Wednesday–May 24, 2000
Location–Cap Bon Ami overlook, Forillon National Park Quebec Province
The journey that I am embarking on today begins at the Cliffs of Forillon, Quebec Province, Canada, at the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula where the St. Lawrence meets the north Atlantic. From here I’ll follow the Sentier International des Appalaches/International Appalachian Trail (SIA/IAT) south and west through the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, then to cross into the state of Maine, a distance of some 730 miles. At Baxter State Park, Maine, I’ll pick up the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT), to follow it for over 2,100 miles, through the mountains and valleys of fourteen states, to Springer Mountain, Georgia. From there, I’ll continue generally south on the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT), the Georgia Pinhoti Trail (GPT), the Alabama Pinhoti Trail (APT), to finally connect to the Florida National Scenic Trail (FT) by a roadwalk. These connector trails, plus the roadwalk, amount to some 550 miles. From the Florida Panhandle, I’ll follow the FT for an additional 1,200 miles to the Everglades, west of Miami. The final leg, God willing, will be a roadwalk of approximately 175 miles to the southernmost point on the eastern North American continent in Key West. This system of trails, with accompanying roadwalks, is becoming known as The Eastern Continental Trail (ECT), and covers a distance of approximately 4,800 miles. It will take some ten months to complete this journey; if you’re ready, let’s get started!
I am filled with both excitement and nervous anticipation, for I have been waiting so long for this adventure to begin. Arrangements have been made for Benoit (Ben) Gagnon, an interpretive warden at Forillon National Park, to drive us to the cliffs at Cap Gaspé, the beginning/ending of the SIA/IAT. John John O O’Mahoney, who will be hiking south with me, says good-bye to his son Sean, who has driven us to Canada, and we’re off to the Cliffs of Forillon. On the way, Ben talks about these aged and timeless Appalachians, and he explains that the mountain we are approaching is one of the oldest of the old.
The SIA/IAT wastes little time getting right to our initiation. As Ben drops us off, the harsh wind is driving bitterly cold rain from the Sea of St. Lawrence. In my last conversation with Dick Anderson, President, SIA/IAT, he had urged me to be careful in descending by the cliffs where the mountain meets the sea. The last 100 vertical feet are over rock and shale—a very treacherous beginning. However, both John O and I are determined to begin this odyssey at the water’s edge, where the Appalachians plunge to the ocean floor. We descend without incident to pluck some pebbles from Gaspé (Land’s End), and at 3:00 p.m. we depart for Key West, Florida, the southernmost point of the eastern North American continent.
|Though it is but by footsteps ye do it.
And hardships may hinder and stay,
Walk with faith, and be sure you’ll get through it;
For “Where there’s a will there’s a way.”
Thursday–May 25, 2000
Location–Lea Cretes Trail near Le Portage Trail, Forillon National Park, Quebec Province
The rain and wind continue as we break camp. The sea and mountains all around are in the shroud. As I pass, I pay little more than a nod to the observation tower atop Mont Saint-Alban. Had it been a clear day, here would have been one of the most spectacular vistas in all my amblings along the entire Appalachian range. I try not to be disappointed; it is too early to deal with disappointment.
We’re climbing now to the ridge west of PQ132. Here we get into big-time snowpack, and our progress slows to a crawl. As the rain continues, the eggshell-thin snowcrust becomes thinner and thinner. When I’m able the gain the snow crowns without breaking through, I have much better luck. But as the afternoon wears on, the crust gives way with annoying—and alarming—regularity. John O is a big man. He’s constantly breaking through, and is having a much tougher time of it.
|Let me not follow the clamor of the world,
But walk calmly in my path.
Friday–May 26, 2000
Location–Flo Do Motel, Riviere au Renard, Quebec Province
The day dawns cold and rainy, the third straight. The hike today, through the western extent of the magnificent Forillon National Park, takes us quickly up again, to pass the delightful Lacs de Penouilles (Pinwheel Lakes). This section of trail is the newest in the park, having been completed in 1998. It is a wonderful distinction and an honor to have been the first to thru-hike the SIA/IAT in the Forillon back then, the first to see the striking view back down Riviere au Renard (Fox River) Valley, to the little village on the St. Lawrence Sea, and the first to witness the intimate lakes of the Pinwheels.
We haven’t climbed far this morning till we’re right back in the snowpack again, big time. The rain is still working the snowcrust to near a veil o’er the glistening whiteness, and the depth of the drifts has increased, varying now from two to nearly eight feet. There’s moose sign everywhere, and there have been snowmobiles through sometime this past winter. I pass a snow depth-measuring field deep in the mountain interior. Apparently the Park Service monitors it at periodic intervals throughout the winter season. I am able to follow the trail much more easily as a result of the tracks, and the snow seems to be packed a little better as a result. It is evident that John O and I are the first hikers through the Forillon this spring.
As the day passes, the snow becomes increasingly more difficult to negotiate, and progress slows to nearly a standstill. When I interrupt my struggle to rest, and to just look—and in the presence of such total silence, does there come a very present uneasiness. The scenery is spellbinding. The ice on the little pinwheel lakes seems so forbidding, yet is there a unique and distinctive beauty. This is indeed a winter wonderland.
|The winter! The brightness that blinds you,
The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
The silence that bludgeons you dumb.
[Robert W. Service]
Saturday–May 27, 2000
Location–Home of Ubaldine Dea, St. Yvon, Quebec Province
Yesterday was a very long and tiring day. It was good to get out of the snowpack, off the mountain and into Fox River to a warm room, a hot tub and supper at Dixie Lees.
We’re out early this morning, headed straight into the wind and rain to begin the roadwalk to Mont St.-Pierre. Most folks don’t care much for roadwalks, but I like them just fine, and this roadwalk is one of the finest in my book. But alas, this roadwalk won’t last, as trailbuilding crews will be working all summer to move this SIA/IAT from the road to the ridge. Currently, the trail follows PQ132 along the St. Lawrence Sea, past delightful French Canadian villages. To me it’s like going back 30-50 years in time. The folks who live here take great pride in their homes, though most are very modest. The colors they choose to brighten the drear and cold of the harsh winter monochromes are a riot – an absolute jolt to the eye. White with fire engine red is predominant, but it’s not unusual to see orange, purple and wild neon shades of blue, green and yellow mixed in. Clotheslines on pulleys are beside every house, as are the universally staggeringly huge stacks of firewood. Up here you can still run a charge account at the little mom-n-pop grocery store, and they’ll deliver to your home if you can’t get out – just like the little grocery store run by lifelong pal, Donnie Jungmeyer, back in my sleepy little hometown tucked away in the Ozark Highlands of Missouri. Up here, and back home, people help each other; it’s a way of life. Indeed, it is a beautiful thing, because these kind and generous folk are as happy and joy-filled as any I believe I’ve ever met.
Walking the road, one gets to meet and interact with the people; on the ridge, you just don’t have that opportunity. I like nature, and I like the mountains and woods just about as much as anybody, but I like meeting the folks along the way just as much, if not more. Ahh, so now you know why the old Nomad dearly loves his roadwalks.
|Then come the wild weather,
Come sleet or come snow,
We will stand by each other,
However it blow.
Sunday–May 28, 2000
Location–Motel La Maree Haute, Grande-Vallee, Quebec Province
After a most welcome night’s rest, John O and I are treated to a tank-stoking breakfast. We bid good-bye to our good friend, Ubaldine Dea, and are promptly greeted by another day of wind and cold – cold rain. Over the last two days, the road has climbed from the sea to the mountains, only to return again to the sea, and then to repeat the entire process again and again. I recall many delightful vistas along this way in ’98, but the angry, swirling shroud will yield none of that today.
Yet there is joy, as there always and inevitably seems to be, for it is as we are slogging along, a vehicle pulls to the shoulder and stops. The driver emerges, dons his rain jacket and heads straight for John O and me. Oh my, it’s Viateur DeChamplain from Matane, the Quebec director for the SIA/IAT. Viateur has a bag of goodies for us, along with much-welcome upbeat conversation!
This day has been a long, cold, soaking roadwalk, and as we near Petite-Vallee we’re both ready to call it a day, so into the little mom-n-pop grocery I go to look for my friend Jean (Jeff) Francoes LeBreux who befriended me in ’98. Sure enough he’s still here, and after his face lights up in a beaming ear-to-ear smile, he exclaims, “Nimblewill Nomad!” Jeff had driven me to Grand-Vallee in ’98 so I could find a place for the night – and yup, after a short while, Jeff loads both John O and me and we head once more for Grand-Vallee.
|A trail goes by her way, the IAT.
And she, one rainswept day, befriended me.
What joy has come my way, a mystery,
A debt I must repay, now filled with glee.
*Alas, this dark-gloom day, what misery.
* I returned one year later bearing gifts for Ubaldine, to find her yard in weeds and the beautiful home that I had remembered in much disrepair. Her neighbors gave me the sad news of her death.
Monday–May 29, 2000
Location–DuRocher Motel, Madeleine Center, Quebec Province
What a blessing to see the morning dawn to clear skies. Five constant and steady days of cold rain tend to wear on a fellow. Patience is a great virtue when one can muster enough of it!
The restaurant at La Maree Haute is a fine establishment. The place has been totally remodeled since I came through back in ’98, all whiz bang new. I went over last night for spaghetti and was treated royally, so it’s back again for breakfast this morning.
The plan today is to hike from the motel here at Grande-Vallee to Petite-Vallee, going south to north on the trail. Once there, we’ll get a ride back again with Jeff to the motel here at Grande-Vallee. This plan works out just great, and Jeff has us back and on our way south again before 11:00 a.m. Thanks Jeff!
The road winds up and around through the mountains for the better part of the day to finally descend back to the sea and the little village of Riviere Madeleine. Here is located the fine restaurant Chez Mamie, Annie Langlois proprietor. Her son Gilbert waits tables, and as I enter I inquire about Gilbert. Annie calls her son who comes right away – to swell up into that familiar broad-beaming Canadian smile as he sees the old Nomad! John O comes in and we enjoy the most delicious spaghetti dinner served in grand fashion as we enjoy the evening searching the sea, looking for whales.
After a pleasant short nap in the comfortable living room, we head back out into the evening for a short roadwalk past the old lighthouse to Madeleine Center and the DuRocher Motel. A most enjoyable day.
|I’ve also seen the storm clouds burst,
And winds go rushing thro’,
But I always knew that once again
I’d see my “Patch of Blue.”
[Mary Newland Carson]
Tuesday–May 30, 2000
Location–de l’Ance-Pleureuse Gite, Anse-Pleureuse, Quebec Province
We are greeted to another fine day weatherwise as we rise to another day on our roadwalk west, following PQ123, a most scenic, picturesque byway along the St. Lawrence Sea. We no sooner get the old jitneys warmed up good than we arrive beside this gravel drive leading to a lovely home beside the sea. The sign reads “Cafe Chez Diane, Repast Complet, Ouvert des 6hr. AM.” Whipping out the little user-friendly and comprehensive Bilingual Hiking Glossary, with cross references for most-oft-used French and English words and terms, prepared for the SIA/IAT by Suzanne Bailey, Emma Jean Bailey, Jocelyne DeChamplain and Francis R. Wihbey, I am able to determine that this lovely, well-kept home by the sea is actually a restaurant that serves all meals, and is open in the morning at 6:00 a.m. So over we go.
A pleasant, clean and tidy home it is, and indeed it is a home. We’re seated in the dining room just off the kitchen, and the bathroom is up the stairs, just off the hall, next to the bedroom on the second floor. No his and hers, no exit signs, no emergency lighting, no fire extinguishers, no hood over the grill, no “no shoes, no shirt, no service” signs, just good wholesome food served up by the lady of the house with that rosy, broad-beaming French Canadian smile. Oh yes folks, we’re going back at least 40-50 years in time here as we enjoy these quaint, far away storybook lands along the St. Lawrence Sea, Canada–and the beautiful people living here.
As John O and I enjoy our breakfast we see a fellow pass by on the road. He’s heading west the same as us. It isn’t until later when John O crosses paths with him again in a hardware store in Mont Louis that we realized he’s the fellow we had been hearing about who’s hiking the Gaspé Peninsula, collecting funds for “Dogs for the Blind.” He’s Andrei Ducet, from Ste-Foy Quebec, a most gregarious and pleasant fellow. We first heard about him a couple of days ago. An auto speeding east screeched to a halt in the road, the passenger’s hand came out, the kind lady quickly thrust five dollars to John O, and the vehicle just as quickly sped away. We looked at each other and shrugged. The best I could manage was, “John, I’ve told you about the people of Canada.” In the hardware store John O finally gets the opportunity to deliver the lady’s generous donation–plus a little extra–to where it rightfully belongs.
|Today has been a most pleasant hiking day along the sea and into the Gite (B&B) at Anse-Pleureuse.
Beautiful faces are those that wear —
It matters little if dark or fair —
Whole-souled honesty printed there.
[Ellen P. Allerton]
Wednesday–May 31, 2000
Location–Mont Saint-Pierre Motel, Charlotte Auclair and Raymond Boily, proprietors, Mont Saint-Pierre, Quebec Province
Today will be our final, short day on the roadwalk west along the St. Lawrence. As I hike, enjoying the cool, prevailing breeze from the sea, and the soul-calming scenic beauty of these timeless mountains as they meet the restless waves, I hearken back to a day not unlike this day, the day in ’98 when I completed this very roadwalk at its eastern extent at Fox River. This time, however, it seems the time has passed so fast. Perhaps it’s because back then I had been on the trail so long by myself, and this time I’ve had the luxury of pleasant company the whole way. Isn’t it always the more fun, and doesn’t the time go the faster when one’s joy is shared with others!
By early afternoon I arrive at the motel in Mont Saint-Pierre, to be greeted enthusiastically by my dear friends, Raymond and Charlotte. When they see me, that grand ear-to-ear Canadian smile lights both their faces. Raymond and I relax, catching up on events of the past two years. From the comfortable sitting room at the Mont Saint-Pierre Motel, Raymond points out an Orcas Whale casually negotiating the harbor. As I sit here surrounded by all this natural beauty, I wonder at the grandness of it all. The snowmelt is in full tilt now, creating the most remarkable waterfall erupting from the very brink of the western bay escarpment. This tumultuous cataract must be in total free-fall for nearly 400 feet before careening from the angular rock face to plunge again to the rocks and boulders below. The unparalleled grandeur, the joy-filled, beautiful Canadian people with their romantic and fascinating language; it is all so inspiring, making this little niche by the corner of the sea in Quebec one of the most spellbinding places on earth.
Tomorrow we will depart this place for Matapedia, Quebec, to hike south from there on the SIA/IAT into New Brunswick. We will not be able to complete the grand traverse over the tundra of Jacques Cartier, Xalibu, Mont Albert and Mont Logan until the 24th of June. We will return then, once again, to this magic place by the sea to complete the traverse.
|A smile is a light in the window of the soul indicating that the heart is home.
Location–Restigouche Hotel, Matapedia, Quebec Province, Pete Dube, proprietor
Today will be a zero-mile day, a bus and train ride from Gaspé to Matapedia. John O and I are served a fine breakfast, prepared by Charlotte and brought to our table by Raymond. Here at Mont Saint-Pierre Motel, we have been provided the most kind Canadian hospitality. These generous folks would accept no payment for our room or for the services and fine meals provided us. Rather, they seemed most content in their obvious pleasure of just having us as their guests. It’s been such a joy sharing their company. Raymond and Charlotte, thank you for your generosity and kindness, you’re Canada to the core, the finest example of your country’s kind and generous people. I will remain in your debt.
The bus ride back to Gaspé seems so short compared to the roadwalk. It is fun looking for little things again along the way, things one would only see while walking, like how the door is shaped and built on one of the neat little dwellings by the sea, or a special little drive leading to the mountains. Soon we reach Gaspé, and are immediately offered a ride to the train station way across the bridge. Ever since I found out there was a passenger train still running up here, I’ve wanted to take a ride on it. There’s something about trains. It’s the old fashioned coming out in me, I guess, the nostalgia of it. A few passenger trains are still running in the states, aside from Amtrak, but those few are little more than a novelty. Up here there is actually a need for the train, there are folks that depend on this service.
And what a joy this ride turns out to be! As the train lurches, pitches, squeaks and moans out of Gaspé, comes flooding back sweet memories of my childhood, when Mom would take sis and me back east to visit our grandparents. Grandpa worked as a stationmaster for the Pennsylvania Railroad for as long as I could remember, and every summer or so he would send us tickets for the Missouri Pacific and the Pennsylvania Railroads-for the train ride to visit them. Those were grand times. Sitting in this old passenger car now with my eyes closed, I can recall those times so vividly.
The trip today takes us past Percé Rock, then along the bluffs of the Gaspé coast to pass through a most impressive tunnel before finally arriving at Matapedia around 9:30 p.m. Pete kindly greets us and has a room all set for us. This has been a grand zero-mile day.
|It seems to me I’d like to go
Where bells don’t ring, nor whistles blow,
Nor clocks don’t strike, nor gongs sound,
And I’d have stillness all around. [Nixon Waterman]
Friday–June 2, 2000
Location–Restigouche Hotel, Matapedia, Quebec Province
This day is spent in much-needed rest. We are late getting up and to the restaurant where Bruno Robert, one of my friends here in Matapedia, greets us. This is a day for working on journal entries and sorting equipment, organizing provisions and preparing for our hike on to Squaw Cap and the canyon of the Restigouche.
Pete Dube has been a member of the Life Extension Foundation for many years and is a strong proponent for a number of their natural health products. He and many of his friends have been taking them for years. Pete is sixty now and guides regularly for black bear and Atlantic salmon. A good friend of his, and now of mine, Richard Adams, is in his nineties. Richard is a legend, for he has been guiding on the Matapedia, Kedgwick and Restigouche Rivers for Atlantic salmon for over 75 years! One of the natural products, available and now provided by one of my sponsors, was first recommended to me by Pete. The natural product that I am now taking is made by Sundown Corporation, a subsidiary of Rexall Drugs. The product is Osteo-Bi-Flex. This is a combination of Glucosamine HCL (1500 mg) and Chondroitin Sulfate (1200 mg). It promotes healthy joints and restores and rebuilds connective tissue–like in the knees! This product on its own, I truly believe, has kept me on the trail at near age 62.
In the evening, John O and I hosted the evening meal and a delightful get-together attended by Pete, Bruno and girlfriend Carole, David LeBlanc and girlfriend Sally, with their new baby, India. Also present was David’s brother Phil.
|The journey not the arrival matters.
[T. S. Eliot]
Saturday–June 3, 2000
Location–Glenwood Park near Dawsonville, New Brunswick Province
This day will be totally a roadwalk as we cross the Restigouche River from Quebec into New Brunswick, where we will be hiking for the next couple of weeks. If plans work out, we should be somewhere near the US/Canada border about time to return to Mont Saint-Pierre, Quebec, to complete the hike there across the tundra. Immediately ahead of us is an uninterrupted stretch of trail the most demanding and technically difficult of any along the entire Appalachian range–the Restigouche Canyon. Then it’s on to the two highest peaks in New Brunswick: Mount Carleton and Sagamook. From there we’ll follow the Tobique Valley to the St. John River, then around the Aroostook River to the border.
Before beginning our hike back on the 24th, we had stopped in to meet Francois Boulanger, Director, Parc de la Gaspesié, at the Provincial Park offices in Saint-Anne des Monts. He requested that we delay our entry into the Chic Chocs until the 24th of June due to the ice conditions on the tundra and the Caribou calving season; thus our plans at present and the reasoning.
Except for a few minutes walking through hail, the roadwalk today is uneventful, which is always nice for any roadwalk. In ’98, part of this hike involved a climb over the third highest peak in New Brunswick, Squaw Cap. However, due to continued timbering in the area, we were urged to take the alternate roadwalk route instead, so it has turned out to be a hammer-the-road day.
The friendly people of Canada have offered me many rides today. The expressions are always humorous as the kind, perplexed folks drive away after I politely decline their offer. We are also offered much welcome and enjoyable conversation and water bottle refills along as we meet people out working their yards on this beautiful Saturday.
By early evening we arrive at Glenwood Park. Glenwood was the first Provincial Park in New Brunswick but has been closed for a number of years. The entrance is barred, weeds and brush have taken over, and the whole place looks pretty well neglected. In the rear of the park remain a couple of buildings, one an old woodshed. I rearrange the place to make room for my bedroll while John O sets up under one of the old picnic table pavilions. This has been an enjoyable hiking day.
|Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth, I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune.
Sunday–June 4, 2000
Location–Near the park bench, Restigouche Canyon overlook, New Brunswick Province
The trail leads out of Glenwood Park to the mighty Restigouche Canyon. This day is a warm-up with a few ups and down to get us prepared for the rollercoaster that will greet us during the next few days as we hike south. The narrow, near-vertical cuts that interrupt the canyon rim are called gulches, and we are introduced to a few today. It is through these gulches that the joyful brooks cascade to join the Restigouche, with the trail following along, straight down the gulch wall to the brook, across and just as abruptly straight back up the next, to continue on interminably.
Today we manage 11 miles. John O and I are both exhausted, so, as we reach the main canyon overlook, complete with park bench, we decide to call it a day. Near the canyon but back from the wind, and with the aid of birch bark, we manage a fine warming and cooking fire. It will be “buckle the seatbelts” tomorrow.
|The secrets of the Restigouche,
Are known to only me.
The first to hike this river trail,
Along the IAT.
Monday–June 5, 2000
Location–Ridge above Upper Grindstone Brook, New Brunswick Province
Today we begin our hike through the canyon of the Restigouche, a remote, distant place, isolated except by boat to all those except the most footloose and daring adventurer. This is indeed an enchanted land. For the next thirty miles, the SIA/IAT follows the broken and interrupted rim of the canyon of the Restigouche. The mountains here along are not formidable by any standard, but the trail through this precipitous landscape follows the most rugged path that I have ever experienced. The strongest, fittest hiker cannot endure long without stopping to rest and to wonder, to rest the spinning head from spinning free, and to stop the pack-driven body from pitching straight down the next gulch wall. And to wonder* ahh yes, to wonder–to wonder at the majesty, the rugged untamed beauty of it all, and to wonder if there’ll ever be an end. Begins now the grand and indescribable challenge, for during the next three or four days we will have scant moments of rest from the rigors of near-vertical ascents and descents. Interspersed, and just for variety, will be mixed ice cold fords and gulch wall sideslabbing. Each and every foot placement will be undertaken with total deliberation, for the risk of falling out of control to the gulch below will remain a real and ever-present danger.
Bear scat and moose droppings appear along the trail today, but we see neither of these grand creatures. We’ve been blessed with beautiful weather again, hiking from 8:30 this morning until shortly after 4:00 this afternoon, with only a few brief breaks to rest and to regain our strength. Certainly it will seem incredible but it is true, for during this seven and one-half hours we have managed only 6,700 meters, a scant four miles. Through here today, as Bruce Otto would surely say, “A man can stand straight up and might-nigh bite the dirt.”
|All through these mountains there is cut,
A canyon long and deep.
And to its flank rush joyful brooks,
From gulches rough and steep.
And o’er this all the trail is laid,
Tuesday–June 6, 2000
Location–Woods road near Gilmore Brook, New Brunswick Province
We are greeted by gloom, but by mid-morning the mush burns away to reveal a beautiful warm day-and blackflies and skeeters for real!
The trail continues along the rim of the Restigouche Canyon. Over the countless millions of years, this river has cut out an amazing ditch all through these mountains. Where the mountains come to the canyon, they abruptly end, their ridgelines plunging to the canyon floor. Into each gulch goes the canyon wall, creating precipitous cuts. And here goes the trail, up, down and through. Today again the bone-numbing climbing continues, with some welcome interruption as the ridges widen some. But the gulches and ice-cold fords keep coming.
The old Nomad was the first to hike the canyon of the Restigouche. That was in the fall of ’98. It appears that there has been very little traffic through here since. As I hike along today I think of how this treadway must be much the same as was the treadway of another trail some fifty years ago. In Walking With Spring, Earl Shaffer’s delightful book about his ’48 thru-hike o’er the Appalachian Trail, Earl laments as to having to literally walk on wildflowers–wildflowers growing directly in the trail! Much the same do I find this trail today, as was the Appalachian Trail fifty years ago, for it is impossible to hike the treadway here without stepping on the flowers and ferns, the beautiful and varicolored trillium and fiddleheads. So it’s climb, climb, climb, trample, trample, trample; for it is impossible, as there is just no way to avoid stepping on these fragile, happy plants.
The two days of rest at Pete’s luxurious Restigouche Hotel have been a blessing to my shin splints. Oh yes, I’ve had problems. I was prepared for some very tough going through this section of trail, but the ankle swelling is settling down, and the shin pain has lessened.
Well, it seems that today is the day to get lost. We are unable to follow the trail through Gilmore Brook. At first the treadway becomes very sketchy and difficult to follow, with many blowdowns and scant flagging. As we search ahead, following the occasional blue and white survey taped trees, we arrive at what appears a worker’s maintenance trail, which leads to a nearby access road. Here the flagging ends. Backtracking, we’re able to locate another flagged trail leading west toward the gulch, but after a little over a kilometer, and after climbing through countless blowdowns, and down and up another gulch, the flags end in an impenetrable wall of brush. So it’s backtracking again to the woods road for a long, circuitous hike around. After a mile or so of this, we find a flat grassy spot and call it a day.
|If in you there’s some mountain goat,
Will serve you well indeed.
Sure-footedness on mountain walls,
A skill that you will need.
‘twill take you days to hike this through,
Wednesday–June 7, 2000
Location–Grassy woods road by Upper Thorn Point Brook, New Brunswick Province
We are greeted again to an overcast morning, this one more persistently stubborn. It is late morning before the sun manages to push some of the local clutter aside. We continue on the old logging road that tends to be tacking north-northwest. The river and its tributary brooks are trending generally south-southwest, so we are hiking with the confidence that we will soon intersect the river and the trail again. We can see the open vastness and blue haze of the canyon off to our right, so this plan is working. Soon we pick up the familiar blue and white flagging, indicating we’re once more on the SIA/IAT. I immediately recognize this spot; for it was here that I lost the trail in ’98 and was unable to continue without taking the same detour around. Now I know why so much of the detour route looked so familiar–I had hiked the same route, bumbling my way around, miraculously, the same way two years ago. It’s just hard to remember a few steps out of ten million.
Since ’98, the trail along the Restigouche has been marked to a great extent with the new metal blue and white SIA/IAT blazes. These have been nailed to untreated dimensional eight-foot length, 2×4 spruce studs that have been pointed and driven into the ground as best can be driven at strategic points along the trail. The original flagging in blue and white has survived amazingly well, and some sections have also been blazed with the white paint blazes much like the venerable AT.
Do you ever have sort of a funk of a day? Oh yes, looks like this might be one of those days for me, for the cold and haze are hanging tight. Much as I hate to admit, I’m reverting to my old, familiar thought patterns this morning–negative thought patterns. I’m thinking about the fact that this Restigouche section of trail now bypasses one of the most incredibly beautiful views anywhere along the trail in Canada, the view across and onto the sheer rock bluffs that form the Restigouche oxbow at Cross Point. In ’98 it loomed forbidding and gray in the stark, mist-driven swirl of that morning, and I recall my thought being that I must forgive it this unwelcome gesture, as it must surely be a pleasant and grand place in the comforting rays of a warm, radiating sun. But alas, even as the sky is clearing and the day turns most pleasant, this much anticipated vantage never comes, as I find this section has now been bypassed for the sake of saving a kilometer or two and eliminating one of the gulch pops. I don’t understand this, I just don’t understand.
|So if you’ve got the yearn and bent,
I’d recommend to you:
To come and see what I have seen,
And plan to tough it through.
Thursday–June 8, 2000
Location–NB Trail, km243, near Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Restigouche, New Brunswick Province
A good hiking day appears in order. The night was cold, but I kept warm and slept well. I really like the luxury of the room in my Wanderlust Gear Nomad tent provided by another of my very kind sponsors, Kurt Russell, from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The tent was designed and built by Kurt in order to fill a void in the lightweight gear market. At well under two pounds, it is by far the lightest and roomiest one-person backpacking tent on the market. Thanks, Kurt, for providing me your great product for “Odyssey 2000,” and thank you for your friendship.
We don’t get far today until the trail wanders into a large clearcut. Here, there are no blazes and no flagging. We manage to beat around the brush in the clearcut and find a couple of flags which seem to indicate the direction the trail once went, but when we check all along the clearcut border for over an hour and a half, we are unable to locate where the trail goes back into the woods. Reluctantly, we finally turn to the logging road and follow it to the little village of Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Restigouche. From here, we pick up the NB Trail and head for Kedgwick, where there are many dear friends. The Restigouche hike is now history. There have been many memorable moments and we are through safely.
|And now I bid thee, Restigouche,
Enchanted land: “ farewell.”
If you would know its secrets, come;
For I will never tell.
Friday–June 9, 2000
Location–Home of Maurice Simon and Anne Marie Pallot, Kedgwick, New Brunswick Province
The NB Trail is an old rails-to-trail running across New Brunswick. We picked it up yesterday at Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Restigouche and followed it to Kedgwick, pitching for the evening by a little stream near a lovely meadow. We’ll be hiking this very same NB Trail as it is shared with the SIA/IAT through part of the Tobique Valley.
We hike out with the rain this morning, but it isn’t long until the wind and sun drive it away to reveal a delightfully pleasant day. The rail grade soon crosses NB17 as it cuts the long side of a right triangle on a beeline to Kedgwick, so we stick right with it. At this crossing, however, there is a little homemade sign pointing to a building nearby. It reads, “Mom’s Bed & Breakfast.” Oh yes, we’ll make this little side trip. An SUV is parked in front with a New York tag and a big luggage bin on top; so it looks like Mom is open for business. Through the front window, I see three hunters at the breakfast table. So far, so good! I open the door and one of the hunters motions me in. Mom hears the door open and comes from the kitchen to see me standing with pack still on. “Would you like some coffee?” is her hello! Looks like I’m in as I answer with an enthusiastic, “Yes.” The hunters are from Buffalo, and they come up every year black bear hunting. They’ve had great success this year; one more bear and they’ll head home, each with his own bear-shootin’ story to tell. As Mom fills my cup for the second time, I’m asked if I’d like some breakfast. Well now, this is working fine! John O comes in and is also served a fine breakfast. Great conversation with Diana Mom Bolduc–and the bear hunters from Buffalo.
