The Regular World

Three weeks ago, on a wet, cold, potentially hypothermic day, I summited Katahdin.  Almost regretfully, it feels strange to allude to the hike in the past tense.  For so long I thought about how many days had passed from the beginning of the hike.  Now I find myself contemplating the number of days since it ended.  This, the third week since its conclusion, coincides with the six month anniversary of its beginning.  I deemed time irrelevant while following white blazes.  In the present, time again marches on.  Moments exist when I feel as if the hike didn’t actually occur, but instead resides merely in my imagination.  The reality of the regular world has for now replaced the gossamer existence on the trail.

The adjustment back to my “real life” has proven challenging at times.  At others it seems almost as if I had never been away from my home.  When I walked into my church sanctuary the first Sunday after returning home, I felt as if I had attended the previous week.  I sat on the same pew.  The same parishioners surrounded me.   Then when the pastor welcomed me back, for a second I wondered where I had been.   Many wanted to hug my neck or shake my hand.   I smiled, thanking each for his or her prayers while I was away.   When the service ended I attempted to make a quick exit, not really wanting to talk about the hike.  As it simmered in my subconscious I desired to keep it to myself, only reluctantly sharing tidbits with those who asked.  I had openly written about each day while on the trail; now I wanted instead to protect the memories.   Verbalizing my feelings seemed more difficult than typing them.   After all, who would really understand?

I have met with some of my friends.  I shared a lunch with some of my running buddies, answering a variety of AT questions, but more importantly fellowshipping with good friends that I had missed.  I’ve exchanged emails or text messages with Banzai, Molar Man, Pilgrim, Susquehanna Slim, and Steady and Spirit.  I miss my AT pals.  I also miss the trail.  While hiking I just wanted to finish.  Now I find myself contemplating being back in Virginia or Vermont or New Hampshire.  Just like in this paragraph, my mind fluctuates constantly.  I pick up my cell phone to make a call to only find myself scrolling through trail photos.  I wonder how others who shared their hikes with me are adjusting to the “regular world.”  I debate whether or not to make a phone call.  I replay in my mind the good times, the times of excitement and joy.   But just as often, I recall days of duress and fatigue.  Equally, I bask in the memories of both.

I’ve gone to the beach and thought about the mountains while walking barefoot in the sand at dusk.  I viewed the setting sun over the waves and remembered a twilight in Pennsylvania.   I ate seafood on a weathered, wooden deck and recalled a restaurant in Maine.   I strolled down tree-lined streets at sea level with a vision of roots and rocks transfixed on my brain.  I spoke often of the hike.   Linda patiently listened, reminding me that we could go to the mountains in October.  I wondered if a brief visit to the Smokies would satisfy a longing for white blazes. 

Sometimes I think of Ulysses when he returned home to Ithaca.  Tennyson was right.  How does one truly “adjust” after a great adventure?  As my hike neared its end, I kept repeating, “each step I take is a step I’ll never have to take again.”   I suppose the key words there are “have to.”  No, I’m not contemplating another thru hike.  I’m not even planning a return to the trail anytime soon.  I’m not ruling out, however, other hikes on the AT or even other trails.  They just won’t occur in the immediate future.  For now, I’m happy in this “regular life” in the “regular world.”   Still I will daily cherish the many fond memories that have forever become a part of me because I chose to go for a hike on the Appalachian Trail.


Categories: Post Hike | 3 Comments


Monday, September 2….When Molar Man said he would like to stick with our plans to summit Katahdin on Labor Day, regardless of the weather, I felt just a bit concerned with our decision. With a 90% chance of rain by early afternoon, I seriously wondered if we were doing the smart thing. I had been somewhat apprehensive and a little anxious about the climb for the past week. Due to the potential for a nasty day, my anxiety increased. So with almost a certainty of no views, Molar Man and I signed the trailhead at 6:30 before taking our first steps toward the summit of Katahdin and the end of my thru hike of the Appalachian Trail.

For about the first mile the agreeable trail only minimally elevated as it traversed over more roots, dirt, and small rocks up to Katahdin Stream Falls. From there the more severe climb began. Like some of the climbs in the Whites, portions of trail required us to use our hands. When possible I chose to take advantage of the erosion areas to navigate around more challenging rock slabs. Eventually, however, rock scrambling was necessitated. As the wind speed increased and the cloud cover expanded, we hit the most severe section of the ascent.

For about a mile the climb became dangerous and unnerving, especially considering that a light rain had begun and the temperature was dropping steadily. As Molar Man and I neared the final few hundred feet of the 2000 foot ascent to the Tableland, he stopped, stooping down behind a boulder to shield himself from the sideways rain and wind. Surprisingly he asked, “Do you want to turn around here?” When I asked, “Why?,” Molar Man stated, “It’s not going to get any better.” For a brief moment I wondered if we were in danger due to the elements. If we turned around I would either have to try to summit another day or end my hike without seeing the summit. Neither choice appealed to me. “Let’s keep going,” I replied.

