July 4, 2018
Destination: Horns Pond Lean-to Today's Miles: 18.60
Start Location: Spaulding Mountain Lean-to Trip Miles: 2007.80
Holidays on the trail feel different. The Fourth of July is typically filled with barbecues and fireworks.
I was just hiking on a very hot fourth. I got up early as I normally do, and because I knew it would be hot. I climbed Spaulding Mountain and then Sugarloaf Mountain, which has a big ski resort on the other side. I saw someone taking down a tent and it was Snuggs! I figured he would have already been to Stratton. He said he was hiking there today and going to take a zero. I hope he manages to find a good place to stay. We hiked together for a bit, but he is a lot more nimble than I and soon disappeared down the mountain. The descent was steep and rocky with ample room to slip and fall, and so it took me a while to get down. At the bottom I crossed the Carrabassett River. It is listed as requiring fording, but it had a plank bridge across the middle gap and the rest was just rock hopping. When I got there, a southbounder and his partner were clearly bickering as she struggled to get across. She was nervous about balancing on the rocks and then the board. I totally understand that! I still get nervous on that stuff, even after plenty of practice. Her partner looked at me and said “she just has no balance.” Hmmmm.... I just kept my mouth shut and waited patiently for her to get across. I thought she did just fine. There are plenty of things I’ve crawled over just to make myself feel less like I might fall and break an ankle. Anyway, they were having a moment, so I let them have it and walked across to the other side.
I climbed south and north Crocker mountains, both over 4000 feet, and descended to the road crossing for Stratton. It was on this stretch that I hit the two thousand mile mark!! It was hard to believe I had walked that far! That famous Confucius quote is so true: a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. So does a journey of 2190.9! I was pumped and made a small rock monument in the dirt.
I hiked on and came to the Stratton road crossing. Across the road was a bridge over Stratton Brook, and who was standing on that bridge but a Ridge Runner. It wasn’t just any Ridge Runner; it was the same guy who gave me my first trail magic at Amicalola State Park (the orange cord tie that holds my AT registration badge to my pack), told me about the “hiker handshake” (fist bump), and showed me the PCT method for hanging a bear bag: Nick, or “Master Splinter.” It was just like the trail to do something like this! Someone who played a small, but key, role on that first day was here towards the end. He said he was looking after the Bigelow stretch now and also the caretaker at Horns Pond Lean-to, which is where I would stay tonight. Too funny! I walked the rest of the way up to Horns Pond thinking about the weird coincidences of the trail. The hiking was strenuous and fun. There were some bouldering challenges, and then as I got towards the shelter there was a beautiful rock outcrop that provided a picturesque aerial view of Horns Pond. It was stunning.
I climbed the rest of the way down and went past the tenting area to the shelter, just to check it out. There were two shelters. Some weekend hikers were pitching their tent inside one. Hmmm.... I would let Master Splinter deal with that! I met a South African couple at the tentsite that was flip flopping. I selected my spot and set up my tent. As I did so, another section hiker came in. She was from Massachusetts and was quite kind and gave me a carrot and a nectarine. Nothing beats fresh fruits and veggies on the trail. There was a lookout just down a trail adjacent to my tent site and we both ended up eating our dinners there. She was good company and we talked about backpacking. She had thru hiked the Long Trail. Master Splinter showed up and gave us a rundown on mushroom foraging that was really interesting. He had a bunch of mushrooms he had collected that day. I wanted to check out the pond before it got too late, so I went down and sat by the shore for a while. I startled a beaver, and while I didn’t see it, I heard it smack the surface of the water with its tail before diving under.
Later as it was getting dark, I again saw the section hiker at the lookout point. We were both there to see if we could see fireworks. The ridge looked over the Sugarloaf ski resort, as well as several valley towns. Sure enough, we saw lots of fireworks! It was probably the coolest Fourth of July experience I have ever had. In the darkness, a bunny busied itself in front of us with bunny things. It was past hiker midnight though (it was about 9:30) and I needed to get to bed, so I excused myself and laid down for the night.
It was so awesome to see Master Splinter today and I was grateful for that, as well as for the company of a cool section hiker at camp, and the incredible campsite and fireworks display. What a great day!