Seven Years Ago Today I Completed the Continental Divide Trail

Sept 18, 2013

Last day!
12:00 midnight- awoke to the sound of light rain on my miniscule silicone coated nylon tent. Nothing unusual. It often rains a bit at night, then passes. Felt cold at the edges of my goose down sleeping bag. Fell back asleep.

1:30 AM Awoke to harder rain. Groped around for my headlamp, with a headband stretched so badly it slides down over my eyes. Water is on the floor of the tent, migrating in from seams that were sealed just before the hike, but are now worn from 150 nights of folding, unfolding, and being subject to the harsh sun. My tent vestibule is ripped and the zipper is broken- my backpack sits out there sheathed in a waterproof trash bag. Everything I have is torn, worn, or at the end of its realistic trail life. Even the gear is limping to the finish line.

4:00 AM- I slept fitfully the rest of the night- my air mattress needs more pumps, it’s my last line of defense- fully inflated, the Exped mat lifts me up 3-4″ above the cold water that has pooled up all around me. What was laying in the floor is now drenched.

7:00 AM- I can see light outside. What sounds like freezing rain on the tent is worse- it’s snow. I call out to Wizard- he tells me that it is 36 degrees inside his tent. We are shocked silent. I stare out at where I don’t want to go. What natural majesty that will surround me, I won’t notice if this keeps up.   At best, the walk today will be about survival and avoidance of hypothermia. I don’t want to be here, I want to be done.

8:00 AM-       I wear thin wool base layers, tops and bottoms, under my Patagonia Specter jacket and my ULA rain skirt. I will get wet, but may stay warm. I pulled up the hoodie from my Backpacking Light merino wool long sleeve. Rain jacket on.
This setup worked.
What didn’t fare too well were my hands and feet. I started off with light Manzilla gloves that were saturated quickly.   My hands were painfully cold, all day long. At times, I was so cold I was not able to use my fingers to open a snack wrapper, and had to ask Wizard to do it for me. I even got stressed about if I would be able to zip and unbutton/ button when I had to pee. I was not about to ask for that kind of help.
And my feet- quickly and completely saturated with 42 degree water. These are not feet that can take much more abuse. Many foot points hurt, and the addition of gravel and sand sifting down inside the boots and settling like sandpaper over the soles of my feet was particularly uncomfortable.
For hours, the discomfort in my both feet and hands ground me down.
I kept telling myself, “It will be done today.” Thinking like that was a good thing for me to do.
So was the constant walking.   It’s how we survived the day. We decided to walk in 4 segments. The first was to a Patrol Cabin, almost 5 miles. Then another couple hours to the Goat Haunt Ranger station, at the base of Waterton Lake where the Ranger there actually checked out our backcountry permit.
This was when it got interesting. The terminus of the CDT was 3.6 miles away and the three of us moved so fast through “segment three” that we were practically running. We communicated none of this beforehand. It was just what we knew to do. Wizard and I had done this twice before, and knew the drill. Train was there at the end of the PCT, and he actually set the rapid pace.
I was sure I would see the monument from a distance.   Nope. It seemed to just appear there- two small miniature Washington-Monument-shaped-pylons close to the Lake on a little rise.
I shouted out to Wizard,   “O my God! There it is! ”
The intensity of happiness that I experienced at that moment was delicious. I didn’t know much right then, but did know that me standing there was an event that I will be percolating for some time. I don’t fully understand where the door ahead of me will lead me to, but I believe it will be a good road.

The town of Waterton was still 4.2 miles away.   I was done with the CDT but still had more than four miles of hiking to complete.   As soon as we got back on that last section of trail, we were right back at it, churning out miles.
Nothing had changed.
Or did it?

My 5 months of continual backpacking is over.   It was often really hard to keep moving.    I plan to write a bit more about what happened to me out there, and where this series of magnificent experiences takes me.  Right now, I am really, really tired.   I look forward to going home to those who love me. It’s what I missed so much, and yet that love might have become even bigger while I was learning how to stay present in the massive American wilderness.


Day Hiking in the Rockies

We’re playing patsy with the smoke that rolled into Montana yesterday. Up until now, the skies have been relatively free of major particulate matter that would keep one inside, but this is a different scene.

Haze moving into the Lamar Valley, YNP

I’ve completed (sometimes two) hikes every day since arriving here by Amtrak from Portland, Maine a week ago. Most of the hikes are within a 30-minute drive from  Livingston, Montana.

