One of the many things I’ve gained from this experience is a heightened appreciation for technology, modern communications, and smart people.

Let me rephrase that: Austin is awesome. Seriously. You have no idea.

Austin glows with a progressive light that cannot help but extend to nearby areas. Free wifi is common. I can have a conversation about Node.JS with a stranger at the gym (neither of us being programmers). If I identify myself as a pastafarian I don’t have to explain what that means. That sort of thing.

Right now I’m in Duncannon, PA. I had big plans for this entry. I was going to show a lot of new pictures, summarize things, and start working on the next couple of entries. That was before I realized that the only computer available for use on a Sunday was made before George W. Bush took office. Understand that this is a simple statement of fact, devoid of exaggeration: Gmail is beyond this machine’s capabilities. It stalls at the little “loading” message.

Duncannon is the opposite of Austin. There’s nothing going on. The services you need are either not here or priced to insult. Everyone (and I’m sure I’m imagining this) seems to be overweight, slow-moving, and dull.

I’m getting the hell out of here. I’d much rather sleep in the woods than sit here and fight this machine anymore.

Things are good. Athena and I are making good time. Not worrying about when I’ll get back anymore…I’ll see family at Thanksgiving, and that’s the only part I’m concerned about. I look forward to the cold, though I’m also a little scared.

If I can I’ll throw some images into this entry with my phone after posting. Thank you to all who have helped me so much along the way. I’m just a bit under halfway done and flying now.

 

I’ve been talking to friends and family about what sorts of content I should be posting. One thing I haven’t talked much about is gear. Gear’s of interest mainly to other hikers, and I know that most of the (very few) people reading this are people I know, so I just figured I’d leave it out. On the other hand, maybe some hiker will one day read this and learn from my experiences the way I did with other hikers’ journals. It makes sense, then, to share a little about my stuff and what’s good or bad about it.

My first pack was a Gregory Z65. This is a fairly heavy (over 4 pound) pack capable of holding 40 pounds and more with relative comfort. It was the third pack I had tried on when deciding what to take.

Looking back, this seems incredibly foolish. A 65 liter pack? 40 pounds? Why? At the time I was completely inexperienced in backpacking, and my main concern was the 100 Mile Wilderness. I had to bring almost 20 pounds of food – or so I thought. There was no way for me to know then that I’d drop half of that food at shelters or hand it to other folks along the way. People who tell you to bring 10 days of food at 2 pounds per day have no idea what they’re talking about. Don’t listen to them. 8 or 9 pounds is really more like it.

Anyway, when I got on the trail I immediately understood how stupid it was to have a pack like that. I saw all these other people with tiny packs, some weighing just over a pound, and I was eaten up with hiker jealousy. Eventually my mom decided to help me with that, and I got an Osprey Exos 58. Its volume is only a little less than the Gregory, but I’m using an Enlightened Equipment 0 degree quilt, which takes up a disgusting amount of pack space. The 48 liter Exos would’ve been quite a stretch.

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This guy weighs around 38 ounces. There are way lighter packs out there, but I have reasons for what I do. The quilt isn’t the only thing in my gear set that takes up a lot of space, so having a tiny pack wasn’t really an option unless I intended to rebuild my whole kit. Also, Osprey is known for their stand-out customer service, especially as regards hikers. Many people I’ve met or known on the trail have had great experiences with replacing parts of their packs, or the entire pack in the event of a serious problem. These guys have your back. That’s probably the main reason why Osprey packs, and the Exos in particular, are ubiquitous on the trail. Once I test it on the trail I’ll give it more of a thorough review.

The shoes I came out here with were Salomon XA Comp 7 WPs. I didn’t realize I was buying a waterproof shoe at the time, and would not have bought them if I had. In a situation where water is unavoidable, waterproofing is a terrible liability, especially in the cold. You step in water, the water gets trapped in the shoe, and they’re wet for 3 days. If it freezes during the night, you have to put on frozen shoes. It’s a nightmare. Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t buy the Gore Tex hype. It’s only a good material for shoes if you’re going to encounter occasional water. Shoes like this are wholly inappropriate for the AT. Period.

They weren’t bad shoes, despite that. Except for one big problem I ran into (pictured below), they were very durable. They were extremely comfortable, as Salomons usually are for me. I did have an issue with them being slick, which I feel contributed to the several tens of falls and slips I had to endure, even when traveling on dry, textured surfaces.

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As you can tell from the image, the sides of that shoe are split wide open. The other one’s just the same. As a result they offered no protection against even small amounts of water.

Shoes wear out; it’s a normal thing, and I’m okay with that. I don’t expect miracles. My issue here was that this problem began 3 days into the 100 Mile Wilderness. The shoes were near-new at the time, and had under 100 easy (non-trail) miles on them. It just didn’t seem reasonable for them to start coming apart so quickly.

I called Salomon about it, and their response was fast and friendly. I sent in some pictures and provided some information on the shoes. Told them what I’d like to have if the shoes were replaced. In the email the warranty people sent me they said it’d be 3 or 4 weeks before anything came of it. That sat fine with me.

