Hit the Road, Slack.

Friday, September 5 – Saturday, September 13. Route 2, Gorham, NH – Caribou Valley Rd, Rangely, ME (Mile 1988.8 miles since Springer Mountain and only 196.5 miles to Katahdin)

It’s been a while since I was able to post and I’m now appreciating quite how remote Maine, indeed New Hampshire as well, can be.

We left the White Mountain Lodge and Hostel after a big breakfast and some regrets, as it was another one of those gems on the trail that always take you by surprise.

With the Whites behind us, we took some relief from the gentler incline at the start of the day, though gentler is merely a relative term and not to be interpreted as gentle in any way, as we were all sweating profusely within minutes. This was partly due to the incline and partly due to the warmth and humidity of the day. Of course, the higher we got, the cooler it became, so it was a terrific start and we covered over 6 miles before stopping for lunch. We had all over-shopped at Walmart the previous evening and went about reducing our increased load by consuming as much as possible.

I seem to have developed a somewhat unhealthy fixation for Snickers and Peanut Butter and will need to curb this rather disturbing habit in the near future if I’m not going to end up back at 250lbs by the end of the year.

Given our new group of 4, we’ve had to adjust the length of our potential mileage and had to settle for Gentian Pond Shelter, at just over 11 miles. We put up our tents on tenting platforms, which are wooden slats set level with the ground, thus obviating the need to find a flat spot on the ground. Very helpful to somebody like me, as I remain incapable, even after all this time, to find any level ground at all, often to be found in the morning tangled up with my pack in the bottom corner of the tent.

We left Gentian Pond just after 7am with 2 targets imminent. The first, the 1900 mile marker, was upon us within the first hour, yet the second was probably most significant as we moved into Maine, our 14th and last State. For months, I’ve refused to think too much about Katahdin, as it was so remote and in the future, yet here we are, in Maine. So I’ve allowed myself the luxury of imagining my picture at that iconic sign. It feels good to allow myself to add some reality to the fantasy.

I also notched up another fall, this one being the 36th time, catching my bent knee under my body. I’d been feeling particularly sore in my left knee just before I slipped and, rather amazingly, the knee felt relieved after, as if the fall had stretched whatever was ailing me. I’m aware that my falls are increasing with the difficulties we have encountered in New England and I’m really trying to be careful and avoid a bad fall that might jeopardize my hike.

Trillium had arranged for one if her partner’s relations, Geoff, to meet us at the end of a 2.5 mile side trail and take us back to his cabin in the woods. He was going to slackpack us through the Mahoosuc Notch the following day, which meant that we had the luxury of only taking a daypack and returning to his cabin that same evening.

Geoff has a rather chaotic, though cosy, home and he made us all feel very welcome, with Lighterknot and I on the floor while Trillium and Tee Bird took the sofas. While he doesn’t hike himself, he knew that hikers are generally ravenous, so went out to get some food at a local restaurant, returning with both a burger AND a meatloaf meal for Lighterknot and me.

The following morning, as Geoff drove us back to the side trail that would lead us back to the AT, clouds had formed over the mountains that looked like a comforter thrown over them. This augured well for the rest of the day, as there was a glorious blue sky everywhere else and we knew that the sun was steadily burning the comforter away.

The Mahoosuc Notch is a collection of huge rocks, making up a puzzle for hikers that is about a mile long. There are choices to be made as to whether to go over, go round, or even go under rocks as we threaded our way through this mile of mayhem. It was a lot of fun but took us nearly 3 hours as a team. Once we had negotiated that, there was an extensive climb up Mahoosuc Arm, so that, by lunchtime, we had only done just over 2 miles of the trail.

The sun had done its job and we were rewarded for our hard work, as so often in New England, by a glorious view at the top.

As the afternoon progressed, I fell twice more, for my 37th and 38th tumbles. The second was fairly uneventful and didn’t hurt too much, though the first was one of my worst falls.

I was pulling myself up a very steep, sheer rock face and had just left the comfort of a tree root that I’d been pulling myself up with to get to another one, when I felt my boots slip slightly on the rock. I thought I’d steadied myself and made the fatal error of relaxing for an instant, only to take off, like a giraffe wearing socks, sliding down, then falling about 15 to 20 feet, badly banging my hip as I fell. I always shout out the number of the fall as soon as I realize that I’m not bleeding and nothing is broken, yet this call was accompanied by a grimace as I felt the pain. There never seems much point in hanging around in these circumstances, so I got up and got on with it as usual. Happily, everything worked as before, though the hip hurt like blazes every other step.

