Saturday, August 31, 2013

100 Mile Face Plant Wilderness

We have escaped the 100 mile wilderness. It took us 7 days. Our AT guide is completely soaked and mangled for that section, so trying to figure out our daily mileage would require me to be like Encyclopedia Brown, peeling back through the layers of pulpy time with a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers. Thus, I am going to have to neglect my usual custom of spelling out our daily miles for you. In order to make up for this devastating oversight, I have drawn you a picture of a winged velociraptor on roller skates:

Please forgive me, as I'm sure you are now choking for breath from the sheer beauty of my creation. I am using my dad's laptop, and I drew it with a touch pad, like a real artist.


As Dumptruck and I passed over Abol Bridge, we got our first real, stunning view of Katahdin over the river. I didn't take a photo of it, mostly because we are walking away from it, and I'm practicing some purposeful blindness. Abol bridge itself is the last Northern road crossing before entering into the 100 mile wilderness. We walked slowly over the bridge, Dumptruck goggling at the beauty of Katahdin while I stumbled around on the bridge's footpath like a child who is trying desperately not to look at the pile of Christmas presents under the tree until Christmas morning because she would become an instant victim to temptation. Katahdin was on our right, and thus, I was looking with a fair amount of determination to the left. A giant, grey school bus trundled up onto the bridge and put on their brakes, presumably to get a good look at the view.

I grinned up at the school bus, unable to see the occupants as the sun reflected brightly off of the dusty rectangular windows. Suddenly, one of the windows slid down, and a cheerful voice hollered out at me,

"Hey you dirty hippies! Yeah, you! You guys are awesome!"

"YOU guys are awesome!" I shouted back, my assessment of awesome-ness resting only on the fact that I was being yelled at from inside of a school bus ostensibly in the middle of the woods. Clearly the bus driver had some skills.

"Where are you going?" The voice asked again.

"We were just going to find somewhere to camp. Where are YOU going?"

"Get on the bus and find out! Get on the bus!!" Before this invitation could even be completed, a round of encouraging cheers exploded from inside the bus. There were a lot of people in there, and their mood, as far as I could tell from outside the bus, was enticingly festive.

I turned around to look at Dumptruck, my eyebrows raised in excitement, and found that Dumptruck was staring at the bus with a goofy, lop-sided open-mouthed grin, his hands curled up under his chin like a toddler who has been presented with an entire suitcase full of chocolate bars. I would like to say that we are so very connected on such a deep level that we don't even need words to express how we feel to each other, but I would be lying. We typically know what each other is thinking because our facial expressions are as subtle as bricks through windows.

We got on the bus.

It was a good decision.

The bus was full of a weekend group of white water rafters, who were being led by several rafting guides. Everyone was in an explosively good mood, and there was a tumult of yelling, high fives and general revelry. I was asked to play my ukulele for everyone, and I sat up on the back of one of the bus seats, facing back toward everyone's eager faces, getting bounced around crazily as the bus rocketed around the back roads of Baxter State Park.

At some point, Joe the bus driver told me that he had just gotten a new tee shirt from the Abol Bridge Camp Store, and that he wanted to give Dumptruck and I a present for our journey.

"You can either have this shirt," he indicated the new shirt, which boasted about the 100 mile wilderness, "Or you can have this shirt," and he indicated the rafting company staff shirt that he was already wearing.

I gleefully pointed to the one he was wearing, and he immediately took it off of his back, to the soundtrack of the rest of the bus hooting and hollering at him. He put on his new shirt, and I put on his old shirt over my hiking clothes. Even though it was a cotton shirt that had been worn all day on the back of a grown man bus driver, it still smelled better than my hiking clothes. These are the sorts of things one should consider before one decides to take on the endeavor of hiking the Appalachian Trail. You will always smell bad, and everyone else in the world will smell marginally better than you, no matter what. Unless they give you their clothes right off their back, then you just get to smell like them for a while.

Apparently the group had spent the day rafting, and then had convinced the bus driver to tool around a few spots to look for moose. We did not successfully find any moose, but we became instant buddies with the rafting guides. They invited Dumptruck and I back to their beautiful campsite on a lake, fed us an enormous meal from the grill that included strawberry shortcake for dessert, and we spent the evening hanging out with 40 previous strangers who were all, by some stroke of luck, extremely cool.

