Guthook Bails on the Grafton

Now that the black flies are out here in Maine in force, is it even reasonable to start thinking about backpacking? I think it is, but where you go here in Maine influences just how decimated and punctured your skin will be. In my opinion, it is still reasonable to hike here on the coast, where the insect pests are nowhere near as bad as they are right now in the western Maine mountains. There is a reason why the native Americans used to flock to the coast in the summertime and set up camp on the shores of Penobscot Bay, and it wasn’t because they loved the lobsters.
I encourage people to go up and try out the Cutler Coast Loop Trail, the Georges Highland Path, or any of the biking and hiking routes in Acadia National Park.
That being said there are still stalwart individuals who brave the Maine woods this time of year, but sometimes even the rough and tough are challenged in their efforts to connect with nature right now.
My former Pacific Crest Trail hiking buddy Guthook ( AKA Ryan Linn) has an excellent blog, updated regularly, that I think every Maine backpacker should subscribe to. Here is one of his latest entries, Guthooks’ half -way hike of the Grafton Loop Trail. For those of you that might not follow Maine weather , the past month has been unusually wet, breaking some records for single day rainfalls ( 4 inches). The result is completely sodden, rain-choked streams and unrelenting water slapping onto hikers as they push through sodden brush and overgrown foliage on the trails.

Sodden campsite on GLT, photo by Ryan Linn
For those of you who want to get up there sometime, here is my report of a 2008 trip over the 41 mile loop.

Trail Days – Saturday

Today was my final day of working at the Four Dog Stove booth.
The friendly, playful exchanges between owner Don Kivelus and the potential customers standing on the other side of his expansive three tables of survival and wilderness wares kept passers-by within spending reach.

Don tending his " shop"

Don, his friend Mike McClelland and I spent all day selling items and supporting the hikers in various ways.
Don would occasionally react with unexpected generosity to a customer, creating additional good will with the hikers. He did this with a group of Boy Scouts who swooped down upon the sheath knife selections. I was watching them out of the corner of my eye while Don was busy selling a Bushcooker LT1 set- up and suspected that there would be concern about sending these young guys walking away en masse with deadly sharp implements of laceration. Don eventually engaged with two of the boys, kindly informing them that they would have to bring over a parent to agree to any knife sales. Dejected, they left, only to return a bit later with their Scout Master who agreed to assume responsibility in supervising the application of knife skills. Don sweetened the pot after a half dozen of them purchased $15 Moro-type fixed blade sheath knives by donating to the troop several instructional booklets on knife sharpening as well as a copy of “Bushcraft” by Mors Kochanski,
Mors' book
a book considered by survival experts to be on, if not on top of, the list of most useful resources in terms of bush skills.
Later Don befriended a lanky young thru hiker from Holland, and sat him down inside the booth, where Don fed him sandwiches and home made energy bars and wished him the best on his hike to Maine.
We sold most of a large box of titanium tent stakes at $1 a piece, demolishing the competition who were selling them for $2.50 each. Many people came into the Four Dog fold after seeing the sign for discounted stakes. Four Dog is currently the only US maker of titanium tent stakes, allowing for much lower price to consumer due to bypassing import costs from China. Don fabricates the stakes from a supply of titanium wire that is purchased in bulk. One competitor praised Don for his business acumen, even after the vendor purchased a handful, after admitting that he, and at least one other vendor weren’t selling many of their own $2.50 ti tent stakes this weekend.
I have a bit of the carnival barker in me too, and surprised a lady who had been pestering Don for three days in her personal quest to barter him down, on the $1 tent stake deal, of all things. He wouldn’t budge, but I pulled a dollar out of my pocket, and bought a stake that I gave her, praising her for her persistence. It made her day. She gave me a big hug and thanked us for providing her with so much fun over the course of the weekend.
Working in the Four Dog Stove booth this weekend allowed me to observe an angle of Trail Days that was previously oblivious to me, when I participated as a hiker.
I could live in this town. I wonder how hot it really gets here in the summer?

Trail Days- Friday

Trail Days -Friday.
Frequent surprises today, which included running into Dash, Wild Child, and Chance from the PCT and then from the AT Serial, Marta, Stumpknocker, plus Ms. Gorp. I chatted a bit with “Old Man” Paul Senechal, who runs the Appalachian Trail hostel and the AT Cafe in Millinocket, ME. He told me that Baxter has much snow and ice up high and is now slated to open two weeks late, on June 1.

