A Ryan Carpenter Production

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Gorham to Rangeley, Maine—the last state!

Volume 45: Thurs October 16, 2003

A view! A view! Another view!

Ah, yes, Gorham. Arriving at Highway 2, I set to work at hitching a ride into town. It was only 3.6 miles away, but it was getting dark and I wasn’t inclined to walk after such a long day. So I stuck out my thumb and waited for somebody to pick me up.

A couple of guys in the parking lot asked if I was heading to Gorham—a stupid question, I thought, since where else would I be going? But I kindly nodded the affirmative hoping they might offer a ride.

"Well," they explained, "Gorham is the other way."

I considered the implications of that statement. The only thing that would be worse, I thought, is if I was actually standing next to someone with a T-shirt that said, "I’m with stupid." I mustered up what dignity I could, put on my best "Yeah, I knew that" face, crossed the street, and stuck out my thumb once again.

About ten minutes later—possibly out of pity—one of the two guys in the parking lot yelled out to me that he’d give me a ride into town. Of course, I gladly took this kind man up on his offer and had myself whisked into town.

I checked into the Hiker’s Paradise, a hostel where the owner, Bruno, listed off the ground rules in a heavy, impossible to understand, Polish accent. I nodded whenever he paused, hoping I hadn’t just sold my soul away without knowing it. He handed over some bedsheets, a pillowcase, and a towel and made some gestures out the door, presumably trying to explain how to get to the hostel. I smiled, waved, and said thank you, then headed outside to the hostel.

Eventually I managed to find the hostel, although I was surprised to only see a few senior citizens sitting around chatting—no other hikers. I knew there were a lot of other hikers in town, but apparently they made other arrangements. The hostel was rather cozy with a kitchen, bathroom, and television—everything a thru-hiker could possibly ask for. I claimed one of the bunks for myself then tried to watch television.

'Tried' is the operative word. It didn’t take more then ten seconds to learn that one of these old-timers chatting away had an opinion about everything—and I mean *everything*—and it was his intention to make sure everyone knew all of his opinions. A jackhammer couldn’t drown out this guy.

When I arrived, he—let’s call him Tom for lack of a better name—Tom was in a deep one-sided discussion with another elderly gentlemen about how to write the Great American Novel. Obviously, he knew his stuff because he was unknown to myself and staying in a $15 per night hostel. Nothing screams success like that.

Fortunately, Tom—being elderly as I said—couldn’t stay up past 9:00 to save his life. Which is a good thing, because it may very well have saved his life as I was already plotting ways to dispose of his body if the insanity didn’t end soon.

Campfire were not allowed at Full Goose Shelter, so Mellow Yellow decides to roast marshmellows over an open stove.

The next morning I checked out and headed into town to resupply—something that took the better part of eight hours. Somehow I managed to find myself reading books, chatting with other thru-hikers in town, and generally loitering and wasting time. So it was I found myself sitting at McDonalds, 4:00 in the afternoon, without a ride back to the trailhead. I walked back down to the Hiker’s Paradise where I checked in once again hoping and praying that Tom wouldn’t be back for a second day of torture.

He wasn’t. In fact, nobody was there. I had the entire hostel to myself, and I joyfully flipped channels on the television admiring the modern miracle called the remote control. Just because I could, I turned on the oven and baked a cake for dinner.

It rained that night—a hard, depressing rain—and I stayed in bed until it stopped. But I had miles to do and I already wasted a complete day the day before, so I asked Bruno for a ride back to the trailhead who enlisted his wife, Mary Ann, to drive me out.

The hike that day was foggy, but otherwise uneventful. I wandered into the Gentian Pond Shelter a couple of hours before sunset where I made myself comfortable and cooked an amazing meal of macaroni and cheese.

The next morning it was sunny and clear. I headed down the trail in a good mood knowing that the Maine border was less than five miles away. At long last, I’d be in Maine.

When I did arrive at the border, it seemed strangely anti-climatic—sad even. I took a seat on a log a few feet from the sign marking the Maine border, lounging around New Hampshire while I could. From the very beginning I always imagined reaching Maine, striding in triumph like the victorious gladiator. It was my last state, after all. I did it. I hiked from Georgia to Maine. Nearly 2,000 miles. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yeah, there was still 281.4 miles of Maine left to hike, but that’s nothing compared to the staggering 2,000 I’d already hiked.