Hiking in Montana and nearby Wyoming is different than in New England.

First- the elevation. Livingston sits at the same elevation ( 4,500”) as the adjacent Paradise Valley. The hikes here generally start in the Valley and ascend the various foothills creeks, canyons, and spurs that lead to the 10,000’ plus Rockies towering above.

Paradise Valley below

My oldest son Lincoln and I  summited 8,564’ Bunsen Peak (BP) in Yellowstone National Park yesterday. We were down by noon, with excellent views despite the increasingly smoky skies. Aftermaking good time getting to the top, I experienced some difficulty with breathing up that high.

Atop 8,564′ Bunsen Peak

I last hiked to the top of BP in October of 2005.   It is a climb of 1,300 feet through forest and meadow to the switchback path to the summit (German chemist Robert Bunsen studied geysers and invented the Bunsen Burner). There we enjoyed panoramic views of the Blacktail Deer Plateau, Swan Lake Flat, the Gallatin Mountain Range, and the Yellowstone River Valley.

Western view off Bunsen Peak – haze moving in.

The return is via the same route.  The parking lots are crowded, however, we only encountered a dozen hikers on the trail.

Grizzly bears frequent this area, so I carried a can of bear spray on my sternum strap.

In 2013, I was in the company my thru-hiking partners Wizard and Train when we were dropped off at the parking area of this trailhead as we were working our way along in the opposite direction on the Big Sky variant as we worked to complete  our Continental Divide Trail thru-hikes.

CDT 2013

The 670 mile Yellowstone River flows through the valley, which hosts several hot springs, including the world-famous Chico Hot Springs.

Chico Hot Springs photo

In 1806, Meriwether Lewis marched from the three forks of the Missouri River to put into the Yellowstone River at today’s Livingston. There are no major dams on the Yellowstone from its source in Yellowstone NP to its confluence with the Missouri River.  Notable area residents include Russell Chatham (landscape artist), Jeff Bridges, Peter Fonda, Arthur Blank, and John Mayer.

The Gardiner gate of Yellowstone National Park is 52 miles south from Livingston on Route 89. My Senior Pass entitles me to free entrance for myself, the vehicle, and up to three passengers.   Yellowstone is massive, containing 2.2 million acres. The last major fire moved through the park in 1988, burning through one-third of the land.

In addition to grizzly bears, the park is home to herds of antelope, bison, sheep, and elk. Wolves and wolverines also live within the borders. Where hiking in areas where grizzlies are active, I clip a can of bear spray onto the sternum strap of my day pack.

Rattlesnakes abound out here. In fact, I almost stepped on a timber rattler walking up the spine of a ridge in the Gallatin Range.

Look out!

It was right in the trail, completely camouflaged, and began loudly rattling. I was in front at the time and leaped backward.  Lincoln pointed to the side and yelled to Dish dog, “Go around! ”, which the dog did as it appears to understand most human commands. He grabbed the new puppy Deja and we got out of there.  Hiking up was over.

The valley here is a high desert, which is characterized by plants that appear to spread their seeds via barbed casings that are capable of attaching to clothing and even went through the sides of trail runners. It may be that the best footwear for hiking here may be ankle-high leather boots, with long pants which would protect somewhat from rattlesnake strikes, pointy plants, and ankle-high jutting rocks.

It gets hot here but not uncomfortably so. While he thermometer hit 93 yesterday, the humidity was only 12 percent. I am much more able to move around outside here in the West than when it hits the 90’s in Maine. At those times, New England’s oppressive humidity tends to be that high as well.

If tomorrow is another one of these good days, and the smoke from the West coast is not too thick, we might just end up floating the Yellowstone River for half a day. There’s a big rubber raft waiting nearby.


Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument- my book review

Katahdin Woods and Waters National MonumentKatahdin Woods and Waters National Monument by Eric E. Hendrickson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I ripped right through this book since I am putting together a multi-night bike packing trip in the Monument before the snow flies. I’ve blogged about bike packing and hiking there, joined the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, and purchased the Map Adventures map of the Monument. This book will definitely add to getting the most out of my experience in the Monument.

Mr. Henderson states that the goal of his book .…” is to give information on the general history of logging in his area, as well as the geology that shaped the land to make what it is today.”

