Day 4- Walking Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness

10.2 miles.

Started walking today at 7 AM.  I was first to the top of Nesuntabunt in 75 minutes. As I approached the top, I passed the Jocomotive, who had been on point, and had been storming up ahead of me.  He had stopped to catch his breath and eat a Snickers bar, and told me that he was fine.

The walk up Nesuntabunt is a true steep, rocky trail going up though a primal forest! Here, I was able to get my first phone call out to home where I asked Marcia to get a radar map up on her computer. She told me that a rain front was approaching us from less than 50 miles away.
Marcia also said that our 57 year old veterinarian, Jim Laurita, died from a fall and possible heart attack in the elephant pen, and that the two elephants that lived at his place in Hope, Rosie and Opal, are going back to Oklahoma.  It is so sad.  Each of us has such a short time on the planet. It’s a blessing and a curse that none of us knows the eventual end date on our tombstones.

After 25 minutes waiting on top, I started to get concerned about Jocomotive and G-Man. After 40 minutes had passed, I was uncomfortably cold due to my sweat-soaked shirt.  I headed back down to check them, and was relieved to see them both heading up. I learned that Joco bonked. G-Man stayed with Joco until he was ready to walk again.  The G-Man himself was pretty spent as he make it to the top of this 1,600′ mountain. Nesuntabunt is not that high in elevation, but a dramatic change in the land of relatively flat walking in this part of The Hundred.

After another short break on top, we all reoriented to the North again. When we finally all started heading down the other side of Nesuntabunt, it was 9:50 AM. It had taken us almost three hours to make just two miles. I had hoped that we could make the Rainbow Stream lean-to before we got wet.
The rain came a mile later as we reached Crescent Pond. We all stopped and put on rain jackets. Joe and I pulled out pack covers.  I had also lined my pack with a trash compactor plastic liner, so I had a double wall of protection for my meager set of dry clothes and sleeping bag.  Chris didn’t have either a rain cover, or a liner for his pack, but he did bring along a poncho, so I showed him how to wear it in a way that partially protected his pack.

Progressive misery advanced as the rain increased in intensity and the water seeped into my clothing, and ran down my bare legs into my boots, chilling my feet. I was experimenting on this trip with rain gear options. Instead of packing my trusty Patagonia Specter rain jacket, I substituted a brand new 2014 Houdini, which boasted a fresh water-repellant coating. In just one hour I became saturated and increasingly chilled. The rain became stronger, so I decided to forgo snacks, lunch, and even drinking water in order to keep pushing to reach the dry interior of the Rainbow Stream Shelter, where we experienced a bona fide deliverance.

While I was hiking in discomfort, I recalled the sage advice of my friend-for-life, David Hanc, who once told me, “You don’t have to like something to have the right attitude about it”.

I was impressed with the grit of both the Jocomotive and G-Man, who were learning to just keep walking in steady cold rain. I get chilled easily in rain this time of year, and unless I have bars or quick food packed in a jacket pocket to eat while I’m walking, I don’t eat. I press on.

Rainbow Stream lean-to is a pretty dark place. Even thought the rain let up later in the afternoon, there was no way anything was going to dry out for tomorrow AM.

Our wet clothes picture frame

Our wet clothes picture frame

Joe and I were able to dress in to dry warm clothes.  I cooked up hot drinks, and then spent most of the rest of the day comfortable in my sleeping bag, reading, listening to Podcasts and audiobooks, writing, and socializing.

Before we ate an early dinner, a totally drenched Brit in an aeronautical engineering program, with his lady, a pre-med student squished their way into the shelter.  They were from San Francisco. They had flown to Bangor, where they were picked up by a guide who brought them to Monson to walk The Hundred. They had a set date to come out where the guide was going to pick them up at Abol Bridge drive them back to Bangor for their flight back.  The young lady looked fine, but the Brit’s feet were shot, and he was limping around badly. I politely quizzed him about his experience with this sort of thing, and he told me that he was an experienced backpacker who had backpacked the John Muir Trail, and along with other walks in California.  They were honest in how difficult The Hundred was for them.  Their first day of 10 miles , with each carrying 10 days worth of food, had them endure 12 hours of suffering, walking into darkness-a day that saw the fellow’s feet get torn up and blistered, a situation that only worsened as the days went on.

This group spent a comfortable night in the shelter.  G-Man set up his little tent on a nice rise beside the rushing waters of Rainbow Stream.  One day to go!

