Friday, July 02, 2010

Monson, ME (More stories from my 1987 hike on the Appalachian Trail)

Travel Tip Thursday is brought to us by Pseudonymous High School Teacher. As I like to travel and write about interesting places, I encourage others to pick up this weekly writing prompt. This week, I'm going after two birds with the same stone as we visit Monson, Maine (allowing me to do a TTT post and also another of my Appalachian Trail posts). Again, I'm posting on Friday, which is in keeping with my life-long habit of being a day late and a dollar short. Stay tuned for more cliches. As for a travel tip, Monson Maine would make a great get-away!

“How many eggs can I start you with? Six?”

“How about three,” I said a little stunned. “Do many hikers eat six eggs?”

“Some eat a lot more than that,” Mr. Shaw explained. He went on to tell about rushing a hiker to the hospital in a distant town after he’d over-dosed with twenty-four eggs. Like most hikers, I could eat a pile of food, but the thought of six eggs at one sitting was just too much and the thought of twenty-four made me sick.

Slim Jim and I made our way into the dining room for breakfast. Several other hikers were already eating. Eggs, pancakes, sausage and bacon, hash browns, toast and biscuits, fruit and juice were all available. It was a wonderful buffet provided at Shaw’s Boarding House for only 7 dollars. I certainly got my share of food for my greenbacks, but I saw no reason to overload on eggs.

The next morning, right before Jim and I left Monson, we ate bagels and fruit at the local diner, “the Appalachian Station,” thinking there would be no way we could hike after eating another breakfast fixed by Mr. Shaw. Like a good Southern mother, he just kept pushing the food on us.

Monson is a small logging and slate mining town in Central Maine. For the Appalachian Trail hiker, it is the last town before reaching the end of the trail on Mount Katadhin. Once one leaves Monson, there is a section of trail known as the 100 mile wilderness in which the trail passes over no public roads (there are a few logging roads that one crosses, but the next road open to the public is just south of Katadhin, at the entrance to Baxter State Park). Jim and I decided to take a full layover day in Monson, resting and stocking up on food for our hike north. As with most hikers, we stayed in the bunk room at Shaw’s Boarding House (I later learned there was an American Youth Hostel there in the old Swedish Lutheran Church). We’d arrived in town early in the afternoon on August 20th and meet up with the Brits, along with Ben, who’d I’d hiked with back in Connecticut. Ben and the Brits were all under the shade trees out in front of Shaw’s and we sat down and joined them and were treated with cold beers. Ben had just completed his last section of the Appalachian Trail, by hiking into Monson and was waiting for his girlfriend to pick him up.

In talking to everyone, I learned that the town did not have a regular bank. I was running low on cash and down to one $50 traveler’s check and knew not many places in rural Maine took credit cards. But luck was on my side as they had a mobile bank that came to town once a week and it happened to be the day, so before they left, I ran down and got an extra couple hundred dollars to get me through the rest of the trip, figuring I could use a credit card once I started my travels back home. I also checked out the town, which consisted of a hardware store, a very small grocery store, a diner, a bar and a few other shops.

The bank was in a town hall, down from the Post Office and I got my mail which included a letter from a friend and several letters from my mother. Mom told me that Lawerence Bowers, a man who’d been a strong financial supporter of the scouting program where I used to live, had died. I also got my box of stuff that I’d mailed to myself. The next day, after packing up everything, I would send the box home as there were no other post offices between here and Katadhin, 116 miles to the north.

A few of us ate dinner in the diner and then headed back to Shaw’s Boarding House. There, in the bunk room were two hikers who’d just come in from having hiked down from Katadhin. Both were college kids from New York State, in an ROTC program. Their snobbish attitude turned me off. They were both toting guns, a small break-apart 22 rifle and, I think, a 410 shotgun. Seeing the guns, I was nervous and asked why they thought they needed them on the trail. One of the kids spoke about the respect they gained when they showed their guns and how they’d been living off the land, taking only rice with them; they’d killed everything else they needed, mentioning six grouse, squirrels and chipmunks. I’d heard enough and asked Jim if he wanted to go get a beer. He was feeling the same way I did and we walked down into town, getting a beer and also calling home. I wanted to turn these yahoos in but at the same time wondering if that was wise. After all, we’d learned, the county was larger than Connecticut and had only a few sheriff deputies. We decided that we were strangers and would just keep our mouths shut and if they didn’t head out in the morning, we’d move on and put in some distance between us and them.

