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.