Friday, September 17, 2010

1987 Appalachian Trail Journey (Monson ME to the base of Katahdin

One of these days, I’m going to get my readers to the top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. I have spent more time writing about my journey than actually hiking. This was going to be the last post on my summer 1987 hike in which I essentially completed the trail by hiking from Central Virginia to Maine (I actually completed the trail in February 1988, as I had about 20 miles to do in Virginia that I’d missed). I need to finish this so I can write about my hike on the John Muir Trail. Enjoy the journey with me. The photograph to the left is of the Canadian Pacific Line that runs through Maine. The second photo is of me looking north, with my laundry out to dry.

After a two day break, Jim and I left Monson on August 22. Somehow we missed the trail. A guy in a pickup stopped and asked if we were lost and then took us to where the trail crossed the road. When he dropped us off, we realized he’d saved us a few trail miles. It was sad to know we missed a few miles, but with the heaviest packs of the summer, we weren’t going back. This was the last time for the summer that our packs would be heavy and every meal we eat would lighten our load. Stuffed inside were extra clothes for the cooler temperatures along with extra food and fuel, enough to get us to the top of Katahdin. Ahead of us was nearly 120 miles of wilderness with the only public road coming at the base of Mt. Katahdin.

We stopped for lunch was at Bodfish Station, where the trail crossed the mainline of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. My plan had been, after I climb Katahdin and then hitch-hike to Brownsville Jct, where Via Rail (the Canadian Passenger Service) had a whistle stop. There, I could take Via Rail into Montreal and then Amtrak back to North Carolina (I don’t think Via Rail still uses this line, but in 1987, it was the connection between Montreal and the Maritime Islands). But this planned changed when I hooked up with Jim. He’d offered me a ride with his father and sister, who were driving up from Florida to climb Katahdin with him. His mother and brother were also coming up but had to fly back home as they his brother had to start school. As I was running out of summer and also needed to get back to school, I decided to take him on the offer to catch a ride to North Carolina. As Jim wasn’t to meet his father until August 29, we could take our time and enjoy the last part of the trail.

We made it Cloud Pond Lean-to late in the afternoon. Camping at the shelter was a Junior Outward Bound group. The leaders were Dan and a Swedish woman (Oreaku, but I wasn’t sure of the spelling). She was in the United States for five months, working with Outward Bound. Around 9 PM, a severe storm rolled through and from the lean-to, we all watched the lightning show. The rain was heavy and the sound of rain on the roof put me asleep. It’s nice to have rain at night, when you’re dry under a shelter or in a tent, but it meant the trail would be wet in the morning and as we brushed up to leaves, we would too would be wet.

In the morning the air had cleared except for fog lingering along the lake. It was much cooler. We got on the trail and were surprise with a sighting of Katahdin, from the fourth peak of Chairback Mountain. Knowing the summer was coming to a close, I began to think of other trips I might take. One option was to take my bike to Florida and ride across the Everglades and down to the Keys or to Louisiana and tour through the towns in the Bayous (I never did either trip via a bicycle. I think I’d still like to do the Louisiana one and would prefer to travel through the Everglades in a canoe or kayak.). We only hiked about 11 miles, camping along the West Branch of the Pleasant River.

Jim crossing a stream flowing into a lake

The next morning, August, 24, Jim and I were hiking together. I was in the front and we were talking as the trail snaked through a boggy area before ascending Gulf Hagas Mountain. All a sudden, a large cow moose was only ten feet in front in front of me. I froze, not sure of what to do. Thankfully, the moose didn’t have any interest in us and made a ninety degree turn and made a new trail through the swamp. More and more, it seems, Jim and I are hiking together. While I enjoyed the companionship, I find we’re talking a lot of trivial and I miss having time for original thinking. Yet, I wonder if I would be thinking anything as I know the trail’s end isn’t far away and I don’t want to deal with what’s going to happen when I’m done.

The trail was beautiful today. There was a nice waterfall heading up Gulf Hogas Mountain and when we got to the top, we had a great view of Katahdin. I celebrated by eating a large Tootsie Roll. Four miles later, as we crossed White Cap Mountain, we were again treated with a good view of Katahdin. Our goal is now fully visible, yet it there are still seventy miles of trail between us and it as we wind our way around the lakes that separate us from the mountain. The weather has begun to cool off considerably and in the evening the wind blew strong. We camped at Logan Brook Lean-to with two 1986 thru-hikers from Seattle and a girl with three dogs who all slept in her tent. In the evening, I read the opening of Voltaire’s Candide.

