Sunday, September 14 to Saturday, September 20 – Caribou Valley Rd, Rangely, ME to Maine 15, Monson, ME (Mile 2070.8 miles since Springer Mountain and only 114.5 miles to Katahdin)
We spent our third and last night at the Farmhouse and had another early morning, very cold, journey back to the trail. I really enjoyed our stay there and think they have a great place that will only get better over time. Stacey and Shane make you feel so welcome and Shane is sure to end up as mayor; he is a great bloke and knows everybody.
We were driven back via the Stratton Motel and dropped our excess baggage at the motel before heading back to the trail where we had left off the day before. On the way, we took a road known locally as Moose Alley, due to the frequent altercations that take place between moose and car. As some moose can get to 1200 lbs, these meetings can go either way.
Seeing a moose on the trail, as we had done previously, is quite a big deal, yet seeing one even on the road is a sight to behold. Suddenly, ahead of us, two magnificent beasts emerged from the woods and bolted straight across the road, one male, one female. Luckily, the car ahead managed to avoid them easily and we had a few seconds to watch open-mouthed as they lunged back into the forest. This stuff just doesn’t get old.
As usual, we started with a hefty climb, up from Caribou Valley Road, to South and North Crocker Mountains. This required a 2000 ft climb, some of which was over very exposed rocks in high winds and was a little perilous from time to time. However, once over the two peaks, there was a very comfortable downhill all the way back to the main road and a hitch into Stratton. We were lucky enough to run into a couple of previous thru-hikers who happily drove us all to the motel. Getting into a car and NOT seeing the driver reach for the window control as the odor hits him squarely in the face is a pleasant change.
I shot a pretty cool video that showed the effect of high winds on trees, with an alarming view of the way that the roots were being disturbed.
Lighterknot, Karate Kid and I quickly headed to the inn adjacent to the motel and filled up with more carbs before I crashed out on my bunk for a couple of hours. Wonderful.
The following day, with yet another slackpack “opportunity,” as Tee Bird refers to them, I had one of my best days on the trail. We were heading over The Bigelows, a nearly 17 mile day with 3 peaks over 3500 ft to cross and I enjoyed every second. The sun was out and, while it was chilly, our exertions allowed us to remain warm all day.
A little further on, with the wind now getting up, I shot another gorgeous 360 of these beautiful mountains.
The owner of the Stratton Motel, Sue, met us at East Flagstaff Road and we returned to the motel in perfect time for another Wolf Burger at the Wolf Inn. With so many calories burned during the day, this one hardly touched the sides on the way down.
By contrast to the day before, the following morning opened dark and brooding with rain expected and, ultimately, falling. We were back to our full packs and, even though it took a while to readjust to our normal burden, we all managed well and were able to put in another 16+ mile day.
The terrain wasn’t as spectacular as the day before, with far less climbs and, generally less exhausting hills.
We had been in motels/hostels for a while and I remarked how nice it was to be back in the woods.
We were camped at Pierce Pond Lean-to, all managing to get decent tent sites, notwithstanding the protruding roots all over the ground that are also proving to be problematic on the trail. When these roots get wet, from rain or even just overnight dew, they can be lethal.
The next day we had planned a relatively low mileage day, having camped just 3.7 miles short of the Kennebec River. This river is about 100 yards wide and the ATC provide a ferryman who paddles hikers across 2 at a time. We got there on yet another delicious day and only had to wait a few minutes for him to return. He is very knowledgeable and proceeded to tell us about the river and the ferry, clearly proud of his part in all of our epic journeys. It was a gorgeous morning that cried out for a video as we waited in the warm, quiet air.
Once across, we took our planned detour into Caratunk and the Post Office, where Tee Bird was picking up a restock package from her husband. Trillium had a package delivered by her partner to a local hotel, so we calked for a shuttle and were quickly picked up and whisked to a very pretty hotel, where we were able to restock (more Snickers and Peanut Butter for me).
