After an incredible stay at Jeff and Tracie's, I headed back to the trail on a glorious day. The goal for the day: hike to Height of the Land, where Gin Gin and I would get a ride into Rangely to meet up with Bean! A couple days previous, he finally caught up to me on the trail, only to whiz by me. He planned to start a new job in early October and had to finish before then. While his hiking plan meant we wouldn't be able to hike together, we still found ways to hang out. The plan was to spend Saturday night and Sunday at his parents' place on Lake Rangely.
But several mountains lay in the way, the first of which was Old Blue. I always thought that was a funny name for a mountain. I kept calling out "Ole Blue" in a country accent, as if I was calling for my lost dog. Anyway, the climb up the mountain was fairly easy, especially by Maine standards. At the top was a small overlook back toward Andover. While taking a break, a hiker I hadn't seen before showed up.
We introduced ourselves, and I learned his name was Seth Rogan. I kid you not, he looks and acts just like Seth Rogan. And funny as hell, with shaggy, slightly curly hair protruding out of his trucker hat to just above his shoulders. The first thing he did was cook up a snack. His snack: quesadillas with pepperoni! Seriously?!? I had never seen that on the trail before, and it was genius.
Leaving Seth Rogan to his quesadillas, Gin Gin and I pressed onward, ever northbound. A few miles later, we came across a beautiful woodpecker, doing his thing, bark flying all around. We watched it for some time, admiring the dainty precision of the forceful head smashing. I have no idea how woodpeckers don't get concussions.
The trail was quite pleasant through this section and a relief from the stupid steep rocky climbs from the previous week. Sure there were hills, and even roots and rocks here and there, but you could actually walk at a decent pace and not feel like you were going ruin your knees. It was also peaceful. The wind gently stirred the tops of the pines to a hypnotic sway and blessed my sweaty face with its cool kiss.
Later, at a stop for water, Seth Rogan caught up. We chatted about trail life while filtering our water. Suddenly, he asked, "How old are you guys anyway?"
In unison, Gin Gin and I replied, "Thirty."
"What? No way! I can't imagine hiking this trail at middle age!"
Wait, what? Did he just call me middle age? Seriously? I'm only 30! And honestly, Seth Rogan didn't look any younger than me. If anything, I thought he was at least my age.
"Middle age!" we blurted out, again in unison.
I pressed him on this issue. "Hold on now. How old are you?"
"I'm 27." He then took off his trucker hat, revealing a perfectly bald head underneath. The hair you can see from under his hat may be long but it's literally all the hair he has.
Gin Gin and I looked at each other, then burst out in laughter. We gave him a hard time about this for sure, and I still do to this day. Seth Rogan, thank you for providing one of my favorite trail memories and for turning everyday tasks like filtering water into an adventure.
Daylight was fading, so we hiked on, eager to get to the road crossing where Bean would pick us up. We crossed over the slabby, open rocks of Mt. Bemis, reminiscent of Baldpate. Incredible views toward Rangely and Lake Mooselookemeguntic lay below a sky just starting to show a bit of sunset color. Even though it would be dark soon, we lingered, enthralled by the views. This was starting to become familiar in Maine. We didn't mind hiking by headlamp for the last 30 minutes, although we were bummed we would miss the sunset from Height of the Land.
Our disappointment quickly evaporated, however, when we finally reached the road crossing. It was dark under the tree canopy, but under the open sky, a fiery red glow burned in the western horizon as stars illuminated the sky overhead. Un-freaking-believable. Bean and his Dad were waiting for us in the parking lot, and the four of us continued to watch the fire eventually burn into little more than embers under the stars' watch.
In town, Bean's parents treated us to dinner at a local bar. Back at the house, they gave us the tour, which included more food, beer, and a hot tub! This day kept getting better and better! Bean's parents said good night while Bean, Gin Gin, and I made good use of the hot tub.
The next morning, I awoke to a massive breakfast of french toast and coffee. We ate on the back porch overlooking the lake. The food was beyond delicious, but the stillness of the morning and the richness of the company around me is what filled me that morning. Once again, I was awe struck at the kindness I received.
Later, we spent some time around town. I finally picked up a pair of sunglasses, my third pair of the journey. I broke my second pair in Massachusetts or Vermont and never bothered to buy another pair since it had been so cloudy and rainy. So far, Maine was gloriously sunny, and my eyes needed some shades.
The day also turned out to be quite hot. In fact, it was probably the hottest day on trail in at least three weeks. The heat was starting to get to us, and we dreaded hiking. We spent most of the afternoon inside the house, enjoying wonderfully cool A/C. We did want to hike that day, though. Only four miles from the road was a small beach where you could swim at called Long Pond. Gin Gin and I had talked about Long Pond for days. Much like finding Maine blueberries, swimming in a Maine pond seemed almost like a rite of passage for thru-hikers. This would certainly be a great day for swimming.
Gin Gin and I willed ourselves out of the house and into the pick up truck. Back at Height of the Land, we said goodbye to Bean. I knew this time it would be for real. Every other time we parted ways, I assumed I would see him again. But he was a day ahead of me and had plans to finish in about 2 weeks. Bean was the very first thru-hiker I met, way back at Gooch Mountain shelter in Georgia. He was also the last of our original trail family beside myself still on the trail. It was sad to say goodbye for real. It was a sobering reminder that this journey was coming to a close. I could no longer assume I would happen to run into a fellow hiker.
