Day 139 – Tuesday, July 26: Stealth Camp (behind the Red Hen, Andover, ME) to Stealth Camp (Unnamed Gap), 14.5 miles, 1,946.7 total AT miles.

I woke to rain. It was a little chilly – I slowly started packing up. I was still tired. Greyhound was up. We both chugged Mountain Dew and Starbucks Iced Coffees purchased from the market the night before.

We finished packing up, I left my tent to dry in the rising sun, and we walked our packs over to the Red Hen. For a small town, this place was legit. We enjoyed pancakes and sausages, fresh fruit, juice, coffee – I even bought a loaf of bread to go. We reviewed the AT Guide as we ate. We wanted to make it to Rangeley, ME in two days. The mileage would be tough, but we had enough food to get us there.

We also both bought plane tickets leaving Bangor, ME on Aug 11th. We were summiting Katahdin on the 9th, now just over two weeks away.

After breakfast, we walked over to the stop sign hoping to catch a hitch back to the trailhead – and it didn’t take long. A nice mom and her two kids thoroughly enjoyed entertaining us as we made our way back to the AT.

Despite our late start, we hiked as hard as we could. The trail was substantially easier than it had been in a while. We ran across some huge shelf mushrooms as we neared the Hall Mountain Lean-To (shelters are now called lean-to’s in Maine) We were both getting grumpy and decided to have a quick lunch at the shelter – we stopped at 11:00am having hiked six miles on the day.

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After a brutal descent into Sawyer Notch, and an equally difficult ascent back out, we paused at Moody Mountain before heading down to South Arm Road. We finally reached the trailhead at 5:00pm and immediately received trail magic – of sorts. The MATC had recently built a privy a couple hundred yards from the trailhead. Greyhound jumped at the opportunity.

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At 6:00pm, we summited Old Blue Mountain and enjoyed the views.

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We quickly descended down a mossy, rocky trail towards an unnamed gap listed in the AT Guide – we were hoping we could find a stealth spot. The sun was starting to set when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a clearing in the woods to my right. I walked through the trees and found a hidden campsite – it was big enough more multiple tents and came with a pre-existing fire ring. While we didn’t enjoy a campfire, we did cook a nice hot dinner before retiring for the evening.

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We’re both worrying about making it to 22 miles to Rangeley, ME for a resupply tomorrow night.

Day 138 – Monday, July 25th: Stealth Camp (north end of Mahoosuc Notch) to Stealth Camp (behind the Red Hen, Andover, ME), 17.3 miles, 1,932.2 total AT miles.

We woke up early and started packing quickly. As is often the case when cowboy camping, daylight often reveals you’re closer to the trail than you think you are. We were ready to go by 7:10am. We hiked strong, as if in spite of last night’s mutual rants.

We climbed hard and fast – the terrain was still pretty steep. We topped the Mahoosuc Arm at 8:15 and summited Old Speck by 9:00. We had already hiked nearly four miles.

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We attacked the 2,500 foot descent towards Grafton Notch – the AT Guide promised trash cans and privies. We reached Grafton Notch at 11:30 and ate a big lunch. The weather was great and we were cruising. A little after noon, we resumed hiking.

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On our way up Baldpate Mountain, we met a couple of day hikers – Greyhound actually struck up the conversation. We told them of our plans to hitch into Andover, ME and camp behind the town diner. While they were familiar with hikers being allowed to do this, they cautioned us against relying on a hitch from East B Hill Road. Apparently, it was a little-used, private-access, gravel road eight miles away from.

This was disheartening. We both really needed a mini-resupply quite bad. But we really had no option – I’d walk to town if I had to. After a few minutes, the couple gave us their number. They lived close to the trailhead and would be happy to give us a ride – good job Greyhound!

We continued our ascent of Baldpate reaching the west peak at 3:00pm. We were treated to some extraordinary views.

And blueberries.

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We stormed down Baldpate, bypassing the Fry Notch Lean-to and cruising towards the road. About a mile before we reached East B Hill Road, my back thing flared up again. I had to strip down, right in the middle of the AT, and throw on the only clean thing I had left – my baselayer. I was miserable.

We passed two pretty waterfalls and followed a stream towards the trailhead.

