Day 110 – 19th July (Posted on Tuesday 22nd July)

posted in: Rich's Diary Entries | 0

Started at stealth camp spot by Eddy pond – mile 1968.5 Finished at camp spot by South Branch Carrabassett river – mile 1988.7
20.2 miles covered.
Total days hiked 108
18.41 Av miles / days

Last night I was woken up by something mooching around my tent. It sounded big and I could feel it walking about as the ground was thudding. Startled I sat bolt upright and said ‘I can hear you out there’ Suddenly it bolted making a hell of a noise as it went. I sat there for a while listening and eventually decided that the only thing I could do was fall back to sleep. I really needed a piss but on this occasion I thought it best to hold off. Sometimes not knowing is best. Thankfully that was the only interruption.

I had one heck of a day today. I climbed 5 peaks.
It started off with Saddleback mountain. A long climb from 2654 to 4120ft. There were several false summits and just when you thought it was over you would find there was another climb. I met a SOBO girl on the way up saddleback. She shouted ‘north bounder’ as I approached and I responded ‘south bounder’ I said that I thought that Maine was like a giant adventure playground what with its rugged terrain and all the ladders, rails, steps and board walks. She laughed and said that she was gonna use that phrase.

When I finally got to the top I found Buffalo and his crew. Once again they had cowboy camped on top of a mountain. They said it was awesome and they had a great view of the Milky Way as well as a cracking sunrise. They also said it was bloody freezing and the morning dew made their sleeping bags damp. Bootburner and his mate Thirsty slept just under cotton sheets and spent the whole night shivering. Man, I was cold enough at Eddy pond 500 ft below. These guys should be named the trail cowboys as their gear is basic and pretty much from the start they have been sleeping out like this.

After descending Saddleback the next climb was The Horn. Followed by Saddleback Junior. The elevation profile in my guidebook looked like a doctor had administered a shot of adrenaline to it. I stopped for a break at Poplar Ridge shelter. I have been very careful to make sure I sterilise my hands before eating as these shelters have been identified as potential noro hotspots. Generally I try and avoid them. Whilst I was at the shelter I quizzed a SOBO hiker. Asking him about the terrain in the remaining 200 miles of Maine. As of today I have 13 days left and at that point I had 209.7 miles left. I wanted to make sure that my finish date was realistic as I want to summit Mt Katahdin (the northern terminus of the AT) on the 1st August. He thought that I should be ok and there are some flatter sections coming up where if needed I can smash out the miles.

I hiked on and made it to Orbeton stream just before the climb up Lone Mountain. It said in the guide that I would need to ford this river, but I managed to rock hop. I stopped for another food break and had lunch. I have been eating a load today mainly due to the fact that I wanted to shed some weight from my pack. I had bought a few luxury items including an apple and banana. The fruit had to be eaten quick as it weighs a tonne. If you get the opportunity I highly recommend trying the dark chocolate nature valley granola bars with a healthy dollop of Nutella. Delicious.

Lone Mountain wasn’t as bad as expected and after a stiff climb up from the river it levelled off for a while. I did hit the wall towards the top after an hour or so and stopped again and had an energy gel. When I reached the summit there was a sign and I whooped out loud in joy.

Several things have been bugging me of late. My neoprene knee supports either slip down my legs when I get hot or randomly pop open when the Velcro is tested. I really should have invested more time researching these as I did every other item of my itinerary and I shouldn’t have been such a cheap arse buying them from the bay.
There have been more fallen trees across the trail in Maine. You have to kinda limbo underneath. With a heavy pack on this puts a lot of stain on my knees. I have found the best way to deal with this is to crawl underneath.

Without question the bugs are getting me down. I was chased by the same black fly for about 3 miles yesterday. They are anything if not persistent. When I hit that threshold of wanting to scream as another Mosquito buzzes around my ears I am forced to don the bug mesh. This works and I am safe from attack, it just makes the uphills harder as I overheat. The mesh works great and the little biters relent when I have it on. However they have an uncanny knack of reappearing the second I take it off.

I have been taking my revenge by swatting or swiping as many of them as possible. It’s great watching them spin out of control like a WW2 Spitfire that’s just been hit. I can imagine the squitos saying ‘Mayday, mayday. Come in base. We have lost an engine. Going down’

Some clips on my pack have been digging into my back which is most uncomfortable. This is easy to sort by tucking the clips in, but somehow they work their way loose as I hike.

I always roll the arms of my t-shirt up when I get hot, tucking them between the shoulder straps of my pack and my shoulder. This never lasts long and requires readjustment.

Apart from these complaints I have had a simply wonderful day.
Rant over…..

Just before reaching Spaulding Mountain Lean-to I saw my first moose. It was huge, as big as a horse and dark brown or black in colour and it had a rack (antlers). As it saw me it took off and I could hear and feel in my chest the ground thudding as it ran off into the forest. I think this was definitely the noise I had heard last night. The place I camped last night looked very moosey. It was by a lake and the land that surrounded it was marshy. Case closed.

My watch has proved very useful today. Because of the rugged terrain, roots and steep uphills and descents it has been hard to judge my pace. It varies from 2.5 to 1 mph. Using the altimeter function on my suunto means that I can tell the elevation of my position. The AWOL guide book provides the elevation of all the different waypoints, so I can pretty much accurately tell exactly where I am.
My toes decided to alternate in providing me with some discomfort today. Although they are constantly numb, I can still feel them aching or rubbing. The only thing to do is to take your shoes and socks off for a while. This allows them to breath and seemed to do the trick.

I arrived at Spaulding shelter at 17:15. Although I had done 15 miles, it was too early to stop. The next camp spot highlighted in the guide was 5 miles away and involved a 900ft elevation gain over less than a mile straight off the cuff. I powered up with a hearty snack and hit it. For the first time in days or even weeks, even I felt strong again. I made mincemeat out of the climb and in about 2 hours I covered the 5 miles. Meaning that I managed to smash a 20 mile day in Maine. The final descent down to the river was pretty brutal on my knees. Buffalo and Bootburner are also staying at this camp spot tonight and were also feeling it.

