The first few steps of our morning consisted of crossing a slick set of stepping stones across the creek in front of the shelter. Everyone in the shelter was sitting up, still in their sleeping bags. They had front row seats, but alas, we made it across dry as a bone.
From here the trail carried us along Rainbow Lake. Fog hung heavy on the still waters. We could make out the faint outlines of the trees framing her waters. Along the walkway large stepping stones peppered the trail through deep pits of mud. We took care to keep our feet as dry as we could, but at this point it was all relative. Periodically, as our feet made contact with the large stones, they quickly slid side to side almost sending us onto the ground. We weaved in and out of thick brushy areas that dried their leaves on our shirts as we squeezed past. Our dryness was relative.
We passed through a campsite only to be greeted by PR, a dog we had met down by the Bigelows. He and Milo greeted each other and most likely swapped stories. We stopped for a few moments, but the growing hum of mosquitoes reminded us of our goal for the day. We continued on.
A few miles out from the road, two hikers heading into the 100 Mile Wilderness, stopped us to let us know about a red pack that was draped across trail. They asked us to inform someone in town about it, and we agreed. As we went back to hiking, we kept our eyes peeled for the pack, but it was unnecessary because it wasn’t hard to miss. A large red pack with an open umbrella attached hung from a tree right over trail. A few steps up trail led us to a collection of water bottles and a pair of trekking poles. We stood quietly for a second looking around the area for any trace of the owner. Nothing. Garbelly called out a few times, yet no response was heard. We carried on quietly. There is something terribly unsettling about seeing forgotten gear in the woods.
Waves of mosquitos greeted us all the way until we got to a large gravel highway. In the distance, we could see Abol Bridge. We had done over fifteen miles before noon and officially made it through the 100 Mile Wilderness. We crossed the bridge over the West Branch of the Penobscot River and then began planning our hitch. For the most part, this eroded highway was quiet. Every ten minutes, a large logging truck would zoom past us flinging gravel and belching smoke. We realized that getting a hitch to take Milo into town might be tougher than we thought.
Milo was the reason we were heading into town at all. Because of his four paws and floppy ears, he was not on the guest list of those allowed into Baxter State Park. We had booked him a room at the Katahdin Kritters pet resort thirty minutes down the road in East Millinocket.
When we walked up to the Abol camp store, we were greeted by a man in a golf cart. We immediately mentioned the red pack that we had seen on trail. His answer was far from comforting. “Some people come out here to be alone when they end everything. Just the way it is.” Of course there were more explicitives and a much darker shadow cast on his answer, but it wasn’t the answer we were hoping to hear. So we wandered away. There were a few hikers and a pup outside of the store. One of the hikers began asking us questions about hiking with Milo. The basics; how much he ate, his average mileage, and if his paws were doing ok. We answered and then mentioned we were trying to hitch into town to drop him off at the kennel in town.
“I can take you there as soon as I say goodbye to my kids,” another hiker said excitedly. It was perfect and our worry about finding a ride quickly eased.
We sat down and started up a conversation with one of the other hikers. Turns out we knew a few of the same people from where our outdoor circles overlap with music circles. It is always crazy how many connections run through this community.
Our ride into town was so appreciated. Katahdin Kritters was tucked off the main highway, and traffic was light today. We walked inside with Milo and were greeted by a very friendly face. This was a kennel-free daycare, so couches and chairs covered in sheets lined the room. We felt good about leaving Milo here overnight. We walked the woman working through all of Milo’s routines, and then headed back out to the highway. We found a decent pull-out and stuck out our thumbs. A truck pulled over almost immediately, and a woman and her daughter let us jump in. She drove us back to Millinocket where we swung by the post office and then grabbed some food.
It was time to make our way back to trail to make it to the Birches campsite by dark. We stood back out on the road and out our thumbs went one more time. Once again immediately, a SUV pulled over. Paul from the Appalachian Trail Lodge was behind the wheel and offered to give us a ride to Abol Bridge, where he was heading to pick up two hikers.
Back on trail we headed towards Birches,, a site saved for northbound thru-hikers. And since we weren’t south-bounders until we hit Katahdin, we were allowed to stay there. Once at Katahdin Stream Campground we had to check in with the ranger to reserve our camping spot and get our permit for summiting Katahdin.
After meeting with the ranger, we walked the quarter mile to the campsite to cook dinner. A single tent sat perched on the platform.
The man in the tent shouted out, “Is that Garbelly?”
We looked over to see Hawk unzipping his mesh a brief second and waving at us. He in fact was the only other person at the campsite. Unfortunately, that was also the only tent pad, so we set up in one of the two shelters at the campsite. It was now approaching nine and we didn’t have water for the morning, so Garbelly headed the quarter mile back to the stream by the ranger station to filter water.
There was still enough dim light in the sky to see for filtering water, but by the end of the walk back to the campsite, the headlamp was necessary. We set up in the shelter and then got all of our food in a single bag to bear hang on the cables behind our shelter. After this, we changed into our wool sleep clothes and got in bed. Moments later we were fast asleep.
Garbelly woke up in a deep sweat with a couple mosquitos biting him through his hair and his shirt. The bugs were everywhere. Critter was now also waking up to the itchy insects and sweat. As Garbelly picked up his watch, our stomachs sank. We had not even been asleep for twenty minutes. At this point it was past ten at night and we agreed that no other hikers were likely to come into the shelter. Our head nets and hats combination was only keeping the bugs off our faces, the rest of our bodies were an open target. We got out our tent and set up the tent body inside the shelter, something we have definitely never done. We set our alarm for four the next morning and went to sleep as soon as our eye lids shut.