Day 21: Antlers to Rainbow Spring

Just as the mosquitoes had chased us into camp, when morning came they were there to chase us out. We moved quickly, covered in our rain gear even though it wasn't raining. But the early morning heated up sweating us out of our protective layers. We were tired. We longed for silence and the privilege of standing still. We were also hungry and running low on snacks. Having to conserve snacks and have low morale is a recipe for disaster. So we longed for trail magic like we never have before.

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Milo met Kirra, a southbound thru pup. She was beautiful. He was excited for her company and her owner even shared a few treats with him. There haven’t been a whole lot of other dogs out here and especially not friendly ones. Kirra was sweet and as excited to see us as we were to see her. We talked awhile with her owner before we both decided it was time to keep pushing. We said goodbye and that we hoped to run into them again down trail! They had southern Maine in front of them and we had Katahdin.

We kept hiking and realized we were getting close to White House Landing, a hiker friendly cabin that acts as both a resupply, meals and overnight stay for hikers. Signs hung on the trunk of trees noting the side trail to the lake. At the end of the trail supposedly was a dock where you radioed White House Landing to come pick you up and they would arrive with a boat to take you to the cabin. Since we weren’t staying the night, we decided to continue on. We almost could not believe how “grown up” we felt by turning down a chance at real food and choosing to stick to our original plan.

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Trail was steady and we were able to move quickly but we had little motivation. We had no exciting snacks waiting for us at lunch. We had no places we could stop and enjoy a quick break. And worst of all it was hot. The sticky kind of hot. We also were out of bug spray. As we neared a gravel road, we saw people sitting at a campsite with a stacked picnic table.

“Garbelly and Critter!” They yelled before we had a chance to recognize the group. It was Tom, Marie and Zeb from Monson.

We walked over fully taking in all the snacks they had spread out on the table.

“Go ahead help yourselves!”

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It was just what we needed. We grabbed some snacks and a cold soda each. We chatted with them for a little bit before we realized we had stayed for over an hour. With plenty of miles left, we said our goodbyes, even if it was a bit of a Garbelly Goodbye. Trail led us around Nahmantka lake and up Nesuntabunt Mountain. On the other side we took off cruising down and then up towards Rainbow Spring our stopping point for the night.

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The shelter was right on trail, but since it was full, we decided to set up our tent, which we did most nights. We were starting to run into more and more people. Camp each night was beginning to become crowded.

We set up our tent on a pine needle bed. As we made dinner, the lightest rain started to fall. It rained all night but it was soothing and cooled everything down. The buzz of the mosquitoes even fell to a whisper.

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Day 20: White Cap & The Mosquito Marathon

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We left our small clearing that had provided us privacy for the night and began our climb up Gulf Hagas Mountain. Darkness still hung in the trees. The white bush tail of a deer flashed out of the corner of our eyes as it quickly disappeared into the shadows of dawn. This first peak was wooded and so was the next and the next. We climbed up and over West Peak and Hay Mountain. Beginning finally on our final ascent over White Cap. We exited the trees to find the summit post held up by a pile of rocks. A small side trail led us to an overlook on the other side of a patch of trees. Katahdin stood in the distance. Nothing around even compared and instead felt

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like the mountains became rolling hills bowing to the greatness of Katahdin. We were so close. We stumbled over rocks back up to the summit post where trail followed a path on the other side, out of view of the North. We ducked down below tree line heading back into conifers and patchy sunlight.

For the most part that was our final climb of the 100 Mile. With some peaks like Nesuntabunt and Little Boardman, the rest of the walking would be a breeze. But then came the mosquitoes. First there was one then there were many. They seemed to be following us. We each had our own cloud of dense buzzing. Milo even had one. We sought an easy solution. Walk faster we thought, simple. So we did. Our hands swung behind us as we picked up our pace. With each swing of the hand, we both could feel the wall of mosquitoes still trailing behind us. Don't mosquitoes only go 1.5mph? We were going at least 3. Were we running into new groups of them? But we could see the cloud stay as the other walked ahead. They were large and meaty mosquitoes, too. The ones that you can hear crunch when you press them between your fingers. They bit us through our clothes. Our hands turned black from mushing them. Critter had black streaks down her shirt sleeves where she slapped at them. Milo tried to bury himself in leaves. The three of us broke into a run. Fortunately, the terrain had leveled out quite a bit.

