Post-Trail Adjustments

Post-Trail Report

Hello, my name is Joe Liles, and I am addicted to Pop-tarts. Specifically maple and brown sugar, but I’ll settle for anything, and I don’t even toast them. All this is because I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail from March 9 to September 15, and I ate Pop-tarts every morning. I was walking 15 to 20 miles most days, and I needed calories! Just two Pop-tarts gave me 400 calories, enough to get me down the Trail and to my first Snickers break.

But this is only the beginning of my problems in recovering from the Trail. All kinds of strange behavior are creeping into my life. For instance, I now store all my trash in ziplock bags and carry them around with me. Remember “Pack it in and pack it out?” And I never throw away a ziplock. I wash ‘em out and save ‘em. You never know when you will need one. I am very proud of my collection.

Most, but not all, of my problems center around eating. I was in a restaurant this morning, eating a hefty portion of blueberry pancakes and homefries, when I noticed a guy sitting closeby hadn’t finished his biscuits and sausage gravy. I went up to him and asked, “Are you going to finish that?” This was a complete stranger, mind you. I am so ashamed of myself.

The Trail brought out the extrovert in me. Why, on the Trail, I would freely introduce myself to everyone I met. I was shaking hands, right and left. This morning, while walking down Ninth Street in Durham, I approached an attractive woman, stuck out my hand, and said, “Hi, my name is Braid . . .” I waited for a response. The lady backed away from me and said, “Get lost, Bucko!” My trail name is not Bucko, it’s Braid. I am so confused.

And there’s this thing going on with electric lights. I don’t use them. When it gets dark at night, I just turn on my headlamp. I was cooking supper by headlamp the other night when the police came to my door. They said my neighbors had called in to report that my house was being burglarized!

I walk everywhere I go now. When I returned from the Trail after six months, all the air had leaked out of my car’s tires, and the battery was dead. I now have the equivalent of a car on blocks in my driveway, minus the blocks!

I can’t bring myself to wear deoderant anymore and my rate of showering has gone way down. My friend, David, tells me this is a problem.

I am tearing my paperback books in half and reading half at a time to save “pack weight,” but I am not wearing a pack anymore.

I became so dependent on hiking poles on the Trail that I can’t walk without them anymore. I first realized this was a problem this afternoon in the grocery store. I simply could not manage a shopping cart and my poles at the same time.

I am not writing a trail journal anymore, so I don’t know what day of the week it is.

The seriousness of my situation really sank in late today when I found myself standing in my laundry room getting ready to wash a very small load of clothes, lights and darks mixed together, and I was wearing only my rain gear.

My post-Trail life is strange indeed. I have this uncanny urge to go out into my backyard and dig a cat hole!

I am beginning to think that the only thing that will help me is to get back on the Trail.

Braid/Joe Liles

Trail Report – On top of Mt. Katahdin! (2178 miles)

Trail Report

Dear friends,

Today, September 15, I completed my thru hike of the Appalachian Trail by climbing Mount Katahdin in Maine. I hit the Trail this morning at 8:00 and reached the summit at 12:00 noon. It was a climb of 4000 feet in elevation over very rocky terrain. The wind was blowing at times up to 50 mph with white out cloud conditions. I made the climb and got back down without injuring myself in spite of many opportunities to do so! I am now at the Appalachian Trail Lodge in Millinocket, Maine. I have now an opportunity to end my Appalachian Trail odyssey in a very special way. One of my very first students at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Elizabeth Page and her husband Dan Page have flown their Piper Archer airplane up to the Millinocket airport. Tomorrow, they will fly me home OVER the Appalachian Trail! If the weather is clear, I hope to take photographs of some of my favorite places on the Trail. How’s that for an appropriate ending to this amazing six month adventure?

When I get home to Durham, NC, I will send out another email to let you know how I survived the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine and made my way to the base of Mount Katahdin. Until then, thank you all for your kind thoughts of support over the duration of my hike.

Here is the photo of me on top of Mount Katahdin.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

Trail Report – September 6 (2062 miles)

Trail Report
trail map

elevation map

Dear Friends,

At our last contact, I was in Stratton, Maine. By talking to the folks at the general store, tavern, and diner, I was able to learn some neat things about this town before I left. Like many of the towns of rural Maine, Stratton is linked closely to wood products. The Stratton Mill, a sawmill, is a major employer of the local people. As well, another company called BioMass, takes much of the unusable wood byproducts from the mill, converts them to pellets, and burns them to heat water and produce steam, and the steam drives turbines to make electricity. The thing that amazed me the most, though, was that just outside of Stratton, on Mount Kibby, massive windmills are being erected. Fifty are going in now with fifteen more to follow next year. Over 300 workers converge on Stratton every Sunday night. They fill up all the motel rooms and stay until Friday. A lady from the town is contracted to feed them at the community building every weeknight. Everyday, these workers leave at the break of day to work on the windmills. They all drive trucks as big as tanks! I think it is great that Stratton, Maine is playing a part in shifting our country to new forms of energy generation.

In the spring, summer, and fall, Stratton attracts a lot of sportspeople for fishing. The main catch is trout and landlocked salmon. Hunting also brings in business to this area with the main attraction being deer, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, and moose. The moose hunting is controlled by a lottery with a limited number of tickets drawn each year. I heard that, sometimes, many people will enter the lottery and have no intention of going hunting. If they win, they consider that they saved a moose’s hide!

Skiing is big in this area as well with the slopes at Saddleback and Sugarloaf being the places to go. Both of these mountains are on the Appalachian Trail, but the Trail leads away from the resorts.

Snowmobiling is a popular winter sport up india viagra. I asked one of the locals about how much snow accumulates in a winter. He said anywhere between three and eight feet!

I spent my last day in Stratton, Sunday, August 31 as a day of rest. I wanted to give my knees a chance to recuperate before I headed out to one of my final, big mountain challenges on the Trail, the Bigelows.

On Monday, August 31, I had breakfast at 6:00 in the diner in Stratton. I was their first customer of the day. Those were some of the best blueberry pancakes I have every had. At 7:15 I was on the side of the road with my pack and my thumb out. It was the first day of school, so there were some yellow buses on the road, but other than that, traffic was sparse. When I was passed by a local driver, many signaled to me that they were not going far. Finally at 8:00 a fellow named Ed stopped and picked me up. Ed has a “camp” in the Carrabassett River Valley. In Maine, a “camp” means a cabin. Ed is a native Maine person which, by the way, is very important to people’s egos up here. Ed told me that he really enjoys the winters in Maine. He said that the roads stay plowed and its not a problem getting around. He told me that Carrabassett means “small moose place” in the language of the indigenous people of Maine. He sees lots of moose. I don’t. Ed dropped me at the trailhead and was off to his camp.

