Love Hurts – 24 Aug

We had a good continental breakfast at Hostel on Maine (coffee, orange juice, all bran, toast/bagels with peanut butter and jam, and boiled eggs). As a treat there was also what I can best described as bread and butter pudding with loads of blueberries and cinnamon and maple syrup baked into the dish. Fit for a king.

We were walking by 8am. Today we put in more than 9 hours of walking, 11 hours on the road of which 2 was for stops and 9 walking. We haven’t done this long a day since before the Whites.

The Whites was always this challenge that people tried to scare NOBOs with…”wait untill you see the Whites”. And then we started hearing that the South of Maine is as tough or tougher than the Whites. And I think it is! But today was the day we signed off on this section of the trail. Theoretically, from tomorrow, things should be easier again, we are done with the big mountains (which might mean cell phone reception – and my ability to post the blog daily – may be dicey).

We had a pleasant day (mostly) – we were doing the Bigalows section, our ascend for the day was a respectable 1700m and there were a few beautiful peaks (though the mist prevented views from some of the peaks we did get an occasional break in the clouds allowing us to pull in our breaths seeing the wonderful lakes around us).

We got tripped up by Old Man’s Head and Little Bigalow as we didn’t worry about them too much – they were supposed to be nothing compared to the bigger peaks of today. Maybe because we did them late in the day or maybe because we were just not expecting them to be hard, we found them surprisingly tiring.

And then Trevor fell. I have to explain that everybody falls, I am sure some people fall more than others but with this terrain it is virtually impossible to not fall a few times. I tend to fall on slippery rocks. Trevor’s falls have almost always been caused my his foot getting hooked on a root (this area has a lot of rocks with only a thin layer of soil, the roots of the trees are therfore above ground and we walk on roots all the time).

I just heard a thump behind me – turned around and there he was, face in the ground and pinned down by his rucksack. I have not had children so I never learned the things mothers have to learn: how you can’t carry your children’s pain when they are sick, and how to cope with witnessing them being sore/sick/unwell. Because I haven’t learnt that it is terrible for me when Trevor falls, I feel like picking him up and cradling him in my arms and telling him we are going home NOW! But you know him, he isn’t one for sympathy so he just told me to get going again, so I walked on, crying from the shock of his fall and in thankfulness that nothing broke. I think there is a whole regiment of angels taking care of the hikers in Maine!

Because water is quite scarce on this section of the trail everybody (and Bigalows seems to be a popular destination for weekend hikers) targeted the same shelter for tonight. We couldn’t stealth camp as we needed to get to water. The shelter is so busy we struggled to get a tenting spot. Our neighbours are very close to us. Not ideal.

I hope I get signal sometime tomorrow to post this blog, photos will have to wait till later.

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Not Many of These Left – 23 Aug

Today we had only 12km to do to get to Hostel on Maine but we didn’t think of it as a Nero (or the better way I see to write it Near-0) as it included the two Crocker peaks, and according to Guthook (mobile mapping app) it was going to be “challenging”. We got going at 6am, and was pleasantly surprised that it was a breeze. There was a short part of the ascend that was a rock pile where you needed to watch your steps but the descends (which we struggle with more) off both peaks were easy.

We were out at the trail head by 11am. The scheduled pick-ups the hostel runs are 1pm and 4.30pm, so we tried our luck hitch hiking. That is the one part of this trip that I have not been successful with. Trevor says hitch hiking requires patience and that is not my strong point! After 15mins of sticking out a thumb with no success I thought what a waste of time. I could be relaxing at the hostel instead of standing next to the road. I wanted to call the hostel to ask for an unscheduled (paid for) shuttle but the signal was too weak. Luckily it was JUST strong enough to get a WhatsApp messages out so I messaged Mathilda who phoned them and arranged the pickup for us.

