Stratton, ME – 553 miles in

One thing I would like to add to my last post: To reinforce my belief that the trail will give you what you need at the exact right moment, as I was hiking down from Madison, after being terrified for my life, I saw not one, but two pine martens! For those who don’t understand how awesome this is, I will insert a picture of a pine marten below.

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So cute!

You can never know what lies ahead. The people you meet who are going the other direction and have already done what is ahead do not have ability to put it into the perspective of what you have already done. Those who are going the same direction as you also have no idea what lies ahead.

Hiking out of Gorham with Peanut Pan, I felt myself begin to fall back in love with the trail. After over a week of scrambling over boulders just to go back down, of not being able to walk faster than a mile an hour, the return of packed dirt and reasonable steepness was a godsend. Going up that first incline out of Gorham, I met a southbounder who was headed into town. I cheerfully told him that he was almost to town and he growled back, “I wish I could say the same for you! You have a steep climb ahead of you.” I kept walking, waiting for the trail to take a sharp turn skyward at any moment, but before I knew it I was at the top of the mountain.

The next day, Peanut Pan and I were in for the infamous “Mahoosuc Notch”, the hardest mile on the AT, immediately followed by “the Arm”, a tough climb. I decided to camp right between the two and split them up into two days. As the day went on, Peanut and I ran into a friend of ours, Pineapple. He was headed to the same spot. However, as we were hiking, Pineapple slipped and feel about 5 feet down a boulder, landing on his hip, where he kept his phone. Although he was fine, his phone was shattered and no longer worked.

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The next town that we had to resupply in, Andover, was a difficult hitch in, and the guide book advises that hikers call a shuttle from the top of the mountain before it, due to bad service at the road. Because he had lost his phone, we decided that it was best for the three of us to stick together and all call in at the same time. We hiked on, and as the day went on, we realized the terrain was harder than we had all expected. If we stuck to the original plan, we wouldn’t get to the Notch until it had started to get dark. We decided to stop at a shelter 3 miles short of our original plan, and stayed the night there.

There was a woman at that shelter named Grace Note, and I was delighted to meet her, since I had been following her notes in the log books for weeks. Finally I could put a face to the handwriting. An older woman, she was small and very sweet. As we talked, she told us that she hadn’t been feeling well the last few days, and was thinking about getting off-trail for good. We advised she start with just a day or two off trail, and see how she felt afterward.

The next day, I decided to approach the Notch as an obstacle course, something fun. The AWOL guidebook describes the Notch as “a jumbled pit of boulders.” This was an understatement. We arrived at the Notch at 9:15 am, and proceeded to spend the next 2 hours bouldering up and down over huge rocks the size of cars. Often, we would pass over a gap between two boulders that was filled with ice. Pineapple and Peanut scrambled ahead of me, and I would round a corner to find them sitting and waiting for me about ever 20 minutes. When we finally reached the end, dirty and tired, Pineapple aptly described the Notch of having lasted about “15 minutes longer than it should have.” We ate lunch at the campsite we had meant to reach the night before, and hiked on. We climbed the arm, and at the top ran into a friend of ours, a woman called OMG.

We continued hiking, and as the day went on again realized that we weren’t going to arrive when we had hoped, and changed our plans. We decided that we were going to try to get an unlikely, but possible hitch from the road 2 miles short of our original destination. That road would take us into Andover, where Pineapple could figure out what to do about his phone, and the three of us could eat a hot meal. A restaurant in town allows hikers to pitch their tents in the back yard for free. When OMG heard our plan, she decided to join in!

The next 4 days were wonderful! We left our tents set up at the restaurant and hiked from road to road, carrying super light packs. Every night we got to eat a hot, well-cooked meal, and spend a little time relaxing before sleeping. The 4th day, we zeroed.

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…and goofing around at views!

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Hiking out of Andover with a full pack was disheartening, but we all knew it had to happen eventually. We were on to Rangeley! A quaint town situated exactly halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, an outfitter there called Ecopologicon fixed my trekking poles for free! We hitched out of town the same day we hitched in and camped at a shelter called Piazza Rock Lean-to (why are all the shelters in Maine called lean-tos??). The privy there had two seats and a cribbage board in-between, so that you and a friend can take care of business together while enjoying a game.

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Hiking out of Piazza Rock, we were headed toward Saddleback Ridge, a beautiful stretch of trail with views that rival the Whites.

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We were lucky enough to be blessed with good weather going over Saddleback.

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The mountain was riddled with false summits, where it seemed like we had reached the top, and as we would hike up and over we would see a higher point in the distance.

