We managed to pull ourselves away from White Mtn Hostel after our 3 night stay by 11 a.m. During yesterday’s zero, I was really struggling to get the motivation to finish these last three weeks of hiking. Fortunately, all of those feelings of self doubt melted away as I reentered the woods.I mean, how can you complain being surrounded by such beauty? We set out for the day undecided on whether we would tackle 12 or 17 miles.
It was only 4 when we arrived at Gentian Pond Shelter 12 miles in. We debated the extra 5 miles but decided afternoon naps sounded better. By 5, we were joined by our friends Birdie and Easy Go. Their arrival confirmed that we weren’t going anywhere.
The next morning, we awoke earlier than our friends. It was a big day with mixed emotions. Gentian Pond Shelter was only 4.6 miles away from the New Hampshire – Maine state line. The dream of Georgia to Maine was coming true today. As elated as we were, we were also nervous excited for the infamous “most difficult mile on the Appalachian Trail,” Mahoosuc Notch, just 6 miles north of the state line.
The miles went by slowly, though we weren’t surprised. The terrain was the most rugged we had encountered and, indeed, rivaled the difficulty of The Whites. It took us nearly 8 hours to hike 11 miles where we entered the Notch. Let the games begin.
Thankfully, we were hiking on a somewhat cloudy day, but most importantly, a dry day! I can’t believe people attempt this jungle gym in the rain. Mahoosuc Notch, created through glacial activity, is a narrow one mile stretch of car-sized boulders sandwiched between two 400 ft cliffs.Far below the pile of massive rocks, a glacial river is still flowing. For hikers, this calls for some creative maneuvers. Put the trekking poles away – they aren’t going to help you here.
We entered the notch at about 4 p.m knowing we still had at least 3 hours before we would have to worry about dusk. We set off, Bigfoot’s long legs giving him the advantage. Every step was calculated. Large leaps, that demanded perfection, were necessary. Let’s just say, this is one I’m glad Mom didn’t have to witness. Dangerous is such a understatement.
The 1 mile Notch took about an hour and a half to complete. The trail became, well, a trail again, and we soon found a cozy stealth camping spot near a babbling brook for the night.
Morning welcomed a cloudy but otherwise nice day. We began the day climbing Mahoosuc Arm followed by Speck Mountain. Climbing down Speck I mentioned how awesome trail magic sounded. I was nothing but thrilled to find a case of soda waiting for us when we arrived at a parking area.
After a refresher, we started our final climb of the day, the double peeked Baldpate. At the top of the first peek, I decided to check for signal on my phone. Good thing I did – BigFoot’s family was welcoming the first of the next generation, little Abigail Jo. Happy Birthday, Gail!!!
With a little extra pep in our step, we set out for the second summit. The trail turned to just rock face as we climbed the side of the mountain. The wind was whipping creating a really fun game for BigFoot and I as we ducked into and out of quick gusts. It was one of those moments when life makes sense. I’ll never forget that climb.
Once on the other side of the mountain, it was a quick 2 miles to the shelter for the night. We “treated ourselves” to mac n cheese (which somehow we still liked) and went to bed. During the night, I was awoken by BigFoot.
“Do you hear that?”
Noises of rattling plastic and little pops filled the quiet night. Probably mice.
“I think it’s coming from my sleeping pad!”
Sure enough, BigFoot’s Therm-a-Rest was exploding! The glue that attaches the inflating foam to the plastic was coming apart creating a beach ball effect. Unfortunately, this is a product defect that we have seen happen to other hikers. There’s really never a good time for your sleeping pad to malfunction. We laid quietly listening to it tear itself apart.
The next morning, we woke up and hiked 4.5 miles to a road crossing. We were hoping to get a ride into the small town of Andover, ME to resupply. We stood there for twenty minutes witnessing only 1 car and two logging trucks heading down the road. Yikes.
We decided we would wait another 20 minutes knowing there was another road to Andover 10 miles down the trail. We continued waiting but no cars passed.
We had about 3 minutes of waiting left in us before we would call it quits. And, as luck would have it, a car arrived. Actually, the truck approached in the opposite direction, did a donut, and parked where we were standing. 2 familiar hikers exited the truck, saying their thankyou’s and see you later’s. They were clearly slackpacking. Lucky bastards.
But, lucky us too. The man driving the truck was returning to Andover and was quick to offer us a ride.
“We’re helping them slackpack today. Oh, I’m Fat Man Walking’s brother.”
Ohhh… Awesome! We, like many other hikers, had met Fat Man Walking when he generously gave us a a ride in his mini RV into Lincoln. I guess the generosity runs in the family.
After the 8 mile ride, we arrived in the tiny town of Andover. We checked out the two small general stores which were pretty much like resupplying at a gas station – a whole bunch of what you don’t want, and it’s really expensive. Oh well – the steak and eggs breakfast soothed those woes. Bigfoot also made an important call to Therm-a-Rest, and his new sleeping pad was scheduled to be picked up 100 miles north.