I said Hikers Hut is different to all other hostels and the same can be said (for different reasons) about the Hostel of Maine:

They cater not only to hikers, and have strict rules for hikers (which I totally accept) to make sure the establishment will still appeal to non-hikers. The strangest of the rules is that you are NOT allowed to wear your own clothes. Most hostels have “loaner clothes” that you are free to use while your clothes are being washed (as not all hikers have a set of town clothes as we do). But that you are not allowed to wear your own clothes is a first. They explained that what some hikers consider as reasonably clean clothes can be quite stinky to non-hikers. And therefor the blanket rule is that you wear their clothes. I am in a little peach skirt and t-shirt! Trevor is in a pair of shorts he wishes was his.

The inside of the hostel is more like a hotel than a hostel. We booked a private room and it is certainly more luxurious than the motels we have stayed in: its like a boutique hotel.

The hostel is outside a ski-resort with not much else around. We walked down to the convenience store (half a mile from hostel) to see what re-supply (over and above what is available at the hostel) we can get. While there we had a coffee (the convenience stores all have at least acceptable, if not great, coffee available) and a muffin each. I had the chocolate cheesecake muffin, it was basically chocolate cake baked in a muffin pan, with blobs of real cheesecake baked in the top part of the muffin. It was sooooo good!

There is a little Italian restaurant 200m from the hostel where we had dinner.

I wasnt expecting much but the food was out of this world. The prices were too but correlated with the quality. The only thing leaving a bad taste (our own fault for not checking the prices) is that they charged $12 a beer. In South Africa you will be hard pressed to find a main course in a good restaurant costing that much!!!!! When we asked whether that was correct the waitress said yes, it’s craft beer….We have been drinking craft beer along the way and the most expensive we had before was $8, with $6-$7 the norm….

We wont have many more Neros before we are done (probably just one but at most two). They are always fun, I will certainly miss them. They allowed us to see different parts of the States the way normal tourist would never do.

Tomorrow’s trail drop off will be at 7.30am. Feeling ready for it.

How many Man Hours – 22 Aug

Sometimes you get unexpected help on the AT. Rocks placed to form stairs. Iron hooks on rock faces to give your foot a place to steady itself against slipping down. The occasional ladder (wood or iron sports) against a rock face. Board walks over muddy sections.

It is often amusing where you get this assistance – there can be 30 slippery rock faces with nothing, then a mediocre one with a ladder. Or a crazily steep downhill with nothing, and then stone steps on a decent and modest slope. Or places where you go ankle deep in the mud, then a board walk where there is a tiny bit of mud. Not that we are not thankful for any assistance (but honestly, some of the board walks are so rotten they are a safety risk)!

Just clearing the vegetation to make the path the first time must have taken thousands and thousands of man hours. And building all these stone stairs and ladders the same. A lot of this work was done during the depression – it taught the participants a trade and created an income.

We walked past this plaque today (the current distance is 2192 miles, the increase largely brought about by switch backs):

Nowadays a lot of the maintenance is done by volunteers. Though there are also companies employing students to do work on the trail. I often wonder what the total man hours to build and maintain the trail comes to.

It seems as if I used up the energy I gathered (from resting and eating) in Rangeley. Yesterday I felt quite good. Today my energy levels weren’t great. We had a short day (as we wouldn’t have been able to do the full stretch over the Crockers as part of the day) but even walking for only 18km and 6 hours depleted my energy levels. It wasn’t even a particularly tough day, other than for a horrid descend. I really think going up mountains is much easier than coming down.

Tomorrow we have only 12km to do and then we are going to Hostel of Maine for rest of day and to stay overnight. We need food for next 3 days and this is apparently one of the very good hostels, so I am keen to stay there. At this stage I need a half day off every 3 days to keep me going! However, “only 12km” means nothing any more, distance and even asend/descend can be misleading: you can spend half an hour doing a tiny stretch just because the roots or the mud or the rocks are of such a nature that you can’t go faster. But really hope we can be done with the 12km by lunch time so we can have an afternoon to relax. Trevor has been sleeping since 6pm so I suppose he will be up and ready to go early tomorrow morning!

Look at the seat this tree formed:

We are flying back to SA on 24 September to arrive on 26th, before we depart we plan to spend a few days with my brother and his family (they are moving to the States on the 27th of August), a few days with my uncle&aunt&cousin in Florida and a few days being tourists in New York. I cannot believe this is moving towards the end. And I have mixed feelings about it…..

