We're 2,000 milers!

Years ago, the Appalachian Trail was about 2,000 miles long. Due to property disputes and trail relocations and other politics we don't understand, the AT is now 2,174 miles long. Last year it was 2,175 miles long. Next year, it will be something else. But the important thing is that we've now crossed the 2,000 mile mark, another milestone on this journey. Yet another milestone was crossing the mighty Kennebec River, which we did with the assistance of the ferry, which is really a canoe that will take hikers and their packs across at no charge.

We've had really lovely weather over the past few days, and there have been many opportunities for swimming. The lakes and ponds in Maine are numerous and, surprisingly, many have sandy beaches. Today a cold front blew through, in a rather dramatic way, with lighting, thunder, hail, rain violent wind and a tree that almost fell on M. So now I can say that I've seen a tree fall in the forest, which, remarkably, I hadn't seen before today, despite having spent the better part of six months in the woods.

New Things in Maine...

Today we saw a Moose. Not the first one I've ever seen, but the first on this trip.

Also saw the first hail of the trip. bigger than peas, smaller than marbles. Doesn't hurt too bad with a good rainjacket.

Another first: Tree falling in the woods. Big tree. It makes a sound.


Camera Casualty

Well, it was bound to happen eventually. Some essential piece of gear would break or be lost or otherwise cease to function. In this case it was the camera... our trusty 4 year old Canon Powershot was claimed by the raging waters of the South Branch of the Carabasset River. Also harmed in the incident were M's MP3 player (this may still work, it's drying out now) and tragically, B. Hippo, who will now be appearing only in 'portrait' mode, as the 'landscape' photo has become quite inky.

Fortunately, neither M nor K were harmed, nor any other gear. Only the camera bag and it's contents fell in. Also fortunate is the fact that we were able to procure a NEW camera, lighter and smaller than it's predecessor, from the good folks at Amazon.com. The photos on the old card were rescued and posted today. There may not be any further photo posts 'til we're done, as I'm not sure how to upload from the new camera yet. Stay tuned!


Maine, wild and wonderful

We expected to be disconnected from the rest of the world while we are in Maine, but there are quite a few public libraries here! It's crazy, because when we get to the top of a mountain and catch a glimpse of the surrounding countryside, we hardly see any signs of civilization...just trees and ponds and endless mountains stretching in all directions. But there are quite a few small towns to stop in, Maine is, after all, "Vacationland." Today we are in Rangely, which was once rated the 50th best resort town in the US. I was extremely excited to find a Thai restaurant here, and just enjoyed a delicious yellow curry for lunch.

Yesterday, M and I surprised ourselves by doing a 17 mile day - our biggest day in a month. We stopped at the stunningly gorgeous Sabbath Day Pond Shelter, sitting near Long Pond, which had a sandy beach, and cool, clear water. We met a couple there who is completing the AT in sections, and had a lot of good advice for us. They maintain a section of the Cumberland Trail in Tennessee, a piece of which my sister and I helped to build a couple of years ago.

I saw a moose, briefly, on the trail this morning on the way into town, my first of the trip. I am glad he ran away though, because he was terrifyingly large.

Tomorrow we'll go up and over Saddleback Mountain, which is another 4,000+ footer, and goes above treeline for quite a ways. If the weather is clear, we may catch a glimpse of the Big One...our goal, Mt. Katahdin.



We've done it! We've walked from Georgia to Maine. However, there are several hundred miles of trail in Maine that we still need to cover. Katahdin is about 256 miles away. It will take us another couple of weeks to get there. Every day, when we would hit the trail, M and I would exchange a little banter about which direction we should go (north or south) and would always say, well, let's just go to Maine. Now we can't really say that anymore, because we are already there!

