Southern Maine & Little Nowhere Towns Pt. 1

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Okay, so this post will cover the two weeks in southern Maine. Therefore it will either be not detailed or very long. Or somehow both. Lets see how it goes.

After the 100 Mile Wilderness I spent a full zero day (no miles hiked) in the small town of Monson. There was a small grocery store and a gas station with food serving. But where all the action happened was at Shaw’s. A hiker hostel, well acclimatized to the needs and wishes of hikers. Showers, laundry, beds, loaner clothes, entertainment, food serving, resupply options and even a well stocked gear store. A fairly easy place to spend the day.

The Hostel Loaner Clothes Look

 

Everyone made it there and we had a great day sitting around on the grass drinking beer, walking back and forth to the gas station for pizza. It was one big gathering of southbounders. I’m gonna namedrop everyone, even though it means nothing to most of you reading this. Jenni (now Spirit), OTB, Earth Surfer, Kabra, WhiteBread, Barefoot, Sincerity, Marcus, Tinkerbell, Lars (zoomed by us in the 100 Mile) and Tomato.

 

Me, Spirit, Sin and Tomato got on the early shuttle back to trail the next day. It was a full day of flat walking, otherwise unheard of for Maine. A north bounder set up a trail magic station with drinks, food, snacks, fruit and a bunch of other goodies. Thanks for that Conan!

My foot was hurting a lot at this point. Probably from the minimal shoes I wore, combined with the uneven terrain. I was even worried that I had broken my foot. I had a really bad day because of it. Every step felt rough. I made it to the tiny town (might even be considered a village) of Caratunk early morning. Resupplied at the hostel there and left as soon as I could.

The trail crosses the Kennebec River, the widest ford on the trail. But fording it is not recommended because its more like swimming. Luckily there is a guy in a canoe who takes people across.

I made it to West Carry Pond Lean to in the afternoon, went for a swim in the pond (it’s a lake, Maine just likes calling everything a pond) and made a fire. Tomato made it there right after me and we were shortly joined by several northbounders. Spirit got there a little later and suddenly we were a big group sitting by the fire. One of the northbounders sat in the lean to, playing somber music on his ukulele. And just like that, a bad day had turned into a good one. Sometimes all it takes is some good company.

The day after started out great but went south quickly (I’ll try to not overdo it with puns like these, I promise). The first climb of the day had me more or less lifting my legs with my arms to make it up the mountain.

Later in the day, after countless stumbles and sighs, I drank some coffee and began the biggest and last climb of the day. About 2000 ft straight up. And you know what, I’m not sure if exhaustion had turned into stubbornness or if I was just high on caffeine, but I flew up that mountain. The further up I got, the better I was feeling. Until 45 minutes later, I stood at the top of Bigelow Avery peak. Drenched in sweat but with a big smile on my face.

That evening I met a group of overnight hiker who offered us dinner and company. We sat there, exchanging stories as the sun set. The campground is located between two peaks, and tents are set up on wooden platforms. It felt as if we were camping in the sky. Me and Spirit decided to try to get up at 4am the next morning to catch the sunrise on top of Bigelow West Peak.

I decided to cowboy camp (without a tent) and fell asleep looking at the crowns of pine trees, swaying in the mild wind.

The 100 Mile Wilderness

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The first (or last) section of the Appalachian Trail is the most remote of the entire trail. It is, as the name suggests, 100 miles of trail without passing a town. Now, it’s not as remote as one might think. There are still dirt roads and bail out options. But it’s all relative right? It took me 9 days to get through, so that says a lot. Anyhow, here it is, summed up:

I entered the wilderness in the evening with Marcus and Tinkerbell. We had left the last sign of civilization at Abol Bridge Campground. First thing they forgot their trekking poles, so we turned around. As we were briefly walking north on the road by the campground, a car stopped and rolled down the window. A guy reached a white paper bag out of the car and said, “Do you guys want a homemade Whoopie Pie?” We accepted willingly, despite having no idea what a Whoopie pie was. It was our first trail magic, we were euphoric!

As we turned back south it started raining. I held the paper bag under my rain jacket and protected it with my life. We walked 3 miles in the rain as it started getting dark and arrived at the Hurd Brook Lean to. The shelter was surprisingly empty so we set up camp in there.

Now fast forward to after dinner. Time for the Whoopie Pie. It had gotten a little squashed under my jacket but was intact. It was huge and weighed probably a kilo (about 2 pounds). We split it 3 ways and I tried a bite cautiously. Oh My God. I thought for a moment that I died and went to heaven. It was that good! So to describe it without doing it justice whatsoever: It’s two dense chocolate cakes with lots of heavenly frosting in between. Think ice cream sandwich basically.

Eating Whoopie Pie under red headlamp light.

