I’m sitting at the lunch counter of the General Store and Diner in Andover. Susquehanna Slim occupies the stool to my left. Molar Man and Sweet Tooth are to my right. Our feet relax on red plastic milk crates. The crates keep our legs from dangling. It is 6:15. I’ve been awake since 5:30. The weather reporter on the wall mounted TV notes that rain is in the forecast. Radar indicating a band of dark green, yellow, and orange verifies her statement. The rain will begin around noon. Our planned hike today should conclude before 2:00. We will most likely get wet.
To Sweet Tooth’s right is a “regular.” In fact, all the customers except the four of us are. We are the interlopers. Still I feel welcome among these western Mainers. We are easily recognized as hikers. Many of the customers have lived here their entire lives. The man next to Sweet Tooth talks about driving up to northern Maine today on business. Caribou, he mentions. I tell him I spent a week there several years ago. He talks about his state pridefully. My friends and I order breakfast, not really blending in, but accepted. The General Store and Diner is a good place to be on an overcast, cool August morning in Maine.
Too soon we drive away, toward the trail and another day of hiking. At 7:01 I take my first step into the woods from East B Hill Rd. Within a few steps I am climbing. The trail ascends over 600 feet to Surplus Pond. I pause to take a picture, thinking about my brother. This looks like a perfect spot for a moose. I see none even though we have been told many inhabit the area. After the pond we continue to climb another 800 feet up Wyman Mountain. Despite the lengthy uphill, the trail is agreeable. There are still roots and long stretches of black mud. I try to avoid each squishy patch. Eventually I take a misstep. My right blue trail runner is transformed to a charcoal grey.
Molar Man and Slim hike ahead. I linger, enjoying the opportunity to finally let my mind wander. I have had to concentrate so often that my mind has felt fatigued. Today the gentle trail affords me the opportunity to daydream. With few views, my thoughts become a luxury. I remember other trail days, friends I have made along the way, places I have visited and will probably never see again. My thoughts and I hike alone down Wyman Mountain to the Hall Mountain Lean-to. I arrive there at 10:07, having hiked the six miles steadily. Molar Man and Slim are having a snack.
After a ten minute break we descend over 1500 feet sharply to Sawyer Notch. I suggest the name game again, but neither of my hiking buddies has an entry. Tom and Diane are the only two I can offer. So I suddenly find myself hiking deliberately again, needing to focus on every step as I carefully navigate the steep descent. Occasional rock steps help alleviate some of the stress on the knees. Slippery oozing mud lurks around every bend waiting to “suck up” an unsuspecting shoe. Then when I finally reach the bottom, the climb up Moody Mountain begins and a steep one it is indeed.
Near the summit of Moody we are treated to our only view of the day, and it is short lived. Just when we reach the overlook, clouds engulf the area. As soon as I snap a pic the view disappears. The light rainfall increases as we start our descent. Like the downhill earlier in the day, this one also necessitates my utmost attention. Several times I come within a step of taking a fall on the slick mud. Each time I maintain my balance at the last instant. With some rock steps, all things considered, the descent goes well.
When I finally reach the bottom of the hill a final stream crossing awaits. We had been warned that a fording would be necessary at this water crossing before the road. Molar Man and Slim, however, are on the other side, having rock hopped across. With specific instructions on which rocks to use, I successfully make my way to the other side without stepping in the water. It really doesn’t matter since my shoes are covered in wet mud. Still it feels good to have made my way over two streams and stayed dry. With Sweet Tooth waiting, the four of us are quickly on our way back to the Cabin.
Tonight I enjoyed another delicious meal prepared by Honey. Some hikers took a zero due to the rain and are still here. Other new ones have arrived. I have met Rocky and Steady State for the first time. Star Child, Splash, Sinner, Torch, Slow and Steady, Pumpkin Head, and Spacey also are in attendance. Good company and great food abound. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny. For that matter, sunny skies are predicted for the next few days. If the weather continues to be good, and the terrain remains agreeable, hopefully I’ll be able to cover more miles as I move toward completion of the Appalachian Trail.