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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