The Wilderness

July 8, 2018

Destination: Long Pond Stream Lean-to Today's Miles: 15.10

Start Location: Monson (ME15 Road Crossing) Trip Miles: 2091.50

At Little Wilson Falls
Oh, breakfast...the best meal of the day. I woke up to lovely weather in my lovely bunk to the sound of my stomach growling.

You know, the daily routine, though I didn’t wake up at 4:30 today. I slept until a respectable 5:30 or so. I went downstairs to join the rest of the crew for breakfast, which Shaw’s does for a fee (i.e. they don’t bundle it in with your bunk; you can choose if you want it). There were a lot of hikers at Shaw’s - section hikers, SOBOs, NOBOs. The NOBO table was full so I sat with Frank, the triple crowner from the Netherlands, and some SOBOs and section hikers. This also gave me a better chance at more food!! What I didn’t realize at the time was that Conan (the ultra marathon runner, Matthias, from Germany who I had met early on at Blue Mountain Shelter in Georgia) was sitting at the NOBO table. I wished I had recognized him, but we both looked so different now. He had already finished his hike and was back in Monson to do some trail magic with Poet from Shaw’s.

Breakfast was a grand affair. Poet made these potatoes in a cast iron skillet that were just incredible. We got eggs as well and blueberry pancakes. Frank and I were typical NOBO vultures. The pancakes came in one common plate on the table. We sat and stared and waited and no one was touching them! Frank said, “excuse me, is anyone going to eat the pancakes?” Everyone said “no, we are too full.” BINGO! Frank and I grabbed the plate and ate all of them. Then a second plate came and we ate most of those too. This was for a table of about ten people.... That’s what we do!

After breakfast I decided not to leave on the first shuttle out. I said goodbye to Apollo, Skutch, Gumby, and Redbird, then went upstairs to get organized. I didn’t have that much time, so I threw my stuff together, settled up with Poet, and got into the van. Homebound was on the shuttle as well. At the trailhead, Poet gave us all a brief little farewell monologue. He said he wrote a haiku back when he thru hiked and it was something to the effect of “drink deepest when your glass is almost empty because that is when the flavor is richest.” I am absolutely positive I’m butchering that because what he said was actually a haiku (I think) and actually sounded like it made sense. The message though was the same: the last drops of the experience can be the sweetest if you savor them. Wise words. He also said one or two things to the SOBOs about what they could expect, and one or two things to us NOBOs about what we could expect. It was all spot on in the end. I really liked Poet. He was sort of like some kind of Gateway man, helping hikers pass through the respective stage of their journeys. He reminded me a bit of The Dude from The Big Lebowski because he was so laid back and had a “relaxed sageliness” to him, but he wasn’t a fake or comical character at all. He’s basically the perfect dude to have at Shaw’s for that leg of the journey - it’s either your beginning or your end, and he’s a calm guy to make sure you’re set up for a good experience. 

Homebound headed out first, and then myself and a section hiker with her dog. I only planned to walk 15 miles, so I took it pretty slowly, more strolling than hiking. My food bag was really heavy with 5 days of food and ridiculous amounts of sugar in it. We all stopped and took pictures at the “border” sign leading into the Hundred Mile Wilderness. It seemed comically ominous, but only because I had been hiking for so long and was used to resupplying for such distances. Shortly after I began to run into SOBOs heading into Monson. They all said the same thing: “I’m so ready to be out of the woods!” They looked beaten down and seemed dejected. Hopefully they will continue on. It made me wonder if the bugs were going to be really bad. The terrain looked pretty tame on the map, but maps can be deceiving. Sometimes I think I’ll fly through an area, and then it turns out to be boggy and laden with roots and rocks that all slow me down. Nevertheless, the weather was beautiful today and the hiking was pretty easy.

The section hiker, Mary, and her dog Pepper caught up to me while I was chatting with some southbounders. We started talking and I hiked behind her for a while. She was an ENL teacher (English as a New Language) and this was her first solo backpacking trip. We got to the beautiful Little Wilson Falls and it was time to take some pictures and have a snack. There was a couple there and their little boy was just running around naked in a pool above the falls. Note to self: do not get water from said pool.... Mary took a picture for me at the falls, and I decided to hike on. I wanted some alone walking time, and thus far the famed wild and remote Wilderness was chock full of people!