The hiking is challenging - lots of boulder hopping, and scrambling up rock faces, but the views from the top of every mountain are outstanding. We just made it through the Mahoosuc Notch, which is supposed to be the hardest mile on the AT. And the rumors were right....there WAS a decaying moose carcass in the Notch. Smelled delicious. Then, right after the Notch, we had to climb the Mahoosuc Arm, which is a really tall, really steep mountain. The weather was less moist than the previous day, when we were climbing Goose Mountain, as a cold front blew in. The clouds were whipping across the face of Goose; the winds gusted so hard I was knocked clear off my feet several times. It wasn't exactly raining, although everything was wet, because we were in a cloud. Anyway, Mahoosuc Arm had several sections of smooth flat rock face at such an angle that I often found myself crawling up on all fours. It was not exactly climbing, although we've had plenty of that recently, but it kind of crosses the line in terms of my definition of hiking, which is much more related to wandering through the woods on a smooth dirt path while birds chirp overhead and squirrels frolic in the trees.

Maine is also really, really cold. The locals say this weather is unusual, that August is normally a bit warmer, but there was a frost warning last night! The temperatures in the mountains are dipping into the 20s at night. It reminds us of our early days on the trail, when it was, quite literally, still winter. When we stopped hiking in the evening, it was a race to pitch the tent, change out of our wet clothes and prepare and eat dinner, before diving into our sleeping bags.

Tonight, we are staying at the Cabin, where we have already been fed and are getting ready to tuck into warm beds in the bunk house. We are truly back in rural America and the hospitality and generosity of the people is reminiscent of what we found in the South. M even found some fried pickles when we stopped at the General Store in Andover, ME this afternoon.


Ahh, the Whites

We finally made it to Gorham, NH, less than 20 miles from the Maine border. Maine! Our last state on this epic journey! I have to admit that we went into the White Mountains with a certain amount of trepidation, even hysteria, mainly due to the excessive warnings we heard from South-bounders, trail angels, hostel owners and the general public. Basically, we expected the terrain and/or weather to kill us.

Well, we made it out alive, and even had a great time hiking the White Mountains. The adventure began with Mt. Mousilauke, the first of the mountains above treeline. We started out tramping up wet, heavily forested trail, but the top of the mountain was relatively clear. The tricky part was the descent on the other side into Kinsman Notch, where the trail drops an abrupt 1,000 feet in under a mile. Wooden ladders and steel cables are placed in some, but not all, of the steepest areas. We took our time and enjoyed breathtaking views of the waterfall cascading beside the trail on the way down.

Having conquered Mousilauke, we gained some confidence, and set out the next day over Wolf Mountain. The terrain was rocky and wet, due to some scattered showers, but it didn't seem too bad. We hoped to hike somewhere around 12-15 miles that day, shorter than our previous average to account for difficulty. We hiked and hiked and hiked, and then had a heart-sinking moment when we passed the first sign. Three miles in almost as many hours! We consulted the map and discovered that we weren't even on Wolf Mountain yet! We struggled to pick up our pace, but I soon slipped on a rock, smashing my kneecap, in what I first thought would be a trip-ending injury. Luckily, I was able to bear weight and the pain subsided somewhat. We limped into the first shelter, a mere 7 miles from the road, by four o'clock, and declared an end to that day's hike. We played some cribbage to cheer ourselves up, but were both feeling pretty discouraged. It would take us weeks to get through the Whites at this rate. That night the wind howled through the trees, and the creek next to the shelter roared from the recent rains. The forest seemed very wild and inhospitable.

However, the next day proved to be easier, and we adjusted our expectations, aiming for a 10 mile a day average. We lucked out with some good weather over the next week, and really started to enjoy the challenges and rewards of these rugged mountains. We hit the Franconia Ridge on a day when the AMC was reporting 107 mile views - incredible for this area. We could see the clear outlines of the Adirondacks to the west and into the province of Quebec to the north. Mt. Washington was clearly visible, as was the smoke pouring from the cog rail as the trail inched its way up the mountain. By the time we actually summitted Mt. Washington it was, as usual covered in fog, and we hit several windy rainstorms above treeline, but this is to be expected, and it turned out to be kind of fun to hop from boulder to boulder through the mist.

