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.]

Baxter’s Traveler Loop hike

In two weeks, I depart for a week long backpacking transect of Maine’s Baxter State Park, where one of the days will be spent on this tough loop hike. I have done it once before, we’ll see how it goes this time. I remember it was a dry route, so I’ll  pack extra water, and a flashlight!

photo by Bridget Besaw

Maine: Hike and Canoe Baxter State Park. –from Beyond the Edge: National Geographic Adventure Blog, originally posted by Chris Kassar on July 30, 2014,

Walk one of the park’s newest, toughest trails, then enjoy an easy lake paddle.

What Is It? Looking to get off the beaten path and avoid the crowds in one of Maine’s most heavily visited state parks? Try the Traveler Mountain Loop. It’s a lung-busting, 10.6-mile circuit that includes three separate mountain summits and climbs over 3,700 feet in total. You’ll spend two-thirds of your time above tree line, which means striking views but also rapidly changing weather, so be prepared.

Why Do It? Baxter State Park is an exquisite treasure in a state known for its beauty. The Traveler Mountain loop hike—which tops out on Peak of the Ridges, Traveler Mountain, and North Traveler Mountain—rivals the popular Katahdin climb in vistas and difficulty. But it’s on the north side of the park, so you’ll likely experience solitude. Reward your intense effort with an easy paddle on a serene lake the next day, and keep an eye out for moose.

Make It Happen: Visit Baxter State Park’s site for maps, conditions, and information.



The Others

For the past 36 years I’ve been walking up the driveway to get the Bangor Daily News that gets delivered to me sometime around 5:30 each morning.  Today, like no other day, a majestic bald eagle greeted me-  circling not 50 feet above my head as I reached into the newspaper box up on the road.
I don’t work on my birthday anymore, and try to let the day unfold a bit before I go hiking.  It’s a tradition that I have started in 2008, on the one year anniversary of starting out walking from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Maine.  I know that the new year is something that is thought to start on January 1, but for me it starts on my birthday, just a few days after the Spring equinox.  The light is brightening now, the days most years are warmer already. It’s time to walk again.
I wanted to backpack at least half the day today, but sometimes we have to improvise.  Improvisation is one of my major lessons this year. The Improv Wisdom book is a big help these days.
Yes, it’s just as good as it ever was- the hiking today. Maybe not as long a walk than I first wanted, but it’s what worked out. I loved the feeling of stretching out my legs, kicking forward, and leaning toward the horizon a bit- saw no one.
The trail ahead is slippery

The trail ahead is slippery

What a privilege it is to have the miles of trails and warm shelter to myself right now. The sun is setting, skies are clear and it’s definitely back into the 20’s tonight.
Just as I was walking, someone sings  “Sorrows are flowing downstream down the mountain”on the iPhone that I’m listening to . I was in the process of taking this photograph at that exact moment- I’m not kidding.

Flowing but mostly frozen

I just set up final details to do a 100 mile hike down on the Appalachian Trail in May to hike into Trail Days. I’ll be in Tennessee,  North Carolina and into Virginia ! I hope hike a few of those miles with Duff, who is setting out on a thru-hike of the AT this season. Plus Guthook will be breezing through at autobahn level mileages as he storms through Virginia as a total act of devotion to updating his ever popular AT Hiker app. Bob Peoples is helping me with logistics, and I’ll be sure to stay at his place- Kincora- the best hostel of the whole AT.

I am hoping see Crazy Horse down there. When he had the Captain America Corvette he was easy to track down. Now his car is nothing flashy.

It’s not that big a bunch that hikes a lot. These people tend to get to events like Trail Days  and AYZPCTKO ( PCT kickoff).   I will likely spot a few folks that I have not thought about in years but, when I do run into them, I’ll be filled with excitement instantly due to some deep connection we made between each other while out there with The Others. That’s who I belong to- the ragtag bunch of backpackers who do not have upward mobility anywhere even close to their home screens.  These noble folks are the masters of forward mobility.

