I suppose this whole thing started in Nov '01 at the annual Gonzo planning session. We needed a shake down hike to get ready for '03 - the full meal deal.
We needed something that was challenging, enough miles, and longer than 3 or 4 days. The "100 mile wilderness" fit the bill. It was also close enough that we didn't spend days getting there. It was long enough, distance, and with no chance to resupply for the duration of the trip, it was the longest time we would be without aid for the whole of the Appalachian Trail. With an elevation change of 13,000 ft. it was tough enough to present a challenge to this motley bunch of Maritimers and yet not impossible.
When all the possible scenerios and "yes" "no" "wish I could" came down to actually going, the group looked like this. Scrounger was afraid he wouldn't make it back for a wedding so had to be sure to get out after only 3 days, Goat who was a for sure since day 1,Viking also a for sure since day 1, Fireball a for sure but maybe not since day 1 and Tim Farmer, a young horse who had actually been on the winning team in the first 2 eco-challenges. Joining us on the third day (family responsibilities and all) would be Dipper and Halifax, thus giving an out for Scrounger.
Thursday actually started at 0530 for me as I was up early to go to PEI and do a little consulting for an old friend. This also allowed me to look at, check references, and conduct interviews for a new puppy that the Voice of Reason had spotted the week before. After extensive aptitude tests and checking references and doing the obligatory interview, I managed to pick out the same one Nancy chose. The plan actually called for all of us to get together at Timmies at Sackville, NB. Well, all good plans fall apart and I was late by almost 4 minutes getting there before they had ordered. Well immediately Birder and the Voice of Reason forgot about the hikers and devoted all their attention to the new puppy, Tess (no trail name yet but I am sure we will come up with something).
We arrived in Millinocket at a couple of minutes to midnight Atlantic time, so we had made up our time already, and were to bed quickly and up at 0500 to do the breakfast buffet at the Terrace at 0530. We were on the trail at Abol Bridge at 7 AM after reading the warning about this being a very tough trail and to carry 10 days worth of supplies and not underestimate the difficulty of this section. The trip was to be about 100 miles and we had 8 days with a goal of 7 if possible. This meant that we had to average 15 miles if we could. The aim on the first day was to get to Rainbow Springs Lean-to 15 miles away.
It was actually a pretty easy day and we made it by 4:30 in the afternoon. A nice site on the side of a stream with a shelter and lots of tenting pads on the hill above the shelter. We met lots of thru-hikers, some in a hurry as they could now see Katahdin in the distance and that had been their goal for the last 5 months and some with lots of time to chat. All had packs that were a lot lighter than ours. One fellow didn't even carry a tent- used a shelter every night. "You can always squeeze one more hiker into a shelter" We had tried to think of a trail name for our new young guy and Baby Boomer had been thought of but they didn't really "boom" so we settled on "Sumyunguy" for the present.
We met Mr Clean, who wasn't bald but had earned his name by having a bath or shower every day. Of course, he was section hiking and had started the AT in 1987 and was finishing it up this year, so at about 150 miles a year he could easily pick out the best time of year to do each section. We also met Poet and two young (early 20's) girls, Giggles and High Water from New Brunswick who were just finishing up.
The only problems were our packs seemed very heavy after seeing the thru-hikers and my feet were in trail shoes. That in itself wouldn't have been a problem but the fact that I had thick socks on and my feet had swollen from the 40# pack meant that were a little sore. Ah heck what are sore feet?
Goat and I slept in a tent while the rest stayed in the shelter with Gray Jay and her mate, both south bounders like us.
It should be noted that a good lesson was learned that night when we went down to the stream to filter water with my new MEC water filter. It didn't work. So when you buy something new try it out before you are 15 miles deep in the woods and 6 more days of hiking ahead of you. Luckily we had two other Gonzo Filters with us and Fireball had his "add chlorine tablets" version with him.
The next day we were up and on the trail by 7 AM with a goal of 18.6 miles and Potaywadjo Spring lean-to as our goal. We had lunch at Wadleigh Stream lean-to and had already done 12 miles with only 6 to go. It was another beautiful day with the temperature in the high teens- really quite nice in the shade of the woods. Just before arriving in camp Scrounger and I spotted one of the elusive Maine Moose. Standing in the road about 40 metres away this big cow just continued to munch on the vegetation on the side of the road.