As we head for Kedgwick, Maurice Simon, NB SIA/IAT trailbuilder and great friend from ’98, comes up the railbed to find and greet us. What a joy seeing Maurice again. Of course John O and I are immediately invited to stay at his home in Kedgwick. So in we head for a wonderful evening with Maurice, Anne Marie, and their children Fannie and Jerome.
Also living in Kedgwick are two other dear friends: Suzanne Bailey, coeditor of the neat little bilingual glossary, and Marc Mainville (Rainbow Bright, AT, Georgia to Maine, ’99). I get to spend a few minutes with Suzanne but Marc is not at home.
A shower, clean clothes, warm bed, hot meal–a great day!
|Never miss a chance to rest your horse.
[Texas Bix Bender]
Saturday–June 10, 2000
Location–Home of Bertin Allard, Superintendent, Mount Carleton Provincial Park, Saint-Quentin, New Brunswick Province
Today is a roadwalk as we head for Mount Carleton Provincial Park. We’re out late as it is so easy to linger with dear friends. Before we know it, it’s ten o’clock, and we’ve got at least seventeen miles to put behind us today. We’re not far out of Kedgwick with the wind doing its best to discourage us, when a familiar, smiling face appears as an auto approaches slowly. I recognize Bertin Allard immediately. Bert is Superintendent, Mount Carleton Provincial Park. What a happy time seeing him again! He has messages for us from SIA/IAT President, Dick Anderson and also from NB SIA/IAT Coordinator, Mel Fitton. As he pulls away, I mention to John O that I bet this isn’t the last we see of Bert today! John O says, “What do you mean?” “Just wait and see,” I reply. At five, and with the seventeen miles behind us, we pull off into a spruce stand near a beaver pond. Few vehicles are passing now as I mention to John O that we should be watching for Bert. He gives me a funny look, but when we hear the next vehicle coming, he pops around to the road for a look. John O is no sooner around the corner than I hear, “There he goes!” I holler back, “Get him stopped.” I head for the road now, too, to find John O and Bert talking. He’s come to pick us up and take us back to his place in Saint-Quentin just as I had hoped, then anticipated, and finally pretty much expected. John O, it’s just that I know Bert and his predictable kindness!
So it’s off to Bert’s we go, to his cozy, woodstove-warmed shop, for a tall longneck or two, and the local delicacy, cipaille. What a great day on the road, and what an equally great evening with Bert and his friends!
|When the form of good operates invisibly, it produces happiness,
And when it operates visibly, it produces delight.
Sunday–June 11, 2000
Location–Warden’s Bunkhouse, Mount Carleton Provincial Park, New Brunswick Province
What a great night in the shop at Bert’s place. More of Bert’s friends come by to meet us this morning. After lots of coffee, cereal and toast, we load up. Bert and daughter, Marie Eve, run us back out the road to continue our hike to Mount Carleton. Before leaving us, Bert offers John O and me the finest accommodations in the bunkhouse at Mount Carleton, so hammer the road it is today to make it on in.
The freeze and thaw of the seasons play holy sam with the roads up here, and NB180 has taken its licks. Some of the potholes are really scary–three to four feet long and near a foot deep. We watch vehicle after vehicle play the losing game today as they try dodging them, making for a most entertaining show of it. Turning on gravel road NB385, we haven’t gone far until a Park Service vehicle pulls along and stops. What a grand smile from Warden, Ralph Everett, a friend made during my ’98 hike. Just as before, around here no news is big news, as it seems everyone knows we’re coming, so checking up on our progress is apparently just part of the process. As we enter the park, a park vehicle greets us again, with Francois and Sandra on board. Francois is navigating while Sandra leans out the window with the park camcorder running!
The operation here at Carleton is first class even though the power and phone lines ended way, way back. A generator keeps things cranking, along with propane and cellular phones–surely not downtown, but like downtown! After a grand reception by all, we are ushered to the kitchen where Sandra has prepared a fine spaghetti dinner for us. Oh yes folks, we’re way back in the north woods where roughin’ it’s the rule–but this ain’t roughin’ it! We’ll climb Mount Carleton tomorrow–and that spiritual summit, Sagamook, but for tonight, and in the waning shadows of this very special place, it’s a warm, soothing shower and a little color TV!
|I respect the air around a mountain.
Monday–June 12, 2000
Location–Warden’s Bunkhouse, Mount Carleton Provincial Park, New Brunswick Province
This is going to be an excitement-filled day. The weather is cooperating, with perfectly clear skies. Returning to Mount Carleton and Sagamook, this is a time I’ve been looking forward to with great anticipation.
Maurice Simon is supposed be climbing with us today, but at 9:30 he has still not arrived, so John O and I decide to head out. Bert is like a little kid, wanting to go along, but with Monday, and with new “casual” help to train, he must tend to the park and to his many responsibilities as park superintendent.
The climb begins as we ascend toward Mount Bailey. From here it’s on to Bald Mountain Brook Trail. I have vivid memories from my climb up this brook two years ago, for it is one of the most magnificent climbs of all. Here is a singing and dancing brook so grand. To this place does Mother Nature send all her people of music and dance, for down this brook comes an absolute choreographed ensemble. I am greeted immediately by glad and happy children of the bounding waters as the brook cascades and free-falls past the boulders and rocks. The trail sticks tight to this delightful show, and I feel no effort in the near-vertical climb. The music and motion now is so pure and sweet, not one false note, not one miscue, not one wrong step. Every note ever played through time is being played; every song ever sung is ringing forth, all in perfect harmony. Waterfall after waterfall are there formed remarkable ballets of rhythmic motion, the shimmering ballerinas dancing and pirouetting to perfect, pure sound. What a joy to be the audience for this performance; what a blessing to be alive on this day, here on this glad and happy trail!
As we gain the ridge, the trail turns, to work its way up Mount Carleton. This being the highest point in the Maritimes, and in New Brunswick, it’s a must climb, so up we go. But it is Sagamook that I am anxious to visit again, and no time is wasted retracing our steps to head for that sacred mountain. It is here that Maurice finally catches us, and we make the climb up Sagamook together. What perfect timing, and what a perfect day. What a memorable experience we share together. The earth, we are told, is ground, the physical medium of closure in the loop of energy as we know it. Should this be so, then the nodal point in this limitless sink of energy most certainly is Sagamook. This mountain is encased in boundless energy; this mountain emits boundless energy–this mountain is boundless energy!
In the evening we descend to Lake Nictau, much as, I am certain, did the tribal chiefs descend after their day of council. Then it’s a leisure hike as we return to the warmth of the Warden’s bunkhouse at Mount Carleton Provincial Park. A perfect ending to a perfect day.
|The summit of ol’ Sagamook isn’t all that high,
But as I climb, I pass right through the bottom of the sky.
From here to turn and look–and gaze, into the wild blue yonder,
And try and try, as best I can, to comprehend the wonder.
Now from this lofty firmament I let my spirit soar,
Tuesday–June 13, 2000
Location–Bear’s Lair, Don and Evelyn McAskill, proprietors, Riley Brook, New Brunswick Province
Nadine and Louise, employees here at the park, told us last evening they’d have fresh muffins from Tim Horton’s for us first thing this morning, and sure enough, eight o’clock sharp, in they come with bags of muffins! This’ll get the old jitney crankin’.
We’re up and out to another glorious day, with just the least bit of wind. Warden, Ed Higgins, had told us about the old entrance to the park, which is now barricaded. We can hike that way, however, and save considerable distance by not going back out the park main entrance; so down the old roadway we go. The roadwalk today is one of those long, hammer-it-out roadwalks, the kind where it’s possible to see the road for great distances ahead. There is hardly any traffic though, an average of only two vehicles per hour, so we are able to walk the most friendly path along the road–even the centerline. By late afternoon, we reach Riley Brook and Bear’s Lair. The lodge is full, this being bear-hunting season, but Evelyn finds room for us in the loft. As we settle in, she prepares a fine evening meal for both John O and me. What a great and memorable time with all the friendly folks at Mt. Carleton Provincial Park, but I am glad to be heading on south.
|Who is more happy, when, with heart content,
Fatigued he sinks into some pleasant lair.
Wednesday–June 14, 2000
Location–Rogers Motel, Wilfred Lagase, proprietor, Plaster Rock, New Brunswick Province
Evelyn has coffee ready when we head down this morning. The bear hunters are all in for breakfast. I enjoy talking with Bob from Pennsylvania and Rick, a medical doctor from Wisconsin. I know a little about the history of this very successful business from past discussions with Don and Evelyn, but this morning I sit in total captivation as Bob tells of his first visits here years ago, and how those hunts were organized from Don’s dad’s place up the road. It takes years to build a reputation in the guiding business, and the McAskills have one of the finest reputations for guiding hunters to bear anywhere roundabouts.
The Tobique Valley is such a special place. This is one of the most enjoyable roadwalks it has been my pleasure to experience anywhere, and I’ve done a few. The people here are so kind and friendly, the most hospitable, like William Miller III. I met Bill during my first hike through here in ’98. Bill is a craftsman of wooden canoes, the very finest, a skill passed down from his father and grandfather. The canoe that Bill is currently creating is from the very mold designed and built by his grandfather seventy-five years ago. Thus, the canoe Bill is working on now will become the 75th anniversary Miller canoe, the first original Miller wooden canoe. What a proud tradition, what a remarkable heritage.
This valley is timeless; the moral values and passed-down skills of the people are timeless. And what a more fitting place–here in the most ancient of the ancient and timeless Appalachians. What a joy to be able to go back, to hike through it all once again, to be part of it all one more time! But alas, this roadwalk will certainly not endure, as plans are most assuredly underway to move the trail from the road to the ridge all along. It is truly a blessing to have experienced and enjoyed this spellbinding place. While resting along the road and talking with John O, I mention that I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we were to see Mel Fitton soon–this man, the driving force for trailbuilding in the province of New Brunswick. Sure enough, just as we pull into Plaster Rock to complete our roadwalk for today, who drives up but none other than Mel Fitton, headed for a meeting up north. Mel invites us to dinner and we share a grand time with him and his assistant, Erin.
|Blest, who can unconcern’dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away;
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day.
Thursday–June 15, 2000
Location–Gary Dimerchant’s Boarding House, Perth Andover, New Brunswick Province
Good old Wilfred at Rogers Motel, he’s always glad to see me, and indeed it’s a pleasure seeing him again. He will never tell me how much he wants for a room, so I always have to try and figure what’s fair, and as usual, Wilfred is pleased when we settle on the amount.
We’ve got a long hike today, a roadwalk of some eight miles. Then it’s along the NB Trail, a multi-use rail-trail by the wide and grand Tobique, through the Tobique Narrows and into the St. John Valley, a near twenty-seven mile day. Since we’re already south of town at Wilfred’s and we want to head south, the decision is to continue on down the west side of the Tobique instead of going back into town to cross. We can reach the other side at the little village of Arthurette, pick up the NB Trail there and head on through the Narrows and on into Perth. Doesn’t take long to realize that the decision to stay this side of the river is the right choice. We haven’t gone far when a lady comes to her door and invites John O and me in for cookies and coffee. Here we meet more great folks who live here in the Tobique Valley, Helen and Douglas Edgar, and their grandson Brandon. They’re getting set for a canoe trip with friends Phyllis and Len and Shirley and Victor. The cookies are great, and we’re offered more as we talk about the majestic Tobique Valley–and about Bill Miller and his fine canoes! Helen gets her fiddle out for some grand old toe-tapping music, and before we depart and as we linger, both John O and I must sign their wall. Yes, that’s right, we must sign their wall! Thousands of names, so it seems, grace every inch of wall space in the back alcove entrance, and with the aid of a good old Sharpie, we leave our mark.
By lunchtime we’ve reached the bridge at Arthurette, and oh my! Right decision again, as there’s a fine little mom-n-pop restaurant on this side of the bridge. So it’s in for lunch we go.
Across the bridge and just a short hike along the NB Trail, we come to the Wagon Wheel Takeout, run by Cathy Sullivan and helper Cheryl. Time now for ice cream cones, compliments of Cathy–all kinds of neat flavors to choose from, even “Death by Chocolate.” The treat tastes great, and we linger for the longest time in the warmth of the sun, while relaxing and talking at their picnic table right next the trail and the river. I finally shoulder my pack and head on south as John O remains behind for irresistible seconds!
This old railbed follows the beautiful Tobique for miles to finally squeeze, as does the river, through the narrows. This timeless river has carved its path, wide enough only for its use, so man has had to blast and carve his own path from the vertical rock face that forms the Tobique Narrows. This has been a long day, and I finally enter the little village of Perth. Here I head right for Pit-Stop Pizza, owned by Lloyd McLaughlin. Lloyd put me up in one of his boarding rooms above the Pit-Stop in ’98, but alas, he is not here. Glenn, who is tending bar, gives me the bad news that all the rooms are rented now by the month, and all are full. As I relax and reward myself for a successful day with a couple of cool longneck frosties, Glenn makes some phone calls. He soon has Gary Dimerchant on the phone. Gary owns and operates the local taxi service and also runs a local boarding house…and he’s right away by the curb in front of the bar. He keeps a room or two open, to be provided as needed by the local ministerial association, and after Glenn talks with Gary, the decision is to take me in. So I not only have a fine room for the evening, but Gary drives me to the local mom-n-pop where supper is provided to boot. Great folks, memorable evening–fine hiking day. John O still hasn’t come in by 10:00 p.m. I guess he’s pitched somewhere out on the NB Trail for the night.
|Trails are not dust and pebbles on a hill,
Nor even grass and wild buds by a lake;
Trails are adventure and a hand to still
The restless pulse of life when men would break…
Friday–June 16, 2000
Location–Home of Dan Foster, City Administrator, Ft. Fairfield, Maine
Had a great night’s rest at Gary’s. Still no sign of John O. As I head out I go for my free breakfast at Bellevue Bed and Breakfast (Jeanne Hanson stopped to talk to us the other evening on the road to Plaster Rock and made us promise to have breakfast at the Bellevue in Andover, owned and operated by her mom, Shirley, so over I go). Here I find out that John O had been through a half-hour earlier but hadn’t waited for breakfast, so I figure he’s out ahead of me this morning, headed for US Customs at Ft. Fairfield.
It’s another blue-perfect hiking day as I thank Shirley for her kindness and step out to meet the day. The hike now is along the St. John River on the NB Trail, thence to change to the old Aroostook railspur, to follow it around the Aroostook River to the international boundary at Tinker. On the walk along the Aroostook, I switch to the road for a little change of pace and to get a look at the front of some of the houses instead of the rear, as is commonly the view from the NB Trail. In a short distance, a pickup slows and stops, and the driver asks the usual questions (those answered on the familiar hiker’s T-shirt). Come to find out the two fellows in the truck work at the dam up at Tinker–Yes folks, they work at Tinker’s Dam(n)! How could I ever make this stuff up?
The road I’m walking abruptly ends at a barricade on the international boundary between the United States and Canada. Here I switch to the boundary cut, a swath about fifty feet wide that runs a beeline pretty much south. All along are monuments marking the exact line between our two countries. I know that I am supposed to stay to the left of the monuments (in Canada) until I officially cross into the States at the border crossing in Ft. Fairfield. But this is an impossible task, as the only way through the bogs and around the numerous beaver ponds is to follow the path that weaves from Canada to the States to get around them, just like everyone else does, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
After a seven-hour day, the last hour being somewhat of a slog through the mud, I arrive at the border crossing by passing under a fellow’s clothesline, between his house and his sideyard fence, then between his house and his car. The international boundary goes directly through his yard. To stay in Canada, I have to literally hug the south side of his house. This is way cool. The guy parks his car right next his house–in the US, and then walks to his back door, which is in Canada. I didn’t think to check what tag he’s got on his vehicle, Maine or New Brunswick!
At US Customs I meet Lonnie Levesque. He asks if I’m a US citizen, and that’s about it. Oh, then he says my hiking buddy got here about ten this morning and was picked up by Marsha Reed, the editor for the Ft. Fairfield Review. Lonnie calls Marsha, and she and John O soon arrive to get me. Marsha wants a picture of us by the little flower-garden welcome sign, the entrance to their fair city, then it’s off to the newspaper office for the interview. Dick Anderson had asked me to get in touch with Marsha upon arriving at Ft. Fairfield Customs, but turns out it was all set up and taken care of for me!
Over the remainder of the day I get bits and pieces of what has transpired with John O during the past two days. Seems his blisters were giving him fits during the roadwalk to Arthurette yesterday, so he ended his hike for the day at Cathy Sullivan’s Wagon Wheel Takeout. The Sullivans had befriended Aaron DeLong during his SIA/IAT hike last year, taking him in for the evening. They had also taken John O in. In the afternoon, Cathy drove him to the doctor in Perth, where he was given some medication to combat the bacteria and the blisters. He was then given a ride to Perth Andover and then on to Customs at Ft. Fairfield this morning.
We lounge the afternoon visiting with Marsha, having a grand time as she makes calls around to find a place for us for the evening and the night. In awhile comes her very good friend, Dan Foster. Dan is the City Manager for the village of Ft. Fairfield, a position to which he is apparently well suited and one that he likes very much. He is also a grand ambassador for this lovely little berg. We head for some supplies (and some cold ones), then it’s out to Dan’s place, a beautifully restored old farmhouse, complete with barn, machinery, fields of new-mown hay, a grand garden and a huge woodlot. Here we settle in for a most relaxing evening as Dan entertains us, does our cruddy laundry and prepares a grand evening meal. In awhile comes along his parents, John and Natalie, and his brother and sister-in-law, John and Louise.
What a great hiking day, and what a memorable day, having made so many new and wonderful friends!
|I learned early that the richness of life is found in adventure.
[William O. Douglas]
Saturday–June 17, 2000
Location–Midtown Motel, Steve and Rachel Burtt, proprietors, Dave Smith, manager, Mars Hill, Maine
Dan is full of excitement about golfing with his brother John this morning. I heard him make a promise to John that he’d pick him up at 7:00 a.m., so we’re up and ready early. Dan gives John O a ride to Midtown Motel at Mars Hill, and by the time he gets back he’s running late, so he loans me his other car and sends me off to the border as he wheels off to get his brother. I am given permission to park Dan’s car–with the keys in the ignition–at the US Customs office, and I’m headed south toward Mars Hill Mountain by 7:00 a.m.
Dan and Marsha, we’ve had a wonderful and most memorable time, dear friends. I will long remember you and the delightful little village of Ft. Fairfield, Maine.
The hike today continues south along the international boundary between the US and Canada. The only difference now is that I’m supposed to stay to the right of the monuments–in the good old US of A! But alas, and again the task is impossible, what with the numerous bogs and beaver ponds; so back and forth I go from country to country as I wend my way along. I soon reach the shelter that has been constructed on the US side by the Maine Chapter of the SIA/IAT. It is a very elaborate and architecturally pleasing affair, fitted logs and grand picnic tables around. Pinned to the shelter is a note from Dick Anderson. It reads, “Nimblewill and John O, Welcome to the United States.” I collect this precious little memento, take some pictures, and head on south through the ponds and the bogs and the ups and downs.
In awhile I arrive at another barricade, here to leave the boundary for good–to head for Mars Hill Mountain. I don’t recall this section of trail being so strenuous in ’98, but then I had just come down from Katahdin and from the rigors of hiking the grand old Appalachian Trail. Mars Hill Mountain was near the end of the ’98 Odyssey, but now it is near the beginning of this one, and I am two years older. I am getting in shape again though. I’m eating like a horse, and I can feel the strength coming back into my arms and legs. This is truly a blessing at my age, and I am both humbled by it and most thankful for it.
The views from Mars Hill Mountain are most impressive. To the south lie Number Nine Mountain and the massif of Baxter Peak, Mount Katahdin. And to the north, so it seems, lies all of Canada. There is another grand shelter here at the summit, constructed by the Maine Chapter SIA/IAT. From the flagpole out front, where the sun most all the days of the year first strikes the continental United States, was flown the first 50-star US flag.
This has been a long, hard 22-mile day, and it is approaching 4:00 p.m. as I reach the Midtown Motel in Mars Hill. We are lucky to get a room, and John O has it all set up. I hit the tub, hand wash a few things, then we head across the street to Al’s for supper. A few phone calls in the evening, a few minutes on my dearly neglected journals, and the sandman’s call cannot go unheeded.
|Nature reaches out to us with welcome arms, and bids us enjoy her beauty;
but we dread her silence…
Sunday–June 18, 2000
Location–Wilde Pines Campground, Jack and Angela Wilde, proprietors, Monticello, Maine
I’m feeling good this morning despite the fatigue of last, and the day has dawned to yet another cloud-free wonder. John O has decided to head back to Arthurette, NB Canada to continue on to Mars Hill as I head for Shin Pond, some three days north of Katahdin. On Thursday evening, Dick Anderson and Will Richard will pick us up and drive us back to Mont-Saint-Pierre, Quebec, to complete the hike over the majestic Chic Chocs and across the tundra. Thus there remain about three weeks of hiking to complete the SIA/IAT segment of our planned hike down the AMT, and thence the remainder of the ECT.
What a wonderful coincidence, what a grand opportunity, for this is Sunday, so as John O heads back to Canada, I head for the Mars Hill Methodist Church and the Sunday morning service delivered by Reverend Elizabeth Vernon. I first met Elizabeth at the Blaine Truck Stop in ’98 where I had stopped in for a bowl of soup and some hot coffee. Elizabeth came by my booth that morning, bringing some most welcome and cheerful conversation. Upon departing, I found that my lunch had already been paid for. This was the first of many, many acts of kindness from this minister of God, and she has remained a bright star in my memory. Today I get to see Elizabeth again, to meet her kind and caring congregation, and to share the joy of the Lord with them. And what a blessing! I have been hoping with much anticipation, that I might see many dear friends again, and this odyssey is delivering, deja vu, in spades!
This is another hard, pound-it-out day. It’s mostly a roadwalk down busy US1, and this being Sunday, the crowds are out. There is a fully paved emergency lane all along US1, but this journey does not make for one of my favorites. What with church, then lingering to visit, I’m not on the trail until after noon, and today is another twenty-mile day. I arrive at the Wilde Pines Campground by 7:00 p.m. and pitch in a blanket of pine needles under the trees. I had stopped earlier at the Blue Moose for a bowl of chowder, so I roll in and am quickly lost to the most contented sleep.
|But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings as eagles;
They shall run, and not be weary;
And they shall walk, and not faint.
Monday–June 19, 2000
Location–Brookside Motel/Restaurant, Carl and Carmel Watson, proprietors, Exit 61, I95 at US2 Ludlow, Maine
While I was working on my journal entries last evening, Jack Wilde stopped by to chat. Jack is the owner and operator of Wilde Pines Campground. He commented that had he known I was coming through southbound, he would have given me directions to his place–to get me here much more quickly and with less hassle–by coming down the old Aroostook railtrail, thus avoiding most all the US1 hike. I didn’t mind the US1 roadwalk today, but avoiding it would have been prudent. When Jack had seen where I’d pitched under the pines he commented, “Wait till you catch the candle light in the morning sun.” He was speaking of the light green, almost transparent new growth on the tips of all the pine boughs. I’d never heard this expression before, and oh my, what a splendid show this morning as I rise to greet the first rays of the sun. For indeed the sun has set every new pine bough tip ablaze with pure white light, like the little strings of white luminaries we all choose to grace our Christmas scenes. Seems as though no matter what we create, Ma Nature has already been there and done a much better job!
The trail zigs and zags along the ridges and by the little-used secondary county roads. I no sooner get the old jitney up to normal operating temperature than I get lost. I hike right by the first turn, which dead ends in a farmer’s front yard. With the farmer’s kind assistance, I’m soon back on track. The road I’m looking for is West Ridge Road, but the sign where I should have turned reads Foster Road. Heading down Foster Road and in a short while I pass this grand, impressive farm, owned by guess who? Oh yes, the Fosters! Maybe one of these days they’ll get around to changing West Ridge Road to Foster Road on the map. As I turn from Foster Road and head for Haggerty Ridge Road, and by Dan Chase’s beautiful home, I am provided the most grand views north to Mars Hill Mountain and thence south to Mount Katahdin, for here near Dan’s house is the highest point in Aroostook County. What a grand photo op, and the day has turned perfect with bright sunshine, puff-cloud skies and just the gentlest breeze to boost me along. In just awhile a truck pulls alongside and stops. It’s Frank Burtt. He lives on the narrow little road that leads to Wilde Pines. We’d exchanged greetings last evening. Come to find out he’s cousins to Steve Burtt, proprietor of the Midtown Motel in Mars Hill. It’s interesting and most enjoyable how quickly I get to know the folks that are about–and all about their lives–as I pass through these little bergs. If I ever need a rock mason, I know where to find a good one, because Frank Burtt has told me he’s a good rock mason!
Another jog around Jordan Road, then it’s a beeline west on Ludlow Road to Exit 61 where I-95 crosses US2. Here’s the neat little mom-n-pop motel/restaurant, The Brookside, and here I pull in for the evening. This has been a long day on the road, but there’s been no lack of interesting diversions to break up the miles, and the time has passed quickly. As I move along, nearing the southern end of the SIA/IAT, I am asked repeatedly, “Why–why are you doing this hike again?” Over the years many have tried to answer the question, “Why?” I attempted to find the answer all during my hike in ’98. Then while writing my book, Ten Million Steps, I took another stab at it. In the foreword for my book, written by Larry Luxenberg, author of Walking the Appalachian Trail, he laments as to this dilemma. So being one not to let well enough alone, I’ve tried distilling this whole perplex down one more time.
After over 400 miles this time out I’ve got it cooked down to this:
|It’s the people, the places,
The pain and the trials.
It’s the joy and the blessings
That come with the miles.
It’s a calling gone out
Tuesday–June 20, 2000
Location–Dirty Dozen Hunt Camp, Base of Mount Chase near Patten, Maine
I had a fine time at the Brookside Motel and Restaurant, just as I had anticipated. And what really made it special was, I was able to contact Torrey Sylvester last evening, and he has invited me for breakfast this morning. Torrey lives just a short drive away in Houlton. I first met Torrey in Key West, Florida, of all places. He had flown down with Dick Anderson to be present to welcome Scott River Otter Galloway as he finished his southbound hike this past January, and Torrey and I have since become good friends.
There’s an interesting story about Torrey that I hope he won’t mind me telling. Seems as though, after the official establishment of the international trail organization, the SIA/IAT, trailbuilding began moving along quite nicely–in the Canadian Provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec. But to the dismay of Dick Anderson, the new president of this fledgling organization who lives in Maine, nothing at all was happening in Maine, that is, until Torrey Sylvester came along. You see, Torrey has a cousin that owns Mars Hill Mountain. Now Mars Hill Mountain is no ordinary mountain, no-siree! For upon the summit of this mountain does the sun first strike the good old US of A most all the days of the year. And from this summit was the first 50 star US flag flown! Well, as it turned out, Torrey went to Dick with what he thought was “An idea that might sell.” And sell it did, for with permission granted to build trail over Mars Hill Mountain, the SIA/IAT finally had a mountain to climb in Maine–and shortly, and to nobody’s surprise, the new Maine Chapter of the SIA/IAT had a vice president. Oh yes, Torrey Sylvester! Thanks for breakfast, Torrey. Didn’t we have a grand time! Oh, and please thank your cousin Marie Pierce and her husband Wendell for letting me hike over their mountain one more time.
I have decided to spend a night at Shin Pond Village. I stayed there during my northbound in ’98 and have become friends with Craig and Terry Hill, the owners of this fine establishment. The problem is, it’s too far to hike in one day, so I’ve decided to take two days to get there from Brookside. This will make for two easy days and will also allow me the opportunity to take a look at another mountain that’s held my interest ever since I heard Dick Anderson talk about it. “The SIA/IAT will go over Mount Chase” I remember hearing him say, and this morning I’ve gotten encouragement from Torrey to give it a try. It’s another near-perfect hiking day, time for the shades and hat–a head burner, and I decide right away to take the detour over to Mount Chase. I’m in good shape, and at 3:00 p.m. I make the turn onto the gravel two-track leading to Mount Chase. The DeLorme map I’m carrying shows the distance to be around three miles from the turnoff to the summit. But over four hours later and near exhaustion, I’ve yet to find the trail leading up the mountain. Numerous turns, none shown on the map, all end up being a wild goose chase (no pun intended), petering out in jumbles of boulders and brush part way up the mountain. I’ve always had such good luck with the DeLorme maps, and have often bragged about their accuracy and detail, but it seems the crew was out to lunch on this one! I remember passing an old cabin tucked away in the woods on the way in, and with evening nigh I head there to prepare my evening meal and to rest before giving the mountain one more try in the morning. I arrive to find the cabin door unbolted. I enter the large main lodge room. Here I find a huge picnic table complete with lantern, candles and matches, and enough bunks all around to house “The Dirty Dozen” for which the place is so named. I find the main room clean and inviting and I move right in. Here I won’t be hounded by the black flies for awhile. Thank you, merciful Lord!
|Walking brings out the true character of a man.
Wednesday–June 21, 2000
Location–Shin Pond Village, Craig and Terry Hill, proprietors, Shin Pond, Maine
The day dawns a little iffy, but the goal today, no matter what, is to find the trail to Mount Chase, so I’m out and on my way early. I take the first road to my right this morning not expecting much, and sure enough after a few hundred yards it ends in a gravel pit. As the two-track skirts the base of Mount Chase I try every side trail that leads up the mountain. I finally find one that looks promising as it keeps going up and up through the rocks and dense growth, but I am encountering many old and recent blowdowns, and progress slows to a pitifully agonizing pace. But the trace of trail keeps going ever upward to finally gain one of the secondary spurs leading to Mount Chase. Here the path turns to little more than a game trail and as it winds along, first up and then down, I am starting to have second thoughts about this whole ordeal. Wouldn’t you think that getting lost in a place where you’ve got a compass and a map, and where going up would lead to the summit, and going down would logically lead back to civilization–that the concern about getting lost would be secondary? But believe me, there are places, like this place where there are many square miles and where up and down doesn’t necessarily take a person–well, either up or down. I become very concerned now as I enter another small drainage and the trail branches into a thicket of close-standing saplings. I start watching behind me as much or more than I’m watching my forward progress as I break saplings and branches to mark my path. Just when I’m hopelessly and utterly lost, and in fright-filled desperation, ready to quit and head back, I find a trail, a most-grand trail where even quad-tracs have passed. Well now, what a stroke of luck, and am I ever relieved!
