

None of that nuisance stuff interfered with what was a watercolor day of storybook ponds and classic Maine scenery. I even crossed a road with a congratulatory 2,000 mile sign painted on it. Must be depressing for the southbounders. Some of them look so fresh and innocent. They have no idea what they’re marching into. None of us did.

Maine is dotted as thick as a Monet painting with rustic, and I mean rudimentary, cabins that people own or rent for fishing and hunting.

Built in the early ’30s, and not much changed, Harrison’s is a classic. Franklin Roosevelt once fished here. Tim, the owner and former actuary, is a good guy who treats hikers with extra kindness.

The actual reason I pulled in here was for the giant breakfast and the HOT shower. The mud and warm temperatures this week have taken their toll. Laundry can wait until tomorrow in Caratunk where I have to go to the post office anyway.

It’s a three-mile hike in the morning to catch the canoe that ferries hikers across the Kennebec River. The ferry was initiated after a hiker drowned and several others had close calls several years ago. The danger lies in a dam upstream that releases water without warning. The icy cold temp can’t be a favorable factor either.

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There’s a noisy loon in the pond.

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Tim joined us for breakfast.

Tough as granite. Really?

Rangely, ME, Saturday, July 19, 2014 — I returned to Rangely today to continue my hike early tomorrow morning. Before I left Kennebunkport, my friend Ed taught me a new trick. First a little about Ed.

We first met Hashing in Panama where he worked for the Panama Canal Commission. After the canal reverted to Panamanian control, Ed stayed on to close the books and retire on the coast of Maine.

He’s also a busy guy, meaning he doesn’t know how to sit still. With manic levels of creativity, he has landscaped his property into a showplace in a neighborhood of showplaces.

It first started with mortar-free stone walls and morphed into granite. Then there are the flower gardens. Who knows where it will end.

I thought knowing how to split granite might be a useful skill to use at home and for maintaining the trail. So I asked Ed to show me how it’s done. After all, if he can do it…

How hard could it be? Turns out that breaking rock at its most basic level isn’t difficult at all. Learning how to read the rock is a matter for another day.

As we drilled the holes and pounded the wedges, it occurred to me that cracking rocks in two might be a metaphor for thru hiking. On the trail, as in life, being flexible and willing to adjust to people, circumstances or conditions is a productive skill. Otherwise you are at risk of being too inflexible and cracking like the chunk of the rock of ages (granite pictured below), and probably faster than you think.

The trail takes and the trail gives. An old hiker maxim says that the trail will provide. For the most part it does. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for perfection, without the flexibility to adapt to what you actually get, the end of your hike may be near.

That’s a hard lesson for those used to having the authority or resources to virtually dictate their will. You see, on the trail nobody cares about your title, rank or the size of your wallet. The trail doesn’t either.

It took longer to drag out the equipment than it did to split Ed’s rock. It went that quick. In those split seconds I realized that being as tough as granite really wasn’t that much of a virtue. Sometimes being strong isn’t what you think it is.

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Wow! Elapsed time = < 5 minutes!!!

High Contrast

Poplar Ridge Lean-to, ME, AT NOBO mile 1975.6, Sunday July 20, 2014 — Today is the 45th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. Then, as Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on lunar soil, I watched along with the rest of my Ft. Benning, Ga. Infantry Officer Candidate School class from the position of parade rest in our company day room wearing only our skivvies. A black and white TV flickered history in the making.

Today I resumed hiking from Rangely. I’m typing this blog on an iPhone with more computational, photographic and communications capability than the entire Apollo program. I’m still in my skivvies tho, only this time I’m reclining in my sleeping bag with 205.7 miles remaining in my thru hike.

The sojourn off and return to the trail generated about the same level of contrast. I drove my car back to Maine to make returning home easier. The traffic and noise of NYC and the fine living in Kennebunkport are as far from what I’m doing now as one can get.

I thought about that when I retrieved and purified water from a spring this afternoon. Let’s see — genuine spring water with no extra charge for a fancy label… What a deal! Likewise as I pushed over Saddleback Mountain, The Horn and Saddleback Junior on my way to camp.

This afternoon the clouds were low and furtively dashing in between the peaks as light rain snare-drummed its tune on my pack. Why would I want to be doing anything else I thought while vividly daydreaming of on-demand hot showers and the purring of my cat Sophie as she lapnaps each evening. Hummm… It may be time to git this sucker done, don’t ya think?

I’m at a shelter cared for my the same guy who built it 57 years ago. He placed a fascinating monograph in the shelter. It’s chock full of history and answers to almost every question I have had drilling away in my head. Thanks Dave for all you have done for this trail and those of us who hike it.

Thanks also to Donna, my host yesterday. She and her friend Dave took me on a nice day hike to one of the more interesting area peaks. The three of us enjoyed a scrumptious dinner after which I slept like a rock. Best of all, the view from her deck overlooking Rangely lake is to die for. Could an itinerant hiker enjoy a warmer welcome. I think not.

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Last stop before trail realityville.

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Good info at the trailhead.

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Fresh moose tracks

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Traditional Maine “baseball bat” shelter floor.

Oh Maine!

Pine Ellis Hostel, Andover, ME, 13.5 mile slack pack, Saturday July 5, 2014 — Maine may be the final exam state but it’s raw beauty is something to behold. In that sense, it’s worth every bit of the time and effort.

When a hurricane named Arthur dumped its final load of rain on the backwoods, the result was unsurprising. It was soggy, wet, soaked, sopping, muddy, drowning, flooded, and any other descriptor of under water you can conger.

The good news, the mosquitoes and black flies were grounded by the brisk wind. Yes!!!

Still, the trail was fantastic. For the first time in weeks, the rock slab demons were on strike. Normal trail was the word of the day with an average speed in excess of 2 mph. Of course the five pound pack helped. Best of all, my knees were thankful.

Mind you that a few short months ago I would have hated these trail conditions. Since then my perspective has changed.

Today’s hike was backward, north to south, from Rangely toward Andover, ending at Rt. 17 for those who care. Tomorrow’s hike is northward from Grafton Notch over Bald Pate Mountain and the rock demons will be back. Day three should fill in the gap.

The pics show the general trail conditions, the Sabbath Pond shelter and beach. Trust me, it was fun.

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That’s a moose skeleton.

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The Mountain!

Stratton Pond Shelter, Vt., AT NOBO mile 1,636.6, Sunday June 1, 2014 — From the top of a fire tower a mighty inspiration was born.

From the Stratton Mountain fire tower Benton McKaye became the father of the Appalachian Trail. From one singular and magnificent view he envisioned a trail threading together the peaks of the Appalachian range all the way from Georgia to Maine.

Of note, McKaye never thought thru hiking was a good idea. I’ve put off reading is biography until the end of my hike because I thought it might mean more then. I hope to learn more about his logic. I suspect it was a different day and age , unlike ours where extreme sports and big accomplishments grab all the attention.

I do know from skimming the book that his shelter design and spacing have held up.

The vista from at atop the Stratton fire tower on a clear day is stunning. The horizon seems to stretch forever. Nature’s magnificence is on full display, dominated by verdant wilderness as far as the eye can see.

The immediate horizon encompasses Mt. Monadnock in NH to Graylock in Massachusetts. Some say Canada is visible on a clear day.

On days like today, this long walk has been worth every minute and all the effort.

Note: bandwidth from now on is extremely limited. Most blogs will be posted during town stops.

I’m goon to add the photos from the “Vermud” post. My phone says they’re up. The email says not. Sorry for the confusion.

From Stratton Mountain the world is endless and so are the possibilities.

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