Saving the Best for Last: the Hundred Mile Wilderness

    Mark and I emerged from the moist Maine woods and roadwalked into the town of Monson. This tiny town was the last resupply point before entering the “Hundred Mile Wilderness”. It was also where hikers could find the Trail-famous Shaw’s Boarding House. Mr and Mrs Shaw were the hosts of this AT oasis featuring home cooked meals, hot showers and comfy beds. Hikers were treated as family and the hospitality was downright southern. Truly a fitting location to prepare for the long wild walk ahead.

  We enjoyed our stay in town, boosting the local economy as we drank many beers, gorged on junkfood and restuffed our backpacks with 7 days of food. I became addicted to a candy bar called “Bar None”, eating at least 10 of them in town and cramming an additional 10 in the food bag. We hoisted our heaviest packs yet and excitedly headed into the wild. Even though this section promised to be the best of the AT, knowing the end the Trail was near flavored the day with a pinch of sadness. For the first time during this adventure, we had to keep a schedule. Mark and I were expected at Abol Bridge, the end of the 100 Mile Wilderness, by September 28th.

     Within a few miles of Monson we had to ford a river. I tried a heroic dry crossing using a tree that had fallen over the stream. I ended up with one sogged boot. Mark made it across as dry as a popcorn fart. He dropped “Buford” the stick, however, but a dramatic river rescue reunited Mark with his wooden friend. Hiking with one wet foot wasn’t working for me so I cast my vote to stop for the night. After 13 miles of the wild 100, we set up a fine campsite that night and enjoyed a crisp evening alongside Big Wilson Stream.

     The challenge of the Maine wilderness continued the next day. A couple of miles from our campsite, we had to cross another icy brook. Mark went first, wearing a pair of ratty sneakers he packed for just such occasions. He tossed them to me after he made it across. The slippery algae covered rocks threatened to toss me in the drink but I made the trip without a drip. A few miles later, after a bit of sign confusion, Mark and I wandered away from the Trail. In typical Novak fashion, I suggested we bushwack up the rocky incline in front of us since we could clearly see the white blazes of the AT at the ridgeline above.

     The start of the climb was fun! There was a negotiable path about half way up and rest of the climb looked easy from where we stood. But then the trouble started. There was no clear way up. In fact, Mark and I split to find an easy route to the top. I’m a stubborn bastard and I wasn’t going back down. I clung to the ever steepening rock face and desperetly sought out hand holds. To any one watching, they might have thought, “Don Knotts meets Royal Robbins?” After a good hour of anus clenching rock climbing, I neared the top. I could hear Mark cursing me below. The Trail was right before me as I pulled myself over that last bit of rock.

     After dropping my pack and hugging a tree for a few minutes, I did what I could to get Mark. When he finally made it, he wasn’t too happy to see me. By now it was dark. There was no place to camp as the forest was crammed thick with stunted spruce. We were quite exhausted, ready to sleep and any flat spot would do. The Trail up Barren Mountain was a grind and neither one of us wanted walk anymore. When we saw the “pull off” that seemed to stop after a few yards, we determined it was good enough for the night. Mark and I strung up the reliable tarp system since it was threatening to rain. Dinner was quickly scarfed as we were eager to sleep off the aches and pains of the strenuous day. I slept fitfully until 4 AM or so.

     The clip-clop sound I was hearing seemed incorporated in my dreams. Then I realized it was no dream and gave Mark a shove to wake him. The moist woods amplified the noises approaching us. It sounded as if ten moose were marching up the Trail to trample us. We listened as the stomping neared our campsite. When the moose were right in front of us, they paused. We could hear their breathing and sensed their enormous presence. Mark and I lay still, too afraid to move or shine a light. It felt as though we were blocking their way and if not for the bright orange tarp we might have been stepped on. The moose did move on, however, but not without leaving Mark and I very nervous and quite anxious to pack up and move on.