I started my climb up to the Bigelow Mountains. I had an elevation gain coming up of 3500 feet! I heard someone coming up behind me. It was Leon and his traildog Halifax. I had met Leon back in Virginia and hiked with him off an on until New York. I had not seen him in two months. I may have mentioned this in a previous email, but Leon gets his trailname from Ponce de Leon County in Florida where he is from. His dog gets his trailname from the fact that Leon and Rufus (the dog’s real name) lived in Halifax County, North Carolina while Leon taught math in the local schools. Leon told me before that his best students were the Indian students, the Haliwa-Saponi kids. I always thought it strange that Leon was connected to some of the same Indian people I know in northeastern North Carolina.

Leon, Rufus, and I climbed to Horn’s Pond and then ascended the very steep peak of the South Horn. The weather was perfect for spectacular views from the top. We separated at this point because Leon and Halifax are actually faster hikers than I am. We shook hands hoping to meet up once again. I made a very difficult climb up West Peak and then Avery Peak. Avery Peak is dedicated to Myron Avery, one of the two founders of the Appalachian Trail. On both of these mountains, the wind was blowing around fifty miles per hour. I had to be very careful not to let the wind knock me off balance because the bare rock tops on these mountains had sheer drops on both sides of the Trail. One thing that was dominant in the view from these high, 4000 foot mountains was the huge Flagstaff Lake down below. I had learned back in Stratton that Flagstaff Lake was formed by damming up the Dead River. When they flooded the valley in 1950, many of the homes, businesses, and churches were just left there. The lake waters just rose up around them, finally submerging the village of Flagstaff on the bottom.

I made a two mile descent from Avery Peak to the Safford Notch Campsite. I passed huge, house sized boulders on the trail before I found my lodging for the night. I had the whole campsite to myself. Sometimes I really enjoy being alone.

I was up at 5:15 the next morning to get ready for my last mountain of the Bigelows, Little Bigelow. The only thing was that Little Bigelow wasn’t so little after all. I climbed many “false summits” before I finally reached the top. I used this elevation to my advantage in a high tech kind of way. I could now predict when I would be arriving in the next town, Monson, Maine. I knew I was coming up on Labor Day Weekend, and I wanted to make sure I had a place to stay. Using current day hiker etiquette, I stepped off the Trail where no passerby could hear me (I was on bare rock, so I was not trampling fragile alpine plants.), fished my cell phone out of my pack, and called The Lakeshore House in Monson. A friendly voice answered. The friendly voice belonged to Rebecca and she took my word that I would be there in five days, Saturday. She said she would save me a bed. I had decided to stay at Lakeshore instead of the famous Shaw’s Lodging because of the outstanding things hikers had told me on the Trail about their experiences at “that new place.”

I had a very long descent to the Little Bigelow Lean-to where I had lunch and took a nap. I can actually take a nap for 15 minutes and wake up refreshed. I developed this ability over 28 years of lunchtimes at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. I finally came to the low elevation of Lake Flagstaff and hiked around the south end of the lake. The Trail took on a “kinder and gentler” nature. Sure, there were rocks and tree roots, but compared to my hiking speed over the Whites, the Mahoosucs, and now the Bigelows, I was flying! It felt great to stretch my stride out to its max and make my own breeze! I blew in to the West Carry Pond Lean-to at 4:15. I was proud that I had picked up my hiking mileage for the day with 12.2 miles. I found a group of hikers there that I did not know. There was Red Adam from Florida, a southbounder. Count Spatula was from the Midwest. Spaz was from Quebec. Cruiser, from Greenville, SC. Halfway, I forgot his home. And finally Panza and Don Quixote. It was a full shelter with lots of folks tenting as well. We had a campfire that night after supper and had a great time. I played and sang the Hiker Song. Everybody liked it. Oh, and I almost forgot, some anonymous soul left two containers at the shelter for us to find. One contained homemade brownies, and the other oranges and apples. We had a fine time!

I headed out alone the next morning at 8:00, but before I did, I went to talk to Count Spatula. He had told me the night before that his wife was in 82nd Airborne in Fort Bragg in my home state of North Carolina. She had been killed in Iraq while she was driving a bus. An improvised explosive device was detonated under the bus. Count Spatula told me that he had almost lost the will to live, he was on the Trail attempting to heal himself. He actually considered the Trail his home. When I talked to Count Spatula that morning, I shook his hand. I wished him well with his healing process. I told him that he had more to give the world. He seemed to appreciate my words.

I hiked alone for a while, but then Cruiser caught up with me. We hiked together. Once, when crossing a muddy bog, Cruiser slipped, fell in the mud, and semi-sprained his ankle. I say semi-sprained because he had already sprained it weeks before. Cruiser was able to walk, but I could tell he was in pain. Hopefully, this would not set him back too much. Hikers deal with so much hardship on the Trail, it amazes me that we keep on going, and going, and going.

Cruiser and I arrived at the Pierce Pond Lean-to at 1:15. This was a beautiful place! The lean-to was a short distance from the lake’s edge. Cruiser, almost immediately, went swimming to work his sore ankle in the cold water. This was my earliest stop time for a hiking day on my entire Appalachian Trail adventure, but it seemed like the right thing to do. We had another thing on our minds. Only a half a mile away was a fish camp that served breakfast to hikers in the morning. We were in good position to take advantage of this! By the time dusk came, a crowd of 17 people arrived at this lean-to. We filled up the shelter and those who could not fit in tented. I knew most of the crowd. There was Bunyan from New Jersey who I had hiked with back in the Shenandoahs. Most of the others were the type of young hiker that moves fast and puts in big miles. There was Don’t Panic, Wing It, Tarzan, Ahab, Colonel Mustard, Hammock, Cloud, Sawman, Kanati, and some more. Many folks hit the water for a swim before supper.

I gathered some firewood and laid a fire, and after folks were finished eating, we started it up. I was proud of how cleanly this fire burned because I took care to only bring in dry, dead wood. Many campers attempt to make fires with green wood, and these fires sizzle with moisture, burn slowly if at all, and make a lot of smoke. I was excited about the possibility of making music with another person on this night. I had made music with Hammock back in the Smokies and in Hot Springs. Hammock plays a mean ukulele! Hammock got out his ukulele and I got out my harmonica. We played and sang “Blowing in the Wind,” “Aragon Mills,” “Glendale Train,” “Hickory Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” my “I am a Hiker,” and a new song Hammock composed about eating lunch by a brook on the Appalachian Trail. It was an idyllic time. Everyone was just soaking up the good vibes. When we called it a night around 9:00, loons down on the lake took over the singing. Their calls echoed strangely over the water. They laughed at us most of the night. Their calls were haunting, but at the same time, soothing.

