April’s Version

26 07 2008

The following is April’s story of the crew’s experience thus far. Not to be repetitive, but I like hearing different points of view about the same story, so I thought I’d share. It sounds like Vermont Mafia is the name of our gritty girls.

Well, I made it to Rangeley and I had a fantastic time at the Gull Pond Lodge–really, it was one of the most fun nights ever!  I met Captain Max, Treadmill, Smokey, Bob and three women completing a section hike.  Each of them are really neat characters.  I offered to take Captain Max (a 75 year old man who is hiking the entire AT) out to dinner so we drove in and ate at the Red Onion.  It was really fun.  We really hit it off.  What an interesting character!  He was in the military as a Green Beret, an army soldier, a marine, a recruiter, a drill sergeant, and other things.  He also was a Captain in Vietnam.  Anyway, when Captain Max and I were crossing the street to go to the restaurant a guy yelled across the street to me: “Are you hiking with the Vermont Mafia!?”  And sure enough, I was.  Laura S. (Default), Lizzy (Beef), Laura B (Siren) and Devon (Flamebo) are collectively known as “The Vermont Mafia”.  I said yes, and he said: “Oh great, I knew you were coming!  I’m Smokey.”  It was so cool to be recognized and expected by a thru-hiker.  He was super nice and he ended up staying at the same hostel as me.  He had been hiking with the Vermont Mafia for awhile and he really likes hiking with them.  He gave me a few tips about my gear and it was fun to chat.  The hostel environment is really magical–very neat community of thru-hikers.  So yes, I was very happy.  The night before we started hiking, however, I couldn’t sleep very well.  I was very anxious and it was raining REALLY hard–all night long.  I just thought about that for awhile…there are 5 of us and only one 3-person tent.  We planned to hike from shelter to shelter (sometimes 13 miles apart, I think), but what would we do if we got caught in the rain and we couldn’t make it to the shelter due to an injury or any other reason?  Also, what would we do if we got to the shelter and it was already full?  So I tried to sleep, but it was difficult.

The next morning, the hikers started getting up by about 5am.  They rise with the sun.  I was still on my normal schedule (getting up at about 8am going to bed at midnight or so) plus I didn’t sleep so 5am came really early.  We didn’t need to leave for the trail head until 8am so I took my time getting ready and having breakfast at the hostel.  Since I made friends with Smokey and Captain Max, I offered to take them to the trail head in my car.  The plan was for me to leave my car there for four days and then I would hitch back to the car at the end of my hike.  So the girls met us at the car and it was a joyous reunion!  It was so fun to see them again.  Before they reached me at the car, they had to walk two miles from their shelter and cross the Sandy River.  The night before it was a trickling stream.  The morning they had to cross it to reach me at the car it had turned into a big river that would only get bigger with the rain to come.  In fact, someone almost drowned a couple of hours after the girls crossed it. To read that story and see a picture of the river, follow this link: http://www.sunjournal.com/story/275745-3/Franklin/Rafters_survive_scary_outing//

Anyway, it was really fun to see them all again.  They were happily surprised that I knew Smokey and I brought him with me as they had not seen him in a week or so.  I also brought them blueberries, coffee and two pints of Ben&Jerry’s.  I’ve never seen that amount of food devoured in such a short time.  Hiker hunger is pretty astounding.

When we were about to start our hike it started to rain.  We got our gear all sorted out and started to walk.  About 75ft in there was a ford.  I changed into my water shoes and crossed it.  It was pretty crazy.  The water was moving very fast and you could easily fall over.  The water was only about knee deep however, so if you were really careful you could make it. (Thank God for hiking poles!!!)  So then we switched back into our dry shoes.  We hiked and hiked and it was really fun to be with the girls again.  The trail, however, was extremely wet.  The whole challenge was to stay out of the really deep puddles (like ones over your boot) and boot-sucking mud.  It continued to rain.  And rain some more.  Eventually you just need to resign yourself to the water and just go through the puddles/streams.  The trail is often a low spot in the mountain so whenever it rains it turns into a stream.  Well it rained some more.  By the time we got to lunch it was s torrential downpour and we had nowhere to go.  My bagel got completely soaked.  We were 5 miles into our hike and there was a flash flood going on (keep in mind it had rained 10 hours the night before).  There was water EVERYWHERE.  We met some other hikers along the trail going Northbound and they said that the next river was flooded so bad that it was whitewater chest high and completely impassable.  So we knew that if we went on we would get stuck and we would have to wait at the shelter until the water went down.  However, the water might take 2 days to go down enough for us to cross it.  Also, Laura B. has decided to get off the trail so she has a flight she needs to catch to go back to Denver on Monday.  That meant that if we waited it out at the shelter (5 miles ahead) then we wouldn’t be able to make it all the way to Andover in time for her flight.  Also, if we waited at the shelter there was a good chance that the rivers we had already crossed would be completely flooded and we would be trapped between two impassable rivers for a couple of days.  Also, we had the problem that quite a few people are probably staying at the shelter and we wouldn’t have room for all 5 of us (the shelter fits 8).  And if only two of us could fit in the shelter three would have to sleep in a tent.  The problem with that was that we were in a flash flood.  There was no somewhat flat place to be found anywhere.  They would have to sleep in a puddle.  So we were a bit stuck.  We could keep going and hope that we would make it to the shelter with enough room to spare and wait it out and hike fast for the next couple of days, also hoping we could hike back out 10 miles back the way we came and get through the other river in case we couldn’t make it through to Andover for Laura–or, we could turn around and hike out 5 miles back to my car.