We went up and ate lunch on the first peak, and descended toward the second. As we arrived at the second peak, I noticed the light was a little different. It was the eclipse! We were just in time, and sat on the second peak, called “The Horn”, for about 25 minutes to watch the eclipse happen.

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A failed picture of the eclipse!

I’m in Stratton now, with Peanut and Pineapple. We have just over 2 weeks before reaching Katahdin, the official endpoint for most Northbounders. It’s strange to be surrounded by people who are preparing for the end when I am just beginning.

Last night, a thunderstorm rolled in as I was going to sleep. I woke up around 11pm with my tent floating on a stream of water! I was confused and thought it was morning, so I deflated my sleeping pad. 10 minutes later I realized that it was the middle of the night, so I had to pump the pad back up as my tent floor turned into a waterbed. I am happy to be in town, dry and clean!

Congrats to my friends who have hiked 2000 miles, and who have less than 200 left! And congrats to me, for hiking over 500 miles now! Woo hoo!

-Shiver

Pictures From Gorham to Andover

Welcome to Maine!

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The view from Mt Moody today! Maine is glorious!

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I finally took a picture of the blue berries (not blueberries!) I’ve been seeing since New Hampshire! We’ve also discovered (and eaten) wild blueberries on the trail recently!

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Thruhiker “Thunderbuns” poses in his loaner clothes while he waits for laundry to be done. Loaner clothes are provided by different hostels so hikers have something to wear while they do laundry.

Pictures from Hanover to Gorham

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Borrowing this photo from Mumble, since I didn’t take one of my own. This is the sign we saw shortly after leaving the hut to climb Mt Washington.

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We made a bouquet out of trail materials!

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The view from Mousilake. The first time I really realized I was in the Whites.

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Family Size is enjoying the Omelette Man’s tent in this photo!

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Sometimes the trail sort of… disappears… and turns into a bouldering route. This was the climb up Crawford Notch, right before the thunderstorm.

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The guys who gave me a bunk!

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Crawford Notch from halfway up the north side. Everything you can see, I had already hiked. The lowest road is where I had started that climb.

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Peanut Pan, imported straight from Germany, on top of Mousilake with me!

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My trekking pole, post Madison.

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I saw moose right before the Wildcats! Amazing!

If the weather hadn’t been so terrifying, I would have taken more pictures, but I think these sum it up well!

-Shiver

443 miles in – Gorham, NH (part 2)

Giving myself a high-five because I have officially finished the Whites! Hell yeah!

The group I stayed with in Hanover was aptly named “The Black Hole”. They had earned this title due to their tendency to suck people in. A group of 6, 17 at their largest, I had heard both good and bad things about them. All fun, welcoming people, they had annoyed some by showing up at campsites and taking all the spots. Dr. Mantis Toboggan, an aspiring med student,  was the first I ran into. We chatted for a minute before he sped ahead of me. Next were Cash and Songbird, a young couple from Kansas, were next. We encountered each other at a raging river, the rocks far apart from each other. I saw it and didn’t even try to hop across on the rocks. I took my shoes off and waded through the river. Songbird was trying to cross on the rocks, so I helped across. As I was putting my shoes back on, I dropped my sock and it was immediately grabbed and taken by the current. Thankfully, it got caught on a rock right next to Cash, and he delivered it back to me.

I then met Family Size, a large 20 year old from Germany. When I arrived at the shelter I met his friend Peanut Pan. They had stayed together ever night on the trail, having travelled over together from Germany. Finally, Tea Leaves arrived at the shelter about a half an hour after me.

We hiked together out of Hanover, going 16 miles to the Trapper John shelter. The train for the next 2 days was not terribly difficult. The day I left Trapper John shelter I got a late start, not hitting the trail until 11am. However, I managed to do 19 miles that day.

I passed the Omelette Man about a half a mile before I camped that night. I had been hearing about him from hikers going South for about 2 weeks. The next morning I decided that, rather than pass up on such an amazing opportunity, I would walk back to his tent and enjoy breakfast there the next day, leaving my pack at the campsite.

I had heard stories about the man who spent his days in the woods making omelettes for hikers. When I arrived at his tent the next morning I bore witness to a sight that could only be found on the AT. There was his tent, housing jugs of water and juice, his radio was playing music and he had bananas hanging from the nearby trees. When I arrived he asked how many eggs I would like in my omelette, informing me almost as if he was challenging me that the current record holder had eaten 24 eggs. I decided that 6 was enough for me.

After having eaten my fill and spent my time, I walked back to my pack and started the hike for the day. Aside from being poorly marked, the first 7 miles were a breeze and I knocked out half the day before lunch. Then, it was on to Mt. Mousilake.