It's like grains of sand running through your fingers. When your fist is full, there are more grains than you can count, and they slip through your fingers easily and without much notice. Over time, fewer and fewer remain, until you can almost count the ones left. Suddenly, you take note of these tiny jewels. This one is a little darker. That one almost looks red. A few seem a bit bigger than the others. Everything takes on more significance.
So was my mindset hugging Bean goodbye and stepping back into the embrace of the trail. Four miles to Long Pond. I was in need of refreshment.
The heat was grueling. This made the four miles to Long Pond much harder than it needed to be, and it was mostly mental. At one point we could see the pond from the top of a hill. It looked so close, but the trail continued up. Fighting frustration, we willed ourselves forward, sweat pouring down our faces. Salty beads of moisture clung to my beard in a desperate fight against gravity and eventually fell, drop by drop like a melting icicle. You could say I felt like I was melting.
Finally, the terrain leveled out, and I could barely make out what seemed like the sound of water lapping the shore. A break in the trees ahead revealed the sound's source: Long Pond! Relief washed over me, and suddenly a burst of energy and excitement flooded my tired body. My steps quickened and soon I stood on the sandy shore, looking out over the deep blue water. I know I've probably used the word magical to describe many moments of my thru-hike, but this moment, this pond, seemed entirely that. How could this mere drop in the ocean of time stop ancient forces and drown me with its power?
Awash with a gratitude for life, I stripped down to my underwear and stepped into the clear, cool water. This was exactly what I needed. I blew up my sleeping pad and used it like a water raft. Floating on my sleeping pad in the middle of Long Pond, I felt alive and free. Again, I felt like this was exactly where I needed to be. Peace, stillness, life, joy.
Feeling rejuvenated, Gin Gin and I cooked dinner on the small picnic table that faced the water. As we ate, the sun began to set over the opposite shore, slipping behind the mountains at the exact point of one of the peaks. It was like that mountain's sole purpose was to gently catch the falling sun. We sat on the beach and watched the stars reveal themselves one by one, playing their part in the symphony of life. Beacons bright and bold, they hinted at worlds and stories unknown. Soon, the moon appeared, taking the same path of the sun. In time, that same mountain guided it safely toward home.
I slept on the sandy beach, all still, all calm. Even falling leaves made sounds in that peaceful quiet. Somewhere across the glassy water, a lone coyote howled, an earnest desire to know and be known. Wild calling to Wild. And then became all still, all calm.
In the morning, Gin Gin and I cooked breakfast on the picnic table. I wanted to linger and hold onto Long Pond as long as possible. I really had to poop, though, and a privy lay about a mile up the trail. I gathered my pack and took one last look at Long Pond. This grain of sand was slipping through my fingers. I knew what it looked like, what it felt like, so I will always remember.
Later that day, Gin Gin and I stumbled upon another pond at a shelter. This one had a few canoes tethered to the shore. It was already hot, so I took one of the canoes out and jumped into the pond. The water felt SO good. Back on land, I ate my lunch and relaxed in the cool of the shade. King and Cowboy, who I hadn't seen since Virginia, showed up. It was good to see them. Once they packed up and returned to the trail, I felt that familiar feeling of knowing I wouldn't see them again. Scrambles and Grouch, two hikers I met the last couple days of New Hampshire, also stopped at the pond for lunch.
Gin Gin and I eventually packed up. Our hiking goal of the day was to camp on the shores of another pond, Eddy Pond. Of course we had to stay there! We arrived at dusk, just as the moon was beginning to appear. Gin Gin pitched her tent, and for the second night in a row, I cowboy camped right next to the water. As, I fell asleep watching the stars and listening to the crickets, I thought about the last couple of days. I still couldn't believe that I'd gotten to go swimming in Maine, in late September no less. Luckiest hikers ever. I slowly drifted off to sleep.
"EdBeard! EdBeard!" I heard my name from somewhere in the dark. What time was it? Judging by the stars, I had been asleep for a while. "EdBeard!" Clearing the fog from my sleepy mind, I realized it was Gin Gin calling to me from her nearby tent. I also realized why she woke me up.
Crash! Crash! Crash!
I knew instantly what was making this noise: a moose! In Rangely, Bean's Dad had described moose as bulldozers crashing through the woods. That description is spot on. I laid still, listening to the moose. This crashing was moving closer and closer to me. I wanted to see a moose, but I wasn't sure if I wanted my first moose sighting to be in the middle of the night from 25 feet away. It then dawned on me, this moose is probably trying to find access to the water, and I'm lying right in the perfect path! I was getting worried the moose would stumble right on top of me, putting an end to EdBeard. I made a bit of noise, hoping this would scare the moose off. Sure enough, it stopped, and eventually moved away.
Gin Gin made her way out of her tent. She told me she tried waking me up about 30 minutes earlier when she first heard the moose, but I was sound asleep. Once the moose got really close, she decided she should try waking me up again. We took a look at our surroundings. We were sleeping on a moose highway to the pond. Great. To deter moose from taking this route to the pond, Gin Gin took her trekking poles and stuck them in the ground, making an X. I found that pretty funny.
You know that won't stop a moose, I thought.
Regardless, we made our way back to bed. Once again, I laid on my back, looking up at the wonder of the stars. A smile. A thought.
Luckiest hikers ever.
I am a filmmaker. I am an adventurer. I believe in children. My friends are obsessed with my beard. I am obsessed with beer. I want to embrace and fully live this life I’m blessed with. I want to be known as someone who loves deeply.
On May 16, 2017 I set out on my dream, the adventure of a lifetime: a 2,189.8 mile trek of the Appalachian Trail. I want to push people to live their dreams and pursue their passions.