Tillerman, AKA Andy Oliver
Andy Oliver is here from Lincolnville, ME too, who thru- hiked the AT in 2010. I also heard my name called at the Four Dog Stove Booth, and realized that Squatch had found me.
Squatch
He’s a west coast documentary filmmaker who shot and produced 3 of the PCT Walk series DVD’s. He’s doing a documentary of “Personalities on the AT”. I made him coffee and fed him a croissants. It was a real lift to connect with those folks. Again I feel that Damascus is the friendliest hiker town ever. I walk down the street and hear people call my name. It is a comfort to me.
I spent many hours today hanging out at the booth, answering questions about stoves and other gear and watching Don work the customers who were coming up to the table. We sold a lot of $1 titanium tent stakes. People seem to like holding knives, as well.
What gave me satisfaction was having my Leki poles serviced for free, where they replaced my tips, and both lower sections and also repaired the adjusting mechanism on the left wrist strap. I was also fed up with my Petzel Elite headlamp . The light portion was so loose in the ball joint that it just kept flopping down, preventing use of it on my forehead. I traded it in for a $30 Princeton Tech headlamp that actually works, one that I would be able to night hike with, something the Petzel was feeble at.
We had a big thunderstorm come through at 5 PM and had to move a lot of gear undercover at the mule trailer. Big blow, strong rain, but no real problems. I’m exhausted. More of this tomorrow.

20110513-093837.jpg

Trail Days- Getting Ready

AT- Day 8
Plan is to be here for thee days at Trail Days, the World’s Largest Backpacking Event. Should be 20,000 or so in a town that is normally under 1,000 in population. This year is the 25th anniversary. Big time big times.
Today is just setting up. The two mile downhill hike into Damascus was easy, ballooned up with anticipation. In no time I was showered, full bellied, and clean clothed. I started by being first in line at the Baptist church Emergency Preparedness Shower Unit, which they kicked off exactly at 8:AM. Full deal: razors, shampoo, soap, clean towels, toothpaste, brushes, plus food goodies and coffee. Free. Oh, they even had pre-stamped postcards, pens, and an outgoing mailbox right there.
After breakfast bagel and big coffee at Mojoe’s, I found Grimey, another hiker who was willing to combine clothes for a trip to the laundromat. I have already met people here I know.
I found a tall guy in a Namath shirt with a wild shock of dark hair sprouting from a kamikaze emblazoned bandanna bunched over and hauling what looked to be trash out of a beat up little black import sedan. Behind the dark sunglasses the form of Crazyhorse came clear.

Crazyhorse recovering gear from his mobile unit

He had sold the red, white, and blue Corvette and has been living out of this car for the past two years, hiking again. He was looking much fitter than when I last saw him, the product of an Adkins approach to diet. He told me that he is still in regular touch with Paddy-o, who may be supporting him and another hiker through the Whites this summer.
So after a horrendously hot 90 degree day I am ready for sleep, have a place next to Don Kivelus in the “Gooseneck” of a long mule trailer, soft pad, sleeping bag and pillow. Sure will beat what might have been my spot at tent city in the middle of multi-night mayhem and madness.
We’ll see how the sales of cookware and stoves go tomorrow.

20110512-102143.jpg

AT- Day 7

AT -Day 7
Tremendous thunder and lightening storm last night. To the degree that two storms blasted the ridge last night. One at 10:30 PM and another at 3 AM. There was only one other time In my life that I’ve heard such explosive thunder and non stop stroboscopic lightening.
In the midst if the wind and rain, a gigantic tree crashed to the ground right at the campsite I was initially worried that it crushed Johnny Walker, who was hammoc camping over there, but it missed him. I had never spent such a night in my new tent, The Moment. It fared well, kept me dry, although it never got terribly windy and tried to blow sideways under the vents.
“I was hiking with one of you guys,” said Johnny Walker, while we were hiking today. What he meant was a school psychologist, and who he meant was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a school psychologist from New Hampshire that I am friendly with. They both started hiking together from Springer this season, but Chronic had to return home for personal business, of some sort of emergency situation.
I knew today was my last day of backpacking hiking for a while. I let myself settle into an appreciation of the act of walking, the fact that I was dry and warm, and that I have a life where I can get outside, sleep on the ground, decide where to lay down and fall asleep for the night, and eat what I have carried on my back.

20110511-071259.jpg

AT- Day 7

AT -Day 7
Tremendous thunder and lightening storm last night. To the degree that two storms blasted the ridge last night. One at 10:30 PM and another at 3 AM. There was only one other time In my life that I’ve heard such explosive thunder and non stop stroboscopic lightening.
In the midst if the wind and rain, a gigantic tree crashed to the ground right at the campsite I was initially worried that it crushed Johnny Walker, who was hammoc camping over there, but it missed him. I had never spent such a night in my new tent, The Moment. It fared well, kept me dry, although it never got terribly windy and tried to blow sideways under the vents.
“I was hiking with one of you guys,” said Johnny Walker, while we were hiking today. What he meant was a school psychologist, and who he meant was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a school psychologist from New Hampshire that I am friendly with. They both started hiking together from Springer this season, but Chronic had to return home for personal business, of some sort of emergency situation.
I knew today was my last day of backpacking hiking for a while. I let myself settle into an appreciation of the act of walking, the fact that I was dry and warm, and that I have a life where I can get outside, sleep on the ground, decide where to lay down and fall asleep for the night, and eat what I have carried on my back.