When I crossed my first state line from Georgia into North Carolina, I yelped with joy. Literally. I couldn’t help myself. Even with others there, I made a fool of myself shouting and doing a little jig. And at that point, I hadn’t even done a hundred miles yet! Reaching the West Virginia border was a big milestone too, after over 500 painfully long miles in Virginia, *any* state was a welcome change. And again, I punched my fist into the air and whooped for joy.

And now here I was, sitting on the Maine border, and rather than feeling joy at reaching this momentous occasion, I was feeling melancholy. I’m such a sap. It was also around here where I noticed the first signs of fall starting to show. The first leaves starting to change into their yellow, golden hues. The occasional leaf floating through the air and landing on the trail. Fall was approaching, which only added to my melancholy feeling. It was as if the trail was telling me that the end was near.

A few other hikers caught up while I sat there—Kodiak, Hepcat, Takereasy, Mellow Yellow, and Stretch—among others. But I felt like being alone at the moment, so I continued on while they stopped to celebrate their arrival into Maine.

The terrain of southern Maine is considered very strenuous by AT standards, and it didn’t take long before the rumor proved itself to be true. I hiked up Goose Eye Mountain, a fact I mention only because I love the name. The trail winded up and down steep mountains, frequently requiring the use of hands to scramble up or down slick rocks. At the end of the day I headed into Full Goose Shelter.

The next morning I woke up and prepared myself for the infamous Mahoosuc Notch, or more commonly called The Notch, since if there’s one notch on the trail that can be called The Notch and everyone knows what you’re talking about, this is the one. It’s considered by many to be the 'hardest mile of the AT', and the Mahoosuc Arm just after it isn't much better.

The Mahoosuc Notch is famous for the enormous boulders litering the trail and often the trail winds through small openings under the boulders

I was still feeling a bit melancholy that morning—until I reached The Notch. Oh what fun! I’m not sure I’d call it the 'hardest' mile of the AT, but it’s certainly some of the slowest going. The notch is strategically placed between two very steep mountains where large, house-sized boulders fell from the surrounding cliffs crashing into this notch and creating a natural obstacle course as you tried to figure out the best way around, over, or even under and through the massive boulder field. After a few minutes, I realized my trekking pole was quite useless on this terrain, and for the first time ever on the trail, I collapsed it and put it in my pack.

This part of the trail, I decided, is an absolute must to hike through with somebody else. Not so much because I was afraid of hurting myself—although this would certainly be an easy place to do so—but rather because it’s so much fun laughing at others trying to pick their way through the mess. At one point, the trail went through a small hole under one of the massive boulders—so small I had to take off my pack to fit through, pushing myself through all sorts of contortions before finally extracting myself from the other side, a bit muddy from the process. I felt this would be an excellent place to wait for Kodiak and friends to catch up (I knew they weren’t far behind) where I could laugh at them trying to make their way through and take lots of pictures.

I wasn’t disappointed, either. I first saw Kodiak on top of the massive boulder, with a puzzled expression as he tried to figure out how to get from where he was to where I was fifteen feet below. I pointed down to the small hole at the base of the boulder, "That’s the way! There’s even an arrow spray-painted on the rock pointing the way!"

He disappeared from view and checked out my suggestion. I heard some vague mumbling and cursing from his direction. "I can’t fit through there!"

We argued a bit about that—my saying it was the only way, he had to do it, him complaining that it was impossible. I suggested to him to take off his pack and push it before him, which ultimately, is what he had to do. Mellow Yellow came next, though he had done The Notch before and didn’t have anything to say about the strange contortions required to make it through.

Mellow Yellow crawls through an opening in the notch. Arrows were painted onto the rocks so people really know, yes, that's where the trail goes!

But it was Hepcat that was most fun to watch. Hepcat is a 'purist'—a term for thru-hikers that feel it’s necessary to carry a full pack every step of the way. No slackpacking. Not even up Katahdin where you aren’t even allowed to camp. So the others heckled Hepcat that he had to squirm his way through the opening with his pack on, because otherwise he’d just be another slackpacker. Kodiak upped the stakes by offering to buy him a beer in the next town if he succeeded in getting through with his pack on. Mellow Yellow upped the stakes even more by saying he’d shave half his face if Hepcat could make it through with his pack.

"Yeah, you better have that beer ready and razor sharpened, ‘cause I’m going through!"

I really didn’t think he could make it through while wearing his pack—I couldn’t, and I’m not exactly fat. He surprised us all—Mellow Yellow most of all with visions of a half-shaved face—by doing just that.

"You fuckers! Told you I’d make it through!" he said, then pointed to Kodiak, "You owe me a beer in Andover!" And then turned and pointed to Mellow Yellow, "And I want to watch YOU shave half your face!"