What I Liked:

Recreational History
Three of the twelve chapters are devoted to Recreational History, Roads into the Wilderness, and Wilderness Depots. Depots were the first farms established in the wilderness that provided shelter and food for those brave and resourceful enough to make the foray into places that had positively zero infrastructure. The first substantial sporting camp was Lunksoos, which provided it all to the “ sport”: home-cooked meals, lodging, and even hunting and fishing guides. Other establishments followed. I have yet to visit Lunksoos, which is now used as a base for maintaining and staffing the Monument

Historic black and white photographs
There are dozens. If a picture tells a thousand words, the reader is spared many pages, with depictions of old roads, camps, dams, advertisements, personalities, and antique maps.

Logging in the old days
One-quarter of the book includes chapters on the Life of a Lumberman, Meals for the Lumberman, and Log Drives.

Wilderness Wildfires
This chapter was particularly interesting, given the recent increase in the wildfires occurring in the western US, which have been in part ascribed to climate change. I had no idea that a fire in the area in 1825 became one of the largest mega-wildfires ever recorded in North America. Three other huge fires in 1837, 1844, and 1933 were man-made, either on purpose or by accident.

Preservation and Proclamation
This chapter begins with the history and struggles to establish Baxter State Park, whose Governor Percival Baxter championed the cause of “Forever Wild” in a manner similar to that which Roxanne Quimby experienced as she purchased, and swapped to acquire the 87,000 acres of land bordering the eastern side of Baxter State Park. Ms. Quimby purchased land for fair market share in any condition; mature forest or cut-over following the lead of Governor Baxter, whose critics of his purchases of junk, or burned over land, were ignored as he had the foresight to realize that forests regenerate over time and eventually mature.

President Barak Obama’s August 24, 2016, Proclamation 9476 is included in full and helps the reader understand the uniqueness and value of KWWNM.

Lack of a chapter on Native American history
I’ve read full textbooks on the history of the Cree in eastern Canada. While the author does refer to specific native individuals, particularly those guides that made Henry David Thoreau’s forays into the area possible, I was thirsty for details about their villages, camps, and lifestyle leading up to the European takeover of their ancestral lands.

Lack of inclusion of a modern map of the KWWNM
I yearned for a modern map to refer to as the geographic features and historic locations unfurled. I strongly suggest that the reader acquire a modern map and have it open as you read through the book.

Instances of duplication within the book
Several times I read a paragraph and asked myself, “Didn’t I already read this? Am I in the right place?”

Book Architecture
President Obama’s Proclamation was so well written and detailed that rather than be the last thing you’d read in the book, it might be better moved to the front.

In sum, the book’s twelve chapters are well-focused in meeting those initial goals. If one buys the book to help plan a trip into the Monument, and to learn about newly established roads, trailheads, lodging, and camping details they will be disappointed. The reader is urged to regard the book as an extensive and highly readable historical review.

View all my reviews

The Snow Leopard- my book review

The Snow LeopardThe Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just completed my fourth read of The Snow Leopard.
Lately, I’ve been rereading classics and other books that have past meaning for me. Tim Ferris points out that once you get older, you begin to run out of time to do things, including reading books. The average American adult reads approximately 12 books a year. Several things have changed for me after turning 70. I’m guessing that I have about 15 more years of reading left in me, so it may come to pass that I would have the chance to read 150 more books. There may be more books read on this end and less as I age out; due to eyesight, interest, and cognitive decline.

I plan to get the most bang for my reading efforts from this point forward. I like using the Goodreads app to list books that I have read and want to read. I do better with my time by having a few goals in the background that help guide my activity. Reading more books has been important enough to me that I hope to read 45 books this calendar year. I’m two books behind schedule so far, completing 29.

The Snow Leopard is my favorite book, rising stronger of my list after I completed several long-distance backpacking trips, three of them even longer than author Peter Matthiessen’s 250-mile, the five-week journey through western Nepal. Matthiessen’s Zen Buddhism practice was strong at the time the book was written and presents the reader with rich detail about historical figures, locations of Buddhist monasteries, and his own inner growth and frustration as he moved through villages and holy sites on his journey.

I just read a disparaging remark slamming trail journals that have made it to book publication, describing them as lesser-quality productions than researched nonfiction. My response to that misguided position is this gem of a book, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 1978. Then, at the age of 8, his epic Shadow Country novel won the same award, but this time for Fiction, placing Matheissen as the sole owner of National Book Awards for both genres.
For this read, I had the advantage of the internet and was able to instantly look up photos, references, and the like as I really took the time to expand the read.