Jocomotive walks across Rainbow Stream

Jocomotive walks across Rainbow Stream

Day 3 Report- Where We Evacuate a hiker in the Hundred Mile Wilderness

10 Miles- Potaywadjo Spring to Wadleigh lean-to

The three of us rolled into the Potywadjo Spring lean-to at the end of our day’s hike last night to find a trio of men who told us they were thru-hikers that had just flipped from Hanover, New Hampshire up to the end of the AT in Maine and were now hiking south.

My bullshit radar activated immediately.  We’ve encountered several southbounders on the AT in the Hundred right now. Most told us they flipped from Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson River, while others were bailing from as far south as the Shenandoahs on their Northbound hikes to then hike south through Maine. This trio’s plan made no sense to me, as they had been right at the doorstep of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, known for the worse weather on the AT. No reasonable hiker would stop at that point, in early September, when the chance of encountering snow and ice was minimized, compared to what it will be like there in late September into October.

I over heard them talking while they all smoked cigarettes in front of the shelter.
Here are some exact quotes I jotted down:
” I have hiked all the Superstition Mountains in the Grand Tetons, Arizona.” [Fact: The Grand Tetons are in northwestern Wyoming.I walked through them last year.]
“We’ll be in the White Mountains in just 70 miles!” [Fact:  They are approximately 240 miles away.]
” I paid $750 for my North Face backpacking tent. It is fireproof so I can cook right on the floor inside it .” [Nope.]
“I haven’t washed up at all in three weeks.  I’m really hiker trash.”[So pleased this guy was not bedding down next to me in the shelter.]
“ I have a great hammock that I bought at WalMart for 20 bucks.”[“Great backpacking hammock” and “twenty bucks” are not generally stated in the same sentence.  The same individual said that he had started hiking  carrying a home-made tattoo machine.]
“I pulled one of my own teeth out last week. I had another hiker pull out another one two weeks ago. ”  [Yikes- they were in the front, too !]
” I started hiking from Georgia May 15. I made it to Philly for the Fourth of July.” [Fact:  That's over 1,000 miles.  That would have made his daily average  close to 20.  It didn’t jive with his previous quote, “ I lost 90 pounds.  I was so fat I could only walk 3 or 4 miles at the start of the trail. I have these big flaps of skin I hope go away.”]
“ I was going to punch that guy who owns the hostel in the face when I asked him how much it would cost for him to drive me to Katahdin and he told me $30.” [Now my intuition was glowing strong.We had to get away from these guys.]

Later, Chris ( AKA G-Man) told me that he was holding on to his wallet as he listened to these guys and looked at their gear collection, which was tattered and was at least in part Walmart branded. But they slept in three tents in a non-authorized camping area in front of the lean-to while The Slocomotive, G-Man, and I commandeered the shelter. It was just the six of us.

We three were up early the morning, the Southern boys were still in bed but rustling around when we left.

After starting out rested and strong, we quickly became absorbed in  a beautiful, green palette of moss, leaves and grasses.  Flowing through the unfolding canvas were glinting shimmers of mirrored water that appeared in clearings off the side of the AT- impressions from the numerous streams, springs, and bodies of water that we hiked through on our northerly walk toward Namahkanta Lake today.

We were walking smooth and strong, with G-Man moving strong on point  for maybe three hours when I thought I heard a sharp yell, not a common occurrence on the AT in these parts.  I heard it a short while later, and mentioned it to Joe. It seemed to come from in back of me.

Slocomotive chugging up out of Tumbledown Stream

Slocomotive chugging up out of Tumbledown Stream

We had just crossed Tumbledown Dick Stream when  I had stopped and who should be limping quickly toward us but one of those three guys.  He was in a crazed state, highly agitated, snot coating his lower jaw and neck, and clearly banged up, with his arm in a makeshift sling with white tape around his ankle. He was initially incoherent, and agitating to go forward.

He eventually told us that he was the first of his trio to leave Potawadjo Springs shelter but then found himself off trail and at the spring itself, on a blue-blazed trail instead of the AT.  But he’s now steaming north like a true mad man, alone and disoriented on the AT.  He told us that he must have got turned around when realized that his compadres had gone head ahead and he fell.  It was a woefully inadequate an explanation for how banged up he was.

Joe is a war veteran who served in Vietnam, and was a nurse before he retired. G-Man is an Emergency Medical Technician. He was in luck in encountering some experienced medical personnel.  G-Man slowly engaged with the guy, who was settled down enough for G-Man to gently palpitate his shoulder and his back, the main source of his complaints.

