I awoke in Stratton to a drastically different kind of weather. The storm system that blew through town overnight brought along cold and wind. I say cold, but in reality the temperatures were more normal for Maine in late September. But when it goes from 90 degrees to 50 degrees overnight, it feels so cold!
Gin Gin and I retrieved our resupply packages from the PO, grabbed breakfast at the diner and headed back to the hostel to perform pack explosion (the process of prepping food and supplies, which involves taking most everything out of your pack). Not feeling super motivated to hike because of the colder temps, we lolligagged at the hostel, chatting with fellow hikers. For lunch we walked across the street to the general store on a mission to eat something healthy. Fruits and vegetables are hard to come by while thru-hiking, so a salad seemed exquisite. We picked up spinach, apples, avocados, almonds, feta cheese, and raspberry vinaigrette. We didn't know exactly what we were going to do, but all those things sounded delicious. Turns out, all those ingredients work really well together, and a new salad was born, named the Stratton-Eustis in honor of the town. I still eat this salad all the time. In fact I ate one for dinner tonight!
I also utilized this down time time to plan the rest of the trip. Only a couple of towns remained, and I needed to coordinate mail drops and update my parents on an estimated summit day. Since I was hiking late in the season, I decided to call the hostel at the next town, Caratunk, to make sure they would be open to pick up my package. Confirming that they would, all logistics were taken care of. Eventually Gin Gin and I made it to the trail, but with only an hour or so left of daylight, we didn't make it very far.
The next day we traversed the Bigelow Range. The climbs were stupid steep, but at this point it was to be expected. The wind was howling, the cold threatening to fight through any weak point in my jacket. But the range was spectacular. I enjoyed it more than the Saddlebacks which I climbed a few days prior. The the west lay Flagstaff Lake, a bright blue gem deemed the "second most beautiful lake in Maine." Northward, the ridge snaked it's way through the sky. The valleys seemed alight with fire, the fall colors were so vibrant.
I wanted to soak this in, but the wind was so incredibly strong. I wandered to the leeward side of the mountain and discovered shelter from the wind. I relayed my findings to the other hikers on the summit, and soon close to a dozen hikers sat on the cliff, out of the wind. The sun felt so good, and with a full stomach from lunch, I started feeling drowsy. Gin Gin and I decided this was too amazing of a place to not spend more time at, so we ended up taking naps, perched along the edge of the cliff. My feet rested right at the edge, and the contour of the rock formed a perfect back rest. I could look out over the valley floor and it seemed like I was floating in the heavens. This was hands down one of the best napping spots!
Gin Gin and I awoke from our glorious naps to find all the other hikers had left. We wanted to stay and enjoy the moment, yet we knew we had to press on. Soon it would be dark, and some pretty nasty climbs/descent lay ahead of us still. Soon, it did become dark. With the sun now setting close to 6:30 and spending time to fully take in the last few miles of Maine, night hiking was starting to become a pretty familiar routine. As we started the last descent of the day to the shelter, I looked over my shoulder through a clearing in the trees. The sun was setting over the peaks we had just climbed. Everything was so beautiful.
The following day the trail passed along the shores of Flagstaff Lake. Shwifty, Dirtbag, Taps, and K-Bar were there fishing. The tranquility of the lake shore was a perfect complement to the ferocity of yesterday's windy ridge line hike. Once again, no one seemed eager to hike. We all knew the one thing no one really talked about. This journey would soon be over, and we wanted to savor each and every moment, to enjoy the trail and our company to the fullest. Our 10:30 snack break soon turned into a 2 hour lunch and nap break. Reluctantly, the group headed back into the woods, steadily pushing north.
That afternoon was pretty difficult for me. Out of nowhere, I started feeling sharp pains in my side, probably from gas. At first I tried to push through it. The longer I hiked, though, the worse it got, to the point where it became laborious to breathe. Eventually, I could hardly walk. Noticing my discomfort and increasingly grouchy attitude, Gin Gin suggested we take a break. She also wasn't in the best of moods and needed a breather. I was frustrated because taking a break would mean we would once again night hike. The pain in my side only grew, so conceding my urge to hike, we sat down in the middle of a gravel road where a small creek ran underneath. We would sit until I felt better. My mind now free from the burden of fighting to push through, I began to notice the beauty of my surroundings. Yes, we did night hike again. Yes, I didn't like it. But we saw a sunset over a lake later that evening. And I learned that sometimes you simply need to take a break to recover before you're able to appreciate where you are.
The mornings were progressively getting colder, and the next day was no exception. Cold mornings can either motivate you to get going so you can hike to stay warm or burrow you deeper into your sleeping bag. This morning I felt motivated. In a few short miles, I would reach Caratunk and check in to the hostel to retrieve my package. Not much motivates a hiker more than food and a hot shower!
I was also looking forward to another AT milestone: the Kennebec River. The Kennebec River is a large river with a deceptively dangerous current. In the past, hikers have drowned while attempting to ford. Now a canoe ferry serves an official part of the trail, complete with a white blaze, to help hikers across. To me, the river crossing seemed a threshold to the final stretch of trail.