As we all got into our sleeping bags we looked out of the shelter and saw several tiny lights in the forest. One after one more lights popped up. It took us a while to realize they were fireflies putting on a show for us. Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better.

The next few days were all full of events, but listing them all would take too long. So I’ll sum it up.

We stopped at all the possible lakes for a swim. For three days in a row we camped on beaches. For a while there I even forgot how dirty I was.

Found camp chairs in the wilderness.

Hiking is just the time you spend between camping on beaches.

Tinkerbell, Marcus and Sincerity

The terrain was sort of flat, but walking was still slow because of all the roots and rocks on the trail. That combined with just starting out made for short days.

On the 5th day I met two new friends, Sincerity and Barefoot who’s actually walking the entire trail barefoot(!!!)

On day 6 we had a big group of southbounders at the shelter we stayed at. We laughed a lot and shared stories. It felt sort of like the beginning of a trail family. Everyone from the past few days were there. Plus a girl named Jenni who caught up to us, despite starting two days later.

Look at Bearfoot being bearfoot in the far right.

The next morning we all went over White Cap, the biggest mountain since Katahdin and the highest peak in the 100 mile. In a thunderstorm. Not to recommend. Everyone made it down the other side safe and sound though. If anything a little wet.

The wilderness had a couple of river fords, but nothing significant. Mostly going up and down mountains of varying size.

On day 7 I started feeling like the pace we had been keeping was too slow. The wilderness had started feeling suffocating somehow. So I made it a little further that day to Chairback Gap Shelter. Jennie and Sin made it there as well. I also met Earth Surfer with his dog Kabra, WhiteBread, OTB (Off The Bench) and Tomato.

Jennie on in fire tower on top of Barren Mt.

OTB capturing the moment.

On day 8 I had service for the first time in over a week. It was good to assure everyone I was okay. They got a bit worried. That night me, OTB and Jennie made it 8 miles from the road into town and the end of the wilderness.

The morning of day 9 I hiked as as fast as I could without stopping, dreaming about what food to eat in town. At 11am I made it to the road. It almost felt like out of the forest and into a white light of hope. Okay maybe not that dramatic, but I sure was happy to be done with the 100 Mile Wilderness.

Last view we had of Katahdin.

First Steps & The Greatest Mountain

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The winter of 17/18 was a rough one for me. Not too many things felt like they had a purpose and everything just felt rather dull. Spring came along and things got a bit better. But I still felt far from happy. I tried over and over to find meaning. Sometimes I stumbled upon it, by a lake or in a smile. But it never seemed to stay long.

At some point in April I decided I wanted to be happy. Ever since I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail I knew I’d go on to hike other long trails. And even before the PCT, hiking the Appalachian Trail southbound had been a dream of mine. A few days later I booked my tickets to Maine, the northernmost state on the AT.

On June 27th I sat down on a plane in Stockholm and started a long day of travel. Once again flying across the Atlantic to the US, but this time to the opposite coast and unfamiliar territory. I landed in New York City an hour late and sprinted across two terminals at JFK to make my connecting flight. Barely making it, I sat down, dripping with sweat, as the plane lifted and was off to Bangor, Maine. The plane landed around midnight and I spent the next few hours sleeping on the airport floor.

Longest seeming corridor in the world

The next day I walked downtown to eat something and waste time until my ride arrived. I resupplied at Walmart and waited there, watching interesting people as time passed.

In the afternoon I was picked up by Yard Sale, a friend from last year on the PCT. She drove me to Millinocket where I had booked a stay at the AT Lodge, a hostel helping hikers with the logistical hardships of starting the trail.

Early the next morning I threw my backpack in in the back of a shuttle with twelve other hikers and we started the ride to Baxter State Park and the base of Katahdin (The Greatest Mountain). A bumpy ride and a less than motivating speech by Ole’ Man later, we arrived.

I took my first steps on the Appalachian Trail in the wrong direction. Don’t worry, it was on purpose. To touch the northern monument, you first need to summit Baxter Peak at the top of Katahdin. It’s 5 miles to the summit and is best described as more of a climb than a hike. Scrambling over rocks and avoiding wet roots for several hours, I made it to the summit around 11:30am. I sat up there for a long time, looking out at the 360 degree view and talking to Tinkerbell, Marcus and El Gringo Loco. Some friends I made the first day. We took our pictures with the sign and started walking back down.

From left to right: Marcus, Tinkerbell, El Gringo Loco

Halfway down we were hit with poor weather and had to scramble back down the slippery, wet rocks. Needless to say, the way down took a lot longer. I wasn’t down until 5:30pm. Marcus and Tinkerbell were just behind but El Gringo didn’t show up. So we went to the Lean-to (three walled shelter made for backcountry camping) and made dinner.