Then a few hours after I talked to them on the phone I got an email with a UPS tracking number informing me that a new pair of XA Pro 3D Ultra 2GTX USAs were on the way. Unbelievable! Hell, even if the shoes have the same sorts of issues that the XA Comps had, it’s still amazing service. If I could make it from Katahdin to here in those, I’m sure I’ll be fine! I’m impressed with how they handled this; the good things I’ve heard about their service seem to be totally deserved.

Running out of time on this computer! Time to type fast.

Got some new Keens to replace the old Salomons. No idea how they’ll work out! Will know soon.

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Spent a couple nights at Tom Levardi’s house and had a huge throng of NOBOs show up. Fun!

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Saw some rabbits.

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Got my first major trail magic from a guy named Bob and his wife Pat. I was trying to get a ride to an outfitter when he picked me up, let me shower at his place, did my laundry, made me lunch, and took me to get some new socks. The Arcadian Shop honored the Darn Tough guarantee without a word of complaint and hooked me up. Awesome place!

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Bob even stopped so I could take a quick picture at Herman Melville’s old place. Apparently Moby Dick was partially inspired by the nearby mountains, the tops of which reminded him of a whale’s outline.

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Met a crazy Catfox at a church in Cheshire.

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Spent a lot of time with Radagast and Moonshine.

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…..aaaaaaand walked around an art museum (Mass MoCA) in North Adams for an afternoon. I highly recommend it.

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That’s it. Phew! Just in time.

 

 

When I came down off of Moosilauke I knew it was the end of an era. Immediately the terrain smoothed out. The ground began to transition from a malevolent mix of boulders and roots to soft forest duff. I did a 19 mile day without any particular strain. It keeps getting better.

First some images taken in the Whites in New Hampshire. Didn’t get to post these before. Better late than never! They’re not really in order.

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Franconia Ridge.

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Trapper John Shelter. I stopped to do laundry.

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This is a hut. I described these a couple entries back, but had no access to photos.

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Rome here gave me a ride to the trail from Lincoln, NH. She through hiked last year. Thank you, Rome! You’re awesome! Sorry it took so long to post this!

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Mount Washington.

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Doc and Mapmaker. Ran into these guys in Rangeley originally, then again in the Whites.

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Norwich.

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Vermont’s a wonderland.

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Even in rain it’s a pleasure.

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The people leave trail magic.

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Even the fungi are interesting.

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A lot of these are halfway new to me…I took them weeks ago and haven’t looked at the camera since. Some of them look almost doctored to my eye.

The ones taken on mountains unnerve me a bit. They’re pretty, but you weren’t there when I took them. It was cold and wet, with relentless wind. Day after day…it was one narrowly averted catastrophe after another. That’s how it felt, anyway. I slipped on rocks all day, every day. I fell and rolled over and over. That I never got badly hurt seems vastly improbable.

By the way, someone remind me to never ever buy Salomon shoes again. I’ve been sliding around the whole way because of those terrible slippery soles. Seriously. These things have put me in real danger. No other hiker falls as much as I do. Maybe not all Salomons are bad…but my XAComp 7s are garbage and have been garbage since the day I bought them new. I cannot wait until I can somehow afford some new shoes. These are self-destructing faster and faster. I’m curious how many miles I can get out of them, though.

Things are great overall. I’m getting quicker. The land is a dreamscape around me. I’ve made some friends, but for the most part I like to hike alone.

I’m calling this thing done, for the most part. I’m in southern Vermont, and tomorrow or the next day I’ll pass into Massachusetts. Denise Boyd is sending me an AMAAAAAZING gift: a new pack that weighs a bit over half what my current one weighs. I’m incredibly excited. Losing two pounds by replacing one piece of gear is a major achievement. That means a much more fun hike for me…and a slightly better chance at succeeding in an incredibly stupid thing I’m going to attempt in about 100 miles.

I promise that in the future I won’t go so long without an update again, if I can avoid it.

I met Quiet a few weeks ago, came up behind him on the trail. His beard and hair were savage, flying around in the wind. He nervously pushed the matted locks away from his face as I introduced myself. He was skinny—too skinny. Used up skinny. He spoke like he thought he might accidentally provoke someone with a temper: not just with politeness, but with slow caution.

I’m Quiet, he joked. Didn’t see him again for a while.

Four nights ago I ran into a pack on the trail, blue, with red poles. Figured someone had some business to attend to. Thought nothing of it.

Later that night I was sitting at a shelter with five or six NOBOs when Quiet walked up holding his shoes. He pushed the hair back from his face, eyes wild.

Has…has anyone seen a pack? I lost my pack.

I stood up. Blue? Red poles? He nodded. I told him where his stuff was.

I really appreciate it. I got a little too fucked up. Spent a couple days walking around in the woods.

Every head turned. Someone behind me whispered something about a spirit journey. Someone else asked Quiet if he was okay. He said he was.

Is there anything we can do to help you? Food or water? I said.

No. Thank you. He turned and walked off. Later that night he came to the shelter to sleep, but left without explanation in the middle of the night, taking his sleeping bag.

In the morning he showed up, seeming lucid. I asked how far he intended to go that day.

Judging by my recent pace, I should end up back here or…back the way I came a few miles.

