About fifty feet from the sign I came to a little brook that normally you would probably just hop over, but because of all the rain recently, it was swollen to a point where I was going to get wet. I said farewell to my pops and tromped through the water. The trail afterwards was no better. It was filled with standing water so you could either hop from side to side trying to avoid it or go right through the middle and get wet. Since I was already wet I figured why waste the energy, through the middle I went.
A few miles in I ran into "Indiana" who I hadn't seen since Vermont, but before that Pennsylvania. We hiked together and chatted about who we had seen and what we have been up to and before I knew it we were at the first shelter. Sitting there was "Metrics" who I met at Norther Outdoors about a week ago. He is a very energetic and positive person who is always nice to have around. We hiked together a short distance down the trail and came to our first stream crossing. Again, the water was higher than anything I had experienced yet and moving really fast. There was a tree that was across slightly upstream and I opted to shimmy across that while "Indiana" tried to walk across. He really struggled to not fall and was getting pushed all over the place. Thankfully he made it to the other side without going in, but it looked like it could have gone bad quickly.
The trail after was slick with roots and rocks and I was going down a little hill when my feet came out from underneath me and I landed directly on my rumpshaker. I was uninjured, but one of my trekking poles now had a bend in the bottom portion. Not long after that I came to another river crossing where several other hikers were making their way across or waiting on the other side to make sure there was no one who fell in.
In another few more miles I came to another.
That is how the rest of the day went, hike a few miles and then get wet. Not long before dark I came to Long Pond Stream Lean-to. I set up my stuff inside while about eight other hikers camped around the outside. I was thinking because of the rain lots of hikers left Monson on the same day so it might be crowded the whole rest of the way. I drifted off to sleep while a drizzle fell, thankful I was not in my stupid tent.
I rose early in the morning, as has become custom while on the trail, and started out. I immediately began climbing which I prefer because normally it is cooler and I usually get the views on top of the mountain to myself, which has been pretty special.
After I left the Ledges the trail was constantly going up or down hills and little mountain. That wears me out more than big climbs. I hiked all day alone only running into people going the opposite direction. I went over some mountains with some really creative names like, Fourth Mountain and Third Mountain. I kept waiting to go over Second and First, but for some reason I went over Columbus and Chairback instead. As I was going down Chairback the terrain turned into relatively smooth trail and I was able to speed up a little, prior I was constantly high stepping to go over roots or around rocks or stumbling on roots with rocks in them. I passed an older hiker right before the last ford of the day and he caught up to me when I was changing into dry shoes. His name was "Sagebrush" and he was finishing the trail this year. He did the first half from Georgia to Harper's Ferry in 1988 and this year was doing the rest. We talked the rest of the way to the shelter where I spent the night. The large group of hikers I ran into the day before were planning on stopping near the river crossing so it was only me "Sagebrush" and one hiker.
In the morning the other two hikers got up before me, but my ability to pack up quickly and the fact that I eat breakfast somewhere down the trail meant I got out of camp first. I was climbing again, this time up over Hagas Mountain then West Mountain. The temperature dropped overnight so I was able to stay cool during the hard parts. Then I made the steep climb up White Cap Mountain where I sat and took a long break at the peak. I had views of the surrounding lakes and hawks were flying right overhead as I let the morning sun warm my skin. When I started to leave the trail wrapped around to the north side of the mountain.
White Cap was the last major climb I had left before the end and with my goal in sight I was ecstatic. I floated down the mountain with thoughts of what it would be like to finish running through my head. I was torn. I felt so ready to be done, but this had become my life. I wake up, walk, climb some mountain and then camp. It was a little sad to think about it being over. I've made a conscious effort to keep the end out of my mind, but coming into view of it I couldn't help but wonder. The rest of the day I was alone with my thoughts and came to my destination at Cooper Brook Falls lean-to mid afternoon. I took a quick dip in the stream that ran in front and then set up my sleeping bag. There was an old guy in the shelter that had been hiking since Pennsylvania. He was in his seventies, from Virginia and was not happy about the trails and people up in the north. "These are not f'in trails, somebody needs to come in here and fix this sh*t. Where you from? New Jersey? Know what the state bird of New Jersey is?" He gave me the middle finger. "I was driving across the Delaware Water Gap years ago and I was going slow to let people get in my lane that need to get over and some jack ass gets in front of me rolls down the window and shows me the state mother f'in bird. I maintain trail down in Virginia and that is beautiful trail. This is sh*t. Don't get me started on The Whites. That was not an F'in trail."