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But I had cell service – I called the couple Greyhound met and we soon found ourselves on the way to town. They dropped us off at the town market, basically a glorified convenience store – but it had everything we needed. Greyhound bought a “crab roll” (it was gross) but quickly redeemed herself by eating two ice creams.

We met a few hikers staying at a hostel a few blocks away. We briefly considered joining them but figured, what’s the point in paying for a bunk this late at night? We gathered up our purchases and headed across the street to the field behind the Red Hen, the town diner. We set up in the dark and quickly went to sleep. I remember a light rain falling.

Day 137 – Sunday, July 24: Gentian Pond Campsite to Stealth Camp (north end of Mahoosuc Notch), 12.3 miles, 1,914.9 total AT miles.

I woke up at 6:30am to the sound of a light rain hitting my tent. Not again, I thought. I rolled over and went back to sleep. I woke up at 7:00 and decided to start packing up. I wasn’t a happy camper. I ate snacks in my tent waiting for the rain to subside. At 7:30, I left to use the privy – it was cold and damp, but at least it wasn’t raining.

I made my way back down to the campsite and took down my tent. Greyhound and I were ready to go at 8:15. We began a steep ascent of Mount Success – the trail was actually a stream in places.

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We neared the summit at 9:00am – the rain had stopped and we enjoyed some excellent hiking weather.

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Greyhound and I followed a family of grouse down the trail.

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And at 11:20am, we crossed into Maine – the last state on the AT. We stopped and reflected a bit. This last leg of the trail had been rough – and I’m talking about before I met Greyhound. While I’ve had moments where I was hiking strong, I really haven’t regained the same Virginia speed that I apparently lost in northern Pennsylvania.

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It’s been tough. I certainly didn’t intend to outpace Savage – or potentially get outpaced by Black Santa. It’s just the way it happens – it’s hike your own hike.

I do know that I’m thankful to have met Greyhound. She’s become an ally, a partner and a close friend.

And if Black Santa needs to finish ahead of me, he already knows I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now, making the decisions I’m making, without his months-long support, guidance and true friendship. Black Santa – you son of a bitch. I love you brother.

And here we were, about to enter the last state on the AT. We were 281.8 miles away from Katahdin. We felt great – we felt truly motivated. We were ready to finish this thing.

We took a quick lunch on Mount Carlo and headed for Goose Eye Mountain. We faced some steep climbs with more rebar rungs sunk into rock. But the weather was beautiful.

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And we were awarded with views the entire way.

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Then we hit the Mahoosuc Notch. It was 6:00pm and we had hiked ten miles on the day. Not bad considering the terrain. The Mahoosuc Notch is famous – it’s widely considered “the most difficult mile on the AT”. The trail runs over, under and around house-sized boulders jumbled about in a very narrow, but very steep, valley. It was fun at first, there was still ice from winter (It’s July 24th) hidden under some of the boulders.

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We were forced to climb through small caves – and it wasn’t out of choice or just to have extra fun. We were required to squeeze through small opening to navigate the Mahoosuc.

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We finally navigated the entirety of the notch at 7:45pm – it took us nearly two hours to cover a mile. At first it was fun, but after a while it became infuriating.

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I just wanted to find a place to camp. (Notice my tone – I’m starting to get really whiny here – just ask Greyhound) Unfortunately, the Bull Branch campsite is over-full.

We press on and cross the stream up trail from camp. There was a bit of a ledge – just large enough for two people to sleep and not be on the AT. I had had enough.

I was having this embarrassing problem with the skin on my back. After a long day of hiking, at some point, the sweat on my shirt would have this reaction with my back – I’d break out in a million tiny red dots that itched like you wouldn’t believe. I’d have to throw my pack down at times and rub my back against a tree. I couldn’t figure it out.

But this time, the burning was bad. I threw my pack down, ripped my shirt off, and started bathing right in the middle of the creek. I was cussing and half-crying – it was awful. I scrubbed my back and put on a clean shirt – it somewhat helped. I then apologized to Greyhound for throwing a temper tantrum.

But it seems as if my crappy mood had struck a nerve – she joined right in. She was just as miserable right now. The trail was difficult, we were on semi-aggressive timeline. The weather. Beef jerky and tuna packets. Her busted Brooks trail runners. It all came out.

