Thursday, October 27, 2011
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Monday, October 3, 2011
- I took time off before, during, and after Hurricane Irene, and lost some of my steam.
- I was tired, mentally and physically, of the trail.
- The trail was slippery, and steep, and tricky. Also, I fell down a lot.
- My feet were wet. Actually, everything was wet.
- I was missing my friends and family sorely. This isn’t to say that I wasn’t also enjoying my trail friends, but there’s nothing quite like spending time with the people who know you to the core of your being.
- It was pretty, and there were a lot of rocks to sit on and stare off into the distance. For someone who is particularly skilled at brooding, this does not exactly speed things up. Likewise: PEAK FOLIAGE! LAKES! CANOES! VIEWS FROM THE TOP!
- Every step was bringing me closer and closer to the end. And finishing things is not my strong suit.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
I've been taking as many side trails as possible the past few days, and consequently am now four mountains shy of completing the Maine 4,000 footers list. While I was detouring 1.7 miles to the summit of Mt. Abraham I ran into some lovely trail maintainers who told me that when they saw me coming they started wondering if I was a thru-hiker or a peakbagger. Their conclusion was that, based on the size of my calves and the speed at which I was moving, was that I was a thru-hiker. I laughed when they told me this, and then admitted that at least for the time being, I was both. Mt. Abraham was quite possibly the best detour I've taken so far, as both the climb up to the summit and the view from it were lovely. The trail maintainers that I shared the summit with were able to point out both Mt. Washington and the ever elusive Katahdin (which was my first view of the peak). Both seemed impossibly far away, even though, I guess, both are technically within walking distance.
The last few days have been particularly epic. On Monday I reached the 2,000 mile mark, and spent the night camping at Avery Memorial Campsite, which is located between the two Bigelow peaks. The campsite is within 0.3 miles of both summits, so getting to see both sunset and sunrise was easy. My group and I packed out ingredients, so we celebrated becoming 2,000 milers by drinking beer and cooking steak, potatoes, veggies, and blueberry cake with cream cheese frosting. It was quite possibly the best dinner I've ever packed out of town (although it was VERY heavy and consequently is unlikely to be repeated). (I find it funny when I look back at my early blog posts and see how skeptical I was about people who packed beer out of town. While I'm certainly not packing out a six pack of beer, carrying one beer out of town isn't as big a deal as I used to think. Also, my pack no longer weighs 47 lbs, so carrying an extra 12 oz of beer isn't as crippling as it used to be.)
It took me the better part of two hours to say goodbye to Avery Peak, my last 4,000 footer until Katahdin. From there I descended to the shores of Flagstaff lake, which I had the pleasure of observing from several thousand feet for the previous two days. While eating dinner on the lake a bald eagle soared directly overhead, before crossing the lake and landing on a pine tree on the far shore. I had been contemplating pushing on after dinner, but made up my mind to stay put then and there. I spent the first half of the night cowboy camping on a stone beach about five feet away from the water (best half a night of sleep on the trail), and the other half hunkered in my tent as a storm rolled over (not the best half a night of sleep on the trail, sadly). I almost spent yesterday on that beach; the combination of wildlife, sense of peace, and lack of evidence of society was deeply thrilling and calming. Also, the loons kept paddling back and forth in the water, crying out in the most chilling and beautiful manner. Instead, however, my hiking partner and I decided to book it to Caratunk to avoid today's bad weather. This was both a great and poor decision, as it meat that we had to haul ass to make it to the ferry on time.
Ferry, you say? There's a ferry on the AT?
Why yes! As it turns out, the Kennebec River is dangerous to ford, and the official AT route involves arriving at the Kennebec between 9 and 11 or 2 and 4 pm and taking a canoe shuttle across. The Kennebec is controlled by a dam upstream, and water releases are unpredictable and can cause the river to rise rapidly. Given the flow of the current and the width of the river (and being a bit of a wimp about quickly moving water) I doubt that I would attempt to ford it even if it was considered "safe."
Anyhow, Cotton and I were in the process of making it to the ferry by 2 pm (Note to Mom and Dad: Look! I'm no longer opposed to arriving early for things!) when I got distracted by East Carry Pond. There was swimming (followed by the unpleasant discovery that there were leaches lurking among the rocks of the pond, despite the clear water), lunch, and some laying around letting the sun bake my skin, when all of a sudden I looked at my watch and realized that we had to MOVE. And MOVE we did: I set us up at a rather fast pace, and we booked it the 10 miles from the pond in 3.5 hours. While at first it felt AMAZING to be moving that fast, I became a bit disheartened as we passed an additional beautiful pond and some gorgeous waterfalls, all with no time to spare for lounging and taking in the scenery. We ended up making it to the ferry at 3:58, but at the expense of not enjoying a beautiful stretch of trail. I guess I'm just going to have to come back and do that section again.
