Friday, September 7, 2007

The Grand Finale

Ok, we are finally into the last leg. Here we go. It took us a little longer than we expected to get out of Monson. As it turned out my package was once again late in arriving so I had to wait for the morning to go pick it up and then I had to pack everything up. Apparently Maine does not hold itself to the same postal standards as every other state because it seems like practically every package that was sent to me there showed up late. So anyway, Chicken, Widowmaker, and I got a ride out to the trail head from some sectioners who were in town and headed off into the 100 mile wilderness around 11. Our original plan had been to do 19 miles that day, but with the late start that just didn't seem particularly likely. I really liked the wilderness from the moment we entered it. Something about the woods was just very pleasing. We stopped for an extremely late lunch around three right next to a really beautiful waterfall that was probably sixty or seventy feet tall. We all felt kind of sluggish that day even though the terrain was not especially challenging that day and as a result we ended up taking a number of breaks. During one of these Widowmaker and I sort of discovered a common interest in show tunes and we had a little impromptu musical review right there. This was of some concern to Chicken who kept shooting us dirty looks. Also during that particular break all three of us broke into an unexpected chorus of "Father Abraham" including the motions. This was broken by several fits of hysterical laughter by all involved. I know all of my camp people will know Father Abraham but I'm sorry to those of you who don't understand because I'm not going to embarrass myself further by explaining it. We decided to stop after 15 miles that evening (still not a bad distance for a half day). This turned out to be a wise decision as we just barely beat a thunderstorm into the shelter.
The second day in the wilderness crossed what is known as the Barren Chairback mountain range and it was pretty tough. There was a whole lot of upping and downing, though in truth it wasn't all that bad by comparison to much of what we had left behind. The thing that I think made it the hardest was the fact that my mind had already processed the fact that I was "done" even though of course I wasn't. The terrain that day was quite beautiful but any sense of "wilderness" that I had was destroyed by running into a day hiker walking a chihuahua. It started raining again that night as I settled into camp with Chicken, Widowmaker, and The Georgia Boys.
The next morning we crossed White Cap mountain. It was foggy, rainy, and cold. As a result I couldn't see a thing from White Cap which was the last view before Katahdin. It was also extremely windy up there so I couldn't even really hang out for a while comfortably. Fortunately, shortly after we stopped for and early lunch everything really started to warm up and we had really good hiking for the remainder of the day. We took lots of breaks even so and hung out quite a bit. The shelter we stopped at for the night was in an amazingly beautiful spot. There was a great shallow waterfall running down into a big pool right in front of the shelter. Unfortunately, the day had gotten cold again, otherwise it would have been perfect for swimming. It would have been great sleeping that night except that I had to keep poking widowmaker because he kept snoring. It was actually really funny because in his 3/4 asleep state he didn't understand why he was being poked and heartily denied even having been asleep.
The next day was beyond easy. We did 14 miles by noon so we could go eat a 1 lb hamburger for lunch at White House Langing, which is a little hostel halfway through the wilderness. The food was really good but the guy who ran the place was a jerk. We had planned on sort of taking our leisure there after lunch but not staying the night, instead he told us "you ain't stayin', you ain't payin', you ain't playin'". Basically, if we weren't staying the night we couldn't stay on the grounds any longer. It was immensly rude, and we moved on. The rest of the miles that day we just knocked out a few at a time with massive breaks to sit and chill in between. As we got closer to the end we found our selves more and more inclined to just sit and stretch the days out. That night at the shelter we were briefly joined by a southbounder named Frog who was really odd and unpleasant. He opened conversation by dogging on a couple of our friends who were ahead of us and he had met (though of course he didn't know we were friends). Then he gave us really counterproductive and passive aggressive answers to several very friendly questions when we tried to move past his remarks. After that we more or less stopped paying attention and he thankfully moved on.
The next day was amazing. We had apparently lost all of our will to walk. We would walk 3 or 4 miles and then hang out for an hour or so. It was exceedingly strange but really awesome in a lot of ways. It was so laid back even for a day on the trail. We had a really "veteran" moment when we met this southbounder who was just a few days out from Katahdin. He was carrying this absolutely enormous pack; and not only was it stuffed to the gills, there were also several daypack style bags hung off of it. He also had two little fussy show dogs with him that he was planning on taking the whole way with him. He was actually a really nice guy and we had a good conversation while we were all hanging out in this clearing by a pond, but we couldn't help but have a bit of a moment where we were all glad that we knew better than that. Our shelter that night was absolutely packed. There were tons of southbound thru-hikers and flip-floppers who were now heading south. Among them were a really cool Scottish guy named Otter, High Life (who was possibly the funniest guy I met on the trail), and Spider who turned out to be from my home town and the younger brother of my sisters friend Justin Ettinger. Its a very small world.
The next morning we were on the way to The Birches, the campsite resting at the base of Big K. It was an amazingly lazy sort of day. We got going early but we stopped again in about three miles at the Abol Bridge Campsite. There is a beautiful view of Katahdin there and a camp store at which we gorged ourselves on junkfood one last time. Widowmaker and I set off from there ahead of Mystery Chicken as he had some stuff he had to take care of there at the campsite. A very good portion of the next six miles of trail followed the Penobscot River. It was a lovely piece of trail to walk along. Widowmaker and I talked a good deal but there were also long patches where we hiked hard in silence. I would imagine that we both had our own thoughts that we were dealing with. I at least was excited to be nearing my goal, but as one might imagine, saddened because that part of my life was almost over forever. The trail turned away from the Penobscot and began following a tributary and shortly got to Big Niagra Falls where Widowmaker and I had agreed to wait for Chicken. We were joined by our compatriot in the early afternoon and hung out there on the rocks all day. It was wonderful. In some ways I wish more days on the trail could have been relaxed in that way. At the same time I know I would have gotten itchy feet if I had tried making that little time during most of the trip. Anyhow, I think it was about three in the afternoon when we finally pushed on to finish up the day. We got to the Birches around 4:45 and spent the rest of the day just hanging out and cutting up. It was a marvelous day. It was as though we were trying to hold on to all of the best things about the trail, the freedom, the comraderie, and even the innocence of the whole thing (we reverted to childhood quite a bit that day by engaging in several impromptu trekking pole and lighter fights). I think about that day a lot. It was surreal, in that I had a definite sense of accomplishment but we weren't actually finished yet. I went to sleep that night not really knowing how I felt or knowing how I would feel on the morrow.
We woke early the next morning so as to watch the sun rise over the side of the mountain. That didn't work out all that well as it was a kind of lack luster sunrise. On the other hand it did give us even more time to hang out, and we had to wait for Widowmaker's family and my own to arrive. Widowmaker's arrived on schedule, my own gave me a few moments of worry that they weren't going to get there. They finally arrived however, and it was a great reunion. I was honestly surprised by how much it seemed I had missed them. I hadn't realized it until right then. After all of the greetings were taken care of though I quickly stripped my pack down until all I had was some food, water, a camera, a sign, champagne, and a cigar. In short, just the items I would need to get up the mountain, celebrate, and return.
The climb up Katahdin was exceedingly enjoyable and not as hard as it had been made out to be (though that may just be because it was the only thing we had to do that day). There was some beautiful trail before we broke out above treeline and after that happened each new view was better than the last. I'm not going to say it wasn't a pretty tough climb though. After a couple of miles the trekking poles went away because they are more or less useless when it comes to climbing boulders. Even so we were so amped up, this change seemed fun rather than challenging. Chicken and I were talking, joking, and having a good time. However, when we reached the false summit that marked the last mile of the trail we agreed to split up and finish the trail with our own thoughts. I went first and I wish I could tell you that mile gave me some epiphany that had been as yet untouched. In truth though I barely remember what was going through my head besides, "oh god I can't believe I'm about to finish, I don't really want to finish, yes I do, no I don't, yes I do." It was confusing. All the same, I was glad of those last moments of just being me and the trail. We had spent a lot of time togethor and I think it was important that I said goodbye alone. When I got within sight of the Katahdin sign I could also see that there were about 40 dayhikers gathered around in the area. Honestly though, I only partially noted this enough to be a lit put out that we wouldn't have the peak all to ourselves for the finish. Most of my attention was focused on the faded red sign that is the holy grail of the Appalachian Trail. My pace speeded up for the last hundred meters or so as though I were being drawn in my a magnet. Finally I had reached my goal and all I could do was just place my hands on the sign and feel it. Feel the thing I had been chasing all those months. I felt the faded, scarred wood. I felt the letters carved into it spelling Katahdin. I felt it as though I were trying to glean some long lost knowledge from its surface and that was all I did for several minutes. Shortly thereafter Chicken got there and the time for thoughtful contemplation was at an end. He touched the sign and looked at me. I looked at him. We both started yelling and screaming at the top of our lungs. I'm pretty sure we scared a few of the day hikers but it was a release and celebration that was a long time coming and much needed. A little while after that Widowmaker arrived with his sister and brother-in-law who had wanted to summit with him and we all celebrated togethor. We drank the champagne, I smoked my cigar, and we took as many different pictures with the sign as we could think of. It was an amazing ending which was capped by the fact that it was an amazingly beautiful day and you could see practically forever from Katahdin's peak. Of the several hours we spent up top I spent a good amount of time just looking south imagining the way I had come and all the things I had seen and done along the way. The trip back down was a blur and unimportant anyway. The AT thru-hike was over, going back down was just the first steps back into ordinary life.
And so this is where I leave you. I am sorry it has taken me so long to write this last entry. I suppose part of me didn't really want to finish since it is the last thing I had really connecting me with my trip and now that this is finished I am truly done as well. In response to Beth who tried to contact me a couple of posts back. I tried to contact you through blogger but I couldn't get access to your profile and you didn't leave me any contact info. I'm sorry I haven't responded in this fashion before now. I also hope you might still be checking this blog from time to time in order to see if I've gotten up off my rear end and finished. If you ever do my email is and I would love to offer any help I can for your preperations for your own trip. Again I'm sorry for not posting again for so long.
Well thats all, but I wouldn't go without leaving you all a few more pictures. So here it is, my hike of the Appalachian Trail in an extremely abridged version.