When we returned to our full posture the wind almost knocked us over. So with Molar Man leading the way we continued the climb. While pulling ourselves up onto and over large rocks, we sporadically caught glimpses of cloud encircled pieces of surrounding ledges. In a way I think not seeing all the exposed areas may have been advantageous. A part of me was disappointed that we were almost entirely engulfed in clouds. Another sighed relief that the precipitous ledges remained invisible. We just followed the white blazed boulders up the mountain. By the time we got to the Tableland the winds made it almost impossible to remain erect. I kept Molar Man in sight as I hunched over to keep from being blown off of the mountain.

That last mile past Thoreau Spring proved “foggy” in more ways than one. I had limited visibility and my mind was clouded with interspersed thoughts of finishing the trail and hypothermia. So many thoughts were running through my mind that the summit actually came upon me before I expected it. Due to the adverse conditions I could not see the summit sign until I was practically on top of it. The entire hike I have expected to get emotional at the summit. I didn’t. I simply wanted to get my picture taken and get off that mountain. Thankfully, there was one other hiker there. Ben, who said he had hiked up on another trail, took shots for Molar Man and me. It was exactly 10:00 at the summit.

Because of the deteriorating weather we did not linger. In less than five minutes we began the descent. About a half mile down we met three other hikers that we did not recognize. Later we met a young man and lady. That was it. Katahdin was a lonely place on this bleak day. We needed to hike safely, but we also needed to hike quickly to get back below treeline. Twice on the Tableland the wind literally knocked me over. I walked in a crouched position to maintain my equilibrium. It was beyond challenging to navigate the steep ledges, now wet, in what had to be 70 to 80 MPH winds.

Rain pelted us from above and wind blew us from behind. Through it all my hiking buddy and I just kept moving, knowing that we had to get down that mountain. Getting past the Tableland, Molar Man paused briefly behind a boulder. He was shivering. We were both drenched and cold. There was no way to eat our lunch, so we didn’t even try. We just kept moving, sliding down, easing down, painstakingly inching our way down the wet boulders. My gloves helped on the rebar even though they were also soaked. I just kept reminding myself of all those who were praying for me and a calming sense remained with me through the storm.

Time passed rapidly, or did it stand still, as we just continued to make our way down the wet boulders. Finally we got back to treeline and then below. The terrain still demanded our attention; however, wind became less of an issue. Because of the steady cold rain and wet rocks, I had to be careful not to slip. Molar Man and I stayed together as we moved closer and closer to Katahdin Stream and only one mile to go. When we did reach the level section of trail standing water covered large segments. Since our feet were already soaked, we just sloshed through the puddles.

With each step I felt a sense of relief, knowing that we were so near to warmth and safety. Then what we were about as anxious to see as the sign on Katahdin appeared. We stood before the trailhead register where we had stood seven and one-half hours earlier. Molar Man’s glasses were so fogged over that he could not see to sign out. I signed 2:00 for both of us. We had safely made it to the summit and back down. I could finally feel good about having thru hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Within minutes Molar Man and I were inside the Volvo, getting warm and headed back to Millinocket. We met my family on the way out of the park. I had gotten off the mountain so quickly that their arrival was late. It didn’t matter. When I saw Linda, Lisa, Brent, and Lori, all was well. After a hot shower we all dined at the AT Cafe before my family and I drove to Bangor. Later in the evening Rachel arrived which made the end of the day even more special. So surrounded by those I love I said a prayer of thanksgiving for all that had happened during my five months and ten days on the Appalachian Trail.









Categories: AT Hike | 14 Comments

Katahdin Stream Campground

I’m sitting in the lobby of the Katahdin Inn in Millinocket, Maine, pondering. For a little over five months every one of my days has revolved around a hike. After tomorrow, hopefully, that will change. So with only the 5.1 miles to the summit of Katahdin remaining, I’m reflecting a little over my time on the AT. For a while there I didn’t think this day would ever arrive. Now that it’s here, it feels more like a dream in many respects than reality. To be quite honest, I just want to get it done and go home to Georgia.

While I have been hiking the AT many have commented on trailjournals or on my website referencing the word “dream.” Thru hiking the Appalachian Trail has never really been a dream of mine. It’s something I’ve thought about at times; however, I’ve always come back to my senses rather quickly when I examined the enormity of the task. There is no doubt that if my brother had not died, I wouldn’t be sitting in Maine the day before a planned summit of Katahdin. If Don were alive I would be Don’s brother. I would never have become Don’s Brother. It was only his illness and death that prompted this adventure.

