Day 18: Entering the 100 Mile Wilderness

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We woke up early as usual and headed to the main house for breakfast. We walked to the back room and took a seat at an empty table by the windows. As hikers trickled in to eat, we met a hiker named “Over It,” who looked familiar. After he introduced himself, we realized he had come into Cumberland Transit and introduced himself early in the spring. Next to the table came Grizzly, Cold Chill and finally Hawk. We realized that besides Hawk, everyone seated at the table was from Tennessee. We talked about the last section of trail and a few remarks were aimed at us as we were about to head into the one hundred mile wilderness. We tried not to feel cocky or over confident, but the name did not invoke as much fear into us as it did most of the hikers staring it in the face. Most of our sections on the CDT were over one hundred miles. We each tried to imagine these sections with more roots, rocks and rain. It did not seem entirely fun, but we were excited to be heading out into it.

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After Breakfast, we rushed outside to throw our packs into the truck for the shuttle. There was a big group of hikers heading back to trail and we wanted to make sure we were among them. Once everyone loaded up, there ended up being two trucks full of hikers. For the most part, they were all heading south. We were the only ones headed into the 100 Mile Wilderness. As we rode up the winding roads to where trail crossed over, Poet addressed the hikers heading south. He reminded them that the big food carry was behind them. Heading into southern Maine they needed to treat each step like a couple overnight trips, trying carefully not the carry too much. The terrain was hard, but they were capable. His words spoke volumes yet were simple. The southbounders weary eyed from being thrown into the wilderness, most of them were in their first thru-hike, sat quietly in the back. For us, the words felt needed. It was both reassuring and our first reminder that we were thru-hiking and to take each day as it comes.

We all lined up and got a picture before heading to our perspective entrances of trail. Not too far down trail were we greeted by a wooden sign airing us caution on the terrain we were entering. Warning us of the 100 mile stretch. We took a picture of Milo by the sign and continued on. Rollercoaster climbs led us by Little Wilson Falls and through three different fords. As we climbed up on to a granite shelf, the first of the day’s popcorn thunderstorm appeared. We simply got out our umbrellas out not caring too much about the light rain.

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We walked for a couple hours over roller coaster trail, forded a couple streams and even passed waterfall. As we walked across a giant scree field, the sky opened up and began pouring again. We saw a sign marking trail magic 0.2 miles down an old Jeep rode. It was dinner time and we were already thinking about food so we figured why not. We walked up to an old hunting cabin sitting alone in the woods. Scout, Birdman and their big friendly dog, Chasky, welcomes us onto the porch. Birdman started up the grill and asked us what we would like. Hot dogs and hamburger for Garbelly and a heaping plate of grilled veggies and potatoes for Critter. Milo even got some snacks and treats in between playing with Chasky. After dinner, biscuits and strawberries and a large dollop of whip cream on top. Milo and Chasky were having a blast chasing each other around the property. Milo with a little bit more agility and Chasky with more weight to knock around. At one point Chasky walked up to Milo who was sitting at Critter’s side, and starting love biting on the fur around Milo’s neck. Soft little nips to show his affection for his new pal. Milo froze in bewilderment. He has never had this happen to him before. When Chasky finished he wandered off to lay down. We were so lucky- Scout and Birdman were leaving tomorrow to head back to town. Any other day and the cabin would have been empty and the grill cold. Fed and happy, we thanked them profusely and headed back to trail.

We made the climb up Barren, a steep slope with little trail as we followed mud and rocks straight up. We found the perfect tentsite on a flat earth spot just above the Barren Slide, a rocky clearing. Our view from camp was incredible.

We could still see the Bigelows behind us in the distance.

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With the slight chirp of frogs in Lake Onawa down below, everything else was quiet. The sun was setting in front of us. Purples and reds consumed the sky. There was very little human construction as far as our eyes could see. No lights in the distance except for the tail lights of a car winding through the trees. We were tucked away from the wind, but the evening air was still crisp and clean.

Here are a few more photos from the day!


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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 2: Gentian Pond to Full Goose Shelter

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The rain that started as we hopped into bed lasted well into the morning. The more it rained the more it began to seep through our tent. Drops of rain would hit the tent sending a drop of moisture flying onto our faces. We know that condensation collects inside this kind of tent but there was just too much water coming this time. Every time a drop would drop, Garbelly would turn his headlamp on and look around. While Milo did not seem to mind too much, the two of us were guaranteed a terrible night’s sleep.

Finally as it began to lighten up outside, we were both awake enough to start making plans on packing up. It was 5:45am, the rain sprinkling now. Our camp neighbors began to sing once again. We begrudgingly starting packing our things, everything was soaked. Our down sleeping bags felt like heavy sacks of cooked oatmeal. “Welcome to the Appalachian Trail,” we both exclaimed.

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It stopped raining as we climbed up, but the trees continued to drip on us. Pine branches weighed down by water brushed us like the mitters of an automatic car wash. As we reached the summit of Mt. Success a fog surrounded us. We threw our rain jackets on and started across the boggy granite trail. This barren mountain felt like another world.

We hiked down wet muddy trail. Taking care with each step. Right before we got to the Maine border, we hit small patches of snow along a mossy corridor. Beams of sunlight shot through the trees, the temperature felt 20 degrees colder here.

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From the border, we saw Tarzan one last time and wished him luck on the rest of his hiking! Critters foot slipped into an ankle deep big right when we took our border photo.

We began our climb up the three peaks of Goose Eye. We had steep uphills with ladders and low key rock climbing. Milo scooted right up. Jump from rock to rock, he loved getting to the top first and then looking down at us, tongue hanging out. Places where the rock faces became too steep to scramble up, the trail builders had placed rebar rungs into the rock. We helped Milo up a couple of the sections, but as he impatiently waited on us a third time, he leaped strait up a sheer rock face leaving our jaws hanging. He did not need us as much as we thought he did. Every now and then, when he knew the trail had more that he could chew off alone, he would wait on us to hoist him up or carry him down the many wooden ladders. 

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The climb down Goose Eye was a tough descent. Muddy trails made it even hairier. We used trees and roots to lower ourselves with a little more control. This section was extremely slow going due to the wet steep rock and demanded everything the rubber soles of our shoes had to offer. 

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We ended staying in the Full Goose Shelter when the sound of getting to camp early sounded better than the alternative. We looked over our maps to weigh our options. There would only be three trail miles to the next campsite. However, one of those miles was the Mahoosuc Notch. This is notoriously the “longest mile of the AT.” We decided to stay in the shelter and save up energy for the next day. We laid out our gear to dry on a platform while we made some dinner. We slept in the shelter which was inhabited by a single section hiker headed south.

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