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.
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.
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.
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.
[Here’s how it all ended. This is the entry from two days later, if you just can’t wait.]