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Rangeley to Katahdin Stream Campground
Volume 46: Fri October 31, 2003
The last time you heard from me, I was on Saddleback Mountain, admiring my first view of Katahdin and the end of the Appalachian Trail. But still being 214 miles away, there’s still plenty of adventuring to be done.
From Saddleback, I headed down to Poplar Ridge Lean-to for the night. Perhaps not entirely surprising, there were no poplars to be seen on Poplar Ridge. It got the name nearly a century ago after a large fire burned through and poplars did grow in abundance, but as the forest aged and matured, the poplars left for sunnier places. Or something like that.
The next day I planned for a long hike of nearly 20 miles over rugged terrain. It was non-eventful until I headed up Crocker Mountain where I planned to stealth camp somewhere between the north peak of the mountain and the road that headed into Stratton. My handbook showed two reliable sources of water in that distance. It was wrong. Perhaps the week or so since the last rain, the creeks had dried. Fortunately, I carried plenty of water to survive the night in comfort, but I really, really wanted to abuse the water. I wanted to drink gallons of the stuff. I wanted to wash dishes. I wanted to wash clothes. I wanted water and enough of it so I could use and abuse it. So I continued on. After all, I had a headlamp now that I picked up in Rangeley and if it got dark while hiking, I shouldn’t have any trouble.
A whopping 23.4 miles later, I wandered into the Cranberry Stream Campsite and was shocked by the huge number of thru-hikers camping there. Probably close to 20. And the place didn’t even have a shelter! I’m not a big fan of crowds that large while camping outdoors, and unhappily set up my camp. It was too dark and I was too tired to continue any more that day.
If there’s one good thing about all the people, it’s that many of them were hikers I hadn’t seen since way back in Virginia and it was great to catch up to them after so long. One of them was even a hiker I had last seen my third day on the trail way back in Georgia. So it was nice to catch up on the trail talk with them.
Having done such a long day, I planned to take a short 13.5 mile day the next day. I laid around in my sleeping bag waiting for everyone else to go before getting ready myself. I wanted to put some distance between myself and such a large group of hikers.
The trail headed over Bigelow Mountain and Avery Peak—the last 4000 footer of the Appalachian Trail. It seemed like I was reaching milestones on a daily basis now.
Then the trail winded down to Little Bigelow Lean-to, just beyond the 2000 mile mark on the Appalachian Trail. To be exact, 2000.1. I’d done it. I’d hiked over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. Wow. Another major milestone. All the other thru-hikers were patting themselves on the back for a job well done, although I was puzzled since most of them had skipped as many as 20 miles of the trail whenever a blue-blaze provided itself, so they hadn’t actually hiked 2,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Not yet, at least. But they were patting themselves on the back as if they had. And perhaps after hiking so far, what’s twenty miles, more-or-less?
Most of the large group I ran into stopped at this shelter, but they kindly made a campfire for the evening—the first I had enjoyed since Vermont. It’s always a wonderful treat when somebody builds a fire, because I’m usually too lazy or tired to make one myself after a full day of hiking.
The next day the terrain was relatively easy (at least compared to the rest of Maine I had already completed) with no major mountains to climb over. I had finished the infamous mountains of southern Maine! At the West Carry Pond Lean-to, I met the guy who maintains that section of trail. He arrived via canoe and brought in beer, sodas, food, and even the makings for hamburgers. It looked like there was going to be a feast for whoever stopped that night at the shelter, but alas, I had a schedule to keep and continued on. I ended the day at Pierce Pond Lean-to, a shelter with an incredible view overlooking Pierce Pond.
The next day I hiked out to the infamous Kennebec River. The water level on this river rises unpredictably quick due to a dam upstream that releases water automatically when power generation is needed. My guidebook warns that one section hiker drowned while trying to ford here in 1985, and there have been several close calls by other hikers fording the river.
Looking over the river, it looked deceptively safe to ford across. Of course, the dam wasn’t letting a lot of water out so the water level was low and slow moving. In minutes the water could rise by several feet and become a raging torrent. To ford here would be risking death.