The G-Man assist

The G-Man assist

G-Man’s eyebrows shot upward when he gently examined the man’s spine, and called me over and had me feel the prominent hard lump that was just off the side of the fellow’s backbone.  Later, G-Man told me that he thought that one vertebra was misaligned, and that it was very likely that the guy was in an incredible degree of pain, which became evident after he doubled over and threw up after he began to walk again.  When I was alone with G-Man a little later and the guy was in the care of The Slowcomotive, I told G-Man I that I didn’t buy his story of  falling as he turned around.  I believed that he had been beaten up by one of the two other guys , or at least picked up and thrown against the shelter, or onto some rocks.  His injuries were not consistent with a simple fall , especially a fall that would have been cushioned by a loaded backpack.  When out of earshot, the Slowcomotive told me that the guy told him said he was on meds for auditory hallucinations.  Oh, Oh……

What to do?
We couldn’t leave him after he told us that he had no money, and that he threw his phone away back near the shelter when he realized that he broke it when he fell on it.  At this point he was about 30 miles south of Abol Bridge where he could get a ride out to Millinocket. He told us he had money and food at a mail drop in Monson, some 70 miles south.

We had a quick triage, and decided to assist the guy by walking him out to get help via a medical facility in Millinocket.  We decided that since he was ambulatory at the moment, we could not call 911 and initiate a likely helicopter rescue.

I opened up his pack and distributed the bulk of his gear to our three backpacks. We headed out.  He was able to walk at a surprisingly good clip, considering his condition.  Eventually he became faint, and we all sat down and made him eat and drink water.  He was in and out, sometimes starting straight ahead with open eyes, and occasionally unresponsive to our efforts to converse with him.

Eventually we came to the gravel Nahmakanta Stream Road,  where we eventually listened to G-Man, who argued strongly that our new goal was to find a way to evacuate at him via this road.  The problem now was twofold:  no traffic at all and the fact that our very narrow AT strip map was inadequate to determine which was the best direction to get him out. It was here that I vowed to (in the future), take with me pages from the Delorme Gazetteer in future Maine hikes, so that I’d be able to see where these wilderness woods road might go.

Initially, I was not able to get a cell connection at all at this spot.  However, while we were waiting for something to materialize, a miracle came to us, literally out of thin air.

I heard by iPhone buzz an incoming text notice.   It was a message from Duff, a woman that I had hiked 2,000 miles with on the PCT in 2010.  She was messaging me from Baxter Peak at the top of Katahdin, and at that exact moment, completing her own AT thru hike!  I messaged her back before the intermittent Verizon signal faded and asked her to contact Paul Seneshal, AKA “Ole Man”, and get him to text me about this situaiton.  Old man owns both the Hiker Hostel and the AT Cafe in Millinocket.
After too much waiting, and some confusing responses, everything fell into place for a rescue, of sorts.

I texted Ole Man this photo to show where we were.

I texted Ole Man this photo to show where we were.

Here’s some of the texts:

Ole Man-“Hey Tom.  I can get him if he can get to the S end of Nahmakanta Lake. There is a camping area there and it would take almost an hr to get there.”
Hey Tom. Do I need to come out there?”

Me- “Yes! You coming?”
Ole Man- “Yes. I’m on my way.”

While we were sitting in the road waiting for Ole Man to get here, the injured party told us, “I hear a car.”  We didn’t.  Then he righted himself, squinted up one end of the road, pointed and  then said, “There it is!”

Just at that moment, I saw a grey truck up in the distance that appeared to be turning around and heading back.  I ran up the road, where I discovered a smaller gravel road curving off into the woods.  I bolted up there and discovered a couple getting out of their truck.  The guy had a big holstered pistol on his hip. After I carefully approached and explained to them what was going on, they offered to immediately drive the guy out to the Jo-Mary Road checkpoint, a manned gate that Ole Man would have to pass through in order to drive the 24 miles of gravel to reach us here at the south end of Namahkanta Lake. They told me that it might take as long as two hours for him to get to this point from Millinocket.
I got in their car and brought them to our victim.  Things moved fast and furious when we emptied all of our packs of the guy’s gear and loaded him in the front seat. I handed him a $20 and wished him better luck in the days ahead.

Later, I received a final text from Ole Man- “Got him.”

Our day’s mission was formally accomplished.

[You'll have to wait for a future post to pick up more on this thread I'm going in chronological order and haven't written the rest of the trip yet.]

Flying in to Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness

Coming through Millinocket around noon today we stopped at the Hannaford’s grocery store where down by the dairy isle I ran into Billy Goat, a former Mainer, who is best known for his perpetual thru-hiking of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Uncle Tom and Billy Goat

Uncle Tom and Billy Goat

I was astounded that he appeared in my life again. I had three conversations with Billy Goat on my 2010 5-month thru hike of that trail, that 2,700 mile baptism of ice, snow, and other forms of cold water.