I started hiking north on the AT on my birthday in 2007.  One thing I really enjoy right now is reading my original Trailjournal from that long hike.  I start reading about today on today, just 7 years later.  And over the next few weeks, I wake up and re-read that day’s journal, reliving the past, refreshing my outlook for the coming season.  No thru hikes for me this year, but I am excited about my progress in completing Cary Kish’s “1000 miles of hiking in Maine in one year” challenge.   I put in six more miles today.



Donn Fendler film getting closer to becoming a reality — Bangor Daily News

CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine, By Alex Barber — Just like the lost boy atop Mount Katahdin in 1939, two filmmakers are in the midst of a long journey with an uncertain outcome. Waterville, ME native Ryan Cook hopes his project turns out with a happy ending, just like the person whose story he’s telling — Donn Fendler.

On July 17, 1939, 12-year-old Fendler was separated from his family and became lost on Mount Katahdin. He emerged from the woods nine days later after the search for him had made headlines across the country.

via Donn Fendler film getting closer to becoming a reality — Mid-Maine — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine.

<–check out the full story, with video trailer.

It’s 2013: The Continental Divide Trail beckons!

Artwork by Michelle Ray

Artwork by Michelle Ray

Today, it’s officially 2013 and time to take action toward my latest big-deal adventure: backpacking the Continental Divide Trail ( CDT). I’ve got 3 months and 15 days to pull things together. I already have my plane tickets. I had air miles accumulating from my credit card for the past 5 years so the flight from Portland, ME to El Paso, TX cost me just $10 as did the trip back to Portland from Bozeman, MT on October 1.

In the past 6 years I have completed three thru-hikes: the Appalachian Trail in 2007, the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010, and Vermont’s Long Trail in 2011. Readers can access my daily Trailjournals from these journeys on, or click the hot links on the right side of my blog to get there.

On March 27, 2007 on my first day on the AT I met General Lee and then encountered Richard Wizard a couple of weeks later. We and several others held up as a “AT family” that eventually reached Katahdin together. We’ve forged life-long bonds and we reunited to complete the PCT in 2010, and in Lee’s case, the Long Trail as well. Lee is from Georgia, and Wizard from Texas. On the trail, we’re known as MeGaTex, and all three of us are on “ the bus” for this one, plus other people that I’ll introduce you to in the weeks ahead.

I started a blog in 2008, after I enjoyed writing about the daily adventures on the AT. Between my trail journals and my WordPress blog site I have racked up over a half million “hits” from readers. I’ve been rewarded many fold for my time spent whacking away at these keyboards, sending out my thoughts from the house or in the tent. The kickbacks just keep on coming. So, just to be perfectly clear- I’ll take any and all the help I can get.

So far, I’ve spent close to $500 on maps about this “King of Trails”, which is of undetermined length, ranging somewhere between 2,700 and 3,100 miles. It’s undetermined because it is not like the AT or the PCT, or the LT. It’s undetermined because the trail is only 70% complete, and 58% complete in the most northern state of Montana. You get choices to go high, go low, go over mountains, or walk riverbeds, or walk roads. The one defining characteristic about the CDT that makes it especially challenging is the tendency for hikers to lose the trail. It’s unmarked and unsigned, for sections as long as a couple of hundreds of miles. Depending on the depth of winter snows, the trail generally gets buried in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Right from the start, you get to choose three starting points along the Mexico/ New Mexico border. I’ve been spending the last month familiarizing myself with the New Mexico maps, and still am not sure I understand where the trail goes. For example, I have the latest 2009 edition of the New Mexico Delorme Atlas and Gazatteer where I believe there have been major changes from the Acoma Indian Reservation below the town of Grants all the way up to the Colorado border, and that’s 1/3 of the CDT in Mexico. I’m concerned about the fact that New Mexico is mostly a barren desert and that natural water sources are as much as 150 miles apart.
I plan to update my official Trailjournal at least once weekly as April approaches.

