Saturday, 26 July 2008

AT: Zero day or when the skies have diarhea

The last couple of days have been a real challenge. I am out of the rough terrain (thank God), but all of a sudden the sky got diarhea meaning that it started to rain like I have never seen any rain before. Everything is bigger in America - even their thunderstorms. It was just pouring down and every 2 hours or so there would be a new dump or eruption or whatever you want to call it. No rain jacket stands weather like that and unfortunately my tent did not either. Well, the tent itself coped pretty good, but there was so much downpour that the ground could not absorb it and so I ended up in a "water bed". That means that the water came up through the floor of the tent and in the end everything was soaking wet. My sleeping bag was more a rag filled with wet feathers than anything else.

But now comes the good part: I was meeting Packman and Wildflower (PCT 04 as well) the next day and that meant that I would sleep under a roof the next night! I was excited! Everything worked out well: Packman met me in Hanover and brought me to Montpelier for a zero day. The irony of all that: The sun was shining all day long on my zero day....I spent a fantastic time chatting about the good ole times on the PCT with Packman and Wildflower and even sightseeing in the capitol of Vermont. I was treated with great healthy vegetarian food and even self brewed cidre. Alas - I had to leave soon. I took public transport back to the trail in Hanover and of course the last bus on my planned route did only exist on the internet - it never showed up in reality. So I had to take a taxi for the last few kilometers to Hanover. 

AT: White Mountains

 The White Mountains posed a bit of a logistical problem as you are not allowed to wild camp there. Hikers must either stay in the luxurious huts or designated camp sites. Although the scenery is quite spectacular for AT standards as there are lots of views it is a very  demanding stretch aggrevated by the fact that you have to finish at a hut or campsite. I definitely did not like these restrictions but I must admit that the authorities have found a good solution for thruhikers: They do not have to make reservations for the often fully booked huts and they do not even have to pay the hefty fee these huts charge for food and accommodation. Instead they have to arrive in time to do a "chore" assigned to them by the hut wardens and in exchange get left over food and can sleep on the benches in the common room when everyone else has gone to bed. At campsites you can either pay a small fee or do a chore as well.

It is a very sensible system but I still could not wait to get out of the White Mountains. Why? The chores in the huts were usually quite simple: In my case I had to clean the freezer which was done in less than half an hour. And getting a huge amount of left over food (that has to be carried to the huts on foot by the wardens!) in exchange was a very profitable deal. But at night I had to wait till the last person went to bed until I could roll out my sleeping bag and sleep myself - only to be woken a couple of hours later by the first early risers. I mostly tried to stay at the very basic camp sites where the warden was either absent or told me he had no chore for me and let me stay for free!

Friday, 11 July 2008

AT: Trail magic so far

One evening I am at a road crossing - as usual way behind schedule, because I had been climbing up 3,000 ft and then down 3,000 ft on slippery rocks. Two older guys appear and try to convince me to come into Andover with them - they are just waiting for their shuttle. I don't want to have another town stop and I want an early start so I decline, but I keep them company until their shuttle turns up. Just for fun I ask the hostel owner what other hikers are there. Garlic and Pickle! I can't believe my luck. I know the 2 from the PCT in 04 and I knew that they were hiking the AT nobo this year and had hoped to meet them on their way north. So I took another town stop and had a happy triple crowner reunion with them exchanging hiking ideas. The also give me the good news that the terrain will improve after Mount Moosilauke - and this becomes my new mantra now: I just have to make it to Moosilauke and things will get better.

But that is not all: It turns out that the hostel owners helper is from Guatemala - where I have been before. It also turns out that he has not been speaking Spanish for about 2 years, so we end up talking in Spanish till 1 am in the morning.... The guy is producing "jewellery", so I end up with 2 earing made out of moose shit as a gift. That is no joke - he collects the moose droppings, fixes them and makes jewellery out of it. Interesting... The only problem with this nice and unexpected town stop is that I hardly got some sleep that night and end up almost sleep walking the next day.

Gossamer Gear The One tent
Not so good is that my new Gossamer Gear The ONE tent is making problems. It turned out to be fiddly to set up to start with. And then I had to discover that it is leaking as well. I spent one horrible night in a thunderstorm inside my tent protecting me against the rain with space blanket. I wrote them an email and they will change it into a new tent, but still I would not recommend anyone buying the ONE. Gossamer Gear blames the problem on a faulty patch of tent fabric. And of course, another Platypus bottle broke, but I could change it here in Gorham.

