Friday, September 7, 2012

Warning! You are Entering the 100 Mile Wilderness!

Warning sign at the beginning of the 100-Mile Wilderness

This morning we woke up earlier than we needed to, mainly because we didn't sleep too well. With so many hikers in the house, it seemed like there was a steady stream of people using the bathrooms all night, and you would hear every footstep as hikers made their way down the hall, and then the old wooden doors creaked, and old latches loudly clanked as they closed.  I would guess the age of the house is probably about 100 years old, a large, old wood-frame farmhouse, with very slanted floors upstairs, doors hanging on crooked hinges that won't really shut easily anymore, and floors that creak with every step.  Also, it was an unusually warm night, and we were all sleeping with the windows open, because of course, there's no A/C this far north, and it just wasn't that comfortable for sleeping. Who would have guessed that one of our uncomfortably warm nights would be this far north?  We were ready to get back on the trail, and into our nice quiet tent in the silent forest, where we could get a good night's sleep.  We had learned, it was always cooler in the woods than it was down in town.
We went downstairs, because breakfast was at 7:00. When we sat down, we recognized the same girl that we had as a waitress at the pub last night, only now she was our waitress at Shaw's, taking our breakfast order. I guess that's life in a small town. Rebecca was her name, and she was young, bubbly and fun, and very full of energy for this early in the morning. She was kidding around a lot, and addressing the younger hikers as, "Darling," and they were loving it.  She was the kind of person you would need to serve a lot of hungry hikers at once. The two dining rooms were full. We were told to order using one number - that number would be the number of eggs, sausage, bacon and blueberry pancakes we would get on your plate. I ordered a four, but told her no pancakes, as I was allergic to gluten. The breakfast was "all you can eat," for $7, and if you ordered more, they'd keep them coming. I noticed most people had an extra serving of the pancakes, so they must have been really good.

Rebecca and our breakfast cook at Shaw's - it was delicious!

After we ate, Shaw's owner took us to the trail with another hiker named Keystone. Keith had visited with him a long time yesterday, and Keystone was on a northbound section hike.  Someone had stolen the sign for the 100 Mile Wilderness, so we didn't take a  picture there, but we went just a little ways down the trail, and there was a warning sign, so we posed by that.

We were both excited and a bit intimidated about entering the 100-Mile Wilderness.

The 100 Mile Wilderness is the last stretch before Mt, Katahdin, and it's remote, with no way to get more food without hiking back out, and no roads to speak of except a dirt forest road or two, so you have to make sure you start with plenty of provisions. This also means our packs were heavier than we had carried in a very long time. That's because somewhere along the way from Springer Mountain, Georgia, we had become educated hikers, and knew that we did not enjoy carrying more than about 5 days of food, maximum.  More than that, just became much harder on our bodies.  Ever since we had encountered our very first southbounder, all of the way back in New York, I had been interrogating them all with the same question - how many days of food did you carry through the Wilderness?  What was the Wilderness like?  Ironically, when the southbounders began the 100-Mile Wilderness, from the northern end of it, they had only been on the trail ONE day, as opposed to our SIX months - as you can imagine, a big difference.  Most of them admitted they had not brought enough food, or that they had carried 8-10 days worth of food.  We had decided, knowing our capabilities, that we could probably make it through in 7 days, and possibly 6, if the weather and the terrain was kind to us.  So we were all carrying 7 days of food, with an extra cereal or tuna pouch thrown in just for good measure.
We started hiking, and didn't even go a quarter-mile before we hit a creek we had to ford. We traded boots for Crocs and crossed with no problem, as it was neither deep nor swift.  Later in the day, we had to cross a deeper, wider stream, and this one had a rope strung across, so that helped a lot.  As you can imagine, that one was bit more challenging. 

Keith and Swamprat, fording the first stream of the day.

