Day 23: Katahdin and the Knife’s Edge

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Summit day had arrived. The Birches campsite lay quiet and still in the shadows of the dawn light. We were exhausted, nervous, energized and a little disoriented all wrapped up in the neat package of our regenerated trail selves. We were thru-hiking; we were thru-hikers. We stood at the bottom of a pinnacle of the Appalachian Trail, yet this was neither the beginning nor the end for us. However, it still felt surreal. This was a big day. We packed up our packs which had our gear and a days worth of snacks and water, so they were pretty light. And we did what we did every day, we started hiking.

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A fog sat heavy over trail, and we couldn't see the sky. We had heard weather was moving in during the day so we wanted to get up as quick and as early as we could to miss it. Trail led us through the campground where very little stirred. We were the only ones up and ready from the look of it. So we followed the white blazes into the corridor of conifers and rock. Trail didn't start to climb right away. We knew that the climbing would come. We had 4000 feet of climbing and as the mileage ticked down, we knew that the elevation would come. A bridge led us across Katahdin stream and then just like that we started climbing. Large boulders decorated trail. Tree line grew shorter and the trees began to be more worn down by the wind. Clouds still surrounded us but as the trail climbed up and up, we began to emerge. We emerged from the darkness; we emerged into the light. We emerged as the same; we emerged as different. We were above the clouds felling the euphoria pump through our veins. We put out poles away and took to the earth with our hands. In the distance, the rounded top of Owl Peak poked up from the milky white clouds. The sun was still cast behind the silhouette of Katahdin. We climbed and climbed pushing ourselves forward and pulling ourselves up. Trusting small foot holds with our weight and the rubber of our shoes. Following the white blazes up and up towards the top of Hunts Peak. This was the steepest part of the climb. We were practically rock climbing. Hand over hand.

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As the large boulders became a field of smaller boulders we climbed up and over to the Gateway. Trail followed the ridge line through the alpine. Thin rope and signs kept all

foot traffic to a narrow path. While it is hardy, the alpine is fragile. Enduring relentless exposure to the sun, wind and cold is an adaptable trait. Withstanding the scruff of boots, however, is not. One more push upwards and the sign came into view. The Sign. The sign that reads ‘Katahdin The Northern Terminus of The Appalachian Trail’. We have seen many friends stand on top of the wooden step celebrating success and strength. Today we would to the sign celebrating our own journey. The sun was out but clouds still stretched below as far as the eye could see. There were only a few day hikers up top. The wind was low. The sun warm. It was perfect. Our weather window was too good not to go down the Knife Edge. With the little service we had, we called Wild Bill to let him know that we would now be coming out at Roaring Brook Campground. And then it was time.

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As we dropped below Katahdin’s peak clouds rolled over covering the trail behind us. In front of us, our path was clear yet trail itself was camouflaged against the rocks. The bends in the ridge lay as organically as a piece of yard dropped on the ground. The sheerness of the cliffs on either side left the serpentine line snaking through the clouds. We followed the blue blazes up and down, a rollercoaster of rock. Cautious footing was food by maintaining momentum, which seems counterintuitive. We moved graciously, trusting our bodies to keep us up right and stable. We used our hands to propel us along. In some parts trail wound around rock and sometimes trail went up and over rocks. We heard a crack followed by a crash as rocks broke off and went tumbling down. We weren't in the line of danger but the sound made our hearts stop nonetheless. In the final part of the ridge before climbing up to Pamola Peak, we down climbed to a small saddle. The footing was tricky so we lowered ourselves carefully. We had the upper hand when we climbed up the other side. It's always a little easier climbing up rather than going down. This was the most technical part. We trusted our hands and our feet as we moved vertically on the rock.