Then two section hiker strolled in and set there sleeping bags up right next to mine. They were in their fifties and had thick New York accents. They buzzed around the campsite like they were hopped up on cocaine. They talked a mile a minute and were slightly annoying. "Sagebrush" rolled in before dark and I was so thankful to have someone not crazy in the shelter too. The old Virginian was mother f'in this and mother f'in that and the New Yorkers were flitting here and there with googly eyes and violating personal space. During the night one guy was snoring so loud I could feel it in the floor boards and the guy next to me crept so close that his sleeping pad was jammed against mine. I got so irritated that at one point I turned on my head lamp and with my best east coast attitude said, "Dude! You HAVE to move over! You are right on top of me!"
He says, "Oh sorry bub, is that better" and scooches over a half inch. Not wanting to keep complaining I didn't answer and just dealt with every time he wiggled his toes I would feel it.
I got up and out of that camp in the morning as quick as I could eager to just move. I came to a little lake with an opening that afforded a slight view with Katahdin in the distance. The terrain for the day was excellent. It was slightly down hill for the foreseeable future and not too rocky and rooty. The Virginian shouldn't have anything to complain about. Late in the morning I ran into a southbounder who filled me in on what to expect north of me. He also told me that there was a bad weather forecast for Thursday. Thursday was the day I was planning on summiting and if I could avoid harsh weather I would. I ran the numbers of miles to go in my head and came up with a plan. I would have to push hard the next two days, but I could make it to the base of Katahdin by Tuesday and finish Wednesday. "Sagebrush" showed up before I left and I informed him what the southbounder had told me. He said he would do the big mileage with me if I wanted, so I made the decision to push. I would rather have options than be left with bad weather.
All day long I was able to move with great speed. I could keep a nice steady pace and not have to dance around obstacles constantly. Miles flew by like they never had before. Late in the day I had a pretty steep but short climb up a hill by a lake.
I finished the eight miles from the lake as the sun was low and arrived at Rainbow Stream lean-to. I hung my clothes up to dry and ate my dinner. "Sagebrush" rolled in about an hour after me. We were the only ones in the shelter for the night. I guess pushing hard put us ahead of everyone that condensed because of the rain. As I lay down to try and sleep one thought kept cropping up in my mind.
Tomorrow I would be at the bottom of Katahdin.
When morning came I got up early as usual and set off. "Sagebrush" left with me this time and I let him stay in front so I wouldn't end up pushing myself too hard. My body was a little stiff from the hard day yesterday. It began raining as the trail wrapped around the sided of Rainbow Lake, but it only lasted for an hour or two. We then climbed up to a spot called Rainbow Ledges that were covered in blueberries and huckleberries. I had never had a huckleberry before, they were a little more bitter than a blueberry, but still good. We gorged ourselves for a couple minutes and then kept pushing.
We left the store and head for the entrance of Baxter State Park. There a guy with one shoe, thick glasses and a comb-over greeted us. "Hello, welcome to Baxter Thate Park, my name ith Jonathan. Are you guyth thru hikerth? If tho then you want to thign the theet of paper thaying that you want to thtay at The Bircheth, which ith where thru hikerth thtay. What ith your trail nameth? Okay, well thafe travelth "Frenchy" and "Thagebruth"
We hiked the few miles to The Birches lean-to and set up. There were three other hikers there, two who started just before Monson and a guy named "The Dutchman" who was a thru hiker too. We sat around exchanging stories and it turns out that "The Dutchman" and I had a common hiking buddy from the beginning. "Big Dumb Animal". Evidently after I could no longer keep up "Big Dumb Animal" was hiking around "The Dutchman". Funny how something from the beginning of the hike has reflected back all of way to the end. We then talked about what we were going to do for tomorrow. I planned on leaving all of my gear at the ranger's station and only taking my pack with what I needed in it. After I ate something I headed to the lean-to to get some sleep.
I have something special planned for the morning.