Saddle Trail: Katahdin, Maine

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki. The group of 10 teenagers participating in the 2012 Maine Youth Wilderness Leadership Program hikes up Saddle Trail to the summit of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park on Aug. 10, 2012.

Today’s Bangor Daily News has a good reference to what is probably the easiest trail up from Chimney Pond to Baxter Peak- relatively easy. I like the inclusion of the video. This youth group was hiking at a good clip, and the fact that it was hailing, and socked in with clouds on top, indicates that hiking is often undertaken in less than picture-post-card conditions.

I have two reservations for Baxter State park coming up. In a month, I’ll be camping at Chimney Pond for two nights, where our Gang of Four hopes to make it to the top. It’s likely that we’ll take the Saddle Trail up or down.

1-minute hike: Saddle Trail, Mount Katahdin, Maine – Act Out with Aislinn – BDN Maine Blogs.

Richard Wizard on “What Have I Learned from Hiking?”

Hiking has taught me many different things; none were formulated by lesson plans or by cramming for tests. Hiking did not teach me empirical knowledge more than it taught me a state of mind.

As a young boy, my backyard was an undeveloped endless tract of rolling Texas Hill Country in West Austin. The Austin Chalk comes to the surface there and is milky white as it outcroppings are exposed by the thin soil. Water quickly cuts the chalk limestone into fantastic shapes, creek beds with deep pools bounded by cliffs, natural amphitheaters and the ever present chalk. Miles of deer trails under the cedar breaks were the hiking trails. In the shade of the cottonwoods and sprawling live oak limbs I hiked the creek beds as far as I could go, grabbing crawdads and having them grab me when I was too slow or unsure in my movements. I was a troubled youth: I wouldn’t wear shoes, I was in constant trouble for coming home late after dinner, clothes I wore were often returned in tatters, and falls from crumbing rocks or slipping out of the trees that we climbed left behind broken bones and scars.

Still Breaking the Rules

I enthusiastically pushed the boundaries of my world as far as I could, remembering every tree, each rock, where all the forts were and which creeks always held water in their tinajas in the Texas summers. I was proud that nobody knew those woods as well as I did. Hiking taught me all this.

In middle and high school my dad would take me and my buddies to State Parks like Enchanted Rock and Pedernales. We would walk in, set up tents, eat freeze-dried backpacking food, sleep on huge camping air mattresses, in the wildest wilderness imaginable to us. During the day my dad would relax in the tent while we boys took off to destinations unknown. Unlike our mutual friends, none of us were in Boys Scouts and it was great. No merit badges for knives, we just brought our own, to flick open and shove into the dirt around creek beds. No knots to learn, we just jury-rigged our own sorry slings to haul stuff into the crowns of Live Oaks. We were our own masters to learn about smoking grapevine, with nobody to tell us that rocks were too high or too dangerous to climb. If we fell off, we fell off. That was it. Hiking taught me this too.

Later on in college the same group of friends and I started planning our own adventures. We set our sights high, on lofty ambitions toward the North West. We started learning how to mountaineer by reading books and practicing with our new ice axes. We figured out what to do if members of a party fall into a crevasse, how to set up a Z-pulley, how to put on crampons for glacier travel and what the proper following distance and slack should be for glacier travel when roped up. Then we bought plane tickets and climbed pinnacles of rock and ice. Hiking taught me this.

I had first learned of the Appalachian Trail in my living room from a TV, of all things. Dad and I were watching PBS and they ran a special about the Appalachian Trail. That was it, I was hooked. Age 9. After graduating college and years of longing, waiting, and planning I quit my job, determined to hike the Appalachian Trail. I had felt drawn to the power of Mount Katahdin for all those years, with a burning in my gut that I could not then, and nor can now rationally explain. Now this would be hiking! In Georgia, two close friends and I entered the green tunnel. When we emerged from that green tunnel in Maine I had lost one friend, derailed by money issues, but I had gained many more friendships than I bargained for. It was one of the best times in my life despite losing a serious girlfriend, while on the hike. I saw everything that you would expect to see on the trail and our group eagerly sought out each new experience. I took in as much as I possibly could.

