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Week Twenty Four: Large stacks of pancakes, I almost drown, and the last town along the trail

Sunday September 18th, 1983
Hiked out of Stratton this morning with Rich, Curt, Damien, Al, and AT. AT was a German Shepherd that began to follow Curt on the trail in one of the southern states and decided that Curt was a human worth adopting - so he did just that. The dog had a good disposition, but always wanted to be at the front of the pack. I was a bit annoyed that he would always try to get ahead of us. Curt usually had him on a leash and would constantly try to correct him. In the back of my mind, I concluded that since we are a thousand miles from where he had been found; I figured that if he couldn't train the dog by now it was a lost cause.

At this point our destinations at the end of the day were usually the same shelters, but we were hiking as individuals. Sometimes we would meet up during the day but this, I believe, was more a function of our individual cadences rather than by design. We all stopped at Horn's Pond part way up the Bigelows. I read in the trail register that the Jays located there would eat from your hand and it explained exactly how to do it. You would put some food in your outstretched and open hand and stay perfectly still. Both would only swoop down from behind me, land on my hand to pick up the morsel, and then fly to the nearest branch to feed. I fed them peanuts from my GORP stash. After they became acclimated to my presence, I was able to modify my stance (and their behavior) by standing sideways to where they perched before flying down. This way I could see them coming through my peripheral vision. I tried to get them to fly to me while I faced them, but either they were too afraid, or had already filled their bellies enough to become disinterested. I was delighted to be able to witness this behavior, and it gave me a feeling of well-being and calm. This hike was getting better every day, and I am so pleased to have endured and trudged through the mid states to get to this point.

So ... I did a big eight mile day over the Bigelow Range. Although quite tall and rugged, these are supposed to be the last big mountains before Katahdin. The Bigelow range was a long and fairly easy climb, but unfortunately without views due to weather.

Tonight I am staying at Myron H. Avery Lean-To just below the summit of Avery Peak. With me are a few southbounders tonight. Definitely going to be chilly tonight at this elevation and this time of year. I am glad that I had been sent my overalls and flannel shirt three weeks ago.

(Signs at Horns Pond) (Marcel, hand feeding a Canadian Jay at Horns Pond)

(Marcel on West Peak of Bigelow) (Bigelow summit with Richard Kozon, Curt Anderson, and A.T. his dog)

Monday September 19th, 1983
Even though we all want to finish, we want the experience to continue. Ten big miles is all we put in today. Circumstances also forced our hands with the distance we covered today. Rain had pelted us heavily all night, and when I woke up, there was fog everywhere. I was the first one out. I ascended the two tenths of a mile to Avery Peak engulfed in the thick fog, but by the time I got off that peak and arrived onto Little Bigelow Mountain, it had begun to clear. I tried to hike past Flagstaff Lake, but it's beautiful shoreline attracted me like a magnet. I found an area that was clear of driftwood, laid on the beach and enjoyed the sunshine on Flagstaff. I hung out along the shore about two and a half hours till the rest of the crew caught up, and then we did the last two miles to Jerome Brook Lean-To together. We have been hearing all kinds of stories about the Kennebec River, coming up soon, so we'll have to find out ourselves what the real story is. Most of what I heard about the Kennebec was idle trail gossip. I wasn't too concerned. If all those other hikers could ford it then why couldn't I? Besides, the trail registers were filled with south bounders giving advice about the ford and the best time to cross.

Jerome Brook Lean happened to be a "baseball bat" shelter. I stuffed my spare clothes between the saplings to make it flatter and more comfortable. My sleep wasn't impeded by the uneven surface probably because my sleeping pad was a closed cell foam winter pad which was quite rigid, thus it more or less eliminated the irregularity of the "bats".

(Driftwood along the shore of Flagstaff Lake)

Tuesday September 20th, 1983
A beautiful warm summer day? Strange for September 20th. Other than that the day was quite uneventful unless you are a Scatologist; I've been seeing a lot of moose tracks, but no moose so far.

(Beautiful West Carry Pond)

We ended our day at Pierce Pond Lean-To. The shelter is very nice, and well situated on the shore of Pierce Pond. Paul, Kurt, AT, Alan and I all enjoyed this location. Being situated in a shelter just yards from the shore of the pond felt and seemed to us the picture of serenity. That evening, the pond surface was like glass with an occasional loon paddling near a the distant shore. It had the feel of remoteness: the mountains in the distance and nary a camp or building in sight. I was told that each pond or lake has a resident bear and moose, but haven't seen either. Besides the shelter register, there is a menu from the Carrying Place that I perused through - drooling- as I lay on my sleeping bag. Tomorrow's breakfast will be an auspicious occasion. Even though the place has a feeling of remoteness, there is a "wilderness camp" just a short way past the shelter that supposedly serves legendary breakfasts.

Tomorrow morning we visit "The Carrying Place" for a personal stack of 12 pancakes, 2 eggs, juice, and milk before marching on to the Kennebec River Crossing.

Wednesday September 21st, 1983
What a pig-out at the Carrying Place, and even that formidable breakfast wasn't enough to fill me up! As I was served last at the Carrying Place I found myself all
alone as the others finished up and left for the Kennebec. In spite of this I did not abbreviate my stay, but ingested every last morsel of ambrosia. I have my priorities!!