Mellow Yellow immediately started thinking contingency plans explaining that he didn’t say which half of his face it was going to shave (the top half!) and Hepcat accusing him of being a bet welcher (which was true). Hepcat swore he’d hold Mellow Yellow down himself and shave half his face if necessary.

By now Kodiak had already continued on, and we heard more cussing and shouting coming from his direction. Takereasy asked what he was doing.

"What the fuck do you think I’m doing?! I’m following these fucking arrows through this fucking hole under the fucking bolder! FUCK!"

I sensed that The Notch was wearing thin on Kodiak.

Two hours and one mile later we finally made it out of The Notch, exhausted, dirty, and exhilarated. It really was a lot of fun.

The others stopped to rest, but I continued on up Mahoosuc Arm, a steep 1,000 foot climb much like most of southern Maine. After five hours of strenuous hiking, I’d only managed to complete a pathetic five miles of trail. But I hadn’t had so much fun on the trail in I don’t know how long and my spirits were high.

Maine, hands down, was the prettiest of the states!

The weather was fantastic. The views from the mountain tops were superb. And scenic lakes dotted the landscape all over the place. Maine might sport some of the toughest terrain on the trail, but it was quickly turning into my favorite.

I headed into the Frye Notch Lean-to where I found Stretch and Find Me already making themselves comfortable. By the time I arrived, it was around sunset and I ended up eating a dinner of Pop Tarts, gorp, and other assorted snacks that didn’t require cooking due to lack of light.

By now, the sun was setting remarkably early, and one person told me that we were losing about four minutes of daylight every day. And it was then I realized, I needed a headlamp. I’d come nearly 2,000 miles without needing a light, but I needed one now. Back in Georgia I’d hike ten or fifteen miles and end the day early and go to sleep exhausted by the time it got dark. In the height of summer I could hike 20 or more miles and still make it into camp with plenty of light to cook dinner and set up camp. But now in Maine, I was still conditioned for hiking 20-mile days, but there was no longer enough light left at the end of the hike to do such important tasks such as cook. I needed a light.

But seeing as there weren’t any stores around to buy one, I put it on my mental to-do list for the next trail town I hit.

The next day I spent hiking with Stretch, discussing such important issues as best movies, best-looking actresses, best actresses (not to be confused with best-looking actresses), and so on. As we were passing Surplus Pond, we broke apart briefly—me to relieve a bulging bladder and Stretch to Gold Bond some chaffing in a place I’d rather not see. And that was when I heard a couple of kids in canoes yelling out to Stretch—I was out of sight doing my thing—if he’d like to drop by their cabin for a visit. Stretch, after his heart rate died down from the unexpected intrusion, said sure and started walking down to the lone cabin along the water. I joined up. This might be some serious trail magic in the works, and I wasn’t going to miss out!

It wasn’t our intention, but we ended up spending three hours chatting with the owners, Sue and Mike, who had bought the place a couple of weeks before. They’d been fixing it up to their liking when they spotted us hiking by and asked their kids (who were already canoeing around the pond) to invite us over. We told wild stories about the trail, and they fed us a lunch consisting of a beef stew, sodas, and frozen peanut butter pie. (Oh, how I loved that pie....)

It’s a wonderful, cute little cabin along the pond, but—and I don’t really understand real estate or the legal aspects of this—because it’s along the Appalachian Trail, the powers that be want to raze the cabin and will have the legal authority to do so in seven years. Now I’m all for wilderness areas and all, but there’s already roads up to this place, and that lone cabin on the pond gives it so much more character than the billion other cabin-less ponds I’d be passing in Maine, and I couldn’t see the harm of leaving it be. Especially with such nice, friendly people using it, thru-hikers everywhere would consider it more an asset on the trail than an eyesore. In their quest to wildernize the Appalachian Trail, I feel like the power-that-be are frequently missing the forest for the trees.

Takereasy and Matt admiring the view of Rangeley Lake... or is that a pond?

But eventually, Stretch and I needed to move on. We said our goodbyes to the kindly couple, pushed on over a couple more mountains, before we set up camp at Sawyer Notch. Originally it was my goal to reach the next shelter, but with the unexpected three-hour detour and lacking a headlamp, this was as far as I could reach before dark. It worked out well, though, since there was actually a picnic table available to work on—something all the shelters had been lacking for quite awhile.