We sat on the edge of the creek and made dinner. Maybe it was good we voiced the resentments we’d been building up towards the AT, the hike, everything. It felt cathartic.

I didn’t clean my pot. I didn’t pack up my food. I just fell asleep on the ledge next to the creek.

Day 136 – Saturday, July 23: White Mountains Hostel (Gorham, NH) to Gentian Pond Campsite, 11.8 miles, 1,902.6 total AT miles.

We woke up late and hung out in our room waiting for breakfast, which was included in our stay. By 8:00am we were enjoying French toast and bacon – it was delicious. After eating, Greyhound and I returned to our room to finish packing. My food bags were overflowing again.

We left the hostel with Black Santa at 10:30am after slowly packing all morning. I weighed my pack on a hanging scale in the garage before departing – 47 pounds! I couldn’t believe it!

We hiked up Mount Hayes – Black Santa spotted some moose poop on the trail. We also found wild blueberries – they were very tasty! We kept stopping to munch on blueberries – but we had to get going. Storm clouds were moving in. Black Santa took off ahead – Greyhound and I eventually lost him in the distance.

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We hiked on in the rain for the rest of the afternoon. It was cold and miserable. The trail wasn’t exceptionally rough, just more of the same slow-goings. It was impossible to stay dry. At one point, I slipped on a boardwalk and fell backwards onto the planks. I stuck my hand out to pick myself up (and avoid getting more wet), when my arm sunk deep into the mud. I almost lost balance and fell in! I got lucky and righted myself – we took off for the next shelter at Gentian Pond.

We arrived at 7:00pm, thoroughly soaked and both of us unwilling to hike any further. We quickly set up our tents – it had briefly stopped raining and put on dry, warm clothes. Man, I’m getting really sick of being cold and wet out here! We walked up to the shelter to cook dinner and saw that Ralphie was bunking there for the night.

We hadn’t seen him in a while – but he saw Black Santa today. As we cooked, we wondered as to how far Black Santa was going to hike. We thought there was a very good possibility that the rain knocked Black Santa off the trail and we passed him trying to get to Gentian Pond. After consulting with Ralphie, Greyhound and I were nearly sure of it – Black Santa was somewhere behind us.

After dinner, the sun set and the temperature dropped. Greyhound and I said goodnight to Ralphie and headed over to our campsite. We stayed up discussing our plans moving forward for the better part of an hour and came up to a few conclusions.

First, there’s no way we can summit Katahdin on August 7th like Black Santa wanted to. We could theoretically push ourselves and potentially make it, but choosing that date leaves zero room for error. We were already in a position where we couldn’t take any more zero days – we simply needed more cushion, more time.

Second, August 9th not only marked my last day to finish the AT in less than five months, it marked Greyhound’s 150th day on the AT. Suddenly, that date became much more meaningful.

We decided to do our best to keep up with Black Santa’s timeline, but acknowledged we may not be able to keep up with his ambitious pace. I sent him a text explaining my situation at 9:00pm, dozing off to sleep not too much after that.

 

Day 135 – Friday, July 22: Stealth Camp (Middle Carter Mountain) to White Mountains Hostel, Gorham, NH, 10.5 miles, 1,890.8 total AT miles.

We woke up at 4:45am primed to have get to the hostel. We both needed showers and clothes laundered – I needed to pick up my mail drop and do a major resupply. We briefly enjoyed a gorgeous sunrise while we quickly ate breakfast and packed up.

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We hit the trail pre-dawn. We both stopped at the Imp Campsite to gather water. It was only 8:00am and Black Santa was nowhere to be found – I guess he wanted to get to the hostel as bad as we did.

After a tough climb up and over Mount Moriah, the trail got very nice. We were cruising, we did the last three mile stretch in an hour, spilling out onto US 2 at 11:00am – we covered almost eleven miles on the day.

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We entered the hostel and dressed in loaner clothes. Greyhound and I were given a room (with our own bathroom) and we both took quick showers. I borrowed a pair of hair clippers and trimmed my beard off – it was getting to be a little too much to handle again. (Greyhounds been starting at me all night – I think my lack of a beard freaks her out).