Although this is only approximate. I have calculated that based on taking 1 step / second, on an average day of 10 hours I am doing about 36000 steps / day. Hence my knees hurt.

I spent a sociable hour sitting round the fire with the others. Eating my Mountain house Chilli mac. Bootburner and Thirsty were demonstrating some good bushcraft skills by heating rocks in the fire to act as hot water bottles. They had also rigged up their tarp behind them to reflect any heat from the fire back onto them. They told a story about a hitch into Rangeley yesterday. Some old guy had picked them up in his pick up which had no door at the back. He said for them to jump in the back and hang on. Apparently he was driving at about 70 and the guys and their rucksacks were hanging on for dear life.

Another guy who was hiking with the cowboys called Moose had headed on further tonight to try and catch up with some people he had been hiking with. Or in trail terms the rest of the herd. The word on the street is that they are a group of girls and the term pink blazing has been mentioned. Need I say more.

Day 109 – 18th July (Posted on Tuesday 22nd July)

posted in: Rich's Diary Entries | 0

Started at stealth camp spot after Moxie pond – approx mile 1953.6 Finished at a superb stealth camp spot by Eddy pond – mile 1968.5
14.9 miles covered.
Total days hiked 107
18.4 Av miles / days

I took drastic action this morning. Apart from the normal routine application of Bengay (deep heat) and multi vitamins, I added a couple of Ibuprofen and some blue Energizer pills. Call me Lance Armstrong, but the caffeine they contain really worked. My knee also stopped hurting until the ibuprofen wore off. The first 11 miles went really well. The terrain was more forgiving than previous days. There were still climbs, but they were thankfully short. The trail was an entangled mess of roots and mud though which made it time consuming.

I stopped off at Sabbath Day Pond Lean to and on approaching it I heard water lapping against the banks of a huge lake that was adjacent to the shelter. I went down to the shore and closed my eyes and listened to the water lapping whilst the sun shone against my face. I should mention that Maine is home to a large number of glacial ponds and lakes. All quite idillic with Lilly pads and islands and rocks emerging from the depths in some.

There were a couple of section hikers at the shelter and I bid them good morning. They mentioned that XC had been there and was asking after me. I also passed another hiker who echoed this. He had lived in the states since he was 15, but was originally from Ireland. He had a really mixed up accent. On leaving the shelter I noticed the letters XC written in the mud. Although it is nice XC is interested in finding my whereabouts and I’m sure we will eventually meet up, but for the time being I am enjoying being a trail ghost. It’s really a game of needle in a haystack out here.

The couple who had been at the shelter soon caught up and informed me that it was there last day on the trail. Bitter sweet I replied. They seemed nice enough. Although having people hiking at the same pace as you who you don’t really know felt like a bit of an invasion of my space on the trail. And the girl kept sniffing like she had a cold. I was enjoying the morning radio of the sounds of the woods. After checking my watch and finding that 2 hours had elapsed since I set off, I pulled in for a pit stop and let them overtake.

I decided on a tactical swerve on upon reaching ME4 – a main road leading to Rangeley I decided to chance my luck at hitching. Within 10 seconds I had a ride. The guy who stop was called Paul and used to be a rafting instructor. After 5 years of white water rafting taking groups out, he had swapped this for a bar job. He said that now he has the freedom to do whatever he wants during the day. Sweet deal. Funnily enough his girlfriend lives right above the post office where my final food package is being sent.

Whilst in Rangeley I spotted James and Lyndsey having an ice cream. I walked over to say hello and that it was funny how we always keep bumping into one another. I headed to an outfitters to get some Mountain house meals as rice sides and ramen just ain’t cutting it. I then ate a freshly made burger at a place called Parkside. The food was delicious but the waitress was an idiot. She kept asking about my hike, but didn’t know anything about the AT. Everyone in these kind of trail towns knows about the AT. That is all except her it seems.

The people from Maine are affectionately called Mainiacs. I saw a lot of guys with handle bar moustaches and the women out here looked tougher than most men back home. I even saw a couple of dudes driving through town on quad bikes. Before leaving town I stopped for an ice cream where I had met J&L. I went for a soft ice cream that was vanilla with a chocolate streak running through it. I ate it sitting on a stool right out front. I had ice cream in my stash after every mouthful, but I didn’t care. It is pointless wiping ones stash until you have finished eating ice cream. The place was busy, but I didn’t care what the other people thought. Finally I headed to IGA. A grocery store where I could resupply on snacks.

Here are some of the goodies I picked up as a part of a calorie controlled diet. I already had the basics and these were just blustering my luxury item supply.
Fresh jar of Nutella – essential
Dark choc nature valley granola bars
6 pack of Hersey bars
2 packs Chocolate raisins
3 pack Skittles
Teriyaki beef jerky
Apple and a banana
Boasters fruit and veg smoothy (contains anything from broccoli to kiwi fruit).

I was just packing all my new goodies into my pack and getting rid of any excess packaging as per usual. When an old guy wearing pj bottoms and teeth that looked like they had opened many bottles, looked at my knee supports and said that I would also need elbow supports if I’m gonna be a wrestler. I laughed as he walked off with a rye smile on his face.

Hitching back to the trail was not quite as easy. After 10 minutes of baking in the sun an old guy in a beat up car with body filer holding it together stopped. There was rubbish and fast food packaging all over the foot well of the passenger side. I jumped in. He reminded me of an 80′s American actor and had that loud mouth American laugh like Jack Nicolson. He didn’t have a clue where the trail was so I had to keep my eyes peeled. I maintained conversation, but every time he talked to me he would turn his attention away from the road and look in my direction. After 15 minutes we found the trail head and I was back in business.

My pack had increased in weight by what seemed to be about 100 lbs. No seriously it must be at least 35-40lbs. The extra weight put pressure on my already sore knee. I soon got used to it again though and the climb up to Saddleback Mountain was relatively gradual. A couple of day hikers passed me and I enquired about stealth camp spots at the summit. The guy said there were some by a pond a mile or so further on, but nothing up top.

I arrived at the pond which was more like a lake. There was not enough time to get over Saddleback before dark so I pulled in. There was already another tent there. I had a good look around and found a little overgrown path which lead to a really nice secluded spot. The ground is littered by pine needles and is cushioned and I am away from any traffic on the trail. Once again it feels like there is no one else around and all I can hear is the wind in the trees and the wildlife.