The next day, Stretch and I headed on, catching up to Takereasy (who had passed us while we were gorging ourselves on frozen peanut butter pie), along with Matt and Laura, a couple of pseudo-thru-hikers. They started the trail somewhere in Vermont and happily blue-blaze or even skip small sections of trail that they’d rather avoid. They don’t make any secret of their hiking habits, though, and refuse to go by any sort of trail names. Nice people, though.

The trail climbed multiple, strenuous mountains, and even more ponds along the way. In fact, Maine’s ponds are as beautiful as they are numerous, but those beautiful ponds are filled with leeches. Yes, leeches. Leeches, needless to say, became a frequent topic among thru-hikers while hiking through Maine. And for those brave individuals that would actually swim in a pond (I was not one of them—not with man-eating leeches loose!), there was more than one joke about leeches attaching themselves to very private places among their anatomy.

Another common topic of conversation in Maine is what, exactly, is the difference between a pond and a lake. For all the hundreds of ponds we passed, there were startling few lakes—although plenty of them sure looked that way to me. The best I can tell—in Maine—if there’s a body of water smaller than the state of Rhode Island, it’s called a pond. If it’s larger than the state of Rhode Island, then it’s a lake. In one trail town, I took a look at one of their maps and noticed the Atlantic Ocean was labeled 'Atlantic Lake.' You think I jest, and I do, but just barely. On hazy days, you wouldn’t even be able to see the opposite shore of these so-called ponds. Absolutely huge, they are.

An expected scenic moonrise awaited us at the Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to. That body of water may look like a lake to you, but they call those ponds in Maine.

I ended the day at Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to. After cooking dinner, I headed down to the pond to stock up water and saw the most beautiful moon rise of my life. It was a full moon, rising above the pond, right at twilight when the first couple of stars have come out, but it’s not really quite dark it. It was mesmerizing. I quickly filled my water bottle and headed back up to the shelter to grab my camera and told Stretch to get his camera—and perhaps a couple of rolls of film—and get down to the pond, because there were some pictures he needed to take. (As a side note, earlier in the day he had been heckling me for not taking enough pictures at all the mountain tops and would blow through a whole roll of film where I’d take just a single picture.)

So we trotted back down to the pond, taking lots of pictures. Then we sat down on a boulder and just watched the moon rise. Hypnotized. A few minutes later Takereasy came trotting down the trail with water bottles clanking. Without so much as a greeting, noticed the moonrise, put down his water paraphernalia, and mumbled to himself, "Fuck it, now I have to go get my camera," turned around and left.

I pretend to catch the moon! Do I look cold? Because I think I'm cold in this picture. I sure look cold. Or at least warm, but bundled up from the cold.

Stretch and I laughed heartily at that, but it seemed so perfectly apt under the circumstances. It was the kind of setting that—even at great inconvenience—you couldn’t help ignore. Takereasy came back shortly with his camera, took his pictures, then joined up on our moonlit vigil.

Eventually I headed back to the shelter where I went blissfully to sleep.

The next day I hiked into Rangeley, once rated as the 50th best vacation spot in America by Rand-McNally. The first thing I did—which is *almost* always the first thing I do when I get into a trail town—is head for a payphone and use my Pocketmail device to check e-mail. I found one, conveniently located downtown, dialed the number—and nothing happened. My Pocketmail device didn’t utter so much as a peep. I tried to turn it on. Nope. I shook it. (That always works in the movies.) Nothing. I tried turning it on again, and it reset itself but actually went on. But all the e-mail I had to send and I had gotten disappeared. Then it turned off again—by itself. This was a distressing development, to say the least.

I needed to call customer service, but unfortunately didn’t know the number and all my documentation for the darn thing was in California. So I did the next best thing—I went to the library across the street and went to Pocketmail’s website and found a customer support number.

So I headed back to the payphone and gave them a call. To make a long story a bit shorter, the guy at the other end determined that the software was corrupt and needed to be replaced, but I’d have to mail them the thing to get it fixed. I’d also have to include a proof-of-purchase.

"Look," I said, "I am hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’m not carrying a freakin’ proof-of-purchase on me. I can’t even get to a proof-of-purchase until after I finish the trail, at which point I really don’t need the thing anyhow. Why do you need a proof-of-purchase? Isn’t my having the damn thing proof enough?! You think I stole it or something?!"

Despite whining, begging, and pleading, they were relentless. I needed to mail a proof-of-purchase with it. So off I headed, back to the library to see what I could do. Maybe I could find something online to prove I paid for it. The first problem I faced was that I couldn’t remember the name of the company I bought it from. However, I did remember I paid for it using a credit card, so if I could check my old statements online, it would see who I bought the device from.