I'll add some more pictures soon, but I want to go ahead and get the post up.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Until the Wilderness

As I mentioned at the end of the previous post, my friend Josh was coming up from Texas to join me in Gorham to do a few days on the trail. Unfortunately, his flight was massively delayed and he was unable to get into town until three in the morning. Not a great way to start several days in the woods. In spite of a certain lack of sleep however, we were able to get going by about 9:30. It was a hard day. First off, it was hot as blazes. Secondly, Josh had just stepped into one of the hardest sections of the trail after not hiking for some time and having spent several months studying for the Bar Exam. He put up a valiant effort but even so, the 12 miles I had planned for that day were clearly a grind. We got into camp around 8:30 that evening, ate, and went right to bed.

It seemed pretty clear after the first day that I was going to need to adjust my plans for the next couple of days. I had intended for us to make Grafton Notch in the two days we had left. It just seemed like that wasn't going to happen, or it was going to make us both miserable if it did, so we adjusted our plans a bit. We only did five miles that second day and spent long hours just sitting, enjoying the views, and catching up. It was very nice and was at the same time very strange because that kind of movement was not at all what I was used to on the trail. Incidentally, this was also the day when I crossed the Maine border, hooray!

We had a good night at our camp site that evening and the next day we headed down a 3 mile side trail to a road where we could get picked up to get Josh back to town so he could catch his plane the next day. It wasn't a perfect plan in that it cut our third day way short, but it was really the only option available to us.