We had only gone a few miles into the Wilderness, when who should we meet but Boots and Melody - headed in the wrong direction!  They had made it a ways into the Wilderness yesterday, set up camp, only to find that Boot's air mattress had sprung a leak.  He was not willing to spend a miserable week sleeping on the ground, and so they had left their camp set up, and were hiking back to a place called the Hiker Haven, to catch a ride into the town, and hopefully get a replacement.  We had seen the sign for the Haven on the trail a ways back, but did not know what it was.  It had kind of surprised us, because we thought there was nothing located back in the wilderness.  Apparently there was  hostel of sorts located down a forest road, and it had been closed for a while, but had just recently opened up again, and were happy to help hikers.  Boots and Melody also jokingly told us that this was the fourth time they had crossed this section of trail, because on their first hike into the Wilderness, they realized they had left a bag of food in the refrigerator back in the hostel they had stayed at, and had to hike back out to get it.  Hopefully, this would be their last trip back to Monson.  We were so happy to get to see them again, because we were afraid they were going to reach Katahdin, and head back to Switzerland without the chance to say goodbye.
We crossed a lot of streams today, but all of the rest we were able to cross by rock-hopping, which is really nice, just because it's time consuming to keep stopping, changing into Crocs, and then back again.  We've seen some of the younger hikers just walk right through the streams with their boots on.  There seems to be two schools of thought on the trail with regard to this, and we tend to prefer dry feet, and dry shoes, so that has been our goal each day, to keep shoes, socks, and feet dry.  Dry feet are happy feet.
At one stream we needed to cross, there was a large tree that had fallen perfectly across it.  We had been told by a southbounder that he had walked across the log.  Swamprat decided to try it.  I knew there was no way I could walk across it and keep my balance, so I went ahead and forded the stream.  Swamprat made it about halfway across, but the water rushing under him, really messed with his equilibrium, and he ended up sitting down and scooting the rest of the way across.  Keith ended up fording also.  We were all happy to make it across with dry packs.

Swamprat crossing the log over Little Wilson Stream.

Today didn't consist of any real major climbs, but we had small hills all day long, so that by supper time, we were ready to call it a day. Also, carrying the extra weight in our packs made it a harder day than usual.
We passed  Little Wilson Falls today, which was much bigger than we expected, and really beautiful. It that was Little Wilson, I wish we could have seen Big Wilson!  We could have sat by that all day. We also passed five ponds today, and each one was just so remote and picture-perfect. No moose though, but we are still looking!

Beautiful Little Wilson Falls - this is just the top half of the falls.

The AT in Maine passes by pond, after pond, after pond . . . we were always looking for moose!!

We heard planes flying overhead all day today. Just down the road from Monson, the town of Greenville, Maine was having a seaplane gathering, and there were over 600 seaplanes gathered on Moosehead Lake. I think that would have been fun to see, and I know Keith would have loved it.  His parents don't live that far away, so maybe someday we can come back and see that annual event.
Since we had a little bit later start than usual today, and the days were getting shorter on us, we were running out of daylight as we were trying to find the shelter we planned to camp at.  We had to be getting close though, according to the AT Guide.  We passed a "100" that someone had created out of sticks and rocks right in the middle of the trail, and I pointed it out to the guys, knowing that this meant we were only 100 miles from Katahdin now.  I was amazed that it had not been destroyed from other hikers walking over it, because both guys had hiked right over it without ever seeing it.  We did a little high five all around, and kept hiking. 

A previous hiker had left us a message on the trail - only 100 miles to Mt. Katahdin!

We met a southbounder who was looking for the same shelter.  This was not good, because he had already just come from the direction we were headed in, and hadn't seen it.  We stopped and all pulled out the AT Guide to study it closer, and as we did so, another hiker came from behind us, up the hill from the large creek below, carrying a platypus of water, and no pack.  "What are you looking for?" he asked.  We told him we were looking for Long Pond Stream Lean-to, and he pointed up the trail.  "You're almost there - about 200 yards up the hill."  It turned out that the southbounder had just missed the sign.  Another hiker also came up the hill from the creek, this one with a strong German accent, and let us know that there was a great jacuzzi tub in the stream, that the small waterfall had hollowed out a big "tub" in the rock, and you could lay down in the "tub,"  have the water swirl all around you, and it felt great!  This sounded so good, as it had been a really warm day, but unfortunately, we were out of daylight, and it was a steep climb from the creek up to the shelter, which we were yet to find.
We went on up the hill and found Einstein and Foster's already there, and we had a happy reunion with them.  We had not seen Einstein since that day we were slowly and carefully coming down Mt. Moosilauke, and he came breezing by us.  They were in great spirits, and let us know that they had already been in the Wilderness for four days, and it sounded like they were in no hurry to leave!  They had already gone back into town for more food and beer!  As we visited with them, one by one, other hikers arrived to camp at the same shelter.  Swamprat found some good tent sites up the hill behind the shelter, and we quickly set up camp and ate before it got completely dark on us.
We had not quite made it to the place Keith really wanted us to camp, which was at the Barren Ledges, which was quite a climb up the mountain still.  There was rain in the forecast, and he was really just hoping we would get up and over the mountain on dry rock, rather than have to cross it in the rain.  Dry rock is always better than wet rock for walking on! We are not really fans of slipping and sliding down a mountainside.

We had heard that Maine was the "rootiest" state, and now we were believing it!

We were loving the way the trail through the Wilderness was routed around every possibly pond, stream and lake.  Can you spot the moose in this picture?  Neither can I.  I guess there's not one. 

(Camped at Mile 2084.8, Long Pond Stream Lean-to)
Only 99.4 miles left to reach Mt. Katahdin!
- Steady and F100

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