This mountain was a tough climb, 4 miles of steep incline to the top. The promise of a 2 miles stretch above treeline drove me to the top, however slow I was. I couldn’t have imagined what I saw. The 360 degree view was breathtaking. To the north was Mt Washington, to the south we could see what we had already hiked.

When I arrived at the shelter that night, I was one of the last ones to show up. Because Mousilake is one of the most frequently summited mountains in the US, not only was the shelter full, all the tentsites were taken. I decided this would be a good night to try my hand at cowboy camping. Cowboy camping is when you sleep on your sleeping pad on the ground, no tent or tarp above you. I was happy to have done that, because the stars were breathtaking and the sunrise was even better.

When we went into Lincoln the next day, we decided to enjoy ourselves at the McDonald’s. I ordered a meal and claimed a table next to an outlet so I could charge up my phone. As the others arrived, I was shocked. The average number of sandwiches was 8 per person, between the 6 of them they had ordered 50 sandwiches, not to mention the sides. I was witnessing hiker hunger at its worst.

Then the climbs began.

Before getting to The Whites, I was averaging 2-3 miles an hour, hiking. However, as soon as I hit The Whites, that number fell to about a mile and a half per hour. This was not only due to the tough climbs, but also the fact that the trail had gone from packed dirt to scrambling over boulders. The Whites were strange. Every 7 miles or so, there is a “hut”. Day hikers pay about 130 dollars per person to stay in these guys. This will get them one bunk in a bunk room with 7 others, a 3 course meal, and a toilet. No showers, no privacy. Thruhikers are allowed to do “work-for-stay” at the huts. For about an hour of sweeping, dishes, or whatever other chores the crew doesn’t want to do (I cleaned out a freezer), we get leftovers from the guests’ meal and are allowed to sleep on the floor of the dining room. These huts are almost like summer camp for adults. The crew is overly loud and comical, putting on skits in the morning to teach the guests how to fold their own blankets. The strangest thing was the weird classist vibe. The paying guests were served a huge, 3 course meal, while us dirty thruhikers looked on in hunger. Once the guests had eaten their fill, we were allowed to eat the leftovers. Throughout our stay in The Whites, I mostly went from Hut to Hut.

Climbing out of Crawford Notch, after resupplying, a thunderstorm began. It was slightly scary, being exposed on the top of a mountain with lightning above. The trail turned into an ankle-deep stream and I gave up on staying dry. Occasionally, the trail will become wooden planks. These often save your feet from mine, but cane hazardous in their own way, since they can be incredibly slippery. As I was coming up the notch, I slipped on one and slammed my knee into the corner. Thankfully, I was not badly hurt, only bruised.

I came across a group of 5 men, a father and son, uncle, and two cousins. We exchanged some words and then they informed me that a member of their group had twisted his ankle and wouldn’t be able to make it to the next hut. They had an extra bunk and if was mine if I wanted it. I accepted of course, and that night was treated like a human being!

I did work-for-stay at Lake Of The Clouds Hut. A mile and a half from the summit of Mt. Washington, the highest summit in the Northeast, it lived up to its name, shrouded in fog the entire time I was there. When we woke up there, we had Mt Washington to summit that day. It was 5am and the forecast predicted 100% chance of thunderstorms at 8am, so by 6 we left the Hut to try to make it over the summit before the storms began. Peanut Pan and I decided to hike together. As we set off, we passed a sign almost immediately warning us that Mt Washington had the worst weather in America, and that we should turn back. But we kept hiking. We reached the summit, but we didn’t stop to take any pictures. The weather station on top was eerie, looming out of the fog. We were the only ones out there that early, and it was almost surreal being alone up there. As we hiked down from the summit, we made a safety plan. I taught Peanut how to use the SOS button on my inReach GPS locator.

The original plan that morning had been to hike 15 miles into Gorham, climbing Washington in the morning, stopping for lunch at Madison Spring Hut, climbing Madison, and descending into Gorham for the night. The rest of the Black Hole passed us on the way to Madison hut, and when we arrived, they had already left for Gorham. As soon was we arrived, it started pouring rain. We decided that rather than go back out into the rain, we could would do work-for-stay at the hut and go into Gorham the next day.

The next morning, we woke up and began our hike. Peanut left before me, and I decided to hike with two women, Planner and Brown Sugar, hoping the company would keep up my pace. We set off with Sasquatch bringing up the rear.