One of the many moose I saw in New Hampshire and Maine

As dawn broke on August 25, I realized that it was very cold. At 5:50 AM, I stuck my head out of my sleeping bag and decided to wait a while. On the distant ridge, I could see that the sun was just hitting the top of the trees, creating a matchbook appearance. I wrote in my journal about a feeling that I’ve experienced since Monson. When I feel like I’m slowing down, it feels as if a hand is on the back of my pack pushing me forward. On several occasions, I thought it was Jim (who seems to like to hike behind me) pushing me to go faster, but when I look around, I’ll see that he’s several yards behind me. I wonder if it is God answering my prayers to finish the journey, to give me the strength to finish the trail.

When the sun is fully up, the temperatures rose and it became a pleasant day with the exception of a series of rain shows. Interestingly, as soon as a shower was over, the skies would clear and everything would dry out only to have the showers return. Jim and I had lunch at Cooper Brook and I photographed the falls there. I also got photographs of a beaver playing in Jo Mary Lake. We put in a lot of miles today, hiking a total of 23 miles which is pretty good as the days are now shorter and because of the cool morning temperatures, we’re getting a later start. We arrived at the Potaywadjo Springs Lean-to at 7:15 PM, having hiked the last 11 ½ miles in 4 hours (including stops). At the shelter we reunite with Steve (Dharma Bum) and meet Dave Webster (Good News) a hiker who is doing the trail from Grafton Notch NH to Maine section. Dave is an American Baptist minister from New Hampshire. In my journal, as I conclude my days event’s, I write, “The mountain grows larger as my summer memories fade.”

On August 26, before daylight, I wake to Good News’ fire. It’s a bonfire, with flames reaching up into the limbs and I wonder what in the heck is going on. I haven’t built but a few fires on the trail, mostly relying on my stove. The fires I have built have been small, just large enough to provide some heat or to cook. This one is a monster and Dave hauls in down branches to throw onto the inferno. We all get up and stand next to the fire, warming ourselves in the cool morning air. It’s not quite as cold the day before, but it’s still chilly. We have only 47 more miles to go and I realize that yesterday will have been our last 20 plus mile day for the summer.

At ten in the morning, Jim and I stop for a snack along Nahmakanta Stream and I take time to photograph it. Some of the maples leaves are turning lighter and a few of the birch are actually turning colors. I’m reminded that fall isn’t far off in this part of the world. The guide book says that you can see salmon spawning in this stream later in the fall. We stop for lunch at Nahmakanta Lake, taking more photos of Katahdin. The wind is still strong and is causing waves of about a foot high to crash on the rocky shore. When I close my eyes, it feels as if I’m back at my parents, on the beach.

It’s taken me time to get into Candide, which isn’t a very long book. Today I read about a man from Eldorado who said, “We never pray. We have nothing to ask of God, since He has given us everything we need. But we thank Him unceasingly.” I find myself nodding in agreement for I am blessed.

There is excitement along the trail. It’s especially evident in the trail registers at shelters, where people I’ve been following since Virginia are sharing their thoughts about completing the journey to Katahdin. In a few more days, I’ll be there. Yet, as I remind myself, even though this pilgrimage ends, the journey will continue. In my journal I write:

I’ve been truly happy this summer. I’ve watched the light fade from the evening sky, only to see it return the next morning. I’ve meet lots of interesting people and made new friends. I’ve had hard and challenging trails, but none too hard; I’ve been wet numerous times, but the rain hasn’t been too bad; I’ve had several miserable nights with bugs, but overall the insects haven’t been that bad. There have been times of intense heat and mornings of cold air; there have been times I was lonely and other times when I’ve felt crowded, but overall it has been an enjoyable time and I’ve been happy. I thank God for providing us with such a wonderful world and providing me an opportunity to live intimately in this world.

In the next line, following the “prayer” above, I noted that I had been stung on my left hand by a wasp earlier in the day and that my hand was still swollen and very tender and sore.

We camped for the night at Crescent Pond. I fixed the last of my Mac and Cheese (from now on it’s either Lipton Noodles or rice for dinner). Jim and I ate our dinners on a large boulder at the water’s edge, where we watched the sunset.

On August 27th, Jim and I made a 15 mile hike to Hard Brook Lean-to. We had great views of Katahdin from Rainbow Lake and Rainbow Ledges and I took numerous black and white shots. Katahdin is closing in on us. Whenever there is a break in the trees or we’re looking north across a lake, the mountain looms high in front of us. Compared to Katahdin, Springer Mountain in Georgia seems so anti-climatic. Much of Katahdin is above tree line, while Springer is so covered with trees. If it wasn’t for the plaque noting the beginning of the Appalachian Trail, you’d have a hard time knowing that you were at the top of the mountain.

At the lean-to, we are joined by Dharma Bum and Stonedancer (Ron, who is hiking south to Virginia) along with a bunch of scouts from Quebec and a singles group from New York City. The latter group freely share their food and booze (and likewise offer hits off their joints). I spent much of the evening talking to Ginny, a psychiatrist from Mt. Sinai Hospital and Pat, a flaming redhead who is also a health food nut and another younger woman that I didn’t catch her name, who is a computer operator for an arts organization. Thanks to their hospitality, I go to bed with a full stomach, something that I’ve not done often along the trail.