Many of us got up early the next morning, Thursday, September 3, so we could arrive at the fish camp for breakfast by 7:30. Tim Harrison has been running this camp for 24 years. His place is only one of two that is on Pierce Pond. I still can’t get used to calling these huge lakes ponds! Pierce Pond is likely several thousand acres in size! Tim told us that many of his clients are fly fishermen who come in May for the hexagonia fly hatch. This is when a nymph that lives in the water reaches maturity and rises out of the water as a flying insect. The trout have a field day and so do the fishermen. They tie on flies made from tiny feathers that simulate the pattern of the hexagonia.

We just hung out until breakfast was ready. Eleven hikers had come for the breakfast. One of the hikers played the piano. Bunyan, Cruiser, and I sat out on the screen porch and watched dozens of hummingbirds buzz around some feeders there.
After awhile, Tim called us in and served each of us twelve blueberry/apple/raspberry pancakes, several pieces of bacon, our choice of eggs, juice, and coffee.

We were back on the Trail at 8:45. We had a big thing on our minds, the Kennebec River. The Kennebec is the largest unbridged river crossing on the Appalachian Trail. It is normally 70 yards wide, but its width and depth can change dramatically in short periods of time. Not only is the river flow affected by rainfall and snowmelt, it is changed by releases from several hydroelectric dams on various tributaries, including the dam on Flagstaff Lake. Each year, several hikers attempt to cross the Kennebec by fording it or swimming across. One hiker has died in this attempt. To deal with this crossing challenge, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, WV, has hired a ferryman to assist hikers. The ferryman uses a canoe with the distinguished white blaze of the AT painted on its floor. He takes two hikers and their packs across at a time.

When Cruiser, Bunyan, and I reached the Kennebec after a three mile hike, I noticed a white signal flag lying on a stand by the river. I got the flag and waved it. From the other side of the river came another wave. It was the ferryman. He paddled over to our side, got out, and greeted us. He was Hillbilly Dave, and he looked the part dressed in a floppy hat. He told us he had been doing this job for three years and hadn’t lost a hiker yet. This made us feel good until he had us sign release forms so, that if we died in the crossing, we would not sue him or his employer. Bunyan and I loaded our packs in the canoe. Hillbilly Dave sat in the stern or tail end of the canoe, Bunyan in the middle, and I in the bow. I helped paddle, but Hillbilly Dave did all the steering in the fast flowing river. We were on the other side in no time!

After a short hike, Bunyan, Cruiser, and I arrived at Pleasant Pond Lean-to separately and had lunch there. Then they let me lead them up Pleasant Pond Mountain. I was honored. I tried to set a reasonably fast pace, but I was careful not to sacrifice safety as we had some tricky rocks to negotiate. We were rewarded with a beautiful summit with great views. We continued hiking together all afternoon until dusk. We stealth camped by the Trail that night, Bunyan in his hammock, Cruiser “cowboy camped” without a tent, and I set up my tent without its rainfly due to the stable, fair weather we were having. We had hiked 15.9 miles that day, my longest day in many weeks. I was proud but tired. I was treated that night to a full moon shining through the mosquito netting of my tent. I slept soundly.

The next morning, Friday, September 4, Bunyan, Cruiser, and I set our separate paces and climbed the 2629 foot rocky peak of Moxie Bald Mountain. It was another gorgeous day! We three assembled on top for photos. In the distance we could see a faint, hazy mountain that rose higher than all the rest. This was our first view of our final destination on the Appalachian Trail: Mount Katahdin over one hundred miles away!

We hiked down to the Moxie Bald Shelter for lunch. Cruiser and I passed a small flock of ruffed grouse on the way down. These birds seemed as tame as chickens and let me get right up on them to take pictures. I took another one of those power naps after lunch, but felt fuzzy afterwards. It took me a while to get my hiking legs back to full speed that afternoon. I hiked by myself and made my first unassisted big river ford of the Pisquataquis River. I wanted to keep my hiking shoes and socks dry so I took the time to take them off, tie them to my pack, and put on my croc shoes. I found the wade across the river to be quite refreshing. It was 5:00, and I still had three miles to go to reach the Horseshoe Canyon Shelter. I put it in gear! I arrived at 6:15 after a 15.5 mile day to find Bunyan and Cruiser having their supper. I soon joined them. We were now in position to have an easy nine mile hike the next day into Monson. Monson would be our last re-supply point before hitting the 100 Mile Wilderness on our way to Katahdin. We talked that night of how, for the first time, the reality was sinking in that our odyssey on the Appalachian Trail was nearing a close. We talked about how lucky we were to have such good weather in Maine. The early southbounders, heading south from Mount Katahdin in June and July had a month of solid rain, swollen rivers, and ankle deep mud to deal with. We were enjoying absolutely beautiful weather with cool temperatures. The mud was drying up! We had few mosquitoes and no infamous black flies. You’ve heard of horse flies? Well, up here, they have moose flies. They are huge and take out chunks of flesh when they bite. We haven’t seen a one! I promised in front off these two men to never complain about anything ever again in my life. I intend to keep this promise for the rest of my days.

The next morning, Saturday, September 5, Bunyan, Cruiser, and I all hiked independently into Monson. I had lunch and tried to eat all my food supplies on Buck Hill just before the Trail intersected with Highway 15, 3.5 miles out of town. When I got to the trail crossing, I positioned my pack beside the two lane road and stuck out my thumb. Thirty minutes went by and so did a lot of cars and trucks, but nobody stopped. I was beginning to lose hope when a big SUV pulled up behind me from an adjacent parking area. The lady at the wheel asked me if I was going into town and told me to put my pack in the back. I had just been picked up by Sue, the owner of Shaw’s Lodging in Monson, a famous Appalachian Trail institution. Sue and her husband started the hostel many years ago. Her husband has died, but now Sue, Dawn, and a bunch of volunteers run the place. Now I felt very guilty. I had to tell Sue I was staying at Lakeshore House, her competitor’s place. Not only that, I had to confess that I had a supply box at Shaw’s. I made both confessions and told Sue I would gladly pay a fee for her holding the box for me. Sue wasn’t bothered at all by this. She said she would take me by her place and get my box for me. There would be no charge. She also insisted on giving me a ride the additional two blocks to the Lakeshore House. That is what I call good community relations!

Sue deposited me at Lakeshore, and I told her to put me down for breakfast at her place the next morning. I thanked her profusely. Rebecca welcomed me to Lakeshore. First order of business was to take a shower and get out of my dirty hiking clothes. I have noticed lately that my sense of smell is finely tuned to some smells but dead to others. For instance, I can smell the shampooed hair of a passing section hiker, but I cannot smell the body odor of myself or other thru hikers. Let me assure you, everyone else can! Second order of business was to wash my smelly clothes in the laundromat downstairs. Third order, grocery store. The Monson General Store had most everything I needed for my final push to Katahdin: pop tarts, peanut butter, English muffins, oatmeal, and honey. All my dehydrated food was in the box from Shaw’s.