Prior to March 23 I had not done any section hiking of the AT since 2009. On that last trip I stopped after about 25 miles of a scheduled 160 mile stretch with a sore back and no enthusiasm. I went home with a total of a little over 1000 miles of section hiking, vowing to never hike the trail again. I really didn’t like hiking that much. So as I sit here on the eve of a completed thru hike (provided I can get through the toughest day of the entire hike), I want to make one thing clear. I did this hike because I told my brother I was going to do it.

Today Molar Man agreed to start a little later with only 10 miles from north of the Abol Bridge to the Katahdin Stream Campground. When we did hit the trail at 7:30 we had an easy road walk for about a mile before the AT crossed Katahdin Stream and headed back into the woods. Other than the usual rocks, roots, and mud, nothing differed. The trail did remain relatively level until we reached the lower fork of the Nesowadnehunk Stream. After the recent rains, fording looked too treacherous, so Molar Man and I opted for the “high water level” trail around the lower and upper forks of the stream. I think my buddy would have attempted a difficult ford had I not urged him to follow the safer route.

A little later we walked up a side trail to Big Niagara Falls, a pretty impressive cataract I must admit. After a short break we followed the same path back to the white blazes for an extremely agreeable walk the rest of the way. At the Daicey Pond Trail parking area, some couples and their small children were headed up the trail toward the falls. From there we crossed Perimeter Rd. before the AT followed another short road to where it turns back into the woods. That, however, will be where we begin tomorrow.

Before leaving Baxter we visited the ranger station to fill out our paperwork for tomorrow’s summit. The ranger also gave Molar Man and me a form to fill out and mail to the ATC headquarters in Harper’s Ferry documenting our completed hikes. We next drove back to Millinocket, had lunch, and returned to the motel where we saw Goose and All the Way, who finished yesterday. I got a much needed nap and am about to go out for supper. Then tomorrow I will be confronted with the most challenging day thus far, as I try to wrap up my thru hike on the Appalachian Trail.









Categories: AT Hike | 5 Comments

Abol Bridge/Penobscot River

One year ago today my family laid Don to rest. Along with his good friends Steve and Mike, I had the privilege and honor to eulogize my brother at his memorial service. With a heavy heart I spoke of Don’s love of the outdoors. Of how he loved to fish and hunt and walk in the woods. I spoke of his love of baseball and how much he loved the Braves. I talked of how much he loved his family, and above all I spoke of his faith, especially in the last weeks of his life. Our family mourned Don’s death, but more importantly we celebrated the life of a truly good man. A good husband, a good father, a good son, and a good brother. On the one year anniversary of my brother’s service I hiked throughout the day with Don on my mind.

The one thing that I recall most vividly after Don’s diagnosis of ALS was how he regretted not having a disease he could fight. My brother never quit. His opponent just overwhelmed him. In some ways that’s what the Appalachian Trail has done to me. It has tested every physical muscle in my body. It has attempted to get in my head and invoke almost a mental torture. It has left me bruised, cut, scraped, battered, and so tired that I could hardly think. But unlike Don’s bout with ALS, The AT has given me the opportunity to fight back.

Today I think I made my peace with this trail that I’ve had a love/hate relationship with since I first stepped foot onto it. I promised myself at 7:00 this morning that I would enjoy hiking today whatever the trail had to offer. The AT rewarded me with about as agreeable a 17.2 miles as any I’ve confronted over the past several weeks. Sure, the rocks and roots and mud continued; however, I just took them in stride and focused on the bigger picture. For the past five months and eight days I have enjoyed a privilege that not many get. I’ve had the opportunity to spend each of those days with nature. Today I appreciated that opportunity.

Molar Man and I hiked with a purpose today. We reached the Rainbow Stream Lean-to, a distance of 2.2 miles, in less than an hour. With confidence, I walked the log bridge across the stream and snapped MM’s pic as he made his way to the other side. That first hour set the tone for the remainder of the day. After the brief break at the shelter we didn’t stop again for almost four miles until we reached the Rainbow Lake Campsite. Some section hikers were breaking camp at the beautiful setting. The trail then continued to wind around the lake for a while. I looked over my left shoulder often, expecting to catch a glimpse of an isolated fisherman on a boat. None appeared.

When the trail finally moved away from the lake, it elevated over 400 feet to Rainbow Ledges. With cloud cover in all directions, Molar Man and I had no views while we took a short lunch break. The climb up the ledges, over some almost level rock face, actually seemed easier hiking than over the roots and through the mud. We stopped again at the Hurd Brook Lean-to where Funnybone, Double Nickel, and Rich were also taking a break. They all plan to summit on Monday, so hopefully we can hike up together. From there Molar Man and I hiked strong, reaching the Golden Rd. before 2:30.