Sasquatch is a 34 year old Alaskan park ranger, trained in wilderness first response. He and I had been running into each other every night for the last 10 days or so. As we set off for Madison, Brown Sugar was in the lead, then Planner, then me, then Sasquatch. We started to go up almost immediately, and as we did, the wind increased. I did my best to keep up with Planner and Brown Sugar, but they pulled ahead relatively quickly. I asked Sasquatch if he wanted to pass me, but he declined.

As the wind picked up, I could feel myself getting colder. Before that day, I had never hiked wearing more than my usual tank top and shorts that I can be seen in in almost every photo, save when my armpits were chaffing and I was wearing sleeves to prevent that. Hiking over Washington, I wore a rain jacket instead of a shirt. To go over Madison, I knew I would be colder, so I decided to keep my leggings on that I wear usually as pajamas, and wear my tank top under my jacket for extra warmth. Ugh, that was stupid.

The first thing I noticed was my fingers. They went numb. I told Sasquatch and he suggested I wear a pair of socks as gloves. I didn’t have any dry pairs, so I used a wet pair, and they were good enough.

My trekking poles got caught between two rocks, a common issue. As I went to pull it out, the wind picked up and blew me over. I tried to grab my pole to keep me upright, but the pole bent at a 90 degree angle.

I kept hiking, the poles much more difficult to hang on to without the use of my thumbs. The wind was blowing too hard to move quickly. Every few feet, I had to stop and crouch to anchor myself and prevent getting blown over. I feel multiple times, blown over. At one point, I fell and Sasquatch said, “there goes your pack cover.” It had blown away, I never saw it again, its probably somewhere in Vermont.

Having already lost 2 items to the mountain, I was not having a good time. I started to stumble frequently and catch myself rarely. I realized I wasn’t wearing enough clothing. I yelled my issue to Sasquatch and we went to a boulder pile, trying to use it as a windbreaker. I had packed my clothes on top, thinking I might need to access them quickly. I opened the bag but for some reason I wasn’t able to dress myself. I put on my flannel shirt, then my down jacket over that. Sasquatch zipped it for me. I then put on my rain jacket and hat. Sasquatch started to force feed me a Clif bar. I found out later that I had gotten mild hypothermia and he was using his responder training on me. A 30 year old German hiker named Sweetheart found us and we all started hiking together. It took 3 hours to get below treeline and I was crying for the majority of that time. I thought I was going to die.

As we hiked on, Peanut appeared out of the fog. When he had gotten to the treeline, he had stopped to rest. When planner and Brown Sugar passed him, they told him that I had fallen behind, and he waited for me to come by. When more time passed, he had gotten worried, dropped his pack, and come to find me. The four of us hiked off the mountain together.

When we got below treeline, we found a spot and stopped hiking. I was functioning strangely, I just didn’t know what to do next. As soon as we got below treeline, the weather changes drastically. The sun came out, the trees blocked the wind. I didn’t gain feeling back into my fingertips for a couple hours, and they were white as paper.

After that, I took two days off in Gorham. I later found out that the winds were 70-80mph, the temperature had been 20 degrees. I don’t know if Sasquatch really saved my life, but it feels like he did.

I hiked the Wildcats, the last 20 miles of the Whites, and now it’s off to Maine!

-Shiver

422 miles in – Gorham, NH (part 1)

100 different people will climb the same mountain 100 different ways. Going to the same summit, they will take different trails, go up opposite sides of the mountain, choose to put their feet in different places, and encourage themselves mentally in unique ways.

This post is going to be a little different from my previous posts. Because I don’t have access to a computer, I’m writing from my phone, and I won’t be able to add pictures. I’m going to upload a separate post as soon as possible with the pictures to accompany this post.

Starting from where I left off last time, in Rutland/Killington, Vermont, I will do my best to provide an in-depth but interesting recount of my time.

While staying at the Yellow Deli in Rutland, I observed something I didn’t become aware of until just a couple days ago, weeks after my stay. Leading up to my visit, I had been (mostly jokingly)  warned not to get sucked in. Buffalo, Mumble, and I told each other that no one would get left behind. This is because the Yellow Deli has been known in the past to have trapped a few hikers. They come to stay for the night or for a couple nights and end up never leaving! I met a man who proudly announced to me while we were being introduced that he was an ex-hiker.

The hostel consisted of a men’s and a women’s bunk room and a common area. One night, I was sitting in the common room and was half-listening to a conversation between a hiker called Hot Mess Express and a member of the Yellow Deli. They were having an argument over their differences in theological and political beliefs. I was surprised because throughout my stay, while I understood that the community was of particular beliefs, I had heard anything of the members discussing it. The conversation I was eavesdropping on evolved and I stopped paying attention. Just 3 days ago, I was talking to a hiker about the Yellow Deli and my stay there, and he mentioned that a hiker had been sucked into the community this year. I asked if he knew who, and he told me it was Hot Mess Express.