Three quick miles later I stood on the shores of the mighty Kennebec River. I hoped to catch up to the others before the ford, but in their excitement all the others were halfway across the ford before I even touched the water. It took a while to re-pack my backpack and change into my sneakers for the ford. As a consequence my first steps into the water marked their final
steps out. I looked around, but couldn't find any sticks I felt comfortable with to help me stabilize my crossing, so I just settled and grabbed the best one I could find. This morning I had bagged everything in garbage bags just in case, and also put my sleeping bag on top of my pack to keep it away from the water. I slowly made it to the halfway mark with no incident, but the current swiftly kept rolling past, pushing me downstream, and I was having a tough time on the rounded slippery rocks not visible below the surface. About three quarters of the way across, the stick I was trusting way too much suddenly broke, and I fell in face first. The current quickly swept me down the river, and my forty pound pack kept me submerged for what seemed to be hours. At first I began to panic, but I gathered my composure, and calmed myself down. Groping around, I found the bottom and wedged my feet between two rocks. After gathering up all the strength in my legs I managed to hoist my waterlogged body and pack up and out of the water. Standing there with water draining from everywhere, I found myself with another fourth of the river to cross to arrive on shore battling a strong current with no walking stick. I was worried! The guys on shore tried to throw their walking sticks to me, but none could throw that far. They landed between me and the shore and were quickly transported downstream by the current. I knew that if I were going to make it across, I would have to focus all my concentration on the lower part of my body. Thinking of Kwai Chang Caine, it was time to summon my Chi from within. I closed my eyes, felt the strength leave my upper body while my legs turned to steel, and with that, I was ready to move. Slowly and deliberately I strode toward shore as my legs battled the current. When I got to shore, we all sat down, breathed a sigh of relief, and began to laugh.

Caratunk, Maine was just a hop and skip from the river, but the soda machine there had been emptied for the winter. Fortunately the post office was open and I received a great care package, most of which were snacks that I ate right there and then. I know some of them were Milky Way candy bars. I can't remember how many I ate but I'm sure that it was more than a couple. Alan Savage started to laugh when I packed in my goodies so he told me to open my food compartment and took a picture. Some time after we got home he sent me pictures of me half drowning in the Kennebec and this one in Caratunk.

About two miles later along the road walk out of Caratunk, we stopped to pick some apples which were at the peak of perfection. Another mile up the road Curt exclaimed that he could see two baby cubs. I ran toward him, and as I caught up I strained my eyes and finally got a good glimpse. I finally saw a bear - took long enough.

Leaving the road, we climbed another mountain before descending toward Moxie Pond, the cable crossing, and nearby Joe's Hole Lean-to to end a seventeen mile day. All I can say about the cable crossing was that it was great fun! But as for Joe's Hole - the Hole was dismal and dank, and it had begun to rain during the night which made it even worse.

(Marcel beginning to ford the Kennebec River) (Marcel falls into the flowing river)

(Drying off at the Caratunk Post Office with Paul Nichols, Alan Savage and Curt Anderson) (Marcel eating the care package contents)

Thursday September 22nd, 1983
Still raining this morning... My usual routine is to wake up around 7:00 am, eat a granola bar, pack my gear and be out by 7:30 am. Today would be different. As I could see about fifty feet from the shelter my first task would be to wade "who knows how deep" through water deposited by a soaking rain that began in the wee hours of the morning, and that I would probably hike in the rain all day, the timing was a bit delayed. Also for the previous reasons, I decided keep my hiking boots dry in my backpack and hike in sneakers. Once soaked it takes my boots a minimum of three days to completely dry out. Wet boots mean wet feet, and wet feet get soft and prone to blistering.

Enough rain had fallen that a huge pond had formed during the night's storm less than fifty feet from the lean-to. After I had fully woken up and begun to engage in my daily regimen, the other hikers began to discuss the pros and cons of continuing on with hiking during which was to be a rain-soaked day. Slowly all began to reach a "nay" consensus, opting to stay in this "dry" shelter. I said nothing, but caught up on my journal entries and my letters home, which were to be mailed in Monson. Once finished, at around 9:00 am, I began to pack my gear. Alarmed, they looked at me quizzically until one asked, "what are you doing?" I told him that I was going to the next shelter, and finished packing my gear. I donned my Cagoule... I contemplated for a long time... before I built up the courage to wade through what turned out to be knee-deep water that early in the morning.

Suddenly there was a flurry of activity from the others, and as I began to wade through the "liquid land" a line of thru-hikers began to form behind me with the last one calling for us to "wait up". Until that moment, I had not realized how much impact I had on the other thru-hikers.

The rest of the day I spent in soaking wet sneakers. The sun did manage to come out in the afternoon, but the trail remained a stream all day.

I racked up a twelve mile day upon reaching Breakneck Ridge Lean-To, which under these conditions is not bad.

Tomorrow is Monson, Maine, the last town stop. The highlight will be a pig out at Shaw's boarding house for AYCE breakfast. Monson is coming not a moment too soon for I am out of food - completely!