So we decided to hike back out to the car.  This was very sad, but smart.  Because of Laura’s flight we couldn’t afford to wait it out.  According to our maps, the trail here is one of those things where you have to hike 30 miles before you can really get out to a road.  We also heard that there were more impassable fords beyond the one that we couldn’t cross in the first place.  Also, we thought that it was only going to rain for four more days so the water would not go down–it would go up.

Well hiking back to the car was not easy.  The Appalachian Trail turned into the “Appalachian River”.  Essentially we walked in shin deep water for 5 miles all the way back to the car.  It was intense.  We were all soaked.  We actually walked by a group of people and one of the girls was being rescued.  She fell, had hypothermia and was dehydrated.  So there was a medical crew hiking up the mountain to find her.  We passed her and saw her in this makeshift tarp tent and in a sleeping bag.  She looked really weak and white.  I was worried that she wouldn’t be able to hike back out to the road (where my car was parked) because the whole trail was a river and then we had to ford two fast moving streams/rivers.  If you were sick, it would be really difficult/impossible to do it.  But I didn’t know what they were going to do with her.  There was nowhere to camp on the side of the mountain–everywhere was wet.  And she couldn’t hike out under her own power, and she definitely couldn’t ford the rivers.  I don’t think anyone could carry her across the rivers either–it was simply too dangerous.

Well she had a rescue crew there to help so we just kept hiking.  We had been hiking for 8 hours already and we still had to keep going.  So yes, it was incredibly wet the whole way back.  We just sloshed through the “Appalachian River” all the way back to the car.  We were all pretty happy to see the car–but we were all disappointed that we had to turn around.  We ended up going back to the Gull Pond Lodge (where I had stayed the night before for $20).  Everyone was happy to be dry and warm.  We went back to the Red Onion for dinner.  Yummy.

So anyway, we felt sad not to have continued, but it was the smart thing to do.  The forest ranger had to make two rescues on the section we were hiking yesterday, it was good that we made it out safe and sound.  So by the end of it we hiked 10 miles in 10 hours in the rain.

Now we wait.  We need to wait for the rivers to go down so we can cross them.  So we’re taking a Zero day today (not hiking) and we’ll hit the trail again tomorrow.  Tonight we’re going to stay at this hippie commune called “Riff Raff”, which sounds interesting.  It’s free to stay there, however.  Tomorrow we’ll have my car dropped off at a highway and we’ll catch a ride with the hippies to route 4 and hike the same section again.  Only this time, once we go 5 miles, we’ll keep going another 4 miles, rather than turning around.  We’ll spend the night at the shelter and then hike out the next morning 4 miles to a small road (which, incidentally, our maps did not show), where Laura B and I will drive to Concord, NH so Laura can catch her flight.  There will not be any major river crossings we think.  After Laura B. and I get off at the road, the other girls will hike an additional 9ish miles to the next shelter and continue on their way.

So overall the girls said that yesterday was probably the worst day of hiking they have done so far.  It was pretty dangerous and wet, but we made it.  I felt really satisfied with my effort yesterday.  If I could handle that situation with no problem, than I can probably keep going!  I was super happy to see them again and nothing was going to change that.  I’m just sad that we won’t get to see Smokey or Captain Max.  They hiked on to the shelter when we went back to the hostel.

Well it’s sunny here today so I think it will be nice out tomorrow.  10miles yesterday, 0 today, 9 tomorrow and 4 the next day = only 23 miles.  I was expecting to hike a lot more than that.  Oh well, disappointment is part of the AT experience.