At least he has a sense of humor about it.

That evening I was with First Gear, Cozy, and some NOBOs at a different shelter. Quiet walked up to the shelter barefoot as I cooked dinner.

Has anyone seen a sleeping bag? His left hand moved to his forehead. I got confused. I think I left it in the woods somewhere off the trail.

I studiously avoided asking him why we’d be wandering around in the forest away from the trail.

Haven’t seen it, Quiet. Sorry.

I got nervous. Last night I felt like I was in danger. I had to leave the shelter. Took the bag with me. I was confused. Now I don’t want to be alone.

Again everyone was looking at him.

Of course you’re welcome to come stay in the shelter, Quiet. If you feel like you’re in danger, nothing’s going to bother you in here. If you’re cold you can use my jacket and gloves. I was thinking about him trying to sleep without a bag. Vermont’s not cold cold in the summer, but it gets chilly at night.

No, he said. It’s…it’s…

He trailed off. I felt Cozy’s eyes on me. I looked at her and shook my head just slightly. Quiet was still right there. First Gear said something. For a moment we pretended to have a normal bit of conversation as he stood like a statue in front of the shelter. He melted away.

Cozy’s eyes were huge. What the hell’s wrong with him? I made a dismissive gesture. She wouldn’t let it go. I’m a SOBO too. I should know. I explained to her what had happened the night before.

Quiet’s always been perfectly harmless. I talked with some other SOBOs about him. The consensus is that he’s on shrooms. I really think he’s fine. No one has had the slightest problem with him.

She looked spooked. I’m not sure I want to be around someone like that. We don’t know what he could do. Where are you staying tomorrow night?

I don’t blame her. I think he’s innocuous, but I don’t know that for sure. I’m also not a fifty something year old woman living out in the woods around a bunch of men I don’t know.

To be safe I told a caretaker about Quiet.

He could get wet and get cold, he said. Make sure word gets back to me if he looks like he’s really in danger.

Haven’t seen him since, but I’m sure he’ll show up shirtless one of these days and tell me he’s been living in a bear den for the last week.

The trail’s a weird place.

Edit: well, nevermind. He just walked into the library.
Did you find that sleeping bag?

No, but someone gave me a blanket.

Oh, right. I heard that NOBO girl gave you her blanket.

Yeah. Guess I’m ultralight now.

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The small silnylon bag that (I think) contains my camera’s charger doesn’t appear to be anywhere in my pack, so once again I’m posting only images taken with my phone. I’ll see if I left it somewhere else in the pack or maybe just order a new one.

I spent 3 consecutive nights in Gorham, NH, at the White Mountain Lodge. Marni, the owner, does a beautiful job of taking care of her hikers. You walk into the garage and hang up your pack and they have a curtained changing area right there. Within a couple minutes of arriving you have clean loaner clothes and you’re on your way to get a shower. She serves a great breakfast in the morning. Also they have a bunk room dedicated to David Hasselhoff. No kidding. Stop there if you get a chance. You’ll be glad you did.

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I’m in Lincoln, NH now. Spent the night before last on a bench outside a visitor center. Long story. I was so tired after that that I decided to make yesterday a zero and wound up at a secretive local hostel. If you’re hiker you probably know exactly the one. There I met Opie, a member of my original group, who hitched down the trail to do a section with his girlfriend. Thought I’d never see this guy again!

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Everyone I passed toward the southern end of Maine warned me about the Whites. Serious business! they said. Bring friends. Don’t go alone. The bears are more inquisitive; the trail is hard to see. 

The majority of my traverse of the Whites has shown, so far, nothing truly new except the abundance of tourists. The peaks are a bit higher; water’s a bit scarcer. You have to shell out a few bucks to the AMC at the shelters, which I don’t begrudge at all, considering the role that organization plays in maintaining this high-traffic area. Really, though, considering all I’ve been through so far, the area is nice but unsurprising. At times it’s a lot less than nice. I don’t think I even took a single picture from the top of Mt. Washington. It’s not really much of a view (though there are some views lower down that are entirely worth it).

The peak itself is kind of a slap in the face. You go into the building there and it’s just a crowd of overweight people eating pizza and snapping pictures. Children everywhere. Honestly, the whole thing was quite a let down. Someone asked me how it was the next day. Commercial and windy is all I said. That’s all it is. Going up Washington was a lot better, and I spent some time writing about that experience in my paper journal. If I went out there for a day hike I’d climb most of the mountain and turn back before reaching the top. That’s how tiresome the summit is.

I enjoy the fact that the huts keep their old registers. I spent a couple of hours reading over them at the Mizpah hut. You can sit there and read what was on hikers’ minds way back then.

 

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Huts are these little almost-hotels that the AMC runs in the Whites. The prices are pretty steep, but you get a night in a warm, clean bunk room and some good meals. The crew (or “croo”) of the hut puts on little miniature shows during meals. Through-hikers can sometimes work for stay, which gets them leftovers and a spot on the floor. Not a bad deal at all. The huts, being up in the mountains like that, aren’t on the normal power grid. They use alternative energy sources for their power. There’s no easy way to get things up there, so the workers have to pack things in and out.

