Rainbow Stream Lean-to to Abol Bridge
The last day, the best day.
Up and out early again, after another night of three hour sleeps interspersed by night time bellows sessions blowing the flawed Exped air mattress back up to plumpness.
I was out early again, after a bracing cup of coffee and my final breakfast meal, a couple of PopTarts. The air was chilled. I packed I away a wool layer and my Puffball jacket before I started the day’s hike back to my car, which was parked at the store at Abol.
Here is a brief movie of what the morning looked like from the Rainbow Stream lean-to.
The AT goes over the log bridge and heads up a small rise before it meanders along the Rainbow Deadwaters, past the Rainbow stream campsite, and up onto the only rise of the day, the Rainbow Ledges.
It was here that Bandit and Naps caught me, just as I was standing at the open area that looks out toward Katahdin. Something didn’t look right to me about it. There was the familiar large cloud obscuring the whole upper portion of the mountain, but I remarked to them that it looked to me like there was either snow, ice, or both coming down the shoulders into the wooded portions.
I had cell coverage right there. Naps asked me if should could call her brother in Millinocket and check on how he was doing. Part of the message she received from him was that the Hunt Trail ( AT) up to the summit of Katahdin was closed, due to ice and snow at the summit.
The ford at Hurd Brook Lean-to was doable without resorting to Crocs.
After passing a planked cedar bog, the trail was on dry ground again, and soon I was turning right onto the Golden Road, and done with my third trip traversing the 100 Mile Wilderness.
The classic view of Katahdin from the pedestrian walkway across the Abol Bridge was sobering, this time, knowing the mountain’s path was treacherous enough that they closed it on Oct. 4 this year. The hiking season is practically over. The campground, which is normally close to full occupancy is deserted. All the semi-permanent trailers were gone.
Every time I go through this spot, I remind myself that Henry David Thoreau camped right at this confluence in September of 1846. What he saw from this point was likely the same socked-in view that we now.
First, I went to my car, and moved it over in front of the store. Then, I went in and bought a sandwich , chips, and chocolate milk. A couple of duffers were sitting around inside, sipping coffee and talking to Brenda, the owner.
I learned that the three hikers that befriended me had walked through 280 miles of Maine and had never heard of, let alone eaten a Whoopie pie. Right then and there, I plunked down a ten spot and ordered them to belly up to the portable Whoopie stand and get their own treat. After they each took a bite, I think I was their hero. I did good at my chance at trail magic.
I decided to drive over to Baxter State Park and try and find a thru-hiker named Troutbum. I heard that he was at The Birches Campsite at Katahdin Stream Campground, some dozen miles up the gravel perimeter road. Troutbum and I have a history that goes back to Trail Days in 2007, where he approached me and asked if he would ask me questions about my hike, as he was considering doing it himself some day. He had traveled from his home in Ohio specifically to get the real story. I gave him an hour of my time that day. E-mails and phone calls followed and Troutbum eventually pushed off from Springer Mtn. himself, early this season. Troutbum had called me from the Trail when he could, updating me on his progress and occasionally asking for advice, and much needed support, as he had a number of physical and personal challenges he eventually overcame to earn the title of thru-hiker of the Appalachain Trail. In some of his e-mails, he referred to me as, “My mentor, Uncle Tom.”
At the entrance gate, I learned that Katahdin had been closed the day before, and would be closed the next day as well. I also learned that a woman had slipped on some ice and broken her leg on Turner Mountain, forcing a tricky evacuation procedure.
I then knew that my hope to accompany Troutbum up on his summit of Katahdin was not going to happen. In the end, the mountain was closed for 5 days in a row, with some 60 hikers stacking up and waiting for the next open day of October 8th.
I decided to at least find Troutbum anyway, maybe to give him a ride to town and buy him a meal. Reaching Katahdin Stream Campground, I was shocked to find it almost abandoned. There was only 1 car in the parking lot. There was only one uninhabited tent within sight. I saw no one. Next, I walked down to the Birches, a thru hiker only campsite that now had two empty lean-tos and one little tent. A woman there who told me Troutbum had been picked up by one of his friends and they went into Millinocket.
I headed there next. Not knowing where he would be , I first looked at the hiker hostel in town. Nope. Then the Appalachain Trail cafe. Nope. I went back to the hostel and found Old Man, the proprietor. He told me Troutbum had called there earlier and reserved a room for two upstairs on the third floor and that maybe he was up there. Back up I went, and entered a common room with some young hiker types that were hanging there. I heard one of them call out, “ Holy cow, It’s Uncle Tom!” It was Tailgate, a young man that I had met in Pearisberg, VA . He had to remind me that I had given him and his traveling partner, Aqua Maria, a ride to Trail Days this past May. His beard was heavier, and his frame much lighter. We chatted a bit, but they had not seen any of Troutbum yet.
I left the AT Lodge and walked down the street and entered the only remaining bar and restaurant that was still open and checked there. Nope.
My cell phone’s battery was dead.
I decided that there was nothing more I could do to find him.
I was tired, stinky , and wanted to drive home.
I drove the 16 miles back toward I-95 and decided to get a meal at the Irving station in Medway before I hit the highway. Only there was no restaurant there any more. It was now a bigger convienence store, with isle after isle of stuff I hardly ever want. Another tradition gone.
I saw a pay phone on the wall and called Marcia to let her know where I was and that I was headed home.
“Troutbum just called, and he is at the AT Lodge. You just missed him ,” she said. I was tired, hungry, and it was dark out. I knew I wasn’t hitting the road just yet.
“You have to go and see him, she told me, “ and I knew she was right, yet again.
I brewed up a tea, packed it along, grabbed a bag of peanuts and headed back again to Millinocket.
Just as I pulled into the parking space, in the increasing darkness, a hobbling, hunched over figure called out to me. It was the man I remembered from a couple of years ago, but now some 55 pounds diminished, with white beard, wearing Crocs and all the hiker getup. Troutbum .
We hugged and realized no one had eaten and we walked down to the first restaurant and settled in for a wonderful time tales of dents and bruises, and all those daily accomplishments. For him, also the death of his father while he was one the Trail. I bought their meals. When some one did what Troutbum was able to do, they actually should be on the front page of a newspaper. It was the least I could do .
When I eventually pulled out of the lot and headed the two and a half hour drive south , I felt that some kind of Circle had now been made full for me, and I hoped for Troutbum, too.