I ate lunch with Josh in town, got a few more supplies since I thought it was going to take me an extra day to get to Andover and then got Josh to take me back up to the side trail where we came off. I hiked back up to the shelter by about 6:00 in the evening and then I booked the six miles to the next shelter. I got there by around 8:00. It was good to really be able to release my legs to go at high speed again. Also, a good portion of the six miles or so between the two shelters was above treeline and there were some really good views. Oh and that night there was a really clear night and I saw a couple of shooting stars which was pretty cool.

I had heard some disturbing reports about the weather expected for the next day but when I woke up it was beautiful. I got going around seven and the sun was out and the sky was bright blue. In fact it was so nice that I felt the need to take about thirty minutes to just sit and look when I got to the top of the first hill. After I got moving it did not take me long to get to the infamous Mahoosuc Notch . Now for those of you who are not intimately familiar with the AT (as I was not before I did this) Mahoosuc Notch has the reputation of being "the toughest mile on the trail." I had several former hikers inform me that I should plan a short day around the notch and that I should allow somewhere between two and three hours to complete the Notch.

I did not find it to be nearly as difficult as everyone made out. Actually, I thought it was pretty fun. There was a bunch of jumping from boulder to boulder and some cool kind of half caves you walk through. Honestly, the only unpleasant part of it was the smell during the first third or so of the mile that was produced by the moose that had gotten trapped down there and died. Another interesting thing about the notch is that it is about 10 degrees cooler than any surrounding area and some of the deeper crevices are even colder than that. There are several deep holes where snow and ice exists year round. In the end it only took me about an hour twenty to traverse the notch and at least 20 minutes of that was monopolized by the taking of pictures.

On the downside, by the time I got about half-way through the notch, clouds had come out of nowhere to cover the entire sky, it was looking like the weather report was going to be correct after all. Indeed I was about halfway up Mahoosuc Arm (the very steep mountain immediatly following the notch) when it started to rain. Fortunately, I was at least able to get across the exposed top of the mountain before it became a thuderstorm. Frankly though, the wind that was blowing honestly seemed dangerous enough, as it practically pushed me over. Coming down from Mahoosuc Arm was pretty awful, it was dumping bucket-fulls of rain on me and the lightning was close enough to make me plenty nervous. I had never been so glad to see a little shelter when I got to the covered information board at Grafton Notch. Starting that day I had thought I might not make it past the next shelter which was only a couple of miles up the next hill. However, since the notch had not been nearly as bad as expected I decided that if the thunder let up I would go ahead and cross the next two mountains and go on into Andover for the night and hopefully catch up with Mystery Chicken. This would be a pretty good push of 21 miles considering the difficulty of the terrain and the unpleasant weather. Fortunately, the thunder and rain cooperated and I was able to push on which was what I really wanted to do at that point. I was very glad I did. The wet made quite a bit more slippery than I would have preferred (particularly coming down the backside of Baldpate Mtn.) but the view from Baldpate made everything worth it. There was a bunch of cloud moving in and out among the nearby mountain peaks and the mountains all looked deep blue and purple poking up among them. I did make it into Andover later that evening and Chicken was there. Unfortunatly, I discovered the next day that I was so exhausted that I needed to take a zero day so all was for naught. He got a full day out on me again. Ah well.