After much debating on solutions to this problem, the powers that be decided to provide a ferry. Ferry, in this case, is an important sounding word that means canoe. The official AT route requires hikers to ride in a canoe across the river. That 0.1 miles would be the only part of the trail I didn’t complete on foot. Ironically, if I had, I’d be disqualified as a thru-hiker.
More importantly, though, I got to paddle around on a canoe for free. =) I signed the required waiver promising not to sue in case I died in a freak accident during the next five minutes, put on the life vest, and jumped into the canoe. Not wanting to even go a measly 0.1 miles on the trail without SOME effort involved, I volunteered to pick up a paddle and rowed across. I casually asked the ferry operator if any hikers had inadvertently tipped the canoe along the way. He gave me a strange, distrusting look, but answered that no, nobody had ever tipped the canoe before. I smiled and nodded, and wished him luck on getting through the hiking season without any such unfortunate accidents.
Safely on the other side, I continued my trek and headed into Caratunk located a quarter mile further up the trail. I stopped at the Caratunk House where I ordered a cheeseburger and milkshake—perhaps the best I’d ever eaten along the trail—and also gobbled down a pint of Ben & Jerry’s (mint chocolate chip!), an orange soda, and a Kit-Kat. I also picked up a few more Pop-Tarts to get me through to my next resupply point.
I stopped for the night at Pleasant Pond Lean-to and watched yet another beautiful sunset over the lake.
The next day was another beautiful, rather uneventful day where I continued to get peeks at Katahdin along the way, slowly growing larger and larger. Unfortunately my string of good weather was at last nearing an end as reports of Hurricane Isabel approached. While Maine wasn’t expected to get the brunt of the hurricane, weather forecasts predicted lots of wind and rain in the coming future. I stopped at Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to for the night, well-protected from any of the predicted rain that was supposed to arrive during the night.
I’m going to repeat a story I heard at this shelter, as told by Monster. You might remember him when I shared a hotel room with him way back in Pearisburg, Virginia, although he never managed to do anything so spectacularly stupid as to make him memorable. The story begins with a guy named Lion King. I’ve never met Lion King. I followed his journal entries for months then managed to pass him when he stopped in a trail town that I did not, so our paths never crossed. But as the story goes, Lion King was at a shelter with Monster and Leapyear (among others), around the campfire, and announced to the other thru-hikers that there’s a pickup line that NEVER fails. Naturally, the other hikers inquired, "Well, what’s the pick-up line?"
And his response: "Look a woman straight in the eye, and say, 'I wanna go down on you, right NOW.'"
Of course, everyone laughed and said you’d more likely be slapped in the face than have success with such a crude pickup line, but Lion King insisted that he used it twice and had glowing success both times. But the line was so absurd, the use of it was called 'dropping the bomb'.
The story does not end here, though. Later, Leapyear was taking advantage of Hike Naked Day (the first day of spring, in case you’re interested). He was alone, in a relatively remote area, and figured, why not? So he’s hiking down the trail, naked. Then up ahead, he sees a woman hiking in the other direction. What to do?! Too late to hide, too late to get dressed, he says hi. And so he starts chatting with the woman. She didn’t seem the least bit disturbed at the fact that she was talking to a naked guy, so he figures, why not? He dropped the bomb. 'I wanna go down on you, right NOW.'
Nobody is really sure what happens next, except that Leapyear scored big time. He was seen two days later, delirious from things such as 'unlimited Internet access' and 'showers' and a 'soft bed' to sleep in. After that, Leapyear's reputation was established as 'The Man.' He dropped the bomb and lived to tell about it. He was a legend on the trail.
I woke up the next morning to a lack of rain, although it was misty and looked like it would threaten to rain at any moment. I was heading into Monson that day, though, a measly nine miles away, and I hoped to reach it before the rain started. Even if it did rain, at least I’d be able to dry out in town.
I wasn’t on the trail for ten minutes before a steady rain started. I slogged through the muddy trails well enough. Despite the valiant efforts of my umbrella, I grew progressively more and more wet. By the time I reached the highway into Monson, I was soaked through. I must have looked pathetic, which—on the plus side, I thought—was bound to help me with my hitch into Monson. =)
After double checking the correct direction into the town (I wasn’t going to repeat my mistake and hitchhike the wrong direction), I stood by the side of the road, with the umbrella protecting me from the rain, and stuck out my thumb. I was at it for about five minutes before I car coming from Monson pull over into the nearby parking lot honking its horn to get my attention. Ironic, I thought, here I am—POSITIVE I’m hitching in the correct direction—and some guy coming from the wrong direction is trying to pick me up. Very strange, indeed.
