I woke up at 6:30 to a dreary morning. I thought the rain was going to clear up today. I packed my things and walked downstairs for my free continental breakfast. Blue Jay and Ember were there and so I sat with them. I found out that Ember went to Appalachian State and we proceeded to figure out if we knew any of the same people. We didn’t. Ember is a bit younger than me. I caught the 7:30 trail shuttle and was hiking by 7:45. The trail was wet and rain was falling down in a drizzle. I secured my umbrella to my pack and walked on as I began the climb up the Horn of the Bigelows. Turnip passed me on the uphill with a sparse pack. She was slackpacking. Another guy with a day pack passed me on the uphill. He was slackpacking. I regretted my decision not to slackpack. I begin to fall into a pit of sadness that I know too well when I wallow in alternate realities when I’m unsatisfied with my current situation. On top of all that, the clouds were sure to obscure the magnificent views I had heard about from the tops of the Bigelow Mountains.
2 years ago in August of 2017, I had planned to meet my friend Checklist here to walk this section with them. Checklist was about to reach 1000 miles in their flip flop thru hike. I had had such an amazing time with them back in May when I joined them for a section over Mt Greylock in Massachusetts. I was excited to meet them again in Maine, a state I had not experienced yet. Checklist called me on my 5 hour drive to met them that they had fallen and busted their elbow. It was bad enough that they got off the trail and was waiting for me at a hotel in Stratton. The next day we drove 2 hours to the nearest hospital to find out the elbow was broken. They had to pause their thru hike for the time being but not before we hiked 10 miles of flat trail on the other side of the Bigelows to reach Checklist’s 1000 mile mark. Fast forward 2 years…
Back to 2019, I struggled up the first peak and see a bit of blue sky through the dense fog. I was hopeful. I noticed how quiet the woods are. No birds. It was creepy, especially with the fog drifting between the trees. I stop at Horn’s Pond Lean To for a break and a snack. 5 miles in. It’s chilly up here. I pull out my puffy and rain jacket and try to make conversation with Turnip and Barking Dog. I let them go ahead of me since they’re faster and I hate leapfrogging people. It’s just so awkward for me to say hello and bye again. I filled up my water bottle at the pond since there was none flowing at the marked water source. Pond water isn’t the best choice but it was the only choice. I walked on to the west peak.
I kept climbing through the alpine zone to the top of my first peak of the day rock hoping along the ridge line yelling at the fog to get out of the way. It paid me no mind. The wind was whipping up at 4000 feet and so I kept moving down the west peak to the saddle where I stopped for lunch. Barking Dog and Leaves were there. They seemed to be travelling together. I ate my cheese and hummus without much enthusiasm for the taste or the company. 8 miles in. 7 more miles to the Little Bigalow Lean To.
Avery Peak was the next challenge of the day, the last 4000 foot mountain until Katahdin 180 miles away. The fog rolled across the boulders so thickly that I lost my way. Not much to mark the trail up here except rock carines and white blazes and the blazes are not always evident. I saw Turnip up ahead and followed in her direction. Just as I thought I had missed the views, the clouds lifted and I began to see across the valley to Sugarloaf Mountain Ski resort to the south and numerous lakes to the north. I stopped in my tracks to accept the gift. The greens of the lowland forests seemed to blend effortlessly into the blue ridgelines of the distant Maine wilderness. I looked for Katahdin but not luck. Too far to spot I’d guess. I looked north to a stubby flat mountain called Little Bigelow. The lean to would be on the other side.
The way down was steep and slippery. In a moment of carelessness I misstepped and came crashing down a boulder on my left side. I had used my left hand to break the fall but no skin had been broken. My leg had several red scratches that were stinging. I falled directly on my camera in my hip belt pocket and the ride down had etched a ringing the plastic fabric where the lens faced out. I took out the camera to assess the damage. It still worked but the black paint had been scraped off the front of the lens barrel. That could have been a lot worse. I sat there for a minute before picking myself up to carry on.
I reached Little Bigelow Mountain as evening was setting in. I looked back south at Avery Peak and the Bigelows behind stopping a bit longer and usual to take in the sight in the clear weather. The trail down from Little Bigelow was moderate and as I made my way down a gradual rock face I heard whistling behind me. It was Wallie and Grocer. They’re strides were long, 2 of mine to their one. They passed with a smile and a hello. They couldn’t be much older than 19. The trail flattened out to glorious dirt pathway through tall birches by the time I reached the lean to. I had walked 15 miles so far. Wallie and Grocer had told me they heard of trail magic at the next road crossing which was East Flagstaff about a mile and a half away. I was feeling good and felt like I had more miles in my feet. It was getting late though, probably about 5:30p. The sun would set about 7.
I walked out the woods onto a dirt road and followed the white blazes to the left. A gravel parking lot opened up to the left where I heard a crowd of people saw pop up tents. This was it. 3 older white men were crowded under the tents with a grill and tables full of pop tarts, oreos, potato chips, and oatmeal packets. One guy asked me if I wanted a cheeseburger and I said yes please make that 2.
I sat with Wallie and Grocer to eat my food quickly. They were headed to the East Flagstaff Lake campsite for the night and I didn’t want to be left behind in the dark. We said thank you and goodbye to the trail angels and I followed the two lanky hikers 1.2 miles to the campsite as night was falling in the woods. We didn’t have to cook dinner so it was easy to just set up our tents and crawl inside. Wallie sat outside for a while strumming his ukulele and singing a song he and Grocer had written about their hike and their visions of reaching Katahdin. It was a sweet song and they were sweet boys. I zipped myself in for the night after taking in the last light over the lake and lazy hanged my food bag. i was surprised at the milage I had walked today after a crumby start this morning. 17.9 miles is a lot for me with a full pack. I felt okay. I felt glad to have the company of Wallie and Grocer. I know I can’t keep up with them but they have been kind to me. I lay awake listening to the loons across the lake. They’re loud! And kind of sound like wolves, which I know they’re not, but what if…
Miles: 2003.8 – 2021.7 (17.9)