To the left the trail seems to descend, and to the right it appears to go up, so I head to the right. In just a short distance this trail ends in a “T” as it joins another trail. Here there are signs. Great, now I should be able to figure out where I’m at and where I’m heading, but alas, the signs at the junction simply say “Trail A” and “Trail B.” So what I find out is that I have been on “Trail B” and that I must now choose to go left or right on “Trail A” or to backtrack back down “Trail B.” I head to the right and on up “Trail A” as it appears to be headed for the summit of Mount Chase.
In just a few moments I come to an old cabin, the ranger’s cabin that once served the men who manned the fire tower on top of Mount Chase. Well, looks like I’m finally getting where I want to go, and sure enough, after another quarter-mile of near straight up scrambling, I’m standing on the summit of Mount Chase. What an ordeal, but what a reward–the remarkable vista o’er Upper and Lower Shin Ponds with the little village of Shin Pond below, set against the backdrop of Maine’s own Sugarloaf Mountain. And to the southwest, one of the most striking views that I’ve ever seen of Mount Katahdin.
I have been afforded a grand reward for my effort, but I must hurry along, for as I descend, the clouds descend and the rain begins its no-nonsense presence as I hasten down the mountain on “Trail A,” heading for Shin Pond Village.
Arriving at Shin Pond Village, I am greeted by Vicki and Megan and by the proprietor, Craig Hill. It’s a joy seeing Craig again as the girls get me set to stay the night in the 100-year-old cabin, “Deer Run.” As I settle in for the evening, and as the gentle rain on the old cabin roof makes me appreciate the snugness and charm of this rustic old dwelling, I peruse the cabin register. In the front of the old aged journal I find an entry dated July 18, 1996.
What a joy to read this, and what a joy to be part of this grand and glorious adventure, the creation of the International Appalachian Trail. The entry reads, “Bill Nichols, Don Hudson, Charlie Gilman and Dick Anderson spent a couple of days exploring trail locations for the International Appalachian Trail along the East Branch of the Penobscot River (Hunt Mountain) and Mount Chase.” Folks, these men are the visionaries, the trail pioneers of our age, just as surely as the MacKayes and Averys were the dreamers and doers, the pioneers of the last century.
A grand trail to the end of the Appalachian Mountains as we know them is an idea whose time has come. I find it strange, in this sort of thing, that a man’s gotta be dead before he gets much if any recognition. So, all I can say to you Dick, and to all of those laboring over this grand scheme with you–all I can say is I hope it’s a long time before you get the recognition due! In the meantime it’s a joy knowing you and calling you friend. What a time to be alive as a long distance hiker, to be part of a dream for a trail with no boundaries, indeed a dream of a trail through all of these mysterious and timeless Appalachians, and ultimately, the entire eastern North American Continent. Ahh yes, what a joy to be part of it all!
|Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by…
Thursday–June 22, 2000
Location–Matagamon Store and Campground, Don and Diane Dudley, proprietors, Near Matagamon Entrance (north gate), Baxter State Park, Maine
What a great stay at Shin Pond. The day has dawned to mixed clouds, but it appears set to turn fair. Before noon, and as I hike toward Matagamon Lake and the north entrance to Baxter State Park, the day turns perfect.
The hike to Matagamon Campground goes well, and after a short five-hour day on the road, I’m in. This is a neat place, the kind of place you’d head for if you were really looking to get away. The power poles stop at Shin Pond; in fact, pretty much everything stops at Shin Pond. Don’t think I saw half a dozen vehicles all day. Matagamon Campground is located where the road to Baxter crosses the East Branch of the Penobscot River. No problem spending some time at this peaceful place, for here I will while away the remainder of the day waiting for Dick Anderson, Will Richard and Barry Timson to come and pick me up and take me back to Mont-Saint-Pierre on the sea in Quebec Province, where I will complete my hike across the tundra of the Chic Chocs, the Rockies of the East. They should be here around 11:00 p.m., then we’ll head for the border at Fort Fairfield, Maine, to pick up John O. He’s a few days behind me on his hike because of down days he’s had to take due to foot problems. On my pass through here in ’98, I stopped to grab a sandwich and some ice cream, then was quickly on my way. Today I have the pleasure of spending some time with Don and Dianne, and I learn a little about them, their family, and these special, far-off lands in the wilds of northern Maine.
Barry, Will and Dick are right on cue and I’m off, once again, for Canada.
|Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold…
Friday–June 23, 2000
Location–Open ridge above Mont-Saint-Pierre near Parc de la Gaspesié, Quebec Province
The trip back to the Gaspé Peninsula takes all night. We stop for a few minutes at Pete’s in Matapedia to pick up a few things from the box we’ve left there. Then it’s on to arrive at Mont Saint-Pierre around 9:00 a.m. I’ve had little sleep, but it’s time to get organized and hit the trail. Raymond and Charlotte at Mont Saint-Pierre Motel are happy to see us and to meet our friends. Raymond has talked many times in the past with Dick Anderson by phone but had never met him. We sort through our box left at Raymond’s and are on the trail headed for Parc de la Gaspesié around 11:00.
In a recent email from Francois Boulanger, Director, Parc de la Gaspesié, we know that the snow melt is well underway and that we’re clear to enter the high elevations above treeline on the 24th, which is tomorrow, and we’re right here, ready to get at it! We’ve got a day’s climb into the Parc, so we’ll be up and in right on the 24th.
The climb goes well, and we manage to make it up to an open ridge above the lovely little seaside village of Mont Saint-Pierre. This has been a grand hiking day with numerous and varying vantages and encouragements, but with no sleep for the past forty-eight hours, and with the strenuous climb today, both John O and I are totally pooped. Little time is spent around the campfire before rolling in.
|Live each day as you would climb a mountain.
An occasional glance towards the summit puts the goal in mind.
Many beautiful scenes can be observed from each new vantage point.
Saturday–June 24, 2000
Location–La Galene refuge (shelter) Parc de la Gaspesié, Quebec Province
We’re up and out early to a cold, clear day. It got down in the low forties last night, but I slept very snug in my new down Feathered Friends Rock Wren bag. It had been mailed to me here in Canada, and I picked it up on our stop in Matapedia. Feathered Friends is one of my sponsors for Odyssey 2000. Sure pleased to have your fine product folks…and your support, thanks!
The trail from Mont Saint-Pierre to La Galene is all new treadway, just opened recently to get the seventeen miles of trail from the Parc to the sea off the road. This hike in ’98 took a short day but now the distance is much longer, an estimated total of around twenty-two miles, and there is a fair amount of climbing, so the journey to the Parc will now be two full days. This new treadway is marked with elaborate routered signs attached to 2x4s driven into the ground. Even though this trail has been here only a short time, the vandals have certainly been able to find it, for many of the signs have been ripped from their posts, or the posts have been broken off or pulled up and thrown into the woods. The trail along the Restigouche Canyon in New Brunswick was marked in similar fashion, with the bright blue and white SIA/IAT blazes nailed to 2×4 posts driven into the ground at strategic points along the trail. On our hike through there, we found most of that trail marking effort to have been in vain, as many of the posts had either been broken off or ripped up and tossed into the woods. Seems the SIA/IAT is going to go through the same learning curve, as did the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC). The ATC found out the hard way that the only lasting method of marking the trail is with paint. Vandals have a tough time with paint! It saddens me to see these signs destroyed. A lot of thought, preparation and time went into their construction and placement, all for naught. It deeply saddens me.
I arrive at La Galene, a bunkhouse area in the Parc, at around 2:30. In the office, and while we’re talking with the caretaker, in comes Viateur DeChamplain from Matane. Viateur has just returned from the mountain (Mont Jacques Cartier), where a special program has ushered in another grand season for Parc de la Gaspesié. He spends time with me as we pour over the maps for the Parc and for Matane Reserve. Looks like we’ll be in here around eight days. Dick Anderson has left a box of food, provided for John O and me by Dave Hennel, the Trail Gourmet, at the Gite du Mont Albert, so we should be good-to-go on food for our hike on through. In just awhile, Francois Boulanger also returns from the mountain, and I am able to talk with him at length about his great work here at the Parc, and about my second grand traverse of the tundra o’er the majestic Chic Choc Mountains.
John O and I settle in at the snug bunkhouse, complete with airtight woodburning stove. We’ve got the whole place to ourselves! What a fine day this has been.
|We are building in sorrow or joy
A temple the world may not see,
Which time cannot mar nor destroy;
We build for eternity.
[N. B. Sargent]
Sunday–June 25, 2000
Location–le Gite du Mont Albert, Parc de la Gaspesié, Quebec Province
This is the day, the day for some of the most exciting hiking through some of the most breathtaking and spectacular scenery and landscape imaginable–the climb over Jacques Cartier, the highest point in southern Quebec. And we are greeted by yet another cool, clear day. What a blessing. As we begin the climb from La Galene, it becomes evident we’ll have visibility for miles, with only the very least bit of haze to limit our view. Francois mentioned yesterday, as we talked in the parking lot at La Galene, that the forecast was for favorable weather for the next few days.
The flanks of Mont Jacques Cartier make an awesome presentation, pure rock and ice this morning. The Chic Chocs and the McGerrigle (Mont Albert and its surrounding tundra) are known to the folks around (the few that even know about this area of the Appalachians) as the “Rockies of the East,” a most descriptive and accurate comparison. As we continue our ascent, John O and I stop for many pictures of the snow, ice and rock–here is displayed the sheer might and startling majesty of this ancient and grand old mountain. There is a bus parking area just above the bunkhouse (a building described by the Parc wardens as a refuge) where tourists are brought to begin their ascent. The first bus does not run until 10:00 a.m., so it appears we’ll have the mountain to ourselves this morning, all the better for the experience and pleasure of it.
We reach the summit just after 10:00 a.m. to find that we are indeed the first to arrive. What a glorious sight. I described my feelings and reactions to being here in a ballad written during the Odyssey of ’98, “The Ballad of the IAT.” Here are two of the verses:
|If climbing mountains to the blue
You’d rate a perfect day,
Then come traverse the Chic Choc Range
And climb Jacques Cartier.
You’ll stand spellbound while ’round you’ll see
Yes folks, the Chic Chocs are truly a magic and spiritual place. For those of us who love the mountains as our own, coming back to this place is likened to a pilgrimage, a return to the place of our ancestry, a place for fulfillment–fulfillment of that universal, deep down urge to be free, truly free, an undeniable natural instinct that lives and resides in all of us–in our very soul. Here I am at peace with man, with myself and with the Lord.
In our climb on over Jacques Cartier and across the near-barren tundra of these far-northern lands, and as we grope, our concentration and vision glued to the jumble of boulders and rocks at our feet, I hear John O exclaim, “There they are, the caribou!” And indeed, just a scant hundred yards to our left are grazing twelve to fifteen woodland caribou. In the group, there’s a dominant male with his huge set of antlers, and the cluster of female, also with their antlers (like all of Santa’s Reindeer). And wobbling, stick-legged and within the circle of security, one very young calf! I was so hoping to have the opportunity to see these rare and most impressive animals (only 300 or so have survived south of the St. Lawrence), and here they are right before me. What an incredible day this is turning to be!
|For here you’re nearing Santa’s land,
With Reindeer roaming free.
You’ll hike a wonderland of snow,
A Christmas fantasy.
As we work our way across to Mont Xalibu, to begin our descent to le Gite Du Mont Albert, we are confronted with a very large and expansive snowfield, and the trail leads directly into it. Now is the time of challenge as mentioned by Francois yesterday, “The problem is not negotiating the snowpack, which is easy enough, for it will support your weight. The challenge is finding where the trail emerges from the snowfield!”
This is a very large field sloping down to our left and off to our right, with the trail concealed under many feet of packed snow. It could lead in either direction. Looking to the far side in search for, and hopes of seeing the familiar and much-welcome rock cairn, brings only disappointment, as the distance is so deceptively great and the features far across and down are unrecognizable. So onto the snowpack we go to search the edge all along in hopes of finding the emerging trail. For some reason and after awhile, and as I pass around an island of huge boulders jutting from the snowfield, I move toward the center of the snowpack. Here, just to the other side I see the very top four inches of one of the posts that mark the trail. What a great stroke of blundering good luck! Sighting now back to where the trail entered the snowfield, I am able to get a much better fix on just where the trail is headed. In only moments, as we progress onward over the snowpack, I am able to spy a small rock cairn just past the snowfield on the far side. What a blessing to make the traverse successfully. Soon we clear the snowfield and are back on the trail to Xalibu.
While stopped for lunch, from behind comes Simon Thibault, S-Iline Lavoie and Simon’s father. Simon and S-Iline are guides for Destination Chic Chocs and are under contract with the Parc. As we enjoy each other’s company do I quickly realize that they’ve been sent out by Francois to help us across the snowfield. We are obviously the first to do the grand traverse this year, as there are no tracks ahead of us.
The remainder of the day is uneventful, and as I descend from Mont Xalibu and emerge from the woods, I find John O waiting for me at the Gite. A warm room, a full tub of hot, soothing water–then to dine in absolute luxury (linen and silverware, the works) at the Gite Restaurant. What a rewarding, adrenaline-pumping and most memorable day!
|The strong life that never knows harness;
The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness—
O God! How I’m struck by it all.
[Robert W. Service]
Monday–June 26, 2000
Location–le Pluvier (cabin), Lac Cascapedia, Parc de la Gaspesié, Quebec Province
Looking out the hotel window this morning, the mountain looming above, puts sheer fright into me. To repeat a phrase, “I’ve climbed some mountains,” offers not the least degree of confidence as to what this day is destined to bring; for here is a mountain with such overwhelming power and might, each vein-like gulch appearing to pulse with snow packed so deep, with such enormous energy that even the kind, warm suns of June cannot prevail.
There are many things that must get done this morning before moving out–to be far from civilization and phones for the next seven days. But as luck would have it, and just as I am talking with the kind officer at Baxter State Park, the pay phone line goes dead. In fact, all of the outside phone lines here at the Gite go dead. Oh well, I know that I must make written reservations to stay in Baxter, but I was getting the kindest assistance in setting up for the best accommodations. I did manage to get a letter off, airmail, thanks to Chantal, the kind receptionist here at the Gite, the same lady who secured my permit to enter the tundra of Jacques Cartier after the Parc was closed in ’98. Folks, I know I’ve already said this, but danged if “This isn’t deja vu in spades.” I’m getting to see so many great friends as I relive this dream one more time!
The SIA/IAT seems to no longer officially climb Mont Albert, choosing instead to follow a less strenuous partial climb around the mountain. That’s fine, but I say the AMT and the ECT go up and over! So up and over we go, but not till after enduring nearly two indescribable hours of struggle, as the mountain keeps us in its constant and relentless grip. What a climb, and in my humble opinion, is this climb the likes of any along the venerable old AT; and what a reward! For standing here now at one of the observation points along the boulder-marked treadway, I am staring in awe at the expanse and majesty of the Canadian tundra. One of the Parc’s interpretive wardens/rangers has a high-power scope set up, and once again I get to see the caribou, small white-gray objects dancing about in the blue at a distance of over four kilometers. Now I know how very fortunate I was yesterday, to have seen the caribou at such close range on the tundra of Jacques Cartier, close enough to photograph!
From here, and by boardwalk and marked pathway, the trail crosses the tundra of the McGerrigle, soon to take away the joy and smugness of a confident hike, as it plunges from the mountain, over the brink and into an enormous, head-whirling and brutally steep chasm. Here the landscape is like no other place I have ever seen, forbidding, cold and most unwelcome in its nature. The sheer rock and crags are not the steel-gray familiar granite, but more an eerie, mysterious shade of brown, much like the camouflage color of desert warfare. Oh no, this is definitely not the comfortable environment you’d seek when wanting to be “at one with nature.”
Here in the gulch, the streams and waterfalls are roaring with such resounding might, such as would demand and be given utmost respect. After descending one near-vertical gulch, the trail turns to ascend another, directly into an enormous snowfield. I cannot see the upper reaches of the snowpack, nor where the trail might again emerge, but I can see that the only practical way is to climb the snowfield in search of the trail.
Looking up never seems as scary and forbidding as looking down, and as I continue kicking toeholds in the heavily consolidated snow, I pause to rest for a minute–and to look down. Holy Hell! I’m halfway to the moon and now can see neither where I began nor where I’m headed, just a crescent of white to oblivion. These places are so deceivingly enormous and grand! I think about returning, backstepping my way back down, but after a couple of these maneuvers I realize this is futile. This is scaring me to death, looking down into space. So it seems my fate is sealed. I must continue climbing, toward whatever is up there. I can see more boulders above me now, jutting from the snowpack, and I vary my course slightly and head for them. As I continue up, I see a beautiful area of blue ahead and just above. Arriving, I find pure ice. Oh Lord, now what? How will I ever get out of this predicament! I usually have my pocketknife handy in my pocket, but for some reason I’ve placed it in my pack the past few days. I finally decide to kick in a couple of good deep toeholds and to rest and try to level my head in this cockeyed place. I finally decide against trying to remove my pack, but rather to just lean forward and rest. While resting I loosen and slip out the bottom section from one of my Leki trekking poles. Continuing up now, hacking the ice with this contraption works remarkably well, but progress is agonizingly slow. I am in constant fear of losing my footing and plunging off the side of the mountain. I’m becoming very scared–horrified would better describe my plight, and I am having much difficulty concentrating. I muster some patience however, and it seems that after awhile, the ice and snow before me become less steep, and I am able to move on up with positive footing by simply using my poles for stability. Looking up now, I see a rock cairn just to my right and I head straight for it. I’m soon on the trail again and free from harm’s way. Thank you Lord, for bringing me through, one more time!
The old log cabin at Lac Cascapedia is all I remember it to be–not much. That suited me just fine in ’98, and it’ll suit me just fine this go ’round. Here, does a sense of peace and calm pervade. It comes from the past, from another time, when this old cabin first took its place here on the shore of this peaceful lake. It’s nearly dark now and John O has yet to come in. Back at the last refuge, I had met some fellows from Montreal that are hiking around the Parc. That bunkhouse is about five miles back, on the other side of Mont Ells. John O may have pulled in there for the evening.
One thing I’ll give the Canadians credit for is their ability to hook up wood stoves so they’ll draft properly. All the stoves I’ve ever used up here work just fine with the door open. Try this little no-no on just about any stove that’s been rigged up in the states and see what happens–you’ll get smoke and plenty of it. But tonight at this quaint old picturebook setting, the little cabin, le Pluvier on the lake, I am able to get a fine fire going to quickly prepare my evening meal, over the fire, with the stove door open! This has been a hard hiking day. I’ll never forget the pull up and over Mont Albert and the frightening climb through the snowfield.
|Oh mountaineer of time, upon your dizzy height–
What lies beyond the day? Beyond the night?
You need not answer, for we’re climbing too
And soon enough– will come to share the view…
Tuesday–June 27, 2000
Location–Lac Thibault outfall at beaver dam above Lake Gaudreau, Parc de la Gaspesié, Quebec Province
I have decided to wait here at the cabin until at least ten this morning in hopes that John O will come in, so we can continue our hike together. Our destination yesterday was to be here at le Pluvier on Lac Cascapedia, a hiking distance of only thirteen miles. However, thirteen miles in the Chic Chocs is probably comparable to eighteen to twenty miles most anywhere along the trail in the states, and John O has been having difficulty with stamina and endurance on the killer uphills. This unfortunate circumstance is not due to how he’s attacking this challenge, with his heart or his head that is, for John O is 200% grit and go. His problem is due, unfortunately, to a condition for which he must take medication regularly. I know John O has talked about this with others since I’ve met him. He is neither bitter nor sensitive about it. So I don’t believe it will anger him if I tell you that I’ve counted five different inhalants that he must and is currently taking.
The hold-up to go pays off, for just a little after nine John O pulls in. He had stayed at the last refuge (shelter) just as I’d hoped. I quickly find that he isn’t a happy camper this morning, as he laments the extreme difficulty he has been having doing the miles. He comments with much dismay, “I’m out here to have a good time, but this is no fun and I can’t keep it up; I just can’t continue like this.” Our planned destination this evening is a shelter at Lac Thibault, a distance by trail of only twelve miles. But this hike today will be a ball-buster with long and extremely steep pulls over Mont Ernest-Menard, Pic du Brule, Mont du Blizzard and Mont Arthur-Allen. John O’s decision is to take the roadwalk around and through the valley which is somewhat further but which also leads to Lac Thibault. Having already hiked five miles today he comments that he may not go the entire distance, and in a somewhat unusual and formal tone of finality, he bids me good-bye.
The climb from Lac Cascapedia is extremely difficult, but what a payoff for having succeeded! For, from the precipice at the summit of Mont Ernest-Menard and following all the way around to Pic du Brule, is there a trail laid down like no other trail I have ever hiked. To Mother Nature, sheer ruggedness has special meaning, I am certain of it, for with the creation of extremely precipitous mountain features does she also bring out the most spectacular vistas in her remarkable and seemingly boundless and unlimited repertoire. These mountains are steep, near-conical, and their impact on all the senses sends me reeling in total bewilderment. For here the trail follows the edge along near-vertical drop-offs, cliffs that plunge for thousands of feet. The view is totally unobstructed, into space and to the horizon for the better part of a mile, and this morning the wind is in a rage, trying to drive me over the edge. I’ve hiked many a mile in my time, but this is the most sensationally wicked, awesome mile I’ve ever hiked, anywhere!
Coming off Mont du Blizzard, the trail plunges nearly straight down, bringing a feeling, I suspect, not unlike being flung from a catapult. It is at this moment I lose that ever-critical edge of total concentration–which causes me to lose my footing, which causes me to be flung. Out of the catapult I go–the most incredible and sensational “Flying W” header I’ve ever done, even including all the years of dirt bike racing. I get my hands out as I see the rocks and roots coming up to greet me, and I’m somehow able to haul myself in, but only after I manage another job on my right hand. One brief look and my head starts spinning, my vision goes to tunnel and my legs turn to rubber.
I manage to drop my pack and crawl onto a half level boulder, here to spend many agonizing minutes pondering my predicament, and talking to myself and to the Lord–most of which time is spent asking for his forgiveness for what I’ve just said to myself.
Well, I’ve done a fine job this time, much better than the two messed up hands I managed during the Odyssey of ’98. This doesn’t look nice. My little finger is turned in flat against my palm and won’t re-extend at all, and along with my ring finger, both are separated from my index and second finger in the most bizarre way. Looking at the back of my hand I notice my ring finger no longer has a knuckle! Now that my peripheral vision has returned and my head seems clear considering; it takes little time deciding what must be done. A strong arching jerk to the little one pops it back into joint and it seems to work okay again. However, as I take a steady tug on my pinkie and ring finger all I get is profound and excruciating pain. I go straight for the coated aspirin, 1000 mg to start. Seems what I’ve managed to do is break my right hand. All the daredevil years as a kid (guess that still makes me a kid!) I’ve watched all my buddies hobble around with broken legs and busted arms–even went through it with my older son, Jay. But somehow, all these years I’ve managed to avoid the unpleasantness of a broken body. Oh, but it looks like my time has finally come. What I’m looking at is a broken bone, the one between my ring finger knuckle and my wrist. There’s another joint here that doesn’t belong and I can articulate it freely, for the bone is completely in two, permitting the finger and knuckle to collapse toward my palm. No matter what I try, I can’t straighten it back. Harnessing my trekking pole I find, miraculously, that I am able to grip it firmly with very little discomfort! Time to suck it up, grit it and go. That’s what I’ll do. Any medical remedy will likely take me from the trail. So the hand will just have to heal–in the Leki grip position, just as are my toes, all ten permanently sans toenails, now conforming to the shape of my cross trainers.
It is late when I reach Lac Thibault. Somehow I manage to miss the shelter. I realize this after I’ve hiked clear to the lower end of the lake. But what a beautiful spot to pitch for the evening, looking over Lac Gaudreau. This has been a blockbuster day and I’m totally spent, physically and emotionally. I am full of fear and doubt but sleep is splendid.
|Elvis is dead and I don’t feel so good myself.
Wednesday–June 28, 2000
Location–Refuge near Mont Louis-Marie-Lalonde, Parc de la Gaspesié, Quebec Province
I’m up and out to a beautiful day. First order is to backtrack to near the other end of Lac Thibault to pick up the trail. There are a number of climbs today, the major ones being Mont Jacqes-Ferron and Mont des-Loupes. I also pass many beautiful tarns, high-held glacial mountain lakes. Two of the most picturesque are Lac Chic and Lac Choc! The moose have pretty much taken over the treadway here, churning it to a bottomless quagmire in places. John O saw a moose a couple of days ago and was surprised at how dark it was, nearly black. The ones I see today are also almost pure black.
From the ridgelines and summits, the views to the north extend to the sea and beyond, perhaps for thirty to forty miles. From one vantage, I see a freighter plying the waters of the St. Lawrence. On the coast is Cap Chat, the location of the famous eggbeater wind turbine. It sits on a high ridge facing the sea just above the village. Also here are many other more traditional wind-driven turbines. They are also enormous. High-tension lines run nearby and their large metal towers look toy scale in comparison to the turbine blades. One turbine blade length on one of the three-bladed props is nearly three-quarters the height of one of the power line towers. All of this is visible, including the beautiful valleys of Cap Chat and Sainte-Anne.
The hike today has not been as strenuous or demanding, and I’m in by 3:30 p.m. The pain in my hand has been troublesome but tolerable, and I’ve been able to grip and manipulate my trekking pole quite well. It’s turning chilly this evening, so not only will a cooking but a warming fire be in order.
Let me tell you about the shelters up here. They’re grand affairs, more like dwellings, complete with bunks/mattresses for eight, tables and chairs (with arms and backs), airtight woodburning stoves, and firewood provided. Many have enclosed porches; all are insulated and have double-pane windows. No disrespect, but you can have your Adirondack lean-tos with ball bat bunks. I’ll take one of these five-star dandies anytime!
I keep looking expectantly all evening for John O, but he does not come in. There are some very difficult and strenuous climbs ahead in the Matane Reserve, and I’ll have to be pushing hard constantly. If I’m going to make Flagg Mountain, Alabama (the symbolic end of the Appalachian Mountain chain), by the end of the year, I’ve got to keep moving. So, perhaps this is the end of our hike together. It’s been my pleasure hiking with you, and I wish you well, John O.
|Up through the Whites and Presidents,
You touch the alpine zone.
But in the Chic Chocs,
You’re above the trees for miles…alone.
Thursday–June 29, 2000
Location–Near Riviere Cap-Chat, first ridge on ascent to Mont Nicole-Albert, Reserve Faunique de Matane, Quebec Province
It’s a chilly, clear morning as I head for Mont Logan. I soon pass the narrow two-track by which I ascended Mont Logan in ’98. I was not permitted to hike any of the SIA/IAT in Matane Reserve due to moose hunting season. In fact, I was initially refused entry to the Reserve until I spoke to an assistant director by phone. Only then, and after much discussion, was I permitted to pass through, and then only by road, from the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. In addition, I was required to wear the orange hunter’s vest that my good friend Bruno Robert from Matapedia had the good sense to lend me. So the hike from here to the Matane River at PQ195 will be on treadway that I’ve not previously hiked.
One of the reasons I’m doing this SIA/IAT hike again is to see and experience the beauty of the rugged western end of the Chic Chocs. Everyone that I talked with after the ’98 hike, who know the Matane, expressed dismay and regret that I was unable to hike this section. So to all my dear friends in Matane, and from all around, who know the Matane, I’m back to finish it, to experience it and to take it all in. So here goes!
It’s pretty much a straight shot across from Mont Marie-Louise-Lalonde, and I soon see the summit of Mont Logan just ahead. And also just ahead–another small herd of caribou, possibly twelve to fifteen. Wow, the triple crown of caribou spotting in Parc de la Gaspesié, Mont Jacques Cartier, Mont Albert and now, Mont Logan. I was hoping to have the opportunity to see these rare and remarkable animals at one of the known sights, but all three! I was close enough to this last herd to get a snapshot. I hope it turns out. What an incredible way to start this day!
The hike into the Matane Reserve from Mont Logan to Mont Coleman will prove to remain one of the most awe-inspiring natural wonders experienced on this entire Odyssey 2000. Folks, thanks for insisting I come back again! This hike follows long a sometimes steep and scary razor-sharp ridgeline, the very brink of escarpments. First, it goes over needlepoint Mont Fortin, then down the razor edge and up and around Mont Matawees, thence to dive off to the next sharp saddle and to ascend Mont Collins. The hike through this section is definitely time-consuming, but part of what takes the time is taking it all in. There’s just no way to believe that these are the Appalachian Mountains; you must come and witness this place for yourself. Oh, and it’s another blue-perfect day, just me, the sky and this little indescribable corner of paradise, most surely home to the more lowly angels on high! As my old hiking buddy Wolfhound would say, “Life is good!”
One more good leg-sapping climb and I’m over Mont Coleman, headed down, down, down to the Cap Chat River. The trail map given me by Eric Chouinard and Jean-Pierre Harrison, both from Matane, shows this final leg today to follow a narrow valley down to the river. I’m hoping for an old settler’s woods road, but get instead one of the most incredible jumble and tumble of rocks and roots, mostly sideslabbing, that I’ve ever had to traverse, for mile after endless mile.
