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

One Response to “Trail Report – August 30 (1986 miles)”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Joe. I’m still forwarding your trail reports and link to the website to all of DEEP as the emails come in so everyone can follow along. You’re just about there. You realize, of course, you’ll have to come and give a presentation to us all when you get home, oh— and bring that harmonica :)
    Fred Hurteau, DEEP, NCSSM

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