Friday September 23rd, 1983
I completed the nine mile walk to Monson in two and a half hours. I was burning rubber and melting mud. I had heard that Monson had a hostel that was run by Mr. Shaw. Having heard good things about the place and particularly the meals provided there, I thought that this would be a good place to stay; particularly since it was on the road shared by the AT. Once I reached town I stopped at the Post Office. Upon entering, I ran into a long lost buddy of mine from early on in my journey named Tracy Gayton. I thought he was behind me!

Tracy began to tell me a little bit more about the Shaw's and a new hostel that had opened up in town in an old church. He told me that Shaw was using unfair business practices in an attempt to run the owners of The Old Church Hostel out of business. One complaint was that Shaw would park his vehicle at the trail head, and bring thru-hikers to his place, thus "stealing" potential business from The Old Church Hostel. Tracy also told me that the owners of The Old Church Hostel were ex thru-hikers trying to make a go of it. Thru-hiker solidarity won the day as I made my way to The Old Church, registered for the night, and received a voucher to eat at a local restaurant.

The old church had been bought by two ladies who were former thru-hikers. Their dream was to start a hostel, and this was their first year in that endeavor. Shaw had an entrenched hostel in town so he saw the church as a major threat. This year, 1983, Shaw began ferrying hikers to and from the trail head both North and South of Monson in order to "snag" thru hikers before they got into town and heard about "The Old Church". He also had someone place advertisements in the shelter registers just north and south of Monson. Tracy had arrived in Monson a day before me, heard of these practices, and moved from Shaw's to The Old Church. When I met him at the post office, he informed me of the situation. It was then that I made the decision to stay at The Old Church as well. I figured that having two hostels in Monson was better for thru-hikers 'cause it would keep both on their toes, and we would benefit from the competition.

It seems that Tracy had already done the section south of Monson. He wanted to catch up to us so he "jumped up". Pete Headen pulled into town late this afternoon, and said that he's damn glad that he caught up to us since he has been hiking alone since "The Water Gap" (Delaware Water Gap). The Robots, Fish and Hot Spott, who are ahead of me at this point, left me post cards at the post office, and Terri had sent me a post card from Gorham, New Hampshire saying that she is on the way north to the Big "K".

We're having a great party tonight for all the gang staying at the old church.

(Tracy Gayton and Curt Anderson in Monson) (Peat Headdon standing outside the Old Church Hostel in Monson)

(The Old Church Hostel) (inside the Old Church Hostel. Photo courtesy Tracy Gayton)

Saturday September 24th, 1983
I can't stay in town another day for I am so anxious to get to Baxter Park. The day of my finish has been set as Sunday, October 2nd, 1983 and I will be there. I set the date based on my average miles per day hiked while in Maine. I notified my parents and Dia. In some of the previous letters sent home I had invited both my brother and my cousin Sonny to hike Katahdin with me. I had no idea if they would show up, but I invited them in hopes that they would. Wrote post cards this morning, had an AYCE breakfast, and sent my tent and other odds and ends back home that I was sure I would not need any longer for the last few days.

I departed civilization at 11:30 am with Rich Kozon, Paul "Damien" Nichols, Pete Headen and Al Savage following me. We are entering the one hundred mile wilderness - no roads or civilization until Abol Bridge, just before Baxter State Park. The was a warning sign designating the southern terminus of the 100 mile wilderness and this was to be my final test of the AT. I entered the forest with some trepidation for this final exam would test the culmination of all that I had learned from Springer to now. Up until now there was always a way out if something unforeseen would happen to me. A road, a town, a path, or something could be accessed to get me out of a jamb but none of this would be available here. I was totally on my own and I was naked but for my resourcefulness should anything go awry, and to top it off I had a schedule to keep. In Monson I had told my parents when they, Dia, my brother Harry and my cousin Sonny were to meet me at Katahdin. It was paramount that I hike conservatively, but with purposeful intent. There would be no high speed hiking among the root littered trail lest I break an ankle and ruin the trip at just a hairs breath away from culmination. I had over packed food just in case I needed to stay longer than anticipated in this vast wilderness, but I also knew that this meant extra weight which could increase the propensity for injury and curtail mileage. Perhaps this was the wrong approach and my plans would be my undoing. Maybe I should stick with my tried and true method of bringing just enough food along to cover my stay plus one day extra. Well the mold was cast and I had made my choices so best not question myself and continue on with the plan. Now that I think of this, I believe this was where Grandma Gatewood got lost and was told by the rangers who found her to go back to her rocking chair.

We all hiked ten miles to Little Wilson Falls where we will camp out for the night. Little Wilson Falls proved to be a great distraction. The day was beautiful, and the water from the falls flowed gracefully down the rocks creating swirling pools downstream. Under the dappled sunlight making its way through the forest canopy, rivulets wound their way amongst the rocks and over fallen logs finding their way ever downward past my vision of sight and into the deep forest beyond. Dreams of the "Big K" will surely dance in my head tonight.

(Marcel standing beside Little Wilson Falls)


Gonzo! Appalachian Trail Journals ©1983