The climb down after a few more gorgeous ups was 3.5 miles and seemingly endless. Eventually, we met Geoff just before 7pm and he took us for an excellent Chinese meal.

Geoff had to drop us off early at Grafton Notch the following morning, as he needed to get to work, so we loaded our surplus stuff into bags and left them to be collected by the folks at The Cabin, our next stay, in Andover.

Once more, with lighter packs, the hiking was easier and we made our way up the glorious Baldpate Mtns, East and West. This part of the trail took us above tree line, which I love, so the resulting video is pretty darn nice.

As you can tell, slackpacking had become something we were getting used to and we became aware that the majority of our fellow hikers were doing the same thing.

By now, Tee Bird had emerged as our booking agent and she had arranged for us to be met by Earl, or Bear, the proprietor of the Cabin. Bear and his wife, Honey, or Margie, have run the Cabin for 20 years and are 2 of the loveliest people on the trail. They are both in their 80’s and expect to be closing at the end of this season, as they are starting to feel their age. Hikers will certainly miss them.

The highlight of the stay is the dinner, which is served family style around a huge pine table, with Honey and Bear presiding at the top of the table, soaking up the stories and jokes of the hikers. The food is great and unlimited, with Bear pushing us all to eat more. It was a great evening for each of the 3 nights we stayed there, with friends old and new providing a changing cast of characters each night.

Breakfast is similarly unlimited and I had 8 pancakes the next day, along with eggs, sausage and home fries. Bloody marvelous!!

There was only room for 5 people in the cab of Bear’s truck the following morning, so I chose to sit in the open at the back of the truck. There were 4 garrulous women in the cab, plus Lighterknot so I preferred a quiet ride! The truck back fell open as we were going uphill, so I had to grab packs and poles to stop them falling out.

When Lighterknot got out, he was shaking his head and muttering, in his heavy southern drawl, “I should have sat in the back!”

The way the roads are configured limits the amount of miles we could do, so we had just another 10 Mike day that ended with a very tricky climb up near the end and a resulting perilous climb down Moody Mountain, with Bear meeting us at the end again.

The third slackpack out of Bear and Honey’s was a more respectable 13 miles, with Bear telling us that we would likely finish at 5pm. The old boy knows his stuff, as I emerged at Maine 17 at exactly 4.59pm, giving me a stupendous view from the small parking area.

That last evening at the Cabin, 2 of the Rocky Pizza Challenge participants, Hawkeye and Buchanan, showed up, the first time I had seen either of them since Tennessee.

We had made arrangements to move on to Rangely and stay with Shane and Stacey,at the Farmhouse. This has been another terrific stay, and we were able to continue our food fest by sampling the local restaurants for 3 days. Shane has slack packed is for 2 days this far and we are now down to less than 200 miles from Katahdin. Indeed, we’ve now worked out our likely finish date of 9/29.

One highlight of the past couple of days has been Saddleback Mtn, though it was clothed in clouds when we summited, so I took this video from its younger sibling, Saddleback Junior.

We’ll be moving to Stratton tomorrow and all the hikers now around us are eager for the 100 mile wilderness then the finish.

I told Diane of our expected finish date and she is looking for flights. It’s getting near and I hope you’ve been enjoying the journey with me. New Hampshire and Maine have been wonderful, while slackpacking has certainly saved my knees from too much punishment. However, we’ll be back to full packs shortly, so that should keep me interested till the end!

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8 thoughts on “Hit the Road, Slack.”

  1. Love reading these updates. You are such an inspiration to so many! Those of us on the sidelines will be grinning when you reach that famous summit.

    The Hattons

  2. loving the beard! – looking akin to ‘Seasick Steve’
    ever onwards old mate – less than 200 to go – a walk in the park!
    Gilbo

  3. Great stuff Steve – really enjoying the enthusiasm of the last few days. The closeness of the finish is starting to influence your tone of voice and falls are now passing as minor events , although they must be painful – I know what it’s like at our age !!

    Keep it up , it’ll soon be time for a well earned rest !

    Saw a few ‘old’ , and familiar faces the other day , who all send their regards – Graham Winckless, Dick Clark, John Milroy and a few others.
    I went to an Old Southendian Golf Society meeting – looks like I’ll be joining them next year for a few events.

    Speak soon no doubt,

    Steve G.

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