Day 70: Shaw’s Hiker Hostel, Monson ME to stealth camp at Long Pond Stream (14.4 mi)
We woke up leisurely (in the neighborhood of 5:30 am), but I didn’t sleep too well due to the insane itch all over my legs from the no-see-um bites.
Breakfast was at 7:00 and was a total feast! I had some more yogurt that the Madsens brought us yesterday with the granola Josh made us and put in our resupply box (so yummy!). The hostel staff made us vegan home fries and all-you-can-eat vegan blueberry pancakes and we were both so full after breakfast it was hard to think about hiking. Any weight lost (which at this point we both felt that perhaps we had lost a few pounds) was definitely gained back from this incredible breakfast.
The first shuttle left at 8:00 and Fresh Feet and I got on it (Biscuits got on the 2nd shuttle).
Poet, the owner of the hostel and former thru hiker, left us with some encouraging words, thoughts and terrain tips as we entered the 100 mile wilderness. This 100 mile stretch is barren of any amenities or towns on trail and is the last stretch before arriving at Baxter State Park (where we would summit Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail). There is one very bleak convenient store and restaurant at Abol Bridge, which marks the northern end of the 100 mile wilderness and the border of Baxter where hikers look forward to a taste of civilization and some food options at the attached restaurant.
We entered the 100 mile wilderness with a 6 day plan, then two days in Baxter state Park. This meant leaving Monson with 8 days of food (with some security of knowing we could get something at Abol Bridge if needed). Our heaviest resupplies had only been 5-6 days prior, and we definitely could feel the additional weight of carrying 8 days of food. Most hikers resupply at gas stations and hop into towns more frequently because they don’t rely so heavily on their resupply boxes, so they are accustomed to only carrying about 2-3 days worth of food. Needless to say, the heavy pack weight of the 100 mile wilderness was something we all had to grapple with. Some thru hikers are so ready to be done at this point that they do the 100 mile wilderness in 4-5 days so they don’t have to carry as much food, but we were tired and ok with keeping a reasonable pace to feel a little more relaxed and comfortable. Not to mention, the 10 day forecast looked great for an August 31 summit up Katahdin so we began to zero in on the idea of an 8/31 summit date, which left us a bit of wiggle room for enjoyment or “just-in-cases.”
We stepped out of the shuttle, and began putting one foot in front of the other, as we have done for so many days prior. The terrain was more difficult than yesterday in terms of technicality and slippery obstacles, but not as difficult as Southern Maine.
We moved slowly because our pack weight for the next 8 days/120 miles to the end was an adjustment and loaded us down.
After about 6.6 miles we got to some epic water falls in a slate canyon. The slate made so many rectangular shapes that the rock formations of the waterfall looked almost man-made! It was beautiful! I enjoyed my smoothie with a group of hikers hanging out on the rocks in the middle of the river at the top of the falls. There were no bugs in the middle of the fast moving water, so it was a nice spot to take a break.
We had two river fords where it was necessary to take off shoes and the water was about shin to knee deep and the rocks were quite slippery! Fresh Feet tried to rock hop the second river ford but ended up soaking his shoes instead.
After fording the second river we looked for stealth spots and found some great ones right along the river. The boys were ready to call it a day before getting to the shelter (1 more mile), so we made dinner and set up camp for the evening at a picturesque open piney camping area on the banks of a strongly flowing river.
The mosquitoes were pretty bad all day long, but I wore pants which helped and we lit incense at camp which made a big difference as well.
Day 71: Stealth camp at Long Pond Stream to Stealth camp at Pleasant River (16 mi)
Phew. Today was long and tough. It was an 11 hour day with a LOT of elevation and very heavy packs.
I took a Benadryl last night because the leg itch was out of control. I was super sound asleep and groggy when I woke up at 6:45 am. I tried to get ready quickly and get on trail because I knew we would have a LOT of mountain peaks today, which naturally slows my pace, but makes for a more interesting hike.
We had to climb up Barren Mountain, which consisted of two sustained climbs. Then we had four Chairback peaks and a half peak in between the fourth and third Chairback. It was hot, buggy, humid, and tough climbing. Our views were pretty bad because there was so much humidity that the horizon was quite hazy.