And I have seen some interesting wildlife: Turtles (yes, I mean Schildkroete) right on the trail, all sorts of giant frogs, snakes and moose. The moose were actually kind of annoying. Last night I camped next to a lake and there were moose feeding in the water all night long. It is pretty bizarre to lie in a tent with all those splashing noises nearby... made me sort of uncomfortable. What happens of they run over my tent?
Anyway, I am glad to be out of Maine now. One more week of rock hopping in the Whites and then the worst should be over. I hope I do survive without any injuries....

AT: Out of Maine or French Guyana

If you ever wanted to know what a boot camp of the French Foreign Legion in French Guyana would be like, just go and hike the AT in Maine in June! Eventually I am out of there, but it was a hell of a trip. Millions of mosquitoes are eating you alive, you are either hiking through knee-deep bog or sliding down slippery rocks on your butt and it is so humid that you are constantly soaked - either from sweat or rain. The terrain is so difficult that my mileage is below 15 miles per day now. Sometimes I do less than 1 mile per hour - this is pathetic. I got the impression that this trail has been design by the American association of knee surgeons in order to get more patients! Everything is out here to make you slip and fall: Rocks, roots, soil, leaves - just everything. Luckily I haven't broken anything - yet!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

AT: My birthday in Mahoosuc Notch

Near Mahoosuc Notch
I wanted to be in a nice trail town on my birthday and I was hoping to make it to Gorham for it, but unfortunately I had not taken the terrain into my consideration. And so I was way too late and I ended up doing Mahoosuc Notch on my birthday. Mahoosuc Notch is just 1 mile long but it is considered the most difficult mile of the whole AT. And I think that is right. For 1 mile you climb over and under all sorts of huge, slippery boulders. It took me three hours to do that mile. In the beginning I thought that it would be a nice birthday present just to survive that climb. Everything worked out fine - in the beginning.

Rock climbing on the AT
And then it started to rain, not like a normal German rain, no, it was a bad-ass American downpour. And I was right in the middle of Mahoosuc Notch on slippery man-sized rocks. Everything was out there to kill me. When I saw a moose carcass in the rocks that just matched my mood.... and it smelled pretty bad. Then I saw Tibetan prayer flags on the rocks - and remembered the reason for them. A young AT hiker had died there - not by accident, but because of a brain hemorrhage and his parents had erected the flags as a memorial.  Somehow I made it out of the damn notch UNHARMED! I don't know how I managed but I survived and had only lost the mouth piece of my platypus bottle. When I arrived at the next shelter it was totally full. At least I managed to secure the last tent platform next to the shelter. I was so exhausted that I did not want to talk to anyone. I just went to sleep in my damp tent... pretty exciting birthday!

Out of Mahoosuc Notch
I finally arrived in Gorham 2 days late, but I decided to take a single room in a motel in order to celebrate. But it was a weekend and everything was booked so I ended in a dump called hiker hostel. I had even invested in an expensive room but the owners were incredibly unfriendly. After having checked out on time the next morning I was not even allowed to stay in the hostel's common room for another hour. I guess they had made bad experiences with other AT hikers. I decided to leave town and just forget about birthday celebrations. But I got lucky when I was about to leave Gorham. I went to a very nice local cafe and wanted to at least splurge on a luxurious breakfast - but all the tables where taken. The waitress made me share a table "with our nice Gary" who introduced himself with: "I love my country but I hate the government."

Very nice introduction indeed and it got more interesting from there on. In the end he invited me back to his home. I wanted to have a zero day anyway so I came along. He had sort of forgotten to tell me though that his home was build somewhere in the 1700s - and not much restoration had been done in the meantime. The place was heated by a woodburner, water came from a well and everything was damp - but at least it was a roof over my head. I got to know the magazine "Mother Jones" and learnt everything about recycling in the US. Gary had a garage with a self-built tractor, a timber-mover and a century old welding machine. I have never seen so much junk in one place but it was fascinating. So in the end I had had a very nice birthday - just a little bit late.