Of course the day that I took in town was beautiful, though hot and the day that I left it was already raining and windy. Just what I wanted, another gross day. Yet in spite of not being thrilled by the weather and also feeling kind of sluggish, the first six miles just rolled right by. Unfortunately, it stayed pretty gross for the rest of the day, though it wasn't actively raining most of the time. My pace was slowed down pretty significantly that afternoon by climbing Old Blue Mtn. Its steep enough that it would have been tough in any circumstances but in this case I was also getting paid back for ever having complained about walking in a creek-like trail. The trail gods apparently decided I was to find out what it is really like when the trail is a creek. I actually had to walk through little mini-rapids running down the trail, and there were frequently pools that were well over ankle deep. In spite of all of that I was able to make it into camp pretty early, do all my stuff and hit the sack. I was exhausted and probably fell asleep by about 8:15. Even for the trail that was pretty early for me.
The next day dawned beautiful and I thought perhaps my feet would become dry that day but it quickly became clear that was not too be. I was doing a swamp slog for the majority of the day. Except for that though, it wasn't a very tough day and I ended up camped at the Piazza Rock shelter, which was right next to the actual Piazza Rock which was a pretty cool, table-like rock formation. This site also sported what is probably the most interesting privy I saw on the entire trip. It was a two seater with no partition, instead choosing to divide the seats with a cribbage board. There was a sign on the outside that labeled the privy "Your Move". I was exceedingly amused.
The next morning started out pretty easy. It was muddy, but not excessively so. I crossed the Saddleback Range that day. The climbs really weren't all that bad and the views from up high were excellent which is how I like my mountains. Unfortunately, it was also quite windy and chilly which kept me from spending an excessive amount of time up top. The amount of time I was above treeline really reminded me of being in the Whites. The second half of the day was a great deal more wooded, but they were very pretty woods. I went through some extremely dense conifer forests. That night I ended up camped with a large French Canadian camp group. They were funny for me to watch. Their dynamic was so similar to a lot of the groups I have had that I almost felt like I knew what was going on even though they were all speaking French.
Very little went right for me on the next day. I started the morning by snapping my left trekking pole about half a mile from camp. I had no idea how used to those things I had gotten. Losing one felt like losing a leg. I got into Stratton that afternoon expecting to pick up a resupply and maybe get a wash. Unfortunatley, my package had not shown up. This was a Saturday so in order for me to wait for my package I would have had to wait until Monday. I was still trying to catch Chicken at this point (since he wasn't in town as I had been expecting) so there was no way I was going to do that. Instead I had to do my first resupply from a grocery store. I ended up with some cheese, pre-cooked chicken breasts, peanut butter, corn tortillas, trail mix, and Snickers bars. Not exactly the most exciting or varied of food items, but I figured it was at least something to eat for the next two days until I could get my package in Caratunk. I headed back out to do another five miles that evening with Blow Out and Truffles, heavy one ski pole that the hostel owner had given me to replace my broken trekking pole. We camped at the Horn's Pond Lean-To with a legion of other people. I didn't even bother trying to get names.
The next day I had to cross the Bigelow range which was supposedly the last really tough mountain group before reaching Katahdin. They did indeed give me a great deal of trouble. It took me four hours to do five miles, but I don't really attribute that to the actual difficulty of the mountains. I felt extremely weak that morning and I attibute a lot of that to my less than satisfactory food I was eating. If I had been feeling up to par I don't think the Bigelow's would have presented much of a problem at all. Fortunately, after crossing those mountains the rest of the day became a great deal easier, the ground flattened out a lot and I was able to make exceptional time into camp for the evening at West Carry Pond Lean-To. Incidentally, somewhere during that day I crossed over the two-thousand mile marker. Anyway, the lean-to that night was set right against West Carry Pond and I was hot and gross so I decided to take a swim no matter how cold the water was. To my surprise it wasn't cold at all, but rather was an absolute perfect swimming temperature so that I probably stayed out in the water for a good 40 minutes even though the sun was in the process of setting. It was extremely refreshing. The sun setting over the pond was also very pretty.
Next day we were heading into Caratunk, the entire day was flat walking. I don't know if any of you guys can conceive of how weird (and how nice) that was. I was cruising. It was damp out but not unpleasant and there was a really pretty section where I was walking right beside a big pond with several sandy beaches. It was still a little too cool for a swim or I likely would have gone in. I was in no real rush that morning because there was a river crossing that afternoon and I was going to have to wait for the shuttle that started running at two. There was no reason to get there early. As a result of this timing I took an exceedingly long lunch at another shelter that was set idyllically on another pond, took another swim, and sat listening to the loons. When I finally did get to the river crossing right at two the Georgia Boys were in the process of trying to ford the river (something we had all been advised not to do). They were halfway across the river and in water up to their necks. They were floating their packs. Around the time I walked up they decided they weren't going to make it and turned around. Thus they still had to take the ferry and were soaking wet too boot. Not that it was a big deal to them, nothing really seemed to phase those guys much. Anyway, I caught the ferry and headed right into Caratunk where I was disturbed to discover that once again my package had not arrived and this time there wasn't really any other resupply available to me. Truffles and I headed down the road to the hostel where we unexpectedly and thrillingly came across Mystery Chicken and the friend who had come out to hike a couple days with him; Fru-Squirrel. I was thrilled, I was starting to give up hope of catching him. He was planning on heading back out for a few miles that afternoon but just about that time who should roll up but Widowmaker. The crew was back togethor with extras! At this point we all pretty much knew no one was going on so we went up to the Northern Outdoors resort and got some private cabin tents for 10 bucks a person and had an awesome night. It was much needed, everyone felt much more relaxed and easy going the next day.
My package had also showed up by morning so I was able to leave Caratunk with everyone else. It was a really nice day, we all felt kind of weak early in the day but even so it was awesome to be back in company. That afternoon we came across a pretty cool rock outcropping and in addition there was a ceramic bust of Mary set way back in a rock cleft. That is the second religious icon I have seen set out by the trail. Odd. Shortly thereafter we got some fantastic views from the top of Moxie Bald including what we think was our first view of Katahdin.
It was kind of drizzly and gray when we got going the next morning, but it wasn't exactly unpleasant. The temperature was nice. Widowmaker and I ended up walking together for most of that day. There were a couple of streams that we had to ford that day, but fortunately they were shallow enough that I didn't get my boots soaked. After one of these crossings there was some unexpected trail magic in the form of soda, a very welcome suprise. It had been quite a long time since I had encountered any trail magic. Pretty much the only other thing of note that happened that day was we made a shocking discovery. Slate is slick when it is wet. Who knew. The reason I know this is Widowmaker was walking down a patch of it and his legs flew out from under him so he looked like he was doing some sort of crazy jump kick. Thankfully, he wasn't hurt so I was able to laugh without feeling guilty. Then I walked around the rock. We made it into Monson in time to get our stuff done that evening and we had an awesome time in the Hotel Restaurant eating and laughing it up with Jersey Fresh, Truffles, Earl Grey, Magic Horse, Hungry Tiger, Mr. Fred, FlyAway and the restaurant staff. It was an awesome night.
Well I think I am going to end this entry here. Just the hundred mile wilderness and Katahdin itself left to go.

Stay tuned sports fans,
The Breadless Horseman

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Rest of the Whites

Well folks, it's over. I'm done! I summited Mt. Katahdin at 11:15 on August 22. The great journey is over. However, I imagine it is quite far from over for all of you, since as far as you are all concerned I am still about to climb Mt. Washington back in New Hampshire. I am now here to remedy that situation.

So, when I left you last we were about to cross Mt. Washington. Mystery Chicken, Widowmaker, and I got moving pretty late for us. It was close to nine before we hit the trail, but we had a fairly short day planned. I felt pretty bad as we got going. I think I had too much caffeine or something that morning (coffee) because I was all light headed and my stomach felt weird. I was having a bit of trouble keeping up. Fortunately that faded after a little while and I was able to catch everybody up. Practically all of that day was above treeline so we had some really good views of what was coming up ahead of us and what we had just done. It was really pretty but very raw looking, lots of rock. We stopped in at the Lakes of the Clouds hut just to see what it was like. It was nestled just at the foot of Mt. Washington and it just suddenly appeared over a rise as we approached it which was sort of cool. After a little while spent there we headed up the big deal for the day, the location of the worst weather in the world, Mt. Washington. Chicken was hiking really good but both Widowmaker and I were feeling really weak. My stomach thing and lightheadedness really came back and Widowmaker was apparently feeling simirlarly. The temperature had been pretty pleasant for most of the morning but almost as soon as we left Lakes of the Clouds it started getting really windy and much chillier, so that added to our discomfort. Fortunately, the climb really isn't very hard or long so we did get to the top without mishap.