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Our goal was Antlers Campground on lower Jo-Mary Lake. A handful of people had told us that it was the best camp site on the whole AT. Someone even mentioned that there weren't that many mosquitoes. To us, it sounded like heaven. So we ran. The day was getting late and our twenty-seven mile day was coming to a close, but we couldn't stop. The mosquitoes were still tapping at our skin. We jump on the side trail that took us over to camp. With the buzzing close behind, we threw down our bags and starting setting up the tent. Critter was completely covered at this point, head net, rain jacket and rain pants. While they were still swarming her, she finally had a little bit of relief. Garbelly and Milo on the other hand did not. So they jumped into the tent first as Critter finished setting up the rain fly and moving the thrown packs closer to the tent’s doors. Meanwhile, Garbelly tried to kill all the mosquitoes that had made it inside when he got in. Some bursted with blood which was now splattered on the olive walls, other laid lifeless in a pile of little bodies. When Critter got inside, another round happened and the body count heightened. When nothing else buzzed inside the tent we sat there in exhaustion. Thousands surrounded the mesh of our tent. We couldn't hear anything over the hum of the low pitch buzz. We had envisioned a relaxing evening by the lake but we had instead been thrown into a fly-ridden hell. We felt defeated. We stayed in our tent until it was completely dark out. We had to get water and get to sleep. The buzzing still beat at the walls and doors. Garbelly jumped out and took off on a full sprint to the lake. After killing the bugs that had made it in, Critter followed. But when she came to a stop, there wasn't buzzing or the needle pricks of the mosquitoes mouth. Instead there was quiet and stillness. The stars were out and the Milky Way painted across the sky. The lake reflected the brightest stars, and the small horizon of silhouetted trees was the only distinction of where the lake stopped and the sky started. They were entirely one. Made of the same fibers. True darkness rest on the lake. Our mosquito worn hearts immediately filled. We wanted to remember this feeling forever, so we stood at the waters edge, eyes wide, afraid to even blink.

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Back at our tent the mosquitoes were still swarming. We jumped in for the final time, hunting down all of the ones that made it inside. Our tent became still. We became still. Darkness fell on us, and the buzzing drifted us off to sleep.

Day 17: Zero in Monson

Day 17: Zero Day at Shaw’s

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Shaw’s breakfast is one of those things you hear about way before you arrive. Whether your are headed North or South. You sign up on a sheet the day before, which was already 14 names deep by the time we added our names to the list. Three tables were set up, one in the large kitchen and two in the dining room. Everyone sat around filling up all three tables while Poet, Hippie Chick and crew ran around taking orders. Orange juice and water sat on the table. The eggs cooked to order were piled on a plate with bacon and the home-fried potatoes, which were crispy on the outside and perfectly soft on the inside. Once everyone had a plate, the fluffiest blueberry pancakes began to be passed around.

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As the food started to taper off and hikers started to disperse from the tables, Poet brought out a large plate of blueberry pancakes stacked like a cairn.

After breakfast, we started running errands. Zero days for us tend to never be relaxing. We went to the post office, organized our food for the next section, said goodbye to Rattles and Nomad and went by the Appalachian Trail Visitors Center.

We picked out a few things at Poet’s Gear Emporium such as a small Buff for Milo and some more bug spray. Hippie Chick had to step away for a few minutes allowing us to answer a few questions for some backpackers about stove fuel.

We even gave two southbound hikers a shake-down, helping them cut down more on their pack weight.

For dinner we walked down to the Lakeshore House again, but this time with Hawk, the yoyo hiker we had met near Stratton. We joked about him getting a triple crown made from roots and rocks since he was just over a hundred miles away from finishing the trail for the third time.