I tried to reflect on the trip a little. Funny enough, at first I thought about how there wasn’t really much to think about. As a friend back home would sometimes say, “I did a thing.” I teared up a little thinking about it though, and I didn’t know why. It wasn’t because I wasn’t ready for it to end. Maybe it was because it just felt like i had “been through something,” or maybe I  was overcome by gratitude that I was actually able to do this and have these experiences. Not everyone gets to do this. Not everyone can, for many reasons, and the saddest reason being that not everyone will take the risk to live a dream, even if they have the means otherwise. I often find that songs get stuck in my head on the trail, and today was no different. Without even knowing why, I was singing “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” from an album called Temple of the Dog. This was a collaboration between Chris Cornell and some Pearl Jam band members back in the early 90s (I think circa ‘91). Cornell wrote the song, and the album was a kind of tribute to the vocalist of a band called Mother Love Bone, Andy Wood, who had died from a drug overdose. In the song Cornell sings: “I, I never wanted to write these words down for you, with the pages of phrases of things we’ll never do.” It’s the saddest line, and all I could think about was how nothing is guaranteed in life. I could get hit by a runaway bread truck tomorrow! My point is, when I set out in this journey I really had no expectations - it was just something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I decided I didn’t want to end up with a long list of things I wanted to do but never did. And whenever I die, I don’t want other people staring at a list of things that we never “got around to” either. Life is precious. The status quo in society isn’t necessarily feeding healthy messages to me about how I should spend my time, what I should do, or how I should prioritize things in life. In fact, I think the norm is wrong. I don’t want to make a long list, work my life away and then see what I’m still physically able to do or can get to before I’m dead. I want to hike, I want to live, I want to feel, I want to breathe, I want to experience. And I will. So I guess, if anything, maybe the AT was helping me to break free - to think more freely and to get “better” at really living my life. I thought about New Hampshire’s State motto: Live Free or Die. If I’m not living freely, am I not kind of dead anyway? I think only through this hike have I begun to further break down this idea, to really see the layers of applicability it has in my own life. If I let work control my life, am I free? Hiking the AT has really helped me start to free myself from the biggest slave creator I know - myself. I ultimately choose how I live my life, and I have let others, and the status quo or norm, influence me too much. The AT has allowed me to see that. I can see that now. So I guess I had some things to think about after all :-).

I walked on and came to a beautiful cascade and pool stream called Vaughn Stream. There was a nice swimming hole just below the upper cascade and a stealth campsite as well, so I was tempted to stop there. I was freshly clean though from Shaw’s, and there would be other opportunities in the Wilderness, so I admired the spot and kept going. Maybe Mary and her dog would want to stop there and enjoy it. 

I hiked past a group of Vets who were hiking the Hundred Mile Wilderness and summiting Katahdin. They were part of a big group organized by the Wounded Warrior Project. The rest of their group was camped up ahead at Long Pond Stream, about 1.5 miles south of the shelter. I pushed on to the lean-to and was the first person there. I set up my tent and, of course, started making my dinner. Why did Maine decide to call their shelters “lean-tos???” It’s the biggest misnomer. They are standalone structures and nothing about them is propped against a tree or rock or slope to provide the shelter. One would think we were hanging out under teepee-like structures. They are just shelters like the rest on the trail.

Later on Mary and Pepper showed up. I was impressed that they made it! There were some hills and climbs on that 15 mile stretch, so it would be a long way for someone without hardened trail legs. They both hiked it like champs! A southbounder named El Gringo Loco showed up shortly after that. He said he used to own four large restaurants, had a bunch of “stuff,” and still wasn’t happy. He sold it all and moved to Ecuador, where he lives cheaply and owns almost nothing. He rents a furnished apartment. He did, however, have a TON of stuff on the trail, LOL! He admitted as much to me and later asked for any advice. I offered two things: 1. Get comfortable being uncomfortable, and 2. drop whatever isn’t crucial for survival - the lighter the pack, the more fun the hiking, which is what we all do most of the time. When he came into camp, the battery for his steripen was dead so he couldn’t purify water. He could boil it, but I’m not sure he had thought of that. I filtered some water for him. I also filtered for Mary, who had brought a water filter pump her boyfriend had lent her. The water source was a mere trickle, so a pump that couldn’t be submerged was useless. I helped them have water for the evening and morning, and they both learned the lessons they needed to learn, just like we all do when we first start. 

The three of us talked until after dark, which was like talking until after hiker midnight! I went back to my tent to get ready for another day, and promptly fell asleep. I was grateful for such a nice, relaxing day today, and grateful to have the reflection time I needed as well as still have nice people to talk with at the end of the day. Tomorrow I will wake up early and do it all again.

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