The day before I hiked out of the Rutland area, Buffalo, Mumble, Blue, and Bruiser hiked 4 miles, with plans to go 14 miles the day after that. I decided to instead, do 18 miles that day. I didn’t get an early start but I didn’t get a late start, and I arrived at the destination with plenty of time to spare. The destination that night was a Lookout cabin. Different from the normal shelters, the structure had 4 walls instead of 3, 2 levels of floor space, and a door. What luxury! The night there was well enjoyed, surrounded by good friends and fun. The cabin had a ladder up to a small balcony on the roof, and from that spot there were views for 360 degrees. The sunset was beautiful.

The good luck did not last long, however. When we awoke the next morning, the sky was gray and the air was cold. Rain was pouring down. Some  might describe the weather that day as miserable. The rest of the crew decided on a whim that they would stay warm and cozy at this lovely cabin, and hike on when the weather cleared up. I, however, enjoy hiking in the rain, abs decided that I would give 15 miles that day. I calculated that if I left the cabin at 10am I would still arrive at a reasonable time. At 10, I donned my pack and said goodbye to my friends, and hiked on.

Around noon, I arrived at a road. There was a sign advertising a farm just 0.2 miles west that sold food and welcomed hikers, so I decided that I would take a lunch break there. As I was eating, a woman came in and we struck up a conversation. Hearing I was a hiker, she offered to pay for my lunch! People’s kindness continues to amaze me. However, that was not the most amazing thing to happen that day.

I arrived at the campsite around 5:30, planning to sleep in the shelter. I did not want to set up my tent in the rain. It was almost full when I arrived. Everyone was just about ready for bed, even though it was early. We were tired of the rain and eager for our warm, dry sleeping bags. At 7:30, however, something awesome happened. Out of the woods popped a man with a pack. At first I thought he was an average hiker, but then I noticed his pack was full of dry firewood. It was a local Trail Angel who knew that hikers would appreciate a warm fire after the day! He built a fire, whipped out some root beer, cooked some sausages and hotdogs on the fire, and when the embers were low, he put his pack back on and hiked home. He lives about a mile from the shelter we were staying at, and had never done anything like that before, but had thought of it and decided it was a better alternative to going to the gym. I later found out that he was there again the next night.

I did the 15 miles from our little shelter to Hanover, NH the next day in less than 7 hours. The others at the shelter the night before we’re arriving around the same time as me. This was the first time that my speed was even slightly comparable to the speed NOBOs were hiking at. I credit it to the fact that when I left the shelter, I had accidentally put my music on repeat and was too lazy to fix it, so I had been listening to the same song over and over for about 5 hours. On my hike that day, I went through a town called West Hartford, where there was supposedly a bridge that was safe to jump off of into the river below. Unfortunately, I walked right past it that day, and didn’t realize until it was too late.

Certain hikers become legends on the trail, for one reason or another. For example, Knots was legendary for breaking the Fastest Known Time record this year (unsupported). One Gallon, known for eating a gallon of ice cream in one sitting, has also thruhiked the AT, PCT, and CDT three times each, making him a triple-triple crowned (a triple-crowner is someone who has thruhiked all 3 of those trails). Legend has it he hiked the entire state of New York in one day (that’s 90 miles).

On my hike into Hanover, I met one such celebrity, along with her support system. A family decided to do a thruhike with their 1 year old daughter. Roo, her mom Kanga, and her dad Sherpa, were hiking out of Hanover the day I was hiking in. Roo was the happiest baby I have ever seen, having taken her first steps on the trail.

The group I had met at the shelter the night before has a friend who is a student at Dartmouth College in Hanover. When we got into town, he let us stay in a room at his frat house. We went to karaoke in town and then watched Mean Girls before squeezing all 9 of us into a room and going to sleep. The next day, we walked down to the community center, where they allow hikers to take showers and do laundry. We spent the day there, resting, grocery shopping, and doing what ever else needed to be done.

Hanover has a network of Trail Angels that will host hikers overnight, shuttle them to and from town, etc. They are not advertised publicly so in order to stay with them you have to get the list of phone numbers. I was the only one in that group with the list, so I shared it with them and we found a house to stay together. The group was Mantis, Cash, Songbird, Tea Leaves, Peanut Pan, and Family Size. Pineapple also joined us.

Ill be doing a second post today, updating from Hanover to Gorham. Over halfway to Katahdin!

-Shiver