As it turns out, the guy in question was Keith Shaw, owner of Shaw’s Boarding Home and Hiker Hostel. He drove out to the trailhead to drop off another thru-hiker—Leapyear, as it turned out—that had stayed at his place the night before. To my good fortune, Keith was heading back into town to the very spot I wanted to go; that is, his hostel. Leapyear and I said hello and goodbye—it was the first time I’d seen him since Vermont, but I told him that I heard he had 'dropped the bomb' before he headed into the woods and I out of them.
Keith is famous on the trail. He picked up a hiker, more-or-less by accident, back in 1977. As news of his trail-friendly ways spread, so did the number of hikers wanting to stay with him and the hostel was born. Since that first hiker he picked up, he’s welcomed more than 36,000 hikers as of now.
But I was slightly alarmed when I jumped into his car and noticed the oxygen tank resting between the driver and passenger seats. Keith is probably in his seventies by now, and looks every year of it. Is it safe for people that need oxygen tanks nearby to be driving? Later, I would learn that he’s had around half a dozen heart bypass surgeries and other scary stuff I can’t even comprehend.
On the three and a half mile drive back to Monson, I watched him closely, ready to grab the wheel at the slightest hint of a heart attack. He was a very friendly talkative fellow, though. At the outskirts of Monson, he pointed out where The Pie Lady (another hostel thru-hikers frequent) is, then added, almost as an afterthought, "But she’s a real bitch. Major bitch." Then he proceeded to follow up that observation with town gossip about a videotape taken by a neighbor of the Pie Lady cursing and swearing through a window of her place at a thru-hiker outside. I never saw the video, but I can't imagine it would help her buisness.
At last we arrived at the hostel. I was in Monson. The last trail town of the Appalachian Trail. Just a measly 100 Mile Wilderness and Mount Katahdin left, and I’d be done! But first.... I took a shower, washed my clothes, then headed out to resupply my provisions. Later that night, I watched The Negotiator on television. And the good news: The rain was supposed to stop that night. For a hurricane, Isabel was pretty lame.
I ate a hearty blueberry pancake breakfast then Keith drove me back to the trailhead and the start of the infamous 100-Mile Wilderness. There’s a sign there warning about this being the most remote section of trail and nobody should enter without at least ten days worth of food. It’s a very scary looking sign, and I stood there, reading it, with a measly six days worth of food—excruciatingly heavy compared to the usual four days or less worth of food I’d usually carry leaving a trail town. I took a deep breath and charged into the woods.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the 100-Mile Wilderness isn’t as wild as it once must have been. In less than a mile I passed Old Stage Road. Another half mile after that I crossed some powerlines. Halfway through the day I crossed over a railroad track and got to listen to the clickity-clack of a train passing by. I’d pass another six roads (gravel, but still roads) before the day was out. This was not my idea of a wilderness!
At the first shelter, Mothman had written in the registry that when Keith took him back to the trail, he had told Mothman that his daddy "had a 15 inch penis". And Mothman wrote, "Why did he have to tell me this? WHY?!!!" I laughed but wondered why he had to tell *us* that! (Probably for the same reason I told you, I suppose.) Throughout the rest of the 100-Mile Wilderness, Mothman would continue to write entries of nightmares starring 15 inch penises and such. I think Mothman may have suffered serious psychological damage from this event.
The next few days were rather uneventful, but nice. I hiked over White Cap Mountain, my last 3,000 footer of the trail, and Little Boardman Mountain, the last 2,000 footer of the trail on the same day. One interesting registry entry by Space Monkey (a hiker I never managed to meet) at the Carl. A. Newhall Lean-to described his unfortunate accident where a privy managed to lock itself on the outside while he was doing his thing on the inside. Using his survival instincts, he managed to flatten a coffee can flat enough where he could slip it through the door and unlock himself after spending what may be the worst half hour of his life locked up.
