Today was not supposed to be this last day of a 50 mile backpacking trip.
Improvisation ruled from day one, when my intended 3 mile afternoon and soak on the deep pool in front of my favorite shelter, the Cooper Brook Falls lean-to morphed into an 8 mile jaunt that ended camping au sauvage beside a shoreline 0.2 miles down a branch off the Appalachian Trail.
The crew from Boston that I am guiding through here is a tattoo-friendly family. At least two of them were hoping to make the last day of the Boston Tattoo Convention on Sunday, so today it was up early and out hiking from the
Rainbow Stream lean-to at 7 AM.
After a short climb out of the dark hollow by Rainbow Stream we hoped to make some miles before the predicted rain hit.
We encountered several sections where the tread was pounded down into a perpetual wet mud layer.
We have seven miles of walking along the shoreline of Rainbow Lake to complete today.
While hiking near the Rainbow Stream campsite we encountered a southbound hiker. I stopped to talk a bit with “Farmer”, after I recognized his Templeton, Massachusetts accent. It turns out that Farmer and I had both thru-hiked the AT together in 2007.
We also realized that we had talked together on that hike as well. Farmer told me that he started another thru-hike attempt in 2009, with his son. Unfortunately, Farmer’s son died soon after being diagnosed with brain cancer. Farmer said that he had several other setbacks since then, including a quadruple heart bypass last year, but that he was back trying to finish his thru hike in sections. He said that when he hikes, he now thinks of his son. Farmer is 75 years old.
The rain began to come and go as we were finishing up around Rainbow Lake, so we added makeshift rain covers for two of the packs.
Eventually we made it up and to the top of the Rainbow Ledges, but this time, there was no Katahdin view. Instead, I introduced the crew to the wonders of wild Maine blueberries, which were in abundance just off the trail itself.
Everyone was increasingly tired, so we decided to stop at the last shelter at Hurd Brook, and hydrate, cook hot food, and rest. This was supposed to be our destination today, after 12 miles of hiking.
The Hurd Brook lean-to going north has a tough, slippery access path over off-canter, slippery boulders that needs to be traversed. I heard from a hiker that I had guided up Katahdin several weeks ago that she had fallen into the water here, where she also broke her Leki pole. I had real doubts that we would be able to do any more miles today, but, to my surprise, the gang perked up again on recharge, and told me they wanted to add the 4 extra miles so that they could gain some time getting back to Boston.
We were all totally soaked from the rain, and needed to keep moving in order to avoid getting chilled. After building anticipation around every final corner, we eventually reached the end of The Hundred at the Golden Road, where we still had to slog a quarter of mile to my van.
The feeling of accomplishment and awe at what this family was able to accomplish in these 50 miles of walking overwhelmed for all of us, and tears of pride and joy fell freely with the rainwater that ran down our chests.
As the four of us we sloshed past the Abol Bridge store, a half-dozen thru-hikers were huddled up under the overhang at the entrance to the store. I glanced over and waved at them, with a smile on my face. They were almost done, with just 15 miles of hiking left until the reached the end of the AT on Katahdin’s summit. I shouted encouragement to them.
And our last gift of Trail Magic was the best of all, when we received a standing ovation of clapping from the hikers as we walked on to our car. If there was ever any doubt, we all knew that this crew of hikers are now part of the Appalachian Trail family.
The magic of a wilderness walk unfolded itself, yet again. So much happens in a day out here. The wilderness in Maine will be there when we need it again.