The AT turns right at the road and heads toward Abol Bridge. From the middle of the bridge we were treated to a view of Katahdin. Clouds rolled over the mountain as I paused to admire its enormity. Below in the Penobscot River a fisherman appeared to be fly fishing for trout. After crossing the river we passed a trading post on our way to the parking area where Sweet Tooth was waiting. From there it was back to Millinocket where the three of us will join Susquehanna Slim and his lovely wife for dinner tonight. It will be the first time I have seen Slim since he summited on Friday. For Molar Man and me that event will have to wait until Monday. Just two more days on the Appalachian Trail.








Categories: AT Hike | 1 Comment

Pollywog Stream

With the four day countdown officially underway, Molar Man and I started today’s hike with a mere 8.7 miles planned. When one is slack packing the 100 Mile Wilderness, there are obviously limitations regarding the availability of roads. So today’s hike turned out to be a half day hike since we finished around noon. That gave us, along with Sweet Tooth, the remainder of the day to drive into Baxter State Park to check out the Katahdin Stream Campground. Now with all logistics in place, we just have to hike the final 27.2 leading up to summit day.

From the logging road where we ended yesterday, Molar Man and I started up a pretty level trail for the first mile. At Prentiss Brook we were able to rock hop across since yesterday’s raging waters had subsided. In fact, there would be no perilous water crossings today. Most of the water we saw was in Nahmakanta Lake early and later in Crescent Pond. Part of the trail along Namakanta Lake travelled along a sandy beach. Some pebbles mixed in with the sand, but it still made for fast walking.

After passing the lake we stopped briefly at the Wadleigh Stream Lean-to. Then we crossed another unnamed stream before beginning a climb of Nesuntabunt Mountain. Even though the ascent covered only 700 feet, it was steep. I told Molar Man that I supposed the trail was offering us one final practice climb before Katahdin. Unfortunately we were unable to see the Big K from the summit due to cloud cover. We did get a nice view of another pond. I’m not sure which it was.

As we descended the mountain there were a couple of other places where the lake was visible. After leveling off the trail almost circled Crescent Pond. At one point a small boat had been tied to a tree. At another a few other boats and a canoe lay near the bank. Still moose were not to be seen even though this pond looked like the perfect habitation. I paused by the boats for a few minutes to watch, listen, and reflect in the stillness of the picturesque setting. Quiet prevailed. From the pond we made our way along another body of water, Pollywog Stream, toward the logging road where Sweet Tooth was waiting.

At the car Double Nickel and Rich were enjoying some trail magic in the wilderness. Birdman also arrived to join us. I told Rich that I hoped we were on the summit together because I wanted to hear him play his trumpet. He said he definitely planned to play. As we drove up the logging road we also saw Bane’s dad, who had parked near a rushing, boulder-filled stream to take some photos. This may be called the 100 Mile Wilderness, but we sure have seen a lot of traffic over the past few days.

After a quick stop in Millinocket the three of us headed up to Baxter. All the rangers we spoke with were extremely helpful. They exhibited great patience since I imagine they have been asked the same questions many times. From the first ranger station we drove back into the campground and saw where the AT crosses on its way up Katahdin. I felt the excitement, knowing that I’m only three days away from walking up that path.

When we got back to the motel in Millinocket, I spotted Barking Spider and Stretch getting out of a car. Stretch introduced me to her dad, Peter, who had come to pick them up from Baltimore. Peter thoughtfully mentioned Don when he told me he had been reading my journal. Stretch and Barking Spider are two of the nicest young folks I’ve met on the trail. I congratulated both for summiting today. I have also seen others at the motel, that I had hiked with or around, who have now summited. Burning Man and Acunamatata were here Wednesday and I spoke with Torch and his dad yesterday. All were excited with their accomplishment and just to be finished. For me, however, there are still a few miles to be hiked. Early tomorrow Molar Man and I plan to hike our last big mileage day as we put ourselves in position for the last big climb on the Appalachian Trail.













Categories: AT Hike | 2 Comments

Somewhere in the Wilderness

If I had to use one word to describe today on the Appalachian Trail it would be “wet.” From light rain to wet slippery rocks, to wet slippery roots, to wet slippery mud, it was all wet. And as a result of a wet trail, by day’s end, I was a bit wet myself. Wet shoes, wet socks, wet fording shoes, and, to some degree, damp pants accompanied me throughout the later stages of today’s hike. After last night’s heavy rain many sections of the AT had become streams themselves. Other portions, quagmire-like, waited patiently to quickly turn a blue shoe black. All day there was “water, water, everywhere.”