I had supper that night at the tavern in the back of Lakeshore. Burger, fries, and a super big hot brownie sundae. I slept well in a bunk room shared with Skeeter, Limbo, Bird, and one of the best trail dogs I have met, Mama Bear. Mama Bear slept below my bed and brought back memories of my own dog, Millie. I nearly cried myself to sleep.

This morning, September 6, I started on this email to you and then left at 7:15 to walk up to Shaw’s for breakfast. I was welcomed by Dawn, a retired 35-year school teacher. With our similar professional careers, we hit it off real well. Dawn ushered me past a busy kitchen and seated me at a table with other thru hikers. She explained the system. They were serving French toast that morning. I could order a #1, #2, #3, or #4. A #1 would mean one piece of French toast, one piece of bacon, one sausage, and one egg fixed to my specifications. A #2 would mean two of all these things, and so forth. I ordered a #3. I could get more if I wanted. All this came with juice, water, and coffee. The conversation over breakfast centered around the two states of mind of northbound thru hikers. One state of mind was “I’m tired of the Trail, I want to get to Katahdin, finish as quickly as possible, and go home!” The other state was: “I love this Trail, I want to drag this thing out as long as I can!” The population at the table seemed to be split, half and half, between these two views. I find myself somewhere in the middle. I have enjoyed this Trail experience. It has been the longest six months of my life! I am not going to rush to the end, but I am not going to drag my feet either. I am going to take the pace that seems most natural to get through these last miles.

After breakfast, I had a magical moment. One of the thru hikers I ate with, Strings from West Virginia, got out is Martin backpacker’s guitar. I got my harmonica and we sat outside the back door of Shaw’s and made music. We played several Dan Fogelberg songs, a Rolling Stone song, and my “I am a Hiker” song. Several of the guests hung around to hear the music. I have signed Strings up for my bluegrass band I am going to assemble for next year’s Trail Days in Damascus, VA. We will pull out the Hiker Song for all to hear in its first official debut.

As I was about to leave Shaw’s, Dawn came running up to me. “I have two more boxes for you!” she said. I wasn’t expecting anything. I opened the boxes to find chocolate brownies from Old Goat and Check Six and pecan bars from Eli Hornstein, one of my former students.

But back to the present. I am at mile 2061.7. The top of Katahdin is at mile 2176.2. I have 114.5 miles to go, most of it through the 100 Mile Wilderness. This section of the Trail is regarded by many as the most beautiful of the entire journey. It is not without challenges. It is full of lakes, bogs, moose, and a couple of tall mountains. I know I can make no assumptions about life because I am not in complete control, but I hope the next time I communicate with you will be shortly after I summit Mount Katahdin, “Greatest Mountain” in the original language of this continent. Katahdin is 5267 feet tall, much of it above timberline, very steep, and very rocky. I have seen it from a distance. Soon, it will loom on the horizon.

I look forward to that horizon in my life. Thank you for being with me.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

PS. Life Lessons from the Trail #2

Often the Appalachian Trail is composed of large rocks and boulders. there are two ways to go about forward progress down this perilous path. One is to seek the way close to the earth, finding the secure footing on the ground between the rocks. I’ll call this the “grounded path.”

The other way to approach this rocky trail is to seek passage over the top of the rocks. This rock to rock stepping can be quite rapid, even exhilarating. One feels, how should I say it, above it all. But this method is not without its dangers. A slip or miscalculated foot placement can result in a disastrous fall. Injury with this method can be profound. I’ll call this the “above the earth path.”

In our lives off the Trail, we can live our lives similar to these two approaches. There are times when we need to take the “grounded path” as we encounter problems, challenges, and unfamiliar situations. At these times, we need to play it safe and not take chances. This might be appropriate when we are not sure of ourselves or the consequences of a mistake are too dire. This approach might be the best one when we are accepting responsibility for the safety or well being of others. As well, this approach might likely be the best when we are inexperienced in a particular area or feeling out of balance with life.

But there are times we need to take risks and opt for the “above the earth path.” These times might be when we are feeling creative and need to let out the force of the ideas inside us. As well, there may be times when we feel particularly in tune with ourselves and the environment around us, even our work environment. At these times we can afford to act on our intuitions and take a more let-it-flow approach.

The real challenge is to know when to take which route, grounded or above the earth. It may well be that a combination of the two is the best in many situations. This certainly works for me on the Trail, picking and choosing between the two as I pay attention to my mood, my physical coordination, and the condition of the rocks and the earth.

My best wishes for you on your path through life.

Trail Report – August 30 (1986 miles)

Trail Report
trail map

elevation map

Dear Friends,

When I communicated with you last, I was at the Pine Ellis Hostel in Andover, Maine. By talking to the locals I was able to find out some interesting things about this town. The first white settler was named Ezekiel Merrill. He made friends with the Indians in the area and got them to move him, his wife, and his seven children to this section of wilderness in 1788. They used birchbark canoes on the Androscoggin and Ellis Rivers to get to their settling place. Here, they built a cabin with a bark roof. Wooden pegs instead of nails were used to hold everything together. Their plates and many kitchen utensils were made of birchbark. The Merrill family survived by hunting, fishing, and growing “greens” and corn in their garden. An old Indian woman, Metalluck, befriended the Merrills and taught them much about herbal remedies and how to survive in the woods. She served as midwife to bring another Merrill baby, a girl, into the world.

By 1791, other settlers began to come to the area. Homes, farms, roads, mills, churches, a library, and schools eventually followed. Many of the homesteads had looms, the people of that region became famous for their fine handmade cloth, woolen blankets, and fine linen towels. A good weaver could produce five yards of cloth a day.

It wasn’t long before logging came to be the major industry around Andover. Sawmills and wood product companies sprang up everywhere. The wood mills in Andover became famous for their dowel rods and hardwood spools used for thread. Some of these companies still exist today.

In 1961, things in Andover took a strange turn. Because of its remoteness, freedom from radio wave interference, and the fact that Andover was halfway between the Equator and North Pole, this locale was chosen by Bell Labs and AT&T for a huge antenna used for communicating with satellites orbiting the earth. AT&T’s first satellite, the basketball-sized Telstar, was launched in 1962. People all over the United States and the world now heard about the satellite receiving station in Andover. Later, a ten story horn antenna was built and linked Andover to other satellite receiving stations in England and France. Today, the satellite antennas outside Andover are responsible for many international television broadcasts (for instance, the Olympics) and even for telephone calls.