I found the crews to be made up of extremely loud and fairly uninteresting people. No one seemed to have anything to say about anything at all except work and other people in the crew. Another AMC employee I ran into (not a crew member) seemed to suggest to me that the crews see hikers as almost less than human.

You’re not you, he explained. You’re just the hundredth hiker they’ve seen today. There’s no time for empathy.

Sounds pretty creepy. It’s cool that the AMC bothers to offer work for stay, but I think I’d rather pitch or find a shelter in the future.

I’m nearly out of the Whites. A few more days will see me past Moosilauke, the last big mountain in the area. Every NOBO I pass tells me I have a cakewalk ahead of me: nearly two thousand miles of flatter, less stressful terrain in parts of the country where hikers are more appreciated and food/hostel prices are lower. That sounds perfect. Can’t wait for some actual summer weather…haven’t been swimming a single time yet.

I leave you with the view from Gentian Shelter, right before going into Gorham. A storm was building over the valley. No matter how many times I see scenes like this I never tire of the fairytale beauty you find up in the mountains.

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Around 2:30 yesterday afternoon I arrived in Gorham, NH. I asked a northbounder where to stay, and he immediately suggested the White Mountains Lodge and Hostel, which is right there on the trail when you get into town. The people are friendly and the house is nice. I’ll probably stay another night before hitting the Whites.

This last section has been a good challenge. Going down Old Blue Mountain was a chore; near the bottom I saw this sign. Guess I’m not the only one with mixed feelings about that particular mountain.

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At the end of the day I went up Hall Mountain. I was running out of snack foods and my blood sugar was low. I steeled myself and swallowed the last of my Skittles before heading up. After a while I stopped to grab a liter of water and rest for five minutes. I continued on. I passed a sign indicating that a side-trail led to a privy, but it didn’t hit me until I saw the shelter that I was on the top. A tough looking older couple was there drinking tea.

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Didn’t realize I all the way up! I said. The woman laughed.

Yeah, ’cause you’re broken in! she said.

And I guess it’s true. Finally. That was an ascent of…I don’t know, 1600 feet maybe. Even tired and hungry it wasn’t much of a mountain. To put that into perspective, Nesuntabunt (the first mountain in the 100 Mile Wilderness) has a prominence of a third of that. It seemed like quite a difficult climb at the time. I’m gasping for air less; my legs hold up very well. Haven’t had any sort of foot problem for a while, which is great because for two weeks I had severe pain from something I’d done to my right foot. Everything seems to be working well now.

Rita and Ron are 76 and 79 years old, respectively. Many years ago they took their 5 children camping in New Hampshire. They passed a shelter, and a through-hiker started talking about the trail. They had heard of the AT, but knew little about it. The through-hiker told them they needed to hike the whole thing, but they had careers and young kids; it wasn’t an option. Twenty-odd years later, in 1992, they were camping near the same spot, this time without their kids. Again a through-hiker struck up a conversation about the AT.

On the way home that night, Ron brought it up. We should do that one day he said. A few days later Rita was washing dishes and thinking about it. She began to like the idea. When were you thinking about doing the trail? she asked Ron. The following March they began their northbound through-hike, just in time to experience the Great Blizzard of 1993 in Georgia. They braved snow nearly as deep as Rita is tall, but made it through. This year they’re doing section hikes, and they hike in the White Mountains nearly every week. I believe them both completely capable of doing another through-hike, and to be honest they seem to be in better shape than a lot of us who’ve been out for a month, both mentally and physically. We talked for a while, then they packed up and continued on. Really interesting folks.

Stack and Thor are holding up well. Thor believes he’s lost 40 pounds or more, and aside from the salt and pepper beard Stack’s showing his 57 years less and less. Here he is looking lean and mean as we cross a road. We keep getting separated, but every time it happens I’m back with them a day or two later.

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I’ve also spent a lot of time with a guy named Carl and his kids. Carl retired from the army a couple of years back, and now he’s spending time with Zachary (11, left) and Sebastian (9, right) by through-hiking the trail with them. I apologize for this picture; it seemed to look fine on my camera. There’s no editing software on this computer. I’d download GIMP and work on it, but don’t really want to hog the machine any more than I have to.

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They’re great company. The kids’ packs weigh quite a bit – somewhere around 20 pounds, I’m told. It’s disgusting how much energy kids have. These little guys hike all day with no complaints, and when they get to wherever they’re camping they’re always running around gathering firewood and playing. I first ran into them a day or so after leaving Monson, but I’d been hearing about them for the whole way. Right now they’re somewhere behind me, as Sebastian apparently got sick. Hopefully we’ll run into each other again.

Spent my first night at a shelter run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. It’s 8 bucks to stay, but that’s pretty reasonable in my opinion. They often have caretakers (like Kate here) on site, and have metal boxes for keeping food away from bears at night. Kate gave me a piece of mail to take to another caretaker at a site further into New Hampshire. Guess I have that mailman look about me.

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Please ignore the hiker gear explosion in the background.

Okay. Stack just informed me that I’m “being weird” because I’m blogging instead of doing other things. I’ll try to do another short entry before I head into the Whites.

