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AT Update #34 – Grafton Notch, ME to Rangeley, ME

July 13, 2016

In the afternoon of September 24th, I caught a ride with Spiderman and Rebel Yell from Grafton Notch to Bethel, ME. It was a fairly long ride, so we were rather appreciative to the nice man who offered to take us. Upon arriving in town, we found the pizza joint and began eating our fill. After enjoying dinner and letting our phones charge, the sun began to hang low in the sky. Getting a rider it of town seemed unlikely, so we decided to hole up at the Champan Inn for the night. They have actual rooms, but we bunked in the hiker room that has a hostel like set-up. 

Tips – Before

Tips – After


After a few broken hours of sleep, shower, and sluggish resupply, it was it was time to hit the trail. On my way out of town, I stopped by the local gear store and had the tips changed on my trekking poles. Looking at the new shiny tips, butterflies fluttered within me. I realized these would be the ones to assist me in summiting the most challenging mountain I had ever climbed. Katahdin. Although I felt a small amount of excitement, the truth was–I was ready to be done. It was September 25th, and I still had over 200 miles to go. Baxter State Park, in the event of adverse weather, could officially close in 18 days.

 

Baldpate Mountain, Maine


One would probably imagine this underlying sense of urgency might overcome a hiker toward the end of a journey like the Appalachina Trail–creating an excessive boost of energy. But, for me, it had quite the opposite effect. My energy level and emotional state, at the time, were more comparable to the procrastination-induced nausea a college student feels just before finals. But, honestly, it was 100 times more nagging. After getting a ride out of town that afternoon, I hiked only a couple miles before stopping at Baldpate Lean-To. I told myself that tomorrow I would make miles.

The next morning, Rebel Yell told me he was going to have to pick up his pace because he was aiming to be done within the first week of October. I thoroughly enjoyed hiking with him, but I wanted to once more marvel at the beauty around me while I hiked. I wanted to savor every last moment of the trail and somehow forget the stress of an approaching deadline. He planned to hike more miles than I did each day, so we basically said our goodbye’s before leaving the shelter that morning. Making friends and memories on the trail is one of the most bittersweet feelings I’ve ever experienced. It’s almost like graduating high school, knowing things will never be the same for you and the people around you. Except, unlike your classmates in school, you actually enjoy and connect with most people on the trail. 

Shelter log book entry by Whoopie Cat


When I left the shelter, I let any sorrowful thoughts fall into the shadows of my mind and turned my eyes to the blue skies above. I paid close attention to the sounds and sights of birds and other wildlife and made note of any scents drifting through the fresh mountain air. Stopping for a break on top of Baldpate Mountain, I saw rock cairns all around me. I realized I had never made the time to build one of my own in over 1900 miles and throughout 14 states. So, I made time. 

The first (and only) cairn I built on trail


For the next several days, I saw very few people (most of which were southbound day hikers) and camped alone each night. I reflected on how much my hike had evolved over six months. My intention was to thru-hike alone and enjoy an experience in which I could get to know myself better. To be alone in my mind. Quickly, I learned that my mind is a much noisier place than I had ever imagined. Without the distractions of people, social media, news, etc. you really can’t escape thoughts, especially the less than pleasant ones. In other words, you are forced to contemplate feelings that you have placed on the back burner or masked by “staying busy.” Luckily, from the start, I met a wonderful group of people and was able to partially suppress the racket. But now, alone in Maine, it all came back loud and clear. Surprisingly, I was okay with it. Ready for it, even.  I decided that although I was lonely, being solo for a while was probably just what I needed. With that said, it is strange going extended periods of time with little to no human interaction. Anyone seen Castaway? However, I think its often true that we grow most rapidly outside of our comfort zone.

Excerpt from my journal

Excerpt from my journal


People often ask me if I was scared being alone, and the truth is–no. But, there were times that I felt a little creeped out. During this stretch of trail, I woke up in Sabbath Day Pond Shelter at about 1am. Wondering what had woken me, I heard it. The most eerie sound pierced the cool night air. The shelter is located in front of a large pond and fog floated all around that night, making it hard to see anything. Over and over the sound wailed. If werewolves were real, you would’ve had a hard time convincing me that anything else was belting the most lonesome song I had ever heard. The next morning while drinking coffee and researching in the shelter log, I discovered it was a loon! Not sure if that’s where the phrase, “crazy as a loon” originated. But, I would believe it. If you’ve never heard the sound, you really should YouTube it.

One of the many breathtaking ponds in Maine

 

I arrived in Rangeley, Maine on my 6th month anniversary, better known as a “trailversary.” Rangeley, ME is a small town that is interestingly located halfway between the equator and North Pole.