It was a rough trail. Very rocky, rooty, some serious rock scrambling down Chairback (the last peak in the NoBo direction). It was just rugged and gnarly. Fresh Feet had a few bad falls and one where he fell and his mouth was an inch from a rock. Scary!
Just as I was finishing the descent off the mountain range, Baba Ganoush caught me and we walked the last mile together. Biscuits was right behind. Fresh Feet had already set up our tent when we all three arrived to the stealth spot on the river. Red Stripe and Baba Ganoush had hiked 20 miles today, Wow! They are wanting to summit a day earlier than us, so will have to have longer days than us through the 100 mile wilderness.
I made tofu scramble and we ate it in our tortillas. We waited for Red Stripe and she finally arrived at 8:30 in the dark! Yay! What a tough and very long day for her, ooof!
Day 72: Stealth at Pleasant River to East Branch Lean-to (16.4 mi)
Last night I felt something rubbing on my body from outside the tent. I was having such a deep sleep that for a split second I thought it was my orange kitty. Then I woke up and realized, nope! Not in my bed at home, still in the woods and I leapt onto Jamie freaking out and shrieking “GET IT OUT OF HERE!” I still had no idea what was going on, but knew an animal was in the vestibule of my tent and had been RUBBING ON MY BODY THROUGH THE TENT! Ewwwwwww!!!!
He turned on his headlamp and shone it on the mystery animal and realized it was a skunk checking out my backpack and then casually hobbled out of the vestibule when the light shone on him.
I was so thoroughly awake and freaked out so I got out of the tent to pee and instantly found Mr. Skunk. I shone my headlamp on him pacing beneath our food bags which were hung, hardly, from a small line only inches from the ground. He had already destroyed an empty soylent ziplock baggie that Fresh Feet accidentally left out.
Jamie rehung the bags and included our backpacks in the hang. We realized that I had accidentally left my Soylent water bottle (empty) in the side of my pack instead of hanging it with the rest of our food, which is probably what he smelled on my pack.
How we didn’t get sprayed is a total mystery! We were SO lucky! We weren’t exactly being quiet, as we were both so tired and freaked out. I consider our skunk encounter such a close call! It would have been a miserable 7 more days if all our gear had been sprayed by Mr. Skunky! Wow.
Morning rolled around and our food and packs were fine, phew. Red Stripe was explaining that she had to leave behind all of her shorts and pants in Monson because they had torn so many holes in the butt from sliding on rocks in rock scrambles. This is something other women have had issues with as well, and I try to avoid sliding when I can because of this risk, but sometimes a butt slide is the only way. There was absolutely no place to buy any sort of apparel in Monson, so Hippy Chic, Poet’s wife and owner of Shaw’s hostel in Monson, sold Red Stripe a pair of her own shorts. They had a draw string, and were made of a sturdy enough material to withstand rock sliding, but were falling off of Red Stripe’s slender frame. They were just WAY too big! I had a second pair of shorts that I stopped using when I switched to my spandex shorts (because I didn’t feel like I had good range of motion for more technical moves in them) so I gave my Nike baggie shorts to Red Stripe and they worked out perfectly for her.
Our morning started off with a river ford. We then had 5.6 miles of very gradual climbing. Then we shot up and had four mountain summits. The first one, Gulf Hagas, was the most difficult for me. We took our lunch break at a beautiful campsite in between two of the peaks and got fresh mountain spring water for our smoothies and resovoirs.
Then we knocked out peaks 2-4 in one swoop. Biscuits, Fresh Feet and I summited the final peak together, White Cap Mountain, which was our first mountain with a view today and we also got our first glimpse of mount Katahdin. The humidity was so intense that it was quite hazy and the view wasn’t great, but it was exciting nonetheless.
The climbing today was relentless, but much tamer trails and not so technical, which was nice. We took a break on our way down from White Cap at Logan Shelter where I got some cell service for the first time in days (didn’t even really have service in Monson!). I worked with my dad on flights and a hostel room for the night after our Katahdin summit in Millinocket now hat we had picked a summit date. Thank you Dad for helping us get those logistics figured out!
Then smooth sailing downhill to our campsite at the shelter. We camped with Red Stripe, Baba Ganoush and Biscuits and enjoyed good company and dinner together.
