We were in no rush to make it back to trail. We waited until check out time to pack up and head out to the road to start hitching. Excited about hitching this time because we were on the proper side of the road with a proper pull off, we stuck our thumbs out. Milo, well rested, sat up beside us. Many many cars passed us. Some waved. Some didn't. Some just shook their heads. We would see a Subaru or truck that looked like a sure bet. We would smile, and they would drive by without even slowing down. Finally, a car pulled over just as the late morning sun began to get hot. We threw our packs in the back and climbed in.
Today was Father’s Day and the gentleman that picked us up had just taken himself fishing. We talked fishing all the way up to the trail crossing. He dropped us off on the side of the road and wished us luck. As we walked down the road to trail, a man waved us over from the gravel parking lot. We walked up to see a whole area set up with a table for cooking food, a hand washing station and lawn chairs. “Welcome to Fresh Ground’s LeapFrog Cafe!” the man exclaimed. He told us to put our packs down and asked if we wanted a grilled cheese or hot dogs. We nodded yes. He said, “All you have to do is wash your hands.” We walked over to the first table and dunked our hands in a tub of bleach and then rinsed them off under a spigot extending from a 5 gallon bucket. The man introduced himself as Fresh Grounds, and he had been on the road for 5 months cooking for hikers from Georgia to Maine.
He was setting up a camp stove. He sat out a plate of watermelon and a plastic bin of chips and cookies. He made hot dogs and hamburgers and a grilled cheese for Critter. Milo even got a hamburger and some cheese.
Fresh Grounds threw potato wedges in a fryer. They were ready when they puffed up, he noted. He was from North Carolina and had a soft southern drawl. We watched him move around stirring the French fries, flipping the burgers, turning the hot dogs and welcoming new hikers, who had just walked up, to the feast. His moves appear choreographed. Five years of perfecting his efficiency. “My job is to love you and feed you. With no hidden agenda.”
The grilled cheese was as unique as it was delicious. He put the shredded cheddar directly on the skillet with the bread on top. He didn't close it until the cheese was well cooked and crispy in the edges. When we asked, he just said he had gotten tired of the cheese not being fully melted by the time the bread was ready. “One for now. One for later,” he exclaimed as he handed Critter a plate and grabbed a bag for the second one.
“This setup is yours so use it as you see fit!”
Fresh Grounds had setup here in anticipation of running into a particular thru hiker. Hawk, we would come to find out, was finishing up his third thru hike of the Appalachian Trail and planning on turning around at Katahdin and hiking south, a yo-yo hike.
Fresh Grounds had made a special burger just for Hawk, and like clock work, Hawk emerged from the trail head with a big smile on his face.
More hikers were walking up as we decided to start back up trail. We were full of food and each had a ziplock with another grilled cheese and burger for later.
The trail was easy of the highway before starting to climb. We had a view of Horn Lake and the Horn, which we were about to head up next. After climbing the South Horn, we ran into two couples southbounding. We stood and talked a moment, each of us wearing our head nets and moving our legs in place as to keep the mosquitoes off. Soon we all get worn out and couldn't handle the amount of swarming mosquitoes so we said goodbye and hopefully we met them again down trail. We didn't say this often to hikers we passed, but the times we did, we really meant it. It was tough passing hikers that would be fun to hike with especially when they were heading in the direction we would eventually be heading in. We didn't fit into a trail family. We weren't northbounders yet we were heading north and we weren't southbounders yet we would be eventually.
Soft trail gradually became rocky until we were stepping boulder to boulder following cairns over the granite bald of Bigelow. The weather was absolutely perfect. We had the peaks to ourselves. The sun was starting to go down but we still had a few hours till sunset. The greens of the lichen on the granite and the rich purples of the shadows were vibrant with the softer light that blanketed everything around us.
We had a short and sweet climb up to Avery peak. We stood on top admiring much of the same as we had on the previous peak. This all was perfect. This was one of our favorite climbs yet and such a good end to the day. We climbed down to Safford Notch campsite. Big boulders framed trail and there were many little caves and rock houses among them.
Milo took off after a red squirrel, surprisingly the first time since being on trail. Pissed off, the squirrel climbed a tree just above eye level with us and starting barking so consistently and aggressively, Milo didn't know what to do but stand there and smile. The squirrel barked even as Critter passed by. Milo was content. Somehow it had seemed he accomplished something.
At camp, we enjoyed our packed out town food, and eventually went to sleep as the sun was already down.