The mosquitoes try carrying me off where I’d planned pitching for the evening by the Cap Chat River. Both they and an oncoming storm chase me up the mountain toward Mont Nicole-Albert. First it’s across a suspension bridge, with the centerboard missing. Why does the centerboard always have to be missing? Then it’s into an absolute water wonderland. You can take all the waterslides in the world, hook and run them together and you still wouldn’t have anything to compare to Chutes Beaulieu, the cascading rapids and thundering waterfalls that I am experiencing along Sentier Petit-Sault. The trail seems to run straight up, fall after fall, with the trail leading right to the pools of thunder. The brook is of respectable size, and the sound is deafening; the rock on which I am standing is literally vibrating. Up, up, up, the trail continues. Down, down, down, the falls roar and plunge through narrow walled chasms only to crash against buttressed granite walls, then to turn and leap, flying from another head-spinning brink. Gravity is certainly at work here. The trick is to figure which way it is actually tugging. “Disoriented” describes the feeling perfectly. I don’t know what it takes to push your senses to total overload, but I’m tanked!
The storm begins setting in, politely announcing that I have about ten more minutes to find a flat place and get pitched for the night. I soon gain a narrow cove, clear out a flat spot and get set up. But somebody jumped the gun, that’s only seven minutes! I’m finally in, a little damp. Rain or sweat, what the hey, what’s the difference! Folks, this hike is an absolute hoot. My poor raggedy hand caused little bother today! Oh the joy to find and stand on the very tip-top edge of life every day. It’s a wonder, a blessing–no, it’s a miracle!
In this world of toil and sin.
But we must keep an open heart,
To let the blessings in.
Friday–June 30, 2000
Location–Refuge, Summit Mont Blanc, Reserve Faunique de Matane, Quebec Province
The rain continued most of the night, but I slept very well. This morning the storm has subsided, but the sky remains overcast, with dark, gray clouds swirling above. With the chill and the wind, their presence tells of what this day will most likely be–cold and wet. But as I continue the hike over Mont Nicole-Albert, the day attempts to turn fair, bringing views as breathtaking and grand as any awarded thus far.
“Terrifying shudder” are the only words I can bring together to describe my feelings along the trail over Mont Nicole-Albert. At one point, the trail leads me through a canopied overstory, pretty normal treadway–kind of the “green tunnel” we’re all familiar with–when up ahead on my right, there’s a rope tied to the trees along. “Guess they don’t want anybody over there for some reason,” I’m thinking. But as I get closer, and standing in absolute shock, I see nothing but open space through a gaping crevasse right at trailside. Gripping the rope and peering down through the narrow, vertical-walled chasm, I find it simply disappears, as if we’re hanging from the sky, perhaps even as if in flight. And there’s nothing anywhere below for a thousand feet! Fright? If this won’t strike fear into you, I’d sure like to know what it’d take! Oh yes, I’ll be very careful when I step off the trail from now on!
How incredibly inspiring are these mountains, but how indescribably agonizing are they also, for up here in the vastness of these far-off, untamed and everlasting Appalachians does heaven and hell coexist in such close proximity, separated only by the short measure of one’s height. Here, my eyes have free take of Nature’s most heavenly treasures, riches so profound, limited not by man’s narrow scope of possibilities, what he believes to be or even what he might believe could be! And below, below at my feet, the most brutal treadway, demanding all of my energy and resolve, demanding I climb and descend near-vertical grades through the most difficult obstacles of rocks, brush, roots and blowdowns. Here my head is literally in heaven and my feet in hell. Indeed, this trail through the Chic Chocs, the SIA/IAT, is like no other!
The heavy gray from the north finally rolls in and takes over for the day. The mist begins, and the show shuts down. I must neither complain nor find fault though, because I have been blessed with such glorious good fortune, clear, haze-free days that have allowed me fleeting but pure glimpses, all the way to the wide open gates of heaven.
The trail from Mont Nicole-Albert to Mont Bayfield is almost impossible to follow at times. The familiar SIA/IAT blazes petered out just across the suspension bridge. The fiddlehead ferns have now grown to their full glory, nearly hip high in some areas. Flagging here, the bit that remains from the time of trail construction, has been whipped and bleached to little nickel-size knots on the spruce boughs. Luck hands me a flag spotting on the ground at times, and any chainsaw work is a dead giveaway. The whole exercise sounds easy enough, but where there’s no treadway, the result of little or no traffic, and where blowdowns and brush are everywhere, staying on trail can be a tricky proposition. After much backtracking from helter-skelter moose trails, and after many hours, I reach Lac Beaulieu. Here there’s been traffic, and I’m able to follow the trail easily.
The climb from Lac Beaulieu to the cabin atop Mont Blanc is long and tiring. I stop often to look up, only to see more up, straight up! As I finally crest the mountain, my energy totally spent, the wind and rain hit me with full force. Visibility is near zero, but I finally see the little cabin dancing in and out of the rain and clouds just ahead.
To be free of the bitter-cold wind and rain brings such a secure and comforting feeling. Oh, how we take most everything for granted anymore, especially the basic things we need to survive–like shelter. I will let this little snug dwelling shudder for me; it will protect me from those wicked elements that would cause me harm. Some kind soul, perhaps one of my good friends from Matane, the names I see here in the shelter register, has gathered and dried some old pine knots. With this lighter fuel I quickly get a warm, glowing fire going in the old wood-burning cook stove. The sheet metal oven box has long since rusted away, so the fire is now built right in the oven, the oven door working just as would the stove door.
My little den in the storm is soon warm and comfortable, and I settle in for a very enjoyable night. I have brought only a quart of water up the mountain, but with a couple of frying pans from the cupboard, and setting them under the roof drip line outside, I soon have plenty of water to prepare my evening meal–right over the coals, right in the oven–but not quite in the way for which this old cast iron beauty was designed!
Thank you Lord for guiding my footsteps today.
|And as I stumble o’er the path,
I need to keep in mind.
That He has cleared a way for me,
That faith will help me find.
Saturday–July 1, 2000
Location–Refuge, Summit Mont Blanc, Reserve Faunique de Matane, Quebec Province
The light of this new day wakens me and I rise to peer at an impenetrable slate of gray against the cabin window, its homogeneity broken and distorted only by the rivulets of water from the wind-driven rain. So the storm continues. I was able to get out awhile last evening and with the help of the bow saw, one of the fine and useful cabin tools, I was able to cut ample firewood for another day. I had stacked it on top of the old stove where it remained all night. So now it is dry enough to get another fire going this morning, for I see no sense in fighting this storm or these mountains today. They’re challenge enough in times of fair weather. So this day will be spent resting and writing, two things I very much need to do.
|The mind…in itself,
Can make a heav’n of hell,
A hell of heav’n.
Sunday–July 2, 2000
Location–End of built trail, west end, Reserve Faunique de Matane, thence to home of Viateur and Jocelyne DeChamplain, Matane, Quebec Province
Mont Blanc is still in the clouds as I descend this morning, and the swirling mist starts kicking anew. What a snug, relaxing and joy-filled two nights and a day spent in the little cabin. Folks dream all their lives of getting away if for just a little while, to such a remote, cozy little place, but never get the chance to realize the pleasure of fulfilling that instinctive desire. I have lived it and have loved every minute of it. You absolutely cannot buy these simple pleasures with any amount of money. I know what a blessing this has been to me. I am humbled by it and thankful for it. And thank you, all my dear friends in the Matane Chapter of the Quebec SIA/IAT!
The rain sets in, and the ferns block the trail. I have a slow, fretful time of it climbing Mont Craggy and Mont Pointu. From Lac du Gros Ruisseau I must climb a mountain comparable to most anything in the Mahoosucs–and it doesn’t even have a name. It was on this mountain today that I experienced a natural occurrence few ever live through. I was struck by lightning. Yup, I got a grand jolt of it! Oh, I can hear you doubters now: “There he goes again, he’s so full of it; this guy has lost all sense of reality.” Well folks, I’m been a tinkerer all my life, played around with electricity, and as a result, got bit plenty of times by it, lots of 110 and a few 220s. One hundred-ten volts will set you straight for a long time, and one run-in with voltage in the range of two-twenty and you’re cured for life! I’d say I got hit with voltage somewhere in the 220-440 range. The main bolt struck a tree nearby–KA-POW–a simultaneous flash and report. I got what bounced off! My trekking poles may have saved me. I was soaking wet, but the soles on my shoes are rubber and the grips on my poles are some sort of hard cork, both good insulators. The strike hit somewhere around the top lugs of both my trekking poles, which were dug in hard above me as I pulled myself up the mountain. The current surged through the poles, setting them to quivering and vibrating as it sought ground through the carbide tips embedded in the rock and mud. My hands were drawn paralytically tight around the Leki grips, and I could feel the incredible surge of energy as it pulsed down the poles. The shock seemed interminable, and I recall waiting for the current to peg to infinity and take me with it. But just as it so unexpectedly happened, did it thus end and I was left standing there, a hopeless bundle of wet mush. In a few minutes I managed to gather my wits and my strength and continue on up no-name mountain.
Sitting and resting for awhile at the picnic/camp area at Lac Matane, soon comes Jocelin, one of the Reserve wardens. Viateur and Jocelyne DeChamplain had inquired at John, the entrance to Matane Reserve, as to my whereabouts, so the wardens have been looking for me. In moments, Jocelin is in contact with Viateur, by way of radio to John, and arrangements are made for me to meet Viateur this evening when I complete the trail here in the Reserve. Oh my, this is great; I’ve been invited to return to Matane as their guest for the evening. What a blessing, as the rain has not relented and I am getting very wet and very tired.
The folks in Canada are such open, caring people. The DeChamplains are a wonderful example. It was at their luxurious home in Matane where I stayed in ’98 after finishing my last day of hiking in Canada. They took great pleasure in sharing and enjoying my 60th birthday and the success of my hike. They have since become such great, dear friends.
I have misjudged the time necessary to negotiate this last section of trail, for there is one pull over an enormous mountain that I had overlooked. It is getting very late and I am bone-weary tired from fighting the fiddleheads and from the emotional drain of the lightning strike. But my friend Viateur is not impatient with me, nor is he concerned that he has spent much time preparing to greet me and take me to his home this day. Soon, just as I am sure he has given up on my ever arriving–up the trail he comes, bringing a much-needed hug of friendship and encouragement and that ever-present grand Canadian smile!
Jocelyne has prepared a feast for me, and we enjoy such a memorable evening together. Thank you my dear friends, thanks from the bottom of my heart! What a day, what a day!
|But I shall climb among hills of vanished lightning,
And stand knee deep in thunder with my head against the sky.
Monday–July 3, 2000
Location–Les Camps Tamagodi, Dennis Lord, proprietor, PQ195 at Matane River Bridge, Quebec Province
Viateur prepares a fine breakfast as Jocelyne is off to work. I am clean and warm, and my gear and clothing are fresh and dry. Hiking like this may prove difficult!
We load up and head back to the Matane Reserve where the SIA/IAT meets the road a few miles east of John, the entrance to Reserve Faunique de Matane, an hour and a half round trip from Viateur’s home.
The hike today is a roadwalk, totally a roadwalk along the main Reserve road. The day is pleasant and the treadway such a welcome relief to my bitterly complaining feet. By early afternoon I have reached John and am surprised to find Georgette on duty. Georgette is the kind lady who speaks no English, but who aided me in getting a permit to enter the Reserve during moose hunting season in ’98. By mid- afternoon, I arrive at the point where my journey in Canada, during the Odyssey of ’98, was completed–the Matane River Bridge at PQ195. There were many folks from Matane present at that time, folks who have since become my very dear friends. They were here to share my joy in a successful journey, and to help celebrate my 60th birthday. I stand here now, the far-off whisper of glad music playing in the shadows of my thoughts as a slow-motion replay of those most-poignant moments is reenacted in my mind’s eye. It is said, “You can never go back.” But I have gone back. It is now–but it is also then. It is October 30, 1998. There’s the old rail fence where, in my arms, I rested and cradled my teary-eyed head to thank the Lord for such an incredible miracle in my life, and for the sixty wonderful and rewarding years of my life. There is Lucy with her tripod and her camera, trying to capture the waning rays of light as we all pose, with broad-beaming Canadian smiles (I’ve got that smile down, too!). Just look at us there, what a happy bunch of hikers. Oh, it does this old heart such good to see all these folks again! But alas, the brightness of this day soon overshadows the dim shadows of that time-sealed space, and the spell is broken and gone, but for just a moment the time seal was also broken, and I took pleasure by taking a journey back through time, to the nostalgia of that grand, memorable occasion.
Just across the highway and by the bridge is Tamagodi Camps, a little row of old but well-maintained rooms coupled to a convenience store and restaurant. I check in, have some lunch and settle in to do some writing. In awhile I head for the pay phone to download my email, when in rolls this big white van. I recognize it right away. It’s the same van Eric Chouinard drove here with the contingent of folks from Matane in ’98. With him are Jean-Pierre from Matane, Dick Anderson and Will Richard from Maine and Katia Galindo from Huxiquilucan Edo de Mexico. All are here to hike sections of the Matane Reserve and to take Will to some of the exciting and breathtaking sights for shots for the 2001 SIA/IAT Calendar. So much for the writing session this evening. Later comes Bob Melville. It’s time to party and have another grand time with dear friends–at the Matane River Bridge. Seems there’s never a dull moment in this old hiker’s life!
|But all true things in the world seem truer,
And the better things of earth seem best,
And friends are dearer, as friends are fewer,
And love is all as our sun dips west.
[Ella Wheeler Wilcox]
Tuesday–July 4, 2000
Location–Shore of Lac Matapedia, Quebec Province
After breakfast with the gang and a grand sendoff, I head for the village of Matapedia, the last leg on this journey in Canada. Today I’m heading into “get lost” territory. I had a devil of a time staying on trail through certain sections here in ’98, and, so it seems, there will be no difference today.
I manage just fine all the way to Saint-Jean-Baptiste-Vianney, but after this little village, the roadwalk turns are not marked. I first try following orange flagging, as the trail was marked with orange flags earlier in the day. After four or five miles of wandering every which way, I finally get directions to Lac Matapedia from a young fellow on a four-wheeler. “Just follow the snowmobile signs,” he said. And so I do. Two hours into this hike I finally see a single, solitary SIA/IAT blue and white blaze nailed to a tree! The zigzags around Lac Matapedia lead to another wild goose chase, and I finally follow the most direct route by compass, which seems to be leading toward the little town of Amqui. Seems I’ve spent half my time hunting for the trail today rather than hiking it, which has sapped me both physically and mentally. I did manage to enjoy the half-mile long bog bridge and the view of Lac Matapedia from the neat summit shelter. I pitch near the lake for the evening, get a warming and cooking fire going, then try to calm down and relax a little before rolling in. I’m asleep in just a blink.
|True happiness is seldom found,
Among the polished stone.
For on the path where most have trod,
Scant faith has ever grown.
Wednesday–July 5, 2000
Location–La Coulee Douce Auberge, Causapscal, Quebec Province
The rain comes hard during the night and is still thumping and hammering my tent this morning. It’s a great convenience being able to get dressed and to have the ability to organize my pack while in the tent. These tasks were impossible in the little Slumberjack tent I carried in ’98. Back then, on days like this, I was in for a good soaking right off the bat. Another grand feature with this tent, Kurt Russell’s Nomad, is that it weighs less than the Slumberjack! The only problem that I’ve encountered so far is condensation. Not a nice thing when you’re using a down bag. I think, for the next tent I have Kurt make, we’ll do the whole thing, except the pan, in no-seeum netting, then cover it with a sil-nylon fly. I figure this arrangement shouldn’t weigh over an ounce or two more. This may not eliminate the condensation problem, but at least it’ll remove it from contact.
On this section from Amqui to Causapscal, I got big-time lost in ’98. With what I’ve just been through, I’m concerned about the same problem here again. So, with the rain intensifying and the wind pushing near-bitter cold, I make the decision to make this day a roadwalk from Amqui to Causapscal. I am saddened and disappointed that I must bypass this section of trail. However, this is not the day to be lost in the woods and I need to move along, so off I head on PQ132. Shortly, a vehicle pulls alongside and an official with that broad-beaming Canadian smile beckons me. I recognize him immediately. It’s Luc Forest, Warden, Reserve Faunique de Matane. He had stopped to talk with me as I hiked the Reserve in ’98 and he had heard from Jocelin that I was coming through again. What a pleasure and coincidence seeing him.
There is much traffic on PQ132, but the wind and rain are at my back, and except for the torrential blasts accompanying the thundering eighteen-wheelers, the roadwalk is not all that unpleasant. I arrive in Causapscal a little after 5:00 p.m.
I’m splurging and indulging myself much more this time around, for this may well be the last time around. I choose to stay the evening at the grand La Coulee Douce, a delightful old inn on the hill overlooking the confluence of the Causapscal and Matapedia Rivers. This is prime Atlantic salmon fishing territory, and the fly fishermen, all decked in their proper and impressive gear, are parading about. There’s a picture of the Jimmy Carters being accompanied by Kurt Gowdy on the dining room wall. George Washington didn’t sleep here though, so I guess it isn’t quite so famous. I check in, a little out of place, but the kind Canadians seem to find my presence only the least amusing, and I fit right in.
|We are, all of us, subject to crosses and disappointments,
but more especially, the traveller…
Thursday–July 6, 2000
Location–La Coulee Douce Auberge, Causapscal, Quebec Province
Oh, is this old inn a fine establishment! I decide to while another day here as I rest and get caught up on my journal entries.
Man has been coming for the sport of fishing the Atlantic salmon for as long as this spectacular species has been known to exist, and the region within and surrounding the rivers of the Restigouche, Kedgwick, Matapedia, Causapscal and Upsalquitch is the place to be for flyfishing. Here at Causapscal has there been and does there exist to this day such a grand tradition. And here at La Coulee Douce, an historic old inn for fishermen, I am reading about the glorious history of this popular sport. I am told that the outdoorsman in all of us has not truly lived until locked in the struggle of fighting an Atlantic salmon caught on a fly as it explodes from the pure cold rushing waters of the Causapscal.
What a pleasantly rewarding and relaxing way to spend the day!
|Men go fishing all their lives without knowing
that it is not fish they are after.
Friday–July 7, 2000
Location–Meadow above Creux Brook crossing, Quebec Province
The trail from Causapscal follows the old gravel road above town, out and into the vast timberlands of Canada. Here are rolling hills and cold-rushing streams. The trail meanders along, following the old logging roads, to finally enter the narrow, rugged canyon of Creux Brook. Here the trail tumbles and climbs as it squirms and wriggles its way along and beside this friendly, fast-rushing brook.
Rain has been threatening on and off all day, and it finally comes, good and steady, to be my companion for the evening. I pitch on a small plateau-like meadow near where the trail fords Creux (deep) Brook. This has been a good mileage day, and except for getting sidetracked onto a new logging road for a couple of miles, and finally having to backtrack, I have done well and am pleased with my success. The rain pattering my tent hastens the arrival of deep, contented sleep.
|I saw God wash the world last night.
Ah, would He had washed me…
[William L. Stidger]
Saturday–July 8, 2000
Location–Pete Dube’s Restigouche Hotel, Matapedia, Quebec Province
The rain persists, more a moody mist than rain as I break camp and prepare to cast off for the day. First order is to ford Creux Brook. So rather than wrestle with my gaiters and hiking boots, I opt for my camp shoes. To my joy, I find the ford much less an event this year, as the water level is much lower and the current is not so swift. I make the crossing in fine order and decide to remain in my camp shoes until making the ford at the Assmetquaggan. There are many fine vantages this morning as the trail seeks the high ground along the bluffs overlooking the canyons of Creux Brook and the Assmetquaggan. Such a remarkable appearance are the canyons, shrouded in a swirling turbulence that opens here, then there to reveal the breadth and depth of this enormous place. It’s the mountains and me; we’re literally above the clouds this morning. And this heavenly sight? To me, has there ever been such an appearance, such a grand and glorious affair!
I have decided to attempt two days of hiking in a single day, for I have gotten out to a very good start, and hiking in the rain with the thought of pitching–cold, wet and tired–on the cold, wet ground this evening provides the impetus to move along briskly. The ford at the Assmetquaggan is a delightful experience. The river is breathtaking in its beauty and in its sheer width. But the depth is such a shallow affair, remarkably uniform for nearly two-hundred feet, with the polished gleam from the millions of tumbled stone providing such a colorful array of brilliance.
I am moving south now, almost due south as I follow the road into Saint-Andre de Restigouche. I soon arrive at the church, so very prominent is its presence on the very top of the ridge that is Saint-Andre, the trail to follow beside the church’s sideyard, thence to pitch again, right into the Canadian countryside.
The rain continues, as I continue battling the fiddleheads that grope and cling as I pass, but there are less than fifteen kilometers to go to arrive at Pete Dube’s Restigouche Hotel, and I am on schedule to arrive there by early evening. I am so pleased with my progress and with the great distance I have covered today. My reward will be a grand reception from Pete and Gaby, a full tub of hot water in my own dry, cozy and comfortable room–and a great evening meal at Pete’s beautiful Restigouche Hotel Restaurant!
Oh, aren’t some things so predictable? For Pete and Gaby are right here to share in the excitement of my finishing the Canada segment of my hike at the very front steps of the fine Restigouche! It is so great to be back once again at Pete’s place. And what a memorable evening with Pete, Gaby, Bruno and Carol, and David and Sally and their precious little baby girl, India. Memories that are good are a blessing indeed–for one who is searching the fringes of beauty–but to relive such precious memories, memories that are part of God’s hazy blue, bring joy beyond description! I am in the very midst of such an intense and remarkably rewarding time! Thank you, dear Lord, for your boundless and most merciful love.
|It seems God always finds a way,
To find a way for me.
His guidance comes thru steadfast love,
‘tis there for all to see.
Sunday–July 9, 2000
Location–Pete Dube’s Restigouche Hotel, Matapedia, Quebec Province
The Hotel Restigouche is such a comfortable and enjoyable establishment. I am always totally exhausted, so much a physical wreck each and every time I arrive, making every stay so outstanding and memorable–if for no other reason than the sheer pleasure of recovering in this restful haven. I have so many dear friends here now, friends made during my previous and numerous sojourns.
One of the dearest is Bruno Robert. Bruno saw me the very first day, the very first moment I first entered Matapedia on that cold, windy October day in ’98. Shortly after arriving, Bruno came by the hotel to meet me and to introduce himself. At the time, he was a member of David LeBlanc’s trail-building crew. I remember him saying, “I know right away when I see you on the highway with your hiking sticks that you are hiker and that you come a very long way.” Ahh yes, Bruno, I had come a very long way! Thanks for coming to meet me that day and for being such a positive influence, an influence that started this lasting love affair with your delightful village–Matapedia.
Bruno is always one of the first friends I see when I enter Matapedia, and usually one of the last, always spending much time with me while I’m here. This morning he comes by first thing to sit with me and to have coffee. Little do I know the plans he has made for this day, as he explains–much as a child filled with excitement and glee–“I want you to come with me and Carole. We will have breakfast together with David and Sally and their little baby, India. Paul and Georgette (David’s parents) will come to join us too, just after church.” Bruno continues, “Then we will spend a great day on the river. We will ride the river together!”
Bruno, my dear friend, you have planned this perfectly, such a beautiful, warm day. Didn’t we have such a fun time at breakfast! Paul LeBlanc is one of Pete’s dear friends, and now also, one of my dear friends in Matapedia. He is a medical doctor here. As soon as he arrives from church, Bruno insists he examine my broken and disfigured hand. After much time spent gently flexing and probing he concludes that I indeed have a broken hand. He says, “Your second metacarpal appears to be completely fractured. However, there remains good alignment and apposition. No reduction is necessary and instead of pinning the bone, and if you have good hand movement and flexibility, you can probably just choose to let it heal as is…but it will always be a little crooked.” Thanks Paul, it shall always remain “…just a little crooked!”
After breakfast, we head for David’s new business location on the river. David is a guide and runs his own canoe concession, Nature Aventure, a well-established service that provides enjoyment for pleasure-seekers and fishermen. He and Bruno, who is also a guide on the river, decide that we should use the two-seater kayak today, and they have it quickly loaded on David’s van. David then drives us north to put us in on the rolling, picturesque Restigouche. From here, we’ll while and drift the day along as the current carries us back down in tumbling, brisk fashion, all the way to the little village of Matapedia.
The river is alive with excitement, a perfect day, a perfect Sunday for families of fun-seekers to converge upon this magic and picturesque place. The vantage from the river, o’er these placid but-often-rollicking waters, is an inspirational adventure. There are grand old fishing clubs and lodges all along, all that remain from the halcyon of yesteryear, and as a constant backdrop, the remarkable canyon walls looming, faces boulder-scarred, projecting to the heavens. And above, a blue-perfect sky flooding us with blinding brilliance. The diamond-studded rapids boil before us, and Bruno heads straight for the largest projecting boulder and the largest and deepest sculpt, a whirling pool, and we glide and bounce right through! Oh my, what a day, Bruno, what an incredible day!
But this day is not yet over, for as the evening arrives, is there ushered in a grand affair. At Pete’s fine restaurant I am treated to a memorable evening as Pete’s guest. At the table are Pete, Paul and Georgette LeBlanc, Bruno and David. And what great joy to have arrive and to have join us, the legendary guide of the Restigouche for over three-quarters of a century–my dear friend Richard Adams.
But comes the time when the good times must end, when the farewells and good-byes must be said. This is indeed such a sad time for me, for I know not when or if I will ever see these dear friends again. Good-bye my happy, joy-filled, kind and generous Canadian friends, good-bye.
|For ‘mid old friends, tried and true,
Once more we our youth renew.
Monday–July 10, 2000
Location–Matagamon Store and Campground, Don and Diane Dudley, proprietors, Near Matagamon Entrance (north gate), Baxter State Park, Maine
Much effort has gone into organizing a relay of rides to shuttle me from Quebec Province through New Brunswick and back to the states. Bob Melville comes to Pete’s first thing this morning to carry me to Kedgwick, New Brunswick. From Kedgwick, Maurice Simon then drives me to the border at Fort Fairfield, from here to be picked up by Torrey Sylvester, who delivers me to Matagamon Campground. From this point tomorrow, I will resume my hike on to Baxter State Park, the end of the SIA/IAT and the beginning of the AT.
The first leg in this incredible “Odyssey 2000” is now history. I have completed the hike in Canada. All that remains to finish the SIA/IAT is to climb Mount Katahdin, which I will probably do Wednesday if the weather is agreeable. I can send my compass home now.
|If you can dream–and not make dreams your master;
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…
Tuesday–July 11, 2000
Location–Russell Pond Campground, Baxter State Park, Maine
It’s always a pleasure seeing Don and Diane Dudley again. Diane departs with friends today on a trip to Alaska, and she was bubbling over with excitement last evening. I pitched down by the Penobscot, and while setting up, was greeted by Vinyl Pierce. I later joined him and his wife, Collene, at their camper for tea and a most enjoyable evening of conversation.
First order today is a short roadwalk to the north entrance of Baxter State Park. I am overjoyed when I see who is at the gate. It’s Dana Miller, the same gatekeeper who greeted me on my way through in ’98! He recognizes me immediately and we have a grand time talking about the park and the trail. I’m quickly up-to-speed on all the latest in Baxter. Ed Cunningham is no longer at South Branch, but Tom Lohnes is still at Russell Pond where I’ll be staying tonight. And what a joy finding out that Brendan Curran is now the ranger at Russell Pond. I met Brendan, a roving ranger at the time, at Daicey Pond in ’98. Dana gives Brendan a shout on the radio and lets him know I’m on my way.
The roadwalk continues though Matagamon Gate to South Branch Pond, then it’s a cruise to Russell Pond. I’m in by 2:30 p.m. to be greeted most enthusiastically by Brendan. We spend a relaxing afternoon in conversation beside placid, scenic Russell Pond, as cedar waxwings flit about among the spruce.
In the bunkhouse, and just as the shadows of evening descend, I get a cooking a warming fire going. I’m thinking what a pleasure it has been, seeing these friends again. This has been a fine hiking day!
|Bid good-by to your sweetheart, bid good-by to your friend;
The Lone Trail, the Lone Trail, follow to the end.
Tarry not, and fear not, chosen of the true;
Lover of the Lone Trail, the Lone Trail waits for you.
[Robert W. Service]
Wednesday–July 12, 2000
Location–Daicey Pond, thence to The Appalachian Trail Lodge, Don and Joan Cogswell, proprietors, Millinocket, Maine
I arise at 6:00 a.m. to a totally cloud-free day and quickly decide to go for it, to summit Katahdin and complete my second thru-hike of the SIA/IAT. I’m on the trail for Roaring Brook Campground before seven and make very good time, arriving around ten. I look for Simone Rossignol, ranger at Roaring Brook, for I want to cancel my reservations at the bunkhouse for the evening. But she is out about the campground, so I head on up the Healon Taylor Trail for Pamola and Mount Katahdin.
This climb is a long and strenuous climb with few breaks, as the trail winds ever upward. Above treeline, the large rocks and boulders make the scamper especially difficult, requiring constant and total concentration lest I slip, instantly ending my hike. I claim the summit of Pamola around 1:30 p.m. to begin the traverse of the infamous Knife Edge. Aptly named, the Knife Edge is a glacier-honed (as if razor-stropped) ridge, narrow and treacherous, with drop-offs, ledges and slides plummeting for thousands of feet to either side. On this “trail” it’s time to be patient to a fault–to an all-encompassing, cover-all-bases kind of fault–with plenty of nimbleness thrown in, nimbleness for the old Nimblewill! The day remains pleasant with only a moderate, steady wind. I am blessed to have this good fortune, this most favorable weather. I make good progress for the short distance to the chimney. Here there is a bottleneck, a jamb-up of folks that seem to be wishing they were anywhere by here right now. I must wait, as there is just no way around. One by one, the dear ones must be assisted with foot placement and guidance over the blind, straight-down ledges that seem to pitch to oblivion. Once through this traffic, I do fine and I am very pleased with my progress, for I am negotiating this trapeze-like treadway with my sticks and a full pack.
By two o’clock I am standing on the summit of Mount Katahdin, here to be greeted by an overwhelming flood of emotions, as memories of my ’98 hike descend to engulf me. I go to the rocks beyond where I can be alone for awhile, to compose myself and to clear and prepare my mind for this day’s experience, an experience that will bring other grand memories anew, for the remainder of my life.