For the first time in, well, I can’t remember when, Molar Man and I started the day not sure of where our final destination would be. We knew that Sweet Tooth would be parked at a road crossing the AT; however, it was uncertain to us whether the road crossed the trail at 12 miles or at 15. When we got to the Nahmakanta Stream Campsite and found no road, we realized we would be walking three more miles. Still we covered today’s distance in right at seven hours with two breaks. Considering the delays when we reached two water crossings, we made good time.

Like other recent days we passed several bodies of water. Mud Pond was the first. It looked like the perfect place for a moose to inhabit due to its swampy appearance. I stared in all directions but sited none. A little later the trail curled around the banks of Jo-Mary Lake for nearly a mile. A sandy beach area practically touched the trail. On a sunny warm day this would have been a great place for a swim. Even in the light rain, it seemed very peaceful. As Molar Man and I passed a ray of sunlight tried feebly to peek through the clouds.

Next we stopped at the Potaywadjo Lean-to for a short break. Rich and Double Nickel were there as well. The shelter’s roomy privy was about as nice as any I’ve seen on the AT. Complete with a window curtain and sky light, it also sported an interesting sign inside. “Latch door when leaving or porcupines will eat this building.” Funny, I haven’t seen one of those critters the entire hike. After leaving the shelter we passed Twitchell Brook, Pemadcook Lake and then Deer Brook. I already said it was a wet day.

The first major challenge of the day caught us by surprise when we reached Tumbledown Dick Stream. Listed in AWOL’s AT Guide as a ford, we did not anticipate what we found. Due to the excessive rain last night the stream had swollen to the point where there appeared to be no place to safely walk across. There were also no rocks above surface to hop. Molar Man walked about a hundred yards up stream to try to find a suitable place to cross without success. So reluctantly I followed my friend’s lead as he walked out over the rushing water on a blowdown to a boulder in the middle of the stream. From there he hoisted himself up on the rock and then positioned himself to gingerly slide on his pants across another blowdown. We didn’t take any action pics because I think we were both too petrified. I did get one of the spot after I was safely on the other side.

As I was crossing in the same manner as Molar Man, Birdman, an older section hiker, arrived at the stream. He followed me across and gratefully thanked me as I offered him a hand for the final step. The whole process was a bit unnerving. This trail just never lets up. On a day when it looks completely flat, it taunts us with swollen streams and relentless mud. The hiker can never win. We just have to try and compete. Thankfully, all three of us succeeded with the trial thrown at us today.

A little later we reached a branch of the Nahmakanta Stream which was fordable. Molar Man and I changed into our “water” shoes and easily walked across the narrow stream that was only ankle deep. On the opposite side metal steps were placed against the bank due to its steepness. While we were putting our hiking shoes back on Birdman showed up and just walked across in his boots. I suppose they were already wet, or maybe he didn’t carry fording shoes.

From the stream we hiked on through the puddles and mud to the pick-up location. I tripped on a root and fell during the final three miles. It was my second fall of the day. The other was on a slippery rock. That makes seven falls in the last three days. I’m trying to stay vertical. It’s just sometimes hard to do so. None of the falls have been serious. I’ve gotten up right away each time and have only bled once from a small scrap on my elbow.

So today was an OK day despite the trail conditions. After we reached Sweet Tooth we all drove up to Abol Bridge to check out day after tomorrow’s rendezvous point. On the drive up on Golden Rd. we were treated to an even closer look at a partially cloud covered Katahdin. The view gave me a little queasy feeling when I realized I would be climbing up that majestic mountain in a few days. The scouting trip proved successful as we found out all the details regarding checking in at the ranger station for our summit. From there we headed back to Millinocket where I’ve had a relaxing evening. Tomorrow it’s back to the wilderness where I hope to stay dry for just a little while longer on the Appalachian Trail.









Categories: AT Hike | 1 Comment

Jo-Mary Rd.

When I started this epic journey in March, my plan was to summit Katahdin on August 28, the first anniversary of my brother’s death. Those plans were not meant to be. I realized that I would need a little longer when I was back in New Hampshire. Two days ago I figured out why. August 26 and 27 last year were two of the most difficult days of Don’s life. Then one year ago today he was released from his agony. At 7:55, the time he was officially pronounced dead by a hospice nurse in his home, I stopped in the middle of the trail and said a prayer. And I felt my brother right there with me.

The past two days have been hard. I think they were supposed to be for a reason, just like so many things that have occurred on this hike. Not to in any way compare with Don’s last two days, but mine too have been challenging. I’ve tripped; I’ve fallen; I’ve bled; I’ve feared that my next step might lead to disaster. But through it all, I’m OK. Today all went well. For Don, one year ago today, he too was OK. His faith sustained him during those last agonizing days because he knew that soon he would be OK. With Don on my mind and his spirit by my side, I hiked strong throughout the day. As I walked today, everything was OK.

