Day 188: Mile 1929.5 | Frye Notch Lean-To
I woke up at 6:30am and got right up. I felt a lot better, but I was really stuffy. The day was filled with some challenging but beautiful terrain. We ascended Mahoosuc Arm. Once we began climbing old speck, we split up for a little bit but rejoined before the summit. We stopped at Speck Pond Shelter and had breakfast around 10am. We watched as some other hikers packed up. It was rare for us to be up this early and have already made it more than two miles. It felt pretty good.
I contacted my parents from Speck Pond, and they agreed to meet us in Andover, ME the next day to bring us some resupply food and take us to lunch. It was a couple of hours from home and they said they didn’t mind. I drank my Mio energy drink after that and thought about a nice big mug of hot coffee with cream and sugar. How badly I wanted that coffee. I hoped I’d get some the next day. I didn’t like instant coffee, I’d tried it my first couple of weeks. For a while I just drank it in cold water as fast as I could, but that was almost torture. I even tried making iced coffee with honey crystals to sweeten it. All horrible. This craving was always my strongest.
We continued down to Grafton Notch where we saw many tourists. A girl hiking up Old Speck from the Grafton Notch Side as we were descending stopped us to ask, “How much longer until the top?” I replied, “We’re thru-hikers and we’ve basically been hiking for five months straight so our pace isn’t exactly the same as yours. Its about two more miles and if you go a mile an hour that would be two hours. If you go two miles per hour you could be up there in an hour.” She groaned and complained, “Another hour?” Her friend rolled her eyes.
I was always saddened by day hikers who were unhappy hiking. I get that it’s not for everyone, but it seemed like a lot of people considered hiking a chore that someone else made them do and no something fun. I sometimes felt that way, but when I saw people in the real world I realized how fortunate I was to be out on the AT and (even if it took me a few hours to get out of my funk of tedious hiking) when I saw those people complaining I felt even more lucky. That I liked to hike, and I got to hike even if sometimes I didn’t love it.
We left Grafton Notch after a lunch break and a trail magic soda from a cooler by the trailhead. We crossed the road and started up BaldPate. Miles took it slow, stopped for snack breaks, he said he felt light headed. He was dehydrated and it was hot. I felt good, even with the heat. A layer of sweat quickly drenched my clothes and covered my skin. I kept going and told Miles I’d wait for him ahead. I put in my headphones and cruised uphill, listening to The Moth while I walked. It was humid and hot, every day hiker I passed on the wide trail reminded me as I said hi to them. It was like Groundhog Day, “Hot one huh?” “Ready for it to rain this time?” “Hot one today!”
Once we reached a blue blazed lookout point, the AT branched off. The skinnier and more overgrown trail immediately got steeper and rockier. Vines and branches reached out into the trial, overgrown and less maintained than the day hiker trail before it. I kept going until I got hungry about five miles later. I sat down and completed a blog post while I waited for Miles. The sweat covering my skin helped me cool down quickly while I sat against a large tree.
When Miles caught up to me, I took my headphones out. It seemed like tenting in this section would be hard to find. I’d heard south bounders complaining about Maine’s tenting situation since Vermont. Ahead, there was a shelter that we were aiming for, the outlook wasn’t good. According to Guthook, it had only three tent spots and four shelter spots. I’d already seen more than four thru-hikers that day, not including southbounders. It was very likely that we might have to keep walking into the dark. I kept climbing Baldpate behind Miles. As we gained elevation, we entered the alpine zone. The clear, bald summit of the mountain was covered in mud pits. Thankfully, there were some boards to walk on, but many of them were sunk or broken. I tried my best not to slosh, failing as usual. We crossed the windy summit in awe. The incredible beauty we saw in combination with the gusting wind, instilled a fear and excitement in me. Looking back, I could see all of the mountains I’d climbed that day. I thought of the first time I’d ever climbed four peaks in one day, back in Georgia. How naive I’d been to think that 12-mile day was so hard. It was for me at the time, and it was for most day hikers. But now, with my trail legs, it seemed so small. Literally a walk in the park.
We took in the view until we began to get cold and kept walking, attempting to get to the shelter before dark. We came down the windy balds and got to the Lean-To. The trail ran right in front of it but trail Maintainers were camping at the shelter that night, and they greeted us around their campfire. We continued up the trail a little ways and found some tent sites not far ahead. After we set up we gathered water and made our Mountain House meals. It was a good day, only about 13 miles. That meal was so good in the humid, quickly cooling air. I savored it and ate slowly in the open doorway of my tent. There were very few bugs and I had stopped being cautious about zipping up my tent right away. We went to sleep pretty early and planned to get up at 6:30am again to go meet my parents. Trying to stay consistent from this day forward, we told ourselves.
Day 189: Mile 1941.4 | Sawyer Brook Campsite
We got up early again, 6:30am (which in comparison to some hikers was not that early, but hey, it was for us). We took the easy walk to East B Hill Rd, one of the two that lead into Andover, ME. We mad it far quickly. This five-mile stretch was by far the easiest we had seen in quite a while. A blue blaze came up about a mile from the road and we were almost an hour early. The two of us decided to wander and see the waterfalls that the blue blaze offered. It was beautiful. We took a break and listened to the waterfalls, sitting on the damp, pine-needle-covered floor. The wet pine and dirt smell is one of my favorites.