Clouds are banking to the west and north as I hurry down the Hunt Trail and off the mountain, with the storm now sweeping toward the summit, enraged by the wind. On the ascent in ’98, I don’t recall this being such a great distance or such a technically difficult traverse. The time seems to pass so slowly as I continue descending, anticipating my arrival at Katahdin Stream Campground.
I’m anxious to get to the base of Katahdin, for here on a bronze plaque affixed to a large boulder are the words of a former Governor of Maine. He worked tirelessly and diligently the remaining thirty years of his life amassing the lands he would subsequently give to the people of Maine–over 200,000 acres, including Mount Katahdin; the lands now know as Baxter State Park:
|Man is born to die, his works are short lived.
Buildings crumble, monuments decay, wealth vanishes.
But Katahdin in all its glory,
forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine.
[Percival Proctor Baxter, 1876-1969]
The hike from Katahdin Stream Campground to Daicey Pond is a pleasant hike along the park road and around the ponds. I arrive at Daicey to be greeted with grand smiles and the kindest welcome by Rangers Marcia and Gabriel Williamson. I have been so looking forward to seeing them both again, and as luck would have it they’ve just returned this day to Daicey Pond. I flop right down on the same chair I flopped down on in ’98, and with much excitement, we exchange happenings since our last meeting.
My plans are to go on to Millinocket this evening, and while we’re catching up on past events, a radio message comes in from Togue Pond Gatehouse. A hiker is being brought to Daicey Pond, and the driver will be returning to Millinocket. Hot dang! Looks like I’ve got myself a ride, hopefully right to the steps of Don and Joan’s Appalachian Trail Lodge. As I hike down the road to the thru-hiker shelters at Daicey and at the parking area, Dave Hopkins from Farmington Falls, Maine, greets me. He has brought a young hiker, trail name, Lurch, to Daicey Pond. Lurch is flip-flopping. Having interrupted his northbound AT hike at Harpers Ferry, he’ll be heading back there. Dave offers me a ride as he heads home through Millinocket. Oh my, how’s that for a stroke of luck!
Soon I am at The Appalachian Trail Lodge. Here I drop my pack on the front porch and head for The Appalachian Trail Cafe to make arrangements for a couple of days’ stay and to get a good home-cooked meal. Here Joan and Don Cogswell, proprietors of both the lodge and the cafe, greet me. Looks like this is going to be a memorable stay in a neat little New England trail town.
A great supper, a luxurious hot soaking for my tired, aching bones, and I’m off to the Land of Nod.
|There were times when the only thing that kept me going
was the thought of standing there on top of Katahdin.
Thursday–July 13, 2000
Location–The Appalachian Trail Lodge, Millinocket, Maine
What a great night’s rest at the Lodge. First order today is to head to the AT Cafe for breakfast, then back to work on my journal entries. In the afternoon, Don runs me out to the shopping center, then over to Baxter State Park Headquarters. I had hoped to meet Irvin C. Buzz Caverly, Director of the Park, but just miss him. It’s back to the Lodge then for more time on journal entries–no hiking today.
|I view the existence of this pathway and the opportunity to travel it,
day after day without interruption, as a distinct aspect of our American life.
Friday–July 14, 2000
Location–The Appalachian Trail Lodge, Millinocket, Maine
If I am going to do something about my broken hand–other then just let it heal as is–then that something is going to have to be done pretty soon. The break is trying to glue, not popping and snapping anymore, like the first week following the mishap. So this morning I decide to head for the hospital here in Millinocket, get an x-ray and see what the docs say. Hospital reception sends me directly to emergency, from where I’m taken right in. All express much concern about my hand until I explain how long it’s actually been busted. The x-rays confirm what I already knew, but it’s good to see the break and to be able to make an assessment of what I’m actually dealing with. I’m pleased to find the break fairly clean, with little separation or deviation and only minor angular misposition. One option that is suggested is to head for Portland to the hand specialist, spend a couple of days in the hospital there for surgery and have the bone straightened and pinned. The other option is to just let it heal crooked as is. I choose the latter and am given a removable cast and some Ace bandages to wrap the hand, and I’m sent on my way. Back to the Lodge and in my room I try harnessing my trekking pole with the cast in place to find that this is not going to work. I wear the cast around for a short while and then relegate it to the circular file. If I can keep from wrenching or really bumping my hand for the next week or so, I think I’ll pretty much have this problem behind me.
After lunch at The Appalachian Trail Café, I borrow Don’s bike and head back out to Baxter State Park Headquarters. This time Director Caverly is in, and I have the opportunity to meet and talk with him. We discuss the directives and mandates set down decades ago by Percival Proctor Baxter and how the resources of the Park were to be and have been managed. Mr. Caverly has been entrusted with that responsibility for nearly the past thirty years. We also talk about the SIA/IAT and my advocacy for that trail and for my interest and desire in seeing its successful completion in Maine. Before departing, I compliment Mr. Caverly for his unwavering commitment to fulfilling Baxter’s dream, a dream of seeing Katahdin remain in its wild and natural state. I then extend my wishes for his continued success.
In the evening I relax, keep my feet up, talk with family and friends by phone, work on my journal entries, then tumble in.
|Rise, let us be going.
Saturday–July 15, 2000
Location–Rainbow Spring Campsite, Maine
While organizing my pack this morning, I decide to take it over to the scales and find out just how much I’ve been lugging the past few weeks. My dry pack weight on departing Forillon National Park in Quebec Province, Canada, was just under fourteen pounds, not counting food and water. Since then I have sent most of my winter gear plus some other items home, so I know my pack weight has gone down. Don told me yesterday about the dependability and accuracy of his scales, so I take my pack over and plunk it down. I’m pleasantly surprised to tell you I’m now carrying only nine and one-half pounds. Hot dang, this puts me in the ultra lightweight category!
Early on, the folks at GORP.com, one of my generous and caring “Odyssey 2000” sponsors, had expressed concern as to the adequacy of gear I planned to carry onto the tundra in Canada, and to the possible risk I might be taking by limiting my pack weight. I was asked to inform them at anytime should I feel I had compromised my hike or myself as a result. I can tell you now and I am pleased to report that I did not suffer for lack of needed gear. This does not mean there weren’t times of discomfort due to adverse conditions, for the trek began in two to seven feet of snowpack and near-constant forty-degree rain for the first five days. But never was there a time when I feared for my safety or well being, nor were there ever moments of fear as to my ability to effectively cope with the elements and conditions. I got wet, yes; I got cold, yes; but in dealing with a treadway flooded with meltoff up to my knees, at near-freezing temperatures through which I had to trudge at times, certainly little could have been done to improve the “comfort” level under those circumstances, no matter how much gear I might have chosen to lug!
And now, for you doubters who can’t possibly believe I can be happy and comfortable on the trail with what little I am carrying, I will list all the items that make up my nine and one-half pounds. Please look this over, then try explaining to yourself what you must have that I am doing without, keeping in mind all the while the pure joy I embrace by carrying perhaps 10-30 pounds less than you’re lifting and lugging.
GVP® G-4 backpack with hipbelt
Wanderlust Gear® Nomad Lite tent
Feathered Friends® Rock Wren bag
Thermarest® — Guidelite™ pad
Wanderlust Gear® poncho
Pendleton® long sleeve wool shirt
Patagonia® long sleeve capilene shirt
Lightweight wool socks
Asics® racing flats
Hiker Trash painter’s cap
Water bottle belt pouch
1-liter pop bottle
20 oz. pop bottle (2)
Aluminum cook pot
Cookware stuff sack
Nylon ditty bag/w: stainless steel spoon/pot holder, First-Aid Kit in Ziploc, meds in Ziploc, medicated powder in Ziploc, Conquest® in Ziploc, small vial of bleach, butane lighter, Photon Micro-Light®, clothesline, tooth brush, floss, comb, compass.
AT Data Book©/ALDHA AT Thru-Hikers’ Companion© (select pages)
Comb, floss, brush
Nikon® Nice Touch 4 35mm camera™, extra 36x slide film
Sharp TM-20 PocketMail®
Bread wrappers for stuff sacks
Large garbage bag
I carry no toilet paper and use no foliage (figure that one out). I can get by fine on a pound to a pound-and-a-half of food per day. I seldom carry more than a liter of water. I am immune to Giardia Lamblia, so I drink directly from select water sources. I will occasionally use bleach. I cook on open fires and can get by fine on cold food on those days that I cannot build a fire. I have a six-ounce hobo “little dandy” wood burning stove I’ll carry through those states where open fires are prohibited.
On my person, in pocket or otherwise not included in my pack weight are the following:
Short sleeve polypro shirt
Lightweight wool socks
Medicine pouch with touchstone/talisman
Gerber® 400 lockback knife
Smith & Wesson® Magnum® 3G™ sunglasses by Olympic Optical®
Plastic wallet with cards/cash/change
Panasonic® microcassette recorder
Data sheet for the day
Leki® Super Makalu™ trekking poles
Don loads us up, and we’re headed for Abol Campground in Baxter State Park. We’ll be dropping Harold Houdini Richards off. He’s flip-flopping and will continue his thru-hike south from Katahdin. Here at Abol I meet Ranger Darren Bishop. Kevin Donnell, who I met in ’98 at Roaring Brook and who helped me north through Baxter and Matagamon that year, is also now working out of Abol Campground, but alas, he is not here today, so I ask Darren to give Kevin my regards and to extend my regrets for missing him this time through. On the way to Daicey Pond, Don hails a Park vehicle headed the other way. Here is Stewart Guay, one of the Rangers at Roaring Brook. Don has to show me off and tell Stewart all about my hike. I take pride in knowing so many of the great folks here on the staff at Baxter. And the reason? The reason is because they all take pride in what they do!
At Daicey, Don and I linger with friends, Rangers Gabriel and Marcia Williamson. We get some pictures, enjoy each other’s company, and try putting off the good-byes. But the time to shoulder the pack and head on down the trail soon comes, and I must turn and go. Thanks Don, Marcia and Gabriel for your friendship and for all your kindness!
In just a short while I am at Abol Bridge Store and Campground. It is amazing, what with the thousands of hikers that have passed this way since ’98, that Linda Belmont, proprietor at Abol Store, would recognize me. But as I enter she is at the counter, and looking up does there come this broad-beaming smile on her face! With this expression she remarks, “You’ve been here before, haven’t you?” I reply, “Yes Linda, I’ve been here before!” Oh, what a joy seeing all these great folks again!
Linda is curious as to my route through Baxter State Park. She is very familiar with the SIA/IAT, and as I proceed to clean off her shelves, we look over the maps of the Park. She is aware that the official starting point for the trail that leads to the end of the Appalachians in Canada begins right by her store at Abol Bridge, I explain however, that I have selected my own personal route, and that route begins/ends on Mount Katahdin.
I no sooner enter the Hundred Mile wilderness than comes the rain, but the sky soon clears, and from Rainbow Ledges am I blessed with one of the most profound and striking views of Katahdin, perhaps even more so than the view from Mount Chase, many miles and many days ago.
Hurd Brook Lean-to is filled with a group of youngsters from New York, so I move on to pitch for the evening at the lovely Rainbow Spring Campsite. Here’s a piped spring and plenty of firewood. This has been a grand day!
|When we leave this world for eternity,
We don’t even get to carry 10 pounds.
[Glen Van Peski, GVP Gear]
Love is the only thing that we can carry with us when we go…
Sunday–July 16, 2000
Location–Logging Road, Mile 46.0, thence to White House Landing Wilderness Camp, Pemadumcook Lake, Bill and Linda Ware, proprietors
I think it’s just naturally supposed to be wet and cold in the Hundred Mile wilderness. It rained off and on throughout the night, and I’m out in the swirling mist this morning, making this an appropriate day and providing the opportunity to close this journal entry with my ditty about this mystifying place–the Hundred Mile wilderness.
You’ll notice as I write, the word “wilderness” is not capitalized. According to Dave Startzell, AT Conference Executive Director, the Hundred Mile wilderness now carries a small [w] designation as opposed to an upper-case [W]! This was said, tongue-in-cheek, when I talked with Dave at AT Conference Headquarters during my northbound thru-hike in ’98. But there is more than a little truth to this statement, as there are many roads crossing the trail now. And at places like the new logging road at mile 46 (southbound) customary services and other civilized trappings and amenities are available to the AT hiker only a short distance from the trail. That isn’t necessarily bad and I’m certainly not complaining, ’cause I’m a trail town boy. This old codger certainly likes all the conveniences when they’re available, and he’ll usually track a beeline right there.
So today, after an easy pull over Nesuntabunt Mountain, and after meeting and talking with Kiel, a northbound thru-hiker, I head in to White House Landing Wilderness Camp located only a mile from the trail. Access is an easy half-mile roadwalk along a new logging road, thence off into the woods for another half-mile on a neatly groomed trail, which ends at a floating dock on the shores of Pemadumcook Lake, the largest lake in Maine. Here a handmade sign reads, “Honk the horn (an aerosol foghorn hangs from the sign) and we’ll come pick you up. Please be patient, we may be busy with other chores.” I give the horn a couple of short blasts and in only moments I hear the outboard crank and see the boat heading out. As the launch approaches, I’m thinking, “This is really neat,” and I reach for my camera to snap a picture of the lake with the boat and the old log lodge squarely in the background. Shortly I am greeted by Scott, who invites me aboard, and we’re off, headed back across the lake to White House Landing.
Here is a picture-postcard setting, an old log lodge nestled in the tall-spired evergreen, up just a bit from the lake and situated in such a manner as to provide the most sweeping and panoramic view down and across the grand expanse of Pemadumcook Lake. On the ride over, Scott explains that the only access to White House Landing is by boat, a distance of some ten miles down the lake to the nearest road. So, the conveniences here are what they’ve made them. And the owners, Bill and Linda Ware, to whom I am promptly introduced, have spared no effort or expense in making each guest feel right at home! The whole operation is pretty much powered by propane, with a generator and solar panels providing energy for some conveniences. Gas lights add to the spell created by the rustic and grand old lodge, and I find I have not the least difficulty relaxing before one of the broad picture windows with a cold Bud in my hand, to enjoy the show–the pure white manes of a million galloping steeds–(as Sigurd Olson would describe) a most-splendid illusion created by the wind as it drives the waves across magnificent Lake Pemadumcook!
After settling in the bunkhouse and after enjoying the luxury of a hot shower, I head back to the lodge where Scott and his girlfriend, Debbie, prepare my evening meal, a fully loaded pizza. This is really roughing it!
|A trail thru Maine’s north wilderness,
Past bogs and ponds of blue.
Beckons the restless wanderlust
Down deep in me and you.
So, off in the swirling mist we go
But, we’ll rove these woods and mountainsides
Monday–July 17, 2000
Location–East Branch Lean-to
Rain comes hard and steady during the night but by morning it has settled to a light, steady mist. I head over to the lodge where Bill is preparing an AYCE (all you can eat) grand breakfast. He brings me a heaping plate, which promptly stokes me for the journey out today. Scott then gives me and Backwards Bob, a northbounder, a boat ride back to the other shore. I’m on the AT again by 8:30 a.m.
I encounter many puncheons (long, low log bridges) across numerous bogs this morning. The rain makes these wooden structures extremely dangerous, for they are covered with what I call, “slime of the time.” Slow, patient progress is the only safe way to approach these structures.
By noon the drizzle has subsided, and the mush begins to burn off. The hike into the afternoon and for the remainder of the day is most enjoyable. On a short pop up and over Little Boardman Mountain, I meet northbound thru-hikers Acrobat, Captain and Albatross. By early evening I’m at East Branch Lean-to, where I get a fine cooking and warming fire going. There’s a chill in the air toward nightfall, so I roll into my warm and roomy Feathered Friends Rock Wren and soon am comfy and snug.
|I wish I could walk for a day and a night,
And find me at dawn in a desolate place
With never the rut of a road in sight,
Nor the roof of a house, nor the eyes of a face.
[Edna St. Vincent Millay]
Tuesday–July 18, 2000
Location–Chairback Gap Lean-to
Rain comes in again during the night and remains my steady companion for the day. The ever-present rocks and roots are a constant challenge when dry. When wet, the least off-angle or misstep will quickly pitch you right in. I take a couple of flying pack-slammers and a corkscrew elbow-banger today, along with numerous dipsy-doo slaloms and swaggering sashays, but I’m none the worse for wear, for which I’m most thankful. My right hand is trying very hard to heal, and it doesn’t need any more banging around right now.
I am faced this morning with the first respectable climb since scaling Katahdin, up and over White Cap Mountain. Northbounders have raved about the grand views from this summit, but alas, this morning I am looking into the likes of Navy-bean soup the entire traverse.
In ’98 I passed by Gulf Hagas in the hammering rain. It isn’t hammering today, but the shroud is again here with me–not the kind of day one would want to spend climbing and scampering around in the Gulf, so reluctantly, I pass this grand AT landmark once again. Perhaps this one is just not meant to ever be!
After fording the West Branch of Pleasant River, a rock hopper, I arrive early afternoon at Chairback Gap Lean-to. Aunt Mable has already pulled in for the evening, and we discuss our respective hikes as I attempt to build a fire in the rain. As I try harder to get the soaking wet tinder to ignite, the storm sets in harder, to finally descend in buckets accompanied by crashing audio and fully illuminated video, all for our evening enjoyment. Big Ring and Granny Gear have come in, and just as the thunder turns to stereo, up come Pfish and Adrian. Aunt Mable and I rooch over a little, and there’s plenty of room for all. What a joy to be in the protection of this shelter and away from the slam of the rage for a change!
Aunt Mable offers to boil some water to warm and hydrate my Ramen noodles. I decline her kind offer, but when she offers the second time I quickly accept. I have sardines, bread and cheese for just such an occasion, but a warm meal is always a better choice. Thanks, Aunt Mable!
|Consider this from one who’s done
Before you move on down the path
For every three days in the sun
You’ll taste a day of nature’s wrath…
Wednesday–July 19, 2000
Location–Wilson Valley Lean-to
The day dawns to locally generated mush that burns off by late morning. The trail through here is badly overgrown, with many blowdowns for the better part of the day. Looks like there’s been no maintenance to speak of since perhaps early last summer. This sure brings a feeling of appreciation for the fine condition along other sections. It seems strange to be pushing through the grass and trail-engulfing foliage without getting totally soaked for a change, for the day has turned most pleasant, and the treadway is actually trying to dry out!
There are a number of ups ad downs today as I move on through the Barren/Chairbacks. First it’s up and over Columbus Mountain, thence to Third Mountain, Fourth Mountain, and finally Barren Mountain.
Wilson Valley Lean-to is a very pleasant site, with a grand fire ring, seats all around, and water just a short stroll away. I arrive by early afternoon again to find the shelter to myself. In moments I have a fine fire going in the fire ring, then it’s over for water to bathe and freshen some of my clothing. I’m able to string a clothesline near the fire, and I empty my entire pack, draping things everywhere to drive away the dampness.
I have been hiking off and on the past two days with southbounders Pfish and his brother Adrian, who arrive in awhile. Later in the evening, northbounders Shaman, Pixie and Shakedown come in. Pixie hiked some last year with Scott River Otter Galloway, who was first to hike southbound from Cap Gaspe´ to Key West. I flew to Miami, then rented a car and drove to Key West to greet and congratulate Scott when he arrived last January. Pixie and I have a grand time sharing stories about this friend.
After preparing my meal, I build the fire back up to warm and brighten the evening, and we all have a very enjoyable time sitting around and talking trail.
|O’er stone and root and knotty log,
O’er faithless bits of reedy bog…
Thursday–July 20, 2000
Location–ME15, thence to Monson, Maine, The Pie Lady’s, Sydney “The Pie Lady” Pratt, proprietor
I awaken at 7:30 A.M. to a glorious, sunshiny morning and am out and on my way to Monson. Today I will complete my hike through the Hundred Mile wilderness, but a rugged ten miles yet remain. The blowdowns and overgrown treadway continue to Big Wilson Stream. Once I ford the stream, trail conditions improve. The trail rattles up and down through what seems endless rocks and roots, to finally emerge beside one of the most picturesque little ponds to be found anywhere in the wilderness. Lily Pond is a strikingly rugged but intimate pool, framed against a backdrop of conifers with the most impressive and massive granite temple rising in its midst. I pause for pictures, and then just to gaze upon its serene beauty.
I arrive at ME15 around one and get a ride almost immediately right to The Pie Lady’s front door. What a joy to be here and to see my dear friend Sydney again. She greets me with a grand smile, exclaiming, “I’ve been looking for you!” We talk and talk some more, as we get caught up on all that has happened in the past two years. Sydney shows me to the same little private room in the back of her lovely home, where I’ll be able to work on my book, Ten Million Steps, for in the next two days I must brush through the entire manuscript. Charlene Patterson, my editor at Falcon Publishing, has sent it to me in book form, complete with dust cover and illustrations. I must review it, then return it to her, as we prepare the book for the printers. It frustrates me to interrupt my hike, but Charlene tried to prepare me for this months ago. It is true though–I am becoming more excited about the book with every passing day as it comes together and we get closer and closer to completion. So I’ll take the time, stay right with it and get it done, but I know I’ll be anxious to return to the trail.
I get cleaned up and presentable again before digging into the pile of work. In the evening I am treated to the finest dining experience I can recall, perhaps since here last. Sydney is an absolutely superb cook. Then it’s back to the little room to recline in peaceful contentment. It’s great to be back here again…deja vu, oh yes!
|In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough,
and at what period soever in life, is always a child.
[Ralph Waldo Emerson]
Friday–July 21, 2000
Location–The Pie Lady’s, Monson, Maine
What a great night’s rest. After a fine breakfast prepared by Sydney, I’m ready to go at it. But oh what a stack I must get through! What’s taken me two years to write I must now completely review in just two days. By late afternoon I am only on page 140–not very good progress. I need a break, so I head downtown. I pick up a six-pack of tallneck frosties and then stop at Mikes for a great BBQ sandwich. I return and work until supper, then after, late into the evening.
Big Ring, Granny Gear, Pfish and Adrian came in earlier this evening, and will stay the night.
|Time is a gift to each and each,
That hastens through our life.
Bringing love, contentment, peace,
And a fair-measured bit of strife.
Saturday–July 22, 2000
Location–The Pie Lady’s, Monson, Maine
I have worked late, so I sleep late, missing breakfast, but Sydney has saved some coffee for me and that helps get me cranking this morning.
I go back to the book with determination, but I realize there is just no way I am going to get this review completed today. I become slowly resigned to the realization that I will probably be here at least until Monday, for I’ve also got nearly a week of journal entries to complete. Folks, “Hiking is hard. Writing is hard. Hiking and writing is real hard!”–So sez the ol’ Nomad.
By mid-afternoon my vision starts blurring and the old noggin locks up, so I take a break and head over to Shaw’s Boarding Home to spend a little time with Keith and Pat Shaw. I find Pat in the kitchen getting supper prepared for the hungry horde of hikers. As she continues peeling potatoes, we talk about the grand tradition this grand old place has become. In awhile Keith comes through, and I’m given the extended tour of his large and expansive facility. Even though pushing 73, Keith’s still quite the handyman, full of boundless energy. A typical day here at Shaw’s begins at 4:00 a.m. and doesn’t end until all the hikers’ needs are met, which is usually late evening. Keith, Pat, it’s been great seeing you again. I wish you 24 more memorable years at Shaw’s Boarding Home.
In the evening it’s off to the Appalachian Station Restaurant with Big Ring and Granny Gear. We’re heading for the Saturday night special–prime rib. And does this ever turn out to be the right thing to do! Great company and great prime rib prepared by Maureen Trefethen, proprietor and cook at Appalachian Station. What a fine evening with my new southbound hiking friends, Big Ring and Granny Gear.
I have stuffed myself, it seems, to the point of bursting, and I am unable to sleep, so I work on the book and my journal until 4:00 a.m.
|I spent the day in the most agreeable manner in the society of this man of singular worth.
He led me over his extensive improvements, and we returned in company with several of his neighbours.
Sunday–July 23, 2000
Location–The Pie Lady’s, Monson, Maine
I finally manage some sleep, about five hours, so I don’t roll out until after 9:00 a.m. While Keith Shaw was showing me his other house across the way yesterday, Reverend Daryl E. Witmer of the Monson Community Church was passing. Keith introduced us, and during the course of conversation Daryl invited me to attend services this morning.
Sydney has saved some coffee for me again, and after spending a few minutes with her, I’m right on time for church. The sermon covers a very familiar subject, one that is always good to review–that to be a disciple of God, we must place our love for God above the love of family, the love of self and the love of material things. I’m still working on all three.
I spend the remainder of the day finishing up the book review/proofing, and journal entries. Toward evening, Sridhar Spider Ramasami comes in. Spider began his journey from Cap Gaspe¢ and he, too, is bound for Key West. Caveman, Spider and I enjoy a grand time over dinner, talking trail.
It’s time to get things ready for the post office, organize my pack and prepare to depart for Stratton, Maine. I am definitely ready for the trail again!
|And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters,
or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake,
shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
Monday–July 24, 2000
Location–West of Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to, Maine
I seldom sleep in while on the trail, but this morning at Sydney’s it’s such a simple task. When I finally stumble out to the kitchen around 9:00 a.m., there’s a piping-hot cup of coffee waiting for me. It’s hard to eat everything Sydney puts on the table, and as usual, there are leftover potatoes and pancakes, which she warms for me. Talk about being pampered!
Pfish and his brother Adrian are still holed-up in the little cabin in Sydney’s back yard. Sydney had taken them, along with La Tortuga, a northbounder, to the outfitters in Greenville the other day. There they bought some new cross-trainers, to get out of their heavy hiking boots. Adrian’s been having a devil of a time with his feet and knees. I think Pfish is also glad for the break. They’re southbound from Katahdin and just getting crankin’. As usual, with most AT beginners, both are carrying heavy packs. At my urging, Pfish also picked up a pair of Leki Trekking Poles (I sold a set of sticks for you, Leki!). Some of their decisions were no doubt based on my comments and suggestions–sure hope I steered them right. It’s really great to see brothers sharing such quality time and enjoying each other’s company. I wish you both well, my dear new friends!
Caveman, a lover of spelunking when not hiking, has been recruited by Sydney to put up another hummingbird feeder. She has one right on the window here by the dining room table; so as we dine, hummingbirds are frequent guests. Caveman is a big, tall kid, so he’s been given the job of reaching way up and attaching another feeder so Sydney can also enjoy the colorful little beauties at her bedroom window. In real life, Caveman is involved with computers, and this morning he sets to updating Sydney’s Netscape Navigator from 3.0 to something-point-something. This computer stuff is all so new and intimidating to folks like Sydney and me; but we’re trying! Sydney is kind, sharing all she has, so it isn’t surprising that she allows stinky hikers into her room to use her personal computer–to get on-line and send email.
Since Thursday evening, I’ve been trying to get in touch with Dick Anderson, President, SIA/IAT–no luck; but this morning I’m finally able to reach him. He is pleased to hear about my good progress and is delighted to find that Spider is also here with me at Sydney’s. Spider departed right behind me this spring–on the Appalachian Mountains Trail (AMT) and the Eastern Continental Trail (ECT). These trails follow along with, and are bound over to, the SIA/IAT. All emerge from the sea, by the Cliffs of Forillon, Cap Gaspe´. Both of us are bound for the beginning of the Appalachian range in Alabama, and ultimately, the southernmost point of the eastern North American continent in Key West. We have a grand talk with Dick, who’s always excited to hear good tidings from hikers.
I’ve been working feverishly this morning, trying to get ready so I can return to the trail. The last three days have been spent with my editor, Charlene Patterson of Falcon Publishing, in final preparation for my upcoming book, Ten Million Steps, a 400-page hardbound book about “Odyssey ’98.” I’m trying to get two boxes ready to mail, one to send home and one to bounce on to Stratton, Maine, my next maildrop. On the way back from the post office, I stop again at Appalachian Station, where Maureen prepares a fine lunch for me. I’m finally organized, and Sydney drops everything once more, to shuttles me back to the trail at 4:00 p.m. Everyone is out and on the trail–except me!
The treadway is friendly, and I manage about ten miles, even with the late start. I pitch in the woods just past Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to. I will likely not pass this way again. I’m an old man, and my bones are drying out and scraping together pretty hard. Sydney, I’ll dearly miss you, my friend; you have been so kind and generous to me. I will remember you always. Good-bye.
|But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.
Tuesday–July 25, 2000
Location–US201, Caratunk House, Caratunk, Maine, Jenson “Aunt Bee” Steel and Paul “One Braid” Fuller, proprietors,
I’m out and on my way south by 6:30 this morning, greeted by a gloriously clear, nearly haze-free day. Shortly I meet a northbounder, Lady Leaper, bound for Katahdin. She stops, and we exchange the most enjoyable conversation. Seems most northbounders have such a wicked focus now–on Katahdin their final destination. Few want to tarry and talk; rather, most are bound now with singular intensity to completing their quest. Lady Leaper has her sights set too, but is taking time to truly savor these remaining few days. Great talking with you, Lady Leaper, my best to you, and congratulations!
As I hike along this morning, I’m thinking of my grand stay in Monson. While in the shower yesterday morning came a knock on the bathroom door. Sydney said I had a phone call waiting. “I’m in the shower, Sidney. Get their name and number and I’ll call them back,” was my reply. So, I was surprised to find, as I emerged from the bath nearly ten minutes later, to find Sydney still on the phone, with the happiest, grand-smiling expression on her face! Come to find out that not only my good friend, but also Sydney’s good friend, David Fanny Pack Atkinson, was on the line. It isn’t easy keeping in touch with all my friends while on the trail, but I am making an effort, and with my little PocketMail I’m able to spam-mail them. Of course Fanny Pack is on that list, so he knew that I was in Monson. Word has it that another big celebration is being planned at Tiorati Circle this year. Baltimore Jack is in the vicinity, and the whole bash sort of coincides with his arrival. Jack is the “Trash” in the clan that’s affectionately known as “Hiker Trash”, being one of the most beloved of the original clan. Great hearing from you, Fanny Pack. Thanks for your friendship and for your encouragement. I’m looking forward to seeing you again as I enter your neck of the woods! Keep in touch, my friend!
