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

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