I leave you with a cartoon I saw on a wall in Andover. It’s amazingly accurate. I spend a lot of time being the trail…

 

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Many people have helped me get here, and are helping me along the way. I keep hoping to find a convenient way to work a big list of names into a post, but really, there’s no reason not to have a post dedicated to just this.

My mom, Denise Boyd has been tirelessly supportive from the day I first mentioned to her that I wanted to do the trail. Long before then, when I talked about wanting to travel as a kid, she encouraged that desire. She helped me organize all sorts of details, helped plan my food and food drops, and continues to help in many ways.

Elton Boyd, my dad, has done the same exact thing. When I called him up to talk to him about this (I remember very well – I was sitting in a Taco Cabana in San Marcos, TX) I thought there was a decent chance that he’d admonish me a tiny bit and suggest that I finish my bachelor’s degree first. He didn’t. He said that if I wanted to do it he would do whatever he could to help, and he has.

Jeremy Boyd, my brother, reacted the same way.

My aunt Connie Price Smith showed an enthusiasm I absolutely did not expect when she learned about this trip. She’s been very encouraging, and has sent some incredible food drops with all sorts of interesting things in them. Eating the same thing over and over drives you nuts, but I don’t have to worry about that. Sweets, sesame sticks, asian soups…the variety’s great. I’ve gotten comments from other hikers about the stuff she sends. I can’t express what a huge difference this makes.

My cousin Sarah Mack and her husband Casey Mack hosted the party my family had for me right before I left. It was great to have it at her beautiful house. Loads of people showed up. Just a wonderful experience.

Jay Guerra, prooooobably the best friend I’m ever likely to have, tolerated my endless talk of the trail from the beginning of our friendship. He set up the donation site to help fund the journey. He’s taking car of my car (the one Jeremy Boyd gave me last year) and doing work on it so it’s in better condition when I get it back. He showed up (along with my dad) to help me move, and let me use his storage unit.

Sage and Matthew Talavera supported this from the start. They helped with gear advice, helped me figure out my medical kit (what was needed and what wasn’t), and are babysitting my motorcycle for me. Matt has already done some work on the bike, fixing an electrical issue I was too lazy (what? I’m an honest person) to ferret out.

I haven’t eaten all day and I’m about to go grab some lunch…will likely amend this post, and it won’t be the last time I gush about the people who made this whole endeavor possible. The generosity you guys show amazes me. This is not all the people who’ve helped me, and I’m sure once I leave the library I’ll immediately stop and slap myself for forgetting someone who did major things for me.

Thank you all.

I just completed what is apparently one of the most difficult stretches of the AT in Maine. It begins with Crocker Mountain and finishes with Saddleback Mountain. For me the hardest climb in the section was Poplar Ridge, the area where northbound hiker Geraldine Largay disappeared and likely died last year. I spent the night at the lean-to where she was last seen. Last I heard was that she left the trail for some reason and no
one knows more than that. Sad story.
At that particular shelter I found a little booklet written by the man who has maintained that section of trail for nigh twice as long as I’ve been alive. It included a photo of him as a young man lounging on the deacon seat (the large horizontal timber at the front of AT shelters – a new term to me) right where I happened to be sitting. It was taken in 1956 if I recall correctly. The booklet featured various trivia and information about the shelter and that section of the trail. I read it from cover to cover.
Most if its contents was responses to questions he’d been asked over the years. Are there any bears around? Why’s the privy so far away? That sort of thing. I was engrossed in this little piece of trail history.
One of my first thoughts was that he ought to make the booklet more widely available. It would be trivial to share the material on the web. More people would see it and possibly take interest. It could indirectly lead to more interest in the Appalachian Trail Club, the volunteer organization that so selflessly maintains the trail.  He addresses this in the booklet, though. People have asked him to post the various editions of the booklet on the internet before, but to him it’s something that should be just between him and the hikers. I can’t say I agree, but I respect his opinion.
That section was a 3 day thing for me. At 32 mikes it seems like I could have easily done it in 2 days, but trail miles don’t tell anything about the terrain. This was up and down the whole way, with multiple 4,000 foot peaks. It’s only going to get harder from here, at least until I hit the end of the White Mountains in New Hampshire.
I’m already more than halfway through the most challenging terrain on the trail; over a tenth of the journey is over. Weird. It hasn’t been easy, but I don’t want to think about the end of this thing. It’s been…superb.
Random facts:
1. I lost my favorite shirt, a red plaid one. At least no one will call me Al Borland again for a while…right? Right?
2. I’m learning to cook quinoa. Poorly.
3. I haven’t seen any moose. Damnit. I’ve seen two bears, though, both of which were terrified of me and ran away.
4. I’m super slow and not concerned about that fact.
5. I’m carrying around a pack of Marlboros because someone gave them to me; I’ll give them to the next person who asks if he can bum one. I’ve carried them up and down 3 mountains, ’cause I’m an idiot.
6. My trail name is Multi for reals. I’m up for getting a new one, though. People keep calling me Moldy.

Today I’m in Rangeley. I spent the night at the Hiker Hut, run by Steve and Catherine.