Mt. Washington was pretty cool in that it seemed like a magnet for all of the clouds in the area and it was sort of cool to watch all of the local weather swirling around us. Also it was a clearer day than I think many people get from up there so we were lucky that way. On the other hand the number of people up there was rather off-putting. There were tourists everywhere. And oh, that reminds me of something. There is a "traditional" rail car that takes tourists who want to the top of the mountain. I hate this thing. It seems utterly contrary to what we encountered everywhere else in the Whites. Everywhere we looked there were signs reminding us to stay on the trail and be cautious of the local flora and fauna which were very fragile. And then there is this train that is purely a tourist sop that is belching large amounts of black smoke into the atmosphere which was both an eyesore and looked pretty corrosive. It frustrated me to no end.

Unfortunately, Widowmaker was apparently feeling even worse than I thought because once we reached the top he decided to take a shuttle down into town to rest for a day or two. Chicken and I had to push on alone. The whole afternoon I was afraid it was going to storm on us where we had no good way to get back under treeline. Fortunately, that never happened and in spite of some of the cloud cover there were some really good views that afternoon. On the other hand that afternoon was about 7 miles of almost complete boulder hopping which gets kind of tiring after a while. As a result Chicken and I decided to choose the closer of our two possible stopping points for the day, the Madison Hut. We were able to procure work for stay no problem and unlike the previous hut we stayed at this hut crew didn't take advantage of our situation and didn't work the junk out of us. In fact were able to pretty much take our ease that evening and we had a nice chat with a couple of the women who were staying there at the hut. Next morning all we had to do was straighten the bunkhouse a bit which only took 30 or 40 minutes. It was a much more positive hut experience, but wasn't really enough to make up for how annoyed we'd been by what had happened at Galehead.

Anyway, the next day we got out around nine. The first few miles were steep (both up and down), rocky, and slow. We stopped at Pinkham Notch for lunch and I picked up a new mail drop. As a result we were there for about 2 hours. It was longer than I had really wanted to stop for, but it was a good break. After Pinkham it was time to head up into the Wildcat range, which we had heard was going to be pretty tough. Of course ten minutes later we were walking along side of a river decided it was hot enough that we wanted to take a swim, which we did. Rather, we jumped in and out again really fast a couple of times. Surprise, New Hampshire mountain rivers are really cold. Who knew. It was, however, extremely refreshing so we were nice and cool when we started the Wildcats.

It wasn't enough. The Wildcats were a butt-kicker. The climb was practically vertical, quite rocky, and had about a dozen false summits. Oh and on the way up we got passed by a bunch of day hikers on the way down who didn't look nearly fit or sweaty enough to have done what we were doing. Then we realized they had probably taken the gondola to the top and were just walking down. Cheaters. Eventually however, the summits stopped being false and we succeeded in conquering that range. That night we camped in what I think might be the only good stealth camping spot in the entire state of New Hampshire. We were about .3 miles south of the Carter Notch Hut.

The next day we left the Whites behind us forever. On the way out we came across TinTin (a member of the group The Brooklyn Boys, and a guy neither of us had seen in some time), and Dirty Ernie who I had walked with for about the first week and who was now Flip Flopped and walking south. It was pretty cool seeing Ernie again but he had, contrary to most people, some pretty ominous things to say about Maine. Apparently the state was a rain covered swamp. Anyway, that night I ended up in Gorham, NH waiting to meet my friend Josh Terry who was coming out hike with me for a couple of days.

I swear there will be another post in a couple of days at most and at some point I'm going to do a post that is entirely pictures.

Until then,
The Breadless Horseman

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wow I have been really bad

Hi everyone. I am extraordinarily sorry that I have not updated in so long. I have been moving fast lately and I have been getting further and further from larger towns, the combination of which has led to me not updating in about a year. Unfortunately, this update is not going to get me up to date, as I don't have enough time before I have to get back out on the trail. However, I will let you know where I am now which is Monson, Maine. This means that I am about to enter the 100 mile wilderness and the last 7 days of my trip! Holy crap!
So now to get you guys as updated as I can in about 20 minutes. I think I'll try and get you through the White Mountains which were, incidentally amazing. As you will recall the last I updated I was in Glencliff, NH preparing to go up Mt. Moosilauke with 6 days worth of food. It was rediculously long. The climb was about 5 miles and about 3000 feet if I recall correctly. It was amazing being up above treeline for the first time, I'll grant you but in truth it was too hazy to really have made the climb worth it. I was kind of bummed out, a feeling that was increased by the knee breakingly steep descent down the back side of the mountain. I felt like I ought to have been rapelling instead of hiking. On the other hand Chicken and I did eat lunch by a fantastic waterfall on the way down. Once we got to the bottom of the mountain we had about 7 kind of non-descript miles to go that felt significantly longer than 7 miles. It was a very long day. Just before I got to the shelter that night though I got a brief glance at a moose way back in the underbrush. All I saw was a haunch and a couple of legs, but I could tell it was a BIG animal.
The next day was a vast improvement. We still had a rediculous climb in the morning up over Mt. Kinsman but the view was totally worth it this time. It is up there in my top 3 or so views of the whole trip even at this point. It might even be my favorite. Honestly though part of the reason that day was better is that it was only 9 miles instead of 17. Several of the guys I was with that day needed to go into Lincoln for resupply and once we were in town we just decided to stay there. We were at this awesome free hostel run by a guy named Chet who was severely injured several years ago when his MSR stove blew up. He is now using the settlement money to run this hostel. He was a phenomenally nice guy. Incidentally by now Mystery Chicken and I had started hiking with these guys Widowmaker (who I knew from trail days) and The Beave. Unfortunately, The Beave left us there in Lincoln to go move his home before returning to the trail.
Thus the three of us set out the next morning to head over Mts. Lincoln and Lafayette. Unsurprisingly the climb was insane but again the views were unreal. This was our first extended time above treeline. It went on for probably 5 miles and you could see forever. The other thing is that everything looks closer when there are no trees on anything. Something that is a mile away looks practically next door. That night we did our first evening of work for stay in a White Mountain hut. We had been told it was likely to be a 1/2 hour of some light work and then we would be done. We washed dishes for 4 HOURS! 2 1/2 for dinner and another 1 1/2 before we could leave after breakfast. All three of us were kind of put out. Let me tell you theres nothing I want to do more after a hard days hike than wash a ton of dishes.
The next day we went through what I think is the only flat section in all of the Whites. As a result we amped our mileage to 21 that day, even though we did have to go over one massive peak towards the end of the day. Sorry I never write down the names of the Mtns. However, from that mountain at the end of the day we got our first really good view of Mt. Washington, the worst weather in the world, and it unsurprisingly had its head in the clouds. The sunlight that afternoon was perfect too, which made the view all that much better. We crossed Mt. Washington the next day but I'll have to tell you about that next time.
I'm really sorry about how short this is and that I didn't even get you all the way through the Whites but I really have to go. I have some errands to run before I can hit the trail. This will obviously be the last entry before the end of the trip so the last one is going to be a doozy. I hope that you folks will still be interested. Again I'm really sorry for how unsatisfactory a post this is.