The guy in the tent did come over for a chat. His name was Bryce and he told me that he had hiked in the UK before. He said he had done the Coast to Coast trail and the Pembrokeshire Coast trail. Both of which I will look at doing on my return. After we had collected water I said goodnight and then headed back to base and to the ponds / lakes edge to wash. There were loads of rocks jutting out of the water. I put one of them to good use as a seat whilst I cleaned the 2 day old caked mud off of my legs and feet. The water was warm and Lilly’s grew around the rocks I sat on.
It was all rather pleasant.

Day 108 – 17th July (Posted on Tuesday 22nd July)

posted in: Rich's Diary Entries | 0

Started at Sawyer Brook campsite – mile 1935.9 Finished at stealth camp spot after Moxie pond – approx mile 1953.6
17.7 miles covered.
Total days hiked 106
18.43 Av miles / days

Gonna keep this short tonight. My body is going into shutdown and I am completely exhausted.
I woke and checked my watch which I have been using as an alarm. It read 12.03pm. It didn’t feel like lunchtime. It felt more like dawn. So I wearily turned on my phone to find I was correct. It read 0540. The battery on my watch read a warning and I figured that the alarm must have drained the battery and reset it. Either way I was up early and glad I hadn’t squandered a day’s hiking.

From Sawyer Brook there was a steep climb to Moody mountain. I had put on a fresh pair of socks and realised that I had a river crossing before starting the climb. Great. Wet socks from the off!
After over 100 days on the trail I have finally got round to fixing my trekking poles so that the clamps that set the height of the poles no longer allow the poles to slip throughout the day. This was most annoying and involved me readjusting the height regularly. I also think I have solved the problem where my sleeping bag gets wet from pushing the mesh against the fly of my tent. Last night I stuffed my pack rain cover and a bin bag between the mesh and the fly. Therefore the mesh can’t touch the fly. Job done, or at least I hope.

It was chilly to start and I started out by wearing my gloves, hat and waterproof hardshell. That didn’t last long and soon I was up to temperature climbing. After a challenging descent I was back to square one and had another climb up Old Blue Mountain. The guys that route the trail must hate hikers as they like to make our life’s as difficult as they possibly can. Just before starting the climb to Old Blue was another river crossing. Probably the deepest yet and the base of my shorts got a little wet. As I was crossing someone shouted ‘stream crossing’ It was James and Lyndsey. They had stayed at the Pine Ellis hostel in Andover again and after issues with their ride back to the trail they were starting late. They wanted to try and reach Rangely. An ambitious plan as it was 26.6 miles away.

I made sure I ate plenty during my breaks today. The only problem with this is it makes you feel sluggish when you get moving again. Where the food you have eaten needs to be digested. After my first break I really hit the wall. My legs burn every time I hit a climb and even the little blips in the elevation profile were vastly understated. After just an hour I had to take another break. I took a GaitorAid drinks supplement with caffeine and that seemed to wake me up a little.

I startled several mumma grouse which were harbouring a number of chicks under their wings. When I approached one of them the chicks scattered and the mumma grouse pretended that she had a broken wing. Clever, but I was wise to her game.

Then onto Bemis Mountain, followed by the Bemis mountain shelter. When I got to the shelter a SOBO hiker informed me his friend was sick. I had heard that there were noro virus outbreaks around Rangely and knowing that it could be a different strain to what I had before I instantly up’d and left. That’s the last thing I want at this stage of the game!

I have been listening to A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. It has been an interesting listen and goes over a load of the stuff I learnt at school about science, but in much more depth. It talks about anything and everything from black holes to plate tectonics to world catastrophe. It’s full on, but it gave me something else to focus on. I also put on the remaining part of Lord of the Rings whilst I was eating my dinner tonight. It was pretty cool just letting my imagination paint a picture, visualising what was going on. It must have been just like this back in the days when the only form of entertainment was listening to a radio. Sometimes the simple things are the best.
I have always had a habit of talking to myself. Good company I suppose. However it has gone to the next level. When I take my guide book out during breaks to check my progress, I say things like ‘Right, so we’re here and I need to get to there’ I’m alone yet it’s like there is another person with me. Send in the straight jackets!

The last stretch of the day dragged. I really should have pulled into a campsite about 15 miles in. Instead I pushed on and faced another horrible climb. I must have been going about 1 mph and instead of striding up the mountain my feet were reluctantly shuffling clumsily up it. I felt like I had ran a marathon and then was about to do it all over again and my limbs didn’t work properly.
In Greek mythology Sisyphus was a king of Ephyra punished for chronic deceitfulness by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever. This is how I have been feeling!

The Mosquitos took this opportunity to swarm me and drain me of blood. Maybe the reason I’m feeling so shit is because I am suffering from anaemia and I have been sucked dry of blood? I swatted one little blighter from my leg and it left a patch of red blood behind.

I stopped mid way up the climb as the trail ran across a main road – the ME17. There was a bench seat and a view of the mountains and ridges I had climbed today as well as a huge lake. I stopped there for a while hoping to recover. In the end I wearily pushed on. There was a water supply highlighted in my guidebook next to Moxie pond. I hoped it wouldn’t be pond water and luckily it was form a spring. I filled up my spare platypus water bladder and hoped I find a spot by the pond. No such luck I’m afraid. I had to walk with 2 extra litres of water, that’s 4lbs in weight. I walked for about 20 minutes swaying along the trail completely exhausted. Making matters worse were the board walks over boggy stretches. They were either rotten or decomposing or wobbly. Some had even rotted away to the extent that the only thing left were 6 inch nails sitting dangerously in the wooden bases below. Tripping hazard!

Finally I spotted what looked like a little clear spot about 50 feet off trail. Apart from sloping slightly it is a stealthy little spot and I couldn’t have been more ready for it.