I logged into the Discover Card website and got the following message: "Our site is currently down due to technical difficulties. Please try again later." Technical difficulties?! TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES?! I said, pointing to my chest with both index fingers—I AM HAVING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. Skittles, another thru-hiker at the computer next to mine turned and asked if I was okay. DO I LOOK OKAY?! DO I?! DO I?! DO I LOOK OKAY?!

I took a deep breath. I pulled out a large hunk of hair. I took another deep breath. Okay, that wasn’t going to work. Instead, I surfed the web, checked e-mail, and the usual sorts of things I’d normally be doing whenever I finally get to a library—going back to the Discover Card site every half hour or so hoping they’d have fixed their technical difficulties. After about two hours, I was able to get in. I found the statement where I bought it, and printed the statement out.

Then it was off to the website of the company where I actually purchased the product, hoping I might be able to find some sort of online invoice, but alas, I failed miserably. So I went back to my payphone—I was starting to get on a first-name basis with this payphone now, and called up the customer service department again.

"Does a credit card statement count as a proof of purchase? It doesn’t show exactly what I bought—just who I bought it from—but it does show I paid money to the company I bought it from!" The guy I talked to didn’t know if that was sufficient and went off to ask a superior. He came back and said that would be good, but make sure it includes the date of purchase, the name of the company, and how much I paid them.

Another nice picture of Maine. I have a lot of those!

I hooted for joy then dashed off to the post office before it closed and mailed it to the electronic hospital where all electronic devices go to die: San Jose, California.

The Pocketmail problem was now out of my court and out of my hair. If there’s one good thing I could say for it, I wouldn’t have to carry around the eight ounces it weighs anymore.

Not having eaten anything for lunch yet, I then headed to the Red Onion Restaurant—mostly because I liked the name of the place. =) I ordered a bacon cheeseburger (with fries and coleslaw on the side) from a cute waitress with an exotic, foreign accent. The burger came quickly, which I ate with gusto. Finished with that, I found that I was still a bit hungry and decided to splurge. When the waitress returned to check up on me, I pointing to the white board behind her and said, I want that: A slice of apple pie. She asked if I wanted it with ice cream. Ice cream? I could have it with ice cream? Ohhhhh.... I was in heaven, let me tell you.

Finally taming my appetite, I paid the bill then headed across the street in search of gear. Particularly, a headlamp and one sock liner if it was available—though I’d buy two if they wouldn’t let me buy just one. (I lost the other sock liner a few days before when it was dangling off my pack, drying out, which then left me with only three—unacceptable.) I found both, although I had to pay for two sock liners. They wouldn’t even consider negotiating for just one.

Then it was off to the laundromat, where I changed into the cleanest clothes I had and washed the rest. Pulling my clothes out of the dryer, though, I sadly learned that two more stock liners bit the dust, having shrunk like shrink-e-dinks making them stiff, small, and unwearable. I threw them away. I was once again down to three sock liners, less than an hour after I upped the number to five. Maybe it was meant to be.

And finally, my last chore for the day—resupplying my food. It was off the supermarket where I strolled up and down the aisles listening to the music being piped through the store (always fun). Outside the store, a ate the pint of Ben and Jerry’s best I picked up, and then repacked the rest of my purchases into ziplock bags.

Then it was back to my favorite payphone (I was calling her Abagail now)where I called the Gull Pond Lodge—a hostel a couple miles out of town, but will come by and pick up hikers. So I called asking if there was room for another hiker (there was) and if I could get a ride out there (I could), then sat on the curb and waited to be picked up.

This hostel is amazing. It’s charming. It’s cute. And there was a mint on my pillow. What else could I ask for? It’s located on the edge of Rangeley Lake and the owner even provides a canoe—free of charge—for anyone to take out on the lake. When I arrived it was already long after dark, so I spent the night watching Zoolander—a traumatic event that haunts me to this day.

The amazingly good weather continued the next day, and I was anxious to continue my trek. The trail passed by more lakes: Ethel Pond, Mud Pond, and Eddy Pond before heading up a strenuous climb to the top of Saddleback Mountain where one could see more than a hundred miles in every direction. Also, from this perch, I could see Katahdin. The end of the Appalachian Trail, at long last, was in sight. It was faint, far in the distance, but unmistakably Katahdin, only 214 trail miles away.

And that seems like an upbeat note to end this adventure on, so you’ll just have to wait until my next adventure so see how the rest turns out.

Carpe diem!

— Ryan

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