Luck was again on our side, for when we came back to Shaw’s, there was two wildlife officer vehicles parked out front. In one vehicle, the officer was talking to the one of the kids. We went inside and there, in our bunk room, the other officer was interrogating the other kid. I was relived to see that he’d already taken the guy’s gun. He asked permission to look through his pack and the guy gave it. Digging down, he pulled out a baggy of pot and showed it to the kid. The guy cussed the Officer and said “I reckon you can now take me in, can’t you.” The rest of us in the room were shocked and the officer said, “Yes, this gives me the right to hold you, but you're in a lot more trouble than this.” He read him his rights, handcuffed him and led him out to the car. Later, one of the officers came back in to talk to us and asked if we knew anything about them. We told them what we’d heard during the afternoon. The officer told us that they’d numerous reports of the two kids, who had shot at everything that moved (included a report of them killing a hawk), and they had also been threatening to other hikers. Mr. Shaw was aware of their impending arrival and had given a call to the authorities as soon as they showed up on his doorstep. I felt good to know that I wouldn’t have to be sleeping in the same room as these guys as they headed off to a distant jail.
The next day, after that heavy breakfast, we took Mr. Shaw up on his offer to ride in to Newport and see some of Maine’s countryside. Another hiker, “Grayhound,” who’d been drinking heavily for several days, had decided to call it quit and I got the feeling Mr. Shaw wanted to get him out of town as soon as possible. I think he also liked the idea of having us along with him in case Grayhound became a problem. We dropped the guy off at the bus station and then he took us to a larger grocery store where we were able to stock up with food at a cheaper price than in Monson, as Shaw did his shopping.

That afternoon, two other hikers who’d been doing the Maine section of the trail, came in. Chainsaw, who’s name came from his infamous snoring, had retired from the Air Force and the year before had to get off the trail at Gorham. He’d meet “Offshore Steve,” who’d hike the trail the previous year and agreed to hike the Maine section again. Offshore Steve was from Boston and worked on a fishing boat.
That evening, I walked around town and stopped by the Youth Hostel at what had formerly been the Swedish Lutheran Church. The church’s owner, Mimi, who’d hiked the trail in 1985, had purchased the building. She offered to show me around and I was mesmerized at both the craftsmanship of a building built in 1890, and at Mimi’s passion for the building. She took me into the rafters to show me the handiwork We talked late into the night, and I could have stayed listening to her talk later, but it was past time for bed. I headed back to Shaw’s, where I got to learn the meaning of Chainsaw’s name.

Then next morning, August 22, we left Shaw’s at 6:30 AM, had a light breakfast in which we talked to a bunch of loggers, some who were friendly and a couple who were not and referred to us as “damn environmentalists.” We then headed out of town. Coming into towns had been such a highlight of hiking the trail and it was sad to know that we were leaving the last of the towns behind. Eight days later, Jim, Chainsaw, Offshore Steve and I climbed Katadhin.


  1. damn environmentalists." I'm just shaking my head. If there's gonna be a world left in two hundred years we're going to need 'em.

  2. I wonder how much the hospitality that you saw during your trip has changed in recent times? I wonder if you can still find these nice people and boarding houses along the trail willing to give people lifts?

  3. Six eggs? That is asking for a clogged artery on the trail. Thank you for the effort and time put into this post. It brought back flashbacks of the time I was fishing and a guy jumped out of the bushes with two rifles strapped across his back like some bandito.

    Great work. Thanks again for the blog effort. Much appreciated.

  4. Those were not hunters. Those were two idiots with guns. Who fires at chipmunks with a shotgun? Morons. I'm glad the wildlife officers got 'em.

  5. Yes - the gun guys were scary. It's interesting how many hikers use nicknames - are you going to tell how Chainsaw got his name?

  6. Charles, down there in the gulf, you should know!

    Ed, I looked up Monson on the internet and Shaw's was still listed as a business there.