The hike today up to Moxie Bald is spectacular. From this vantage can be seen Mount Katahdin to the north and the Bigelow Range to the south. There is just the least bit of haze, thus making the presentation of these remarkable mountains such a mystical sight for dream-seekers like me. For today these grand cathedrals are truly on the fringe of God’s hazy blue, that elusive, far-away, mysterious thither and yon, where the wanderlust in all of us leads. Here on Moxie I find Big Ring, Granny Gear, Spider and Black Forest. I also have the pleasure meeting Bombadil, Mushroom and Orion, northbounders. Bombadil had corresponded with me early on before beginning his AT hike, expressing interest in also doing the SIA/IAT, and here today does there spill from this lad the most amazing excitement in meeting me.
The hike today proves long on the trail but I have done well, so at the side trail to Pleasant Pond Lean-to, and arriving at 3:30 p.m., I decide to continue on to Caratunk. Northbounders have spoken of this wonderful new Hiker B&B that has just opened up the first of June, and how they’d had such a pleasant stay there. So off to the Caratunk House I go! And did this ever turn out to be the right decision, for even though this has made for a twenty-seven mile day, the last six miles prove pretty much a cruise and I arrive around 6:30. The Caratunk House can’t be more than two or three hundred yards off the trail, a grand old restored-but-original-appearing two story home at 218 Main Street. Here I’m greeted by Aunt Bee and One Braid and taken right in. I’m shown to a delightful period-furnished bedroom upstairs, and just as I finish showering in the spacious boudoir-designed and appointed bath, my pizza arrives! Aunt Bee had given me a cold one to enjoy with my pizza while he drove the fifteen miles round-trip to the store to bring more refreshing longnecks! And what timing, for also just as the pizza arrives, so does Spider, and we share the most exquisite dining experience, with subdued light and mood music no less, right here in the beautiful dining room at the Caratunk House! I was going to do some writing this evening, but the sandman somehow got the pillow under my tired, sleepy head, and that was it!
|I’m lucky; I’ve found my path,
and I’m going to keep on strolling down it.
Wednesday–July 26, 2000
Location–West Carry Pond Lean-to, Maine
What a great time at the Caratunk House! The decision by all was to sleep in this morning, so Aunt Bee and One Braid oblige by holding off breakfast until 8:30, but there’s a full pot of fresh coffee when I awake at seven. There’s three for breakfast: Lurch, who had come in earlier yesterday, and Spider and me.
Spider gets organized and on his way before noon, but Lurch and I tarry, not getting packed and ready until 1:00 p.m. After a photo op with Aunt Bee, Lurch and I head for the Kennebec River. Steve Ferryman Longley is waiting patiently for us, as he’s been waiting patiently for hikers for 14 years. We have a great reunion. You wouldn’t think Ferryman could remember all the hikers he’s shuttled across over the years, but he sure remembers me. The sun is warm, the day perfect, and we linger for the longest time enjoying grand conversation at the picnic table by the shores of the Kennebec. Ferryman is always such an enthusiastic individual, such an interesting person. Says he, “When I speak, the rivers and the mountains are within me and they speak for me.”
Lurch and I finally shoulder our packs and are on our way south a little before two. The old boardwalk to Harrison’s Pierce Pond Camps is just as I remember. And the old lodge is such a remarkable and friendly place to visit. I get to see Fran again. She and her husband Tim have been serving tank-stoking breakfasts to hikers for years. Great talking to you again, Fran; thanks for your kindness, and thanks, especially, for the memories!
Lurch and I enjoy the afternoon hiking together, arriving late at West Carry Pond Lean-to. Here we find family members Houdini and Spider already in residence. I soon get a cooking-turned-mosquito-taming fire going and we enjoy a very pleasant evening together. What a joy-filled, happy day!
|To us the enjoyment of solitude, complete independence,
and the beauty of undefiled panoramas is absolutely essential to happiness.
Thursday–July 27, 2000
Location–ME 27, Stratton, Maine, Widow’s Walk B&B, Jerry and Mary Hopson, proprietors
The forecast is for rain today, with locally isolated thundershowers, and the day seems headed that direction with cool, gloomy overcast. I’m moving by seven, with Houdini out ahead of me. Spider and Lurch won’t be far behind.
Yesterday, Lurch and I hiked the ten miles from Pierce Pond Lean-to to West Carry Pond Lean-to in three hours and twenty minutes, an exact three-miles-per-hour average. The treadway there was some of the flattest, smoothest I can ever recall hiking on the AT. It’s not difficult to maintain three miles per hour on the roadwalks that I have done and will be doing, but to crank out this kind of mileage in the woods presents considerable more challenge. So it is that the treadway out of West Carry Pond Lean-to this morning is much more in keeping with the AT’s three “R’s”: ruts, rocks and roots. And to this mix must now be added a number of very respectable ups and downs as we enter the Bigelows, one of the most rugged and picturesque of all the ranges that make up the ancient and everlasting chain known as the Appalachian Mountains.
In awhile, Houdini, Spider and I get together, and we hike the up-up-up climb to Little Bigelow Mountain. The overcast is still in place above us, but here below, we are afforded splendid views down to Flagstaff Lake and to Avery Peak and beyond. I recall with the fondest memory standing at this very spot in late August of ’98 with Easy Rider. We had made it out of Stratton that morning to arrive here at Little Bigelow to witness one of the most stunning sunsets I can recall as the sun descended behind Avery Peak, setting the sky ablaze in crimson–with Avery, the sharptop peak, named in memory of the man who most single-handedly built the AT, in bold, shadow-dark contrast.
Spider and Houdini have stopped for lunch and I move on, first to Avery Peak, which is engulfed in frigid, wind-drive mist, then to West Peak, which I find in a like rage as I scurry up, over and back down.
The treadway is long, very bumpy and difficult as I push on to reach Stratton. There’s a blue-blaze trail leading directly to the little village of Stratton, but I bail off the mountain on the AT as it heads for ME27.
There is little traffic on ME27, but John, a Stratton local, gives me a ride almost immediately, with a frosty longneck following his handshake. John drops me off in front of Widow’s Walk, a quaint old turreted, two-story B&B right next all the conveniences. In ’98 I stayed at the White Wolf Inn and was treated most kindly, but hikers I’ve met along the way recently have told me about the Hobsons at Widow’s Walk, so that’s where I head. I arrive at 5:30 p.m. to be greeted by Green Giant, a southbounder who is reclined on the living room couch watching TV. Green Giant explains that the owners are away but that I am welcome to stay. “Just pick a room,” says Green Giant. I choose the front bedroom with the grand three-window bay below the spire-topped turret! Widow’s Walk was undoubtedly a most fashionable place in its heyday. It’s kept up and running now by Jerry and Mary, who themselves have hiked sections of the AT and have opened their proud, spacious home to hikers for over twenty years. I head right away to the old claw-foot cast-iron tub for the most soothing-hot bone soaking!
Then it’s to Stratton Diner, not a hundred yards away, for carryout pizza, thence to Northland Supply, just across the way, for some cold, frosty longnecks. Oh yes, as my dear old hiking friend, Wolfhound, would surely say: “Life is good!”
|I stand on Little Bigelow
In all its majesty.
While all around, vast wilderness
Is all that I can see.
Once lived a man who loved this more
Friday–July 28, 2000
Location–Spaulding Mountain Lean-to, Maine
I am having a frustrating time today. My bounce box hasn’t arrived from Millinocket. The Postmistress said it should have been here overnight, since it was sent priority mail. That was four days ago. I’m to check back again at eleven, but I don’t hold much hope. Sure enough, eleven o’clock and no bounce box. This really upsets me but I try not to show my anger.
Spider came in this morning. He’s getting a few items, then heading back out. I don’t get back on the trail until 2:00 p.m. but still manage thirteen tough, hard miles for the day. Spider and I pile in to an almost-full house of northbounders at Spaulding Mountain Lean-to. The rain has threatened all day, and although it’s held off, the ups and downs remain a blessed mess, the bogs, boggy, the trail a pure slider.
|And so my prayer; a path this day,
From harm and travails be.
Then lead me safely to’rd Thy way,
Till pure the light I see.
Saturday–July 29, 2000
Location–ME4, Thence to Rangeley, Maine, Gull Pond Lodge, Bob O’Brien, proprietor
The northbounders are an intense bunch at this point. I hear stirring about early this morning and awaken to find one of the fellows grinding on his cereal. By 4:30 a.m. there’s only three of us left in the shelter. Six of the Katahdin-bound are already out and headed north!
I’m able to sleep until seven and manage to get packed and headed on south by seven-thirty. This day doesn’t look a bit better than yesterday. No rain, but threatening all the while. I’ve got some really tough pulls ahead, over Lone Mountain, Saddleback Junior, The Horn and Saddleback Mountain. There are no views as I proceed, and the cold, mist-driven wind is bitter company on the summits. I scurry up and over them, glad to be down in the shelter of the stunted spruce below. This treadway is brutal; the path literally filled with rocks, boulders, roots and bogs, and as usual the whole trail is pure soup. I can’t remember so many off-camber rocks. Best just look at them though. These I’ve learned to avoid at all cost, for to step on one is an invitation to disaster, an abrupt, unscheduled close-up look of the whole scene. Progress is agonizingly slow and treacherous. I am thankful to remain mostly upright as I skid along, but I do manage a couple of pack slappers.
Along about late morning, I hear voices as hikers approach from the south. In moments I hear, “Nomad, Nimblewill Nomad, is that you?” Oh, what a grand surprise to cross paths with the Blister Sisters again. They’re Bev Shenton and Betty Sue Allen. They’re being slacked through this section by Pittsburgh. They started their hike northbound from Springer in 1989 and plan to finish this year, the end of the eighth trip to the trail in their quest for Katahdin. Also coming off Saddleback I meet a couple of northbounders with interesting trail names. I stop and chat awhile with I’m Satisfied and He’s Getting There!
There’s little traffic on ME4, but in just moments, as I hook out my thumb, the Coleman family comes along in their brand new Ford Excursion–to haul it in and pick up the old Nomad. I can’t believe they’ve stopped for this dirty, smelly hiker. “Ma’am,” I exclaim as I open the door, “I can’t sit in that shiny new seat!” “Get in, get in, we’re hikers too!” the lady exclaims. They’re locals, and I enjoy hearing about how so many thru-hikers have come back to Rangeley to call this place home. They ‘re a great family and are obviously proud of their community. Indeed, it is a beautiful mountain town, what with Rangeley Lake set to the backdrop of heaven-bound spires beyond. It’s such a peaceful, tranquil setting. As we journey along, I’m thinking, “I could return to live here, too.”
My bounce box, which never arrived at Stratton, has all my trail data for points south–so might you suspect that here in Rangeley, I have not a clue about where to settle in for the evening. I am told by the bartender at the little bar downtown to check the bulletin board at the post office, so off to the post office I head. Along the way I look across to a street-side cafe with folks sitting around outside. Here I see someone I recognize immediately; it’s Yogi of the Yogi and BooBoo brothers from ’98. Yogi is doing an AT southbound now in preparation for a northbound on the Eastern Continental Trail next year. We have a grand time over pizza and beer then spend the evening together at Gull Pond Lodge. This has been a long, hard day, and I’m glad to have all the conveniences.
|I see that nature has told me something, has spoken to me,
And…I have put it down in shorthand.
[Vincent Van Gogh]
Sunday–July 30, 2000
Location–Bemis Mountain Lean-to, Maine
At first I was very disappointed upon arriving in Rangeley, for I was unable to reach David Hopkinson. David is the kind gentleman who gave me a ride from Daicey Pond to The Appalachian Trail Lodge in Millinocket after the long day over Baxter Peak. I had seen David’s seventeen-year-old son, Rob, again day-before-yesterday in Stratton, and he had said his father was looking forward to my arrival in Rangeley, and that I should give his folks a call and plan on staying with them. But alas, when I tried calling I got the “number no longer in service” message. I must have written it down wrong.
But my stay in Rangeley turned out grand. Isn’t it interesting how circumstances turn, for I got to see my good hiking friend Yogi again, and we spent a great evening together! Gull Pond Lodge was a very comfortable place, and Bob O’Brien a most gracious host. It was also a pleasant surprise seeing A Little Bit, whom I had first met at Trail Days. She flip-flopped at Rusty’s Hard Time Hollow, and is now headed south.
Stoneman, up from New York to do some hiking in Maine, gives Yogi, Yogi’s friend Cutter and me a ride back to the trailhead this morning. His little car is groaning as we pull out of Bob’s driveway, loaded with four hikers and their packs, and we bounce and bound along on ME4.
There is a lovely campsite at Bemis Stream. Yogi and Cutter have planned on stopping there. I have plans to hike on through to the lean-to, so we bid farewell for now and I’m on my way. The hike today is pretty much a cruise. The forecast had called for rain, but it’s held off. The overcast keeps the day cool, very mild. The trail pops up and down along low-lying ridges with the only significant pull coming late in the day as I climb to Bemis Mountain Lean-to. I arrive around six and get a cooking fire going after much huffing and puffing. Late comes G-Force, whom I’d met at Trail Days, and we spend a great evening together talking gear. Three of us here are wearing New Balance 803’s, a lightweight cross-training shoe. New Balance is another of my very generous sponsors and will be providing me with all the shoes I need to complete “Odyssey 2000.” I switched to the 803’s in Stratton after putting nine hundred miles on my tried and trusty Vasques. The 803’s are a little lighter weight shoe, but I think I am going to like them very just fine.
The smoke always seems to head for the shelter, and there is an eerie haze as the beams of light flash about at Bemis, hikers reading or composing their journals. Sorry ’bout that folks! Lights out at 8:30 p.m. and we’re all in.
|Human beings are of such nature that they should have not only material facilities
but spiritual sustenance as well. Without spiritual sustenance,
it is difficult to get and maintain peace of mind.
Monday–July 31, 2000
Location–South Arm Road, thence to East Andover, Maine, The Cabin, Marge and Earl Towne, proprietors
The hike today is tough and rugged, very slow and deliberate. The day has cleared nicely, and the warm sun feels good; however, the trail is soggy and the bogs are boggy, making the rock scampering especially difficult. The Bemis Range consists of many peaks, beginning with West Peak and continuing through Old Blue. I’ve done only nine miles for the day and it’s already noon, but this will be it as I head for Andover to see my good friends Marge Honey and Earl Bear Towne at The Cabin.
I am most fortunate to get a ride right away with the local mail carrier, and he drops me off at the corner station. I give Bear a call, and he sends Raven right away to fetch me.
The Cabin is a perfect place for tired and hungry hikers. Nothing has been spared to make our stay comfortable, to make us feel welcome. Honey and Bear have built this place with their own hands. As a result, these kind folks have established a place for family, a place that radiates love and warmth in such a caring and compassionate way. As I enter, comes over me this warmth, this presence, and I am home. Oh, what a much-needed and satisfying blessing, for their love not to be withheld from us lonely, homesick, hikers! Undeniably, this sincere caring is what makes The Cabin so special.
We sit the day, relaxing and talking, as if Honey and Bear had nothing better to do. In the evening, Honey prepares heaping bowls of spaghetti for me and the other guests: Raven, Laura, Greg, Cindy, and Old Sam.
Every time I’ve seen these dear friends–and I have seen them often over the last couple of years, for they attend all the hiker functions–without fail, they’ve always invited me to come and spend time with them here at The Cabin. So, today is that day, and are they ever so glad to see me. What a wonderful feeling to know this old man can bring joy to the hearts of others as, indeed, that joy is so bountifully returned to me. It is truly humbling. Thanks, Honey and Bear, for your friendship, kindness and generosity–for truly caring!
|That path cannot be so lonely,
For someone has trod it before;
The golden gates are the nearer,
That someone stands at the door.
Tuesday–August 1, 2000
Location–East B Hill Road, thence to The Cabin, East Andover Maine
I had a great night’s rest, even managed to work some on my journal entries. The grand aroma of bacon in the skillet wakes me a little before six, so I head down for some coffee and a chat with Bear. In awhile, he shows me a book, a yearbook. They’ve kept one for each “Class,” and a grand one it is for the “Class of ’98.” I help drain the coffeepot while looking at letters, cards and pictures Honey and Bear have received from all their (and my) dear friends.
The hike today is only ten miles to East B Hill Road, where Bear will come for me at 1:00 p.m. “Isn’t it a bit early to end the day?” you might ask. Ahh, perhaps, but perhaps you do not know the Mahoosucs. For these mountains have gained notoriety among AT hikers as being the most rugged and difficult of all the near-countless ranges along the Appalachian Trail–at one in the afternoon I’m pooped.
And so it is, by the time the weary northbound thru-hiker reaches East Andover, it’s time for a few of the things we all enjoy in life, but miss out here on the trail–like home, family, some good food, a warm shower, a real bed, TV, a phone, and maybe a look at our email. And it’s all here at The Cabin, especially the home and family. It’s just great to be with loving, caring people! After a few short days and more time spent with folks at The Cabin, the hiker is ready to head out again, healthy, happy and content!
The mountains here in the Mahoosucs are not on the grand scale as are the Whites and those of the Great Smoky Mountains, but they present a challenge not previously met anywhere along the AT. So after a hard, tiring morning, I’m ready for some more good old Cabin friendship and hospitality. Bear has arrived a little early at East B Hill, and he hikes in a ways to greet me, and together we enjoy the short hike back–for another grand evening at The Cabin relaxing with family.
|I am in the habit of looking not so much to the nature of a gift
as to the spirit in which it is offered.
[Robert Louis Stevenson]
Wednesday–August 2, 2000
Location–East B Hill Road, thence to The Cabin, East Andover, Maine
Today I will hike ten miles–south to north, as it will be more convenient for the shuttle operation this evening. So, instead of hiking from East B Hill Road to Grafton Notch, I’ll be going the opposite direction. Punkin and Journey, both northbounders, both thru-hiking the AT from Springer Mountain to Baxter, will be hiking this section from Grafton Notch to East B Hill, so I decide to join them. We enjoy a great day together with many fine views from the Baldpates. Bear again hikes in a short distance to greet us and we return to a wonderful evening of family fellowship at The Cabin.
And so, dear friends, you who have toiled over The Cabin, this is my final night with you. Being here these past short days, I have come to realize that you truly live your lives in such a way–for you have given so unselfishly–as to make the words of that beautiful old poem ring true: I Shall Not Pass This Way Again…
|Through this toilsome world, alas!
Once and only once I pass,
If a kindness I may show,
If a good deed I may do
To a suffering fellow man,
Let me do it while I can…
Thursday–August 3, 2000
Location–Near Gentian Pond Campsite, New Hampshire
Saying good-bye to dear friends is not easy, and I linger with Honey and Bear and all the new friends I’ve made these last three days here at The Cabin. There is Momma C and Poppa C and their son Old Sam. And there’s Raven and Laura, her last name being Snickers; so, I’ve pegged her with the trail name Why Wait (Snickers–Why Wait!). I also met and hiked some with Journey, Punkin, Wolf Man and Micah and his sister Jody. It’s a long drive back to the trailhead at Grafton Notch, and Honey and I have a great time talking about many things. Then it’s another sad good-bye as I head back up the mountain.
Today is the day to do the Notch–Mahoosuc Notch, that is. The hike off the Arm, and then the rock scramble through the Notch is one of the most difficult sections along the entire AT, but I have my sights set on Gorham, New Hampshire tomorrow, so I keep hammering through the ups and down and the incredible jumble of rocks and off-camber ledges. I manage one spectacular pack-slapper and bruise my leg. Somehow I’m able to cover nearly twenty miles for the day. This leaves me only twelve miles on into Gorham tomorrow.
I pitch in the rain, which has been my companion most of the afternoon, and no sooner do I roll in than the thunder also rolls in, to bring a grand light show and torrents of rain. But I’m snug and warm in my neat little Nomad tent.
|Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.
Friday–August 4, 2000
Location–US2, Gorham, New Hampshire, thence to Hiker’s Paradise, Bruno and Mary Ann Janicki, proprietors
Subconsciously, something told me not to pull into Gentian Pond Campsite last night, so I found a flat spot to pitch, 100 yards or so off the trail above a little trickle about a mile or two north of the site. And was this ever the right decision, for in the distance and shortly after I get going this morning–and for the better part of 10-15 minutes–can I hear from ahead of me the shrill, piercing laughter and chatter of young girls–20-30 of them. They’ve literally taken over the entire platform section at Gentian! And we wonder why wilderness and the hiking experience have become degraded.
There are a couple of pops over some no-names and a final for the day up and over Cascade Mountain, and shortly I bail off to the Androscoggin River and US2, which leads to Gorham. At a beautiful old, well-kept two-story home where the trail turns at US2, and on the front steps of this home is there a telephone, placed especially for hikers to use to call Gorham for shuttle service!
I’ve never been able to figure it out, what it’s about–shouldering a backpack, that is–that opens up and brings forth this wonderful world of human kindness and generosity I’ve never before or otherwise experienced in my near-sixty-two years on this earth. This almost-continuous experience of dumbfound joy while on the trail has become known to hikers as “Trail Magic,” offered up by folks known as “Trail Angels.” I’ve read volumes written on this subject and about this phenomenon, but to this day have I ever been truly convinced what it must certainly be about; nor have I ever been entirely able to fathom or figure it out myself. The phone on the steps here is just one little example among countless examples of acts of kindness that’s experienced almost daily by us trail-weary intrepids. It is humbling, truly humbling, and even though it brings pure happiness and joy, living and experiencing it is so perplexing!
The call to Hiker’s Paradise brings the shuttle to fetch me. As I stoop to look across at the driver, I am greeted in a most business-like and matter-of-fact way. Here I meet Bruno Janicki, proprietor at Hiker’s Paradise. On the way through town I get the canned, long-ago fully rehearsed guided tour presentation. Says Bruno, “There’s the best place to eat in town. That Oriental place is too expensive; try that one over there if you like Chinese food. There’s the post office, and you can see the Pizza Hut, McDonalds and Burger King signs. And here’s Hiker’s Paradise, where you’ll be staying. Let me show you around.” Bruno then proceeds to explain, all the while continuing in the most business-like fashion, what he has to offer and what he expects of me while I am his guest here. “You put your hiking shoes here or on the porch. Do not wear them upstairs; it is clean for you and we want it that way for others. We have a full laundry, but please do your wash before the motel guests start arriving.” I keep repeating, “Okay Bruno, okay Bruno, okay!”
Northbounders have told me about Bruno Janicki and his no-nonsense disposition. But in the same breath, I’ve also heard all about the great place for hikers that is Hiker’s Paradise. Just as I chipped away a little at the enamel around Sydney The Pie Lady Pratt a couple of years ago, it didn’t take me long to find the soft spot in Bruno’s heart for us hikers. It really isn’t hard to figure out, for you see, if all these folks that cater to us were interested in making some real money, they’d be doing something besides cleaning up after us and running us all over the place day in and day out. And it’s true, with few and rare exceptions; all the hostel keepers have a deep and abiding love for us, a love they cannot hide, that just can’t be concealed! And Bruno, well, Bruno Janicki is probably the least likely of all to fit this mold. But fit it he does, even though he’s an immigrant from Poland, his life and family having been crushed by the takeover of Poland. I listen in astonishment as his wife Mary Ann tells the story of how Bruno and his family were forced to leave their home with all their worldly possessions in a wheelbarrow.
Bruno settles me in to one of the many bunkrooms, the quietest of the lot, so I can do some writing and get some much-needed rest. Please don’t be angry with me for giving you away, Bruno. Regardless, it probably doesn’t really matter; ‘cause everybody’s pretty much got you figured out.
|Wouldn’t this world be better
If the folks we met would say–
“I know something good about you!”
And treat us just that way?
[Louis C. Shimon]
Saturday–August 5, 2000
Location–Pinkham Notch, NH16, thence to Gorham, Hiker’s Paradise
What a wonderful surprise, the evening last. Came a knock on my door and I opened it to be greeted by Jingle, my dear hiking friend from ’98. She’s up here from Wisconsin to attend her sister’s wedding and had heard from Easy Rider that I was at Hiker’s Paradise here in Gorham. We shared a grand evening together, and this morning Jingle not only treated me to breakfast but also took me back out to the trailhead to continue my hike on south. Thanks, Jingle, for the wonderful surprise and for taking the time to see me!
I’m into the climb to Mount Moriah by 8:30 a.m., and it sure doesn’t take long to get the old jitney up to normal operating temperature, the pull being a nearly uninterrupted 4000-foot climb. I have decided to go the full distance of twenty-one miles, all the way to NH16 at Pinkham Notch, with the ups and downs adding to a total vertical change of over 13,000 feet. The treadway is brutal, but the scenery is breathtaking, and the day is perfect, providing spectacular and near-constant views of the Presidential Range, Mount Washington presiding, to the northwest.
Coming off Carter Dome, and before arriving at Carter Notch Hut, a meeting that I’ve been looking forward to with such excitement and anticipation happens: the young man hiking north from Key West, Florida meets the old man hiking south from the Cliffs of Forillon, Quebec Province. Here is *Jon Class Five Leuschel! What joy we share in this reunion. Class Five’s hiking companions, Hopalong and Cutthroat, stand in bewilderment as we hoot and holler and hug!
They departed Pinkham Notch around noon, and it is now a little after three, so I know that I can make it in today. I had been thinking of taking a day off tomorrow; I’ll do that for sure now. We’ll all meet in Gorham for a grand time!
The descent from Peak E off Wildcat Mountain is a freefall, straight down, but I make it without incident to arrive at Pinkham Notch around 6:30. Within minutes I am given a ride directly to Hiker’s Paradise. What an incredible, physically demanding and excitement-filled day! Thank you, Lord, for your blessings: good health and great friends
|Half this game is ninety percent mental.
*Jon Class V Leuschel, and his brother, Dan King Louie, departed Key West, Florida on January 14th, 2000. Dan left the trail in New Hampshire, ending his hike. Jon continued on, reaching the Cliffs of Forillon, Cap Gaspé, Quebec on September 26th, 2000, 255 days, 4,400 miles.
Sunday–August 6, 2000
Location–Gorham, Hiker’s Paradise
A day’s rest will surely be welcome after the long, tiring hike yesterday. I’ll have a chance to get caught up on my journal entries and spend some time with my great friend, Class Five; but first things first. It’s time to head down to the dining room here at Hiker’s Paradise for breakfast. And what an interesting menu, created especially for thru-hikers–items like White Blaze, Blue Blaze, Flip-Flop, and my favorite, Yo-Yo. This one’s a double helping of everything, starting with coffee, eggs and pancakes, to be followed up with a double helping of pancakes, eggs and coffee; yup, the Yo-Yo!
The trip to the post office shortly after I arrived Friday really capped that day, for I finally got back together with my bounce box. This morning I sort through all its contents, rationing out more medication (coated aspirin, vitamins and Osteo-Bi-Flex), then to look through the ALDHA Companion and AT Data Book for the pages I’ll need next.
The evening is spent with Class Five and his good friends–(and now mine): Hopalong, Cutthroat, Cutthroat’s mom, JoAnn, his girlfriend, Carrie, and sister, Jennifer. I join them as their guest for dinner. It’s a joy to be taken in so freely, to be accepted as friend. Later in the evening, Class Five and I go over the details that will involve his hike past Katahdin and on north into Canada.
|When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then.
People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.
[William Least Heat Moon]
Monday–August 7, 2000
Location–Lakes of the Clouds Hut, New Hampshire
Down at the restaurant this morning, I find the place packed and it’s not yet 7:00 a.m. Bruce Pettingill, who helps Bruno and Mary Ann keep the hiker thing running smoothly here at Hikers Paradise is already shuttling his second load of northbound thru-hikers back to the mountain. I go for a light start–coffee and toast–as I have the climb from Pinkham Notch, over Mount Washington and into Lakes of the Clouds Hut ahead of me. Somehow, Mary Ann manages to break away from her busy duties in the kitchen to shuttle me to the trail. Back at the Notch, and after saying good-bye to another great new friend, Mary Ann of Hiker’s Paradise, I’m on the trail again, heading ever south at 8:00 a.m.
The climb ahead of me today is one of the most difficult, leading ever up through the rocks and the roots. I try not to look, not to see the seemingly never-ending jumble and maze as the white blazes climb toward the sky, and I labor and climb with them. I’ve got my wind and my legs, as good as I’ll have them ever again at my age, and on I grind, up, up, up, without a break, for the better part of an hour. Finally, with a grand feeling of accomplishment, I successfully gain the ridge and head toward Mount Madison.
The rain, which came in during the night, with the mush pervading all, persists today. As I climb, and as I near Madison Springs Hut, the rain not only begins again, but intensifies, and with it comes a driving wind, turning the day uncomfortably cold and harsh–most unfriendly. I am greatly relieved to reach the hut, and as I enter, I receive a warm welcome from the “Croo.” The storm continues as the rain pelts the hut windows, and I feel smug, a certain sense of joy, in the simple pleasure derived from being in the warmth and comfort afforded by this cozy little place in the shroud.
After drying off and getting my core temperature back up–with a couple cups of piping hot coffee, I head over to the bookcase. Here, one of the books, entitled Joe Dodge, catches my eye.
I am soon totally immersed in the history of the Presidential Range, the Hut system, and the life and humor that was Joe Dodge. This delightful book, written by William Lowell Putnam, describes Joe’s life as he lived it in the Whites. As I read on, I become totally intrigued with the wit, humor and the apparent boundless energy of this man.
“Joe Dodge was a doer, he built the AMC [Appalachian Mountain Club] Hut System: the chain of nine huts stretching by mountain trail almost sixty miles across the upper waist of New Hampshire. All but one are located on mountain trails. Each provides food, shelter, and sleeping quarters for hikes at modest fees. Staffed by young men [and more recently, also by young women] who clean, cook and pack supplies from road-head depots…also dispensing mountain wisdom and humor…these huts develop character. Pride, competence, self-reliance, and humor–these are the characteristics evident in hut crews…”
I’m sure Joe would be pleased to know this tradition of pride, self-reliance and humor is alive and well to this day. I’ve just had a grand dose of it!