I plan to travel to Nepal and trace his steps. Several trekking companies now offer itineraries that do this. I don’t know when I’m going, but I’m going. I’ll read Snow Leopard again in the remaining time that I have left to walk on this earth.

View all my reviews

First Impressions: Tarptent Double Rainbow ( DR) Lithium

-from Tarptent website

I’ve been a fan of the DR since 2007 when I purchased it to complete my northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail that year.   My first DR was different than this version and was replaced for free a short time after purchase by Tarptent after the company substituted velcro closures with zippers, and improved the single strut situation over the top of the tent, so this is a review of my third Double Rainbow !

I switched to the DR in 2007 when I reached Harpers’ Ferry, VA . I’ve got bad shoulders, after bilateral surgeries. In addition, my right shoulder has been recommended for complete replacement after I was given 3-5 years of expected service way back in 2007. Yes, I’ve been putting it off. I was experiencing considerable pain in that right shoulder in 2007 when I slept on the ground, so began hiking the AT in a Clark’s Jungle Hammock. I had no pain while sleeping, but became increasingly dissatisfied with life in the hammock. If I wasn’t an author, it might not have mattered. The problem became the sense of cramped confinement I experienced lying back in the hammock and typing out my daily Trailjournal entries. That plus periods of confinement on bad weather days where I was stuck in the hammock.

I successfully completed the AT in the DR, and then used it for shorter backpacking trips from 2007 through 2010. The tent was solid to the point where I was able to complete my 2010 Pacific Crest Trail in that same DR, which was deposited in the first trash can that I found in Canada.

What I liked about the DR was the floor space. I’m 6’2”. The original fit two 20” wide mats side by side with ample room to sit up. The space was then luxurious for the two-pound 8-ounce weight. The double entry doors with vestibules were appreciated on my thru-hike when the main zipper eventually failed on one of the doors. I taped and pinned that one closed and used the other door instead.
In freestanding mode employing two trekking poles, the DR also adapted well to the wooden tent platforms in increasing use here in the northeastern US. I remember snagging a terrific tent site on a shallow ledge that resisted the use of tent pegs.

In 2010 my wife bought me a brand new Tarptent for my birthday This time it was the smaller single-person Moment model, using just one center pole, and only two stakes. It worked fine for my whole Continental Divide Trail thru-hike in 2013, and went on thru-hikes of the Vermont’s Long Trail, Newfoundland’s East Coast Trail, and New Brunswick’s Fundy Footpath. When I last used my Moment a month ago while bike camping in Vermont I tore again a previously repaired area. It became apparent that I would not be sending back the Moment for any more repairs. Another one bites the dust !

I lost my job as a school psychologist on March 19 this year due to Covid-19 and am not going back, due to my wife’s medical condition, the nature of my job, and our ages.  Auntie Mame and I continue to quarantine since then. While we’ve been through so much these past 48 years of marriage, being at home together so much gets stressful. Earlier this August was constantly grumbling about the heat and humidity, so Mame suggested that I spend some money for a new tent and take four days to go backpacking.

I bought a new tent!  I planned to buy another Double Rainbow but there is now a brand new lighter, stronger, bigger, and improved version- The Double Rainbow Lithium.

From the Tarptent website: “New for 2020, the patented Double Rainbow Li is our lightest arch pole supported shelter. Made with Dyneema®, this tent is ideal for users who want floor space to fit two long, wide pads. Dual side entry with dual vestibules, free-standing capable with trekking poles, and hybrid double-wall with optional liner, the Double Rainbow Li gives you the freedom and security you want for a wide range of conditions”.

The DR Li is shipped-seam taped, with reflective Spectra cord guylines,  improved venting, and moisture management features. The DR Lithium website includes a long 23-minute Backpacking Light video review that convinced me to shell out the extra cash and purchase what is likely to be the last backpacking tent I’ll ever need, although if I ever wear it out on other 2,000+ mile thru hikes, that might change. Setup time is 2 minutes. At $649 is this model twice as good as the original DR?