Until next time,
The Breadless Horseman

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Next to last state

Hello from Glencliff, New Hampshire. Thats right I am in to the next to last state of my journey. Fortunately, the upcoming terrain is bound to make this one last a bit longer. Tomorrow morning I have to climb about 3500 up the side of Mt. Moosilauke. The following 250 or so miles are going to be similar. Fortunately, the views should be worth it. Enough about that though, its time to talk about the past week.
To say that the day I left Killington was beautiful would be such an understatement as to be almost criminal. The sky was bright blue and there were enormous puffy white clouds all over. The temperature was perfect too. It was probably 75 degrees and it stayed that way the whole day. All of this was made better by the fact that I left from a wonderful breakfast with my Mom's friend Ellen Wallace Buchanan. It was really great to see her and have a chance to talk.
Also that day I started to see my first South Bound hikers. From Surge who I met just outside of town to the three exceedingly inconsiderate folks I camped with that night. I had been planning on going 16 or so miles to a shelter to stop for the night. Fortunately for me I decided to check out an overlook that was .2 miles off the trail and discovered a usable cabin that I didn't even know existed. The view was completely unreal. There was a fantastic sunset and a sunrise that was just as good. I also got some great stars when I got up to pee in the middle of the night. I must admit I was somewhat put out with my bunkmates however. They seemed really cool at first, but then they decided to cook dinner pretty late and very loudly inside the cabin while another hiker was trying to sleep. They then decided to all get up around 3 in the morning to look at stars (making lots of noise in the process) and instead of coming back in and going back to sleep they built a fire with much breaking of twigs. It was as though they didn't realize there were people trying to sleep in the same building. Even with that thought, it was an awesome place to spend the night.
The next day was fairly lame. All of the terrain was fairly boring and it was hot. In truth the only unusual thing that happened (and granted it was fairly unusual) was coming across the a south bound female hiker named Rambo sunbathing without a stitch of clothing in the MIDDLE of the trail. I can't say I really have an idea what she looks like since I exchanged pleasantries with my eyes averted. That night there was a large camp group at the shelter so I ended up camped with Green Hornet and Michael instead.
I rolled through Hanover the next day, hoping to meet back up with Mystery Chicken who I had bid goodbye back in Killington. I was going to do what business I had in town and then head on out for another ten miles. However, the new Harry Potter and my desire to see if Chicken would show up said otherwise. Thus after a couple of hundred pages and several wasted hours later I went only a mile out of town to the Velvet Rocks Shelter with Green Hornet, Gator Girl, and Walking Cowboy. Still no sign of Chicken.
Due to the fact that no one was able to find the water at the shelter I left without liquid in the morning. As a result my mornings walk mostly focused on me thinking about finding a drink. I was unable to find one until two miles before I was going to stop for lunch, which totaled about seven dry miles. I was a bit thirsty. That night I stopped at Trapper John. I started out the night in the shelter but the mosquitoes quickly convinced my tent was a far superior option.
The next day was pretty tough. I had two big climbs over Smarts Mtn. and Mt. Cube. Actually, only Smarts was all that bad. I also took a really long lunch break in which I ate two days worth of lunch; a mistake I have made before. It always makes me feel kind of sluggish when I do that. You'd think I'd have figured that out by now. Anyway, the mosquitoes were so bad heading to the shelter that evening I wasn't even going to bother with the shelter, but then there were no available tent sites so I ended up putting the tent in the shelter. It was definitely a first.
This morning I only had a few miles to go which I tried to stretch out for as long as possible by getting lost for about an hour after about two miles. Go me and my amazing sense of direction. Since arriving at the totally awesome Hiker's Welcome Hostel here in Glencliff I've been mostly eating and watching movies. It's been pretty great. I also sent home my warm weather sleeping bag. Since it's hot as blazes right now I have a feeling I have a few sweaty nights ahead of me. If the weather turns though I'll be glad to have it. I'm leaving pics of me and Chicken in the Bar at the Long Trail Inn and one of the sunset views from the cabin I stayed at coming out of Killington.

Good Evening,
The Breadless Horseman

Friday, July 20, 2007

Don't even know what to say...

I'm going to have to try and make this fast. The library I'm posting from is limiting me to a half hour and I don't know if I'll get another chance. Those of you keeping up with the blog may have noted a fairly significant time gap between this post and the last. There have been a few factors that have been slowing me down, but I'll get to that in a minute.