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It’s super simple. Just a bunk house, some gardens, a fire pit, that sort of thing. Catherine makes jewelry, paints things, and studies Sanskrit and Egyptian spiritualism. Steve’s been an athlete, a philanthropist, and many other things. He spent two months in complete silence in a cave in Tibet one time. I swear I’m not making this up.The hut’s right on a stream. They make breakfast in the morning over the fire and the hikers sit around and talk.
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Steve’s brother makes these.

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A painted rock, one of many.

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Shinbones, a very fast and very young SOBO hiker.

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Crazy full hiker box. There are like 20 meals in here…or maybe 7 or 8 hiker meals.

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Steve and Catherine.

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I don’t normally use phrases like “good vibes”, but there are really good vibes at the Hiker Hut. Friendly people, great conversation – I’m staying a second night. Just couldn’t leave this morning! This is the best I’ve felt so far on the trail. It’s like some kind of dream. I hoped to find people like this, places like this, but I didn’t expect to find them so soon or in such abundance. We sat on the porch last night and talked. In the group was a chemistry professor, a McDonald’s store manager (of 30 years), a 17 year old just out of high school, a British guy who came to the states just for the trail…all kinds. Talked about everything from science denialism to fantasy literature.Steve took me into Rangeley yesterday so I could do laundry and some other stuff. I had my pack on at the time, and stopped to buy food for the next few days. He later saw me in town and volunteered to take the pack back to the hut for me so I didn’t have to carry it around. I was blown away.Steve and Catherine are wonderful. If you get a chance, please stop by and see them. They’re in the AWOL guide. Don’t call that number, though…AWOL made a mistake and gave the number of some woman in Massachusetts. They’re on the right, .3 of a mile west along state highway 4 – west is to your left if you’re northbound and you exit the trail onto the highway.
Just now, as I write this, Steve walked into the library and handed me the charger to my camera. I had left it in the previous town, Stratton, and called Sue at the hostel where I stayed. She wasn’t sure if the charger was there, but Steve had to go into Stratton anyway, so he stopped by and found it. That’s just the kind of guy he is; that’s how he thinks. I cannot recommend them more highly. 
The rest of the town is similarly charming. I wandered around a bit today in the rain.
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To the locals this is all very normal, I’m sure, but to me it’s just wonder after wonder. I love the little houses.

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I love the stream going through town.

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The businesses.

 

 

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The library is the best part.

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They have the biggest beehive I’ve ever seen just hanging there from the ceiling.

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One side of the yard’s dominated by gardens.

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All sorts of interesting things inside. Pictures of trustees. Artifacts and displays.

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Wandering around this place on a rainy Wednesday morning with no one around was exactly what I needed.

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I don’t want to go home. I have to find a way to return to Rangeley when all of this is over. It’s just sublime.

This is the view from Saddleback. Somehow the view is tilted; I thought the phone would correct for that. I had never done a panoramic shot before. I’ll do better next time.

 

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It’s been a while, I know. Turns out that in Maine – at least on the AT – it’s hard to find a computer and a decent internet connection in the same place.

I left off at the end of the Katahdin climb. My plan was to present the journey through the 100 miles in a start to finish narrative, but I can’t seem to make that happen, so I’ll just pick out some moments from it. If I have time (I’m in a library with a time limit on computer use) I’ll try to get up to the present day.

On the first day in the wilderness in my group did 14 miles. Opie, the fastest guy in the group, kept asking us if we wanted to do more. It was a ridiculous question. None of us were in trail shape. We barely made that 14 miles. I didn’t even eat that night. I slept in my tent behind a lean-to and woke up every time a leaf fell.

Earlier that day we had done our first river crossing. It was hair-raising, but not (as I later learned) as bad as far as Maine crossings go. I sat down and, having hiked for three hours at that point, started to make a snack. One guy saw what I was doing.

What are you eating? he said.

Another guy turned to me.

You’re eating lunch? 

I hesitated a moment. Uh, well, I’ve been going for three hours. Good time to eat something.

After the next crossing is a good time to eat something, said one guy.

That group and I did not stay together long. People who question when or what you’re eating generally aren’t good companions. You eat when you’re hungry. It’s really a fairly simple matter.

Three days in I met Joey. Yes, he looks exhausted and fed up in every photo I have of him.

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Joey’s a Mainer – excuse me, a Mainah - who wanted an adventure. The 100 miles was more than he expected, though. His gear was heavy. He had at least twice as much food as he needed. His stove ran on firewood and had to be fed constantly with twigs.

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Joey was great company, but he left the trail 3 miles before the end of the 100 miles by using a logging road to get to the nearest town. Long distance hiking isn’t for everyone. I wish him the best.

People had told me previously that that section is one of the most beautiful areas on the trail, and I found this to be true. It was, however, treacherous. The Maine Appalachian Trail Club maintains the trail and various improvements on it, like bog bridges and privies. Without them it would be a much slower, much dirtier hike. The MATC does great work. I’ve left them thank you notes.

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They also have a sense of humor.

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For the most part I went shelter to shelter, avoiding using my tent. It’s not that I hate tenting…I just love the shelters. They keep you warm or cool, have fire pits out front, and…well, you can’t really beat that view.