Billy Goat and me on the PCT in Southern California in 2010

Billy Goat and me on the PCT in Southern California in 2010

Billy Goat gave me specific advice each time that we connected.  Slow down was his main message, “You may never pass through all this again.”

Billy Goat has been out providing ground/ auto support for a friend who is about to finish a long segment from Gaspe, Quebec to Katahdin.  I told Billy Goat he looked good for 75. His eyes are not worn and washed out, and still radiate hope.

The highlight of the day was sitting in the rear seat of a small 4 seat float plane with my buddies Chris and Joe when we departed from Katahdin Air Service and landed on Crawford Pond 15 minutes later to begin our 50 mile northbound section hike.  The cost of the flight included a shuttle of my car to Abol Bridge, a one hour round trip.  When we finish the hike, the car will be right there for us on the Appalachian Trail.  IMG_3507 Jim, the pilot,  pointed out where the AT meanders between the lakes and ponds below as it carries itself along the undulating green carpet.

It was the perfect introductory backpacking day.  Blue skies, except for the clouds over Katahdin.

Katahdin looms in the distance

Katahdin looms in the distance

IMG_3515 A short 3.5 mile afternoon, and a bed space in my favorite AT shelter, Cooper Brook Falls. Tomorrow we start our first full day of adventure.

My Book Review- Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian TrailGrandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Grandma Gatewood broke the mold. The first woman to solo thru-hike the AT in 1957, she went on to walk the AT two more times, the last at 75 years old. She was also the first person to thru hike the AT three times. This was all accomplished with no money to speak off. The $57 a month she was receiving from Social Security at that time was all she would need.
Spoiler: stop right here if you don’t want me telling you details that I learned from this book, a 2014 release. Hell, it’s a book review. I am going to write what I want. Your choice.
This story is not about backpacking, because Grandma Gatewood never wore one. She probably couldn’t afford to buy one if she did. Even so, she might have declined to use a 1957 model, as it would have been too heavy for her to want to carry. The word iconoclast fits her to a “t”. Instead, she carried her spartan kit in a homemade bag slung over one shoulder. No boots, tent, sleeping bag or pad, stove for her, just Keds sneakers and carrying an army blanket to wrap up in, a plastic shower curtain for shelter, a cup, first aid kit, raincoat, and one change of clothes. That’s it ! Her food was no-cook high calorie stuff- dried beef, cheese, and nuts, supplemented by any wild food she was able to forage.
The AT is known for hardships: humidity, steep climbs, rattlesnakes down south, and periods of relentless rain. While the typical AT thru-hiker reports are all about the hike and how tough it is. For Gatewood, a thru-hike of the AT would have been a respite from the brutal life she led for her first 67 years. She married young to a bastard of an individual, who sexually and physically abused her on what appears to have been a daily basis, resulting in 11 children, 23 grandchildren, and a work day on the farm that would have crippled lesser folks.
Gatewood’s chance read of an old National Geographic article planted a seed in her heart that would not make growth until her last child was independent. When that happened, she just walked out of the house, without telling a soul where she was going.
She had to learn new skills, and really fast.
You may cry when you read this book, it is so well written and genuine.
While reading present articles about Gatewood, I learned that there is a movie about her that is currently in production ( http://grandmagatewood.wordpress.com/… ). This is one story that needs to be heard, a genuine American epic of a life saved and even graced by the open trail.

View all my reviews

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail | Longreads

I am still benefitting from my most enjoyable, 5 day walk on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  The cool temps, abundant wildflowers, word-class terrain, challenging climbs, fragrant forests,  plentiful water sources, and the top-notch Kincora hostel all contributed to an experience that continues to enrich me, as I reminisce daily about that ancient path and the effect it had in uplifting my spirits.

In 1955, a most amazing story began to unfold, when a tiny, aged woman laced up her Keds and started walking from Mt. Oglethorpe, Georgia.  Grandma Gatewood’s story needs to be heard today, when the complexity of one’s life begs for simplification.

This week’s Longreads Member’s Pick is the the opening chapter of Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, the new book by Ben Montgomery about Emma Gatewood, the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone—and who did so at the age of 67.  I  opened the following link and ordered the book after reading the introductory chapter.  It is so well written.  Check it out:—>>Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail | Longreads.