I left Great Barrington on an exceedingly hot day. It had to be in the mid 90's and it was really buggy to boot. Even with that though, it was a good day. I felt strong and the hiking was not too difficult. That being said I was very glad to reach my destination that night, the Upper Goose Pond Cabin. I was even more glad when I discovered how awesome a place it was. It was a two-story, enclosed, honest-to-god building with a working kitchen and a bunk room upstairs. This was kind of cool since rain was expected. The pond itself was even better however. Almost immediatly upon arrival I stripped to my boxers and went for a swim. The water felt amazing. I don't think I have ever been quite so refreshed. I wish I could do that after every hot, sweaty day.

It was raining when I woke the next morning, but that broke just before I left for the day. It was not a particularly interesting day. I walked through some fairly nice territory, including a brief section overlooking a lake, but there wasn't a whole lot to set it apart; sort of a run of the mill kind of day.

I had to pass through two towns the next day on the way to my goal of 15.5 miles. I was going to pick up some powerade in the second to replenish me before a pretty big climb up Mt. Greylock, but just as I arrived at the store, most of the power in town went off. I was unable to make a transaction. It was rather disheartening. The climb up Greylock was tough, but it wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting, although in truth I didn't go quite all the way to the summit that evening. The shelter I stopped at that night had quite a few people including Lily (a flip-flopping thru-hiker) and Diesel as well as numerous section hikers. We had some good, if fairly nerdy conversation that produced a lot of laughter. One kind of weird note on the evening though, was that two of the sectioners tried to teach Lily to play cribbage, WITH DIRTY PLAYING CARDS! It was so strange, the guys didn't seem even a little bit uncomfortable with having them right out in public (there were also a couple of pre-teen boyscouts at the shelter.) Also that evening I discovered that there was a sizeable rip in my pack and my Steripen stopped working. Hooray for gear malfunctions!

Next day we headed into Williamstown. I had been wanting to get what I needed and keep rolling, or at the most spend the night there. Unfortunately, with my gear dilemmas that did not appear to be in the cards. Fortunately for me, Lily was staying in town with friends who turned out to be unbelievingly gracious and put me up too. Thus to Dave Weimer and his family I say an enormous thank you. So while I was waiting in Williamstown I got a loaner pack from Gregory and managed to wrangle a new Steripen as well. So after an unexpected zero it was back into the woods for me.

Even though it was not in my plans, that extra day off might have been a gift from God because just as I was coming to the Vermont border I ran into MYSTERY CHICKEN. I'm not sure if I have ever mentioned Chicken on this board but hes a guy I know from way back but haven't seen in ages. It was an awesome surprise to see one of the old faces again. Anyhow, we met there at the border and discussed the lamentable lack of signs actually saying, "Welcome to, (name of state)". This made us decide to make our own sign so we got a handful of mud and scrawled a big VT on the sign about entering the Green Mountains. Incidentally, that makes state #12.

Chicken and I got going early the next morning, it was like 6:30 and hauled about 11 miles by 11 o' clock. Along the way we passed a beaver dam that I thought had to be manmade because of its effectiveness. It was only later that I was disabused of this idea. Chicken was trying to get to a road so he could try and call some of our other old compatriots to maybe come pick him up for a party in a nearby town. I was in no hurry so I hung out with him there more or less all day. By 3:30 we had pretty much given up hope of telephone contact so we headed on back into the woods. We had been planning on doing another 7 miles that day but ended up stopping after 2 just cause we felt like being lazy. Hanging around for 4 hours in the middle of the day tends to kind of suck your will to move. That night we also participated in the Bear Bag Follies where all 5 of us at the shelter tried to hang our mostly full food bags from a clearly dead limb. Needless to say we brought the limb down immediatly and actually managed to whack Old Graceful in the head.

Chicken and I left togethor again the next morning. We had pretty much just decided to walk togethor by mutual assumption. We had some good walking and checked out one of the first good observation towers in some time. Unfortunately, we also got caught in a wicked thunderstorm just before lunch. While waiting the storm out we actually ended up falling asleep in the shelter for awhile. Walk, eat, sleep. If we aren't doing one we're doing one of the others. There were a bunch of people at the shelter that night but oddly everyone kept saying they were going to tent to avoid the full shelter, until in the end there were only two guys in the shelter! I joined them later in the evening when I was unable to fall asleep on the slant I had pitched my tent on. Another sidenote about tenting in Vermont, there are slugs everywhere. They come in force during the night. Flicking slugs off ones stuff before packing is a fairly gross job. kingdom for a salt shaker.

I'd been planning to do 18 to the shelter just before Manchester but in an attempt to stay with Chicken (I've been getting used to hiking with someone again) I decided to go on into town. During the day we summited Stratton Mountain which had a tower that provided what was arguably the best view we have had thus far. A full 360 degrees. Amazing. Also that day Chicken and I were greeted by the most fearless chipmunk in history as we ate lunch by Stratton Pond. It kept coming right up to Chicken in order to check out his food. Eventually it was actually sitting on his foot! Anyway, that night I ended up splitting a room with Chicken and the Walking Cowboy. We ate a lot, but Manchester was really just a stop over. We were out the next day which just so happened to be my 4 MONTH ANNIVERSARY! I've been out here for 1/4 year. It is astounding. It took us a while to get out of Manchester than expected becuase Chicken had some errands that ended up taking longer than they should have thanks to an incompetent employee at the picture store. Even so we got going around noon and were still able to do sixteen miles to Big Branch Shelter before we needed to camp for the night. Incidentally, Big Branch was a really nice place for a shelter, with a big stream running right next to it. It was a very pretty spot.
The next day started Rain Fest '07. It was raining when we left and we only got a brief respite all day long. During that respite we just happened to be at this really weird spot where someone had taken a bunch of stones and formed a bunch of little standing figures. It was such an odd thing to come across. Shortly thereafter however, the rain began again in earnest and any part of us that had managed to stay only damp became completely soaked through.
It had been such a nasty day that Chicken and I decided we were going to call it at this shelter that was 16 miles from where we started. Unfortunately, when we got there a single group of boyscouts had taken over the entire shelter. Incidentally, it is very poor etiquette to take a group this large out and use the shelter. If you have that many you need to be tenting. Anyhow, it was still actively raining so Chicken and I didn't particularly want to pitch our tents in the rain so we decided to push on another five to a secret shelter we had heard existed. When we got to where we thought the directions were supposed to be located and couldn't find them, we were highly displeased. Fortunately, the directions to the shelter showed up a bit further down the trail. In about the last mile we walked that day we had to ford a stream that was seriously swollen. The water was up to my knees. Fortunately, my boots were already soaked through, so there wasn't much more the stream could do to them. Of course, when we got to the secret shelter, we discovered it wasn't all that secret. It was full too, so we ended up tenting anyway. Quite a day.
The next day began kind of dry. Everything was still wet, but the rain at least held off until we had climbed Killington. It came back with a vengeance around 12 however, and the remaining miles we walked that day were once again in the pouring rain. Fortunately, that was the day I was getting off in Killington for a break, and Chicken and I had a really good time warming up and hanging out in the bar at the Long Trail Inn.
We spent the night there and Chicken headed out yesterday and I will be gone in about an hour. Hopefully I'll be able to catch him up in a few days around Hanover. It actually looks kind of sunny out, so hopefully my boots which are still waterlogged will dry out a bit as I walk.

