Day mileage: 23
AT total mileage: 2,052.8
Time: 9 hours
I woke up to the realization that today was day 108 on the Appalachian Trail. When I had been hiking with Pneumo and Jellybean, this was the day I had intended on finishing Katahdin on. It's a bit upsetting for me to know that that won't be happening, that I missed that self-imposed mark, but alas I hiked a different hike after meeting Rocket Girl, Dorothy, Blue, Legs, and Santa back in New York. The last 600 miles have been much more enjoyable, so I don't regret my choice to slow my pace, but it certainly is interesting to reflect on the fact that I could have been done by now. Soon enough, I suppose.
We left the shelter at 0700 and followed a blue-blazed side trail 0.3 miles to Harrison's Pierce Pond Camp. Known on the Appalachian Trail for the 'Patriotic Pancakes' I thought it was absolutely necessary to stop in. Owned by the kind spirited Tim Harrison, his camp & lodge is a relaxing place in the woods of Maine, comprised of log cabin buildings, where many go to vacation. For $12 he offers a breakfast of 12 patriotic pancakes (red raspberries, blueberries, and apple chunks comprising the red, white, and blue aspect) with sausage, eggs, milk, and orange juice. Santa and I sat and talked with thru-hikers One-Day and Fun Size as we waited for breakfast. Both are NOBOs, and Fun Size actually used to live only a few miles away from my parent's house... Ironically, Tim grew up in the town 5 miles north of mine as well. The pancakes came and were delicious, as breakfast is my favorite meal and he did an outstanding job preparing it. We ate and talked for a while before packing up and heading on, hiking away from the lodge as Mr. Harrison played a gorgeous rendition of 'Strawberry Fields Forever' on his electric piano. Just 4 miles down the trail we would have to cross the Kennebec River, a wide body of water that requires a ferry service to cross. Due to an uphill hydroelectric dam, the water levels can rise 2-4 feet with no warning whatsoever, and have claimed the lives of hikers over the years who attempt the crossing on their own. The ferry is a free service provided by a local outdoors center, but only operates between 9-11a and 2-4p. We left Tim's place, thanking him for a delicious breakfast, and hiked on for the river to make it before 11 when the ferry would suspend service. The hike was mainly downhill, a welcome start to my morning, and we arrived just in time to be the last occupants of the ferry (a canoe) before the operator Hillbilly Dave took off for lunch. Signing the outdoor's center waiver, Dave proudly explained that he is actually the only location on the entire Appalachian Trail that has the demographic data and name of every thru-hiker, something not even the ATC can claim. We thanked Dave after an uneventful and short ferry ride, and continued on with our hike, beginning a 6 mile gradual climb up to the Pleasant Pond lean-to where we would have lunch. A mile or so out from the shelter it began raining, and we pulled in just in time to avoid the more dramatic downfall of water. Eating lunch, Fun Size and One-Day hiked in and joined us, we chatted casually for a bit before packing up and heading on, a 1,000' climb awaiting us just a tenth of a mile north of the shelter.