I love doing business with Tarptent. When I called to discuss I wasn’t that surprised when the owner, designer, and original sticher Henry Shires answered the phone and even remembered me from previous contacts. I also met him at a backpacking festival out West in 2010.  We chatted and he added that this tent is manufactured in China in a factory that is specifically designed for cutting and assembling ultralight backpacking tents. Henry explained that as a prior Tarptent consumer, the workmanship of this Lithium model will be immediately noticeable. Prior to the decision to go to off-shore assembly, all Tartptents were made in the US. Increasing difficulty at finding experienced sewists in the US contributed to this decision. My tent arrived two days later with free shipping, just in time to test it out on a multi-night section hike of the Appalachian Trail here in Maine.

The tent impresses right away. Packed size is 18×4×5 in. and weight at 1.75 pounds. Even the stuff sack is Dyneema, waterproof racing sailcloth, trademarked as “the world’s strongest fiber”.

What was it like on the trail?   Excellent!

Since I had spent hundreds of nights in previous DRs, I was able to set up in under five minutes.  Other reviewers on the Tarptent website have written about setup being trickier that the company video leads you to believe, but my results came out tight as a drum. The wider width allows for two 25-inch wide pads to go side by side with a few inches extra to spare. It’s a palace in there for me and all my gear. The only reason I’d ever need the vestibules while solo would be for wet gear and stinky shoe placement. The little ridgepole that was integrated into the previous DR is now separate from the tent itself and is reported to allow for increased performance in windier conditions. I can’t comment on how the tent did in the wind as both nights use of this tent were in heavily forested, protected sites, one right beside a stream.
Normally, camping beside water results in increased condensation inside the tent, and I was pleased when the interior walls were practically dry when I woke up. I’d highly recommend watching the 23-minute Backpacking Light Review on the Tarptent Website to help understand why this tent’s design assists with condensation management.

I’m super pleased after my first multi-night experience in the tent. A longer use review will follow as I’m currently planning a bike-packing trip through the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, hopefully before the snows hit.

NOTE: The tent is out of stock already !

Every Street in Town: Completed!

Street map of Linconville, Maine

I just completed bicycle rides of every single street in my town of Lincolnville, where are 76 miles of town roads that are currently plowed and serviced.  I  also rode several discontinued town roads that linked to current roads.  My riding partner for this challenge was my neighbor and riding buddy Andy Hazen who has kept up his habit of daily riding for at least a couple decades.  Andy has ridden more miles on his bikes than anyone I know.  Just this summer a bike that Andy  purchased for an attempt of the Tour Divide just turned 10,000 miles.

If I take on this challenge in winter(Andy and I  ride year-round), even more routes would be revealed as there are probably as many miles to be snagged on snowmobile trails over swamps, bogs, and yes, lakes and frozen ponds.

Andy, on the route
Most miles were on this 1986 Diamondback Apex, converted to road gearing

I became inspired to take on this challenge after reading about Ricky Gates’ 40 day run of every single one of San Francisco’s 1,300 street miles.

Ricky’s San Fran heatmap

Check out my Microadventures to Counteract Isolation entry, which introduces you to Ricky’s obsession.  It blew my mind.

It took us 8 rides to complete every street in Lincolnville.  Andy and I live on High Street which is in the top left corner of the map.  A straight line measurement from High Street to the roads in the lower right of the map is nearly 8 miles one way, and there was no way to avoid duplicating rides over some roads as we wound our way to the town’s borders.   Once, we loaded up our bikes in Andrew’s truck and parked at Grange Corner at the top of Pitcher Pond in order to complete the Greenacre and the Ducktrap Roads all the way down to Route 1 and back.  Those were both gravel roads I had never explored before.

There are also a lot of hills in town, which includes a good portion of Camden Hills State Park.

Custom maps for any town can be purchased from MyTopo.  The cost is $16.95 plus shipping for a waterproof rolled map.

I really enjoyed the camaraderie with Andy in planning routes, riding, meeting town folks that we chatted up, and having a bona fide excuse to get on our bikes and explore.   I looked forward to taking out my grease pencils and filling in the completed segments.  It’s reinforcing!

I also plan to explore using Strava on my next challenge to draw a personal heatmap of my progress and achievement.

I just bought a MyTopo map for Hope, ME,  directly west of Lincolnville where I have a camp on Hobbs Pond.  It’s time to call the Hope town office and get a mileage number for my next micro-adventure.

In truth, it will be a number of micro-adventures that expand my experience of where I live!