M and I took advantage of the "work-for-stay" option at nearly all of the huts in the White Mountains. The huts are maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club and staffed by enthusiastic crews of college students who cook and clean for guests staying there. At $60-80 per night, they are far too expensive for us, but in exchange for 2 hours of work, the crews let us sleep in the dining hall and eat the leftovers from dinner and breakfast. This way, we carried very little food, which made for lighter packs and therefore easier hiking. Most of the people who stay in the huts go on short hikes in the mountains, and don't have to carry a full backpack. Unfortunately, this means that a LOT more people than usual are using the trails, and there were points when we were really slowed down, just from passing so many other people on the freeway, err trails. In general, though, I think it's a really positive thing to see people exercising in fresh air, so I can't complain too much about the AMC making this feasible.

As a special bonus, the last three miles out of the White Mountains are on smooth, flat trail at a very slight downhill grade. Pure bliss, after pulling ourselves hand-over-hand up ridges in blustery wind, and lowering ourselves carefully down trail that resembled waterfalls. We trotted happily and even met some dayhikers on the way out who gave us a ride into Gorham. So here we are, taking a "zero day" - ie, no hiking - and feeling really enthusiastic about the upcoming weeks.

This Body Climbed Mount Washington (and Mt. Madison, and Mt. Moosilauke, and Mt. Lafayette, etc...)

Well, we've done it. We've made it through New Hampshire's famed White Mountains and are now taking a relaxing zero day in Gorham. It certainly wasn't easy or fast, but the journey has been rewarding with every step.

Heading into the Whites, the difficulty of Mt. Moosilauke had been somewhat built up by other hikers (both this year's southbounders, and some northbounders from previous years). It's the first peak over 4000' in some time, and sports a ridiculously steep and potentially treacherous descent down the Beaver Brook trail on the Kinsman notch side. We completed the 10 mile hike in a little less than 6 hours on a cloudy, wettish day, and felt quite good about ourselves and the other mountain peaks looming to the northeast.

Then we got schooled.

The trail out of Kinsman Notch, though not particularly steep or long on the elevation profile, was some of the hardest we'd encountered since our out-of-shape days back in Georgia. It took us a whole day to get over the lowly (by comparison to other upcoming peaks) Mt. Wolf, and our usual pace of around 3mph was slowed to near 1 over slick rocks in our worn down trail runners. This would be the case throughout the Whites, our previous daily averages of 17 to 20+ miles were cut to around 10, and feet and knees were sore and tired at the end of each day.

Despite their unusual difficulty, the Whites afforded us some of the most spectacular views to date, and some of the most rewarding climbs. Even though the area is famed for it's notoriously poor and oft-changing weather, we walked in comfortable sunshine and enjoyed 100+ mile visibility for all but our first and last days, and our summit of Washington (which seems always to be covered in cloud, despite widespread sun throughout the rest of the region). And though the rocky, rooty, and often slick or muddy trails slowed us down quite a bit, they've prepared us well for southern Maine, which I understand is also no piece of cake.

I'll let K describe some of our adventures in more detail... as for me, it's only 17 miles to the Maine border, and only 300 miles to go!


M & K Update!

Hey everyone! I just wanted to update everyone on m & k's progress on the trail. Currently, they are in Glencliff, NH and are about to enter into the White Mountains. The trail is a little rough in this section, so the going is slower, but they are still having a blast. They want to thank all of the people who have sent them emails and messages... your words of encouragement mean a lot to them.
The updated finish date is going to be around Sept. 15th (5 weeks) or so, depending on the trail and weather. Unfortunately, you probably won't hear from them until they are finished because they are in a pretty rural area. In any case, they have really appreciated all of your support along the way. If I hear anything further, I will be sure to post!



Happy Anniversary!

As of today, Monkey and Cocoa (or Mark and Katy in the regular world) have been married for Four years. We'll probably celebrate by walking through the woods and camping. Perhaps we'll play some Cribbage on our new plastic board (many thanks to Advance Transit in Hanover, NH, gotta love the free bus) - we picked up the game on a lazy day in VT and are hooked!. At any rate, we hope all you other married folk out there are as happy as we are to be together after however many years.