As the sun set over Hebron Lake, our rest day came to an end, far too soon.

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Day 8: Sabbath Day Shelter to The Hiker Hut

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We both woke up at 5:30 to H2No grabbing his backpack which sent Milo into a low belly growl. We had already been awake, but it gave us the motivation to start packing up. As always we twisted the valves of our sleeping pads open and listened to the air spew out. This, like clockwork, was followed by heavy sighs and scurrying to get everything packed to get back on trail. 

The morning hiking was easy compared to the mountains we had just faced and we ended up hiking ten miles in under four hours. Our speed increased after seeing that we were right on the tails of a couple moose. Also because today was a town day. Even Milo had a pep in his step. On some days we crave the mountains and want to keep hiking without stopping, but today’s town day was very welcomed. We had a box of food for us and Milo. Part of our Nashville pit crew, Jess and Jarrod had also sent our non-leaky tent to Rangeley. Plus town day means we were about to eat a ton of real food.

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We heard about an off the grid hostel just a quarter mile from the trail called The Hiker Hut. We hugged the shoulder of the road as logging trucks rolled by, walking swiftly up the highway.

Tucked off the road and out of sight, sat the most wonderful little huts circled around a fire pit, garden beds, a picnic table and grassy emptiness. A brook babbled on the outside edge of the property and a certain peace reached from tree to tree.

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A fit, white haired gentleman dressed in off-white pants and thermal top greeted us. Steve ran the Hiker Hut and has been who Garbelly has spoken with when we made the reservation. He invited us over to the picnic table and offered us complimentary Gatorade and chips and salsa. He filled up a bowl of water for Milo. A similarly aged woman popped her head out of a hut that read ‘Summa Ira’. She asked if we baked and then asked for Critter’s opinion on subbing out a 9 inch bundt pan for a 2 inch sheet. Not quite the same but better than nothing. She was baking a coffee cake, and that alone made our mouths water.

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Steve showed us the outdoor shower and allowed us to pick out which but we wanted to stay in. Aside from the bunkhouse, the biggest structure on the property there were 3 private huts. One four-walled hut sat next to the bunkhouse and another much smaller hut sat diagonally across the lawn from it. The third hut was tucked up the gravel road down a small trail ending at the stream. As we walked up to it, a sign read “to a poet n pilgrim and lovers n seekers”.

Instead of a fourth wall on the backside, facing the stream, curtains draped down from the frame. “This one,” Critter whispered. We put our packs and sat them down in the hut and started pulling out our dirty laundry and starting our shower rounds.

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The shower was located down a trail marked by a pink birdhouse. A privacy wall blocked off the shower but the rest was open up to the stream. You filled the water bucket up with water from the stream and the gas tank heated it as water rained down over you. The perfect shower for us would had taken residence back up in the dirt of trail.

After our showers, we loaded up in Steve’s minivan and just as we were about to leave H2No showed up and hoped in to head to town with us. Milo was allowed to stay so that he could keep napping in the sun.

Critter fixing a rip in her rain pants.

Critter fixing a rip in her rain pants.

We had about 3 hours to take care of our town chores so after we were dropped off we headed straight to the post office. There we picked up our boxes of resupply food and boxed up our tent to send back to Zpacks. Next we headed to Sarges for lunch and to charge our electronics. We joined H2No at the bar and ordered so food. The pub food was tasty while much more expensive than we anticipated. Critter ran over to the library to print a return form for our tent. The library was made out of river stones and absolutely beautiful and quaint on the inside. After we finished eating, we packed up our electronics and headed over to the Ecopelagicon.

We sat on the porch of the Ecopelagicon for a little bit before grabbing some ice cream and meeting back up with Steve. After a quick stop at the grocery store, we headed back to the Hiker Hut. When we got out of the car, it took a few calls for Milo to bring out to where we stood. His head poked out from behind our hut and when he saw us he came running up, tail wagging. Single barks escaped his excitement. He ran up to each one of us before sitting for a treat that I had picked up for him in town.