    Colorado, the scary thing is that a lot of hikers ate 6 eggs! It was like eating a 1/2 gallon of ice cream at the 1/2 way point on the trail

    Jen, yep, they were idiots, but idiots with guns are scary and enough to make this gun owner give pause about the interpretation of the 2nd amendment... The guy said something to the officer about this was going to get him kicked out of ROTC, which may have been the best thing to happen to the Army that year

    Lynn, Chainsaw was a snorer--a really loud one. Names are helpful along the trail as you don't have to use your real name in trail registers, but allows folks to keep up with you. My name, as I talked about in an earlier story, was Sojourner.


  7. Shooting a hawk is a bigger crime than posession of pot!

  8. Sage,

    Firstly, let me apologise for having missed 2 of your posts. I have a little lag due to my issues with Google/Blogger, as you know.

    But now I'm catching up with my readerships' blogs again and trying to return to my regular blogging routine.

    Have you seen Jon Boorman's film "Deliverance"? It's a very good -but very hard- movie. I think you'd like it.

    This movie came to my mind immediately when I read about the episode of the gun kids. They were real idiots indeed and your decision to put in some distance between was very wise. I'm glad that the police caught them (for pot, guns possession, whatever). And having rice with chipmunks or squirrels... come on, that's nasty!

    Mimi's passion for the Swedish Lutheran Church is moving and I guess it moved you too.

    I like the nicknames too, they're funny! I ask myself how high was your cholesterol, having 6 eggs at one sitting!

    I'd love to hear more about your adventures on the Appalachian Trail!

    ((Again, sorry for the absence, I hope things calm down from now on...))

  9. Buffalo, I don't know what happened to them, but I believe shooting hawks is a federal crime. Hunting out of season as well as firearm violations would be state law violations.

    Leni, no apologies necessary... I have seen Deliverance, it was the first "R-rated" movie I saw, at 17, when I just getting into canoeing and kayaking. I only ate 3 eggs! As for my stories, there are many Appalachian Trail stories that I've posted and when I'm done, I'll link them all together

  10. I love reading about your adventures past and present. You definitely don't live a boring life. :)

  11. Thanks so much for dropping by and leaving a note on my blog. It led me here, where I have enjoyed reading about your stopover in Monson. Many years ago, when I was a more active hiker, I covered a small part of the AT in CT. I live now in the deserts of socal, and you brought back some long forgotten memories. Thanks.

  12. 5 Star bro--5 Star--keep em coming!



  13. fascinating...have hiked most of the AT in VA/NC so this was a perfect tale for me...a mobile bank, too funny...and you left there on my birthday too. smiles.

  14. Lovely story.

    Have a happy and delightful Independence Day.

  15. Neat story... I agree with Jen- they weren't hunters at all. Takes nothing to tote a gun around and shoot stuff. Doesn't make one a hunter. I went through Hunter Education training in 1976... and most every hunter I've ever known had very strong conservation ethics. Unfortunately that's not what you read about.

    Same goes for ROTC... there are tons of miscreants that join ROTC (usually for the wrong reasons) and are dropped along the way for for many behavioral and/or legal problems- a couple of which you've written here. Most of the folks that finish ROTC to join the services are the most well-rounded, and grounded, officers the military has.

    Heck of an adventure you were on!

  16. I love your stories from the trail. All the people come to life and pop right off post. I wonder what ended up happening to those two reckless, thoughtless young men.

  17. With two hikers that killed just about anything that moved and a one named Chainsaw (I know they "say" it was due to his snoring), I don't think I'd be a happy hiker out there...although your stories (and Bryson's) fascinate me.

    PS - Even three eggs sound like too much to me! I can't imagine 24. Ugh!

  18. Those kids w/guns sounded like egotistical, immature idiots....and should in no way reflect on the fine state of New York.

    I'm exhausted just thinking about all that walking.....


  19. Wow, a hundred miles with no public roads! I wonder if it's still that way today. It's kinda nice to know there are still a few places left that are difficult to get to.

    Also, I'm stealing Chainsaw as a nickname for a friend of mine. And I can't remember if you've said before -- it seems like you might have -- but what did the other hikers call you?