When I was prowling around the General Store and the Little Red Hen Diner for all this information, I found several of the local people “down in the dumps.” Andover Wood Products had just announced they were closing at the end of August. A historical institution would be no more. Many of the locals would be out of work. I was surprised, though, at the resilience of these people. “Something will work out,” they all said.

For my one night in Andover, I spent my time at the kitchen table of Ilene, the owner of Pine Ellis Lodging. Ilene and her husband, Paul, moved to the area in 1989 and set up the hostel and a bed and breakfast to serve hikers and tourists. Paul died two years ago, but Ilene has kept the hostel going along with her son-in-law, David, who is an Indian from Guatemala. After visiting with Ilene a while, I told her about my playing the harmonica on the Trail to entertain and comfort the hikers. I asked if I could play her a song. She enthusiastically said yes. I fished out my harp from its ziplock bag and played Wildwood Flower. When I was finished, I was surprised to see that Ilene was crying. “Are you OK?” I asked. “I’m fine,” she said, “but you really set off some emotions in me with that song. I recognized that song and, in a way, it connects me to my husband. You see, Paul was a rough character, but he was also a sensitive man. Once while we were hiking down a trail, I noticed that he stepped around the mushrooms growing in the path. Another time, after a hike, he presented me with a beautiful wildflower. I pressed that flower and saved it as a memento. I never told Paul. When he died, the funeral home gave me a beautiful wind chime that had a little storage container built into it. The funeral director told me that the container was for some of the ashes of the departed. Well, I didn’t want to do that, but I put that little wildflower in there. It’s out hanging by the front porch right now. Your Wildwood Flower brought all these memories back to me. Thank you for ostaa viagra suomessa.”

Ilene and I truly connected that night. The next morning, Sunday, August 23, I was at the Little Red Hen cafe at 6:00 for breakfast. I enjoyed listening to the locals talk at the counter. The Maine accents were thick and the various opinions on everything from the weather to who-said-what-to-whom were strongly held. At 7:00, David gave me a ride eight miles out of town to the trailhead. I was off again on my hike, well fed, well rested, and with clean clothes.

My most challenging climb of the day was up the south side of Moody Mountain. About a year ago, the entire side of this mountain cascaded down in a massive landslide of dirt, mud, rocks, and trees. The original route of the Appalachian Trail was destroyed. A re-routed Trail is in the process of being built but is not yet complete. A suggested route was marked with pieces of orange ribbon. The going was treacherous. At times, the ground would give way beneath my feet. Once, I slipped and I could feel that sore left knee yell at me quite loudly. I picked my steps more carefully after that.

That night, I made it to the Black Brook just before South Arm Road around 5:00. I felt good about my effort that day. I had come 10.1 miles over very rough terrain. I found a beautiful campsite next to the river and pitched my tent. I backtracked on the Trail to a spring I had noticed on my way in and got water for the evening and the next morning. As I was dipping water from the spring, a cute little chipmunk came out from under a rock, squeaked at me, sat up on his haunches, and watched every move I made. I couldn’t believe this little animal was so unafraid of me. I went back to camp and made my supper. While I was sitting on a log eating, I heard that same squeak! I looked up from my beef stroganoff and couldn’t believe my eyes. That same little chipmunk was there sitting next to me! I know it was the same one; I would recognize those stripes anywhere! I know I shouldn’t feed wild animals, but I couldn’t resist. I gave him a noodle.

It started raining that night at 7:00 and kept it up until dawn. I had breakfast under trees still dripping with the rain. Sure enough, while I was eating, I heard a little rustling next to me and looked up to find my chipmunk friend was back! This time he had some granola.

I packed up and forded Black Brook and began a long 3000 foot climb up Old Blue Mountain. After Old Blue, I climbed a series of mountains associated with Bemis Mountain and ended up at the Bemis Mountain Shelter around 5:00 that afternoon. At first, I had the shelter to myself. I strung up some clothes lines between trees and started drying out my wet tent. About dusk, a southbound thru hiker named Genessey showed up. He took one look at me and said, “You must be Braid!” I told him I was. He then proceeded to tell me of how at a road crossing, Highway 17, four miles up the Trail, he had run into a couple of people parked by the road who were looking for me. “It was Old Goat and Check Six,” he said. I couldn’t believe my ears! I had met Old Goat and his wife Check Six back when we started the Trail back in Georgia. We hiked together from Franklin, NC to Erwin, TN. We shared many good times together including the nine inch snow storm in the mountains above Hot Springs, NC. But, we drifted apart when I got shin splints and had to cut down my mileage in the early part of Tennessee. Back in Massachusetts, Check Six had fallen twice, once in the rocks. She had lost her sense of balance and her confidence that she could hike safely. It broke both of their hearts, but they “got off the Trail” and went back home to Syracuse, NY. I had learned all this weeks ago from a voice mail from Check Six. I couldn’t believe that these two old friends were in Maine, and even more, looking for me! If I had gone only four miles farther that day, I would have seen them! But I was exhausted, and I knew I had made the right decision to stop. I have found that I make stupid mistakes when I hike when I am tired.

The next morning, Tuesday, August 25, I got an early start, climbed two mountains and forded Bemis Stream. I made the long climb up to Highway 17. I tried not to get my hopes up too much that Old Goat and Check Six would be back at the same road crossing. As I was huffing and puffing up the last ascent to the road, I noticed a man up top taking pictures of me with a big digital camera. I could not see his face. When he pulled the camera away, I could see that it was Old Goat! We were both beaming! When I reached the top, there was Check Six with outstretched arms! We all hugged each other and started a non-stop conversation about what we had all been doing. They gave me a hot cup of coffee, two ice cold Pepsi’s, a bunch of green grapes, and I lost count on how many double stuffed Oreo’s. We reminisced on all our adventures together on the Trail, particularly our time together in the big snow. Two hours later, we exchanged hugs again, and I was on my way north.

I was energized! It wasn’t just the caffeine. It was the love and confidence that Old Goat and Check Six had for me. I hiked the Trail with an enthusiasm I hadn’t felt in weeks. At one point, I ran into a large group of beginning students on an orientation trip from Harvard. I introduced myself, said that I had been a teacher forever at the NC School of Science and Math, and asked if there were any NCSSMers in the group. Nope. But several knew about NCSSM and had friends from there. That day, I made it 12.9 miles to a campsite on the shore of Little Swift River Pond. It was sunset, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a canoe pulled up on the shore. I could see paddles. I dropped my pack and went to investigate. I found the canoe full of water and impossible to move. It was a classic Old Town fiberglass model. I bailed out a good bit of the water until I could turn the canoe over and drain out all the water. I found an old life jacket hung on a tree. I stepped in and shoved the canoe out in the water. It glided silently toward a beautiful sunset sky. I silently paddled around the lake. I marveled at the beauty of this magical moment. I am truly a lucky man.

