Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Maine Attraction

The view from our campsite on Moxie Pond in Maine
In his last post, Guyline promised a report on the White Mountains and Maine, and by golly you're going to get one.   But first, a few words on where we are today:

We are on the homestretch, friends.   With 114 miles to go, all that stands between us and Katahdin is a great expanse of wood and lakes known as the 100 mile wilderness.   Tomorrow we will throw six days of food and fuel over our sagging shoulders and the next time you hear from us, we will (hopefully) be done with the whole affair.

The last 300 miles or so have been hands down the most physically challenging of our trip.  For northbounders, the White Mountains and southern Maine are built up over months of trail rumors and warnings from southbounders and section hikers.     Nearly everyone tells hikers that the White Mountains of New Hampshire are the hardest and most beautiful section of the AT.  Countless hikers have told us this is their favorite part of the trail.   Not so for Bearcub and Guyline.  I'm going to voice an opinion now that is a bit controversial in the AT community:   I don't like the Whites.   (I suppose that statement is controversial in many communities).

First off, the AT in the Whites was so unnecessarily dangerous that it felt like we were being betrayed by the trail - like all of a sudden, it wanted us to get hurt.   There were smooth, vertical rock faces to inch down and loose boulder fields with water running over them.   The trail maintenance was lacking (presumably because no one wants to risk his or her life climbing up there with a chainsaw to keep things in order), so every time there was a slightly safer route along the edge of the trail with roots or trees to hold on to, we couldn't take it without getting a face full of pine needles.

Looking down, yes, that is the trail. 

Thanks for the rock stairs, starting 6 feet above my head.
The difficulty of the trail means that it takes hikers a very long time to get anywhere.   Hikers like us who are used to cranking out 18 - 20 miles per day slow to a 10 - 13 mile per day pace.  Because we are on a deadline, we had an aggressive schedule and averaged 13.4 miles per day, and let me tell you......that was on the trail by 7:30 am., as little break time as we could manage to get the water and food we needed, and usually hiking after dark (which was, frankly, terrifying).  Full disclosure: in the Whites, I forgot all about my "Wipe Your Fears Away" post.   I cried several times every day, usually when we came to a rock face I didn't know how to get down (or up) without breaking something.  Guyline learned to hang back and wait it out until I sat down on my butt and got on with it (scooting was my primary hiking style in the Whites).

On top of the scary terrain, the Whites were crawling with tourists, day hikers, and my favorite, college orientation groups from Dartmouth and Harvard singing "Big Booty" as they hiked.  This is all well and good, except that you can't camp anywhere in the National Forest except designated campsites....and with all this traffic, things were pretty full.  Thru-hikers on the trail until dark have no chance of getting a campsite against day hikers who end their day around 3 or 4 pm., so we had a lot of nights on bumpy, uneven ground as well as a night we just flat out put our tent up in the middle of the AT.   Not kosher, I know, but it was one of those "we've been inching down this mountain of rock for 12 hours and now it's been dark for an hour and Bearcub just fell and started crying again" moments.

Guyline's shins have look like this for about a month now
I'm not saying New Hampshire and its White Mountains aren't beautiful.  I would love to go back there someday.  But would I like to relive that part of an AT thru-hike?  H - E - double hockey sticks NO.

When we crossed the border into Maine, it was like someone flipped a switch.   The trail was still extremely difficult (26,000 feet of elevation change in 30 miles, yikes), but at least it wasn't terrifying.  Suddenly, the air smelled like fresh pine, loon calls made the evening sound like a CD called "Songs of the North Country",  bridges and handles and rebar helped us safely over mountains, and locals started introducing themselves to us/offering rides/offering food/asking how we like their trail work.   About two miles into our 14th state, we emerged from the woods onto a green ridge line and felt like we were in a panoramic shot for a "Lord of the Rings" movie, and it has been just as beautiful since.

Looking thrilled but a bit haggard as we crawl out of New Hampshire

We had a lot of fun hiking Mahoosuc Notch, which our guide book refers to as "the most difficult or fun mile of the Appalachian Trail" and is comprised of  a mile of hand over hand navigating through a field of car-sized boulders.  We forded thigh-high rivers and took several bypass trails due to impassible rivers and "beavers flooding the trail" (I can't make this kind of stuff up, people).    We have had three epic, all out falls since arriving in Maine: two "face in the mud, someone roll her over" gems by Bearcub and one "triple axel rock face dismount" by Guyline.
That awful moment....when you step in a frigid lake for the first time on a crisp September morning
Fording rivers ain't no thang for Guyline and Bearcub

Beaver emergency

And then, a funny thing happened.  It's kind of like the AT knew she's been mistreating us and she got all contrite and gets us an inappropriately lavish gift, begging our forgiveness.  The trail goes from a difficulty level 10 to somewhere around a 2, and the last 130 miles are flat as a pancake, weaving in and out of lakes and ponds and other stunning but mercifully flat scenery.

So as we head out for our last hundred miles, our goal is to drink in as much of this beauty as we possibly can.   And to see a moose (You hear that AT??   We want a MOOSE)!



  1. You're almost there! You're going to make it! Just caught up on some of your blogs. What a beard

  2. I am so proud and happy for you guys! I can't wait to see you again and hear all about your adventures, over some Swenson's of course.

  3. Here are some things I love about that post:
    * Your controversial statement. That's just bold reporting.
    * That the Trail Angels ask for feedback
    * Your personification of the trail (although I physically can't imagine her trying to hurt you after getting to know you so well. That just didn't resonate with me)
    * 13.4 - I mean, I'm not surprised you had time to do the math, I'm just impressed.
    * Jokes about beavers? Always funny.
    * That when I hear from you next it will mean you're home!
    I can't wait to see the both of you. Enjoy your last few days and I'll have a transition matrix and razor ready for GuyLine upon your highly anticipated return!!

  4. OMG can't believe its almost done!!!! AHH keep on trucking! Don't cry you can do it!!!

  5. Great post Bearcub! It brings to mind a song "Climb every mountain, ford every stream ...". Your dream is in sight - only 8 days away!! Stay safe and can't wait to see both of you!

  6. Hang in there folks! Very exciting you're in the home stretch. Hope you and Bri are keeping your chins up!!!

  7. I'm really gonna miss your posts, maybe you should hike South now so I'll have something to read. What you have done is beyond comprehension. I'm so proud of both of you, especially Bearcub for enduring the aching knees, Irwin sickness, giardia, and especially Guyline's beard. BTW Bri, that would look really nice on the top of my head! And I'm proud of you too for putting up with me and Mom worrying about you and prodding you for information every time you called. Stay safe and healthy! Can't wait for your trip to Akron!

  8. Whoa you guys are amazing to be able to endure all that! The last photo of your post looks unreal, it makes me wish I could have joined you (only for that photo not the whole hike) Keep it up, you guys can do it! I'm sooo looking forward to seeing you guys soon (especially Brian's beard). Have a safe rest of your travels, and I hope you guys see a moose!