Riding Mountain Bikes on Mt. Rogers, VA

Last weekend I was down in the southern Appalachians.  The first 5 days, I was there, I walked 90 miles of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  It was glorious.  The wildflowers were in abundance,  and were prolific . There were times when I was backpacking, sometimes over 5,000 feet in elevation, while at the same time inhaling the intoxicating fragrance of woodland plants and trees. It was a healing experience.

Flame Azalea

Flame Azalea

Rhododendron in full bloom

Rhododendron in full bloom

After my backpacking segment, I stayed at my friend Mike’s mountainside cabin that I reported on in my previous post about my week down south.

 

One of the activities that Mike and I shared was a 14 mile mountain bike ride from the cabin through the Mt. Rogers Wilderness, where we pushed our bikes uphill toward the Grayson Highlands.  Our ride then followed an abandoned railroad grade to the top of our ride, where we intersected the Appalachian Trail at a corral known as the Scales.

The Scales

The Scales

The other geographical feature of this area are the Balds,  which are large mountaintops that are devoid of trees.  here’s a panorama of a bald that I visited.

Bald near Mt. Rogers

Bald near Mt. Rogers

Riding bikes here was a unique experience.  My friend Mike owns two Diamondback bikes.  He rode a later model with a front suspension fork, and I chose a 1986 vintage Diamondback Apex for the day.  I have an 1985 Apex at home, that I have converted to a road bike.  On this ride, I was forced to remember why modern bikes often sport front AND rear suspensions. The ride up was not so bad, because it was a steady climb of 1600′.  The ride down was a real suffer fest, due to the constant pounding of the front end on the numerous rocks and ruts that littered the trail.  My forearm and wrists were toast.

The next day Mike, his wife Susan and I went uphill again, walking a new route.  The real treat of the walk was encountering two black bears.  Mike’s Blue Heeler Jackson had run ahead of us and treed them.  The dog came right back to us when Mike called it, when we were able to watch this giant fat black bear drop like a stone down a tall tree with it’s little cub doing likewise on an adjacent tree.

 

 

Day 6 Hiking the AT in TENN/VA

Guthook roused me with a “Morning, Uncle Tom”, on his way from the Abington Gap lean-to to retrieve his food bag, hanging from a nearby tree. I snapped open my eyes in the hopes that the deluge of rain that came in the night had stopped. It hadn’t.
My tent leaked in the thunderstorm last night. One thing that I hadn’t completed before this hike was resealing the seams on my Tarptent. There’s a lot of wear on gear that takes place on a five month thru-hike, and one piece of gear that suffers from neglect is a tent. The months-long packing and pulling on the tent seams wears off the coating over time, thus a leaky tent.

So Guthook and I shouldered our packs, and hiked 10 miles in three hours straight to hit Damascus. It was raining off and on the whole way, but warm enough that you could hike in shorts and a shirt and it was enough.

The laundromat in Damascus was closed. The closest one was in Abington, 18 miles away. Guthook, EZ Hiker and I ate ate breakfast at the Tastee Freeze and then headed up to Tent City outside of the downtown area where we scored a free shower and a fresh washing/drying of our clothes all courtesy of the Trail Days Ministry. I was pumped to run into Crazy Horse, my benefactor from 2007.

20140518-175749.jpg

At the Appalachian Trail Conservancy booth, I saw that Guthook’s AT App was now being promoted by the ATC.

Guthook was in the market for a super light sleeping quilt and four one that weighed about a pound. Here he is “field testing” it.

20140519-043914.jpg

How about some dehydrated beer?

20140519-044126.jpg

The rain came down even harder, and we huddled up with some other hikers under a tarp. So we got showers and clean clothes and the rain started to come down again. Our plan was to hitch 22 miles out of town to a cabin over by Mt. Rogers that my friend Mike had opened up for us.

When the rain abated a bit, the three of us started walking towards the center of town when an SUV pulled up and the driver welcomed our sorry wet selves into the dry interior of his vehicle.

The rest of the story is lifted from EZ Hikes’s blog.

20140518-175547.jpg He’s hiking with Guthook:

“We all climbed in and started introductions. The driver said ‘My name is Longhaul. I hiked in 2005′. I looked him and said ‘I hiked with a Longhaul in 2010.’ He replied ‘I hiked in 2010 and I remember you, EZ Hiker. So were do you guys need to go?’
I explained to him we were trying to get to a cabin near Troutdale.
He said, ‘I have a bunk room at my farm house. Come stay we me tonight and I’ll take you back to Trail Days in the morning’. “

Things worked out, again. We ate a huge amount of home made chili. Longhaul whipped up fresh omlets and bacon in the morning.