Day 3 of 3: AT Section Hike, Caratunk >>> Monson

I was out of my tent before my two neighbors were up. After years of waking up early on the trail, I can pack up, eat breakfast, and be walking in a half hour. There are 8 or 9 miles to go.  I was confident that I’d reach Shaw’s Hostel and my car by noon.

Unfortunately, the heat and humidity were still with me, so it became another shirtless hiking day. In addition, a pesky cloud of gnats became my companion for much the morning, irritating me by dive-bombing my eyeballs.  Gnats thrive in humidity and are drawn to the exhalations of carbon dioxide and the moisture of our eyes. While they don’t bite, gnats are persistent and when they stick around I  flag them away with my multi-purpose bandanna.

Wildlife encroaches the Trail, even in the brief time that AT trail maintenance has been suspended since Covid-19 showed up.  The first evidence for it was at the ford of the West Branch of the Piscataquis River, normally knee-high or lower at this time of year.  I was surprised and awed by the huge beaver dam that was built by the animal engineers at exactly the AT crossing point.

Beaver dam

Just before I started to go across, Birdie, one of the hikers that I met last night at the campsite, caught up with me. He had little knowledge of the beaver world and had no idea that this huge u-shaped dam had been made by beavers. I referred him to the most excellent book “Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter”, which details the American and natural history of this most unique and intelligent animal. The dam appears to have been but this season, as it contained freshly harvested sticks all the way up to the top of the dam. Birdie and I walked across in our hiking shoes, which stayed dry.

I hiked and chatted with Birdie as we made our way toward Horseshoe Canyon. Eventually, he turned on the gas and left me in the dust.

A hort time later I encountered Birdie again when he ran back to tell me that he had just seen a mink climb a tree. I headed up the AT with him and he pointed to a tall 5” in diameter maple that had what I thought was a baby bear clutching the top. It was no mink, which are normally chestnut brown this time of year and 13-18 inches long. It was jet black and had the same size and head shape. As I circled the tree to get a 360-degree view of it I saw that I was no bear either, due to a long, thick, bushy tail.

It was a fisher. I’ve only seen one of them before, some twenty-some years ago as it bounded away from my field and entered the woods. Fishers are solitary, elusive, and dangerous.  Pound for pound, they are one of the fiercest  animals in the Maine woods and are the only species that kills and eats porcupines. By repeatedly biting and scratching at a porcupine’s face, fishers cause it to bleed to death.  Because most of a porcupine is covered in quills (aka quill pig), the fisher then eats the porcupine by flipping the dead animal over and chmping through the stomach.

I had no need to continue on the AT as it veered north before Lake Hebron and paralleled Maine Route 15 for another 2.5 miles or so. I’ve done it twice before. As I negotiated my way around the Trail on the north side of the Lake I was able to see portions of the original AT.

ancient groove of AT

I like this method of marking the entrance to the AT;

Back in the day, the AT in Maine made a beeline into many of the towns that are now skirted with reroutes. The reason for this was to feature more wilderness experiences. For me, I like experiencing town life, especially away from population centers as you move your way through Maine. I’ve kindled numerous warm relationships from my trail encounters with the kindness of strangers.

Today was no exception. I began to walk a new road extension west from Monson with several sparking homes and camps in place. The dry gravel road threw up choking clouds of dust as the occasional pickup truck sped past. Since I was within a mile or less from the town I didn’t try to hitch a ride. It didn’t matter. A red pickup approached me from behind with an older couple taking up the front seats. Rather than bathe me in another dust cloud it stopped.  A woman rolled down the passenger window and told me, “Please sit on the tailgate”. They took off and made a turn or two and eventually pulled right up to Shaw’s Hostel, which was my final stop! They knew. Numerous hikers were milling about between the two houses that now make up the Shaw’s compound. The driver of the truck got out and chatted me up a bit.

“Buddy, both you and I are too old to be hiking around when it’s this hot,” he said.

I told him I came up with hopes for cooler temps and less humidity. Neither was on tap here in Monson today. I thanked the couple profusely for the ride and hitched my pack onto my back and headed into Shaw’s to find Hippy Chick, who owns the place along with her husband Poet. I found her inside and she immediately began to address my sorry condition, with offers of a towel and even a can of ice-cold Pabst Blue Ribbon. I don’t usually drink at noon, but it was the best decision available at that moment. The inside shower was also empty so I coughed up the $5 for the pleasure of rinsing off all the grime, strain, and sweat I had accumulated today. Next, I changed into the clean clothes that I brought with me that I had stashed in the car.