At bedtime El Gringo still hadn’t showed up, so I started walking back in the dark, looking for him. Luckily he came down the mountain just after I got going. He had a hard time getting down because of the storm and the two showers of hail he was hit by. He was in good spirits though. We went back to the shelter and fell asleep within minutes.

I was nervous to start another trail, another journey. But that’s usually how it goes, when you get down to it, you’ll probably be too tired to even recognize it’s already begun. That it actually began long before the first steps. That it all begins with a dream, an idea, a decision.

The Last Part

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I’ve postponed this one quite a bit. This is the last post of my journey on the PCT. The post I wish I’d never have to write. To top it off, I managed to completely delete all the pictures of Washington I took with my camera. Luckily I still have a few on my phone.

I flew back to Washington after having finished the Sierra. I spent all day just trying to get out of Seattle. Just after nightfall, after countless failed hitchhiking attempts I made it back to Hiker Haven. There I met Baby Gap, Quibbles, Fresh Meat and Percolator.

The next morning we got a ride back to Stevens Pass and the trailhead. We had a large town breakfast and postponed heading into mountains. Just as I was about to begin hiking, I realised I forgot my poles at Hiker Haven. My tent doesn’t set up without poles, so I had to go back. I stayed another night, ate a lot of tangerines and got back to the trail early the next morning.

 Preparing for the trail. Preparing for the trail.

The weather couldn’t have been better. Walking by myself, not seeing anyone for a few days, I had the perfect last week on trail. I set up camp early and watched the sunset, picked blueberries for hours and cherished the mountain air.

 Just as expected, Northern Washington did not disappoint Just as expected, Northern Washington did not disappoint

This is the bluest, clearest lake I’ve ever seen. It’s called “Mica Lake”. It overlooks a ridiculous amount of mountains. I want to live there. Oh, and the picture doesn’t do it justice by a long shot. It’s one of those “have-to-bee-there” kind of deals.

 Mica Lake Mica Lake

After a beautiful stretch of trail and a lot of elevation change, I entered The North Cascades National Park  and arrived at the trailhead leading into Stehekin, last town of the PCT. Stehekin is 11 miles from the trail and there’s an $8 shuttle running a couple times a day. At this point I had caught back up with the people I met at Hiker haven.

 The Stehekin Shuttle The Stehekin Shuttle

Stehekin is a tiny town/resort located on Lake Chelan and is only reachable by hiking, boat and possibly seaplane. This makes it quite exclusive and expensive. Just like us hikers. When we got there, we did what we do and scavenged the hiker boxes, spread our things out everywhere and generally messed the place up. First night there I cowboy camped on a flat spot of gravel. Despite the chance of rain, cowboy camping seemed a better idea than trying to pitch my tent in the dark, on a concrete hard surface. Luckily, no rain.

Apparently a storm was rolling in up in the higher elevations, so I decided to take a zero day with the others. This also gave me plenty of time to shower and do laundry.

 Feeling like somewhat of a person again Feeling like somewhat of a person again

During the day I just went exploring and walking around. Well, I guess it’s not so much “around” since there’s only one road. This road is important though, it leads to the bakery.

The main reason Stehekin is a popular trail town, besides looking like the spitting image of a Disney writer’s happy place, is the otherworldly bakery. Rumours of it are spread as far down the trail as Northern California.

So I walked the 2 miles to get there. The road follows the lake and passes several resting spots, movie worthy benches and a few stupid-gorgeous lakefront cabins.

“One of everything please”

After devouring a cinnamon bun and a couple of pizza slices, I headed back down the road in the direction I came. On the way I was picked up by a family transporting lawn chairs in the back of their pickup. It made for the perfect hitching throne, a first row seat on the stunning drive back.

 The hitchhiking throne The hitchhiking throne

Later in the evening we set up camp on the floor in a boathouse overlooking the lake and, beyond it, the very mountains from which we had come. Here I met “Boo”, “Oddball” and “Happy Meal”.

We shared snacks, drank beers and watched half a movie, wrapped in our sleeping bags, curled up in lawn chairs.

Later that evening I went to bed, thinking about the coming days and what they meant, feeling exhilaration and melancholy at the same time.

 The Boathouse The Boathouse

We left Stehekin early in the morning. Took the shuttle back to the trail. Nobody said much, struck with the realisation that we’d just left our last trail town, grateful that it was a good one.

It rained on us a little bit that day, nothing too bad.

I was the last one to get to camp at Rainy Pass, 60 miles from the Canadian border. The others had made a fire. I set up my tent and went to join. A couple named Cedar and Alex were there too. We sat there for a long time, doing movie trivia quizzes. I thought I knew my movies. But apparently not.

All the people around this fire would be the ones I finished the trail with.

 Campfire quizzes Campfire quizzes

As the trail went further north and higher up, the larches started to turn yellow, as they do in fall. Witnessing entire mountain sides ablaze with the yellow of larches and red of blueberry bushes is indescribable. It’s as if the second half of Washington isn’t actually real. It carries enough beauty to last a lifetime and holds a ruggedness that becomes part of anyone who spends enough time there.