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The bugs loved me.

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I found a broken pole halfway up White Cap Mountain. Carried it up and over and down, fantasizing about finding the one guy in the next town with a single pole of that same design and confronting him. Lose something? I’d say. It didn’t work out, though. That thing was heavy, and eventually I began to feel silly carting it around. Left it at a camp site. Maybe someone else will take it the rest of the way into town. I did my part to keep trash off the trail! In fact when I made it to Monson I had over half a pound of trash that wasn’t mine in a little baggie. People thought I was nuts. I just hate seeing trash out there.

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People leave all sorts of things laying around the shelters or sitting on the side of the trail. You wouldn’t believe some of it. I’ve found tents, tarps, hammocks, weapons, food (so much food!), clothing, fishing gear…saws. I don’t know why people bring this stuff out there. What do they think they’ll be sawing? What use is deodorant in a forest?

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This is the southern terminus of the 100 Mile Wilderness. It just comes out onto Maine 15. You pass a pond and go up a bit of an incline and there you are.

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My hostel in Monson picked me up so I didn’t have to walk into town. There are two hostels in town, a good restaurant, and a gas station that has a pretty good resupply. Lakeshore Lodge was where I spent most of my time. Cheers and Roadkill are caretakers there…great people. Made me feel very welcome. There’s free kayaking, a restaurant under the hostel, and a bar. What else could a hiker need?

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Monson is probably the coolest little place I’ve ever seen. Everywhere you go the people are friendly and glad to see you. If I ever return to northern Maine, I’ll make sure to stop by again.

Since the Wilderness I’ve been hiking with Thor and Stack. Stack’s a former army ranger, and Thor’s his son. He’s thinking about joining the army, so he’s getting in shape on the trail.

Met this little guy going up Avery Peak on Bigelow Mountain on 6/19.

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There are other people who need to use the computers, so I’ll wrap this up. I’m now 188 or so miles in, and have done about 14 mountains. Soon I’ll have my trail legs, which just means my legs will be in trail shape.

I’m traveling with Thor and Stack most of the time, but I’ve met lots of people, and I’m beginning to understand how this thing will play out. People move past each other all the time, only to fall back again. There are lots of people who move roughly the same pace as me, people I see every couple of days now. Sky Chicken’s in Stratton, the town I’m in now, somewhere. Blue Velvet and The Gardener are right next to me at the library. These are people I expected to be way ahead of me on the trail!

Again…these entries are done on shared computers. I have to type them out quickly. Hopefully in the future I won’t have to try to summarize almost 20 days in a single entry.

On the whole, everything is going well. I’m getting faster, getting used to doing long days and going without much rest. It’s been great fun so far, but very challenging. I fall a lot. That’s one thing no one ever mentioned. I fall all the time. In Maine the terrain is appalling, with mud everywhere, roots that form loops that you step into and trip on, slippery rocks…everything works against you. A northbounder I met named Cloudwalker assured me that after making it from Katahdin to the end of the White Mountains in New Hampshire I’d be through the most difficult parts of the trail and ready to fly on the easier terrain ahead.

Today I weighed myself. I’ve lost 20 pounds in 20 days. I’ll probably lose another 20 over the next month.

I lost a pair of socks. My shoes are falling apart. My shorts have the crotch ripped out. Everything else seems to be working fine. My 0 degree Enlightened Equipment sleeping quilt is unbelievably warm. I fight to stay cool under it while everyone else shivers in their sleeping bags.

I’ve become very good at fire starting. That took a while.

Haven’t decided where my next mail drop spot will be, but I’ll try to come back tomorrow and do another quick entry and update that. If nothing else I’ll figure out where that drop spot will be and update the site on my phone.

Other people seriously need to use the computers. Gotta go!

Miscellaneous pictures:

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Moose prints!

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A hiker register. Maintainers use these to keep track of who’s on the trail and where they are.

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Olivier, a French Canadian hiker.

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Sky Chicken, the hiker who gave me water up on Katahdin! She’s easily the toughest hiker I’ve met. She had hip surgery just before coming out onto the trail.

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Tea.

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The Kennebec River is postcard-lovely.

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Sterling Inn Great Room.

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Nope. Gotta find a way around that…no way I’m jumping it.

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Thor, Stack, and David Corrigan. David runs the little ferry across the Kennebec River outside Caratunk, ME.

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Thor.

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Steaming shoes after a long day.

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Rainy, slow day. Time to eat + ibuprofen, ibuprofen, ibuprofen, ibuprofen, ibuprofen, ibuprofen, ibuprofen, ibuprofen, ibuprofen. – ROCKETMAN SOBO

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Sasha, who belongs to Blue Velvet and The Gardener.

 

 

 

So far I’ve gone about a quarter million steps. I’m not factoring in steps taken while in camp, taken while lost and cursing at myself for walking in a dream-state and losing sight of the trail for half a mile. Or that time my fucking water bottle fell off my bag and rolled several hundred feet down White Cap Mountain. That was a fun one.