If these were normal times, and they are not, I would not have pushed to get here at noon today. There were far too any folks milling about at Shaw’s for me to feel comfortable around COVid-19. Prior to the pandemic, I would have cut daily miles so that I could to set up my tent and relax, read, chat with the hikers , and write a bit . I might have even rented one of the private rooms at Shaw’s,  found dinner in town, and hung with the hikers. I don’t do well in high heat and humidity, so constant sweating while loading up the miles propelled me to home.

In the end, my 36-mile section hike started just before noon two days ago and ended just before noon today. I left refreshed after my hike, turned the car’s air-conditioning to high, and made the two-hour drive back home.

I should have stayed home and avoided the heat and humidity of the northern forest. On the positive side, I really enjoyed the views from Moxie Bald, walking over the beaver dam, and get close to a fisher, an unusually elusive resident of the Maine woods.  The AT will be there later this autumn, the prime season for taking in foliage displays and enjoying the crisp fall days and cool starry nights.


Day 2: AT section from Caratunk to Monson

12 miles

Day 2: AT section hike Caratunk to Monson.

Start: camping “au sauvage” at stream before Moxie Pond) to campsite (Guthoook Guides  @ mile 2065.5)

I awoke with the dawn when the Dark Sky App reported the temp at 75 with humidity at 85%. I was pleasantly surprised to be free of condensation inside my new Tarptent Double Rainbow (Lithium). Most of the time, camping right next to a water source tends to bring copious condensation on single-walled tents. Perhaps 1100 feet of elevation at the campsite sent the wetter air down the slope for once.
I ate my usual breakfast right out of a baggie: homemade granola and Nido brand dehydrated whole milk powder. I filled my 32 oz used Gatorade bottle, whose wide mouth accommodates my trusty Steripen, with 4 packets of Starbucks Instant coffee, drank half, and started hiking around 6:30 am- shirtless. The day was already humid and hot enough that I was sweating in 15 minutes.

I hadn’t realized just how close I had camped to the Moxie Pond Road. Where I exited the forest I saw evidence of the old high cable winter cables over Baker Stream. There used to  be two cables stretched out over the end of Joe’s Hole. The hiker stood on the lower cable and held themself upright by holding on to the upper cable. I remember using a big carabiner to clip my pack to the upper cable and pushed it ahead of me. I am afraid of heights and it was terrifying. I am relieved its gone, and replaced by the reroute further downstream.
Unfortunately, the same sort of disturbing dead animal weirdness was back again with a rotting carcass of a fox sitting at the AT signpost just before the stream crossing. I was angry and moved past the sorry mess quickly.

Another long, hot humid day of hiking unfolded. I was hoping for a swim in Bald Mountain Pond at mile 7 but that didn’t happen. The side trail to get to the Pond led to a tiny strip of sandy beach with were several beached powerboats clustered together and a furious wind coming onto the shore so I moved on in the hope of a better choice to get in the water.

The day featured above treelike views along the ridges on Moxie Bald. Later, I was able to rinse off at Bald Mountain Pond, but had to be careful due to walking over slippery rocks to reach even knee-high depths. The muck was deep enough to discourage deep water swimming.

I know that there are hikers who report experiencing lasting insights while hiking. I’m mostly preoccupied with looking ahead, considering foot placement, and guessing how long it will take to finish certain segments of the footpath. That being said, it continues to astound me when I experience a childhood memory that appears novel and obscure. Today, I remembered standing next to a group of fourth-grade boys watching Mikey Mitchell chin a lug a whole icy cold bottle of Coca Cola on the playground of the Cathedral School in Fall River, MA. I remembered all the names of the starting football players on the 1967 team at Monsignor Coyle High School in Taunton, MA.    Heavy meanings?  I don’t think so! I believe it is brain synapses burping up adjacent connective fibers.

I appreciated my iPhone’s Atlas Guide in steering me to my tent site tonight and so did the two other hikers who came in after me today. Once I identified the potential campsite on the app’s map, I drew a couple quarts of water from a stream identified with an icon a couple of tenths of a mile before the campsite itself. We were able to spread out a good distance from each other at the grassy site, with one of the hikers hammocking up in the woods adjacent and the other a good thirty feet away.