I’ll be out of cell phone range until at least Sunday.

Happy trails,

~April

p.s. This morning the owner of the hostel came up to us and said “It could be worse”.  He held up a paper that said “Storm kills NH hiker”.  For the story, read  http://www.sunjournal.com/story/275707-3/NewEnglandNews/Storm_kills_NH_woman/

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No Pain, No Rain, No Maine

25 07 2008

Hi all, Default here checking in from the Rangeley Public Library.   For those of you who check our calendar religiously, you must be saying “Rangeley!  They weren’t stopping in Rangeley?!”, which would be correct…until it started to rain.   And then in rained for about 7 days straight.  Each night this week we went to sleep hopeful that the night’s surely impending rain would bring sunny skies and less humidity to our next day’s hike.  And each morning we were sorely disappointed.

Wednesday was a particularly hard day, as we went over the summit of Saddleback Mountain and were exposed above treeline walking quite literally in a cloud for more than two hours with gale-force winds and mist that made me feel like I was in a very unpleasant Scotland.   Saddleback is known for its amazing panoramic views, but all we could see was the mist flying 40mph about 15 feet in front of our faces, making our every arm hair a bead of water.   Needless to say, Beef and Siren, our two glasses-wearing friends, were not happy campers. We arrived at the lean-to mid-afternoon and were very happy to be under a trusty roof since we could tell that it was going to rain yet again.   As the evening wore on, the shelter filled up.   As we were headed to bed, 3 men arrived and looked at the 7 of us heading to sleep and asked if there was space in the shelter.    It was an 8 person shelter, so we told them we had one space and pointed them towards the tentsite.   They told us they didn’t have their tent- they said they had hiked the whole trail and never experienced a full shelter!   They ended up sleeping on the dirt between the sleeping platform and the edge of the roof.   I remember thinking to myself as I went to sleep “Man, I wouldn’t want to do that.”

As it turned out though, I probably would have been a better night’s sleep, because the shelter roof between Beef and I leaked all night. During the softer rain, our pack towels stuffed into the rafters could hold the water for several hours.   Then around 3am, it started to downpour and Beef began having to stand up about every 5 minutes, grab the towel, wring it out into the bowl rapidly filling with splashes of water and replace it with the other towel.   Beef reports that her 4 cup bowl was filled twice with dirty brown water and she had to empty it, so at least 8 cups of water came down onto us in addition to the splashes coming in various other directions.  I was awake during this time and mostly floundered around trying to pretend this wasn’t happening, or in my more helpful moments, wipe off the sleeping platform to keep us from getting ever more wet.  Needless to say, these conditions did not provide for optimal sleep the rest of the night.   Beef and I slowly inched our way down our sleeping pads until we were sleeping in the fetal position at the opposite end of the shelter.

The next morning, the tranquil stream running alongside our campsite that we had bathed in the night before had turned into a frightening torrent hurtling down the mountainside in a spectacular waterfall.   The fording should have been a warning to what the rest of our day would hold, but we didn’t quite realize how bad it would be!   However, we enjoyed a brief flasback-to-childhood moment as we climbed up Piazza Rock and looked out.   For those of you who have seen the Lion King, it was just like Pride Rock, except in Maine and not Africa.   We sang a little Swahili on the way up, and wished we had a Pink Flamingo to hoist off the side like Little Baby Simba.   Alas, none of us have lost quite enough weight yet to safely be thrust skyward by the others.

We continued on our way, trudging through the mud to meet up with April.   It was a blissful reunion, complete with blueberries, two pints of Ben and Jerry’s, two cups of coffee, and our trail friend Smokey (our favorite trail buddy so far, who had been in Rangeley staying the night and rode in with April).

We geared up and headed out.   Not 75 feet into the trail, another frightening stream was racing across the trail.  We made it across, but as we started up, conditions continued to deteriorate.  Soon we had all given up any hope of dry feet and were literally sloshing through a foot of thick chocolatey mud and water with every step.   We trudged on for almost 5 miles and then stopped to eat lunch at a campsite.   It then began to pour, leaving us eating soaking wet jelly-covered bagels.   At this point we were wetter than any of us have ever been, and the situation was the sort where you either choose to laugh or cry.  We chose to laugh, hysterically.   It was amazing.