The Most Beautiful View – 21 Aug.

I wrote the blog but it didn’t save successfully!!! So round 2 is the abridged version!

Steve, the owner of Hikers Hut (and a very interesting, soft spoken, understated man who spends 6 months of the year at the Hut and 6 months in India) cooked us breakfast (fried eggs with melted cheese on unbuttered bread) before we set off at 6h30. We enjoyed the serenity of Hikers Hut, it more than makes up for not having electricity.

We had Saddleback, Saddleback Junior and the Horn to climb today. At the top of Saddleback we had the most amazing view. This photo is by no means intended to share the view with you (impossible) – it merely serves as a placeholder to remind me of the time I thought that THIS must be the most special moment of the walk. We had 360 degree views of mountains and lakes and not even seeing Everest from Gokyo Ri took my breath away the way this did.

We were (from an energy point of view) quite strong today. Trevor has an ankle which isn’t his best friend and I have an upper body muscle not giving me full cooperation when I want to pull myself up or lower myself down areas, but we both had more than enough energy to get today’s hiking done. We stopped a bit short on what we thought we would do to get our tent pitched and dinner cooked before the rain came. It doesn’t matter though as we need three days to get to our next stop regardless of what we did today. As in the Whites you are sometimes forced to have a short day to line yourself up for getting up and down a mountain without camping options in one day and that is our position with the Crockers on Friday.

Do you remember Slipnot? I wrote a blog months ago about how Slipnot saved the day – think it was the day I told Trevor going off trail for a soda at 9am is not the best use of our time. Well we saw him on top of Saddleback Junior today. He is heading South now, he flip-flops ( did the first half to Harpers Ferry NOBO then went to Katahdin and is doing the second half SOBO). He is looking so good – must have lost 25kg!

We are energized by getting ready for the final lap. We have 3 three-day targets left before the 100mile wilderness. And we already have our re-supply for the wilderness stretch. Because towns are small and what is available for re-supply limited (and expensive!) Mathilda (SA friend living in Erwin) has bought (from a shopping list provided by me) and mailed our supply for the wilderness section to our final stop before the 100 miles. After that there is only the one day climb of Mt Kathadin – illustrating that we are in the home run now!

I forgot to mention that we met n young guy yesterday who left SA when he was 7. He heard us talking and asked if we were South African – it is amazing how I font think we sound different to the average person in the States (some of them I can hardly understand) but clearly we do as we always get asked (within speaking only a short sentence) where we are from. Anyway this guy walks with a dog, a Maltese Poodle look but about 6 times the size (not a Poodle though), and I can’t believe how clean the blonde dog is, taking into account how we walk through mud constantly. In the beginning we saw so many people with dogs. Now we very seldom see dogs on the trail. I think it is just way too challenging to have a dog with you: there are sections I cannot imagine how you get dogs through!

Nero-ing in Rangeley – 20 Aug

Luckily we have never had 2 bad days in a row!

We had our Amazon ordered shoes delivered to Hikers Hut (hostel on the trail) near Rangeley. Originally we thought we would arrive late yesterday afternoon so planned to stay the night. When we saw South of Maine makes for slower walking we realised we would only arrive this morning, we decided to just pick up our shoes, pop into town for a bit of re-supply and then head on. My falls yesterday (and I didn’t mention but Trevor also had two falls yesterday and one this morning) and the fact that the next 3 days are going to be tough days, make us change the plans back to staying over. We are Nero-ing today (only walked 12km to Hikers Hut early this morning) and will tackle the next 3 days with (hopefully) revived spirits and legs.

The Hikers Hut is different to any hikers hostel we have been to. No electricity, no WiFi, no washing machine and tumble drier. What you get is an outdoor shower (with water scooped from river and heated by a donkey system) and little one man or two man hiker huts.

Trevor and I am in the FOR LOVERS AND POETS hut, on the river, a three walled hut and curtains if you want to be coy:

To get your devices charged they run you into Rangeley – a lovely little holiday town. Our battery banks are currently charging at the outfitters. We sat in a gazebo close to the lake passing time waiting for the ice cream shop to open:

Went for lunch at Sarge’s, owned by the family of the Sarge who built the snow mobile trail network in the 60’s (and at some stage in the past owned by actor Kurt Russel’s father). I had a Maine Lobster Roll – they don’t have airs and graces here: they take a lovely lobster and slap it on a hot dog bun and serve it up with fries. Make me wish for access to a kitchen, some butter and marscapone could have really done more justice to that lobster!