By noon, we started looking for a hitch back. After several failed attempts, a local lady slowed down and picked us up. She wasn’t heading that way, she just had the time and wanted to do something nice. Lesson learned from this trip: Sometimes people are awesome. Arriving back at the trail head, no less than 6 hikers were waiting on a ride into Andover. This nice lady let us out and volunteered to take 2 back to town.
We started down the trail debating whether we would complete 7.5 or 10 more miles today. During a break, I took a deep breath and took in my surroundings. Isn’t it cool that we live here? We wake up in the woods, we walk all day in the woods, we eat lunch in the woods, our casual breaks are in the woods, we sleep in the woods, and we do this all over again day after day. I knew it was coming to an end in just a few short weeks. I swear, some moments it was “OMG we STILL have SIXTEEN freaking days left to hike!?!?” and then the next moment was “Oh no, we ONLY have 16 days left to hike!” I knew I would miss the trail. I knew I was ready to be done with it also. Either way, the time was nearing.
The 7.5 miles won, and we found a camping spot along with some familiar faces. The next day we completed 14.8 miles eating far too many Maine wild blueberries along the way. The following day, we were happy to be blessed with semi-flat trail, the first days of many that didn’t include any large climbs. We were 14 miles away from a highway that led to Rangeley, and it was time for another small resupply.
After an easy and beautiful day of hiking, we approached the highway and found a quick hitch. We checked out an outfitter before ducking into a local bar. The kitchen didn’t open for another hour and a half so we had some beers to tide us over. Before we ordered, three hiking friends joined us: Macklemore, White Wolf, and Hardware. We had hiked with Macklemore for the past few weeks off and on. But seeing White Wolf and Hardware was a big surprise. These two, our favorite bro-mance on the trail, were the hikers we had probably spent the most time with. We’ll never forget sharing the joys of a hail storm in Tennessee with White Wolf. Or Hardware’s dedication to Cathy’s Climb honoring his friend’s lost battle to cancer by raising money for research. These are two of our favorite fellow hikers.
After dinner and ice cream, we broke from our friends and headed to the IGA grocery store. After a quick shop, we exited the store and were stunned by a beautiful sun setting over Rangeley Lake. I wanted to just stare into it, but a setting sun means a setting sun. Now, it was a race to get back to the trail and find a decent camping spot before dark.
Thankfully, a man exited and had noted our items while we checked out. He knew we were hikers and offered us a ride back to the trail. We told him it might take a few minutes to sort our items.
“I’m retired. Take your time.”
He and his wife made a lasting impression. With bright smiles, intermingling sentences, and the best ever Maine accents, they told us stories of their kind deeds to other hikers, laughed over the name “trail angels,” gave us their address, and hoped to hear from us. We got back to the trail just as the last bits of lights were leaving the sky. Thankfully, a comfy spot for a tent was nearby.
The next morning, we began our day hiking Saddleback Mountain. Though a somewhat steep climb, we were soon above treeline with magnificent 360 degree views. We found a perfect spot to eat and made lunch.
After properly refueling, we made our way over The Horn where a couple greeted us at the summit.
“You hiked here from Georgia? Well, you both earned yourself a candy bar!”
Almond Snicker’s and Cookies ‘n’ Cream Hershey’s. People are awesome.
In total, it was a tough and oh so beautiful 13.5 mile day.
We woke up with another big day of climbing ahead of us. We were stoked to finish an 18.7 mile day by 6 o’clock. It had been a long time since we had completed that many miles in a day in good pace, and we were anticipating the rumors of good trail ahead taking us into the final stretch.
The end of our day brought us to a road crossing for Stratton, ME. We really hadn’t planned on stopping there, but BigFoot’s suggestion to eat and get our final hotel room was easily decided upon. When we arrived at the parking area, we were thrilled to be greeted by Fat Man Walking.
He was quick to offer us a beer and a ride into town. We made a call ahead to the White Wolf Inn and were on our way. Upon checking in, we ran into our friend Wild Boy and changed our reservation from 2 people to 3 people. After showering, BigFoot and I went to the restaurant downstairs and chatted with Fat Man who was having a beer.
I bought his next round as to thank him for all of his kindness. Though, apparently, most hikers don’t ever buy him a beer, and he was deeply touched. So much so that when our dreams of a final slackpack came up, he was very quick to offer. With a plan hatched for tomorrow’s slackpack, we giddily returned to the room.
Wildboy was still up, and we all decided to go to the bar across the street that was still open. Lucky for us, a local band was playing. We all reminisced on our 2,000 miles we had walked while enjoying our beers and the music. Now, we were only 11 or 12 days from standing on the summit of Katahdin and could barely believe we had walked this far.