Twenty-five years ago today I met the cross-country team I coached for a hard interval workout at Cooper Creek Park. That fall sophomore Bobby Gardner and freshman Scott Teixeria would lead a young group of runners to a region championship. When I arrived home from the park that morning, Linda said she thought it was time. I showered before driving her to the hospital. Later that afternoon our daughter was born. Some memories never fade.
So on my daughter’s birthday I awoke at dawn in the Poplar Ridge Lean-to. Molar Man and I almost simultaneously began the ritual of breaking camp. Shortly thereafter Susquehanna Slim followed suit. Even though I’ve only stayed in around fifteen shelters, I have the morning routine down pat. I readied my pack, ate two pop tarts, and treated a 32 ounce bottle of water before exiting the shelter at 6:20. A bright sun filtered through the spruce trees as my hiking buddies and I ventured up the trail. I anticipated a good day’s hike to accompany the crisp, sunny morning.
That anticipation quickly evaporated. My bright outlook was transformed into dismay shortly after I left the shelter. A perilous descent consisting of several steep rock slabs awaited us. So from the outset my stress level accelerated. Like with other similar sections, I slowed my pace and hiked deliberately. For about a mile it was slow going indeed. Finally, however, the trail leveled off to some degree with a few minimal ups and downs until we arrived at Orbeton Stream.
In the AT Guide several water crossings are designated for fording. Orbeton was one, but today the water level allowed us to rock hop across. This stream was the widest that I have crossed in this manner thus far. When I looked back to the other side I quite frankly wondered how I had managed to stay dry. For some time I’ve been dreading to some degree any fording; however, lately I’ve begun to look forward to trying one. I’m sure I’ll get my chance soon.
After the stream crossing we ascended almost 1000 feet to the summit of Lone Mountain at 3260 feet. From there the trail again leveled nicely over two miles to the Spaulding Mountain Lean-to. We stopped for lunch and were joined by Barking Spider, Stretch, Captain Planet, and OB. Slim accused me of yogiing an Oreo off of Stretch last night when I commented how good hers looked. When Slim brought the episode up today, Barking Spider offered me another. I’m usually not one to accept food from young folks who spend most of their nights in the woods, but on these two occasions I appreciated their kindness. While at the shelter I also shot a pic of OB eating dry Ramen for lunch.
When we left the shelter MM, Slim and I were immediately faced with an almost 900 foot climb up Spaulding Mountain. With mainly a dirt trail, we made good time reaching the top. We decided to forgo a 0.1 side trail to the summit. After the summit the trail leveled again until an extremely precipitous downhill began just past Sugarloaf Mountain. Again I hiked with deliberation and focus as I slowly inched my way down the sheer rock slabs. The descent forced me to think every step as I worked my way down. At the bottom the Carrabassett River awaited. Also listed as a ford, again rocks and a plank were positioned so that a dry crossing was possible. Slim commented as we prepared to “walk the plank,” “most people probably make it across.” Torch and Pumpkin Head provided an audience on the opposite bank as I eased my way over. I reminded them that one day they too would lose their agility.
Once Slim and I reached Caribou Valley Rd., we walked the half mile to where Sweet Tooth was waiting. Molar Man had hiked ahead and was already there. We then drove in to Stratton where we plan to set up a base for the next few days. Despite the challenging trail early in the day as well as late in the day, the 13.2 miles passed quickly. Tomorrow we will hike a shorter day when we deal with two 4000 footers. Maine continues to be rugged, but I’m taking it one day at a time on the Appalachian Trail. Happy 25th birthday, Rachel.