And then we decided to turn around.    We had heard from NOBOs that the creeks up the trail were impassable, with rumors of chest high Black Brook making us rethink our plans for this next 4-day stretch or trail.   As painful as it was to go back the same way we came, it would have been much worse to face 5 more miles and the prospect of a soaking wet night with a full shelter and not enough tents.   We longed for the shower and some hot, yummy food.     So that is what we got 🙂

Now here we are.   Check out the calendar for more details, but we will be headed out tomorrow again for Andover.  April and Siren will be joining us for the first day and a half, at which point they will leave us and Beef, Flamebo, and me will continue on the next leg of our journey.   We are very excited to cross into New Hampshire on August 1st and will enjoy a few days off trail in Tamworth, New Hampshire visiting Beef’s cousins.   Keep us in your thoughts as we hike the hardest section of the AT this next few weeks!

peace, and warm, dry feet,

Default





Your Love is Like 10,000 Mosquito Bites – By: FLAMEBO

20 07 2008

July 16, 2008;
Day 16, Mile 155.2 (2021 to Springer)
Pierce Pond Lean-to

During my sophomore year at Middlebury, one fateful night probably somewhere near 2 AM, my roommate Renee and I decided to spontaneously pray together before bed. At some point I must have dozed off – still speaking – and uttered the senseless praise, “Your love is like 10,000 mosquito bites.” I don’t remember who noticed first, but it was a good indication that our bed time was long overdue, and it has gone down in history as one of the dumbest things I’ve done.

If I may take the liberty, though – I think there may be an ounce or two of truth to be taken from my sleep-deprived babbling. True, perhaps God’s love deserves a better metaphor than mosquito bites, though I’m the first to admit that his is a tough love. But I think the phrase is even better suited to this thing – this idea – known as the Appalachian Trail.

As we were starting out, Default passed on some wisdom she’d heard from her brother Music Man, who hiked SOBO last year: “Hiking the AT is like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer – it feels so good when you stop!” Who knows how we will feel in 500 miles or so, but that has definitely been the case so far. Here are a few of the pains we have endured 150 miles in: sore knees, hips, calves, quads, feet, backs, shoulders and necks, blisters, ingrown toenails, strained achilles and ankles, poison ivy, headaches, period cramps, stomach aches, black fly bites, at least 10,000 mosquito bites, sunburn, broken shoes, lost packs, dirt-caked clothes, sopping clothes and gear, falling in rivers, stepping thigh-high in mud, getting caught on a mountain-top in a thunderstorm, extreme hunger, thirst, water flavored like iodine, bleach, or with floating dirt, sleeping on uneven boards, roots, rocks, or puddles, innumerable cuts, scrapes and bruises, slugs on our packs and in our shoes, missing shelters and hiking 4 miles after 4 mountains to the next one, sharing a shelter in the rain with lots of obnoxious boys, smelling your own B.O. day in and day out, waking up to mice scurrying all around you, having flies attack your bare bum in the privy, and stepping in your own crap.

It’s hard not to get bogged down in the bad stuff and remember why it is that we’re doing this. We’ve been reading a copy of Into the Wild together that we found in one of the shelters. Like the protagonist, Chris McCandless, we must each be endowed with a little bit of masochism to choose to undertake an expedition like this one. But also like Chris, I think we want to be reminded of the things that matter most in this world, and we know that Nature is a good place to go for that reminder. It puts you in a place of forced humility, where you have no choice but to relinquish control and accept that the world is a heck of a lot bigger than you and your needs and desires. I think this hit me first when I found myself praying – after a long, wet, gross night – that it wouldn’t rain again. NO, I realized, no, God isn’t going to stop the rain just because it makes me uncomfortable. It’s not too small a request – it’s just too selfish.

Unlike Chris McCandless in Into the Wild, though, this group of gals is not trying to escape human contact. We are not attempting to live off the land, and we’re not trying to prove something. I am just as convinced 150 miles in as I was 15 miles in that this is where I’m supposed to be and I made the right decision coming out here. We are fostering a love for the AT that only 10,000 mosquito bites can bring – one built on sacrifice – literal blood, sweat and tears. Here are just a few of the ways in which the AT has given back to us so far: summiting mountains, unloading your pack when you finally make it to camp, napping on rocks, swimming in lakes and streams, befriending fellow hikers, arising with the sun, learning to appreciate the finest contours of the ground on which we walk, taking note of animal and plant life, eating 1 lb cheeseburgers, taking a long shower after weeks of grime and having a new appreciation for what it means to be clean, stopping for a snickers, reading out loud together, a cool mountain breeze, a cold, delicious spring, a warm meal after a long day, a brilliant view, a silent ponder of the landscape, a well-timed yard sale, some generous Mainers, Bluegrass at the general store, all-you-can-eat breakfast, a short day of miles, a moment – like this one – looking out on a pond and knowing there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

So yes, there is a lot to be jealous of, but there’s also a lot that’s not worth your envy. It’s not always fun and games out here, but that’s precisely why we love it. If you don’t keep hitting yourself with that hammer, you’ll never know the true joy of letting up.