The canoe ride had me preparing supper and eating by headlamp, but I didn’t mind. I was ecstatic at the good fortune of my day: a reunion with old hiker friends, my best mileage in ages, and the beauty of the pond. The next morning, took another spin around the lake at sunrise, hoping to see moose eating vegetation in the shallow water near the shores. It was a beautiful time, but no moose. I hiked 4.5 miles to where Highway 4 crosses the Trail outside Rangely, ME. There on the side of the road was a man in a Suburban SUV saying goodbye to his section hiking wife. They interrupted their goodbyes to say hello to me. His name was Steve and her trailname was Steady. She planned on taking four days to hike the 32.2 miles to the next road crossing. After their parting hugs, Steve turned to me and said, “Have a Gatorade, and here are some homemade brownie bars. I’ll give you a ride into Rangely if you need to get groceries or anything.” I had barely enough food to make it four more days. A resupply would be nice. Steve turned out to be a real Trail Angel. He not only gave me a ride to the IGA grocery, he took me by a diner where I had a cheeseburger and fries. I hit the ATM at the bank, and picked up some denatured alcohol for fuel at the local outfitters. I was also able to get some Aquamira, a water treatment chemical that I like to keep on hand in case my Steri-pen UV light gave me any trouble. After all these errands, Steve took me back to the trailhead. How efficient! I was resupplied and fed with hardly any time lost.

Since it was now close to mid-afternoon, I only hiked the 1.8 miles to the Piazza Rock Lean-to (Remember, they call the shelters up here lean-tos.) After exploring the nearby caves and the famous overhanging Piazza Rock, I met a fascinating group of people at the Lean-to. There was Animal, an older hiker from Virginia, hiking his final section of the Trail. There was Kitchen Sink who earned his trailname because he carried a very heavy pack full of everything he or anyone else might need. Skeeter, a young lady, I had hiked with in the Mahoosucs, was there. And then, at last, there was Houdini. Houdini, I had heard about before I even started the Trail. Way back in February, I was at the REI store in Cary, NC. An checkout lady by the name of Lynn helped ring up all my dehydrated food. Lynn told me, “Keep your eye out for a young woman who works at our store who will be thru hiking the Trail. Her name is Katie Ackerman, and she is real nice. She is also only about this tall!” Lynn held her hand out to indicate a person not very tall. It turns out that Katie started hiking north a little later than I did, she got concerned about the advancing time and weather, and “flip flopped” by going up to Maine to hike back to the place where her northward progress stopped. Katie earned the name Houdini because she often passes hikers on the Trail without their even knowing. How does she do this? She won’t say. To do so would blow her identity. Houdini and I had a great time talking. We exchanged contact information and vowed to get together when we both ended up back home. Small world, yet again.

Thursday, August 27, began as a crisp fall-like day. It was absolutely beautiful! I was energized once more by all that had been happening to me and all that was around me. I passed two ponds, still looking for my first moose in the wild, but saw none. I climbed the 4120 foot Saddleback Mountain. The top was above timberline, and the wind was howling at maybe 40 miles per hour. I continued on to climb The Horn and finally Saddleback Junior. I made it to the Poplar Ridge Lean-to by late afternoon to find one space left for me. More hikers kept piling in including Spoon and Hazard, two young “maniac” hikers from Raleigh, NC. We hit it off just great. The lean-to was surrounded by tents for the overflow crowd. We had a campfire that night. Just as everyone was turning in for the night, I pulled out my harmonica and entertained everyone with the “I am a Hiker” song. The dipping temperature of the evening told us that, this far north, the seasons were about to change.

The next morning was quite chilly in the upper 30′s. I began hiking in my winter clothes. I climbed a very steep Lone Mountain and found a bag of Pepsi’s left for hikers in Perham Stream. I hiked to the Spaulding Mountain Lean-to at the base of Spaulding Mountain. I kept saying to myself as I was hiking: “The old Joe is back!” I felt energy l hadn’t felt since the beginning of my hike. My left knee in its new brace was holding up well. I could not be stopped! But I did stop at the lean-to for lunch. In my typical mode, I read the lean-to register book as I was eating. I almost dropped my burrito! There it was in bold lettering: “WARNING TO HIKERS! Tropical Storm ‘Danny’ is predicted to skirt the coast of Maine tomorrow, August 29. Heavy rain and winds up to 50 mph are expected. Rain is expected to start at 3:00 AM tonight. Plan your hike accordingly.” It was signed by the trail maintainer of this section of trail.

What was I to do?! It was only 12:30 in the afternoon. I did not feel like stopping for the day, but there were no shelters ahead, and the closest town, Stratton, would make my mileage for the day 22.5. I couldn’t do that to my body. And besides, there wasn’t enough daylight left to do that kind of mileage. I decide to go on another 6.2 miles to the campground at Crocker Cirque. Almost as soon as I started out, I ran into the trail maintainer. He introduced himself as Mainiac from Maine, and a thru hiker from 2003. He had been taking care of the trail ever since. He gave me an apple and a plum. “You are the only thru hiker I have seen today!” he said. I thanked him for his work on the Trail and shoved off at a fast clip up the rocky trail. I climbed Spaulding Mountain, descended to the Carrabassett River, forded the river, and climbed one mile to the campground. No one else was on the Trail. I hadn’t seen one person! Everyone must be hunkering down for the storm. I had the campground totally to myself. I elected to set my tent up on a wooden platform to avoid possible flooding on the ground. I used lengths of cord to tie my tent to hooks on the four sides of the platform. It was lashed down well! I could survive this storm tonight! In keeping with American Indian tradition, I put down an offering of tobacco to carry my prayers to the Creator. I burned a braid of sweetgrass around and inside my tent. I prayed for safety as I moved around the camp. I enjoyed Pasta Primavera by headlamp and retreated to my tent for a journal entry and then bed. I wanted an early start tomorrow. Even with the storm coming in tonight, maybe I could beat the worst of it and get into the closest town, Stratton, to wait it out.

I was up at 4:45. It had been raining since around 2:00. I almost made a tragic mistake. It was still pretty dark outside, and I had on my headlamp. I unzipped the vestibule of my tent and stepped outside. I misjudged the edge of the tent platform and tumbled headfirst into the darkness. I rolled on the ground two feet below. Amazingly, I didn’t hurt anything, not even my delicate left knee. I brushed the mud off my pants and arm. I couldn’t believe it! I had gone several days without any mishaps only to fall in camp! I said a prayer of thanksgiving in the growing light. I was still on the Trail!