Day 107 – 16th July (Posted Tuesday 22nd July)

posted in: Rich's Diary Entries | 0

Started at Grafton notch – mile 1918.1
Finished at Sawyer Brook campsite – mile 1935.9
17.8 miles covered.
Total days hiked 105
18.43 Av miles / days

The rain pelted the tin roof of the bunk house all night and I was relieved that I wasn’t out in it.
I was first up at about 0530. The shuttle service back to the trail was scheduled for 0700. I had emptied my pack last night as I wanted it to dry out and my tent was draped over my bunk bed. I repacked and headed to the kitchen for a coffee and breakfast. Section hiker John said that it had been a pleasure hiking with me and we said our goodbyes. He made me laugh where instead of washing his dirty hiking clobba, he boxed it up and sent it back home for his wife to clean. He even had the opportunity to wash it with the rest of my gear yesterday. His poor wife!

We both agreed that it would be nice to know how the girl we rescued yesterday was doing and whether it was a break or sprain. It would have probably been best to have made a splint before we moved her, but my first aid kit is now down to the bare bones. We did intend on going to a place called the Red Hen for breakfast but it was raining and I ate way too much greasy food last night. We went to the dinner and I had a burger with lattice fries (Americas best invention), breaded mushrooms and onion rings. It took its toll this morning and I had to make a mad dash into the woods before setting off for the day.

James, Lyndsey and I had all been taken to the trail together whereas XC was planning on taking a zero so that I could catch up with him. James and Lyndsey were slack packing and hence were much quicker than me. My pack felt heavy although I can take the weight now and it doesn’t really bother me, what I am struggling with is just the slow terrain. I hiked for 9.5 hours today and still only managed 17.8 miles. Because of all the rain last night the trail was a river climbing up to Baldpate peak. There were 2 peaks in total and they were 2 huge balds made up of granite. XC had said that this was his favourite mountain and I could see why. There was so much exposed rock clad with alpine plants and flowers and small spruce trees. There are signs to say you should keep to the paths (although technically there are no such thing) to protect the delicate alpine vegetation. I try my best, but when confronted with ankle deep water I’m afraid hikers will try and step around these. At least until their clean dry socks are soaked.

Whilst ascending I made sure I bent my knees and leant forward, this seemed to keep my centre of gravity just right and I only had one or two close calls. The balds were engulfed in cloud and it was raining so I didn’t manage to get many pics. I felt cold at the summit despite hiking hard uphill. I put on my waterproof jacket and zipped it right up. I find with my hood up and it zipped up like this my body soon warms the air trapped underneath the shell. Waterproof jackets are great windbreaks and soon my body was warm again, although my extremities were not. I pushed on hard and stopped after 3 hours at Fyre Notch lean-to. I was the only one there and by this time my hands were numb. I found my merino wool gloves and rain mitts and after having a hearty snack I was ready for action.

There was a descent down to Dunn Notch falls where I had to do a small river crossing. The water ran fast around my legs and there was a waterfall not far past the point I crossed. Stream crossings are something that we are gonna have to get used to in Maine. This was a baby in comparison to some of the crossings I have heard about in the last 100 miles. Then it was into the ascent to Wyman Mountain. It looked pretty gradual in the guidebooks elevation profile, but there were sharp rises in elevation and then flatter sections of trail. This pattern was repeated all the way to the top. The mud was really bad and I was just wading through the water that had either collected or was flowing along the trail. By this time I didn’t care. The trail was also hard to negotiate. There were fallen trees across it as well as it being heavy lined with spruce trees that jutted out, brushing my arms with rain water as I passed.
There is so much moose scat up here. I still am yet to see one. It’s hard to believe that a clumsy animal like a moose can negotiate this kind of terrain and by the amount of poop it looks like they are thriving in it.

It always makes me smile when I see one of the many toads trying to get off the trail as I approach. They desperately try and clamber up the verges of the trail and just bounce back off of it. Give them credit though they are determined little buggers. And that’s exactly what I need to be at the moment. The last shift dragged and I felt lethargic. I decided to let my ego out of its cage and pictured me crossing the finish line and people cheering. I’m seriously not expecting that at all, but you’d be surprised by how visualising positive things like this can completely change your hike. I slammed on some Tiesto to match and felt like I was taking on the world. I have always found that music gets the adrenaline pumping and gives me that second gear. I must admit I was a little concerned that it might come up face to face with a moose completing oblivious due to my tunes. I was prepared to take that risk.

I briefly stopped at Hall mountain lean to and got the low down from a south bounder about the next stretch of trail. Man, I feel jealous and sorry at the same time for these SOBO guys. They have it all to look forward to, yet they have so much to do and so many horrible climbs. I stopped at a camp spot just before a brook. I washed the mud off of my legs and socks in the river and set about setting up camp,. I have positioned my tent away from the trail and it looks like it’s just me here tonight.

It’s good to be back in the wild.

Day 106 -15th July (posted Monday 21st July)

posted in: Rich's Diary Entries | 0

Started at Full Goose shelter – mile 1908.4
Finished at Grafton notch – mile 1918.1
Got a hitch into Andover and stayed at Pine Ellis lodging.
9.7 miles covered.
Total days hiked 104
18.44 Av miles / days

Today was a day of one good turn deserves another… Last night I dreamt I heard a dog growling and thought it was Rhiley, the dog belonging to Ian and Dean – the other thru hikers in the shelter. I woke to find it was the old guy lying next to me snoring like a train. I pushed my ear plugs into my ears as far as they would go and fell back to sleep. In the morning section hiker John (the guy next to me) said that he thought I had a very good nights sleep last night, meaning that I was snoring. I laughed and said that I was just getting my own back.

I took off from the shelter at 07:40am with an optimistic day plan. I intended to go into the stomach of the Mahoosuc notch, then, climb its arm. As I have said this is the hardest and most fun section of the trail. I wanted to bag a 20 mile day and hitch into Andover, but it soon became clear that this was never gonna happen.

Descending into the notch was like walking into a freezer. There was ice still frozen in the boughs of the notch and a there was a slight mist in the air. The weirdest thing was that once you clambered up 10-15 feet it would be warm and humid again. Almost like a dragon breathing it’s steamy breath against my face. People had said to go into the notch with the intention of having fun. It was definitely challenging and there were caves and tight squeezes which resulted in me shedding my pack on a number of occasions or wriggling through. A south bounder passed me and had a nasty looking graze on his arm. I asked if he was ok and he said it was a battle wound from the notch. Soon after I had a nasty slip and slammed my left shin into some wet moss clad rock. Instantly I felt that gut wrenching feeling of (have I hurt myself here). Luckily it looks like I’ll have a nasty bruise and nothing more.