Within the hour the rain diminishes, and I steel myself to the task of climbing up and over Mount Washington. Although I have much fear and doubt, I try not visualizing what lies ahead. I know not the harrowing experience awaiting. The rain and wind have returned, making the rocks and boulders incredibly slippery and treacherous. I am blown from side to side as I stumble from cairn to cairn. I tremble and am overcome with fear; I cannot concentrate. During my ’98 trek, I recall standing and reading the list of names stuck to the wall in the Summit House above. It contained the names–125 at that time–of those who’ve perished on Mount Washington. Below that list of names are inscribed these solemn words: “This can be a dangerous place. No one on this list planned to die here.” The wind and rain are cold. The gray ascending wall of boulders now before me is cold. This whole God-forsaken place is cold. My head is reeling and spinning. My heart is pounding in my ears. Time, it seems, is the only thing standing still on this heap of rocks in the sky. Even the boulders appear to be moving as I try bracing against the slam of the wind-driven rain. The higher I ascend, the more treacherous and difficult the climb becomes. The shroud engulfs me. I cannot see nor follow the blazes. I cling, falter and grope on up. Finally, gaining the summit, I am in the full rage of the howling gale. The whole place is shut down. Not a soul anywhere. Over an hour ago, while still in my ascent, I heard the last Cog Railway engine, which rattles and clanks tourists to the top, go rattling and clanking back down the mountain. The sound was hollow, eerie. The loud wheezing and chugging seemed so out of place. As the vibrating grind came closer and closer, it completely encircled me, as though to pass on either side; yet as I gazes in stunned bewilderment, I saw nothing. I wondered then how anyone could muster the courage to climb aboard a railcar that clawed its way straight to the sky, while being shoved and humped along by one of those ridiculous looking contraptions.
Let me share with you what Joe Dodge had to say about the Cog Railway. It is both humorous and sobering:
“Other than that business with Peppersass [one of the old engines that got away and blew up], the only problem I ever heard about on that railroad was with a baggage car. They used to take a little car on behind the engine, first train of the day, to take baggage and supplies up to the summit. During the day the crew would jack it up and set it off to one side of the tracks at the level area behind the Summit House. One day the crew uncoupled it then went for lunch…A little gust of wind came up while they were inside and started the damn thing rolling. Some lad came running in to tell the crew what had happened, but it was too late. The damned rattler was almost out of sight. So one of them called the guy at the Halfway Tank to tell him he better watch out for a loose car. ‘Hell,’ he said, ‘that goddam thing went by here five minutes ago!
As soon as I’m off the summit, descending toward Lakes of the Clouds Hut, the wind relents, the sun breaks through, and I’m offered fast-shuttered snippets of the hut and the mountains below. As usual, the hut is packed with folks who had made their reservations months ago, guests that are going to be here no matter what–and with them, the swelling wave of northbound thru-hikers. I meet up with Spider here again, and we wait to see how the evening plays out. After the paying guests are fed, we are invited to the kitchen to help ourselves to leftovers, and plenty there are to go around! When the dining room is cleared and the gaslights are nearly all extinguished, we are permitted to lay our bedrolls out for the night right on the dining room tables. Our tummies are full, and we are warm and comfortable. Sleep is a minor process! What a harrowing day.
|I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Tuesday–August 8, 2000
Location–Crawford Notch, US302, thence to Twin Mountain, New Hampshire, Johnson’s Motel, Mike Brady, proprietor
The cook starts rattling around a little before six. I’m already awake, but I roll over for a few more winks, awaiting that drifting aroma of freshly brewed coffee.
I finally manage to get off the dining room table, get my pack organized and have another cup of coffee. My morning duty done, I’m out to be greeted by a chilly gray-ghost morning. Perhaps for us thru-hikers the Whites might be better known as the Grays, for we haven’t the luxury of watching the weather from our penthouse apartments in Boston or Hartford, waiting for that perfect weekend weatherwise to go romping and climbing around the Presidentials.
The hike today is steady, and at times precipitous, as is the bail-off to the Saco River. The wind along the ridge by Mount Franklin, Mount Eisenhower and Mount Pierce is in a rage, driving the moisture-laden clouds straight across, forcing me to lean and brace against it. I am relieved to get down to the comfort and shelter of Mizpah Spring Hut. Here in the library I find another copy of the great book, Joe Dodge, and I settle in with a cup of coffee as I await Spider’s arrival. Joe Dodge apparently had a great deal of fun in life–and a great deal of fun with people. One hilarious story relates how he had dreamed up these imaginary mountain-goat-like creatures that supposedly inhabited the rocky areas of the Whites.
“They’re all over the place up here, but they look just like the jeezly rocks, protective coloring, you know, so you don’t see ’em much. They’re of two distinct varieties, but you can’t tell ’em apart by their color, and their hoof marks are identical, so you can only do it when you actually see one of ’em as they move around the mountain. There’s the gauchers and the droiters, and they belong to the same species even though they can’t breed. I’ve seen dozens, but mostly they’ve been the gauchers, the ones that go [around the mountain] to the left. The last few years, though, no one has seen many droiters [the ones that go around the mountain to the right]; they may have gone extinct. You see, because of the legs [gauchers–short right legs, droiters–short left legs], the gauchers can’t breed with the droiters, and with the northwest wind so strong in these mountains, lately, the droiters have had a hard time getting around the hillsides.”
The day has made an effort to clear, but Mount Jackson and Mount Webster are totally socked in by the cold, wind-driven mist. Coming off Mount Webster, I’m pretty sure I saw a gaucher! He was crouched, aimed clockwise, looking like a rock, just like Joe Dodge said, but I could see his eyes as he blinked at me. At Webster Cliffs, overlooking the Saco River and Crawford Notch, the day finally brightens as the clouds lift.
At US302, Spider and I hitch a ride into Twin Mountain. After a pizza and a few cold frosties, we settle in for an enjoyable evening at Johnson’s Motel.
|Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief,
is more powerful in the mature than in the young.
[W. Somerset Maugham]
Wednesday–August 9, 2000
Location–Campsite near Galehead Hut, New Hampshire
Mike Brady, the proprietor of Johnson’s Motel, had offered to drive us to the local restaurant for breakfast, then back to the trailhead at Crawford Notch, and he’s here right at seven, truck backed up, topper popped and the tailgate down, ready to load our gear. Looks to be the makings of another dreary day, with the rain coming steadily as we load and head out. We’ve had a great stay, along with a fine, tank-stokin’ breakfast. Enjoyed talking with you, Mike, thanks!
Today the treadway is an obstacle course through the rocks and roots, most-often nearly straight up or straight down. The level areas provide no relief, no break from it, being mostly bogs filled with ankle-deep mud all along. At times the rain comes in driving waves, and I slump into a bone-soaked, boulder-stumbling, mudboggin’ funk. I try to remember and apply my positive attitude and philosophy: “There are no bad days on the trail, some just a little better than others.” But this day is sorely testing that attitude, that resolve.
Two bright spots light the otherwise darked-over day, however. One comes in meeting Warren Doyle, Jr., his son Forrest, and all their intact “Expedition 2000” members as they head for Katahdin. I had gone up to Three Forks to greet them at the completion of their first day on the AT way back in May, and to take them a case of Snickers bars given me by M&M Mars. I didn’t recognize Warren as he approached, being trim of body and untrimmed of beard, but as he nears, I hear, “Nomad, it’s the Nimblewill Nomad,” I realize who it is and we hug and hoot and have the most grand trail reunion!
The second of the little trail delights began a few days ago and has steadily increased to form a fair number today, for it is that many northbound thru-hikers are recognizing me and calling my name. These are the folks that were at Trail Days in Damascus this spring and who attended my presentation at Rock School Auditorium. I have received such a gracious reception from these people, such kind comments and warm greetings! My hat size is certainly changing. I must keep in mind the virtue of humility these grand old mountains have taught me, and I must not fail to thank the Lord for all these blessings, and to remain humble.
So it seems, that days like this day, days that test our resolve, indeed bring us heightened resolve–along with a deeper appreciation in our continued search for true patience and understanding.
Galehead Hut does not cater to thru-hikers as does Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Two thru-hikers have already been selected for work/stay, and they need no more. We are neither permitted to hang around for leftovers nor sleep on the dining hall tables after lights out, so Spider and I head on south in the soup to pitch far off the trail in the moss and spruce. The rain has relented, and the evening has turned most mild.
As I pitch in this peaceful place tonight, I’m thanking the “Croo” at Galehead Hut for sending us on, for comes to me now across these mountains, the lilt of a forgotten melody, a beautiful song of long ago. It comes whispering and drifting through the quiet of this place–and of my mind. It’s The Eagles–“‘Cause, I got a peaceful, easy feelin’, and I know you won’t let me down. ‘Cause I’m already standin’, on the ground.”
|Humility is strong, not bold; quiet, not speechless; sure, not arrogant.
Thursday–August 10, 2000
Location–Franconia Notch, US3, thence to North Woodstock, New Hampshire, Cascade Lodge, Bill and Betty Robinson, proprietors
The day dawns cold and dreary once again at my camp in the clouds. I’m up and out by 7:15, after much coaxing and talking to myself. The treadway seems worse this morning, if that is possible, and it’s hard to get the old jitney cranking and up to normal operating temperature in the damp chill. The rains of yesterday have brought even more mud and treachery, and there has been heavy foot traffic through this section. I truly don’t believe you could bring in a sheep’s-foot roller from an interstate highway project and beat this treadway down more thoroughly or any harder. Over time, the heavily-booted army that passes is a force to reckon with, slowly and methodically hammering its toll. For a short time, I come to a section where the trail has been moved, with new treadway cut for a short distance. Here the spongy duff and humus underfoot feels so strange and unusual. The pounding and packing has already begun, however, and it won’t be long until this new pathway is “hardened in”–where the only thing remaining will be a rut of rocks and roots, like a deep-cut creekbed channel.
There are no views from Mount Garfield or Mount Lincoln. Winds in excess of fifty miles per hour, and at times gusting to seventy miles per hour, persist across the entire traverse of Garfield Ridge and Liberty Ridge. My hands turn numb and my fingers quit working as I brace with my sticks against the mist-driven rage. The funk continues as I think of Jacob Gatorboy Cram, a young lad who died on Mount Lincoln while thru-hiking the AT in ’97. The sadness I shared with his family during my ’98 trek descends on me now. We met at Long Trail Inn. The Crams had returned to scatter Jacob’s ashes along the trail on Garfield Ridge.
Below Liberty Spring Tentsite, the day finally turns mild and the sun makes a rare appearance. The rocks and roots remain wet, however, and the descent to Franconia Notch is slow and scary.
I feel very relieved to complete this hiking day without incident. Though it adds up to only twelve miles, I’m tired, my energy totally spent, both emotionally and physically. A kind gentleman gives me a ride to North Woodstock, directly to Cascade Lodge. Betty, the proprietor, smiles as she sees me once again. She hands me the key to room #8. I go upstairs–and collapse. This has been one hell of a day.
|If you are going through hell, keep going.
[Sir Winston Churchill]
Friday–August 11, 2000
Location–Gordon Pond, South of Mt. Wolf, New Hampshire
Bill hauls us back to the trailhead at Liberty Parking. The only problem is that since I-93 came through, it’s pretty hard to get to where the trail originally crossed US3. So we’ve got a half-mile roadwalk along the interstate exit back to where the trail now goes under the interstate.
The day looks to be setting up for clear and fair, but it doesn’t take long for the mist and drear to return, bringing its cold, dismal presence. This treadway is neither friendly nor kind, and I try to set my mind to thinking of days that will come, days of sun, days of dry, wide open trail, but today I must satisfy myself with these thoughts as the ruggedness of the Whites deals me a rough, hard road. Here the trail is either up or down through endless boulders and roots. Or should the trail flatten the least bit, then it’s mudboggin’ time.
North and South Kinsman both take a hard tug, and I’m glad to be up and over. More miles of mud, rocks and roots, and I’m through the climb over Mount Wolf. With thunder building in the distance, I’ve had enough of this trail for today. I take to the blue-blaze to Gordon Pond for the evening.
I get pitched by the pond, look around for the resident moose (with no luck), and manage a respectable cooking fire with wet birch bark. As soon as I put my cookpot on, the sky opens and I must dive for my tent. It’s cheese sandwiches and sardines tonight as the rain comes hard, the full light and percussion show lasting the better part of two hours.
Sleeping dry and snug, in such basic shelter as a gossamer-thin tent, and in the driving rain, is pure contentment–and indeed I am content–in my little Nomad conTent!
|And he breathes a blessing on the rain…
[Henry Wadsworth Longfellow]
Saturday–August 12, 2000
Location–Sanitary Road, Glencliff, New Hampshire, Glencliff Hiker Hostel, John “Packrat” Roblee and Jonathan “Big John” McCue, proprietors
Nature Boy came in last night and got pitched just before the rain began, but Spider didn’t make it. The trees are still dripping this morning with more rain threatening, so I roll over and give it another hour. Nature Boy has gone out long before I break camp. As soon as I hit the trail, the drizzle begins again.
The last of the sky-high summits that are the Whites looms before me today, Mount Moosilauke. From Kinsman Notch the trail climbs continually for nearly four miles, gaining 4,000 feet in the process. Near the summit of Blue Mountain, a short distance from Moosilauke, I come upon a gentleman looking at his maps. Here I meet Pavel Litvinov. We exchange pleasantries, and as I continue up Moosilauke, and to my surprise, he not only stays right with me, but also talks of his interesting life without the least huffing. Pavel is a native of Russia. He was born in Moscow in 1940 and immigrated to the USA in 1974. He teaches now at a private school in New York. As we reach the summit of Moosilauke, waiting is Mark, the father of one of Pavel’s students. Soon, I am invited to celebrate–for I have apparently arrived in time to celebrate–Pavel’s ascent of Moosilauke, his last of the 4,000 footers to complete the 48 for New Hampshire. Mark uncorks a liter of hard cider and we drink cheers, sharing the joy of Pavel’s accomplishment!
As Pavel and Mark start down, I linger on Moosilauke along with dozens of day hikers, waiting for the mush to blow on through, as we are being teased with glimpses of the vast expanse below. Folks come by where I’m sitting, bringing food and drink, wishing me well on the remainder of my odyssey. Just as I prepare to descend and as I am hoisting my pack I hear, “Nomad, Nomad, it’s so good to see you again.” I turn and am immediately embraced with a big hug from Just Playin’ Jane! We hiked together in ’98, enjoying each other’s company, and here we meet again today on Mount Moosilauke. We spend a wonderful time together again, as the sky clears and we can see forever, from here on the top of the world.
I hasten down the mountain, and as I arrive at Sanitary Road, one of the routes leading to Glencliff, here are Pavel and Mark, and their friend Peter, who is waiting to take them home. I am offered a ride into Glencliff to the Hikers’ Welcome Hostel, where they drop me off right at the front door! Here I meet Ian Drifter Moss, AT, Georgia to Maine, 94&97, who is helping around for the day. In awhile, after the lawnmower stops, I meet one of the new proprietor, John Packrat Roblee. Spider soon arrives, and Drifter gives us a ride to town to load up on pizza and a few tall frosties. The Hikers’ Welcome Hostel is a quaint, homey-type place and we are made to feel right at home. A fine evening with great friends, Nature Boy, Spider, Drifter, Packrat, Harriet Tubman and X-Man.
|And as you seek your fortune,
And near your lifelong quest.
There’ll still be countless peaks to climb,
Before your final rest.
Sunday–August 13, 2000
Location–Firewarden’s Cabin, Smarts Mountain, New Hampshire
Drifter drives me back up Sanitary Road to the trailhead, and I’m out and moving south again by 8:30. The terrain and the forest have changed dramatically since the trail came down from Moosilauke. I have seen the last of the above-treeline tundra and the first pastureland since departing Katahdin. Comparatively speaking, the treadway is so remarkably level and smooth, making for fast, easy hiking. The final summits of any significance that make up the Whites–Mount Cube and Smarts Mountain–pass easily beneath my feet. I had planned on calling it a day upon reaching Hexacuba Shelter, but I arrive here at 3:00 p.m., so I decide to hike on to the Firewarden’s Cabin, making for a grand twenty-two mile day. This sets up the possibility of reaching Hanover tomorrow, a two-day hike instead of three, and I decide to go for it, to give it a shot.
The Firewarden’s Cabin has survived. It is a remarkable old place now used by hikers. It is a cabin in the most traditional sense, complete with windows, a door that closes snugly, and even a front porch. I get a cooking fire going quite nicely and settle in for a very comfortable evening.
|Being on the tightrope is living; everything else is waiting.
Monday–August 14, 2000
Location–Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth College, Panarchy Fraternity House, Phi Sigma Phi
This will be a long, hard, hiking day, the rain definitely setting it up for hard. The treadway, which has been so delightfully kind, becomes bumpy once again, with increasing mud, upsidowns, and rocks. The pulls aren’t of the magnitude or difficulty of those in the Whites, but they are a challenge nonetheless. For some reason, my intent is to maintain an average today of three miles per hour, a task which I find just the least tiring as this old AT dishes it out.
Rolling off Smarts Mountain, it’s a downshift into “low” for the pull up and over Holts Ledge; the same again for what seems the endless peaks of Moose Mountain. “Nomad’s Neutral” is really kicking today. This is a downhill technique perfected during “Odyssey ‘98.” It involves going into a slight crouch, much as sitting on a bicycle seat, with leg motion similar to rapid pedaling, all the while keeping the upper torso and backpack straight and steady, much as the straight, steadiness of sitting astride the bike. Downhill speeds in excess of four miles per hour are not uncommon, legs and trekking poles little more than a blur. Slipping and sliding decreases, and the stress and tension exerted on the knees during normal downhill descent are greatly reduced. The trick, however, is to maintain total concentration all the while, to prevent the unpleasantness of stumbling, which would thus lead to entertaining prospect of full-launch!
The final pull for the day comes as I approach Velvet Rocks, then it’s “Nomad’s Neutral” all the way down to Hanover.
I am pleased with my hike today, having maintained two miles per hour on the ups, three miles per hour on the ridges, and four miles per hour on the downs, thus accomplishing my goal of three miles per for the day (Oh, can I hear the shrieks and wailing now!). This allows me to cover the twenty-three miles in less than eight hours. I arrive in Hanover in time to get my maildrop a little after four.
Friendly northbounders at the post office suggest that I head for Panarchy House, as it will probably be my best bet for peace and quiet while trying to write, so over I go. The rain is coming in buckets as I enter the grand room at Panarchy. Here I am greeted kindly by one of the fraternity brothers. I learn to my dismay that they are full to capacity with AT thru-hikers, but the kind lad doesn’t have the heart to turn me away and back out into the storm, so I am shown around and given a place to sleep in the basement.
After a soothing hot shower, thence to return once again back into it, for a pizza and a few tall frosties at one of the local watering holes, I settle in comfortably in the lounge to write. But soon, hikers start dropping by, and I make many new friends as I spend the evening with Travis Shepherd Hall, and the lovely sisters, Lucy Isis and Susan Jackrabbit Letcher, who are hiking the AT barefoot.
I try writing later in the evening but fall asleep, so I head for my little corner in the basement. In my soft, down-filled Feathered Friends, I sleep soundly as the incessant rain continues.
|If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.
Tuesday–August 15, 2000
Location–VT14, White River, Vermont, thence to the Home of Steve and Terrie Purcell, Canaan, New Hampshire
I really need to spend a day on correspondence and journal entries, but having taken three days off in Monson for the final review of my book, I’m now a day behind my planned schedule, an itinerary designed to put me on Flagg Mountain, Alabama, before the end of this year–to accomplish the first recorded southbound thru-hike o’er the entire Appalachian range–so I’m intent on getting back on the trail today.
A call to my publisher before departing Hanover, and this day is shaping great. We’re ready to go to press! So the great new 400 page hardbound book, Ten Million Steps, should be available in the next six weeks. My Web Master in Dahlonega, Georgia, Greg Smith, is preparing our Web Site for E-commerce so orders can be taken directly. Please check us out at <www.nimblewillnomad.com>.
A few days ago I had the pleasure of meeting Austin Bagley on the trail. Austin had been in Damascus, Virginia, during Trail Days, and while there he had attended my presentation at Rock School Auditorium. He’s in New Hampshire now on his AT thru-hike, bound for Katahdin. During our conversation, I mentioned that he looked too clean, definitely way too neat and fresh, to have been on the trail so long. That’s when he explained that he and his hiking companion, Oopsadaisey had just returned to the trail after being totally rejuvenated, the result of a recent stay with his aunt and uncle, Terrie and Steve Purcell of Canaan, New Hampshire. Before heading our separate ways again, Austin handed me a piece of paper with his uncle’s phone number, urging me to call when I’m a little further south. Said Austin, “I know Steve and Terrie would enjoy meeting you and having you as their guest.” So after arriving here in Hanover yesterday, and after some hesitancy, I gave Steve a call. Austin had obviously told his aunt and uncle about me, and Steve sounded most pleased as he invited me to his home. So, arrangements were made for Steve to pick me up after my hike today, and I am anxious to get on my way.
By mid-afternoon, my journal entries pretty much up-to-date and most of my correspondence completed, I head across the Connecticut River into Vermont–another state behind me! Two down, fourteen to go!
The day remains warm and pleasant, the treadway very kind, and the hike goes quickly as I pass some interesting places. Do people actually live in Podunk?
Just before six, and as I near the post office in West Hartford, a van pulls over; it’s Steve. I’m greeted with a kind “Hello” and a glad smile. Austin was right. Steve and Terrie are indeed happy to meet me. And oh, is the feeling mutual! No wonder Austin and Oopsadaisey looked so fresh and ready-to-go again. Isn’t it remarkable what a little time with family and friends can do for a tired, run-down old soul!
The Purcells have such a warm and comfortable home, deep in the New Hampshire woods. It’s pure joy to be here, to be their guest. In the evening, after my clothes are all clean and after we enjoy a wonderful meal prepared just for me, do we then spend a grand time together. The Purcells are so proud of their children, four in all, three boys and a girl. I can sure see why as I have the pleasure of meeting their daughter Symanie, who stops by for a while.
In my room now, I log this entry for the day, before retiring with the most contented feeling, a feeling that comes only from being with good, caring friends.
|The mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men one.
Wednesday–August 16, 2000
Location–VT12, Woodstock, Vermont, thence to the Home of Jim Johnston and Laura Zantzinger
Steve is up preparing breakfast as I wake. A thunderstorm is rumbling through, and I take a moment to give thanks for being with these new friends and for being out of it for a change. We enjoy breakfast together as Steve stokes me up for the day. Terrie then sets out for work, and Steve drives me back to the trail at the old steel bridge over White River.
Steve and Terrie, thanks for your kindness to me and for a grand time; I wish you the very best!
The storm has passed and the sky clears, but the treadway is a hopeless bog. I soon tire of sliding and slogging and decide to call it a day after only thirteen miles.
At VT12 I stick my thumb out toward Woodstock. In only moments this Mercedes passes, stops and turns around. The driver is smiling as he wheels around again to pick me up. Here I meet Jim Johnston, Laura Zantzinger and their delightful, bright-eyed children, Leverett and Mary. On the ride to Woodstock, Jim explains that I might not be pleased with the overnight accommodations there, not that I wouldn’t be treated and cared for in the most fashionable manner, but that I might not delight in spending upwards of $1,500 for the night! It’s then that he and Laura invite me to come with them to their home and to be their guest for the evening. Says Jim, “As soon as we saw you by the road, when we saw your face, we decided to turn around and get you. You are welcome to stay with us in our home and have dinner with us this evening.” After forcing a short degree of hesitancy, I quickly accept!
We stroll the streets of Woodstock for a while, and after a stop at the little general store on the way, we head for their place in the high valley. “We get a lot of snow up here in the winter; it snows almost every day,” Jim says, as we climb through the valley. “Lots more than they get over on the ski slopes. We bundle the kids and spend a lot of time outdoors. We love the snow.” I can tell we’re getting close–the kids are becoming rambunctious.
We’re soon at their home, a well-kept, renovated nineteenth century dwelling on ten acres of manicured lawns and lovely natural gardens. As soon as the car stops, the kids are out and running barefoot all around. Oh, does seeing them running and playing bring such a flood of childhood memories. I didn’t know how blessed I was as a child to have wide-open spaces to run and play. As Jim shows me the grounds and as we pick our fill of luscious raspberries, I comment on how great it is to have such a place as this for Laura and the children. Leverett comes running and takes my hand, so full of glee, “Let’s go see the Jeep!” he says, “Come on, come on!” and so–we go see the Jeep.
What a memorable evening with these kind and gentle people. The children are so trusting and innocent. They all take pleasure in having me as their guest, especially, so it seems, the children. It’s such a blessing and such a joy to me.
|So many gods, so many creeds;
So many paths that wind and wind,
While just the art of being kind
Is all this sad world needs.
[Ella Wheeler Wilcox]
Thursday–August 17, 2000
Location–US4, Sherburne Pass, Vermont, The Inn at Long Trail
The evening slipped away last, and I got precious little work done on my journal entries, but just as well. This morning Jim prepares coffee, French toast, sausage and cereal for me. Then we load in his car again, Mary, kids and all, as we head back to the trailhead at VT12. Thanks Jim, Laura, Leverett and Mary–you know you’ve saved me fifteen hundred bucks! Seriously, your kindness and generosity will remain in my memory.
The day begins bright, clear and cool, but the gloom and darkness brought by the overcast soon returns. My goal is to hike the twenty-three miles into Sherburne Pass, to The Inn at Long Trail. The treadway has had no opportunity to dry, so mudboggin’ is the way of the day. The trail is not content to be up, and so down we go, and when down, it’s time to immediately climb back up again.
Most all the northbounders recognize me today, one of them in particular, my good friend Jack Baltimore Jack Tarlin. He’s on his sixth consecutive AT thru-hike. We hoot and holler and spend much time in excited conversation. Great seeing you again, Baltimore Jack–and to all you intrepids bound for Katahdin, you, along with Baltimore Jack, will soon become the “Class of 2000.” Congratulations!
The Trail through here has been relocated away from Sherburne Pass, and now crosses US4 to the west before climbing to Pico Camp. This move was done in anticipation of development soon to occur on Killington. The old AT, the route I hiked my last time through, is still open to the Inn. It’s marked by blue blazes now, so it’s blue-blaze time as I head for The Inn at Long Trail. As I hike along, following the blue–with my head in the blue–I’m thinking about how this trail is constantly changing. Since I hiked the AT less than two years ago, countless changes have been made. In my many miles and many months on the AT, I’ve concluded that an attempt to hike past every white blaze, as some purists would, is futile. The reason is simple. Before one can make a scant five hundred miles, the whole thing’s changed. Ahh, and so does this whole scheme change from day to day.
I believe that one must have a broader vision, and I believe I have that vision, as was suggested by Benton MacKaye, the father of the Appalachian Trail. Comes with this vision such a grand feeling in my heart. And that feeling? It is the feeling of pride in knowing that I am a “pioneer” in this whole evolutionary process. Oh, yes, I’ve taken flack, plenty of it, especially since Ten Million Steps came out. “There’s no such thing as the Appalachian Mountains Trail. There’s no such thing as the Eastern Continental Trail. How dare you even suggest a long trail along the eastern continent, or the Appalachian range for that matter, besides the Appalachian Trail! It takes an act of Congress to create trails like these; did you get an act of Congress?” And so it goes. These, and words like these have been hurled at me, along with the spittle from the hysteria that accompanies them.
Ahh yes–well folks, the Appalachian Trail does seem to be such a long trail, such a grand institution. Granted, and there’s no doubt, the AT is an institution, but it is not a long trail! Might I ask you this–Is there not a trail that passes right here, right where I’m hiking this instant, that passed here before the AT was superimposed upon it–that was, and is to this day, called *The Long Trail! Come along with me, please, as I continue from Cap Gaspé to Key West. I’m hiking the AMT and the ECT. I’ve hiked these trails before, and I’m hiking them again, and I’m having an absolute blast. And so, finally, you might rightfully ask, “How can this be–indeed, how can this be–without an act of Congress!”
I am concerned as to whether there’ll be room for me at Long Trail Inn. At the reception desk, I’m told that the Inn is full, but as luck would have it, and to my good fortune, I immediately run into Shepherd, whom I’d met in Hanover. Seems as though Shepherd has a room with two beds, one of which he immediately offers me! So, after getting reasonably presentable, I head to the bar for dinner and a few tall ones. Shepherd joins me. We make many new friends, and are greeted by many old, including Nomad ‘98, and we all enjoy a great evening together at Long Trail Inn.
|Our ultimate aim is more than just a trail–it is a whole system of them,
a cobweb planned to cover the mountains of the eastern country.
[Benton MacKaye, Appalachia, 1922]
*The Long Trail, known as “Vermont’s Footpath in the Wilderness,” was built by the Green Mountain Club between 1910 and 1930. It is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States. It extends for a distance of some 270 miles, from the Massachusetts/Vermont state line to the international border between Vermont and Canada. The Long Trail was the inspiration
for the Appalachian Trail, which was later superimposed upon it for a distance of some one hundred miles.
Friday–August 18, 2000
Location–VT103, thence to The Country Squire Motel, North Clarendon, Vermont, Elizabeth Anne “Bette” Mangels, proprietor
I’ve made a doozie of a blunder here at the Inn. I slept soundly last night, getting rest in concentrate. However, I awoke at 3:00 a.m. I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I headed down to the spacious, comfortable lobby to work my correspondence. While taking my shower last evening, I stomped out my socks, as I customarily do. But they weren’t drying where I’d hung them in my room, so I got the bright idea of taking them down with me to the lobby, and draping them over one of the table lamps to dry. When I returned to my room at 4:30, I forgot to bring my socks with me. Oh yes, the kind lady whose responsibility it is to see that everything is kept tidy for all the guests–well, she finds them and pulls them down first thing. When I finally remember and rush back down to the lobby, I discover that my socks are gone, and I realize that I’m going to catch Holy Sam from the housekeeper! Pondering, I seriously consider sacrificing the socks, since I have a spare pair, thus avoiding the entire embarrassment. But better judgment prevails, and I ‘fess up–and I do catch Holy Sam. As the sweet lady hands me back my (dry) socks, I mutter, with my head down, “Well ma’am, I did take my shoes off outside before I came in yesterday!” You know that one-eyebrow-up look. Oh, yes!