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At the signs for Pamola, we headed down the Helon-Taylor trail towards Roaring Brook. Trail was rocky and steep the entire way. Pamola behind us disappeared behind heavy clouds. We stayed just in front, our eyes on the speck of blue. Our knees were burning and achy. It seemed like trail went on forever, yet we moved without stopping or slowing. Once the rocky trail became soft pine, we almost hit a run. We were so close to seeing Wild Bill. And the excitement hit us hard. When trail hit the bank of Roaring Brook, it made a hard right turn down level trail. We walked up to a campground and then a parking lot. And just like that our day in the mountains had come to an end. Our feet were sore from the rocks and our knees stiff. That's when we saw a small black car with a Wild Bill shaped shadow in the drivers seat. His hand waved out of the window. We jumped in and drove over to pick up Milo from Katahdin Kritters. He seemed well-rested and happy to be back with the pack. Next up, Portland, Maine. We caught up with Wild Bill during the four hour car ride. He had now been a part of all three hikes for Garbelly.

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Day 15: Pleasant Pond Mountain

We woke up pretty comfortably to catch the 7:00 AM breakfast at the Caratunk house. Bob and his German Shepard came out to let us know it was time to eat. Inside we were seated in the kitchen with Paul, a large cast iron stove and a plethora of antique signs and appliances. In the dining room, twelve others sat around marveling over the huge spread of food that Paul had fixed us. As we ate our eggs, potatoes, bacon and French toast, we talked to Paul about life running a hostel. Unlike some hostels, Paul fully refused any help from hikers or other guests staying there. We both asked him why this was the case. He told us he planned on living to be 100 years old and staying busy was key to this. He then let us know he had twenty years left. We were both astonished! He was at least fifteen years older than we would have guessed and moved around like most humans in their prime. 

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Garbelly quickly retorted, “What’s the key to being so healthy at eighty?” 

“Long distance hiking,” Paul exclaimed. 

“That’s good news for us,” Critter replied.

We talked to him more and found out that he did not even start long distance hiking until his early sixties. As he washed dishes we were now jabbing our forks into the French toast. Hikers from the main dining room came in and joined the conversation for a few minutes but then quickly packed up to return to trail. On the other hand, we took our time packing up and were not ready to hike out until around ten. Just as we were about to leave, Milo began barking at two hikers walking towards the house. As Garbelly looked up, he realized it was Rattles and Nomad! He met these two hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail back in 2015. He ran over and gave each of them a hug and we spent the next hour catching up. Knowing they were hungry after just making it to town, we told them we would head out and recommended Paul’s famous milkshakes and pulled pork sandwiches. We picked up our packs and began our walk down the road towards trail.

Rattles and Nomad were currently hiking the Continental Divide Trail, but made it to the San Juan mountains and ran into pretty impassable snow. Because of the high snow levels, they began thinking of ways to let it melt a little bit. This lead them back to the Appalachian Trail. Last year they attempted a fast pack of the trail and made it to the Maine border in around sixty five days. Unfortunately, Rattles got injured in the Mahoosuc mountains and they had to stop their journey in Andover. So the high snow forced them onto a plane to Maine and they caught us in Caratunk.

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We knew they were faster hikers and would catch us before the day was over. We quickly climbed the eight miles up to the summit of Pleasant Pond Mountain and took a forty five minute lunch. We packed our bags up and heard Milo let out a few excited barks at an oncoming southbounder. He then began running up trail south and let a few barks out at an oncoming northbounder. It was Rattles. 

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We then spent the rest of the day scrambling down the mountain, hopping creeks and climbing up towards the Moxie Bald Shelter. We now considered climbing Moxie Bald and camping at a different shelter on the other side of the mountain. However, a few minutes before getting to the shelter, the sky opened up and we quickly decided it was better to camp sooner. When we got to the shelter, we were greeted by three older men who appeared to be ready to get to sleep. We assumed we would be setting up our tents in the rain tonight.

“We can make room for all four of you if you want to sleep here tonight,” one of the men exclaimed as he packed his food into a roll-top stuff sack.

“Well we have a dog, so we do not mind setting up our tents,” Critter replied.

All three men let us know they did not have a problem with dogs and kindly began moving their things aside. Before we knew it, we were all friends laughing and telling stories in the shelter. The three men were retired teachers from Knoxville Tennessee and were about to finish up a section hike they had started almost thirty years ago. The men were comprised of Storm Buzzard, Cold Chill and Grizzly. We continued to tell stories as we are our dinner and then crawled into our sleeping bags as the air around us became darker.