Interesting geographical location – Rangeley, ME

After getting a quick picture, it was time to grub out. I ate lunch at Doc Grant’s Restaurant. While downing a burger and beer, I contemplated whether or not I should stay in town for the night. It had been raining all day and the forecast didn’t look promising. To quote Keith Whitley, “I’m no stranger to the rain..” But, did I really want to leave a perfectly good town or the opportunity for a warm, dry bed. About that time, the two men next to me asked me if I was a thru-hiker. I suppose they could smell it–literally. Anyway, Patrick and Paul were on a trip out of town that, unfortunately, did not go as planned. Because their trip wasn’t as “lucky” as they had hoped it would be, they gave me a lucky moose to finish my remaining journey with and requested that I take a picture with my moose on top of Katahdin. 

Paul and Patrick – Rangeley, ME


Sharing stories, laughing and conversing with these two men lifted my spirits more than they know. It’s crazy how much the little interactions mean on trail. The folks you encounter by happenstance all play a little part in your journey. Kind of like Alice In Wonderland, but less creepy Thank you, Patrick and Paul for the moose. He just might have made it to Katahdin, but you’ll have to check back to find out!

Here are some additional photos from this breath taking section in Maine:

Thanks for following my journey, until next time–


Happy Trails 🙂

Jessica Mills
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10 Discussion to this post

  1. Eric Hamus (from Luxembourg) says:

    Hey Jessica, hope all is well. I am still enjoying your posts as I have not yet given up the hope to tackle the whole trail someday. I did visit the AT back in April though and we did a few day hikes around Roanoke (McAffee of course) and in Shenandoah NP. My respect for the whole endeavour did grow quite a bit. I was prepared for a tough walk but actually hiking it is a whole new experience. So: Wow! To you and all other tru-hiker.

    Right now, I am preparing the Laugavegur in Iceland, a 9 day tekk ( combined with two other trails). But if you din’t mind me asking: what would be the biggest impact the trail had on you in hindsight? Did it actually change you as a person in the long run?

  2. Julius Daniels says:

    It was a treat to read this excerpt from your journal. It rhymed a bit with the end of my 1996 at journal. I reckon the journey opens our minds to what was, IS, and has potential. Its now time for my 20 year refill of….all that. 😆

  3. Charles says:

    Jessica, you are an exceptional writer. I really enjoyed your videos all the way to Maine, but your blogs are even more interesting. I hope you will post a few more blog posts describing your last miles on the AT.

  4. MICHAEL HART says:

    I ENVY YOU. Between your thru hike and reading about John and Laura Baker’s thru hike, I have to do this someday. I will turn 60 in September and still feel it is not too late. My wife says she will spend the time in the Caribbean while I slog my way North on the trail.

  5. John says:

    I came across your gear video on YouTube yesterday, and I started reading your blog after watching the video. I literally read every blog post (every word, even the words on the signs in the pictures) and watched every video.

    Reading this reminded me of Sebastian in the Neverending Story. I actually thought I would make it (vicariously) Katahdin tonight. I read and watched most of the day. When I realized that this was the last post, so far, I thought, “Oh hell no!”

    I anticipate the end.

  6. Allen Tartt says:

    Ditto what John said, Jessica! I am “embracing the suck” of having to wait for your last few blog entries! I stumbled on to this so recently that I was kind of gobsmacked that the blog wasn’t done. I don’t watch too much TV, either, but it’s like waiting on the next episode of Game of Thrones. It will be totally worth the wait, though. I’m 51 and grew up in west Alabama not far from that “other school” over here. I spent a lot of time hiking and camping in TN and NC in younger days. I am haunted by mountains. I’ve picked the habit back up in the last couple of years and am planning on doing the OR section of the PCT next August, while making short trips around AL, TN, GA, and NC in between to tide me over. Hope to meet you on trail in OR if you strike out on the PCT next spring! One of my favorite places in Alabama is the Sipsey Wilderness on the Bankhead NF near Haleyville and Double Springs. It’s beautiful. Wooded sandstone canyons and home of the most southwestern range of Eastern Hemlock forest in the US. I have thoroughly enjoyed you sharing your adventures with all of us! (Even if you are an Aubie…RJYHGEHA) Keep the good times rolling…

    • Jessica says:

      That’s so cool about your plans for the PCT and other hiking adventures! Haunted is such a great term, haha. I will definitely be updating this and finishing out the journey. My main focus was the ebook for a while. Now that it’s completed I can focus back on the blog. Thank y’all so much for the kind words. Be looking out for another update soon 🙂

  7. John says:

    Allen, you can “complete the journey” via the video blog, on Dixie’s YouTube channel.

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQhqmV26773qZhzqJz4VFcw

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