As the sky settled into darkness and a thick blanket of stars gently enveloped the horizon, Dumptruck and I floated out into the middle of the eerily still lake on one of the rafts, alongside several other folks, new companions and friends. We craned our necks upwards as enormous celestial beings registered themselves as only tiny pinpricks of light glowing reflected in our eyes. Speechlessness was the only gift we could offer the universe.

The next morning they fed us a staggering meal of eggs and hash browns, and then drove us back to the trail in the school bus. Dumptruck and I waved goodbye as they drove away, then walked a few feet into the beginning of the 100 mile wilderness. Silence, and the sound of a few distant birds, echoed loudly in the contrasting ringing in our ears from the fun the night before. We didn't know what the wilderness had in store for us, but we felt assured that we had, at least, started it right.

That evening, a mile or so away from our intended lean-to for camping, I slipped on a wet root, twisted bizarrely on my left knee and landed quite hard in a pile of rocks. I lay in pain for several agonizing moments, my eyes squeezed shut, still braced for the cranial impact that didn't come. I tentatively opened one eye and saw a spike of granite that was so close as to be out of focus. As an unofficial trail inspector, I can tell you that up close, the trail just before the Rainbow Spring Lean-To is made mostly of dirt, rocks, and roots. I think I probably could have made this assessment from a standing position, but sometimes duty calls, and one has to really get down in and inspect that trail. I am happy to oblige. Or rather, I should say that my stumble-y feet are happy to oblige, as they made sure I did close trail inspections all throughout the hundred mile wilderness.

I was quite relieved not to have hit my head, but I had still managed to sprain my left wrist and take an impressive swath of skin off of my knee. Bending my left knee was quite painful, and Dumptruck walked with me as I limped along like a pirate whose peg-leg was crafted by a drunk carpenter. We made it to the lean-to, and assessed our situation. We could turn around and leave the wilderness. Or, we could keep going.

If you have been reading this blog with any amount of memory retention, you may remember that Dumptruck and I have more or less worked our way through an entire First Aid handbook through self-injury, and it hasn't yet stopped us.

The next day I tripped and fell, again, on the exact same side of my body, on my already sprained and swollen wrist. I had wrapped my wrist and knee in sports tape, which incidentally protected me from any further road rash. After I fell, Dumptruck ran over and took my pack off of me. Instead of getting up, I just continued to lay face-down in the middle of the trail, sprawled out like I had fallen out of a passing airplane.

"Are you okay?" Dumptruck said, quite concerned.

"Yeth," I mumbled into the dirt, sighing deeply. Dumptruck sat down in the middle of the trail next to me and patted my back.

"Apparently the trail wants me to be parallel rather than perpendicular," I mused after a few moments of silence. I turned my head to the side and looked into the woods, resting my cheek against a small pile of wet leaves. "Apparently it needs lots of hugs. I'm going to try just staying like this for a while, to give the trail what it wants, so that it stops having to yank me down here."

"Roger that," Dumptruck said amiably, taking off his own pack and continuing to sit next to my prone form until I was ready to get up. We stayed that way, me face-down in the dirt, he sitting nearby and looking up at the sky, until we heard a rustling in the woods. I opened my eyes again and saw a pair of small red squirrels, one furiously chasing the other one, directly at my face. Due to our prolonged stationary silence, they were not aware of our presence until the front-runner squirrel was about 18 inches from me. At that point his eyes went from being tiny beady black eyes to being slightly larger tiny beady black eyes in his sudden fear. He tried to change direction so quickly that he looked a little like Wil E. Coyote, his feet spinning in place for a few paces until he could get purchase enough to make a 90 degree left turn. His pursuer darted in the opposite direction. I feel reasonably certain that I can now add "able to solve woodland creature conflicts through the sheer terror of my presence" to my resume.

The next day we got caught in an insane thunderstorm, where the lightning was crashing so closely to us that I was actually prompted to tell Dumptruck that I loved him, just in case one or both of us was about to meet our untimely fork-in-toaster end. We didn't die (so far as I know), and made it to a lean-to where we met 3 other NoBo-ers named Funny Bone! Pippin and StarChild. The 5 of us got along famously, and we stayed up far past our bedtime laughing and philosophizing while the thunderstorm raged overhead. None of us really dried out our clothes, but our spirits were far from dampened.