We opted to be fetched from town at 4. So we had time to pop in at the museum:

Then to a modern coffee shop where a customer heard me saying 5 words and immediately said: “you are South African” (she lived in Johannesburg for two years):

After the coffee (and salted caramel cheesecake I bought and resented having to share with Trevor) we went back to Sarge’s for a beer while waiting for our 4pm pick up. On the way back to Hikers Hut the shuttle will do a stop at the grocery store (these stretched out towns mean it is too far to walk there) and then we will spend a quiet evening by candle light in our romantic boudoir with the river view 😀😀😀:

Cried Three Times – 19 Aug

There are loads and loads of blue berry bushes around and we sometimes have to force ourselves to walk on as one can stand for hours picking these little berries by the handful. Here is Trevor ignoring the weight on his back while feasting away.

I zoomed in when I took this photo but the lake (yes it is not a river) is huge. There are the most beautiful lakes around.

Shortly after we started walking this morning we crossed paths with 6 older ladies on a week long hike. They were so admiring and encouraging of our thru-hike, and the one said to me “you look so strong”. As we walked on I cried. I felt everything but strong, I feel tired and weak. I get to a rock that I have to scramble up/down and I do that and when just after that there is another one and another one and another one I wonder how many more times my body will still obey me and do this. I am certainly no longer strong.

From the rain last night everything was extra muddy and slippery and though I tried to be deliberate with each step, during a long and steep climb downhill I slipped and fell down a smooth rock face. My guardian angels were on duty, I grazed my knee but nothing more serious than that to report.

About an hour later – on a much less hazardous strip of trail – I slipped on a small rock and ploughed down in a pool of mud. Same knee took a knock, cuts and bruises and some bleeding, and a previously injured rib got another thump which hurt a bit, but as with the earlier fall, no serious consequences. This time I cried though. I’m not sure why, maybe in frustration that nothing on this damn “hike” is easy, maybe because my knee hurt, maybe because there is no dignity left when you are lying in the mud…. At least the crying got me some sympathy from Trevor 😀.

Not too long after this we crossed a small road where somebody left 2 chairs, 2 benches and a cooler box with sodas and water and peanutbutter sandwiches and snacks. We sat down and ate a few things and had a soda and I got my composure back.

After this treat I felt much better. Walking all the way from Georgia to Maine is TOUGH, but magical, and people are so captivated by the magic of it that they participate by offering the weary hiker trail magic and some days (like for me today) the offering helps keeping the magic alive.

We walked up another 200m hill where the trail crosses a busy road. There is a bench where hikers can sit and view the lake (no place for cars to park so the bench is really for us) in my photo above. We sat on the bench for a while and when we got going a car stopped (in the road) and the driver opened his window and offered us some snacks.

We walked into the woods again and at a signpost there was a zip lock bag with (now only a few small pieces left) chocolate chip cookies in with this hand written note:

“Dear AT thru-hiker – I hope your hike has been wonderful and that you will have many memories from this experience. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed baking these cookies for you – Trail Angel.”

And that was when I cried again.

I now too want to see a Moose – 18 Aug

Our Hanover hostess Judy commented on my blog a few days ago, explaining why people are keen to see moose. They are apparently really wild and rare – once they weren’t that rare but a disease almost wiped them out. Many Americans have never seen one and everybody on the trail is hoping to come across one. They are – like our hippos – bottom feeders. Maine has many lakes so it is especially around the lakes that we are on the lookout for them. I am now also keen to see one!

The hostel we stayed at last night had nice coffee (most hostels have plain old fashioned perculator coffee and it actually beats most of these new fancy coffee machines) and Naomi, the woman who sat with the owner at the kitchen table (“office”) all day yesterday, arrived at 6am with freshly baked poppy seed muffins (and then sat down at the kitchen table again, think it is her daily routine). She is the muffin-angel and brings muffins every day so the hikers can have muffins with their coffee.