I want to leave this last quote with you, as it's something I want to keep in the back of my head as I go about traveling my last 151 miles. Myron Avery, the first person to hike the Appalachian Trail, had this to say about Maine in his book "Into the Maine Woods":
To those who would see the Maine wilderness, tramp day by day through a succession of ever delightful forest, past lake and stream, and over mountains, we would say: Follow the Appalachian Trail across Maine. It cannot be followed on horse or a wheel. Remote for detachment, narrow for chosen company, winding for leisure, lonely for contemplation, it beckons not merely north and south but upward to the body, mind and soul of man.
This morning I went to the post office in Caratunk, and the lady at the front desk said, "Oh, you're Bree Carlson! I was hoping to meet you! I've never seen ANYBODY get THIS MUCH mail!" Friends, thank you. The outpouring of love and support that I received at the post office this morning is overwhelming, and so deeply appreciated . While the past few days have been beautiful days, I have to admit that I haven't been really feeling up to this hike anymore. I think part of it is that I'm ready to be done, ready to wear cotton clothing, ready to start planning my next adventure, ready to go back to work, and ready for reliable cell phone service so that I can catch up with all of you after months of being away. (Small aside: I'm also sick of being around guys all the time. Don't get me wrong- guys are great, but I've been feeling like a participant in the man show for the past few weeks now, instead of feeling like a woman in charge of her own hike. Time to strike out on my own, and leave the group I've been hiking with, I think.) Anyhow, all that to say this: I was feeling a bit blue, and then I went to the post office and all of you made my day, and gave me the energy jolt needed to keep it going to the (spectacular) finish line. Thank you.
I'll write more later, as other thru-hikers who are avoiding the rain are waiting to use this computer.
Again, thank you.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Anyhow, to amuse myself as I slowly picked my way through the boulders, I made up slogans for the Notch.
- Mahoosuc Notch: Don't you wish you were an ultralight backpacker?
- Mahoosuc Notch: Not a good place to encounter a bear.
- Mahoosuc Notch: Don't you wish the last 2,000 miles hadn't sapped all of your upper body strength?
- Mahoosuc Notch: Put on a pair of pants because wearing a dress isn't a good idea.
- Mahoosuc Notch: Just when you think it can't get any more dangerous, start bouldering over a river!
- Mahoosuc Notch: It's a difficult five mile hike out, so try not to get hurt. Please.
Or so I thought.
Maine, as it turns out, has been really hard (which is what I've been hearing all along, but have been choosing to ignore). It's been a combination of the terrain and the weather, but the last week, Mahoosuc Notch aside, has been SLOW going. I think that the double combination- not being able to do big mile days because the terrain is challenging, and being soaked to the bone on a regular basis is really making this portion of the trip trying. I like doing big miles- it makes me feel productive and good about myself. I mean, at the end of a 25 mile day back in Pennsylvania I remember thinking: 25 miles- that's FANTASTIC! And here, in Maine, with nearly 2,000 miles behind me, I can barely manage to do 14 mile days. At my worst moments, I feel like a bit of a failure, and at my best, I wonder what's wrong with me. (Note to self: I'm doing fine. Stop over thinking.)
As you can imagine, the wet weather hasn't been making the challenging terrain any easier. Yesterday, when confronted with, literally, a two feet deep river running down the trail, I finally gave up the pretense of trying to keep my feet dry, hiked up my dress, and waded right in. Oddly enough, this simple act of giving up and letting things be what they were, made me feel quite better (as did the angry teenage boy music I was playing on my ipod).
I knew from the start that Maine was going to be wet, but I had thought that it would be limited to river fording, which is what Maine is known for. I've forded three rivers already- the first two were time consuming affairs, where I took off my shoes and socks, put on my crocs, carefully picked my way across shin deep water, dried off my feet, and put my shoes and socks back on. This last time, however, because I'd given up trying to keep my feet dry (and because the river was flooding and I knew I'd want the stability of shoes to negotiate the scary-fast current), I just waded right on in.
The other day I got into my tent after an appallingly windy and rainy day, feeling mildly hypothermic from sitting outside in the wet to eat dinner, and after snuggling into my (thankfully) dry sleeping bag, got hit on the head with a drop of water from my leaking tent tarp. Knowing that I couldn't simply ignore the problem (being royally screwed if my sleeping bag were to get wet), I had to get back out of my tent and mess around with it for 5 minutes in the dark (and rain) to get it to stop leaking. When I got back into my sleeping bag, more damp and cold than before, I realized that there are some things that I'm really looking forward to, once I'm done with the trail:
- Not relying on a thin piece of nylon to keep me dry at night while sleeping.
- Not having to put on wet shoes in the morning. Ditto wet sock liners, wet socks, and a wet dress.
- Cooking with real food, instead of instant stuff.