Ciao, and love to all,

Flamebo





Oh Yeah! About That Bag

17 07 2008

Regarding Laura’s bag, for those of you curious, it was quite an ordeal in the end. By Saturday, in Monson she had received replacement gear from home and had bought gear at the local outfitter in the morning. She was beginning to think she was in the clear and out of those particular “woods” (I couldn’t resist) in terms of getting all her gear in one place.

And then she got her mail in Monson. Said mail included her cell-phone charger. Upon charging her phone, she discovered two messages from Delta informing her that they had indeed found her bag. It was in _Nova Scotia_. These messages were dated only four days after her flight, so technically they don’t owe her money for the now-not-actually-lost-items (the limit is 5 days). Unfortunately, she had already almost completely replaced her gear via home and purchase, so yet again, she was faced with the mess.

AND, her father had been calling Delta that week, checking to see if they had found it yet. The Delta people apparently weren’t communicating well, because when her dad called, they had no record of the parcel. Anyway, it all wouldn’t have been so bad if she were just traveling to a static, city location. She would simply have made some phone calls, been in constant cell-range and gotten things straightened out with a little extra patience, which we all know Laura has, given her recent experience as a foster mom. As it turns out, maneuvering lost-baggage claims and such are much more difficult while one is hiking in the woods, even with an ever-vigilant family crew assisting from home-base. When I spoke with her, she was having to decide which gear she wanted to keep and which she would exchange for the newly acquired gear and which to return. She was able to laugh about it at the time, because, let’s be honest, what else can you do in response to such a ridiculous series of events. May as well just laugh.





“The Rest Is Still Unwritten . . .”

15 07 2008

Yes indeed, our crew has “released their inhibitions” and “felt the rain on their skin” (see and hear video below if this makes no sense to you). Last Wednesday, they were caught in a large rainstorm on top of a mountain. Despite some apprehension and fear, they made it down to a camp for the night safe, changed into dry clothes and made ready to rest inside their hurriedly pitched tent. Suddenly, it became apparent there was water beneath the tent and seeping inside. In their rush, they had pitched the tent at the lowest area of camp, which meant the water was funneling toward them. Beef was closest to the door, (“no one else can feel it for you, only you can let it in“), so she changed into her wet clothes which were outside somehow (the exact details of this transition are unclear due to mixed reports), and started digging a trench around the tent, sort of medieval castle moat-style. The others were in the tent, Tree Cowboy bailing with pots and pans and Flamebo and Default trying to channel the encroaching water away from their abode, all the while exchanging glances of hilarious incredulity and “can you believe this?”. I guess you do what you can. 😉

I break tradition, sometimes my tries are outside the lines. We’ve been conditioned, to not make mistakes, but I can’t live that way, no no!

Well (unfortunately) I’m attempting to “speak the words on their lips“, but the pen is in my hand” so I’ll write what I can. Meanwhile, the Vermont Mafia¹ are “reaching for something in the distance” hiking their way to Stratton, ME scheduled to arrive Saturday. They send a big THANK YOU out to all those who sent packages to them in Monson, ME. Your contributions were much appreciated and enjoyed.

¹For the definition and story behind this and other perhaps tricky vocabulary in this post, see the new “Glossary” section tabbed at the top of the page.




Inspiration

13 07 2008

Laura suggested I post this video to give a little (musically accompanied) peek into the AT. Please enjoy. Also, stay tuned for updates on the blog this week. I got some good stories and info from the girls yesterday and will be posting sporadically throughout. In the meantime, happy Sundays to one and all!





Addendum from Devon:

11 07 2008

hallo from monson. . . . to clarify a few things – only lizzie’s parents saw the moose – that’s where the photos came from. Laura B. caught another one later on, but the other three of us have seen nothing but moose poop. also, mom, that’s Laura B., and the “vitamins” are GORP. i have like 200 more pictures, but didn’t think to bring my cord to this here library, so you won’t be seeing them for a few weeks or months or something. they’re good, though, i promise! and we look WAY dirtier than we did on the first day!!!

love to all, and thanks for all the well wishes that i don’t have time to reply to! the AT is MAD HARD but well worth the pain.

-Devon