Funny thing happened in the bar last. I was enjoying the company of friends when a call came in from Fanny Pack. The barkeep calls me over, and as I pick up the phone, I’m wondering how he knows I’m here. “Hey, Fanny Pack, how’s it goin’?” I bark into the phone. I’m greeted by total silence–there’s no answer for the longest time–then he responds, “Is that you, Nomad?” I reply, “Yes Fanny Pack, it’s me, Nomad.” More hesitation, then, “Is this the Nimblewill Nomad?” Now, I’m almost shouting, “Yes Fanny Pack, it’s me, Nomad.” It’s then that I realize what’s happened. Fanny Pack and I are great friends, but he is also a great friend with my good friend, Nomad ’98, who is hiking again this year, and who has been sitting at the bar with me. Turns out, the call was not for Nimblewill Nomad, but for Nomad ’98! Anyway, as always, it was great talking with you Fanny Pack!
Since I hiked through here in ’98, there’s been major trail relocations around Sherburne. The trail no loner crosses US4 by the Inn. It’s been moved a considerable distance to the west. The old AT past the Inn still remains but is now a blue blaze. Shepherd and I decide to hike out on the blue blaze.
Though there are many ups and downs today, the treadway is reasonably friendly, and Shepherd and I make very good time with a pace of three miles per hour. We’re in early at VT103 and get a ride to Country Squire Motel. This has been a very good hiking day.
|God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.
Saturday–August 19, 2000
Location–USFS10/Danby-Landgrove Road, thence to Iroquois Landing Campground, North Clarendon, Vermont
After juice, coffee and donuts, we load up and Elizabeth Anne drives us to the general store, then back to the trailhead at VT103. We’ve had a very pleasant stay with you, Bette. Thanks!
What an amazing day this turns out to be, great for hiking and great for meeting and making friends.
As Shepherd and I cross Wallingford Road there’s a backpack leaning against the crash-rail, and we soon see the owner racing down the mountain toward us. Here we meet Dawn Belcher Stringer, a friend of Nina Waterfall Baxley, whom I’ve been so anxious to meet. Nina is the other southbound AT correspondent for GORP.com, and we had exchanged email messages nearly a year ago while she was preparing to hike the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama. Belcher, who is northbound on the AT and who started the day at Wallingford Road, found out that Waterfall had just passed through southbound, and she’d set out to catch her good friend, with no luck. So today it looks like I’ll finally get to meet Waterfall, if we can catch her!
We haven’t gone another quarter-mile when hiking toward us comes Chuck Swamp Eagle Wilson! I had corresponded with him by email and talked with him by phone well over a year ago when he was hiking north from Key West on the Florida National Scenic Trail–and here our paths cross today. Swamp Eagle is headed for the Cliffs of Forillon at Cap Gaspé, the old Nomad, for Key West! As we meet, we hug and hoot with great excitement.
We discuss the unfortunate crossing of the ways with Belcher and Waterfall, and the decision is for Swamp Eagle to catch Belcher and for us to catch Waterfall at FSR10. The plan is for Swamp Eagle’s wife, Honeycomb, to pick us up there, and we’ll all spend the evening together at their motor home.
Well, after some anxious moments, as the plans seemed to be coming apart, we’re all finally together. Oh, and did I mention that Waterfall and Swamp Eagle are the best of friends, Swamp Eagle having rescued Waterfall from a flash flood in Alabama earlier this year, thus, from that incident, the origin of her interesting trail name!
In the evening, Honeycomb drives us to Whistlestop Restaurant where she and Swamp Eagle treat us all to dinner. Then it’s back to the their motor home to work the strategy that will give Swamp Eagle his best shot at finishing the SIA/IAT in Canada before he gets iced out.
What a remarkable day. We’re supposed to believe that these circumstances are mere coincidence. But we all know there is some other power at play here!
|The human heart feels things the eyes cannot see,
and knows what the mind cannot understand.
Sunday–August 20, 2000
Location–VT11/30, thence to Manchester Center, Vermont, Sutton’s Place, Frank Sutton, proprietor
I tented last night at the campground, a beautifully manicured lawn with picnic table right next, everything dry for a change. I’m not used to sitting at a dry picnic table, let alone having a dry place to pitch! At the motor home this morning, Swamp Eagle and Honeycomb have piping hot coffee and breakfast prepared for all of us–and we tarry to enjoy each other’s company for just awhile longer. Then it’s time to load up. We see Belcher and Swamp Eagle off as they head on north at VT103. Time for lots of hugs and hesitancy, followed by more hugs and pictures. Then Honeycomb turns Waterfall and me loose back at FSR10 as we head on south.
*Swamp Eagle, I pray for your continued safe passage o’er the AT, then, as you continue on the SIA/IAT into Canada, I pray, also, for your successful completion of your AMT/ECT treks. You’ve got a long way to go north of Katahdin, but you’ve paid your dues. I’m confident that the strategy we’ve worked will get you past the ice on the tundra in the Chic Chocs. I know the wicked intensity that is the quest, to reach the Cliffs of Forillon at Cap Gaspé, Quebec. God Speed my dear friend!
Waterfall and I hike together for a while, and when she decides to take a break, I decide to move on. Aww, but aren’t good-byes so incredibly difficult! I must try with all my might not to let this day drift to a funky finish.
Oh, but I have plenty to keep me occupied as I continue pounding out the miles south. There’s Baker Peak, Peru Peak, Styles Peak, and finally Bromley Mountain.
At VT11/30 I get a ride just fine into Manchester Center. Along the way I see Shepherd and Easy Rider‘00 walking the shoulder, and I get out to join them for the remaining short distance downtown. After pizza and a few frosty tall ones we head over to Sutton’s Place to share a room.
It is good that I am with friends here this evening, for leaving good friends behind often brings little more than solitary loneliness–and loneliness is always poor company.
|But, oh the faith to pass this way,
The path few e’er have known.
For ‘till we see God’s face have we
Gone long and far…alone.
* Chuck Swamp Eagle Wilson departed the southernmost point of the eastern North American continent in Key West, Florida on November 14, 1999. On November 5, 2000, and 4614 miles later, he successfully completed his thru-hike o’er the Eastern Continental Trail at the Cliffs of Forillon, where the Appalachians plunge to the sea at Cap Gaspé, Quebec.
Monday–August 21, 2000
Location–Arlington-West Wardsboro Road, thence to Manchester Center, Vermont, Sutton’s Place
My very good hiking friends from ’98, brothers Chris Yogi and Carl BooBoo Schmid, have moved from Arkansas to Arlington, Vermont. Yogi, whom I ran into in Rangeley, Maine, and who is doing a southbound this year, made me promise to give his brother a call as soon as I reached Manchester Center, so last evening I called BooBoo. We made arrangements to meet for breakfast this morning, and since BooBoo has wheels, he shuttles us around, first to the post office and then back to the trail. I was concerned that he might miss work. Oh yes, he’s late for work. Thanks BooBoo, it’s been great seeing you again!
I’ve been feeling really strong, and since the treadway has opened up some, I’m really starting to move, cranking out the miles. On the uphills I’m able to maintain a two mile per hour pace, on flat terrain, three and with “Nomad’s Neutral” kicking in on the downhills, I’m cruising right along at four miles per hour. So, an eighteen-mile day takes just a little over six hours–not a bad hiking day at all.
The trail today passes Stratton Pond, one of the most picturesque sites along the trail. The weather is fair and the pond is a show. The climb up Stratton is a long, steady pull, but I make it without difficulty. Stratton Mountain is a special place in the annals of the AT, for it was on this summit that Benton MacKaye first envisioned a trail o’er the backbone of the central Appalachian range. Myron Avery was inspired by that dream and ran with it, most-near single-handedly building the trail in the process.
The trail off Stratton is a cruise, and I reach Kelly Stand Road before seven to get a ride back to Manchester Center and Sutton’s Place. Frank welcomes me again, and for dinner I head to the Sirloin Saloon for a great steak. Life is indeed good!
|Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.
Tuesday–August 22, 2000
Location–By the Trail one mile North of Melville Nauheim Shelter, Vermont
I called the Schmids again last night and talked with BooBoo’s mother. I told her that I needed a ride back to the trail again, so just a little after eight this morning, BooBoo appears with a beaming smile. Seems he can pretty much set his own hours at work, so he takes the time to shuttle Shepherd and me around again. Shepherd is returning to the trail today, having taken a day off, so after breakfast we load up again and head for the trail. Thanks again, BooBoo!
The day is clear and cool, and the sun feels so warm and welcome. The treadway, which has been full of huge mud holes, is even drying out. The wave of northbounders continues, and many who pass today recognize me and stop to talk. It’s going to be hard to find a hat to fit this head pretty soon!
With so many hikers on the trail, the shelters tend to be crowded, so anticipating a full house, I pull up short of Melville Nauheim Shelter to pitch just off the trail for the evening. It’s been great seeing and spending time with old friends– but I miss my solitude.
|I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.
Wednesday–August 23, 2000
Location–Mount. Greylock, Summit Road, Bascom Lodge, Massachusetts
I’m up and break camp to a glorious day, but no sooner am I on the trail than the sky darks over and the rains begin anew. So much for the dry treadway. It doesn’t take long for the mudboggin’ to return as the trail once more fills with water.
I’m bound and determined to make the miles today, twenty-seven, so I trudge on, my feet soaked from the ankle-deep sludge, my pack and me soaked from sweat. There are many long, hard pulls today, how many I can’t count. The last, Mount Greylock, is the hardest by far. The wind is whipping on the summit, driving the rain in a rage. I can see only the base of the monument in the murk.
Bascom Lodge is a welcome sight, fading in and out like a mirage in the clouds and rain. What a joy to be out of it as Alex Steel, Assistant Manager, welcomes me. “Bring your pack in and get dried off,” he says, “You’re made it in time for dinner.” Ahh, this is the way to end a long, hard day! I am pleased with myself for slogging on today; I did the twenty-seven. Another state lies behind me now. Three down, thirteen to go. Thanks, Magic, for the great meal and for the lunch to take along tomorrow.
|Mud often gives the illusion of depth.
Thursday–August 24, 2000
Location–MA8/9, Dalton Massachusetts, The Inn at Village Square, Lee Walton, proprietor
The storm continued throughout the night, the wind making shrill and mournful sounds as it whistled and shook the Lodge, but I slept in sweet contentment in the warmth and shelter of Bascom, on the highest point in Massachusetts. After a great breakfast prepared by Magic, I’m out into the gloom and on my way south to Dalton.
Today is a comparatively short day, only seventeen miles, and mostly downhill. As I descend the mountain, the heavens brighten and the sun breaks through, making for a perfect hiking day weatherwise. But this treadway will not be dry or the ankle-swallowing mud gone for a very long time.
Today there are stiles over fences that are really in service, and I must dodge the first cow patties on my journey south. Crossing the little valley near Cheshire, the trail passes through the center of a cornfield; plenty of diversions today!
In Dalton lives my good friend (and many a hiker’s good friend) Tom Levardi. I stop by his grand home to see him for a few minutes before heading on to the Inn. I camped in Tom’s yard in ’98, but this year I’m behind on my journal entries and correspondence, so I must find a place to get my feet up where I can write. After a great meal at The Shamrock Restaurant and Pub, I settle in at the Inn at Village Square–a little pricey, but a great room. I even have my own telephone. What luxuries!
|Give me the luxuries of life and I will willingly do without the necessities.
[Frank Lloyd Wright]
Friday–August 25, 2000
Location–Upper Goose Pond Cabin, Massachusetts
I’m out and down the main drag to Duff and Dell’s, Dalton’s favorite hangout for morning coffee–and great trail breakfasts. On the way out of town, I stop again at Tom Levardi’s home to talk awhile with members of the clan that are still milling about. As I leave Depot Street and cross the tracks to climb Grange Hill, I stop to tie on my sweatband and remove my shirt; it’s going to be a glorious warm day. What a joy to be alive!
The makeup of the forest has been constantly changing since the trail descended Mount Greylock. Today I take pleasure in walking in the beauty of such an old familiar friend again, one so common to the understory all throughout the central and southern highlands, the lush, green mountain laurel. The spruce and fir, so common all along the trail to the north, have retreated now to occupy only the highest reaches, and there are more white pine and hemlock and hardwood to take their place. The miles are accumulating, slowly adding up, finally meaning something. I’m actually getting somewhere, and the trail and all that surrounds it and gives it life is testimony to that success. And the treadway is so kind in comparison to what I’ve been dealing with. I can actually stretch my legs and move out with confidence. Even the mud is not annoying, for again today the treadway is drying, requiring much less jumping and dodging about.
If you’ve followed along on all my journeys, you’ll know that I’ve yet to see a bear along the trail, not a single bruin in nearly six thousand miles. Today, a northbounder stops to chat and to tell me about the bear he’s just seen. “Ambled along the trail right in front of me, even got up on the puncheons,” says he. And sure enough in just awhile–and no, I didn’t see the bear–right there on the split logs and along for the greatest distance are these unmistakable wet paw prints! Skunked again! There’ll be no bear picture for the cover of my book. Just as well. I’ve chosen a hiker. Much more appropriate, don’t you agree?
At Washington Mountain Road, I stop to see friends Roy and Marilyn Wiley. Roy is busy tending his blueberry patch. He has over 1,200 high-bush blueberry plants, and they’re all full of cherry-sized blueberries. Folks keep coming and then going with buckets of blueberries all the while as Roy and I relax and talk. Marilyn has come to be known among hikers and on the trail as The Cookie Lady, for over the years and traditionally now, all the hikers stopping by their farm to fill their water bottles are treated to fresh-baked cookies, compliments of Marilyn. I don’t get to see her today. Roy says she’s working a regular job now. Wouldn’t you know–The Cookie Lady is one of the cooks for the local school lunch program! It’s been great seeing you again, Roy. Oh, and thanks, Cookie Lady, for the great cookies; Roy’s been handin’ ‘em out!
Lots of ups and downs today. First, Grange Hill, then Warner Hill, October Mountain, Bald Top Mountain and finally Becket Mountain. But I’m able to hold three miles per hour for the day to arrive early and in good stead at Upper Goose Pond Cabin. I’m greeted by Dottie, caretaker for the week, and I quickly settle in for the evening. I’ve got a stack of five “twenties” to do to get into Kent, Connecticut by next Tuesday, my scheduled date of arrival there. The first of these five’s been a breeze.
|To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first.
Saturday–August 26, 2000
Location–Lake Buel Road, Massachusetts, thence to East Mountain Retreat Center, Reverend Lois F. Rose, Director
Hikers have lugged in bags of blueberries from Roy’s blueberry patch. So what better use than for blueberry pancakes! Oh, and is Dottie a master at flippin’! Somehow she manages to keep the platters stacked full of blueberry pancakes this morning as thirteen of us wolf and wash ’em down with pot after pot of fresh-perked coffee. Yes indeedy, this day has started off in grand fashion. Thanks, Dottie, you’re the star in a five-star operation!
I am treated to another warm, sun-drenched day. What a remarkable and oh-such-a-welcome change in the weather! There are lots more ups and downs today, and lots more mud. But the mud is less troublesome as the treadway continues to dry. The climbs and bail-offs slow me down though, and it’s after four when I arrive at Reverend Rose’s East Mountain Retreat. She sees me and comes straight away to greet me. Ahh, these are the moments that are shaping “Odyssey 2000” into such a memorable experience. Lois, what a joy seeing your warm smile and peaceful countenance again! God bless you, my dear friend.
|You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
Sunday–August 26, 2000
Location–Brassie Brook Lean-to, Connecticut
I enjoyed a great evening last at East Mountain Retreat. I ordered a large supreme pizza to be delivered, along with a liter of Mountain Dew. As soon as I stepped out of the shower, the pizza arrived. They were out of Mountain Dew, so I ended up with a two-liter bottle of Coke as a bonus. Yup, I drank the whole thing. Oh yes, and I also ate the entire sixteen-inch supreme pizza!
I had only a moment to talk with Reverend Rose earlier as she was in haste to perform a wedding. But in the evening she came by, and we had the longest chat. We talked about many things, like how families can break up and drift apart, and how one can become lonely and heartbroken in the process. Ministers have their problems, too, so the conversation, the give and take of it, was equally shared. In 1998, I was the first to pen an entry in Reverend Rose’s thru-hiker register. And now, two years later, as the book is nearly filled, I will make the last. Much has happened in both Reverend Rose’s life and in mine during that span of time. On balance, it’s been mostly for the better. Thanks, Lois, for being here for me. It’s been such a joy seeing you again and to know that the East Mountain Retreat has become all you’ve prayed it would be!
The day is absolutely perfect for hiking–warm and sunny, with the most refreshing and gentle cool breeze. I’m in the Berkshires now, no match for the mountainous hulks to the north in the Whites, the Mahoosucs or the Chic Chocs, but I’m huffing and out of breath from the challenge of the many pulls. From high vantage, these mountains are such a graceful and peaceful lot, all standing proudly about like a crowd to the horizon, as if patiently waiting for some grand show to begin.
I put another state behind me today as I finish the trail in Massachusetts. That’s two Canadian Provinces and four states as I enter Connecticut. Seems that every state has its Bear Mountain, and I’m faced with the climb up the one in Connecticut first thing. Toward evening I’m at Brassie Brook Lean-to, a lovely area with acres of lush mountain laurel and such grand over story, with the happy, rollicking brook running straight through. I have the little shelter to myself, for it seems that almost all the northbounders are north and the southbounders, south. From reading the entries in the shelter register, I see that the Ridgerunner program has just shut down for the season.
This has been a fine hiking day, capped now by this quiet, peaceful place to dwell for the evening.
|It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.
[Saint Francis of Assisi]
Monday–August 27, 2000
Location–Trailside South of Carse Brook, Connecticut
The Berkshires are standing full dress today, a day for inspection, and I’m the inspector! And what better high ground to see them at attention, than from Lion’s Head, Billy’s View and Rand’s View. I don’t remember any of these places from ’98 (no doubt, it was raining), but I will remember this day, and the beauty of the Berkshires.
The ridges lie now in such a fashion that the trail must cross them to head ever southward, making for near-continual ascents and descents. And between the ridges that run to the horizon, there are the valleys wherein lie all the quaint New England villages, with the trail running near to most of them. So, on the ridges I am in the mountains I have come to know and to love, but as I descend each ridge, the crush and grind of the highway can be heard. The far-off wilds of the north woods are behind me now, and the din of man is becoming more the way of these mountains.
I pitch for the evening just above Carse Brook, in the lingering warmth of the day. I am alone again now, on “Odyssey 2000”–but I am not alone.
|And by these temples where I rest,
The Lord takes care of me.
There is not one thing that I lack,
I’ve true serenity.
And so, you think that I am poor,
And want for sheltered home.
But here in God, I trust my fate
…For I am not alone.
Tuesday–August 28, 2000
Location–CT341, Kent, Connecticut, The Gibbs House, Morette and Brian Orth, Innkeepers
When I’m in the comforts of a dwelling, even a shelter, I’m seldom able to roust myself out and get on the trail early. But when sleeping in my little Nomad, first light usually gets me stirring. It’s quite a luxury on clear nights to just throw the vestibule back, exposing all the no-see-um netting to the sky, thus enabling me to enjoy the beauty and mystery of the woods and hills at night without the constant annoyance of the mosquitoes. Last night was one of those special kinds of nights in the dark of the wood, the kind of night one can truly understand only by living the experience.
So this morning I’m up and cranking at a very respectable hour–respectable for getting in some miles early, that is. I’m anxious to get on into Kent, where I plan to stay for the evening. I have a short mileage day, only fifteen, having knocked out a couple of near twenty-fives from Dalton, and I would like to arrive by early afternoon.
The rollercoaster ride continues, but the treadway is open, and as I manage the pulls at a respectable pace, I’m cutting good time today. The hum and clatter, and the noon whistle from every little berg can be heard now, even from the ridge, as the populated areas become increasingly more dense. By one o’clock I make the final descent over the stiles and across a pasture to CT341 and Schaghticoke Road. There is little traffic this time of day, but a kind fellow in his old pickup finally hauls it down, and I load for the ride to Kent. Bouncing along, wedged between a mound of typical pickup bed junk and sitting on his grungy old spare, the wind and the warm New England sun working its charm on me, I reflect on the blessings of my health, my strength and resolve, and the remarkable success that is this journey, and I give thanks for it all.
Kent is a touristy place, as are many of the little mountain villages that lie only a hundred miles from Gotham–a tight-set little main drag of a downtown with shops all along. I head right for the post office, which is closed (from one to two). It seems to me that no matter when I hit the post office, it’s closed; seem that way to you?
I’d planned on staying at the Fife and Drum, but the restaurant where the office is located is closed on Tuesdays, so I head for their gift shop. The lady seems totally noncommittal about whether I can rent a room. “I don’t know if any rooms are available; I think they’re all rented. I’ll need to make a call,” she replies as she heads for the back room. I hear her dialing but there’s no conversation. In a moment she returns. “I can’t get anybody, but I think we’re all full.” That was her final comment as she turned away, abruptly ending the conversation, to busy herself with other things. The screen door to the shop has an old fashioned return spring on it and as I leave, I push the door open wide and let it slam good and hard.
Aww, now why did I do that? It’s my own fault. The lady simply had me pegged as a bum–because, to her, I looked like a bum! Ed Garvey is rollin’ over right now, I know he is, bless his soul. Ed was a trail legend in his time. He was known to admonish hikers for not being clean-shaven and neatly dressed. In his classic book, Appalachian Hiker, published originally in 1971, I can remember reading, “No one expects the Appalachian Trail hiker to wear shirt, tie, business suit, and shiny shoes. On the other hand, hikers…need not look like bums.” Forgive me, Ed, I know you expected better, the trail deserves better, Sorry.
On up the street and in less than a block stands the beautiful Gibbs House, a lovely old two-story home. I no sooner ring the doorbell than I’m greeted with a great big smile by Morette Orth. She welcomes me and shows me to a lovely upstairs room with private bath directly across from she and her husband’s private bedroom. I’m in and soon settled–and for a rate considerably less than the other place would have charged had they liked my looks. I’ve my own phone right next the bed, and I’m able to catch up on my journal entries, correspondence and phone calls. Things always do seem to work out for the better!
|A man with a beard was always a little suspect anyway.
Wednesday–August 29, 2000
Location–West Dover Road, Pawling, New York, Sha Ra Du Bed and Breakfast, Lee Stevens, proprietor
The post office opens at eight, and I’m right there ready to mail my bounce box along to Delaware Water Gap. Then it’s over to where all the locals hang out for breakfast at the little mom-n-pop.
Today is a busy day for Morette Orth, as it is her daughter’s first day at school, but she finds time to run me up to the trail, and I’m out and moving south again by ten-thirty. Thanks Brian and Morette, you’ve been very kind to me.
Today I put Connecticut behind as I enter New York. Slowly but surely the mountains are flattening out, and the treadway is becoming much easier to manage. Save for a couple of section hikers, a local trail maintainer named Walkie-Talkie, and Richard, a southbounder, with whom I hike for a short while, I have the trail to myself today.
I have made good time for a twenty-one mile day. No problem getting a hitch, for within just moments after arriving at the road crossing, I’m in downtown Pawling. I’d called Lee Stevens recently, and she’d given me directions to her B&B. I spot the place and head right over. Lee’s waiting at the door with a big smile. She hands me a key and directs me to my room on the second floor. What a grand old place, very spacious with a large sitting room and a full kitchen. The shower is one of the neatest I’ve seen, an old claw-foot cast-iron tub with a curtain all the way around, and the showerhead hooked to the ceiling!
In the evening I head for the Pawling Tavern for supper and a few tall ones. I have a fine pasta plate, and after my first longneck frosty, the locals pitch in, keeping a tall, cold one in front of me for the remainder of the evening.
I’ve really enjoyed this day, and the great folks of Pawling.
|The invariable mark of a dream is to see it come true every day.
[Ralph Waldo Emerson]
Thursday–August 30, 2000
Location–Hortontown Road, New York, RPH Shelter
I’m up, surprisingly before seven, headed for the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee and fix myself some breakfast. When I’d talked to Lee by phone she said she’d haul me back to the trail, and at eight we’re off. Thanks, Lee. I’ve had a great stay at Sha Ra Du B&B, and in your friendly little town of Pawling.
I’ve been thinking about a good old fashioned hotdog off and on for days, and after five miles of it this morning, and at NY55 I head east two-tenths of a mile to the Elite Dog, a mighty fine hiker-oasis of a motorhome-based hotdog stand. The place is called Bob’s, and Bob Barrett, a disabled American veteran, runs it. He’ just getting his little operation cranked up for the day, but he finds time to sit and chat while I down the two dogs he’s prepared for me. After signing his register, I glance through, seeing many familiar names. Spur was number 61 in ’99 and 161 this year. Swamp Eagle stopped by, and Grandma Soule was here, as were many others.
Bob and I are the same age, born within days of each other in ’38. He went off to war and I went to the university. I got “educated,” and he got shot-up. The heroes of this day are different from the heroes of our time. Most people today probably don’t even know what a DAV is. And so I must say, “Bob, you’re my kind of hero; thanks for your sacrifices in keepin’ our country free. God bless you, my friend!”
Near Mount Egbert, I see hikers coming toward me. I’ve been on a not-so-enjoyable sideslab for the last while, all the while listening to the rasp and grind of the traffic below on I-84. First thing I do after the usual exchange of cordialities is to start griping about the treadway. I don’t know why I’m acting like this; it’s the first time. Oh, and am I embarrassed and ashamed about what I’ve just said, as I discover I’m talking to Karen Lutz, representative, regional office, Appalachian Trail Conference, and Ron Rosen, Duchess/Putnam Counties Appalachian Trail Conference volunteer! They’re out to take a look at a recent relocation that has just been completed a little north of here. I’m obviously holding them up, but enjoy the conversation, which I’ve encouraged, as we talk trail. Their vehicles are parked at the RPH Shelter. I’ll be spending the evening there, and Ron promises to bring me a coke.
I arrive at RPH around three, take a bath by the pitcher pump, wash my sweaty clothes, and then settle in for the evening. In a short while Big John comes in. He lives down the road and stops by most every evening to check on the thru-hikers to see what they might need. “Would you like a pizza?” he says “Oh, yes!” is the reflex reply. Karen and Ron are back with my coke, and Big John is off to get my pizza. Life, indeed, is good. Thanks Ron and Big John!
In just a while, Walter comes in. He’s going to be part of HATT, a weekend-long hike that will link hikers all up and down the Appalachian Trail. The plan is to create a link of hikers in contact with each other that will hike the entire AT over the Labor Day weekend, quite a project. A friend of Spur’s, a young lady with whom I’ve been in touch by email, Ready, also comes in for the evening, and we have a grand time chatting before calling it a day.
|…Take the power to walk in the forest and be part of nature.
Take the power to control your own life…
Take the power to make your life happy.
[Susan Polis Schutz]
Friday–August 31, 2000
Location–Old West Point Road, Garrison, New York, Graymoor Friary
I had been so hoping to meet the caretaker of RPH. I missed him during my stay in ’98, and last night Big John said he doubted if Joe would be by, but first thing this morning comes Joe Hrouda, and we spend a grand time together. Joe, you’ve got such a grand place here, and the campsite on south in the meadow by the AT is surely a dreamland to weary hikers.
The day is starting iffy with the weather, overcast and threatening, but as I climb Shenandoah Mountain the sun breaks through, and the day turns sunny and quite hot. Most hikers have been complaining about these close, humid days, but I’m handling them just fine as I slug down plenty of water loaded with Conquest, an electrolyte replacement mix designed for use by ultra-marathoners, and provided me by Gary Bearbag Buffington, MD, the developer of Conquest, one of my sponsors for “Odyssey 2000.” Thanks Bearbag!
More ups and downs today, but the treadway is basically open, permitting me to stride out and cover the miles. By 1:00 p.m. I’ve managed the fifteen miles to Canopus Hill Road. Here, as I climb the little pop before the road crossing, and in half a daze from plodding, I look up to see two familiar faces, both with such happy, broad-beaming smiles, staring directly at me. I can’t believe my eyes; I must be seeing things. These folks live clear down in Roanoke, Virginia. How can they be here in New York where the AT crosses this out-back county road, in what seems the middle of no place? Oh my, but here they are, my very dear hiking friends from ’98, Scott T-bone Walker Baldwin and Tulie Tulip Kaschub. I am so taken by their presence that I can’t speak. Tears well up, filling my eyes, and I slump over my hiking poles. They stand in silence, continuing to beam at me. I finally manage to blurt, “Tulie, Tulip, is that you–and T-bone, T-bone Walker–Oh, glory be, it really is you!” What a wonderful and unbelievable surprise! Says T-Bone, “We’re up here for a friend’s wedding. We’ve followed your progress, and knew you were in the area. After stopping at RPH Shelter and seeing your register entry, and after talking with Joe, and looking at the map, we knew we could catch you here at Canopus Hill Road!” After a couple of PBJs, built by Tulip, and near an hour of the greatest catching-up get-together, and again with tears welling and a lump in my throat, I bid these dear young friends good-bye, and I head on down the trail.
I can hardly wait for the completion of the hike today, for this day I reach Graymoor where my very dear friend, Father Fred Alvarez, is waiting to greet me. Father Fred is a friend to countless hikers, for he is the host for all the Friars, and for Graymoor, where the doors have been open to hikers for years. It has been Father Fred’s chosen duty to welcome the intrepids as they arrive, a duty he has enjoyed with obvious satisfaction and joy. I first met Father Fred on my northbound odyssey in ’98, and we became such immediate good friends. As were the prayers of many, it was Father Fred’s continued prayers that carried me through to the successful completion of that long and memorable journey. So now, with great anticipation and excitement, I again enter the portals at Graymoor, and once again, just as before, Father Fred is here to greet me and to welcome me to Graymoor. He then shows me to a spacious, private suite just for friends of the Friars, and as we go, he too is bubbling with excitement, for he, too, is happy to see me! He insists on loaning me a set of his personal clothing while he takes all of mine to launder. “Get ready for dinner,” he says, “I’ll be back for you at five-thirty.” And so I will, Father, and so I will. What a blessed day this has been!
|And could I have one wish this year, this only would it be:
I’d like to be the sort of friend that you have been to me.
[Edgar A. Guest]