We decided to hitch into town and grab lunch – Black Santa had already taken the shuttle and was running errands by now. We found and open restaurant and sat in the bar to eat lunch. We both pulled out our AT Guides while we waited for our food and attempted to plan out the next week of hiking.

A nice guy at the bar introduced himself to us as a past thru-hiker and marked all sorts of things to look out for in Greyhound’s book. We ate lunch and quickly left, stopping at the outfitter so I could buy a new pair of trail runners – and the only thing they had were the same blue pair of Merrells I had just gotten rid of in Manchester Center, VT. I bought them, but I wasn’t happy about it.

We made our way over to the gas station to buy some snacks and take them back to the hostel. We quickly got a ride from a couple pumping gas and soon found ourselves back at the hostel.

After relaxing with Black Santa and eating leftover pizza, Greyhound and I take the shuttle to Walmart for a proper resupply.

Upon our return, I hang out with Black Santa outside while Greyhound relaxed in the room. While we’re talking, he expresses his desire to summit Katahdin no later than the 7th of August. I explained I didn’t see how I could finish in that timeframe and enjoy myself in the process. But I didn’t make up my mind just then – I decided to sleep on it.

Day 134 – Thursday, July 21: Stealth Camp (Pinkham Notch) to Stealth Camp (Middle Carter Mountain), 10.5 miles, 1,880.3 total AT miles.

I woke up and decided to eat my leftover chicken before even getting out of my sleeping bag. I was still delicious. I slowly started packing up, calling out to Black Santa to see if he was up. I stuck my head out of my tent – he was nearly ready to go. Apparently, there was an all you can eat breakfast buffet back at the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center.

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Greyhound and I were soon up, packed and ready to eat as well. I left my tent up and we threw our packs in it so we wouldn’t have to bring them to breakfast. We walked the short distance back down the AT and entered the visitor’s center. I quickly bought my ticket for breakfast and grabbed a tray of food. I ended up going back for seconds. And thirds. I ate bacon, sausage, pancakes, muffins, fruit, baked beans. More bacon and sausage.

The three of us left an hour later completely stuffed. We shuffled back to our campsite grab our packs. Black Santa was ready to go (sort of), Greyhound and I were in serious food comas. I decided I needed a short nap before pressing on – Greyhound thought it was a good idea as well. Just as I was about to nod off, I heard a familiar voice talking to Black Santa outside. I stuck my head out of my tent.

It was Monster! I hopped up and ran over to him, I hadn’t seen him in a long time – honestly, I thought I never would again. We chatted for a while. He had been taking time off from the trail in bits and pieces, but was now ready to begin the final push to Maine and beyond. After saying goodbye, Monster took off northbound with Black Santa on his heels.

It was 9:00am and I finally settled down to take that after breakfast nap. I woke up at 10:30am and called out to Greyhound. She was awake, I think. I exited my tent and finished packing up. By 11:00am, Greyhound and I were back on track. We caught a nice view of Mount Washington as we climbed north out of Pinkham Notch.

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The trail up Wildcat Mountain was extremely steep and rocky – it took us nearly two hours to summit and make it to the ski gondola. The subsequent ridgewalk stayed rocky – it looked like today was already shaping up to be a one mile per hour kind of day.

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Black Santa stayed ahead all day. At 4:30, Greyhound and I stopped in at the Carter Notch Hut and drank three glasses of lemonade each before heading outside to take a break. I hung out at the pond and enjoyed the surrounding views.

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The weather was beautiful – a far cry from the 30-degree temps we suffered a few days ago on Mount Washington.

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We crossed Carter Dome and Mount Hight at 7:00pm, just as the sun was starting to set. It was beautiful outside. We hiked on finally finding a nice stealth spot on the top of Middle Carter Mountain at dark. While we both wanted to hike further and catch up with Balck Santa at the Imp Campsite three miles ahead, we had plenty of water for dinner and clear skies ahead.

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It was windy outside so I used our packs and stuff sacks to build a wind break. We unrolled our sleeping bags in a natural depression and cooked dinner. Greyhound fell asleep quickly and I watched the night’s sky. I can’t remember the last time I saw the Milky Way that vividly. I eventually fell asleep late.

Tonight, we decided to head into Gorham, NH and stay at a hostel right near the trailhead – Black Santa’s planning on meeting us there.