Hiking in the rain in raincoat and rainpants and leaving camp at 6:45, I made it over the twin peaks of South and North Crocker Mountain by 8:30. It was raining steadily and the wind at the top of these mountains was gusting to 50 mph. I got down as quickly as I could. I made the 5 mile descent to Highway 27 by 11:15. I crossed the road and picked a spot to hitchhike the eight miles into town. I hadn’t even put my thumb out when a pickup truck came by going the other direction. The brake lights came on. An older man and a big black Labrador Retriever dog were in the cab. The truck backed up. “You need a ride into town?” the man asked. I enthusiastically said yes. He did a U-turn. I threw my pack in the bed and climbed in with the man and dog. The man was Tom. The dog, Max. On the way into town, Tom told me that he had just retired from the Coast Guard. He had found Max, abandoned, a year ago. “The best dog I ever had,” Tom said.

Tom gave me a ride to the White Wolf Inn in Stratton. Even though I was very self conscious about my wet condition and likely smell, I went into the adjoining restaurant, found a table in the far corner, and order a hot meatloaf sandwich and a cup of coffee. The excellence of this meal cannot be overstated. I was warm! I was beginning to dry out! I had survived Tropical Storm Danny!” Oh yes, the sandwich came with fries, homemade. I enjoyed this meal like no other one before it.

I had used my cell phone the night before to call the White Wolf. I had made a reservation for a room, guaranteeing it with my credit card. The attendant, Gail, told me she would be coming in to work at noon. She could check me in anytime after that. A few minutes after 12:00, Gail showed up at my table smiling. “You must be Braid!” she exclaimed. “I’ve got your room all ready for you.” I was in heaven.

The afternoon consisted of shower, laundromat, drying out my tent and pack in my room, a trip to the grocery store, and finally the bar downstairs at the Inn for supper. It surprised me that the locals in the bar included me in their socializing. I learned that Russell just had his second grandchild. I learned that a bus boy in the restaurant had offended one of the town elders. And I learned a touching thing. A local young couple had just been burned out of their home. Last Thursday night, the White Wolf Inn had a fundraiser for them. There was a meatloaf special with mashed potatoes and corn. All the local ladies brought in homemade desserts. All the money raised would go to the couple. On that night, the road up and down Stratton for a long, long ways was lined with parked cars. It was almost standing room only at the restaurant. That night, the townspeople raised $13,000 for the burned out couple. The guys at the bar were so proud of how their community had come together. “It was almost like a barn raising!” one of them told me.

Gail was still at the Inn, helping serve the tables in the restaurant and bar. Just before closing time, she approached me with her family. “This is my husband, Michael. Here’s my son. I heard you had a hard time updating your website because the library was closed for Ted Kennedy’s funeral. I want you to come to my home just past the fire station tomorrow morning. That two ton truck outside will be parked in the drive. You can use my computer and Internet connection.

So folks, this is how I came to communicate with you today, by the generosity of others. In fact, this is how I have survived for the last several months, by the generosity of others. I am so thankful.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

Trail Report – August 22 (1920 miles)

Trail Report
trail map

elevation map

Dear friends,

I am typing this message to you from Pine Ellis Lodging in Andover, Maine. Yes, I have made it into Maine, 24.9 miles worth! Just as soon as I made it out of the formidable White Mountains of New Hampshire, I found myself in the rugged Mahoosuc Mountains of Maine. The terrain remains very rugged, cutting my mileage in half. But, in spite of incredibly demanding days and gallons of water lost to perspiration, I am of sound body and mind. That is putting it mildly. More appropriately, I am having the time of my life!

When I left you last, I was in Gorham, New Hampshire, letting my knees recover from the pounding they received in the Whites. On my last morning in Gorham, Tuesday, August 18, I was up at 5:15. In my typical fashion of not wanting to disturb hikers still sleeping in hostels or shelters, I quietly moved all my possessions downstairs from the Barn’s loft and packed up my pack. I went to the Cumberland Farms convenience store across the street and purchased a cup of coffee and several pastries to have for breakfast. In the growing light of this new day, I enjoyed my breakfast at a picnic table in the city park just across the street. As I was eating, I noticed a peculiar thing. All of the heavy 55 gallon metal trashcans in the park had been overturned, lids removed, and contents rummaged through. Was this the doings of vagrants and hobos? No, it was clear to me that the town of Gorham had been visited by black bears from the White Mountains! Sure enough, on hitting the Dunkin Doughnuts for one last calorie installment, the proprietor told me that they had seen the bears of the night before raiding the dumpster outside their establishment. This is a sad tale of how creatures of the wild can become changed by human civilization. I humbly suggest that Gorham invest in bearproof trash containers.

I had only stuck out my thumb for eight minutes out in front of The Barn hostel when a van stopped for me on Highway 2 in Gorham. Nick, an unemployed carpenter, was my savior. Nick and I listened to Neal Young’s latest boxed set of CD’s on the way to the trailhead, four miles out of town.

I thanked Nick profusely. After a brief “road walk,” I crossed the Androscoggin River (in the local Native American language, “a place where fish are cured.”) and followed the white blazes down a dirt road leading me into the surrounding mountains. My climb that morning was not too bad. I met up with an old thru hiker friend, Ducky, who was down in the dumps. Ducky had hiked from Georgia with her nine-year-old Labrador Retriever named Madison. Madison was miserable through the Whites. The recent heat wave in New England had made Ducky realize that Madison’s days on the Trail needed to cease. That morning, Ducky’s mother had driven up from Massachusetts and picked up Madison. Ducky was crying. “All I can do, is to keep hiking,” she said. Ducky and I hiked together, in silence at first, and made it twelve miles to the Gentian Pond Shelter. At first, we thought we would have the shelter to ourselves, but we were soon joined by section hikers Skeeter and Cantaloupe and southbound thru hiker Squatch. It was a good time with lots of swapped stories that night.

The next morning, Ducky and I were on the Trail at 7:30. The trail got rougher and rougher as we climbed Mount Success. The views on the bald, rocky top were spectacular. We were in the Mahoosuc (“Rocky Place” in the Native language) Range, and the Trail lived up to this translation. After a few more miles, the success we felt on Mount Success was physically embodied in a sign we found posted on a tree by the Trail. It read: “Welcome to Maine, Life As It Should Be Lived.” We celebrated our passage into the final state of our journey by having lunch at this spot. By 5:00 that afternoon, Ducky and I had made it 9.6 rough miles to the Full Goose Shelter. Cantaloupe and Skeeter were already there. Staying with these three women was actually very enjoyable for me. Our conversations and observations about the Trail took on the nature of a give and take between estrogen and testosterone! We thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. And better still, Ducky was laughing more. The memory of her missing Trail Dog, Madison, was taking on the nature of a tribute. She could now talk about her adventures with Madison without crying.