Sometimes survival = motel

My old and new friends inspired me, taught me things and surprised me; I learned from new experiences, but ultimately it was the hiking that taught me.

Recently I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with some of the same friends from the AT. My brother came along to see what long distance hiking was about. The Pacific Crest with its mighty shining mountains, the cold snow melt rivers, and heat wave over trackless desert. True wilderness it was, from the black twisted lava flows of Northern California and Oregon to the dense rainforest and glacier-clad peaks of Washington state. The Pacific Crest Trail had nowhere near the power that the Appalachian Trail holds in me, but I did it anyway. It was one of the best times I have ever experienced. Risk coupled with reward. The end lesson from the PCT was that hiking’s end result is not quantifiable. I don’t have to walk 2,800 miles to feel accomplished. When I walk downtown to revel in drinks and debauchery, I am hiking to get there. When I walk up the street I am hiking. Every day I hike to and from my car. It is the act of walking – hiking, the same processes are still at work. Hiking continues to teach.

Now what did hiking actually teach me? It showed me about life and it showed me life as it exists on Earth. It taught me, most importantly, to be happy. Happy with yourself, the knowledge of who you are, what makes you tick. Being happy with where you are at any given minute, even if you might be standing short of where you want to be. Hiking taught me the art of reflecting, introspecting, where life scenarios are played out before your bored imagination while walking, the wild improbable daydreaming dreams. You are trapped with yourself with no way out. To be comfortable in your own skin is paramount to the level of happiness one can achieve. Know thy self, and not the shallow surface because that will quickly be stripped bare, but the deeper knowledge of that self.

I have learned patience – not with people I dislike, or work scenarios that I wish would go away – but with life, with the pace of walking, the pace of a snail. Patience is a virtue that was taught to me by life spent in the outdoors. Calmness comes hand in hand with patience, and peace, an inner peace.

I observe the landscape before me and see its past and future; its current state of health. I have not studied forestry or geology in a classroom, but I have studied and kept my eyes open in the outdoor classroom. I have not heard, but I have listened, to people that know about a wide variety of subjects and kept my mind open to learning at all times. I experienced an intimate relationship, forged by geography and the time spent in its clutches.
When I am not using my MP3 player I listen to the forest and hear the sounds of the trees flexing their boughs, the birds in the air calling shrill tunes to each other. I feel and taste the movement of air. I smell the damp forest floor leaf litter, the ozone before the impending storm.

Hiking has taught me about diet and how my body works when pushed and how my body pushes back.

Learning about nutrition

Hiking has taught me about pace, cadence, and the sounds of my own body enveloped in the outside world, to tune myself down so I am able to listen.

Hiking has taught me about suffering through the art and science of deprivation. It is the learned ability to swallow hardships coupled with grueling schedules and learning to enjoy it. While experiencing physical and mental exhaustion, and uncertainty for the future I figure out how to overcome and subdue any given situation. I find myself making the best out of a bad situations without complaining about it.

Hiking teaches me about exploration of the unknown. I know where the final destination is, yet the experiences along the way are what I look forward to. It is as close, in this day and age, as one can get to pure exploration; as if we crossed the plains in 1849, as if we were with Lewis and Clark, as if we moved with Cook and Sir Frances Drake, adapting to the ever shifting dilemmas of foot travel. Things don’t always go as planned and I practice the ability to change fluidly within the situation at hand without losing my mind. To embrace the unknown, while knowing that it will all end up taking care of itself is my lifelong lesson.

The Wizard traversing Goat Rocks in Washington

Hiking has taught two most important things, while living on and off the trail: how to enjoy the now and how to be happy.
(by Louis LeSassier)