Unfortunately, the hotel wasn’t able to provide much food, other than frozen pizza and burgers, so the owner kindly took us to a local brewery and pub. This was one of those build your own burger places and, despite a basic price of about $8, I ended up with a massive $20 superburger, which included lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, cheese, bacon and a fried egg, as well as another half pound patty. Karate Kid did the same. However, I followed mine by demolishing a huge brownie with cream and ice cream and washed it all down with two beers. I may be looking like a starving refugee right now, but I’m not going down without a fight!!
We persuaded the guy who ran the 12.00pm shuttle to delay it for “a few minutes,” eventually leaving for the trailhead at 1.15.
Amazingly, as we waddled up the trail, I ran into Bassman, the guy I hiked with many hundred miles before who had later helped me run around to get some errands done in CT. I didn’t have time to chat, as the team had already moved ahead, but it was great to see him, as he was about to start a section hike further south.
We hiked another 6 miles to get to the Pleasant Pond Lean-to and set up a little back in the woods, though one of the youngsters at the shelter bravely dived into the water to cool off. I guess we were all young and immortal once.
Leaving Pleasant Pond the following morning, we had a steady hike up Pleasant Pond Mtn, after which we were treated to a gentle descent over several miles that eventually moved back uphill over Moxie Bald Mtn, leading us ultimately to Moxie Bald Lean-to. It seems that, when naming their shelters, Maine lost all originality and simply named them after the nearest topographical feature.
This latter site was absolutely spectacular, as we were all able to tent close to, and in sight of, the magnificent pond.
The night was cold and I heard once more the haunting, plaintive cries of loons on and around the pond. This is such a distinctive call and is an unexpected (to me) bonus of Maine.
When I woke the next day, the sun was still below the horizon, so I set up my breakfast on the rocks right next to the water and was rewarded as the sun leapt dramatically and spectacularly into the new day. It was silent, with a beaver messing about in the water less than 20 ft from me. The others joined me and we soaked up the sun, somewhat reluctant to get on out way.
Our plan for Friday and Saturday was to complete the 18 mile journey into Morson, probably stealth camping about 4 miles short of Monson, completing the trip early Saturday morning. The hike, for the most part, was unremarkable, in that there were no mountains to scale and it was a generally gentle true walk in the woods, with just rocks and those darn roots to watch out for.
However, what made this day memorable was the fact that there were 2, fairly wide rivers to ford that required all of our attention. The first was the most fun, as the only way to do it was to wade across, removing boots and socks and rolling up our pant legs. With the water in Maine now devastatingly cold, this certainly had its moments.
Fortunately, nobody fell in and the second crossing was completed with boots on, incorporating rock hopping and eventually balancing on a fallen tree. Great stuff.
We didn’t need to stealth camp that night, as a new hostel/camp had opened only 3 miles from Monson, so we gave it a shot. A former thru hiker, Phil, has built a terrific little camp, with private and semi private cabins as well as flat tentsites in an area he has cut out in the woods. We went for the tentsites and he even lent us his truck to go for dinner into Monson. I predict that, if managed well, Phil’s place will prove to be a big hit with hikers next year.
With less than 4 miles to go on Saturday, we quickly got to the road where we were picked up by a shuttle from Shaw’s, Monson’s main hostel. Another artery-clogging breakfast at Pete’s Place was despatched and the day was spent showering and clothes washing for the upcoming 100 Mile Wilderness.
The owner of Pete’s Place even lent me her car to visit an outfitters 15 miles away to buy a groundsheet for my tent, as small holes have appeared in the tent floor and I was rather keen to avoid dampness in the tent in these last days. The generosity of complete strangers remains a wonder to me.
Along with an increasing number of fellow hikers, we will be doing the first 3 or 4 days in the wilderness with lighter packs and coming back to Shaw’s each night before pushing on to the end and summiting Katahdin on Monday 29th.
I’ll sadly be missing Diane’s birthday, but we are both now so excited to be on the last leg of this epic journey. I’ve really appreciated all the comments people have made on my blog and can assure you all that the encouragement that has given me has been immense. Thanks to everybody who has taken the time to write and to those of you who have joined the Last 2000 Mile Challenge; it’s still not too late!!