I have always said that the trail provides. I had to blag some toothpaste from section hiker John this morning. Of all the things that you wouldn’t expect to find at the bottom of a pit of boulders would be a tube of toothpaste. But you guessed it…. I must admit I passed on the opportunity as I didn’t know how long it had been there. In total it took about 2 hours to get through the Mahoosuc notch. About average, but I’m not here to set any speed records and I certainly don’t want any injuries at this stage of the game. Just before exiting the notch I needed a power up, so I stopped for a snack. John clambered through the pile of rocks from behind me and said that the smell of cigarette smoke was reassuring that he wasn’t the only person down here. Right after the notch was a heck of a climb up the Mahoosuc arm. It consisted of huge sections of slippery rock slanting at between 45 and 60 degrees. What made it dangerous was the fact it was wet and that the rock face side went up and up. If you slipped there would be a good chance you would slide a long way down.

I was running low on snacks today and had to enforce rationing. I had enough to cover me at least until tomorrow, but that feeling of being on the edge always wants you craving more. I scrapped out the last lot of Nutella from my jar and spread it out on a few tortillas. And made good use of my Parmesan cheese and Pepperoni supplies. This did the job but I still felt drained. I met up with Ian and Dean at Speck Pond shelter and asked how Ian’s dog had done going through the notch. He said that it was a little touch and go and the dog had nearly slipped off. Luckily Rhiley was ok. Ian and Dean have the best trail beards to date. They claim to have been growing them for over a year and they look awesome. I have taken a picture to show you.

The climb from the shelter was unexpectedly difficult and after just an hours worth of climbing I was stopping for a break again. Man, I used to hike 3 hours without a break and now I’m lucky to push an hour and a half. I am also smoking more because I am breaking more frequently. Is it the nicotine that’s causing the breaks or is it fatigue. I wonder? Amongst the vegetation at these higher elevations I have noticed clumps of like green lichen growing which look like a combination of coral and cauliflower. Then followed a 4.6 mile descent to Grafton notch. This went well and I felt like the old magic had returned. As I was about a mile from the foot of the notch I heard someone shouting for help. At first I thought that it was probably kids messing around. As I got closer I heard it again ‘Help’ I replied ‘it’s ok, I’m coming’. I found a girl lying on the side of the trail with her 2 dogs next to her. She had slipped and claimed to have broken her ankle. Ian and Dean had taken her pack down to her car and left her there whilst they tried to get help. My first aid skills kicked in and I asked if she could stand, or at least move her ankle. There was no bleeding or any bones sticking out, it just looked really swollen. I calmed the girl named Carey. And asked her what she wanted to do. I said that I would help her get off this mountain. Painfully slowing she hopped down the trail using me as a support. Then a south bounder turned up and helped. Now she had 2 people to lean on.

Ian and Dean appeared and took over from the south bounder and section hiker John also turned up. It took ages and I soon realised that my 20 mile day was now definitely not gonna happen. In the end Ian and I carried Carey down the mountain, between her shuffling on her arse over tricky rocky sections and a stream. Finally we got to the car park at the bottom of the notch and it was pissing it down. I wouldn’t want to be stuck up there injured in weather like that. I mentioned earlier that I was running low on food. Carey said we were welcome to take all of her food supplies. It was her left foot that was injured so once she was in the safety of her automatic car she calmed down and offered John and I a ride into Andover. I needed to go there tomorrow and it was pissing with rain. So it didn’t take much thought.

The Pine Ellis lodge was someone’s house with bedrooms set aside for hikers and a bunk house. We have free run of the place and can use the living room and kitchen. The old lady who greeted us had a really bizarre accent. It sounded Irish American, but also sometimes there was an English sound to it. She claimed that it was a true Maine accent. She reminded me of an old Raldo with her mannerisms.

I showered, sorted my clothes out for laundry and then emptied my wet pack. There were clothes set aside for hikers to wear when their clothes were being washed. I picked out a pair of awful trousers as there wasn’t much selection only to find that there was a little more ventilation to the crotch than I would have liked. I trimmed my finger and toe nails and realised that I have no feeling in my toes at all. They just feel numb. They call it Christmas toe as you don’t get the feeling back until December. I sorted through all the items in my food resupply box that I had forwarded to his address. There’s something nice about opening a box and running you hand through the contents of goodies all securely sealed in their zip lock bags. My pack is gonna HURT tomorrow as I have been running light and have been spoilt by this luxury.

As I was doing all this admin non other than XC arrived. He is 18 miles ahead, but got a ride in from a place further along the trail. After we had gone out to eat in this funny little town where all the houses and building seem way too spread out. I returned to find another familiar face. James and Lindsey are also staying here and have been hot on my heels for some time now. It was good to see James and tomorrow we ride out at 07:00am. So if you’ll excuse me that’s enough for one night.

Day 105-14th July (Posted Monday 21st July)

posted in: Rich's Diary Entries | 0

Started at Trident col campsite – mile 1893.9
Finished at Full Goose shelter – mile 1908.4
14.5 miles covered.
Total days hiked 103
18.53 Av miles / days

It rained pretty hard last night and the toe box of my sleeping bag was damp this morning. My tarp tent has been awesome although one design floor is that the bug mesh is not far enough from the fly. Due to the fact that I am tall means that my feet push my sleeping bag against the mesh, which then contacts the fly resulting in the problem. I have been finding that my dreams have pretty much stopped. When I first started the trail I was having the craziest dreams. I think was due to all the fresh air and exercise as well as it being an all new experience. Nowadays a combination of physical exhaustion and mental fatigue means that I just sleep solidly.

