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. 


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.


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. 


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. 


Day 9: Saddleback Mountain to Popular Ridge Lean To

Falling asleep and waking up here felt like a dream. Before our eyes could even open, as darkness still lay awake in our minds, pure tranquility kept us still. The blanket we slept under was heavy, yet comforting on our worn out bodies. No other sounds broke the steadiness of the stream. Our eyes fluttered awake, bringing to our attention the sun, whose light slowly seeped in through the lace curtains. Our little hut, just big enough for a full sized bed, two wooden chairs and a small bed side table on which sat a oil lamp, was perfect but hard to leave.

We started packing up our things, and we straightened and cleaned up the space preparing it for the next lucky hikers. We walked away from the hut by the river, looking one last time at the sign that hung on the front, “to the poets n’ pilgrims and lovers n’ seekers...” Sometimes when you leave a place on trail, there is a feeling that you will be back at some point. We both had this feeling.

Steve made Garbelly a fried egg and cheese sandwich and had tea and coffee laid out as well as his sister’s delicious coffee cake. Critter was allowed to make her own sandwich, being the picky one and all. And together the three of us just sat watching Milo get in a little bit more sleep before heading out.


While on trail impressions are often short and sweet, but also there are a handful that pack such an impactful punch of generosity and kindness that it makes our hearts beat. Our brief time with Steve was not dull or lifeless, even though we heard briefly about his story. Spending the summer here at the Hiker Hut taking care of hikers is followed by him spending the second half of the year in India fully immersing himself in their communities. Money for the Hiker Hut goes to these communities in India. And while he has only been running the hut for 8 years he has been going to India for 23 years. He treats every visitor to the hut as if they are cold, tired and hungry. He doesn't ask a lot of questions and he doesn't expect a lot outside of respect and kindness.

As a parting gift he offered us a necklace with the AT logo on it, that his friends make in India. In a way this gift felt needed. We haven't quite felt like we belong on trail yet, but now with a token of the trail in hand, we carried the trail with us. Thank you Steve for the most appropriate and important gift.

If everything he had done for us wasn't enough, he also took us to trail so we didn't have to walk the highway with Milo.


The hike from highway was nice and well graded. We stopped at a pond, which is more like a lake. And Garbelly and Milo got into a tin boat and paddled around. Rain was moving in. We could feel it in the wind. We started to pick up our pace. As soon as we left tree line, it started to rain sideways and the cold wind picked up. Hail was pelting our faces. We moved as quickly as we could over the top. Clouds were moving in and reduced the mountains around us to shadows against the pale gray sky.

We descended and the climbed back up the Horn. More fog set in illuminating the white blazes in front us. Leading us cairn to cairn. Climbing down the Horn was slippery and dangerous because of the wet rock. We took our time but tried to move efficiently. We stopped for a quick break in between two peaks on a saddle sheltered from the wind and rain by thick trees. A blueberry picking trail. That sounded nice and sunny. A stark contrast to now.

Next up was Saddleback Junior. Climbing down This final peak was the worst of them yet. Wet rock and eroded trail led to very slow moving. The rain had picked up, and the temperature was dropping. Our rain gear began to soak through and the wind pierced our skin. Critters rain pants completely ripped once again, regardless of taping them in town. We were cold, dangerously cold. We passed by H2No and told him we would save him a dry spot in the shelter.

We made it to shelter just in time for the rain to pick up even more. Sitting and staring at the rain we sat numb for a few minutes, longer than we thought, before taking off our wet clothes and hanging them up to dry. We had made it to the shelter by 4pm, too early to stop on any other day, but tonight this was where we would stay. Out of the rain and cold. This shelter was the last place Inchworm, a thru-hiker from Tennessee, had been seen before going missing in 2013. An In Memoriam photo of her in a bright red fleece with a giant smile that wrinkled the corner her eyes, hung in the shelter. The photo had been taken right outside this shelter.

We set up our spot by the time H2No showed up. He did the same by shedding his wet layers and crawling into his sleeping bag.

Milo seemed chilled so we had him all wrapped up in our sleeping bags and jackets. And he was fast asleep.

For the rest of the night, we shared stories with each other as the rain fell on the tin roof. H2No is a great storyteller, sharing stories from his childhood, Hurricane Irma and his beloved and feisty mother.

Our voices slowed to a whisper and we wished each other a good nights sleep. The rain had stopped but the wind shook the water off the trees all night long


Day 7: Old Blue to Sabbath Day Pond


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.


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. 


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.


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. 


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. 


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Day 2: Gentian Pond to Full Goose Shelter


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.


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.


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. 


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. 


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.