Upon reaching the other side of the river, Gin Gin and I reached the tiny town of Caratunk, population 35. To our dismay, the hostel was closed! I literally talked to the owner a few days ago and he reassured me it would be open! We found a note that said all packages were being held at the post office. Since it was Sunday morning, we would have to spend the night in town, which we weren't planning on doing. And the post office didn't open until 2:00 Monday afternoon! We were losing essentially a day and a half waiting for our packages. The town was so tiny, that no good resupply options existed, and we had to wait.
We found a ride to Northern Outdoors, a rafting and outdoor adventure facility that reminded me of the NOC in North Carolina. If we were going to be stuck in town, this was the place to be! Amazing breakfast, a brewery, hot tub, great hiker discount on the rooms. Many of our trail friends made their way to Northern Outdoors. I wasn't too bummed anymore about having to stay in town.
Things were about to get much, much better.
While I was eating dinner at Northern Outdoors with Gin Gin, Tricia, and Bear Pop, a raft guide named Connor approached us and asked if we wanted to go rafting tomorrow. For free. We all looked at each other in disbelief, "Is this guy for real? Rafting in Maine?" Sure enough he had a raft and was itching to get on the water. Hell yea! We all had to wait in town any way for the post office to open and what better way to spend the time than rafting! Oh yea, it was October 1! We couldn't belief the weather was nice enough to raft in Maine in October.
Connor and his boss, Jim, picked us up early on the brisk morning of October 2. The morning air was chilly, especially riding in the back of Jim's pickup. But we didn't care, we were so excited to go rafting. We stopped at the local general store to pick up snacks and drinks, then headed to the ball field that would serve as out take out point. There, we met a couple who would kayak alongside our raft. This couple was nice enough to lend all of us hikers wetsuits and water gear for the day. The excitement was palpable, an energy derived from goodwill, generosity, and adventure that charged us. Everyone geared up and ready to go, we assembled for a group photo.
We left one car at the ball field, then headed to the put-in point at the Kennebec River Dam several miles upstream. As the raft inflated, so did our anticipation for the adventure ahead. Several of the hikers had never rafted before. I kept thinking to myself, "I can't believe we're going rafting!"
We carried the raft down a long, steep set of stairs to the water's edge. Here, the water seemed calm, a trick to lure us in to the charging waters upstream. Connor and Jim instructed the group on proper paddling techniques and what to do if you fell out. We were all set!
The water was cold, the sun, now approaching mid-day, was just warm enough. The rapids were furious. I could now see why hikers are urged to take the very across the Kennebec. It's a wild, wild river! At one point, the water was deep enough to swim through the rapids. We all jumped out, beer in hands, and floated through a section of Class 2 rapids. What a rush! We had to quickly get back on the boat, however, because a bigger rapids was soon approaching. We hit the Class 4 wave that sent water splashing over the raft and almost tossing out a couple of helpless rowers. I don't think I've ever smiled or laughed so hard on a rafting trip. The entire time I was laughing.
Soon, the water calmed down to a gentle flow. We didn't have to worry about rowing anymore, so we ate our snacks and drinks. I lay on the side of the raft, soaking in the sun to warm up. Above me I noticed a bird soaring slightly above the trees. I yelled out, "Is that a bald eagle?" Yes, it was! that was the first time I saw a bald eagle in the wild. Again, I felt a familiar feeling that this was exactly where I needed to be.
I laid back down on the edge of the raft, dunking my head over the side. The cold water rushed over my head and face, invigorating my senses. I emerged from the water laughing. I still couldn't get over the fact that I was in a raft on the Kennebec River in October!
We floated calmly on the river for roughly an hour and made our way to the put-out point. It was shortly after 2:00, and Tricia, Bear Pop, Gin Gin, and I needed to stop at the post office to pick up our packages. We dried off in the warm afternoon sun, and Jim drove the four of us to Caratunk. The plan was to pick up our packages, sort through our resupply, and hit the trail. We arrived at the post office to discover a huge problem.
Our packages that were supposedly being held were returned to sender!
I was dismayed. In this tiny town, not many options existed for food. I was also angry. I couldn't believe that the hostel owner would dump off his packages to the post office without first checking that he could actually do that. Especially since I confirmed with him less than a week ago that he would be there! Gin Gin was also in the same position. What would we do with limited supply options for a 2-3 day stretch of trail?
The trail always provides! Tricia and Bear Pop were able to pick up their packages because they actually sent them to the post office. They both had extra food and gave some to us. Other hikers we met at the post office offered some of their food as well. We didn't quite have a full 2-3 day supply but we were close. We could supplement what we had with junk food from the general store. Not ideal, but we would survive. Jim also offered to let us stay at his place and grab dinner at Marshall's, the local pub. Especially since we were short on food, we accepted.
That night we hung out with everyone from the rafting trip at Marshall's. One thing I really love about the trail is spending time with other hikers in town. I absolutely loved being on the trail, even if it could be demanding. However, towns offer a nice change of pace and a glimpse into the local culture. After eating two dinners, Gin Gin and I head back to Jim's place for the night. Jim was super accommodating. He gave us both enough food to cover for the the next stretch of trail. It's amazing how we went from a mild panic of not having enough food to having almost too much food! Jim even got up early the next morning to make us breakfast when he doesn't usually eat breakfast.
Our misfortune of missing our packages turned into the best trail magic experience of the entire trail, and one of my favorite days of the entire trail. Learning to embrace whatever comes your way and knowing it will all work out is a big part of the trail. It's a lesson I'm continuing to learn even after life off the trail.
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.