 Heading toward the larches Heading toward the larches

We set up camp at Glacier Peak. Made a fire again and did pretty much what we did the previous day. It was freezing cold and quite wonderful.

I was unable to get going in the morning because of the world feeling like a frozen tundra and my sleeping bag like the soft, warm arms of angels. Eventually I got going though. It was a beautiful and sunny day, albeit a bit cold. We all stopped for lunch at Harts Pass, the last road crossing in the US, the last sign of society. And a little one at that. After drying our things that had all been soaked from condensation in the morning, we kept walking. Planning on camping 17 miles from the border.

I got to camp late, almost didn’t find it since it was a little ways down a spur trail, but did and was again greeted by a warm fire. I had really gotten accustomed to this routine. Especially getting in late on purpose because it meant the fire would already be going and all the friends would be there.

 The last campsite The last campsite

October 4th. 17 or so miles from the border. I started hiking early, excited about reaching a place that had been talked about so much, it felt like a myth. This last part, or actually everything after Stehekin, might as well have been parts of fairytales.

I reached the Canadian border at noon. When I got to the end I was alone. I turned a corner and saw the monument there. Tears started running down my face. I walked up to the monument, touched it and just stood there. Speechless.

It’s a funny thing, actually living the moment you’ve imagined for months. Because how could one moment, one place, possibly hold all the feelings that have been built up along the way? Reaching a goal sure is cause for celebration, but it’s also the end of a huge journey and there’s no denying how sad that really is.

After partying for a while with the others that had now arrived at the monument, I turned around, together with Oddball and started hiking back. Since I hadn’t gotten my permit to enter Canada, I still had to walk 30 miles back to Hearts Pass. By the time we got going it was nearly nightfall, so we hiked into the dark of the evening, accompanied by moonlight, back to the place where we had previously set up camp.

In the morning of October 5th, I took down my tent and packed my backpack for the last time.

Walking the 17 miles back to Harts Pass, I don’t remember feeling sad. I took my time and although I cried a lot, it was more out of a sort of somber thankfulness than grief.

When finally saying my goodbyes to the trail I remember it feeling like less of a “goodbye” and more of a “see you soon”.

The End Of The Sierra

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Feeling pretty down in Mammoth, I didn’t know what to do. Luckily things have a strange way of working out. Rodeo showed up and made my life a lot better. He lent me money and invited me to stay in a room that he had gotten with Curry and Lieutenant Dan, the people he was hiking with.

So instead of sleeping in a park and eating cold ramen, I got a hot meal, a warm shower and a clean bed.

 The room in Mammoth. The room in Mammoth.

We all left together from Mammoth. For some reason we all felt sick and nauseous. This caused us to take it relatively slow through the section.

 Muir hut.  One of the High Sierra passes. Muir hut.  One of the High Sierra passes.

In the morning, a few days later, Curry and Lieutenant Dan weren’t feeling great, so me and Rodeo went on without them.

 One of many failed photos on top of Mather Pass.  One of many failed photos on top of Mather Pass.

At the end of the day, Me and Rodeo got to Marjorie Lake, before Pinchot pass. The wind was terrible so we cowboy camped in some bushes to stay sheltered.

 Our little fortress. Our little fortress.  The entertainment in our fortress.  The entertainment in our fortress.  All cozied up.  All cozied up.

Thinking we outsmarted the weather we fell asleep. 5am I woke up to Rodeo punching me in the face, telling me it was raining on us. It wasn’t. It was snowing. We wrapped ourselves in my tent to stay dry. We didn’t succeed.

 Sudden winter wonderland. Sudden winter wonderland.

Driven by the thought of camping wet and cold, we pushed all the way to Kearsarge Pass and Onion Valley. Nearly 30 miles over 3 passes. Since Rodeo already hiked up to Canada, this was a big moment as it meant he successfully hiked the whole trail!

When we got to Onion Valley trail head it was near dark. Unsuccessful to get a ride, we prepared to sleep on the floor in a pit toilet to stay dry.

Luckily we were picked up last minute and got into the great town of Bishop.

 Celebration dinner in Bishop.  Celebration dinner in Bishop.

The past two weeks have been unreal. Jam packed with sights that leave you awestruck, not knowing if you want to cry or laugh. Because it’s all so big and beautiful that it becomes somewhat unfathomable. And that makes us feel small. We’re left to decide if that scares us or comforts us. I don’t know, so for now, I’ll just keep laughing, with tears running down my cheeks.

And that’s the end of the trail in the Sierra. I’ve now hiked the part I missed. Filled in a puzzle piece. The only thing left is to fly up to Seattle and hike the last 200 miles to the Canadian border.