AT Blog #7: Ivy League / Wilderness / Karaoke

I’m in Monson, Maine. It’s famous on the Appalachian Trail for being the last stop before entering the 100 mile wilderness. There are no towns, food, or roads for 100 straight miles of trail. No civilization… So don’t get hurt or run out of food, because you will have a serious problem. The end of the 100 mile wilderness is Mt. Katahdin, the end of the Appalachian Trail… We only have 100 miles left…

But before getting too sentimental let’s get ya’ll caught up.

The White Mountains:

This mountain range is located in central New Hampshire and is known for being the most physically challenging, fun, and beautiful section of the trail. It is all that and then some.

In my opinion the toughest aspect of the entire trail experience is the mental aspect. The Appalachian Trail can get somewhat repetitive before The Whites and it’s the repetitiveness that makes it mentally tough. That all changes in The Whites… As soon as we hit Mt. Moosalake (the first mountain in The Whites) the trail turns into a physical challenge. We climb straight up for 7 miles to a massive 360 degree view above tree line. The hard work/big reward aspect of it is refreshing. Our legs are now primed for nearly any challenge as well.

The Presidential Range is a very special portion of the White Mountains. We climb Eisenhower, Webster, Clinton, Adams, Madison, and the big dog… Mt. Washington.

Mt. Washington is the highest point in all of New England. It towers above all at over 6,300 feet in elevation. The summit is well-known for being “the worst weather in the world.” It held the world record of fastest recorded wind speed for quite some time… 231 mph. We get lucky and summit in some of the nicest conditions you will ever see up there… 45 degrees with 45 mph winds and 0 visibility.

Now for the more comical and hopefully interesting stories from the long journey:

– We end up spending 5 days and 4 nights in Hanover, New Hampshire. Awesome town and home of the Ivy League school, Dartmouth College. The Phi Delt fraternity really takes care of us. The hook us up with couches, showers, food, and above all show us a great time… Especially on our last night there, which happens to be my birthday. Would have never guessed I would spend my trail birthday at a fraternity house in an Ivy League school… I knew college wasn’t really over with! Big thanks to all our Phi Delt boys.

– We stay at a hostel that consists of the owners renting you one of their numerous pop-up campers scattered across their front yard for the night. We also stay at another hostel that is made up of a train car situated in the owner’s back yard.

– I am climbing up Smarts Mountain when a thunderstorm rolls in. I run back down the trail, jumping from boulder to boulder, in order to get barely below the tree line. I set up my tent and assume the “lightning position” which consists of a cannonball type stance inside my tiny tent. There is nothing quite like camping on top of a mountain by yourself in a thunderstorm.

– We have an overly eccentric local of Glencliff, New Hampshire pick us up one day while hitching into town from the trail. We realize that he is obviously pounding beers while driving. He begins insisting that we take some and feeds them to us in the truck bed via the sliding rear window of his two seat pickup truck. He then informs us that we will be receiving an extensive tour of his tiny town… “Free of charge!” After the tour of Historic Glencliff is complete, he takes us to a different trail and tells us that we “just had to hike that one.” He refuses to take us back to the AT because of how “awesome” this other trail is. After he leaves and is convinced that we are taking his “awesome” trail, we have to hitch from there all the way back to the AT.

– “Small world” type situations, I feel, are particularly crazy out here. In Lincoln, New Hampshire, I meet a south-bounder that is good friends with a friend of mine from Florence. It’s wild when that conversation happens in the mountains of New Hampshire.

– One unlucky night, we have another vicious raccoon attack at our campsite. I wake up to something nibbling on the door of my tent to get to my food. I shout and it scurries off… apparently to Strider’s food bag… It tears it to shreds and eats all of it.

– The last story is bad but I don’t know if anything beats Heads Up story of waking up to a skunk inside his tent with him…

– We camp on the summit of Wildcat Mountain in The Whites. I witness what is probably the most epic sunset I will ever see in my life. I’m looking back at Mt. Washington, which has beams of pink light and clouds rolling over the top of it. However, we pay the price for camping on top of a mountain for the sunset view. We are exposed above tree line on a summit that yielded 45 mph winds. Not easy to sleep when your tent is constantly slapping you in the face.

