Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Maine Pics

OK, this is the kind of thing I'm talking about. My mom would say "This is not a trail. This is a bunch of rocks with blazes painted on them." Actually, we found blazes were few and far between in these rocky sections, leaving us often wondering if we were climbing up the right set of rocks! The guy in the picture is my loving spouse. The bandana under his cap is to keep out the biting flies. You know, the kind that fly circles around your head for miles, looking for a way to get inside your brain? Sort of like a Twilight Zone episode.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Hard Hiking

Um, those Mainers? When they say a trail is hard, you should listen.

Slogger and I just returned from a week or so of hiking on the AT in southern Maine. Whew. That was -- bar none -- the toughest hiking I have ever done in my life. And since I've been backpacking since I was 12, that's a lot of hiking.

We hiked from Rangely south to Gorham, about 78 miles all told. Part of that involved climbing countless mountains, as the trail was either going up a mountain or down one. None of this weeny, sidehill hiking for southern Maine.

The highlight of the trip, of course, was the Mahoosuc Notch. This one-mile section of the AT, known as the "most difficult mile on the Appalachian Trail" is famous for its rock scrambles and general coolness. It's hard to say whether it's really the most difficult, but it did take us 2 and a half hours to negotiate over and under boulders, etc. Basically, there's a stream -- the Bull Branch, I think -- running through this narrow valley and on top of the stream are loads of boulders that range from smallish to house-sized. The trail winds around and over and through, sometimes through holes so small you have to take off your pack and push it through, then crawl through yourself. Here's a trip report on Mahoosuc Notch, if you're interested. Oh, and one of the coolest things about the Notch is -- it's really cool. There's even ice in crevices under the boulders, and as we were hiking through, every once in while we would walk through cool air that felt just like walking into a walk-in cooler. (And I do actually know how that feels, as I got locked in a walk-in cooler once by a sadistic fellow employee at a Boy Scout camp where I once worked. Maybe I'll tell that story at a later date.)Climbing up and out of the notch, we could feel the temps rising at an incredible pace.

The day we did the Mahoosuc Notch we hiked 5.1 miles -- and it took us from 8 in the morning to 5 in the evening to do it. So . . . needless to say we were a bit bushed. A different kind of tired, though, from the regular backpacking tired. The regular tired is a sore feet, achy knees, sweaty and disgusting tired; this one felt like I had done energetic aerobics and weight workouts all day long -- think The Firm workouts for a full day.

When we got into Gorham, New Hampshire, we had planned on hiking on to Pinkham Notch, but the timing was a bit off. (Translation: if we had kept on hiking, we wouldn't have had time to take a shower before taking a bus and two flights back here. Just can't inflict that kind of olfactory torture on the unwitting populace.) So we ended up renting a car and driving around New Hampshire, stopping at places where the road crosses the trail and handing out trail magic -- sodas, Little Debbies, and fruit -- to hikers who happened along. You wouldn't imagine how good it feels to see a hiker's eyes light up when you croon to them "We've got Swiss Rolls . . . "

Now that we're back home, we're compiling a video of photos from our trip, which we will obnoxiously send to just about anyone who either voices an interest or who we think might be willing to receive it without throwing it in the trash.

In the meantime, lots of work to do and lots of time to spend daydreaming about next year's long-distance hike. I'll be posting a couple of pics soon.