On August 28, we take a leisurely hike to Daisy Pond, the last highlight before climbing Katahdin. We take long stops at Abel Store, which is just outside Baxter Park, at the first public road since Monson. I enjoy a Pepsi and ice cream. We stop and play in a rock waterslide along the Penobscot River and at Big Niagara Falls. There is a lodge and library at Daisy Pond and I sit in the library enjoying the view of Katahdin, watching the glow of the setting sun bounce off the mountain and reflected on the still waters. There is a Bible here (I only carried a copy of the New Testament and Psalms with me) and I turn to the 25th chapter of Leviticus, rereading the verse that gave me my trail name, Sojourner.
“The land shall not be sold forever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.” -Leviticus 25:23
Camping with us tonight at the Daisy Pond Lean-to are Dharma Bum, Good News, Ron (a guy out for a week hike) and the Quebec Scouts.

Photo from Baxter State Park, Maine

The next day, August 29, was one of rest. Someone had left pancake mix and oil in the library for hikers and we all experimented with making pancakes without a griddle. They weren’t pretty, but with enough syrup, the globs of partly cooked dough were a nice break from oatmeal. I then spent much of the day in or around the library as I finished reading Candide. Although the book is drenched with sarcasm, which I normally enjoy, I found I wasn’t in the mood for Voltaire’s humor. I noted that the man needed to learn to keep his mouth shut, to conceal his cards (and not flash his wealth), to pay as little as possible for his purchases and to keep modest goals. Had he done so, he would have prevented most of his troubles. Yet, I agreed with the overall premise of the book, especially the notion of work and how, at the end, he says that we must go and work in the garden (referring to having been placed in the Garden of Eden as gardeners). I realize that soon it will be time for me to return back to my garden, back to school.

After lounging around in the library, reading Candide and a stack of magazines, Jim, Offshore Steve, Chainsaw and I finally got on the trail at 4 PM. Jim’s parents were coming in that afternoon and we set out to hike the 2.4 mile trek from Daisy Pond to Katahdin Stream Campground. It was an easy 30 minute hike. Once there, we found Jim’s parents and they had a bunch of steaks for us all for dinner. Jim spent the evening with his parents and siblings while Chainsaw and I headed over to the lean-to where we went to bed early, hoping for an early rise for our climb up Katahdin.
Mount Katahdin from Daisy Pond


  1. wow. this was a bit of an epic post...sounds lik ethe journey of a lifetime though...and you left off at a nice place...great pics. hope you have a wonderful weekend...

  2. Thanks for writing this up. I haven't read accounts of hiking the AT for so many years, it brought back a lot of memories.

  3. Always fun to hear about the hikes you have taken. You also made me homesick for Mt. Katahdin and Baxter State Park. I used to go there every two or three years.

  4. So much I can relate to and yet at the same time so much I can't see myself doing. But your intensity of emotion for your journey do come through and in that we have walked the same "trails."

  5. Brian, I decided the climb needed a post on its on.

    Ron, have you done any of the AT?

    Tim, I haven't been back to Baxter, but would love to do this hike again, with a fishing rod!

    Kenju, thanks for coming along

    The Walking Man, thanks for your words. Walking is good

  6. Although I haven't done it, my parents have canoed the everglades and said it was a spectacular trip.

    Having done a long journey once and being completely overwhelmed by my emotions as I neared the end, I always understand when I read entries like yours. It seems as if most people undergo similar feelings. I have often felt like I am tapped of energy but yet something is pushing me to finish. Can't wait to get the final installment of this series.

  7. I'd love to see a moose in the wild. What an amazing hike.

  8. Awesome journey. 23 miles... that's a long way. Did that once to finish a journey, not continue one! I love your feeling of the hand pushing you along- very special. And going to work in the garden... indeed!

  9. There is a 15-mile bike trail through Everglades National Park that is beautiful, but much more to see from a kayak or canoe.

    I'm always a little sad when my journeys come to an end. I think I'll be a little sad when this virtual journey ends, too.

  10. The richness of these posts also has me saying aloud, "My God, these guys are strong!" : )

  11. I did comment but it went astray.

    Lovely story, and photos.
    I've a good friend that lives in York County that has told me many a story about those woods.

  12. Another solid addition. You should put all these together on a separate blog which Google can find for people doing research on the trail. I find some of my hiking posts get hits every week from around the world via Google. I think it would be a great service.


  13. I like reading your adventures in the Appalachian trail, the people you've met and the funny anecdotes you write about. I hope the pancakes were good! :)

  14. I have sort of a fascination with the Appalachian trail - I pass an entrance / exit all the time (the one that is on that mountain road that goes through Helen, Georgia.) It is so neat that you read something like Voltaire on that trip.