I packed away my soaking wet tent and hit the trail by 08:30am. The first 5 miles flew by and I stopped at the trail intersection to Gentian Pond shelter for a snack. My hunger never seems to be satisfied these days and my supplies are running low. On the way to the shelter I met a couple of south bounders. They are all still in the honeymoon period of the trail and have only been out for like 30 days. One guy offered me some good advice about what lays ahead and congratulated me on getting so far. Apparently XC had stopped at the shelter and had given the south bounders messages for me.

From Gentian there was a steep climb to Mt Success. This was officially the last peak in New Hampshire before entering the last state of Maine. It felt great to cross over the border as this is a huge psychological barrier crossed. As promised the terrain was rugged and because of all the rain last night it was lethal. I spent a lot of time sliding down rock faces on my arse as this was the safest way to deal with it. There were metal foot holds and rails on quite a few of the rock faces and chunky wooden ladders. This helped, although my legs still bunt on the climbs. I don’t know whether it’s my body barking at me or that I need more energy food but I have been feeling low in energy today. Even after eating I am still sluggish.

As I climbed Mt Carlo I noticed that the clouds had set in and it looked like it was raining over the mountains in the distance. It didn’t take long before it started to rain hard directly overhead. It felt colder than what I have become used to and the wind was also fresh. I found that I had to keep moving to stay warm. The trail became vey slippy and the mud was a real problem. It’s thick black mud and on crossing the wooden boardwalks you have to keep your wits about you. I’m sure that it would pretty much engulf you if you fell into it. A lady went missing in Maine last year and her body has never been found. I was half expecting to see a hand emerging from the mud, but luckily it never happened. I pulled into Full Goose shelter which was about 1.5 miles from the Mahoosuc notch. I figured that it would be pretty dangerous to try and get through this difficult section in the rain. A girl I had met earlier said that she had to keep taking her pack off to negotiate the rocks that are as big as cars. She would throw her pack ahead and then wriggle through the difficult section before putting her pack back on again for a few minutes, only to repeat the whole process again and again.

It felt weird getting to a shelter early and committing to stay. There was a wired southbound guy there who wouldn’t shut up. Luckily some guys with a dog who I had pitched up near last night rocked up and there were a few other people there as well. I decided the best plan was to get a super early night. 14 miles is close enough to the required 16 and my ankles and knees need a rest. When I woke up this morning and stood up for the first time my ankles did the usual thing of barking at me. This has become the norm and results in me walking around like an old man for the first 10 minutes of every day. I always try and do some ankle exercises before I stand up but this didn’t really help. Today was worse than normal and my ankles clicked and hurt as I hiked. Hopefully the rest this evening will help. I checked the log book in the shelter and XC had left me a message saying that he missed hiking with me and the time he passed through. It’s easy to loose people on the trail and to be honest I was glad to be hitting Maine as a lone wolf. I hope to hike with XC again, but I started this thing on my own and I’m happy to finish it on my own. There is a saying on the trail of ‘Hike your own hike’ and that’s exactly what I am doing.

Day 104-13th July (Posted Monday 21st July)

posted in: Rich's Diary Entries | 0

Started at stealth camp spot on Carter Mountain – mileage 1878
Finished at Trident col campsite – mile 1893.9
15.9 miles covered.
Total days hiked 102
18.57 Av miles / days

I decided to have a later start today due to the late night. Hindsight is a great thing and maybe we should have stopped at Carter notch yesterday instead of hiking on. But I like pushing the envelope. Although the last stretch of yesterday’s hike involved neither of us talking with just pure determination / desperation driving us on. It was hard, but then again it resulted in a sweet spot to pitch my tent. Buffalo hiked past as I was having a leisurely breakfast this morning. Every time I greet him I sing buffalo soldier in my best Bob Marley voice. He said that he was feeling really beat up and the Whites had taken it out of him. I laughed and said it was all the positive energy that he had given out yesterday. I like this guy as he’s always cheerful and we always have some good banter. I really enjoyed having my own space today. I didn’t feel rushed when taking a break and I just took things in my stride. Hiking with others is great when things are going well, but when the shit hits the fan or illness of fatigue kicks in you can also see the worst in people. I have never been very sympathetic when family and friends are sick or are struggling with something. I just think get a grip and get on with it.

I felt pretty dehydrated this morning as I only had about 1/3 litre of water after using he rest to make dinner last night. I was slightly pissed off by the fact that I had to go 0.2 miles off trail to Imp campsite to get water. There and back made it was a 0.4 mile detour. But water is necessary and it was a better source than what I had passed on the trail that was brown with tannin flavouring. After a short 700ft climb to Mt Moriah most of the rest of the morning and early afternoon was down hill or flat. I spoke with a couple of groups of American day hikers and they were all amazed by my hike and happy to have me over here. One guy commented on my ranger / pacing beads and also had a set of his own. Another asked where I was coming from. When I said Georgia, he remarked, ‘now that’s what I’m talking about’. On the way to Rattle River shelter I put on an audio book about World War 1. Like most grandad’s my gramp is obsessed with anything to do with the war. It helped take my mind off of things and reminded me of some of my grandad’s stories.

Rattle River shelter is the last shelter in the White Mountains. Yes people I have left the Whites. Although unofficially the terrain doesn’t change much for the next 100 miles. So I am not out of the woods just yet. Hopeful tomorrow I will hit Mahoosuc notch. This is quoted as being the ‘Most difficult or fun mile of the AT, a south bound section hiker at the shelter told me it’s like scrambling over rocks that are as big as a car. I am looking forward to it, although not as much if the rain continues. On the way to the shelter I had passed Buffalo. He was asleep on the side of the trail. I informed him that the shelter was close by and he said he would catch me there. When I got to the shelter I ate a serious amount of food, yet I was still hungry. Buffalo arrived and told me there was a hostel called The White Mountain Lodge right on the trail just a mile or so down the trail. He said I could get ice cream and soda and snacks. That was great news as I was getting concerned that my snacks wouldn’t last until Andover.
I left the shelter and headed to the hostel. When I got there I was impressed by how plush this place looked. It was just like normal house with a wide screen TV playing the World Cup final in the living room. I ate a litre tub of Ben & Jerrys ice cream and had 2 sodas. As I was leaving the caretaker of the hostel arrived. We chatted for a while and he told me he’d contracted lymes disease several years ago and it resulted in him being put in a wheelchair. I am definitely gonna get checked out when I return.