When we spoke to Mary, Steve’s sister, she said that he disappeared while we were gone only to be found laying on our things in the hut. He must have sniffed our smell out and stayed with it as to know we would return.

He was happy now that we were back. And we were happy to be back with him. He was especially happy when we met Chippy and Ratty Tail two of the resident chipmunks. Milo sat in amazement watching them run around the yard.

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Garbelly chopped wood, and Steve started a fire in the fire pit. H2No and Steve headed to town to watch the final game of the Stanley Cup, and we sat around the fire until it got dark. Then headed to bed. We laid in bed as the light from the oil lamp bounced on the ceiling. Milo slumped into a deep sleep, and his snores and the bubbling stream were the only sounds coming from our hut

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Bunkhouse at The Hiker Hut

Bunkhouse at The Hiker Hut


Day 5 & 6: Zero Day and East B Hill Rd to Below Old Blue’s Summit

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Mentally we were not ready for a zero day but physically we knew one would not hurt. We did not have huge miles coming into Andover but the quality of the miles made this zero day worth it. Milo needed it to. Even though physically he seemed ready to keep going, he seemed tuckered out after the Mahoosuc Range. We could tell because he was starting to get grumpy when other people were around. We woke up in the backyard of the Little Red Hen, and as much as we wanted to stay there for the day, with the delicious food and hiker area, we knew we would not be able to get anything done with all the bugs.

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We found the number for a hostel in town, The Cabin, that allowed dogs, and we gave them a call. Don, the son of the hostel owner, let us know that they had room and that he could come pick us up at 11. We took turns sitting inside of the Little Red Hen eating breakfast. When 11, rolled around Don showed up and let us load up in his minivan. From there we headed to the Cabin, where we ended up sitting around for the rest of the day. Around dinner time, Don offered to run into town to pick up some food for us. He also showed us around pointing out some photos of Earl Shaffer, the AT’s first thru-hiker, and various pieces of art made by previous hikers.

We went to sleep fairly early in the bunk room. Milo was snoring before we even got into bed.

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The next morning we ran by the post office and headed back to trail. Don dropped us off at the crossing of East B Hill Road. And up we climbed. Trail was soft with pine needles and only a few rocks. The sun coming through the canopy made small splatters of light on the forest floor, the empty space still hidden in the shadows cast down by the leaves. Our climb up Wyman Mountain was gradual. The air was hot and humid.

We stopped for lunch at Hall Mountain Lean-To before a steep slick downhill to a stream. Giant frogs would move on trail causing us to hesitate for a second before registering what and where it had moved.

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Our climb up Moody Mountain was long. The steepness took on many shapes, from large stone steps to rebar bolted into giant slabs of granite. It seemed as if we were just heading straight up, and when we had an occasional view of the valley below, it was confirmed that we were.

Once we reached the top, we were greeted with a 360 view of trees, and then we headed downhill, yet again. Another steep and slick climb down, slowing us down as we payed attention to each step. Each slipping and falling a couple of times but nothing injured just sped our heart rate up a bit. At the bottom of the climb, we were met by another stream where Milo swam and Garbelly filtered water. The black flies were so bad that we didn't sit still for long, and Critter finally caved in and grabbed fro the bug head net.

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Our climb up Old Blue was simpler, yet we were terrorized by bugs. We found a stealth site below the summit and set up our tent on a clear mossy patch. Rain was coming and we wanted to get settled in before it started. Tomorrow rain was predicted until the afternoon, but we were out here and there wasn't much we could do but keep hiking.

Our campsite was not completely flat but we made it work. Our morales were heightened over a tasty dinner of Forever Young Mac & Cheese and Lentils and Kale Pilaf with tortillas.

The bugs had died down, but the wind had picked up. We crawled into our tent, which was still expected to leak once it started raining.

And a very whimsical bird song sang us to sleep

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