It should be noted that we did cross a small road that led down to Pemadumcook Lake and the short 1.8 mile detour down to an air horn that can be used to call the cabins across the lake. This is just one of the many businesses that have sprung up along the trail. You can rent a cabin, stay in a bunk house. They have hamburgers and pizza and full meals supper and breakfast as well as supplies and a cell phone. I read a journal where the two hikers that went there only gained 6 yes that's six pounds each in one afternoon.
When we arrived at the shelter at 7:30, Goat had on the hot water so supper was ready in a flash and very much appreciated. Now I said in my journal that I wouldn't comment on "the snorer" but suffice to say that is one good reason to stay in tents.
Up and out by 0700 with a goal of meeting up with our two new hikers and letting Scrounger out early enough to be home for his wedding date a mere 6 days away. We joked that we met lots of thru-hikers but Scrounger was "through" hiking. He returned home with lots of tales of agony and all but the rest of us made it 'cause "when the going gets tough, the tough get going" Perhaps not a motto of any teams that have played out of the school at the end of University Avenue, because when the going gets tough there, they pull out of the conference (football).
By now my feet have begun to be very sore and I switched to the always dependable- Tevas.
As we had lunch at the Jo-Mary Rd with our new companions, The AT Princess, Scout and Gourmet Dan passed us heading south. The AT Princess and Scout had just started at Katahdin and Gourmet Dan had started at Springer and in Pennsylvania bussed north to hike from Katahdin back to Penn.
This was a 14 mile day so we are keeping our average up and not dieing doing it. We made camp that night on the side of a beautiful lake- Cooper Pond. It was here that Fireball refused to sleep on the outside as then he would be closest to all the invading animals and eaten first.
This was another day that showed the small businesses that have grown up on the trail. It seems that Shaw's in Monson will drop you off anywhere and pick you the same if they use your car and only charge $US 10 per hour. It would cost about $50 to leave your car at Monson and have him pick you up in say 7 or days. As we checked our packs at Jo-Mary Rd there was someone else there waiting for a north-bound hiker who he was supposed to meet at noon. And we thought that this was wilderness.
Again on the trail at 0700 with a goal of 16 miles and the Carl A Newhall Lean-to as our destination. This day had our largest climb of the trip as we had to ascend White Cap Mtn. and climb 2700 Ft. in 5 miles. Here at the top in the afternoon sun as we gazed back on to Katahdin, Fireball came up the line of the trip. "I wish I was back at work". As we started down and became a little separated, Sumyunguy was about to work on a new trail name. We had caught up to the AT Princess, and she was hurting, knees and all. He volunteered to carry her pack for a while, maybe 2 miles and a mountain later, when Dipper and I volunteered to help lighten the load. I took the sleeping bag and Dipper took a bag of clothes. After another mile and another pretty decent climb, we decided to set up camp at the Sidney Tappan Campsite. Our good friends and trail buddies, Fireball, Goat and Halifax made it to the Lean-to. We set up in a field and had supper while Sherpa was looking for even more challenges. It seemed that being a trail angel wasn't enough of a work out so he decided to go up and over the hill and drop in and see our buddies who were probably worried to death about us. He left about 8:30 and it was already near dark. He allayed their fears about our safety and returned by 10:30 with a couple of lost boots that just happened to fall into his hands.
Well, we were up early and hiking by 0645 in an effort to catch our friends at the lean-to. We arrived at 8:15 to find them patiently waiting for us. Such good friends. Suffice it to say that we won't talk about the animals that were going to come and eat Fireballs' boots for the salt on them that had managed to keep everybody awake from 2AM worrying.
We continued down toward Gulf Hagas and Screw Auger Falls. We lunched here and had a swim and soaked up the sun for a while. I managed to dive into this beautiful pond at the bottom of waterfall and lose my glasses, but they only really help you see anyway. That night we camped at Chairback Gap Lean-to, a distance of only 12 miles that day, and really easy. It was nice to take our time and rest for about three hours in the middle of the day.