After a peaceful night’s sleep in the Logan Brook Lean-to, I awoke at 5:20 to see Molar Man already stirring. When my watch alarm sounded ten minutes later, I was stuffing my sleeping bag into its sack. A few minutes later All the Way roused himself and also began packing up. The one “young kid” in the shelter, 23 year old McJetpack, even stirred despite the early hour. I took an instant liking to the lad from a Chicago suburb when he arrived at the shelter last night. An affable fellow, he said this would be the earliest that he would be the last to leave. I told him I would see him up the trail as Molar Man and I headed for the white blazes at 6:04.

With an exceptionably agreeable trail, we hiked at a better than two miles an hour pace for the first four miles. A ford had been listed in the AT Guide at the East Branch of the Pleasant River; however, we were able to rock hop without difficulty. Shortly thereafter we began our only climb of the day, a 700 foot ascent up Little Boardman Mountain. Even though the little guy only stood at 1980 feet, the last 400 feet were steep. At the top we ran into Double Nickel and a section hiker, Rich from St. Simons, GA, who was completing a section hike he started back in 1979. Now that’s perseverance. Rich carries a trumpet which he plays every night. Kind of made me think of Gabriel.

After Little Boardman the trail became (to quote Slim) “a walk in the park.” Sure there were a few rocks and roots, and some boggy areas with board walks, but mainly it was a fast path. At the Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to we stopped for lunch. McJetpack was also there. Since I won’t be staying in the woods anymore I offered him a salmon packet. He graciously accepted and then filled my water bottle from the brook for me. As Molar Man and I returned to the trail for 3.7 more miles, Goose and All the Way showed up. I’ve been around them regularly now since early in New Hampshire.

Those final short miles of the day sped by. In fact, the whole day did. On the gentlest trail I’ve seen in weeks, we knocked out 15.4 miles in seven hours, thirteen minutes. At Jo-Mary Rd. Sweet Tooth was waiting. She said she had just provided some trail magic for McJetpack before we arrived. Who says this is a 100 mile wilderness? It did, however, take us 35 minutes on the logging road to reach the main highway. From there we made our way to Millinocket. So tonight I’m in a motel. Tomorrow and the three days thereafter, Molar Man and I will return to the AT to slackpack the remainder of the trail.

Today turned out to be a good day to hike. I passed two good fishing ponds on this day especially dedicated to Don. He would have liked them both. I smiled as I thought about memories we shared. I became emotional when I thought about our baseball conversations that are no more. I regretted that he is missing the Braves’ successful season. I thought about Lisa and Brent and how much they miss a kind and loving husband and dad. But most of all I was grateful as I hiked for Don’s life and for his faith. My brother is OK and I will be too as I hammer out 56.0 more miles on the Appalachian Trail.














Don with a large mouth bass









Lisa and Don – September 2011

Categories: AT Hike | 4 Comments

Logan Brook Lean-to

Molar Man and I just rolled into the Logan Brook Lean-to after another day filled with ups and downs. We had thought about moving on to the next shelter; however, we are both tired. So after only 12.8 miles we have called it a day. As I sit on a mossy rock about three feet off the trail heading north from the shelter, I am being serenaded by Logan Brook. Running only about twenty yards from the front of the shelter, the brook will provide my water source as well as offer a pleasing sound throughout the evening. This setting is quite nice in all respects.

Our day began at 7:20 with an immediate ford of the West Branch of the Pleasant River. Molar Man and I both managed to get across without a problem even though the ford is listed in the AT Guide as having a slick, rocky bottom. It was the widest ford that we’ve encountered. After the river we began a long gradual ascent of over 1600 feet up Gulf Hagas Mountain. About the final half mile was steep. From there we briefly descended before climbing up to West Peak at 3178 feet. Neither of these mountains offered a view. After another descent we next climbed Hay Mountain with the same result.

From the beginning of the hike today, I promised myself that I would attempt to hike with a more positive attitude. Even though I fell three times on slippery rocks, none resulted in any blood loss. I apologized to the trail and promised not to be too critical of what it throws at me. That was just before one of the falls. It didn’t matter. I wanted to at least try to befriend the trail again. Hopefully the old guy has forgiven me for hating him yesterday.

The highlight of the day definitely came at the summit of White Cap Mountain. Panoramic views on a beautiful afternoon made the tough climb worthwhile. Then on the rocky descent we were greeted with our first view of Katahdin, majestically appearing 72 miles in the distance. As I descended I alternated looking down in an effort not to fall and staring at the Big K, transfixed against a blue sky surrounded by puffy white clouds. I looked in awe at the mountain I’ll be confronted with in a few days.

