Thursday, June 26, 2008

AT: Kathadin to Monson or I want to be hiking again

Rain and mist on Kathadin

I took the hostel shuttle to Baxter State Park, pitched my tent and met the first Northbounders on their last day. It was a funny coincidence that they were friends of Skittles - a fellow Triple Crowner who had told me about them and asked me to give them his greetings in case I ran into them. Although they were quite happy to see me (and hear about Skittles) they were exhausted and wanted their hike to be over with. That was a feeling I have never had at the end of a thruhike. On the contrary: I have always been sad that the hike is over now. Baxter State Park also has an interesting policy for thruhikers: People starting their thruhike have to make an official reservation for their campsite and also pay for it whereas hikers finishing their thruhike can stay for free and without reservation in a specific thruhiker shelter hidden in the woods. I guess there is very little abuse of this policy as rangers can easily tell the dirty, smelly UL thruhikers from the squeaky clean day hikers.
The official start photo

I summited Kathadin in a rain/snow storm. Nobody had warned me that this was more a climb than a hike. I knew it was going to be difficult, but I didn't know how difficult. Most of the time I was sitting on my butt trying to come down some vertical rock slabs. I was already thinking of turning back, but I finally made it to the top where I even found somebody to take my photo! Back down at Kathadin Stream Campground the sun was shining... and I was starting to wonder if the trail would always be difficult like this.

I asked a ranger would they do in case of a medical emergency in this difficult terrain. "Well," she said. "we used to helicopter people out to the next hospital. But now that we are fighting a war there are no more helicopters available. I guess we now have to carry out people on a stretcher...." How this is going to work in terrain where even hiking with just a daypack is a problem she did not elaborate on.

Then I hiked through the 100 mile wilderness and I must say that this trail kicks my ass. My body looks like a battle field after a bomb attack - depending on the form of the "bomb crater" it is a mosquito or black fly bite.... Hiking here is like an exercise in meditation: You have to concentrate very hard not to go crazy with 5 million bugs flying around you. DEET is my best friend now. Hiking with a head net is almost impossible because it is so hot. Luckily there is good swimming in lakes and streams but due to the mosquitoes this is a logistical exercise. First you set up your tent and get into it as quickly as possible. Inside your tent you undress and then make a mad dash to the water were you submerge yourself as quickly as possible. When done swimming and cleaning you get out of the water and run back to your tent. Drying yourself and dressing again can only be done inside.

I could only hike 15 miles per day because the footing is so bad - it is all slippery wet rocks, slippery wet tree roots and anythings else is slippery and wet, too. But I will not complain about the weather: After the initial rain on Kathadin it has actually been quite nice which means I am sweating like a pig. I drink 4 liters of water every day and my pee is still almost black (well, not quite black....) I have never hiked in a climate like this. This is my first town stop and instead of dreaming of good food I was dreaming of a washing machine to clean my clothes again. And that should tell you something...

100 Mile Wilderness
Unfortunately, I left all my hiking buddies way behind and hiked alone for a week. (I started out with 7 other people). But I met some nice section hikers and day hikers. I am still surprised how unprepared people come to start this trail... Two of the people I started out with have already quit. I am surprised how ill-prepared and unexperienced hikers are on this trail. I had expected that going Southbound would eliminate the rookies, but no: Some fellow hikers are carrying tins of sardines, dress in self-knitted sweaters and carry hand-carved wooden hiking sticks instead of trekking poles. I have already heard several stories of hikers losing their trekking poles in river crossing just because they had forgotten to stick their hands through the loops. And in the hostel in Monson I am next door to a guy who has already been here for over a week - his hiking boots have rubbed his feet down to open flesh wounds that he is trying to heal now.

Right now I am in Monson, ME. The place is so small that they don't have a decent store - and I have to do resupply for one week. Which also means that I will be outside civilisation for a week and there will be no further posts... Hopefully, this will soon become a hiking trail again! I am fed up with climbing...

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