I think Geronimo (the Red Indian looking x-son in law) “owns” the hostel but the house belongs to the old woman and they probably split the revenue.

Today was boring hiking, we had 10km of relatively easy walking, then climbed up and down two mountains (ascended 1800m and ended up doing a 24km day – I think it is our longest daily distance since we started the Whites) but had no views and nothing interesting happening. We met a new group of people (Professor, Crouton, Point Break and Liberty) but frankly, the energy and cameradery has left the trail. Everybody now wants to get this done. Talk is no longer about everything under the son – talk is about whether to order a food drop for the 100mile wilderness, and how to avoid finishing on the weekend of Labour Day (when the park will be too busy).

I can start telling you about the 100mile wilderness: this is right at the end of the hike, just before you climb Mount Kathadin. The trail runs through 100 miles (160km) of “wilderness” – no towns or civilisation nearby. Seems as if hikers estimate it to take 5-7 days to walk that section. There is one road crossing where one can arrange (it is costly) to have food dropped, but as Trevor and I have walked with 6 days of food before we will just take our food for the period. On that stretch there will be no cell phone reception either. But hopefully there will be moose!

I hope I will have a more interesting day tomorrow so that I can have a more interesting blog for you to read 😀. It is strange how my mood changed. Yesterday I had a lovely hiking day but today it felt as if I was just plodding to get to the end. Less than 400km to go…. I cannot believe that we have walked more than 3 100km!

Maine IS Beautiful – 17 Aug

It rained during the night. And it rained this morning when we had to get up. We pulled our rucksacks into the tent and packed up, then got out to break up camp just as the rain stopped. The angels are smiling down on us!

We had a good day of walking – finished at 2pm as we were going into Andover. We did 17km and feel confident that if we were pushing on for 3 more hours we could have posted a respectable mileage for the day.

Maine is indeed beautiful, as everyone has told us. The forest is more wild than the forests we have seen before. The trail goes over sizable mountains and at the top you are not amongst the trees, you are in the open – if you catch the “in and out of clouds” right the views are spectacular. Unfortunately phone snap shots don’t do justice to the views.

There are some rock walking – see Trevor making his way up a 200m stretch of this:

The pick-up from the trail head was punctual, by the x-son in law of the woman owning the “lodge”. The “lodge” or hostel is uhm…… Picture the house of a 75 year old lower middle class woman in 1975. Now add a few modern day appliances (coffee maker, washing machine, tumble drier, Wifi, etc). Let the dust and dirt of the years settle in the places dirt normally collects. If you can picture that you understand where we are staying tonight – but good, honest people using their house to make a living from hikers so we are happy.

Some hostels are fantastic, others make for interesting stories. But all create memories we will treasure in years to come. The x-son in law looks Red Indian and this corner of the lounge definitely has the theme:

Walked to downtown for eating and shopping, what a lovely little town:

Had late lunch and coffee and a beer at The Little Red Hen – a delightful little restaurant. Here is Trevor trying to make his SA card work on the States systems.

Then did shopping (found everything I needed but more expensive than at Walmart), then back to Little Red Hen for home made ice cream. Then back to the Deli in the general dealer for a take away pizza as Trevor was STILL hungry (Or just wanted to compensate for being hungry on the trail) and then back to our hostel.

Thunder storms predicted for tonight but we will be dry in our out-of-the-70s house. Tomorrow we may be wet on the trail but what can you do…if we run away every time it rains we will never get this done!

Mahoosuc behind us – 16 Aug

When we were still in South Africa Trevor told me about Mahoosuc Notch – the slowest mile on the AT, a jumble of huge (car size) rocks you have to make your way through, sometimes over the boulders, sometimes underneath a pile of them forming a tunnel. The trail doesnt tell you where to go, blazes keep you on track but you have to find your own route.