 The weather improved and the views of the day were rather colorful. We past some incredible vistas that seemed to beg us to sit and stay awhile. We had been leapfrogging “Alias Smith and Jones” since we entered the 100 Mile Wilderness. This hiking couple were finishing off a thru-hike that “Smith” was unable to complete the year before. He thought he’d bring his girlfriend, a real pretty woman, along for the walk. They were good folks and fun to run into on the Trail. As Mark and I sat on a ledge we spied the pair climbing towards us on the lookout but “Jones” appeared embarassed and red faced. She had unintentionally mooned us earlier as she relieved herself, looking up and seeing our leering mugs on the ridge just above her backwoods bathroom.

     The hiking was not very tough as the Trail wound between many crystal lakes with little altitude change. The colors of the foliage reflected flawlessly off the calm waters. At times the landscape looked impossibly vivid with the colors of fall. The scenes before us were like retouched photos on dime store postcards. I really loved that part of the Trail and those colors are forever painted in my memory. Unfortuately I couldn’t reproduce the depth and brightness of the autumn woodland in my photographs.

     The good weather held and we heartily enjoyed those three days with no rain! Walking about in the Maine sunshine through the impossible colors of fall is an experience unlike any other. I felt as though I had achieved the “Perfect Moment” Spaulding Gray spoke of in Swimming to Cambodia. We ambled about the woods a bit behind schedule but planned to make up the mileage in the last 3 days of the 100 Mile Wilderness.

     Another icy river ford and we were done with the treacherous and uncomfortable crossings on this expedition. I wouldn’t miss them! Up and over Gulf Hagas Mountain, West Peak and then White Cap. All provided eye popping vistas. It was an easy down hill all the way to our camp for the evening. The East Branch of the Pleasant River was low enough that Mark and I were able to rock hop to the opposite shore. After a frosty night, we walked on, delighted by the fine hiking weather. It was colder now but it made for some fast and comfortable hiking. It even snowed at one point and we enjoyed the novelty of the white dusting atop the peaking foliage. It was like a sugar coating on a great big bowl of Fruit Loops. At one point, as Mark negotiated some slippery puncheons spanning a swamp, he slipped and landed in the mud as if he was doing push-ups. The icy muck reached his arm pits and left a mud blotch where his nose made contact with the mire. He was not pleased as I watched him wiping the goo off his arms.

     We hiked 19 miles to Potawadjo Spring Lean-to. The only climb of the day was a nob called Little Boardman Mountain. The last 2 miles were through the rain. We arrived at the shelter which was already starting to fill up with other hikers. We staked out our spot in the shelter, fed and bedded down for the night as the rain pelted the shelter’s roof.

 The cooperative weather dried up the Maine woods pretty quickly that morning and we headed out under brightening skies. Our last climb before “the Big K” was Nesuntabunt Mountain. This cool little nub provided our first real look at the end of our hike. Katahdin stood before us sporting a fresh muff of snow. This dramatic vista was, without a doubt, the best view on the Appalachian Trail!

    Mark and I were definitely walking with the moose as the Trail was thick with “moose marbles”. Moose shit was common on the AT in Maine. These piles of thumb-sized football-shaped pellets were quite large and plentiful. Hikers before us wrote messeges along the Trail using the carefully placed moose turds. Moose thrived in the super soaked northwoods. The terrain was covered with water; brooks, bogs, lakes and ponds everywhere. The many springs ran fast with the purest icy cold refreshment. The quality of Maine’s water was not to be matched. It is no wonder the moose love it.

     Mark and I neared the end of the wildest section of the Trail. As we walked along Rainbow Ledges, we spied a good sized black bear feeding on the berries amongst the rocks. When it got a whiff of us, the bear was off like a rocket into the cover of the woods. It was a fitting end to our hike of the 100 Mile Wilderness. We passed by the last shelter before Abol Bridge and read the many heart warming farewells to the Appalachian Trail. It was hard to believe our own six month odyssey was almost over.

…continue the expedition, read: Kette-Adene; the Greatest Mountain[link]