The Breadless Horseman

PS - Sorry, this computer isn't allowing me to upload pictures. I swear I will get some more up as soon as I can.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Nice Week Back

I'm not going to lie. It was tough to leave New York. I had a really good time hanging out there. It was unbelievably relaxing. Thus, once arriving back at the trail, everything was a little tougher. The most difficult thing was the fact that I had developed city feet. They felt really heavy and clumsy. I was tripping over stuff all the time. I only did about a half day that first day back and I camped at a public campsite with some people who were out section hiking. It was a nice easy day to reaquaint myself with the trail.
It rained that night so I kind of took my time in the morning to give my stuff a chance to dry out a bit. Honestly, there isn't a whole lot to say about this day. I did some good hiking and I came up on some more thru-hikers. I met the Riders on the Storm (Running Wolf and Farenheit) and discovered that a few other new folks were only a little bit ahead.
The next day I think was the point at which I fully re-adjusted to being back on the trail. I didn't feel rushed or hurried by any kind of schedule. It was just good to be out and about. I got approached by some kind of school group while I was eating lunch who asked a bunch of the standard questions about hiking. Its a little annoying to be disturbed from one's lunch, but on the other hand I like talking to people about what I'm doing, and they were very nice folks. I walked the second half of the day pretty much togethor with the Riders and another guy named Marked. I like hiking with people sometimes. Something about it really makes me push myself to hike harder. This may not sound all that great, but it adds a little something like competition into the whole thing. I can't really describe it, but it makes a nice change. Anyhow, the shelter the Riders and I were aiming at for that afternoon ended up being full of a family, so we ended up camped a little further up the trail instead, really close to the Ten Mile River. Camped right next to us was a large local camp group. Once again I was reminded to Grier and I got a bit nostalgic. I can't seem to quite get away from missing camp. I probably never will.
The next day put me in Kent around noon and I took full advantage of being in town around meal time with a bunless double cheeseburger, and a bunch of other stuff I won't go into. I liked Kent it was sort of like a really upscale small town; very different from a lot of the places I've been through. My pack felt like it weighed about 800 pounds when I left which was unfortunate when I was descending from Caleb's Peak. Whoever decided that straight down a bunch of rocks was the best way to route the trail needs to have something violent done to them. I about killed myself on several occasions.
The following day was one of the wettest in living memory. I woke to a gray dawn in my tent (having been driven there from the shelter by mosquitoes). I felt pretty sluggish hiking that morning. However, I did have the cool experience of seeing a baby vulture. It was really ugly. It looked like a furry chicken. I know no other way to describe it. It started raining more or less right after lunch and it didn't really stop. I had been thinking I might do a short day so I could watch fireworks over Paul Newman's racetrack (the trail overlooks it). Instead it rained, so I kept walking with Ninja who I had met the previous evening. It kept raining, which is a shame because there were some pretty nice places along the way I would have liked to check out. The last few miles before the shelter were mostly up hill. This wasn't too bad until I got to the shelter turnoff and discovered that it was located .5 miles back down the same hill. To the builders of the Limestone Spring Shelter, I hate you from the bottom of my soul.
In spite of my frustration I slept like a stone that night and began, by contrast to the previous day, one of the nicest days I have had on the trail. It started out kind of dreary but the day brightened up and the mornings hike was very pleasant. The temperature was good and I felt good. I had a nice lunch at a shelter, felt a bit tired and took a nap. The nap was kind of a big deal for me because it didn't really fit in with a "schedule". It slowed me down, but it was needed so I didn't care. That afternoon I headed down into Sages Ravine which is without doubt in the top three most beautiful areas I've seen on the trip. It was phenomenol. I only wish there was some way I could show you all through photograph, but it was really more of an all-encompassing beauty than any one thing. Also while there I took a little impromptu swim in the stream that ran through the gorge. It was cold but it felt wonderful. I had some pretty good climbs that afternoon but I was feeling good and as a result the climbs were really more of a challenge than a grind. I arrived at the shelter to discover it packed. I love full shelters and I hadn't seen one that full in a very long time. There were probably 11 or 12 people there including Lily, Spence, Ninja, Aquaman, Old Graceful, and Sister Act (two sisters). I had a great night there and then left this morning to knock out the 16 miles to Great Barrington where I currently reside. It wasn't a bad hike, but the mosquitoes were swarming something fierce and I got stung by a bee behind my knee early in the day. Damn the bees. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, and I got a really easy hitch into town. I am now at the home of Kathy Duhon and her husband who offered me a place to stay while I was picking up a package at the post office. They are absolutely amazing people and I have had a wonderful evening with them as well as Spence and Ninja who were also offered lodging. Thats all for now. I hope you are all well.

The Breadless Horseman