As usual with me and Santa hiking together, music was needed for the ascent of Pleasant Pond Mountain. One of our favorite things to do, mainly to see how people react, is today Taylor Swift on the external speaker and hike along singing every word aloud. Imagine it- a gorgeous, damp pine forest with two bros hiking along singing T-Swift... We're quite the sight to see. Towards the summit of Pleasant Pond we came across a moose carcass on the side of the trail, the skull eerily placed atop what was left of a broken tree. Having only seen one moose so far on this trip, a large beast whose presence at a power line clearing was not something I would have expected, I've since seen a few dead moose randomly in the woods. Snapping a few photos we hiked on to the summit as the rain continued intermittently. After summiting Pleasant Pond we descended a few hundred feet and crossed over the rocky summit of Middle Mountain, stopping when I realized I had cell service. At this point Santa was exhausted, and as I did my best to post back logged blog posts, he napped face down on the bare rock of the mountain. Getting only two blog posts up, a victory based on the standards of Maine cell service, it began raining more steadily so we hiked on. It wasn't five minutes later, just before re-entering the woods from the wet and exposed rock, that my feet slid out from under me and I struggled to stay standing. In a quick moment of flailing I actually managed not to fall, but again hurt my back in the same area I had hyperextended the muscle a week before. Instantly my day was changed for the worse as mobility and comfort level decreased dramatically. Stepping forward with my right foot became strenuous, and any kind of exertion of my back was more painful than anything in recent memory. The descent off Middle Mountain took a while as I cursed Maine and the Trail, and after a gruelingly uncomfortable 7 mile stretch of wet terrain, we came across the Bald Mountain lean-to. Literally hobbling into the large and empty shelter, Santa offered that we spend the night there instead of trying to push on. At any other point in the trail I'd have said yes, but we had miles to make and I was not about to end up 15 miles shy of my intended destination... We simply hadn't come far enough that day. I took an ibuprofen, and we passed by Fun Size and One Day for the final time as we headed up the trail, having decided to stop at the next shelter, some 9 miles shy of our original destination. I spent most of the next climb, a 1,500 foot ascent of Moxie Bald Mountain, continuing to audibly hate the Appalachian Trail. The painkiller did little to solve my problem initially, and many high leg lifts required to traverse uneven terrain were strenuous on my body. Combined with everything going on, my exhaustion, and the trail as it exists in Maine, I began talking with Santa about how the trail wasn't fun anymore; it had lost its appeal and my love affair with it had ended. He was a phenomenal guy to hike with me listening to me rant, truly understanding and trying to offer help, though I wasn't having it. My state of mind was such that I was simply over the hike, with no interest in it anymore.
We came across a blue-blazed side trail about a half mile from the summit, with a sign offering us to bypass the mountain's peak and wrap back around to rejoin the A.T. on the other side. Santa encouraged me to take the bypass, reminding me that there were a few hundred more feet of climbing and that we could get to the next shelter earlier and I could get off my feet. Having not missed a section of trail yet, I was not about to let pain and a climb overcome me, so we hiked on following the white blazes to the summit. Reaching the rocky and exposed bald around 2010hrs, we were greeting by gorgeous panoramic views of rivers, lakes, and mountain ridges in front of us, and decided to linger and cook dinner as the sun set over the world in front of us. In the moments of the sunset, my problems with the trail disappeared a bit. The 800mgs of ibuprofen had kicked in, and the world was a slightly better place than it had been earlier. The sorbet colors of the sky were mesmerizing, and as the sun disappeared behind the horizon we packed up and headed on to complete the final 2.5 miles downhill to the Bald Mtn. Pond lean-to. About halfway down the descent Santa caught me off guard by wandering quickly off trail and vomiting profusely into the bushes. He didn't much want to talk about it, and thought it may have been an adverse reaction to the dinner he had cooked and the olive oil he put into it. We hiked on into the darkness, a combination of the end of dusk and abundant tree cover, and arrived at the shelter around 2130hrs to find two NOBO hikers still awake. With plenty of room in the shelter we settled in next to them and talked for a while, having never met either hiker before.
Tomorrow we'll hike 18 miles into Monson, ME, the last town before the 100 mile wilderness. I'll be picking up a mail drop that West sent me from Rangely, which will have enough food to get me through to Katahdin. We'll have a bite to eat at the Lake Shore hostel in town, then will hitch back out to the trail and continue on with the final stage of the adventure. Hopefully Santa is feeling better come morning, as we've got quite a bit of mileage to get in before the small post office closes at 1615hrs tomorrow afternoon. The painkillers are wearing off as I'm starting to fall asleep, so I'm hoping my back isn't too sore tomorrow. We shall see.
My love affair isn't exactly over, but it's dwindling. I can say without a doubt that I'm ready for this hike to come to an end. Soon enough, I suppose.