When I left the hostel I felt strong again and full of energy. Although the weather dampened my spirits a little. I put away my electronic quip and put my pack cover on and went for it. I find if I am hiking fast / uphill I don’t even bother wearing my waterproof jacket. You just sweat too much. The black fly seemed really bad when I left the hostel. As I stopped on the side of the road they swarmed me. To be honest the whole bug situation has been better over the last few days. I think it was due to the altitude. The hostel was along a road that lead into Gorham and was at a much lower elevation. Without my mini gaiters I have been suffering with pine needles getting into my trainers. This is most annoying, although gaiters just make you feet cook even if they are gortex or event. There is an American company that makes gaiters called Dirty Girls. They are popular over here mainly because of the name I reckon. You can get a load of different designs. My favourite being the Playboy magazine print.

The rain didn’t last long and because I was hiking I didn’t get cold. In fact I was steaming after climbing Mt Hayes. The trail was poorly marked at the top and I spent a bit of time walking about on this granite bald trying to find the trail. A horse fly and his friends decided to chase me. Initially I tried to outrun the troublesome pests, but soon realised this wasn’t a good idea after the rain. So it was bug net time and that kept them at bay. I decided to pull into Trident col campsite. This is the first free campsite I have passed since entering the Whites. Even the shelters here charge like 8 bucks. I avoided these as with little work finding a stealth spot it really isn’t necessary using a shelter.

I did consider hiking on an extra 4.9 miles to Gentian shelter which was free, but at 19:30pm I decided I wanted an early night. I have been doing some calculations this evening and with only 18 days left until the 31st August and 291.4 miles left I have to at least cover 16.2 miles per day. This is a bit of a relief as I think the next 100 miles are gonna be more like what I have just come through. Where 16 miles was a push and just achievable. And I also have to consider time wasted hitching into towns to pick up resupply boxes etc. I will keep trying to push for more miles, but at least I know the average for the remaining miles is achievable now…..

It’s the final countdown!

This is over and out from Sarah…

posted in: Rich's Diary Entries | 0

I am off to Swaziland on Tuesday and won’t be able to update the blog.  Rich’s brother Matthew and sister-in-law Michelle have kindly agreed to update it for Rich and I.  So it’s over and out from me.  Back soon.

P.S – Check out the new images that I up loaded today in the July Gallery…. the views are magnificent!

PLEA – Please keep plugging and try and help get as many people to donate a £1 each with the aim to raise a £1 for every mile Rich has hiked.  Tell people to text ‘ATRF78 £1′ to 70070.  All money goes to Cancer Research. https://www.justgiving.com/fletchlivesonthetrail

Also, check out the two articles in the Oxford Mail…

  1. http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/11329888.Trek_across_America_is_a_punishing_test_of_stamina/ 
  2. http://m.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/11335378.Round_up_of_our_pictures_of_the_week/ 

Sarah x

 

Day 103 – 12th July (Posted Monday 21st July)

posted in: Rich's Diary Entries | 0

Started at Gorham – Pinkham notch – mile 1865.9
Finished at stealth camp spot on Carter Mountain – mileage 1878
12.1 miles covered.
Total days hiked 101
18.59 Av miles / days

Despite an early start I had a few errands to run in Gorham. I took a shower whilst the last 100 photos I had taken uploaded to drop box. I called home and had some smoothing over to do with my lovely girlfriend. Then I headed into town to forward my food box ahead to Andover. My Osprey hipbelt wasn’t suitable after all my efforts. They had sent out one which didn’t allow me to clip on my hip belt pockets. So I returned that as well. The guy at the post office initially proved to be a little difficult and said he had no prove that my food box hadn’t been opened. They will only bounce a box ahead if it hasn’t been opened. But in this case it hadn’t. In the end he agreed to do so as ‘I was from out of town and probably more honest than most of the people round here’.

I then did a spot of calorie loading at Mcdonalds. Man, I really hate that stuff now as I have probably eaten too much of it on the trail. Although in terms of bang for your buck you can’t get more calories. I resupplied with snacks and a couple of mountain house dinners and then I was set. A guy at the Country Farms gas station offered me a lift back to the trail. He had hiked the trail last year with a friend and was going out in the Whites today for a hike and was happy to help. When I got back to Pinkham notch it was about 13:00pm. XC had been waiting for me there with Buffalo and had just left 15 minutes before I arrived. Buffalo had taken a nap on the bench seat out front and had woken up to find XC and a load of other hikers there. An old guy came over and offered to by all 6 of us a GaitorAid and no one refused. That was my 4th bottle of soda / energy drink this morning and I had to force it down. It was really hot and I figured I should do my best to stay hydrated. Whilst I was in town my sunburnt arms were stinging and they had been getting steadily worse. I just wanted to get back into the shade of the woods.

It took me a while to drum up the enthusiasm to leave the visitor centre as we were all sitting outside in the shade. One of buffalo’s friends, a guy called Bootburner told us he had a close call with a moose last night. This is the guy that doesn’t have a tent and just sleeps on a tarp on the ground. He had woken up to here something moving around. The moon is in its most full phase today and last night it had also been bright. Bootburner claimed he could see the silhouette of the moose and it was about 6 feet from him. A close call indeed.

From Pinkham notch there was a huge climb up to Wildcat Mountain. I noticed XC had left me a few signs on the trail and it was long before I heard him just ahead talking to some of the day hikers. We both felt knackered and were pretty beat up. My left knee hurt on every step and I had that horrible feeling that this could be a real problem. I stopped and applied some Bengay (similar to deep heat) and took some ibuprofen. It didn’t seem to work. We stopped at the first peak of Wildcat mountain and took cover from the sun next to the ski lift. XC was not on good form today and it was hard work trying to motivate him. We headed off from the ski lift together but I stopped to put some tunes on to help take my mind off of my knee pain. He went ahead, but we soon met up again at Carter notch hut. When I got there he felt even worse and he thought it was a combination of the sun and the lack of sleep last night. I think that I have become used to just getting 6 hours sleep and still being able to function as I’m always up late blogging. Buffalo arrived at the hut and was full of positive energy. He offered us marshmallows and was a real source of enthusiasm. We had only covered about 6 miles at this point and already it was 18:00pm.