Day 73: East Branch Lean-to to Stealth Camp on Sandy Beach on Mary-Jo Lake (17.8 mi)
Ooof - we had such a humid morning today. We started out with a double climb up a little mountain, and I was dripping in sweat. I was looking forward to a swim so badly. The water sources the previous two days were scarce because we were on mountain ridges, so I haven’t really been able to swim or wash my body since Monson. I felt so dirty and grimy from the sticky humid air, the grease from putting tiger balm on my bites, combined with sweat and dirt. You know it’s bad when your elbow creases are brown with dirt. Ugh.
The pond in between the two climbs looked pretty boggy and not like a good place to swim, so I looked on Guthook (app) and saw a sandy beach at the bottom of the descent from the mountain. I told the boys I wanted to swim there so we met up there for a morning swim and snack.
Then we pushed on, flat nice trail 3.5 mi to a shelter with beautiful swimming pools and a cascading waterfall for lunch. I soaked my feet and legs, Fresh Feet got all the way in and we had our soylent smoothies.
We had another 8 miles of flat Hollywood trail to get to Antler’s Campsite. I didn’t stop the whole way as it was quite buggy. When I got to Antler’s Campsite (one of the favorite campsites of the AT), Fresh Feet had picked out a wonderful tent spot on a little peninsula for us. It seemed dreamy. We hung out with Red Stripe and Baba Ganoush probably for the last time because they were going to hike 11 more miles to try and make their 8/30 summit. We bid them farewell and congratulated them. Then we decided that since it was only 3:00 pm to push an extra 2 miles to a sandy beach on the same lake. It was not an easy decision because the camping at Antlers was pretty nice looking!
We got to our beach early, before 4:00, so plenty of daylight still. The sun, no shade, and humidity was brutally hot. We swam multiple times in the lake/pond to cool off while we set up camp. The sunset and view was spectacular, but the flies & later mosquitoes and beating sun made it kind of difficult camping conditions. I had to take a Benadryl this evening because the histamine surges were out of control from all the bites.
We retired to our tent early and Fresh Feet told me how proud he is of me. Then we heard some pretty magical loon sounds.
Day 74: Sandy Beach on Mary-Jo Lake to Rainbow Stream Lean-to (20 mi)
Woke up early this morning and started hiking at about 6:45 am. Fresh Feet caught me at about 6 miles and we took a break and ate a morning bar. Just after we left, I slipped on a rock in a mud pit and fell and smashed my knee into another rock. I couldn’t lift myself up because of my pack weight, but luckily Fresh Feet was right there and he pulled me out so I could take my pack off. I burst into tears and felt nauseous.
I am so sick of falling. It really changes my mood and makes it difficult to bounce back into a rhythm. I put on music to try and get me going again and it helped some, but my knee was aching, I had a weird shooting pain every now and again up the side of my leg, and mostly, I was just shaken up from the mud pit slip/fall. Ugh. I really feel like I’m over it. I’m just 100% done with the falling. My body can’t take the shock from it anymore. It feels traumatic and extra difficult to catch yourself with poles in hand and a heavy pack on your back pushing you into the ground once you begin to slip.
About 1 mile later we reached our 1,000th mile hiked! We stopped and made a stick mile marker for ourselves (something that is done usually for the standard mile markers for the NoBos, but since we didn’t start in GA, we had to make our own).
I was still in a bit of a slump from my fall so I continued to listen to some music.
After that we hiked for another hour and a half before stopping at the last stream for a while. We made our afternoon smoothies there and then continued. The day was getting pretty hot. I stopped briefly at the next shelter where Fresh Feet was writing in the trail log and looked at the thermometer and it said 85 degrees. With the insane humidity and the fact that I’m wearing thick wool socks and pants (as bug and itch prevention), I was starting to really feel the effects of the heat and humidity.
We had a small mountain to climb (about 1.5 miles of pretty steep climbing). Should have been no big deal, but I started to really drag on the climb. The terrain waffled between stone staircase, to rocky, rooty, muddy mess. No scrambling, but it was a tough climb. My body really heated up during the climb and it slowed me down and made me extra tired. When I got to the top I had to take a break to cool off and bring my heart rate down. I ate a bar and drank some water.