So tonight should be the last I spend in the woods. Molar Man and I plan to move into Millinocket tomorrow afternoon and slackpack the remainder of the trail with Sweet Tooth’s assistance. I’m definitely ready for the hike to end. I’m about as physically and mentally depleted as I can ever remember being at any time in my life. This journey has challenged me in so many ways. The mental aspect has by far been my greatest challenge.

So as I prepare to spend my last night in a shelter, I’m thinking about one year ago tonight. That was my brother’s last night on Earth. Don knew, like I knew, that his death was near. Lisa and I tried to make him comfortable, but our efforts were to little avail. The Braves game was on in the background, but in his depleted state, Don couldn’t even enjoy his beloved team.

This trail has been hard, but my difficulties pale exponentially to how hard Don’s existence was over those last few weeks and at its end. So as I lie in the shelter tonight, in the woods that Don loved, I’ll remember my brother. I’ll think about our last night together, but more importantly, I’ll think about all the good times we shared. Tomorrow there’s a hike to be continued. 71.4 miles remaining on the Appalachian Trail.






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West Branch Pleasant River

This constitutes the second opening paragraph that I have constructed today. I decided to trash the first due to negative attitudinal content. It began with the statement, “I hate this trail.” That’s exactly how I felt much of the day. In the other opening, however, I proceeded to go into a tirade over my frustration with all the obstacles the AT keeps throwing in my direction. I’m no different from any other hiker. Everyone who steps foot on this oftentimes brutal “footpath” faces the very same trail conditions. So I deleted the draft that made me sound like a whiner. Regardless, today’s trail was no fun. It aggravated me from the first climb, taunted me with a smooth surface for about ten yards, laughed, and tossed a nostalgic “White Mountain-like descent at me near the end of the day. Sometimes, and I did say sometimes, I hate this trail.

The AT set the mood for today’s hike early when it placed a root in a position for my foot to snag. Before I had shed my rain jacket, I found myself face down in the dirt. Fortunately my head didn’t hit. My hands saved me. Still the fall from the trip on the root established a irritable attitude that, for whatever reason, I embraced throughout the day. Today’s hike was hard. I wasn’t looking for hard. I wanted the path to return. After all we are in the 100 Mile Wilderness, which I thought was supposed to be known for its fast terrain. Maybe the young folks are able to whiz right through, but this old body needed nine hours to cover the 15.0 miles.

The first challenge occurred on Barren Mountain. Molar Man and I started the day at a pretty good pace, arriving at the summit in under two hours after a 1600 foot ascent over just under three miles. Like other days and climbs, roots, rocks, and mud all made their presence known. What I had not expected was the need to use my hands a few times to pull myself up a rock face or balance myself by holding to a tree. With four more mountains still to be climbed, I was already bordering on exhaustion after the first. The 4:30 alarm might have also been a factor regarding my early fatigue.

After descending Barren Mountain we were confronted with Fourth Mountain. I’m always a bit leery of these “unnamed mountains.” Not only was Fourth another tough climb, but on the way up Molar Man and I had to deal with Fourth Mountain bog. A board walk helped us with that. From Fourth Mountain we moved to Third Mountain. I suggested to Molar Man that we name the two Joe and Henry respectively. He failed to see the humor. At least the climb up to Monument Cliff on Third Mountain wasn’t quite so steep.

After Third we came to my favorite mountain of the day. After almost a 500 foot ascent, we reached the peak of Columbus Mountain. Finally, after hiking 2100 miles, I have discovered in Maine a mountain that shares its name with my home town. I took a picture of the sign designating its name and elevation before starting another descent to the Chairback Gap Lean-to. The only northbound thru hiker we had seen all day, Sleeping Beauty, was taking a break there. SB agreed that the trail had been tough today.

From the lean-to we only had to climb 200 feet to the summit of Chairback Mountain. Despite some rock slabs, the climb wasn’t too bad. The descent, however, was downright treacherous. Slim even sent me a text warning. For about a tenth of a mile I thought I was back in the Whites. A very dangerous,
steep rocky trail forced me to hike with deliberation again. On more than one occasion I sat down to inch my way down a rock slab. It was tedious.

When we finally reached some dirt trail, we were able to hike at a faster pace all the way to the Katahdin Ironworks Rd. Sweet Tooth had arrived earlier and was offering some trail magic to Sleeping Beauty and a section hiker. Another north bound thru hiker that I had not met, Triceratops, also showed up. Sweet Tooth said that SB had already warned her about my irritability. I acknowledged it before dropping my pack to hike another half mile to the West Branch of the Pleasant River packless. Molar Man followed suit. Sweet Tooth drove up the road to meet us for the ride into Milo.

