Vacation-land; The Great North Woods; The Way Life Should Be. Maine sounds so pleasant and, despite some occasional rough terrain, it certainly has been. When a potential thru-hiker gets the idea to walk the Appalachian Trail, they tend to overlook the hardships and dream of blissful days on bald mountaintops, daily swims in pristine lakes, and extraordinary wildlife sightings like moose, fox, and eagles.
Of course not everyday on the trail is so idyllic, but Maine seems to be fulfilling these blissful visions more than any other state. Fortunately there are many miles of trail here, in fact, Maine has the second-most miles of the AT (280), behind Virginia (close to 500). The first 100 were by far the most difficult, including very steep and rocky mountains as well as the infamous Mahoosuc Notch, the ‘hardest mile on the trail.’ I had heard many horror stories about this mile and went into it with very high difficulty expectations.
The notch is about a mile of scrambling, over, under, and between huge boulders and caves and lives up to its reputation of difficulty. Despite taking nearly two hours to crawl a mere mile, I actually enjoyed it. I felt like a kid in a big jungle gym. Out of the notch it was sunny and 80 degrees but inside some of the boulder caves, ice was still on the ground and the air temperature dropped dramatically – I felt like I was in a big refrigerator.
Another unique thing about Maine is river fording. To keep Maine more ‘wild’ the local trail clubs rarely build any bridges, forcing hikers to ford through the streams and rivers. The only exception is the Kennebec crossing, where a canoe ferry is offered because dam releases make the river depth and current very unpredictable (hikers have died trying to ford this river). The deepest ford I’ve encountered was waste high, but generally the river crossings never go above my knee.
A funny story of karma, the other day I was walking and saw that someone dropped a candy wrapper on the trail. Being the model citizen that I am, I picked up the trash figuring one tiny wrapper wouldn’t add too much weight to my own trash bag. Well about a half mile later I found another wrapper on the trail. I was thinking, “jeez, I’ve got a real litter bug walking ahead of me!” Well, about another mile further, lo’ and behold another – wait. “That’s a still-sealed and wrapped Power Bar!” Oh yes! Finding an energy bar on the trail is like gold to an AT thru-hiker. I promptly ate it and knew – just knew – that karma really does exist. Either that or the hiker ahead of me has a loose drawstring on their pack :)
Currently, I’m in Monson, ME with a mere 113 miles left of the trail. Tomorrow I’ll be entering the ‘100 Mile Wilderness’, the longest stretch of the trail which does not cross any towns or improved roads. Fortunately I’m ahead of schedule with plenty of time to finish. I’m quite happy about this because many fellow thru-hikers have tight deadlines to complete the trail and are marching through the final miles like pack horses with blinders on. Like anyone after walking 2000 miles, I am starting to obsessively daydream about summitting Mt. Katahdin, though I try not to get too excited about finishing. I really want to savor this last section so I’ve been slowing down my pace, taking more breaks, and enjoying the scenery instead of worrying about miles or schedules. And Maine couldn’t be a more magical place for a slow and steady finish to this journey.
Next time I update, I hope to have a picture of me at Katahdin, the highest point in Maine and the end of my Appalachian journey.