On Tuesday, August 20, Ducky, Skeeter, Cantaloupe, and I set out separately for one of the toughest miles on the Appalachian Trail, The famed Mahoosuc Notch. In just thirty minutes of hiking, we would individually encounter a maze of tumbled boulders, rock walls, and caves that would test everything we had learned in the last 2000 miles. I had learned my lesson earlier on the Trail about wasting energy on fearing obstacles. I stepped into the Notch with an attitude of humbleness, respect, and attentiveness. I climbed up and over, down and under. I wiggled through caves where ice of the last winter still remained. My glasses fogged up each time I emerged into the daylight! I had to take my pack off twice in order to slip through tight places. Once, I found a beautiful spring way back in the rocks. I couldn’t resist. I reached in with my water bottle for a dose of pure, ice cold, and clear Mahoosuc Notch bottled water. This and a Snickers bar pushed me on. In two hours, I climbed out the other end of the Notch. I was thrilled to have this challenge behind me.

Little did I realize that the challenge of the day was just beginning. I climbed three miles straight up to the top of the Mahoosuc Arm. My reward was a brief descent to a beautiful lake called Speck Pond. I had only gone 5.1 miles, but I was totally exhausted both from physical exertion and hours of adrenalin rushes. I stayed that night at the Speck Pond Shelter. I was welcomed by the caretaker Bo, trail name Footloose from his 2008 thru hike. I soaked my knees in the cold water of the pond. I was joined that night by a whole crew of young northbound thru hikers I had never met: Sota (abbreviated for Minnesota), Cyborg, Ewok, Joker, Sneak, and Gittyup. I was feeling a little like the oddball since I didn’t know anyone, when Sota spoke up. “We have heard about Braid and the ‘I am a Hiker’ song for the last 100 miles. We even heard Leon from Florida sing the chorus while he played the banjo. But we want to hear the whole thing. Would you sing it?” I felt instantly accepted by this request. In the twilight of shelter light, I fished out my harmonica, played the melody of the verse and chorus, and sang the song from beginning to end. When I finished, the shelter erupted with applause. I felt proud to be recognized on the Trail click. I slept very well that night.

The next morning, I was the first one on the Trail at 7:15. I climbed a very steep Old Speck Mountain and descended just as steeply to Grafton Notch at my first road crossing in Maine, Route 26. Much to my surprise, I found a park ranger waiting for me there. Kevin was not there to give me a ticket for some violation. He was there to give me an ice cold Dr. Pepper! Kevin had been a ranger for three years. He talked with one of the thickest Maine accents I had ever heard. He had lots of advice about the challenges that awaited me. “Try to get off the high stone balds that are coming up by late afternoon,” he said. “We’ve got severe thunderstorms moving in.”

Kevin’s words put a certain zip in my step as I climbed up the west peak of Baldpate Mountain. When I got to the top, I was greeted by high winds and whiteout conditions. The Trail was marked by sporadic piles of stones, the cairns. As I climbed up the even higher peak of East Baldpate, I was crawling hand over hand over bare rock faces. Thunder rumbled in the distance. By the time I hit the third bald in this series of rock peaks, I was practically running. I wanted to get below timberline before the upcoming thunderstorm arrived. The Whites had taught me well! I breathed a sigh of relief when I entered a stand of stunted fir trees. The trees gradually increased in size as I lost altitude. A muddy, rocky trail led me to the Frye Notch Shelter. I was elated. I felt better about my mileage that day, 10.4 miles. And I had beat the thunderstorm, this time.

A southbound thru hiker, Still Steve, shared the shelter with me that late afternoon as the sky got darker. Soon torrential rain hit. The sound of the rain on the tin roof of the shelter was deafening. Still Steve and I shouted to each other to be heard over the din. To our mutual amazement, we found that we shared the same home state, North Carolina. He was from Southern Pines and, of course, I was from Durham. We shared information about the Trail while we cooked supper and prepared for bed. He gave me valuable advice about what awaited me to the north. I had a lot to say about what lay to the south. We gave each other information about places to stay and sections of trail to be careful on. We pledged to get together back in North Carolina when we both finished this great adventure. Still Steve introduced me to Yogi Tea. I slept like a rock, due either to the tea or the physical exertion of the day, or maybe both!

This morning, Saturday, August 22, I said goodbye to Still Steve, and we headed in opposite directions. I climbed up and then down 4.5 miles to Andover, Maine. Before I lost too much altitude, I fished my cell phone out of my pack and called Pine Ellis Lodging. A sweet voice answered the phone. I was hoping for a ride into town, eight miles down East B Hill Road. Reluctantly, the sweet voice told me that her shuttle driver had left for Rangely, Maine, and that she only had one bed left in her hostel. I asked her to save the bed for me and that I would hitch into town. Thirty minutes later, I carefully crossed a creek raging from last night’s rain storm just before the road crossing. I noticed a man standing there. “Braid?” he asked. I said, yes. “I’m here to give you a ride. And there is someone who wants to see you.” I climbed steps to the road to find a thru hiker friend, Wendy, waiting at the top. Wendy and I had hiked together a good while back in Tennessee and Virginia. We had been exchanging emails, trying to get together. Finally, the moment had arrived. We hugged. Wendy then hoisted her pack and hit the Trail north. Maybe I’ll catch her again.

The guy that met me was David. He works for Pine Ellis Lodging. Somehow, miraculously, he had heard about me coming into town and decided to meet me at the crossing. As we sped down the rough road to Andover, we did not see one car. It would have been one long hitch!

I’ll learn what I can about this new Trail Town and share it with you next time. Right now, I am just happy to have a soft bed for the night. I’ll hit the two restaurants in town to boost my calorie reserves. After this replenishment, I hope to resume my journey north tomorrow.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

PS. Life Lessons Learned from the Trail #1

There have been times for me on the Appalachian Trail when the entire trail has been submerged in water, mud, or a combination of both. Often there are no alternatives other than plunging right in and trudging through the muck. But there are also times when rocks, tree roots, logs, or the banks on one side or the other offer something akin to stepping stones to provide dry footing across the expanse. In this scenario, I have found the best way to approach a hopeful dry passage is to simply go one step at a time. There is no need to figure out all the needed steps in advance because, often, one step will reveal the next. It is matter of faith that a course of passage will make itself known. This method has never failed me.

I suggest that a similar attitude be applied to the complex situations we face in our lives. We should not be discouraged when a clear course of action evades us as we approach a difficult problem or circumstance. All we need to do is take that first step. The next one will make itself apparent once we have begun the passage with a mind that is open with a spirit of adventure.