At Chairback, we met Bliss and Restless, two women (in their early 40's) just finishing their hike. Bliss has lost 27 pounds since she started. Our bunkmate that night in the lean-to was Scarecrow, 120# of fighting fury, who told Sherpa in no uncertain terms "don't f*** with me". He reluctantly moved over a bit to let Dipper sleep beside him. Now during the night he was on Dipper's sleeping pad giving very strong elbows to Dipper to move over. A "real nice guy" and the only exception to all the nice people we met during the week. He did give us some weights that were used a guideline. Your pack and tent and sleeping bag and pad should weigh between 15 and 20 pounds. Mine weighs about 15 pounds. Share filters and stoves and fuel. He also only ever carried 3 days worth of food relying on mail drops from his wife. Said that making the post office by closing was not a problem as he had three days to plan to get to the next one.
We have now traveled more than 73 miles in 5 days and can sense that we are nearing the end and a coffee or a Coke or a Beer and a shower. We are up and out at 0700 and with a goal of 16 miles this should be tough day, but it leaves a very easy 10 miles for the last day. Halifax and I immediately started to fall back as my previous blisters were starting to compound. It wasn't long after lunch that Halifax blew the heel out of hiking boots and I found my little emergency kit of duct tape and did a repair job. This managed to hold the heel together but a short time later he blew the whole front of the boots out. Now he had a chance to try the Teva sandal way. Much lighter on your feet and you can adjust the straps to move the "hot" spots around. We rested on Barren Mtn. with a gorgeous view of Lake Onawa below us.
Somewhere in the next mile coming down off the Mtn., we actually lost the trail but after scrambling around for 15 minutes found it again.
It was getting late in the day and we had to decide whether to stop at Long Pond Stream Lean-to or continue on to Wilson Valley. It was still before 6:00 so we decided that we could do the 5 miles and reach the lean-to before dark.
Well it is hard enough to see in the evening with glasses but without them, it is a bit of a challenge. Darkness arrived suddenly about 8:00, and we put on the headlights and made it in at 8:25 - very tired. Our trail buddies volunteered to do the supper thingie but with only a short day the next day, I didn't think I even had the energy to eat. So it was quickly to bed. We were awakened at about midnight as the Canadian-Pacific freight roared by about 500 metres away.
The next day, we were off again at 0700, with a race to the road and town and cars and coffee and beer and coke and a shower and a real meal. It was a nice relaxing day-no time constraints, no big hills, no big miles. When we arrived at the parking lot, what did we see but our pals Goat with his coffee, and Sherpa, who had hitched into Monson (first vehicle by- Laundry van, took 5 hikers and packs into town) with beer and coke and of course our vehicles.
We drove back into Monson after the obligatory picture taking and sign reading. Bought some snacks at the local service station, and we were off to Millinocket. Man, it is a long drive around this wilderness, and being tired and careful we observed the local by-laws regarding speed. Well of course one of the local cowboys just couldn't wait and first sped by me and a little later getting by Halifax. Well justice prevailed. It wasn't but five minutes later as he got by the last vehicle that he passed a local officer of the law heading towards him caught him doing a nice "U"ey to get him. I almost wanted to honk and wave as we went by.
We had stayed at the Pamola the first night and it cost $38 Can per person. Now we were going to try the Terrace where we always have the breakfast buffet. How about $18 Can per person and the dining room is just down the hall. Nice party suite, with a living room and a bedroom that took the 6 of us easily. Wow, wash my feet, a nice hot shower, and wash my feet again. Then off to the Chinese restaurant that doesn't have anything but instant coffee. But now we are smart. We have our coffee bags from hiking, so now this place is Goat friendly. When Halifax and I ordered the PuPu Platter and a couple of egg rolls each on the side and two more dinners the waitress told the others we would not be able to finish. Ha Ha. Cleaned the whole thing up and helped a couple of our less able friends whose eyes were bigger than their stomachs.
Well up and out for the breakfast "down the hall" at 0530 local time and after an uneventful trip, we were home at the Marina at 1:30. An absolutely great trip. Lots of lessons learned. When I returned I only had 6 and half pounds of food left in my pack - that I carried on the whole trip. Yes we did an incredible 97.6 miles in 7 hiking days, and it was tough. But it was supposed to be a shake-down hike and it taught us some great lessons. Our packs are still way too heavy. We will not do that kind of mileage for the first month or two next year until we get in trail shape. Bliss told us her hardest day was the second day on the trail, when after doing 7 miles the first day they did 13.7 miles the second. "Just not ready for it"
When the voice of Reason got home the first thing she said was "you've lost weight". Even after the big Chinese dinner and the Terrace buffet breakfast in the morning I had managed to lose 4 pounds.
Gordon aka Viking