A voice in the dark asked us, “do any of y’all snore?”

We all replied that we did not.

“Well we all do,” he said and they all laughed a bit. 

Rattles and Garbelly got out their earplugs and we went to sleep. 

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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 7: Old Blue to Sabbath Day Pond

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Waking up, we heard the gentle tapping of rain turn into heavy rapping on the roof of our dyneema mobile home. Garbelly looked down at his watch and hit the light button. The watch read “01:30.” The rain and heavy wind had started hours before the weather forecast had predicted. It initially was supposed to start around eight. There was a shelter exactly seven miles from our stealth camp. The original plan was to wake up at four and hammer out as many miles as we could to get to the shelter for lunch before the hardest part of the rain had started. This plan had obviously fallen apart now as we both lay awake to the jarring noise of each drop hitting our tent. This loud tap was instantly followed by a small spray of mist as the drop hit the fibers of our shelter and became divided so finely it had to have been just shy of molecular division. This mist and cold air along with the sounds of the storm made sleep tough. Garbelly laid awake on his pad until sunrise, but critter stayed tucked deep inside her down den. 

“Hey Critter let’s get going,” Garbelly whispered.

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It was now only six o’clock, but the rain had slowed to a sprinkle and it was the perfect chance to pack up our gear. After about thirty minutes, we were folding up our waterlogged tent as large drops continued to fall from the pine bows. We headed up Old Blue Mountain as the sprinkle returned to a downpour. We pulled out our umbrellas, but they had little effect due to the small new growth pines washing us from head to toe as we walked by them. 

Shortly after the summit, we ran into our first true SOBOs, Jon and Bottoms Up. He let us know that after the shelter, there was a huge dead bobcat laying by the trail. We assumed it was a lynx, but never ended up seeing it on trail. 

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After leaving these hikers, the rain picked up dramatically and we put our heads down and hiked harder. The trail consisted of long rotten boardwalks and more steep slick granite slides. Out of nowhere, we heard a dog scream twice.. Some hikers dog must be hurt. Or maybe it is a coyote. Then both of our hearts sank. Milo was nowhere in sight. He had been walking beside us the entire time and we had not seen him leave our side but yet he was gone. Garbelly threw down his umbrella and trekking pole and took off running through the mud somehow not falling in the process. Milo was two hundred feet back and had gotten his rain jacket caught on a broken pine tree and was stuck. Surprisingly he was absolutely calm and not afraid. His yip was not a cry of pain, it was a cry for one of us to help him out. We were slightly shaken from this and made Milo lead the way so we would not lose sight of him again.

We arrived to the Bemis Mountain Shelter for lunch and immediately got out of our wet clothes and attempted to hang them up to dry. We slowly ate our lunch due to the lack of dexterity in our cold fingers. Every task became harder, including those of Milo’s. Before we knew it, almost two hours had gone by and we knew we needed to head back into the rain.

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The descent from Bemis Mountain in the rain was easily one of the most difficult obstacles we have encountered so far. We both endured a couple hard falls and both cursed the trail. On a dry day it might even be fun, but today, the rock was dangerous. However, half way down, the rain turned to mist and then we saw the clouds raise higher in the sky. We were now left walking a river trail in the cold, but thankfully the rain had ceased. 

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At the bottom of the trail we saw something that raised our spirits high into the sky. Our first trail magic. It was a styrofoam cooler filled with kit kats and ginger ale.  We somehow instantly forgot how terrible the descent had been and now only focused on the five miles remaining to the Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to. Fortunately, they flew by. 

As we took the side trail up to the shelter, Milo let out a bark of excitement. There was another hiker at the shelter, a very friendly hiker named H2No. He was excited to see a dog as we were excited to be allowed to sleep in the shelter with Milo. We were happy to be distracted by good conversation as we cooked our dinner and set up everything in our backpacks to dry out in the shelter. 

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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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