Tonight we are staying at a B &B in the home of Everett and Frieda Cook. A more delightful couple I have not met in Maine. When we arrived one of their great-granddaughters was over for a visit. For a while I worked on my journal sitting on a front porch bench swing until the mosquitoes forced me inside. I plan to get to bed earlier tonight because Molar Man and I have a bigger day planned for tomorrow. With a tired body and weakened knees, I hope to hike with a more positive attitude as I continue moving through Maine on the Appalachian Trail.








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Trail to Otter Pond Parking

When I think of the 100 Mile Wilderness, the final lengthy stretch on the Appalachian Trail between Monson and Millinocket, Maine, an old Cat Stevens song comes to mind. “Miles from nowhere, I guess I’ll take my time, Oh yeah, to reach there.” Right now that’s what I’m planning to do—take my time. Some people zip through the wilderness in five days. Molar Man and I plan to take eight. That will put us in position for a summit date of September 2 or 3, hopefully. Today we walked into the “wilderness” at 7:20 and hiked 15.3 miles plus an additional 0.8 on a side trail to the Otter Pond parking area where Sweet Tooth was waiting.

From the outset the trail today didn’t look any different from other sections of trail we have hiked. Ups, downs, rocks, roots, mud, rock slabs, jagged rocks, more roots, blowdowns, streams to rock hop across, streams to ford, ups, downs, more roots, more rocks……need I say more. Ponds again made their presence known as well. There was Spectacle Pond, Bell Pond, Lily Pond, North Pond, and Mud Pond. Not to be outdone were the brooks. James Brook, Thompson Brook, and Wilber Brook required crossings. Then there were the streams. Little Wilson Stream, Big Wilson Stream, Vaughn Stream, and Long Pond Stream gave Molar Man and me ample opportunity for rock hops and fords.

If my brother had ever hiked this section of trail, it would have taken him a week to cover the 15.3 miles. He would have gotten himself a Maine fishing license and made a stop at each pond. Don loved the woods, but he loved fishing more. I have no clue what kind of fish might have been swimming in those ponds, but Don would have figured it out and known what lures to use for a big catch. I paused to think about my brother and take a photo at each of the ponds I passed today.

Sometime around mid-morning I noticed a familiar hiker up the trail. Funnybone, who I hadn’t seen since Salisbury, CT, was engaged in a conversation with Molar Man. He hiked along with us for awhile until we stopped for lunch. Yesterday we happened upon our first McDonalds since Gorham in Foxcroft, so I decided to bring along a double cheeseburger for lunch. I also carried a coke to make my first meal in the 100 Mile Wilderness a memorable one. Mountain Goat and Klutz walked by as MM and I ate. Klutz smiled her cute smile and said, “Mickey D’s.” Mountain goat asked, “Where did you find that?” They both good-naturedly laughed at the old guy with a burger on the trail.

About the time we finished lunch two sections hikers stopped to chat. Steve and his teenage son Sam were out to do the wilderness. They sported some mighty large packs, telling MM and me that they just couldn’t figure out what to leave behind. Steve said he had climbed Katahdin years ago, so I quizzed him a little regarding some concerns I have. He offered some appreciated positive assurance that I could make it. Later in the day I would see Steve slip from a rock and be in Big Wilson Stream almost to his waist. Sam had managed to stay dry on the rock hop.

Late in the afternoon Molar Man and I both tired. We had begun the day strong after yesterday’s rest; however, all the ups and downs kind of tuckered us both out. At the final water crossing, Long Pond Stream, Molar Man somehow figured out a passage across using rocks. Some in fact were submerged. I chose to ford after almost slipping in from a rock in the rushing waters. According to the AT Guide there are only three fords remaining. Thus far none have caused any real challenges. I just take my time, use my trekking poles for balance, and make sure I have a solid plant before taking the next step.

After what seemed like a long tiring day, Molar Man and I finally reached the blue blazed trail to the Long Pond Stream Lean-to. Two-tenths of a mile past the turn to the shelter we located the unmarked side trail to the Otter Pond Parking area. A little apprehensive since we weren’t positive that the trail we had taken was the right one, we hiked quickly, hoping that it was. When the white Volvo came into sight, we were two relieved, happy hikers. Within minutes we were on our way back to Greenville.

Tomorrow will offer us a day with more elevation, five mountains to climb, and several views. Molar Man suggested a very early start and I agreed. So a little after sunup we’ll once again be “Miles from nowhere,” as we make our way to “the mountain I have to climb” in the wilderness of Maine on the Appalachian Trail.










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