– Making it to the border of Maine on the AT is an indescribable feeling. We have walked from Georgia to Maine and the final goal is now in sight. We are 280 miles from the finish line at Mt. Katahdin. The reality of those 280 quickly set in after arriving to “Mahusoc Notch” right after the border. Mahusoc Notch is known as “the toughest mile of the AT.” While traversing this canyon, I am forced to take off my pack multiple times in order to squeeze under/around boulders and then reach back through to pull my pack through the hole. There are also spots in which we have to throw our packs on top of the boulders then climb up them. It took about 3 hours to go 1 mile… But who am I kidding; it is the most fun mile of trail if you ask me.

– Some of the hostels in towns along the trail will allow you do “work for stay.” You do some chores around the place in order to earn your night stay rather than paying. We are in Andover, Maine and are in desperate need of some time out of bad weather so we opt for the “work for stay” option at this particular hostel. The owner wakes us up at sunrise the next day after our stay and gathers us up to brief us on what our work for stay would consist of… It was slaughtering 18 chickens. Wow… very intense experience. I won’t go into detail for your sake…

– We have a guy offer to take us in while we are in Rangeley, Maine. He says that we can tent in his backyard. This doesn’t sound terribly enticing considering we already have plans and a spot to camp in a park. But we figure that we can maybe talk him into letting us get a shower. We arrive at his house and pull up to a mansion on the lake. The view is so beautiful in the backyard that we want to camp outside anyways. He lets us use his lakeside hot tub and whips up some French toast for us in the morning. It turns out the guy and his sons are big into politics and have pictures with all the recent presidents. That includes a picture of Obama playing peek-a-boo with his granddaughter in the Oval Office.

– I have decided that I get hitches to and from the trail significantly quicker when I’m wearing my American flag shorts.

– The stars really align on Strider’s birthday. Two of his favorite things are golf and karaoke. We are in Stratton, Maine (population 321) and somehow they have a FREE golf course and it is karaoke night at their only bar… true trail magic. So the “Poundtown Open” golf tournament takes place and follows up with some karaoke. We discover that karaoke can be a very useful tool to drifters such as us… We all take turns singing our songs (mine being “Piano Man” of course) then proceed to make an announcement that we are desperately in need of a floor to sleep on… Worked out like a charm.

– We get a ride from a crazy, wildly dressed woman one day. She has kind of a hippie/Janis Joplin look to her, which is way out of the norm anywhere in Maine. She inquires if us “young strong men” would come do some work at her house. We have to politely decline because we are trying to make it to the grocery store before they close. I mention this interaction and interesting lady to a local while outside the grocery store. She said “Oh you guys met Jackie… our local transvestite.”

– Special thanks to Bagels, our new friend from Stratton, Maine. She takes all of us cliff jumping and camping at a lake with all the other locals. She also hooks me up with some awesome new shades. Thanks again Bagels.

– I spot my first moose and bald eagle in one evening while camping on a lakeside beach. Welcome to Maine.

– The Whites have these things called “huts.” In a nutshell, these huts are where New York City high rollers go to pay $85 a night to “rough it.” When Poundtown rolls by them we do our best to make an absolute spectacle out of ourselves. One day I roll up to one, the rest of my group is already there, and rip open my pearl snap shirt into the wind and strategically sit down to where everyone there can see the massive hole in the bottom of my shorts. On top of that, I begin introducing myself to all the “yuppies” in a thick redneck accent. You should have seen the noses turn up on these city slickers…

Well this is the final stretch, 100 miles of wilderness and the toughest mountain on the trail between me and the finish line. Wish me luck guys and thanks for all the support. I’ll do one more blog after the end to sum up what a long strange trip it’s been… See ya’ll soon.



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