It rained from 4h30 so we stayed in our sleeping bags till after 7 by which time the rain had stopped. We couldnt wait for the rocks to dry so we set off just before 8, praying that we would not get rain while doing the notch. The rain stayed away untill just after we finished the mile – it took as more than 2 hours! Trevor is critical of our slow pace because the young people do it in just more than an hour to hour and a half. He is tough on us – I dont think we should be compared to the youngsters as we dont have the balance, the knees and the strength of young muscles they have.

Because he has lost so much weight he keeps his pants up with his belt but with all the rock climbing required in the notch his rucksack moved around and pushed his belt out of position. Next thing there he was, balancing on a rock trying to figure out his next move, with his pants around his ankles. The going was too tough for me to laugh at that point but later in the day, relaxing on a peak, I had a good laugh. Pity he refuses to re-enact the pose for me to take a photo, a photo of those skinny legs in nothing but a pair of underpants can win competitions!

Next up (immediately after Mahoosuc Notch) was Mahoosuc Arm. We read that it was the steepest and toughest climb on the AT but really, tough as it was it was no tougher than climbs we did yesterday and the day before.

At the top of Old Speck mountain (our first 4000 footer in Maine) we had a view for a few minutes before everything got covered in clouds again. I think you can almost see the clouds move in and understand the term “In and out of clouds”, which is commonly used (together with “clear” or “cloudy”) to describe peak weather:

The terrain is tough, we are doing lower mileage than we hoped for. But we want to increase our work rate as much as we can: we now want to get to the end of this.

Trevor was keen to get to the end of his second last map (the mobile app he uses has 9 maps) and from tomorrow we will be on the 9th map. He set our target for tonight at the first camping spot on the 9th map. I only focussed on getting to the end of the 8th map, silently thinking that it is at a trail head with a parking lot and that there is bound to be a stelth camping spot around the area, and that I will twist his arm to not climb up another 4km to the camp.

As it was we only arrived at the parking lot at 5pm. The area is serviced by the State Park, there are picnic tables, trash cans and toilets. And very clear “No Camping” signs. While we were resting an empoloyee came to empty the trash cans and money box (visitors who hike on the local trails are charged $4 per person and they just dump it in a locked money box) and chatted to us for a while. When he left he smiled and said that though camping is not allowed they turn a blind eye to thru-hikers camping at the stelth spots just 100 yards to the east of that footpath over there 😀.

This fitted in perfectly with my plan and was so kind of him. We cooked and had our dinner at a picnic table, I emptied all our trash in their trash cans and we are having a relaxed evening in the no-camoing area waiting for our legs to repair.

Tomorrow we are going into Andover for re-supply: I messed up our shopping a bit: we have 4 more dinners and 3 more breakfasts but only lunch and snacks for 1 more day. Also sounds as if Andover is a cute little time so keen to see it.

Maine – The Promised Land – 15 Aug

We are in Maine – the last of the 14 states the trail runs through. I switched on my phone at the border sign to take a picture, only to get a message from a friend that her mom passed away this morning. I had tears streaming down my cheeks, I was crying for my friend, and I was crying with the emotion of me and Trevor entering the AT’s version of the promised land.

When anybody ask where are you heading to, NOBOs always say to Maine, indicating they are doing the full hike. Of course where we are actually heading to is Mt Kathadin – but hikers don’t use the name lightly. If now asked where we are heading to we can’t say Maine anymore (as we are here!) so we will have to say “hopefully Mt Kathadin”

I enjoyed most of today’s hiking though it was tough – we were warned that the South of Maine is as tough as the Whites and unfortunately it seems as if it might be true. I just don’t know how long the trail is in “southern Maine”.

We had good weather and could see all the peaks of the Whites from the Mahoosuc range we are on now. Unfortunately this good weather is not long lasting, showers predicted for tonight and tomorrow morning.

There are many trails criss-crossing the mountain tops. They sometimes follow the AT partly but come up from parking lots, making for shorter routes. On the top of one of the mountains we found this family of Orthodox Jews, having a rest, eating some snacks and doing some reading.

Technology has changed life. Here is Trevor on top of a mountain where he had one bar cell signal, ordering our final pairs of shoes for the trip (to be delivered to a hostel we will stay at next week).

We are tenting at the start of the Mahoosuc rock scramble puzzle so tomorrow that will be our first challenge for the day.