Day 133 – Wednesday, July 20: The Dungeon, Lake of the Clouds to Stealth Camp (Pinkham Notch), 15.0 miles, 1,869.7 total AT miles.

We must’ve fallen asleep by 8:00pm last night – we were that tired. I woke early at 5:30am and ran outside and upstairs into the hut to use the bathroom. It was freezing outside and completely socked in with grey clouds.

I entered the Dungeon as quietly as I could and started packing up – Greyhound woke when she heard me stirring. We were up and ready to go by 6:30am. We briefly went upstairs and chatted with Black Santa. Part of his WFS was helping out after breakfast in the morning – he wouldn’t be getting back on trail for another two hours. We made plans to meet a Pinkham Notch fifteen miles north.

Greyhound and I set off into the cold. The wind was brutal – it was easily in the mid-30s. At least our packs were light. Our massive resupply we each purchased with Medicine Man had dwindled down to next to nothing. We set off into the cold wind.

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The hiking was tough. Neither of us were in a good mood. Here we were, freezing on the top of mountain, in late July. Despite the arctic temperatures, we hiked quickly, trying to keep warm. On our way to the summit, we ran across three hikers breaking camp from behind a stone windbreak. They were turned away from LOC last night and had to find shelter at 6,000 feet.

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They claimed to be doing fine – Greyhound and I would in fact end up leapfrogging them all day. At 8:30am, we reached the summit of Mount Washington. We tried to climb the pile of stones and boulders at the summit, but the winds quickly forced us down. After nearly falling backwards due to a wind gust, Greyhound sped off. She was done with this weather.

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We started our descent of Washington, slowly peeling off layers as we lost elevation. We hit the Mount Clay and Mount Jefferson bypass trails by 10:30am.

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I turned and watched a beautiful lenticular cloud form over Mount Washington, now almost five miles behind us.

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We pushed forward on the rocky terrain. While the skies had cleared and the temperature had risen, the wind was still fiercely howling. We stopped in at the Madison Spring Hut and were treated to free (cold) oatmeal and raisins. We quickly ate and pressed on. We hiked along the exposed ridge, eventually making our way over Mount Madison and beginning our descent into Pinkham Notch.

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Greyhound fell into a bush on the way down – she was fine (it was actually pretty funny). Today was just not her day. We eventually make the seven miles down Madison into Pinkham Notch by 5:00pm – not bad time on the day considering what we traversed this morning.

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Black Santa was waiting for us at the bottom – apparently, he left LOC earlier than expected and passed us while we were taking a break. There were a lot of section and day hikers mulling about the parking lot. We were approached by two girls Greyhound and I had met as we descended the mountain. They offered us a ride towards town so we could resupply.

Turns out, we went the wrong way. Instead of heading towards a town with multiple restaurants and resupply options, we found ourselves in a small grocery store next to a Dairy Queen. The three of us resupplied as best we could before heading over to the DQ to buy ice cream and dinner.

As I exited the store, I caught up with Black Santa and Greyhound – they had secured us a ride. She was waiting in the DQ parking lot. Fifteen minutes later, we found ourselves back at Pinkham Notch. We crossed the highway and entered the woods, quickly finding a suitable campsite maybe .2 miles away from the notch and visitor’s center.

I made camp and ate DQ fried chicken – it was delicious. I even saved some for breakfast. Black Santa hung out with another hiker we had been running across and I spoke privately with Greyhound.

This hike had gotten very hard, very fast. We were originally planning an ambitious August 5th finish date, but the difficulty of the Whites had blown our schedule out of the water. We both had flexibility however – our dates were totally arbitrary after all. I wanted to finish this thing in less than five months. That’d mean I’d be summiting Katahdin on August 9th – that became our new arbitrary finish date. Black Santa was still leaning closer to the Aug 5th date.

Greyhound and I also looked at the elevation profile for the weeks ahead. Things didn’t look to get any easier for quite some time, we’d still be in big mountains for at least another week.

I went to bed extremely tired. My feet were starting to hurt again.

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I checked the bottoms of my Montrails and the grip is nearly all worn off. I’ve been having a lot of trouble slipping lately and never even dreamed it could be my trail runners that were only two weeks old. I can’t believe that I’m back in the market for new shoes.