Day mileage: 28
AT total mileage: 2,080.6
Time: 9.5 hours
When I went to sleep last night, Santa wasn't feeling well. He had thrown up once or twice in our time since descending off Moxie Bald, but had settled into his sleeping bag in the shelter and slept as far as I knew. Imagine my surprise when I woke up to find the shelter void of his presence, only to find the two other NOBO hikers lying next to me. A few minutes of investigating led me to find Santa in his sleeping bag on the ground next to the lean-to, having spent the night repeatedly throwing up. He climbed back into the shelter and curled up into a ball, as I began debating my course of action. My options were to either stay with Santa as he was sick, or to hike into town and meet him at a later point. It may seem horribly rude for me to have moved on, but keep in mind the post offices in small towns are single-man operations, and missing the 1615hrs closing time would hold us over one more night in Monson, something that wouldn't jive with my need to be at Katahdin on Friday. I ran this by the two other hikers there, posing it as a moral debate, when Santa spoke up and told me to hike on. Double checking with him half a dozen times as I packed up, I followed his wishes and began my 18 mile trek into town.
The hike from the Moxie lean-to into Monson wouldn't be difficult terrain-wise, mostly level ground, but having left well past 8 AM time was most certainly not on my side to make it there without hiking quickly the entire time. Luckily for me the trail much resembled that which I hiked in Virginia, pine needle covered forest floors, sometimes interrupted by gnarly roots and rocks that threw off any kind of rhythm I had. One of the more (or less, depending on your view of the situation) exciting things was that I would need to ford half a dozen rivers before making it to town. The terrain in Maine differs from most of the rest of the trail in many ways, one of which is the lack of trail infrastructure. Every river (save for the Kennebec where we traversed in the canoe) requires actually hiking through, no matter the speed or depth of the water. You as the hiker basically have the option of removing your shoes and sox at each crossing in order to attempt to keep your feet dry, or simply to say 'screw it' and hike on through without removing footwear. I'm a member of the latter camp, and simply forged my way across while retaining my shoes and socks, an act that got strange looks from the SOBO hikers I'd pass.... soon enough, they'll stop caring too. I hiked along at a solid 3mph clip listening to some upbeat electronic dance music, quasi stressed about the timeline I was up against, enjoying the gorgeously sunny day. That all came to a crashing halt when my right shoe caught a tree root, splitting the sole from the upper half of the shoe, sending me flying forward and crashing down on my face in the middle of the trail. I took a minute to right myself, knees soaked in blood and hands tattered from the fall, doing my best to shake it off before continuing on. Little did I know, this was to be the beginning of many shoe problems.
I stopped at a shelter 9 miles from where we had spent the night to leave Santa a note about where I was timing wise. My plan was to take his mail drop from the post office and transport it to a local hostel down the road so he could pick it up without the constraints of the post office hours. I snacked quickly and got right back on the trail, still only halfway through my hike to town. With a few more river fordings and a relatively simple uphill climb over the next miles before reaching town I was able to maintain my good clip, learning to lift my right foot higher than usual in order to avoid tripping on the now separated sole. At the top of the climb, a mile or so out of the road that Monson was located on, I was surprised to be greeted by a familiar face as Radio Man hiked by me southbound. He and Bangarang are still hiking in opposite directions in order to facilitate moving their car up towards Katahdin. We spoke for a few minutes, he assured me I was close to the road and congratulated me on the pace and mileage Santa and I were keeping up with. We parted ways and I made it to the road crossing at 1440hrs, a full 20 minutes earlier than I'd hoped to. I wasn't overly concerned about hitchhiking into town (3.6 miles east) as its a known thing for hikers to need rides. As I stopped on the shoulder to double check the direction I wanted to be hitching in, a car pulled over (I didn't even have a thumb up, nor my face to the road!) and offered me a ride. As it turns out, two very kind women who were vacationing in Maine were familiar that hikers visit town and wanted to offer me a ride, delivering me at the post office a quick ten minutes later. My post office stop took no time at all, and I surprisingly was able to collect Santa's box without issue despite his not being there. It took less than a minute to find the Lake Shore House inn/hostel where I'd heard great food was available, and after wandering around a bit I found myself in the back yard on the edge of an expansive lake, introduced to Rebecca, the owner, and Tim, the manager. He informed me that the restaurant was actually closed on Mondays, of course I arrived on the one day they're closed, but that he'd be happy to get me a soft drink of my choice. Settled in with a cold Coca-Cola, we chatted about my hike and situation with Santa, and Tim agreed to hold onto the package until Santa arrived in town. Becoming fast friends, I walked over to the gas station with Tim to get some food from the grill they operate, then headed back to the lakeside. My stay in Monson was quick, as I had 10 miles left to hike, and Tim was happy to drive me back to the trail when I was ready. Dropped off at the trailhead parking lot at 1730hrs, I thanked him profusely and began my trek into the 100 Mile Wilderness.
I know I've already informed you about The Wilderness, but I think it's one of the coolest parts of the trail so I'll detail it again. From the edge of town in Monson, trail mile 2,070, to the edge of Baxter State Park some 100 miles later, the Appalachian Trail will trek through a complete wilderness. The trail passes by a few dirt roads, most of which are abandoned logging roads from years past, though a few are active roads that are accessible by half an hour of driving in a car. A large sign warns of the danger of entering the wilderness unprepared, reminding hikers that up to 10 days of food will be necessary to traverse the terrain. Most northbound hikers will take 5-7 days to hike the wilderness, while most southbound will spend upwards of two weeks getting through. My goal, my deadline, requires hiking the wilderness in 3 full days. With a very heavy pack carrying much more food than I actually needed, I headed on into the final stretch of the Appalachian Trail. 3 miles in I'd come across the first shelter, bewildering southbound hikers by stopping only to sign the log book before heading on to the next shelter 7 miles further north. The elevation profile for the rest of my day much resembled a roller coaster, hills of a few hundred feet dipping down and climbing up repeatedly. I hiked well into the dark, finding myself half a mile from my destination shelter before realizing that a 70' wide river resided between us. In the pitch black with the light of my LED headlamp and the stars above, I decided it wasn't the right time to try and cross a river. I may be stubborn and determined, but even I know where to draw the line when it comes to safety. I begrudgingly set up my tent on the side of the river, disappointed in having stopped shy of my goal, and began cooking dinner. I laid in my sleeping bag exhausted, and as I started to fall asleep I heard a rustling next to me. Turning on my headlamp I saw two mice climbing over my backpack that resided in the tent vestibule. With no hooks to hang it, I resorted to reenacting the scene in the movie about wolves where the guy pees to mark his territory. So there I was, in the dark, peeing around the base of my tent to keep the mice away. Whether or not it worked or I just slept soundly enough to not hear them return I'll never know.
The plan for the next day is simply more mileage, aiming to hike 30-something over whatever terrain I am faced with. After an exhausting push at 3+ mph through almost my entire day today, I'm already dreading what challenges the next few days will bring. I'm hoping Santa is doing better and that he'll catch up soon, though the likelihood will be low that I see him before the end. First thing tomorrow, I'll cross the river and continue on.
Katahdin is near.