20110511-071259.jpg

AT -Day 6

AT – Day 6
13 miles from Vandeventer Shelter to a camping spot 1 mile before Double Springs Shelter. Hiked by myself all day. I started later, by 7:30 and was still able to make the day’s mileage by 2 PM. The weather was warm, humid, with a 50% chance of rain. It hit 80 for sure.
All the talk is about the easy ridge walk into Damascus, but I’m puffin up these unremitting, one and two hundred foot uphills of which there’s always another.
There is dense poison ivy in these parts. I try to stay exactly in the center of the foot path to avoid brushing up against it.
It’s so different this time dealing with water sources. I don’t fret about water, never carry more than a quart, and have the knowledge that I can go 5 more miles after I run out of water. If it is coming out of the earth way up high, like a spring, I drink it, otherwise, for example, streams I zap with the Steripen.
Tonight I’m staying with just two other campers at this decent campsite. One woman has a bad knee and has or emerged from her tent for the past several hours, and there’s a young section hiker hammocking up.
I truly appreciate being able to walk here on the AT in Tennessee.
The bugs are swarming in , so I’m going to assist in the building of a decent sized smoky fire.
It did rain today.

20110511-070402.jpg

AT – Day 5

AT – Day 5
Bob Peoples’ Kincora hostel is the only place in town now. Braemar down in Hampton is closed this season as is the Dennis Cove hostel/ camping on Dennis Cove Road. Bob still tries to accommodate all hikers who come up his driveway- he may not have enough bed space for 40 people, but continues to allow folks to shower, shuttle into town, and use the land line here ( with a credit card). I gave Bob extra cash for my donation here. $4 per night is just not enough. He told me he had just served the 17,000th backpacker.
Crazy comings and goings- Pebbles and Chris, still sleeping beside me this morning are strapping on day packs and just have sleeping bags and food for two 25 mile running segments into Damascus from here. I plan to walk it in three nights, coming into Trail Days on Thursday.
I was out first at 7:30 AM today. Cool, clear morning. After Laurel Falls I decided to take the 1 mile blue blazed trail into Hampton and bypass the 2,000 foot ascent and the 2,000 descent up to Pond Flats. Downside is that I couldn’t get a hitchhike out of town to get back to the AT, so I ended up walking two plus miles to do that. I ran into two groups of guys that I had met in the last few days, and hiked with them. I also bypassed a meaningless 300 foot climb after walking over Watuga Dam, all it took was staying on the road. I LOVE the fact that I can walk where I want on this trip. Of course, I could always walk wherever I wanted to but on the 2007 hike I walked every inch of the AT. If I see some meaningless re-route up to a viewless landing I may avoid it. I spent the rest of the day humping 1,600 feet to this Vandventer Shelter, where I snagged a bed space before the shelter filled up. There are 7 tents here as well, most everyone here is section hiking.
This hiking is tough. The uphills are really taxing. This is one of the aspects of hiking the AT that differs from hiking the PCTA, where it would be switchbacked to the extreme. The shelter experience is another novelty for me. Clearly there is much more of an instant social interaction every 8 miles or so with the placement of these simple enclosed three-sided shelters.
So far, so good.

20110509-071034.jpg

20110509-071152.jpg

AT- Day 4

Appalachian Trail- Day 4
Short 3 hour, 6 mile descent this morning into the cabled hostel- Kincora, manned by former New Englander Bob Peoples. I estimated that I’d hit Dennis Cove Road at 10:30 PM and that’s what happened. I feel how much more relaxed I am out here living the trail life compared to the nervousness I know I experienced back walking into here in 2007. Then, I was worrried about finding the place, worried about having a bed, about going into town, about how many days it takes to hike into Damascus, all worried up. This time, I walked onto the porch, slipped out of my clothes, showered and shaved, and scored an empty bunk, lower half even- up in the sleeping room. About 10 people here so far, although there have been 40 here several of the last few nights. It’s peak season, heading towards Trail Days coming right up. I may even have time to wash out some clothes today. I don’t carry spares any more, but change into my rain suit when I do wash what few clothes I do have.
I have 50 more miles to make in the next four days. There looks like a purposeless hill to go up and over just before Watuga Dam that I’m debating blue blazing, if nothing more than just to exercise the option to do that. That means skipping a section of the AT, which I feel that I can do now after walking every step of the thing in 2007.
But this afternoon, there’s going to be some reading, some napping, some socializing and then a 4:30 PM shuttle into town to buy groceries, find some place to eat, and stock up on whatever else I think I’ve got to have to walk out the next 50 miles of AT.