As the day waned I came to Poplar Ridge lean-to (shelter in Maine talk). I found a spot for my tent a little up the trail and then spent the rest of the daylight talking to a bunch of campers. I was eager to get a good start in the morning so I went to sleep as soon as it turned dark.
I sat by the side of the river cleaning the blood and dirt out of the gashes on my leg and feeling sorry for myself. It was around midday and I had to decide what I was going to do. There was a campsite just a short way up the trail that I could tent at or I could push on to Stratton Maine. If I tented I would probably get rained on and since I have no confidence in my tent's ability to keep me dry that did not sound attractive. If I pushed on to Stratton I would have two gigantic mountains to climb called the Crockers. The prospect of having to tent in the rain and possibly getting wet in the night made my decision. I was going over the Crockers.
An hour later I was sitting on the side of South Crocker Mountain drenched in sweat with my heart pounding in my chest like it was about to erupt through my rib cage and land on the ground flopping like a fish. I started to make bargains with myself. I told myself, "We'll only go a little bit further then we can sit and rest again". So I got up, hiked a little further straight uphill and then stopped again. That is how I slowly made it to the top, bargain by bargain. Then I struck a deal with myself that if I kept pushing the rest of the way to Stratton I would treat myself nice in town. I made it over North Crocker without having to sit and rest. All I had left was six miles of downhill to the road crossing. The light was starting to fade, both from the hour and the approaching storm clouds. The sky rumbled in the distance as I picked up my pace to a trot. I was convinced that I had gone six miles already and still no road. Then, I began to hear cars in the distance. Signs of civilization can be so welcome at times. When I emerged from the woods I saw the "Myakan Mules" sitting on a rock along the road. I sat down beside them and they told me the were waiting on a shuttle to take them back to the hostel they were staying at. They said there was room if I wanted it. I did. It began raining.
I was picked up and taken to the Maine Roadhouse Hostel. It was an awesome cabin type building, but big and clean. The bunk house had room for about thirty people, but it was not cramped at all. There was high ceilings and plenty of room between beds. I took a bunk in the corner that had a little fan blowing directly on it. A bunch of us went into town to get dinner and then I retired to my bunk. I fell asleep to the sound of pouring rain outside, thankful that I was not out in it.
The next morning it was still raining. The general consensus of the hikers there was it was going to rain all day and I had no desire to start the day slogging through wet trails in the rain. It is one thing to get caught in it and another to choose to be in it. I decided to stay another night. What a glorious decision too. I loafed around all day. I found a little TV in a corner by myself and watch a couple movies, napped a little, ate some food, napped a little more, it was fantastic.
The trail descended back into the forest where everything was covered in moss. Between the closely spaced pines was a blanket of green that looked soft and inviting. Before long though I was down in low elevation where I was now crossing babbling brooks and misty ponds. Each spot was so amazing I didn't know which I liked better. Everything looked like it could be a post card. Remember postcards? Do people even still send postcards? Hmm. If they did, these would be great ones.
I stopped for the night next to West Carry Pond. Before I set up inside the lean-to I took a quick dip in the pond to get the days funk off of me. The water was cool and refreshing. It was looking like it was going to rain in the night so I wasn't taking the chance of getting wet in my tent. I went up to the lean-to and put my sleeping bag and pad down and hung my clothes up to dry. As I lay down to sleep the rain started, I smiled in my dry cocoon.
By morning the rain had stopped and I pack up and headed out in the gray dawn. The terrain was a bit soggy for a few miles leaving the shelter. I had to hop around the trail to avoid the large pools of standing water on the trail. It leveled out some and the wet spots disappeared, I was able to stretch my legs out and get a decent speed going. I saw several little critters that I had to stop and take pictures of. By mid morning I made it to the next shelter area a Pierce Pond. I sat quietly in the shelter and looked out at the serene view of the water. This is the spot where a young hiker two months ago lost his life. He had hiked a long day in hot weather and when he arrived at this spot he jumped in the pond to cool off, just like I would do. His muscles cramped and he drowned in three feet of water. There is a little memorial with his trail name on it next to the water. As I sat there staring at it I thought about death. It is an inevitable part of living, something everyone of us is going to have to face (except for my friend Doug who wants to have his brain transplanted into a robot). Death has been a subject that has cropped up in my thoughts several times during this trip and here it was again. Death makes me want to live. Not forever like my robotic friend, but well. Whatever well means. I know that everyday can't be an awesome adventure or blue skies and rainbows, but I think there are moments even in the monotony of life that can be appreciated if you look for them. I don't listen to an ipod or anything while I walk so I inevitably think a lot. I really think that you need to live in a way that you are okay with your life. You need to be happy with what you have done and happy with what you are doing and want to do. I didn't know "Parkside", but I feel a kinship with him because we were both pursuing a grand goal and not dreaming about it. Rest my brother.
From Pierce pond I made my way to the Kennebec River where you have to wait for a guy in a canoe to take you across. On the other side the trail crossed a road at Caratunk, Maine. I was told there was a place just down the road to eat so I hitched the short distance to Northern Outdoors where I sat with a few other hikers and had a late lunch. They were planning on spending the night and after a few blueberry ales I decided it was a good idea too. I paid for a canvas tent set up across the street and then went back to the main lodge to continue eating and drinking. There was a hot tub you could soak in, but was constantly being invaded by little kids. There was a moment when nobody was in it so me and a three other hikers took the opportunity to get in. Funny how no one else wanted to get in when four gaunt guys with giant beards were soaking their stinky bodies. After the hot tub I ate some more had another blueberry ale and walked to my tent in the dark. Good night.
Normally in the morning I am quick to leave, but I dragged myself out of bed and up to the lodge where I enjoyed a breakfast buffet of french toast, sausage, fresh fruit and lots of coffee. I hit the trail with the other hikers I met the night before named "Metric", "Alpo" and "Fivepair". None of us were that motivated to go very far for the day so only went fourteen or fifteen miles to Bald Mountain Book lean-to where we called it a day.
I was up and moving again before the sun came up and went over Moxie Mountain in the early morning. Afterwards the trail smoothed out and I was able to cruise the rest of the day. Only stopping to ford my first river.
I was expecting waist deep water so when it turned out to only be ankle deep I was a little disappointed. I crossed one more river similar to the other and then kept on cruising. That's when all hell broke loose. It started with the flies that burrow into your hair. Then it was the flies that burrow into you hair and the gnats that dive into your eyes. Then it was the flies that burrow into your hair, the gnats that dive into you eyes and a gang of blood thirsty marauding mosquitoes. I was being attacked nonstop for about an hour. Swatting the gnats away from my face and picking there corpses out of my eyes. Pulling out the flies in my hair and popping their bodies. Smacking mosquitoes against my skin leaving a smear of my own blood. I emerged from the woods by Monson Maine half hysterical and half running. Once out of the forest the attack stopped and I went to a gas station where I waited for my father to pick me up.
This is it, my last stop before the end. Next up is the Hundred Mile Wilderness and then the last mountain in Baxter State Park. I am so close now that it almost seems unreal.