Friday, September 1, 2017

It's All Downhill From Maine: Part 2 - The Famous Last Words

Paul and I sat next to a beautiful stream in the woods, slightly sweating, even though the temperature was quickly dropping below 50 degrees F on this August evening in Maine. It would have been a great time to reflect on how lucky we were to have escaped city life and the oppressing heat of summer in Florida except for one thing: It was 12:30 at night and we could find no level ground to pitch a tent, only rocks, boulders and roots.

I was out of energy and out of ideas, and suggested to Paul that we take turns napping by the stream while the other person stood watch. That was my BEST idea. Paul suggested that we keep hiking until we find something flat to pitch tents on...something we had yet to see in Maine...
Not even 12 hours earlier, I had remarked while cheerfully hiking down the trail from Stratton to Monson, that I could keep this pace up all day long. I was feeling great. I had my pack weight down to 32 pounds, including my stash of muffins, and my body weight, although slightly higher than I like it to be, was going to be good insulation for the upcoming cool evenings we had seen in the weather forecast. Looking back, Maine actually gave us the best conditions she had. We had no rain, a minimum of bugs, and much cooler temperatures than Florida. In fact, if you sat down for too long, you would start wanting warmer clothes to wear. This turned out to be a good thing, that the Maine weather was so fair, because what passes for easy hiking in Maine made me think of serious mountain climbing.

Paul, in addition to joining the ranks of "ultra-light" hikers, had the desire to plan everything to the ennth degree, and he had factored into our food and water supply that we would average 1 1/2 mph hiking to the next re-supply destination. Actually, that was a very conservative number and I knew we could easily do 2 1/2 mph on any given day. Well, that turned out to be not conservative enough and we learned a brand new lesson that first day: When the going gets rough: 1) you go slower 2) you eat more 3) you drink more. And this is how it came to be that by day 2, we were 10 miles behind schedule and running low on food. Our intended speed walks down woodsy paths of pine needles were instead rock scrambles up what appeared to be dried-up waterfalls. The first time I saw one of those, I said "You're kidding, that cannot be the trail!" It was after about 3 of these ascents that I began to see the wonder of ultralight backpacking, as Paul climbed up the rocks, and I tried to figure out how I was going to do it without falling over backwards because of that 32 pounds on my back that wanted to do nothing more than fall to the ground.
The ascents were slowing us down to the point that by the first night, as we climbed into the lean-to and pulled out our sleeping gear, we said that "we'll make the miles up tomorrow". Little did we know that the climbing we did on the first day was the ascent of the "Little Bigelow"....

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