I enjoyed chatting with the guys. We were all in our shelters before the dark even settled in. I fell asleep on top of my sleeping bag and slept better than I had the night before.

AT section hike: Caratunk to Monson: Part 1

I was grumbly sweltering in the house, on another oppressive 80+ degree/90% humidity summer day. My wife Marcia encouraged me to head north to take a few days off to hike the Appalachian Trail, where the weather was predicted to be drier and cooler in Maine’s western mountains.

I pulled out the Map and Guide to the AT in Maine and decided that this section would be good for me to rehike. I’ve done this 36 mile section twice before.  I planned to spend three and maybe four days to enjoy myself. The route skirts Pleasant, Moxie, and Bald Mountain Ponds, as well as Lake Hebron. The path is relatively benign, except for climbs of Pleasant Pond (2477’) and Moxie Bald (2629’) Mountains in the first half of the section Five miles of downhill after Pleasant Pond Mountain and fifteen miles of downhill off Moxie Bald toward Monson sweetened the deal.

Day 1 start and finish

I called Shaw’s Hostel in Monson to schedule a shuttle to Caratunk where the Appalachian Trail picks up again after it crosses the broad Kennebec River. After paying the $70 shuttle fee, one of the staff trucked me over to the Caratunk AT parking lot just uphill from route 201. I started hiking at approximately 11:30, but not before I encountered some weirdness.

First, came a frustrating conversation with a fellow with Massachusetts plates on a completely loaded Subaru wagon that stuffed with camping gear. He was from Boston, had a European accent, and when I asked him why he found himself to be in the lot he indicated that he stopped to make some “adjustments” to his car. The conversation turned to hiking where he told me that he was headed to Baxter. When I asked him about his reservations he told me emphatically that they were not necessary, as he planned to day hike. I started to school him up on Baxter’s unique reservation system and he cut me off, then launched into a diatribe about how Baxter hates hikers and that Baxter won’t even take peoples’ garbage and trash. He went on to blame the policy for  “Trash all over the place up around Baxter making the towns look like garbage dumps.” I wished him luck and as I walked toward the entrance to the trail I gagged from the stench of a big dead bloating porcupine that had been placed on the signpost marking the trailhead. Not an auspicious start. When I  finished the trip I called an area game warden to report the problem.

Not the greeting I expected

Within 5 minutes of sweating in the heat and oppressive humidity, I removed my shirt, hiking shirtless for most of my trek, changing into my dry t-shirt each night before slipping into my tent. Prior to hitting the sack I‘m in the habit of rinsing off so that I don’t grime up my down bag. It cooled off enough each night that I draped the summer weight bag over my body after falling asleep unclothed on my pad.

No one was in any of the four shelters that I passed on the AT. It was understandable, as Appalachian Trail Conference discourages hikers from congregating in the shelters due to the risk of spreading Covid-19.

Sign = altered trail life

I became very angry about some graphically obscene graffiti in a couple of the shelter walls. I lost the one pencil I brought with me but none of the registers in the shelters had writing implements with them.

High point of the afternoon

I was forced to hike until 7 pm due to no water in the 6 mile stretch from the Pleasant Pond Shelter to a weak stream just before Moxie Pond Road where I scored a flat spot to set up my new Double Rainbow Li Tarptent ( review forthcoming).

Double Rainbow Li

A hawk had let up on his attacks:

I needed water to complete my dinner and breakfast as well and found enough to rinse the grime and sweat off, which was probably my most pressing want.

The problem was I couldn’t eat the freeze-dried ( Good-to-Go) Bibimbap, a spicy Korean mixed rice with sesame carrots and spinach. I was so tired I had no energy for hunger, and in my diminished state the “ immensely flavorful spicy sauce” tasted like spiced ground cardboard and was too hot for even me on one of hottest days of the summer. I ate about a third of it and packed the rest away to try again tomorrow. I usually can ingest Fritos, and had a fresh bag with me but only ate a little.

I did not experience the AT that I remember today where I only encountered one southbound hiker, who didn’t even look up when I greeted him as moved off the trail to let him pass by. The AT in Maine in mid-August is usually populated with northbound thru-hikers eager to finish up and chat a bit about their long hike.

It was a big afternoon of walking nevertheless with twelve miles down even with a zero morning of miles. I had hope for thunderstorms, showers, or even a downpour to come in while I slept, but no.