I finally felt like hiking again, but about 0.5 mi down I was just feeling way too hot again. I stopped and took off my pack and fished around for my shorts (which took me a WHILE to find. I gave my feet a break from the wool suffocation and changed into my shorts. The bugs weren’t that bad, but I stashed my pants in my side picked for easy access in case the itching became unbearable again. Sometimes just the grass blades and underbrush touching my bare legs activates the itch cascade which is why the pants seemed to really help with the itching.
I felt MUCH better in shorts. I ate some cliff chews and knew there was a pond in 1.5 mi of mostly gentle downhill. When I got to the pond I stopped to really think about if I wanted to get in. It seemed a little grassy and dirty. But I was so hot. Then I saw Fresh Feet sitting in the shade waiting for me. He encouraged me to get in if I was feeling so hot. I took a quick dip and it revived me.
We had about 2.5 miles left until a cascading waterfall and stream where there would be better swimming and we could refill with water.
When I got to the waterfall pools I stopped at one of the first ones. No one was there, which was perfect! I had it all to myself for a nice cold swim. It really cooled me down. I could also tell that the caffeine from my previous bar was starting to kick in and I was feeling a lot better.
We then only had 1.8 miles to the shelter where there was a nice open pine area with tons of tent sites. I pushed hard the last bit. It seemed to drag on longer than I wanted. Right as I was arriving to the shelter I heard thunder. I looked up and the clouds were quite dark. I changed and waited for Fresh Feet and Biscuits to arrive. Fresh Feet still wanted to set up the tent even if it rained because of the bugs. I agreed.
We set up quickly and got all of our stuff in the tent/vestibule and made dinner under Biscuit’s hammock tarp. It rained ever so slightly, and then let up. Kind of a bummer because the humid air was still hanging around.
Day 75: Rainbow Stream Lean-to to Abol Campground (15 mi)
We slept in a little today and I hit the trail by 7:15 am. It was a super warm and humid night. We had the rain fly half off because it did rain a tiny bit when we got to the shelter yesterday, but it was too hot to have it on. It was the first night all trip I didn’t even take my sleeping bag out of its sack. I used it under my knees and that felt nice. Stone and I shared his light 45 degree bag here and there throughout the night.
I had a hard time finding my rhythm this morning. The first 3 miles or so were super rocky, rooty, and muddy in an annoying way. It was flat, but just tricky footing that slowed me down.
Fresh Feet and I took a short break at a lake and happened to see a seaplane land in the water! Cool!
Then we had our short and gradual climb for the day up Rainbow Mountain.
We stopped at the stream 2.5 mi down from the mountain at a brook right outside of a shelter where we drank our afternoon smoothies and I soaked my feet - it has been SO HOT AND HUMID!
Then we crushed the last 4 miles to the end of the 100 mile wilderness on mostly smooth Hollywood trail.
The boys were in front of me and had set up camp at Abol’s Campground and I went and took a half shower (hot water but no soap or shampoo/conditioner).
At about 3:00 we went to the restaurant where Fresh Feet got a Veggie burger and I ate some fries and some nuts and dried fruit from the attached convenient store. I wasn’t that hungry (it was 3:00).
I stayed in the restaurant and paid for crappy WiFi (which only allowed for texting) and charged up my phone.
The craziest weather blew in. Suddenly hurricane-like winds and a torrential downpour completely washed over the entire campground. I was in the middle of making dinner at our campsite and we ran to the restaurant to take cover but I got completely soaked in doing so. The waitress was really nice and let us eat our vegan camp dinner in there and we ordered a salad.
We came back to assess the damage and for the most part our stuff was dry. Fresh Feet’s pack got a little wet, the clothing I was wearing was soaked, but the tent held up well in the storm.
I got in the tent for the night and the rain picked back up and there seemed to be some seeping at the seams of the rainfly because there was some dripping from the rainfly to the tent screen down into the inside of the tent. The dripping is minimal and it can hopefully all dry out tomorrow because it is scorching in the sun!
Tomorrow we have to be up VERY early to make sure our names are on the list of 12 spots to stay at the northernmost shelter on the AT, The Birches. The shelter is in Baxter State Park, which is a very rigid and rule heavy park, creating some obstacles for thru hikers (like the early morning race to the kiosk 1 mile into the park the day you want to stay at the Birches). Our campground fee included breakfast, so we will plan to wake up extremely early, go to the kiosk, and come back for breakfast (which starts at 7:00 am).