Anyway. I’m out of the 100 miles. At 12:02 yesterday I heard cars on Maine 15 ahead of me. Trucks come up the hill at highway speeds and labor to the top, hammering down to a groan. It’s a weird thing to hear when it seems like you’re deep in the woods. Felt great when I emerged. Could’ve gone all day.

Getting ahead of myself, though. Let me get my journal and summarize the first day.

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Katahdin exists in these separate phases, and when you’re in one you’re not really aware of the others. I never realized mountains were like that. You see them from twenty miles away or look at them on a map, and they’re just these big plates of rock. When you’re there it’s completely different. You’re in this little world of leaves and rocks. You can’t talk to anyone. If you screw up you have to deal with it. You cut your knee on a jagged edge and it just bleeds and you stare at it and think, How do I undo this? But you can’t, obviously.

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It’s a woods walk at first, slowly ascending. Some of my group ran ahead; some were behind me. I startled the biggest deer I’ve ever seen in my life going up a stone staircase. The forest was denser than anything I’ve ever seen, made up mainly of deciduous trees. After half an hour the trail entered an old stream bed that rose steeper than anything I’ve ever tried to climb. The stream had been diverted through parts of it, but at other times it ran along the bed.

Steap stream bed.

 

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It went along like this for an hour. A chunk of ice probably 5 meters long blocked the way at one point. I carefully edged around it. The trail was steeper and steeper. Often I had to lift myself up with my arms, as there was no way to walk up the rocks. I thought of my mom talking about want to do the trail.

Ice.

 

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Do not do this. Never try to do this. Never never never never. This is what I’ll say if she ever mentions it again.

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I don’t see how any person could make it up that thing without some serious upper body strength. People have done it…mainly with others’ help. I’m in pretty good shape, and this path approached impassibility at times.

I thought I was almost to the top when the trees gave way to a rocky slope. Moving through this area was as much about climbing as walking. Over and over I had to lift myself up onto rocks with my arms. I stopped to make a short video illustrating this at one point. I told myself I was almost done constantly. Someone came down the way toward me.

Tell me I’m close, I said. He looked back.
Not halfway. I thought he was lying.

After an eternity I heard a voice to my right: You know you’re off the trail, right?

GOD DAMNIT. Water was running out. I licked the sweat off my arm more than once, dirt and all. Couldn’t afford to be off the trail.

Are you serious? There was a blaze right in front of me.

Yeah. Not far. Come back down. The trail used to go that way, but they changed it like fifteen years back. People had trouble with it.

I backtracked and took the other path, cursing. Why hadn’t they removed the blazes if the trail was moved? Downright malevolent, that…

This rocky ascent leveled out finally. I stopped and drank the last of my water. Ahead was something I couldn’t accept: a rocky slide twice as steep (it seemed) as anything before, long, looooong, leading up to the tableland. I stared. Couldn’t accept it. Out of water, sunburned but cold, I put my jacket on to keep the wind off me. The slide was too steep for walking. This was hands and feet territory. Bloody knee and knuckle territory. Any mountaineer would laugh at it, but I’m not a mountaineer. I was truly scared. I put my hiking poles through my belt like a sword and went on.

I won’t try to explain that climb in specifics. Just think of pain, fear, thirst, and a great effort to avoid looking down. That’s all it was.

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A very calm looking older man came down past me, moving at twice my pace.

Tell me I’m close.

He stared at me a moment.

An hour and ten minutes, but it gets easy in twenty. 

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I pushed on and pulled myself over the last rock. The tableland was indeed easy, but I was dangerously dehydrated. I made the summit and tried to smile for a picture. I began to panic in little increments. Could I call a ranger to bring me water? Did anyone have any to spare? Everyone else seemed just as thirsty. Surely I was being a wimp. There was supposed to be a spring at the top, but I hadn’t seen anything.

I started down, muscles cramping up. Thoreau Springs was right there, right plainly there in the middle of the trail. I had walked past it. I dug in my day pack for my water purification stuff. No. Nononono. It wasn’t there. I sat down and pretended to adjust my shoes while I debated drinking straight from the muddy water everyone had walked through.

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Sky Chicken and her husband came up behind me.

You need water? Oh my god.

I’m out.

Like, out out? I nodded.

Completely out. I should have brought four liters.

She pulled out a bottle. I handed her mine. She poured it in. I said something appropriately thankful and assured her that one day I’d repay her.

It’s nothing. It was everything.

I drank it and started down. This period, like the steep scramble, doesn’t deserve description. When I got down to the stream I drank straight from it without a thought, knowing it could harbor protozoa. I dunked my head in and tried to relax. Opi and I sat for a few minutes there.

I’m on a couch in a hostel right now using their little netbook to type this out. I think I might be hogging it. Don’t want to be that guy.

Edit: I feel like I complained through that whole post. That wasn’t what I meant to get across. It was an intense thing, but it was fun in a way, and it was part of getting to the next part of the journey. Here are some pictures to show a bit of the reward.

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Further edits: I’ll generally be writing these entries quickly on shared computers in libraries and hostels. There will be mistakes. If you let me know about any big ones I’ll try to fix them.

Will post about the 100 miles when I can! For now it’s kayaking time.