The climb out of Carter notch where the hut was situated was again steep. Although after Buffalo’s little pep talk I felt better and so did my knees. We knew there was a stealth camp spot about 2.5 miles further on and headed for it. When we got there Bootburner and his mate, Thirsty, were already there and space was tight. I tried to put up my tent but it wouldn’t fit and after 2 attempts I was getting pissed off. XC was also struggling to put up his hammock over the top of a load of dead wood and fallen trees. I heard a shout of frustration and then XC appeared from round there corner saying that he had slipped and cut his head. Buffalo donned his rubber first aid gloves and sorted out the cut to XC’s head. Understandably XC wasn’t in the best of moods. I told him I was moving on as there wasn’t enough room. His hammock was swinging over the top of some really nasty sharp branches and I suggested he should ditch this spot. I said that I would help him and he reluctantly started to pack up his gear. He was in a bad mood and I snapped at him and told him to pull himself together. I did apologise for this later as we hiked on, but had found it hard looking out for him today as well as keeping up my own energy levels. Buffalo insisted we should stay and he would make room, but I wanted to sleep in my tent. I thanked him and bid them goodnight as XC and I hiked into the night.

The last stretch was hard. There was more scrambling and climbing to do and the trail wasn’t very forgiving. We hoped we would find another stealth site close by, but the wilderness in the Whites is pretty hostile. We simply couldn’t find a spot. In the end we hiked about an hour more. My head torch reflected against the mica in the rock all around and it was like the trail was encrusted with diamonds. Finally I came to an opening where the trail left the narrow corridor leading through the woods and was perfect. I said to XC that this was the spot, but he carried on to the shelter as he wanted to be somewhere that wasn’t as exposed. It’s been a pleasure hiking with XC but tonight it was a case of looking after myself and I was happy to have a little space. In fairness I did say to him that I would totally understand if he found a spot to put up his hammock soon after we left the others. Hopefully he will feel better tomorrow.

In the mean time I am camped in the sweetest spot I have found on the trail. I am surrounded by spruce trees on an exposed ridge. The wind is flapping against the walls of my tent and there is a full moon shining down on me. I feel alive and can’t wait to see the view tomorrow. That is if my tent doesn’t blow away.

Day 102 – 11th July (Posted Monday 21st July)

posted in: Rich's Diary Entries | 0

Started at Mizpah Spring hut – mile 1846.3
Finished at Gorham – Pinkham notch – mile 1865.9
19.6 miles covered.
Total days hiked 100
18.66 Av miles / days

I wanted an early start today. Rather than waiting for breakfast to finish with the guests at the hut so we could tuck into the left overs, I made my own oatmeal and blagged a cup of coffee. They were cooking sausages so it was a hard decision, but necessary. Whilst I had my morning nicotine fix outside the hut a hare hopped around me completely unphased by my presence. Today involved climbing the mighty Mt Washington and most of its neighbouring ridges and mountains. The weather was on our side and was bright and sunny. I stopped at the Lake of the Clouds hut to see if there was any left overs and was given some cold scrambled egg which had onion and peppers in it. A little ketchup made this a good snack and I also had a blueberry muffin cake. The climb to Washington was gradual for the first 6 miles and then there was a final steep climb of just over a thousand feet to the summit which was 6288 ft. There was a restaurant at the summit along with a weather station. Inside the restaurant there was a promotional video showing Washington in all its glory. With stop motion animation and shots of sunrises and winter scenes, it looked stunning. The ice that forms up there around the tower is almost like a birds feathers or for those F1 heads kinda like stream lines and is a result of the high wind speed.

Unfortunately with the luxury of being able to grab a slice of pizza and a soda came the tourists. There was a cog train running up and down the mountain bringing them to the summit in mass. It reminded me a little of Snowdon just more American. After leaving Washington we walked along the Gulfside trail along another huge ridge. We reached the Madison Spring hut and realised that we both looked like lobsters. At the start of the trail there weren’t any leaves in the trees and sun cream was needed, but I haven’t bothered since and boy was I red. After leaving the sanctuary of the hut we were back out in to the sun and had to climb Mt Madison. The descent was long and painful on my knees and involved a load of rock hopping and dropping down ledges of rock clad in yellow lichen. It took a while to get back below tree line and it was a relief when we did. We stopped at the Osgood tent site for a break and found a distraught looking day hiker we had met earlier. He remarked that he didn’t know how we could do what we have been doing. He was knackered after just one day. It was a hard day to be fair and the long descent had taken its toll on all of us.

We decided to push onto Pinkham notch where we hoped we could get a ride into Gorham. The day hiker walked with us for a while and had offered to give us a ride, but was struggling to keep up and we soon lost him. He was so ill prepared and only had a day pack with a bivvy bag for emergency purposes and no sleeping bag. At Pinkham notch there was a Visitor centre which hikers could stay at. Unfortunately there was no space in the bunk house. I had also sent a food resupply box here and my osprey hip belt had also arrived. The guy behind the counter offered to take us to Gorham after he finished work. We didn’t get into the town until at least 22:30pm. Most of the places we tried to call to sort out a bunk were full or not letting any hikers in after a certain time. We grabbed some food from Mr. Pizza. Whilst we ate XC spoke to his mum and I was surprised at just how much she is into following his progress on the trail. She knows all the names of the people he had been hiking with and is following a number of blogs. It is almost like she is on the trail with us. Eventually we managed to find a place to stay called The Barn. The owner, a guy called Doc picked us up as we were walking to the hostel. The place was like something out of step toe and son. It had a sliding barn style door that lead inside. On the ground floor there were old lawn mower parts and it was really rough around the edges. Upstairs there were just a load of beds. It was 01:00am by the time I had started to upload my pictures and previous weeks worth of blog entries and put my electronic quip on to charge. I went to bed dirty and knackered. I hadn’t washed the sun cream and insect repellent off which made my arms and legs stick together. It was pretty awful, but to be honest but I was too tired to even care.

1 2 3 4 5 13