“Hey, Uncle Tom, I’m sitting here at trailhead on the South Arm Road ( 1420’) , the skies are dark and it looks like the end of the world. I am not going to go up the trail. Maybe we should go back to Andover and have breakfast at the store and wait for this to blow over.”
This phone call marks the beginning of my experience on National Trails Day, clearing the three mile section of Appalachian Trail that went relentlessly up from the South Arm Road To the top of Old Blue mountain.
I was there to assist my friend Old Buzzard, as he launched his first time take-over of the volunteering duty to maintain that piece of the AT. He inherited it from another friend, and rabid AT multi-thru hiker Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Assisting us was Buzzard’s son Tom, and his black lab Otis.
It was a tough long day. We started up just after 9 AM, and didn’t get back to our cars until 4 PM. Buzzard hauled a chain saw, gas can, and oil up there and I carried a saw and an axe on my back. We cut over a dozen trees from the trail and hauled the tops into the woods.
I forgot how steep parts of the first 50 miles of the northbound Maine AT were. Our first 3/4 mile of trail went up some 1,300 vertical feet from the road. We used iron rods and hand rails to haul ourselves up these steep rock sections that bore no other foot holds.
I had prepared for more of the hot, humid conditions that we were experiencing on the Maine Coast, forgetting that the high western Maine mountains have their own ecology, and if often isn’t what you expect. I even wore a cotton t-shirt, thinking it would help cool the heat. Instead of extra clothes, I brought a bug shirt. I badly miscalculated. By the time we reached the summit of Old Blue ( 3600’), I was cold, my shirt was soaked, and my hands were starting to have problems unwrapping my sandwich.
But we eventually made it back down again, and I was pleased to have hiked a bit with my friend Old Buzzard.
I promised him that he could call upon me to help him the next time he was going to take care of that three miles of real demanding Maine trail.