Day mileage: 12.8
AT total mileage: 1,947.2
Time: 6 hours
Sleeping in rain storms is usually a relaxing experience. That being said, it was immediately apparent to me that something was wrong when I woke up at 2 AM in the tarp tent, the sound of torrential rain pouring down outside, and my lower body feeling soaking wet. The tent was protecting from rain from above, but was doing absolutely nothing to keep the pool of water on the ground from soaking through my sleeping bag. By design the tarp tent is lighter than a traditional tent by cutting out the 'tub', or the fabric that goes under you and has a wall and bug net. It's simply fabric that goes over you and comes down to the ground. As such when the immense volumes of water began collecting outside, they very easily slid under the edge of the tent and began drenching me and my gear. Initially I was too tired to truly react, but in a conscious effort to keep my down sleeping bag dry, got out of it and held it tightly on top of my body as I continued to lay in the cold water. Another half hour of this led to extreme discomfort, and I eventually got up and moved towards the shelter. Legs' sleeping pad kept her high enough above the ground to not be in water, so this was an issue only I was facing. I walked to the shelter barefoot in the mud and darkness, certainly seeing enough space for me to slide in had some careless hikers not been strewn about the limited floor space. Instead I was left solely with an 8" wide board lying on the ground, covered by the shelter, as a place for shoes to dry. I moved people's footware and positioned myself precariously on the board with my damp down sleeping bag over me, attempting to get a few more hours of very light sleep. In 104 days on the trail I've never had my gear wet like this, and believe me it's unpleasant. With days of rain in the forecast I was very nervous that nothing would dry out. Regardless, come morning when the first few hikers left the shelter, I moved up onto the normal sleeping platform and went back to sleep until 8 AM.
After packing up my wet gear and heading out into the continuing downpour, I began what would be a relatively short day of hiking. As I've mentioned, the terrain in Maine has been absolutely horrible for productive hiking. The trail is littered with jutting roots and rocks, deep thick mud that literally will remove a shoe from your feet, and countless fallen trees that threaten to knock you flat on your ass as you walk into them due to watching your every step and never looking up. There's no feasible way of hiking at an even rate, and my speed has dropped to 2 miles an hour at most while traversing these sections. The terrain began with an immediate drop down to 1,000 feet before crossing a river shooting straight up another 1,500'. In the rain these kinds of climbs are extremely dangerous, rocky and hand over hand climbing become slippery and every step poses a threat with wet moss and the like. Legs and I were hiking together, playing leap frog with Joules, Santa, and Canary as we went along. Reaching the summit of 'Moody Mountain' we then descended the same elevation we climbed, crossed another river, and began a climb of over 2,000 feet to the summit of Old Blue Mountain. It's important for me to note that 'river crossings' in Maine have come to mean a totally different thing than those of other states. Where typically southern regions would have infrastructure of bridges, Maine typically requires fording the river, often times up above your knees as you walk through the rushing cold water. It's quite the different experience, but also allows a bath of sorts as the gush of water rinses your shoes and lower body of mud. Reconvening as a whole group on the road opposite the riverbank, we began the long climb up Old Blue. Stopping at the 'scenic vista' to look out into a mess of fog, we continued on quickly with the sole intention of making miles.
There has been a lot of debate recently amongst Santa and Legs about their involvement in my hike. With my need/desire/goal of making it to Katahdin's summit on the 26th of July (meaning a 114 day thru-hike) they have seen that there's a required mileage of sorts to be done in that time period. A few days ago in Gorham it required hiking 21 miles a day but as we have slowed due to terrain and weather, completing many less miles, I now need to hike 25 miles a day to be at K on the 26th. As such, they have very little interest in joining me, not that I blame them in the slightest. I haven't wanted to part ways with them either despite knowing my needed mileage average has skyrocketed, and I've continued to do shorter days just to stay with them longer. After meeting Joules, Canary, Violet, West, and two other hikers Gentle Spirit and Mary Posa, it's been even more difficult for me to move on. With the tension and debate of Santa and Legs not being sure about hiking on with me, it has been frustrating for everyone. I've repeatedly told them I don't want to change their hike or have them resent me for pushing large miles at the end of their journey. The influence they have had, the positive change they had on my hike, it has been unbelievably important for me as a person and my hike as a whole. Looking back, had I not slowed down to hike with them I would have been done with the A.T. back in the second week of July. By slowing down I made an incredible group of friends who I truly believe I'll have a lifetime bond with. I'll need to hike on at an unbelievable rate, but in order to make the situation easier I debated simply moving on in the middle of the night so there was less issue. Legs yelled at me when I told her I'd considered this plan, so I'll be staying one more night before making my 250 mile push for the finish line. It's yet to be seen whether or not Santa will come along. This topic was the majority of the conversation throughout the rainy day of hiking.
After summiting Old Blue the trail hiked along a ridge for a few miles, hiking over the peak of Bemis Mountain and descending to the Bemis Shelter shortly thereafter. Legs and I stopped in for lunch only to find the rest of the recently formed large group sitting inside out of the rain. By this point it was already 1600hrs, a result of a late start, wet shoes, soaked terrain, deep mud, roots, rocks, damped moral, and general disinterest in hiking. I made the executive decision to not push on the 8 more miles to the next shelter as I had planned, and instead crawled into my sleeping bag. From here out the daily mileage will be insane, so I might as well try and enjoy one more night. We hung out as a group for hours before headlamps turned off and left us with a dark shelter. Sleep will undoubtedly be quick, and with the morning I'll part ways from Legs and Santa for the final time, moving on towards the end of my hike. The plan is to drive back to Baxter State Park where Katahdin resides and re-summit the mountain with them when they finish; the same plan holds true for Dorothy and Rocket Girl who intend to finish a day or so later (Aug. 1 or 2). In the end I'll get my fancy finish date of under 115 days, the average thru-hiker taking 150-180, and I'll still be able to stand atop the mountain with these people who have made my hike into the experience I'll remember. The best of both worlds, I suppose.
Sleep for now, miles in the morning.
Onwards & upwards.