A few days later, I was at a lean-to with a few other hikers and I was standing next to a "bench" constructed of a gigantic log that had been long-ago nailed into two slightly smaller giant logs. One of the other hikers was sitting on the log bench, and when he stood up, the entire thing broke and tipped over. Directly onto my right leg. It slammed against the bones in my calf and wrenched me downward, pinning my leg underneath for several moments until a few people could lift it up. Meanwhile, a stream of very unladylike curse words issued forth from somewhere... probably from my mouth. I was absolutely not at all upset with the hiker, as it was only the fault of the bench. Or, should I say, the fault of the trail that cannot seem to stop hugging me.

We continued to hike, though I must say that I was hobbling for most of the time, and my log-leg is still purpley and swollen where it got pinned. None of the injuries are really serious at all, but put together (wrist, knee, leg), I feel a little bit like a rag doll that has been too-well loved and  badly sewn back together. My parents met us at the southern terminus of the hundred mile wilderness, and they are taking EXTREMELY good care of us. Slack-packing and food and staying in motels, oh my! Also, they brought along their dog, Dodger, who is a saint. Dumptruck volunteered to "proxy hike" for me for a couple of days, meaning he is hiking for the both of us while I rest my rickety bones.

A really fun part about going South Bound has been running into countless Northbounders who we had never met, and/or had met a long time ago and thought we would never see again. I have been taking quick pictures of each one we pass, and at the end, I will post one giant yearbook post of sorts of all the folks I was able to get a snapshot of. In spite of the trail loving me just a little too hard, the hundred mile wilderness was lovely, and full of so much beauty and energy in the form of Northbounders at the end of their journey. I felt very privileged to be able to see so many faces that we otherwise would never have seen again.

Clever Girl

Shout-out to my AWESOME SISTER NELLE AND BROTHER NATE for driving Dumptruck and I up to the base of Katahdin last week and hiking with us for a few miles! It was a glorious fun time, and I will always treasure the memory of the 4 of us driving down the highway in rural Maine at 11pm at night, blasting Katy Perry and screaming at the top of our lungs.

Whistle and Grim update, they were in Rangeley, Maine, and we'll probably cross their path within a few days!

My apologies for the lack of photos this round; as we were in the wilderness for 7 days, I was unable to ever charge my iPod, so I left it off almost all of the time unless it was to take photos of NoBo-ers.

This is what 7 days of hiker food looks like.

Nelle, me and Nate at the entrance to Baxter State Park.

Fine, if you say so.

"Big Niagara Falls"

One of the many river fords that soaked us to the bone!


The rafting crew headed out in the morning.

Joe the bus driver.

Backcountry first aid!

Ah yes, I also melted the insoles of my shoes by leaving them too close to a fire when I was trying to dry them out.


  1. Please do me a favor when this hike is over. You'd do the world a favor if you could score a job writing for the New Yorker. Please do!

    On the day before I start my hike next year, I'm awarding completely worthless and not coveted Sisu prizes to the best writers in the class of '13. Hint, hint. I think you're on the list. Best wishes to you and Dumptruck. Sisu

  2. Yes. Totally agree with the above comment. I met your happy troupe in s. pa.. the shelter with the hanging potted plants.,right before the ice cream challenge. Your blog is fantastic reading. cheering for you all..onward..mew mew

  3. I hope you enjoyed your days of proxy hiking and are healed and hiking again:-) Dumptruck is the best. It's hard to believe you are all so close to finishing! As a mom, I've become so comfortable with you all traveling the trail together. I (sort of )always know where Whistle is and that she has a great trail family watching her back. Who knows where she'll be next? It could be much more worrying than a quiet trail with snowstorms, thunderstorms, bear, moose, rattlesnakes...
    Hugs to all,
    Mama Whistle

  4. So much fun to be with you! Good work to arrange your injuries over a long weekend. You always were a good planner. Have fun as you plunge back into the Wild...we think of you every day and are so proud of both of you...and all your hiker family however and wherever scattered. You're doing cool to be over 2,000 miles! Love you, Mom and Dad

  5. Whoa, as always, making lemonade with what ever lemons come your way. Dumptruck called me Friday while I too was standing in a thunderstorm and having survived an ugly hot day. Perfect! I'm glad you took a few days to R&R. Continue to enjoy each step. Love you guys! Mom and Dad