We still got to the road earlier than expected and waited for Mom and Dad by the side of the road. It had rained during the night, but the sun had come out by the time we got to the road. The two of us took out our wet tents and clothing and dried them in the sun. Nearby, in the trailhead parking lot a group of high-school aged looking kids were getting ready to leave for their section hike, they stared at us while we laid on our drying tents, basking in the sun. True hiker trash. We knew this meant we’d probably be competing for a good tent site anywhere near a lean-to tonight. I rolled my eyes and starting checking Guthook for a tent-site ahead. My parents showed up about half an hour later and they drove us into town for a late breakfast.
We went to Little Red Hen and Miles and I had huge veggie omelets and the biggest mugs of hot coffee with cream and sugar. Just what I’d been craving all week. It almost felt like we weren’t real thru-hikers anymore, seeing my parents so often. We saw other hikers around, but we didn’t really know any of them anymore and neither us or them bothered to break the ice. So, with most people it just kind of stayed that way. Miles and I had started keeping more and more to ourselves after Moosilauke because of the slackpacking. After that, it seemed like it was harder to make friends. I didn’t feel like I fit with the rest of the thru-hikers anymore.
Miles and I resupplied for the next couple of days out of the trunk of my parent’s car. They bought us groceries that we’d bought during the slackpack era and left at their house. Mountain House Meals, Dried Fruit, Bars, Gummies, Gu Gels, Instant Coffee (bleck), and more. After we’d filled our food bags and put all of our trash into a garbage bag in their trunk. They took us back to the trailhead and sent us off. Best. Parents. Ever. They drove over an hour on mostly Maine backroads to bring us a good resupply and take us out to lunch. Saints.
Anyway, they waved goodbye as we headed uphill on the AT. It wasn’t too bad of a hike into or out of town and we found good tent sites at Sawyer Brook campsite. Before we left, Mom and Dad agreed to meet us in Rangely one last time before we finished. We were on track to finish in September 18th, the day before my friends’ wedding, in which I was to be maid of honor.
Day 190: Mile 1956.5 | Bemis Stream Camp
Day 191: Mile 1970.6 | Sandy River Stealth Camp
We got up early, again! We kind of had a streak going. The 14 miles into town weren’t too hard and we cruised through it, listening to music and podcasts most of the way. For the first time since early April and maybe one day in the Whites, I actually felt cold. I woke up cold and the entire day I had goose bumps on my bare, harry legs. The only pants I had at this time were base layer wool leggings. I wouldn’t mind hiking in them, except that I wouldn’t have any dry pants to sleep in if I did. I sweated so much, even when it was this cold, that I couldn’t trust them to be dry for when I went to bed. And with my sensitive skin, that sounded like a rash waiting to happen.
Speaking of rashes, I started developing a rash on my toes the day before. My socks, shoes, and feet hadn’t been totally dry in about 4 days. I needed to do laundry and a get a clean, dry pair of socks on my feet. In the parking lot at the trail head we plopped down on the grass and waited for my parents. I pulled off my nasty socks and put my feet up on my pack. The cooling air felt so good on my raw toes.
Mom and Dad picked us up around 3pm and brought us ‘round to the nearest hostel. She said she couldn’t offer us showers without a bunk and we hadn’t planned on staying. So the four of us went straight to lunch. Fish and chips were had all around. After an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience, Miles and I both had been craving fish and chips. We craved really any food we heard mentioned on a podcast.
After lunch our photo was taken in front of the famous Doc Grant’s sign. Then, the four of us took over one of the local laundromats. My mom even brought us ‘loaner’ clothes from home! There was no sink in the bathroom, but there was a large rinsing sink in the lobby. I used a camp towel and some Dr. Bronner’s to take a make-shift bath with my clothes still on. Luckily my mom had brought me pants. But, the forecast for the next week was a heat wave. I didn’t want to risk carrying a pair of pants I’d never wear all the way through the Hundred Mile Wilderness. I thought about my goose-bumped legs that morning. It wasn’t so bad, right? I told myself I’d be ok and left the pants with my mom.
After a quick stop at the grocery store, Miles and I were dropped back at the trailhead once again. In the dark, around 8pm we found a spot to camp. It was right on trail, but we figured that would get us up early. I walked into the woods with only my Crocs on that night. I slathered my toes in Bag Balm and left my feet out of my sleeping bag, bare, even though it was kind of chilly that night. I crossed my fingers my bloody toes would at least scab up over night. My experience on trail, thus far, was that Bag Balm was like a miracle salve that could heal any wound. Thanks, Mom for that.
Day 192: Mile 1978.6 | Reddington Stream Camp
This day we hiked Saddleback and The Horn. We met a guy up there who just finished doing all of the 4,000 Footers of New England in every season. The sunny day was beautiful but chilly. We glided through the alpine zone and ate a hot lunch at the top, our favorite thing during those days. This was the day that it first hit me, this was the beginning of the end. My time on the trail was nearing a close, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready. But I also really really was.