- Washing my hands.
- Feeling feminine.
- Being overly warm.
- Not wearing the same dress every day for six months.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Yes, friends, more challenging than those things. But let me back up for a second.
I got back on the trail on Tuesday (I think? Time is so meaningless out here.) by catching a ride north from Melvin Village (where I rode out the storm) to Gorham, NH with Trapper and Dube (whom I had last seen back in Damascus as he was in the process of making up his mind to leave the trail). I had wanted to get to Gorham the day before, as I was getting antsy to get back to the trail, but since Route 16 was closed due to hurricane damage, I couldn't get up there any earlier. The ride up to Gorham was lovely, although due to many washed out roads what should have taken an hour ended up taking closer to three. We ended up cowboy camping (laying out under the stars in our sleeping bags) three miles out of Gorham, watching the stars, warming ourselves by our campfire, and eating wild blueberries. It was a magical night, made more so by getting to see an old trail friend. The last time I'd seen Dube was under the saddest of cirumstances, so getting to hang out with him once more when his life was headed in a more positive direction was, excuse my language, fan-fucking-tastic.
Oops. Getting kicked out of the library. Part 2, in which everything goes down hill (spoiler alert: MAINE IS WET) is coming up... soon?
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Saturday, August 27, 2011
This one's nicer:
I was in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
"Come in" they said
"We'll give you shelter from the storm".
I'm holed up with my family for the next two days. Hopefully the power won't go out right away, so I'll get another few posts up. Be safe and sound and dry, folks!
Friday, August 26, 2011
I hear there is a hurricane barreling its way up the eastern seaboard. I had wanted to get to Maine by this weekend, but the prospect of zeroing in a shelter in the woods or doing the Mahoosuc Mile (alledgedly the most difficult section of the AT) in a hurricane is unappealing. As such, I will be laying low one more weekend in NH before I continue on. I hope all of you stay safe and dry, wherever you are!
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Last week my friend Elsbeth and her wonder-dog Duke were hiking with me, and got to participate in the full range of thru-hiker experiences. She hiked in the rain, up steep hills, and got stuck in mud up to her calves. She saw beautiful vistas from high, craggy cliffs, and inhaled the odors given off by wet dirt and grass and leaves. She filled her belly with blackberries, and ate ice cream and pie as often as we could manage. She felt the joy that comes along with crossing a state boundary, finding unexpected soda chilling in a nearby stream, and entering a hiker town and finding oneself instantly surrounded by hikers who are your immediate friends based solely on shared experience. She marveled at each flower, listened to the loons, and reminded me of the beauty of the forest that after 1,700 miles I don't always see right away. Lately the trail has felt like normal life, as if everyone wakes up every morning and stumbles out of their tent, hikes all day long, and then watches shooting stars from a fire tower at night. Having her along for five days has made me pause and see just how magical my life really is. I can't believe that in the past thousand or so miles I'd forgotten that.
I'd like to write more at the moment, but I need to patch my long johns and hang out more with my parents before I hit the trail this afternoon. Posting may be infrequent during the next month as I finish up this journey, but please know that I appreciate each and every thought and well wish that you send my way. I don't have many mail drops left, nor do I know exactly when I'm going to be finishing (a month or so, I suspect). If you are interested, you can write to me by the following dates at these addresses: Bree Carlson, Thru-Hiker; General Delivery,
- Rangeley, ME 04970 (August 25)
- Caratunk, ME 04925 (September 1)
- Millinocket, ME 04462 (September 9)
Monday, August 15, 2011
Instead, I'm going to tell you about the only day on the trail when I wanted to go home. Before I got down to Georgia, a couple of thru-hikers had told me that at some point, everyone wants to quit. Their advice for when that day arrived was this: quit tomorrow. But on the day I wanted to go home, it wasn't because I wanted to quit, but because I felt devastatingly alone and as if I was missing out on one of the biggest moments of my life.
On the day I wanted to go home, I called my sister at a predetermined time, and she casually left her cell phone on the dining room table as she and Seth handed my mom and Seth's mom mother's day cards. I listened as they opened their cards and read the inscription "We hope you like your gift, because we're not returning it." Ivy had already told me that they had put a small photo showing a small black object shaped like a peanut floating in a pool of hazy greyness inside the card. I'd known about the object since Hogback Ridge Shelter, in Tennessee, and when they had told me on that night I was going to be an aunt I had yelled out loud with joy. (They then told me that I couldn't break the news to ANYONE, and consequently I couldn't explain to my thru-hiking friends why I was yelling in the middle of the woods at night.) The moment at which both my mother and Seth's mother realized what they were looking at nearly broke my heart. By the time that my father and Seth's father realized why their wives were screaming I was crying, quietly, on the other end of the line. I've never wanted to be somewhere else, so desperately, in my entire life.