I caught up to Leapyear again, where he explained to me that to drop the bomb successfully, you must say "I wanna go down on you, right NOW" like you’ve never said it before. Understandable, I suppose. For it to work, it’s not the words that count, but how you say them. Interesting information, but I think I’ll leave dropping the bomb to the professionals.
Contrary to popular belief, there is a small camp store about halfway through the 100-Mile Wilderness where one can resupply, although I skipped it since I had plenty of food. And I was doing my best to average 20 miles per day in order to meet Amanda in Baxter Park. I went into the 100-Mile Wilderness with six days worth of food, but I was planning to get through in just five.
On my last full day in the 100-Mile Wilderness, near Pollywog Stream, I spotted my second moose, a creature God made a mistake on but was allowed to prosper anyhow. It was another female, which I was disappointed over since I really, really wanted to see a bull moose with its rack. Not on this trip, I’m sad to say.
I made it through the 100-Mile Wilderness in the five days I wanted to, and spent a sixth day hiking out to the base of Katahdin. I arrived at the Katahdin Stream Campground and headed into the ranger station where he filled out some paperwork about my plans to head up Katahdin and forms for me to send in to the ATC headquarters in Harper’s Ferry to log a successful thru-hike. He also told me that I’d be the one hundred eighty-something thru-hiker to reach Katahdin.
I also told him I was planning to meet Amanda—if all went well—that day. But I hadn’t been able to talk to her since nearly a week before in Monson. And I had no way of contacting her to let her know I arrived at Baxter Park nor of her contacting me to let me know she was in the area. The ranger radioed to the front entrance asking if Amanda had arrived in the park yet (she hadn’t) so he left a message for her there that I was wandering around Katahdin Stream Campground like a lost dog and needed help. Okay, maybe not in those words exactly, but something to that effect. =)
Then I headed out to a picnic table where I waited for Amanda. During this time, several thru-hikers that had summited Katahdin would come down where a round of congratulations went around. For them, the trail was over. Completely and totally done. And I had a measly 5.2 miles left before I could join their ranks of successful thru-hikers.
Baxter State Park is an unusual park. There are no paved roads in the park, no telephones, and not even any running water. Anyone camping at the Katahdin Stream Campground is expected to get their water from the stream itself. All pets are prohibited—even if they stay locked inside your car. It’s as if the development of the park was stopped at the turn of the century, and then only in this small section of the park. The rest was designated wilderness—a true wilderness, unlike the famed 100-Mile Wilderness that I had just passed through. The park was given to the 'citizens of Maine,' which is why Maine residents don’t have to pay a fee to get in while everyone else does. If you’re from out of state, though, you might slip through by renting a car with a Maine license plate, which is what Amanda did.
Amanda arrive several hours later, and she took me back to Millinocket where we got a hotel and I could get cleaned up. I deliberately did not shave my six-day old stubble since I thought the rugged, manly look would be much better as I posed at the top of Katahdin. I was a thru-hiker, and I wanted to look the part at the top of that mountain and the end of the Appalachian Trail.
The next day was overcast and drizzly, while the weather forecast showed partly cloudy skies the day after that. So instead of heading back to Baxter Park the next day, we went into Bangor and looked for Stephen King’s house. On a cold, wet, drizzly day, it made a lot of sense at the time. =) We had learned from a local paper that he lived on West Broadway and his house was surrounded by a wrought-iron fence formed into snakes and other dark creatures. Surely we could find it!
We found Broadway easily enough since it went right through the middle of town, and started driving vaguely west on it figuring it was bound to turn into West Broadway eventually. We spent a half hour doing this without much success, and finally gave up. Instead, we ate at Pizza Hut, hit the library and some bookstores, then back to Millinocket.
At long last, I was going to finish the Appalachian Trail. Amanda and I woke up early, September 24, 2003. It wasn’t exactly clear outside, but there were patches of blue sky and we had high hopes of a fantastic day for summiting Katahdin. We drove out to Katahdin Stream Campground to complete the last 5.2 miles of the Appalachian Trail. There it was, looming in the distance.
But I’ve written enough for now, so you’ll have to wait until my next installment of Ryan’s Great Adventures to see how it all ends.
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