Sunday, September 30, 2012

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Aves and I have been reading The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy lately and I thought that a fitting title to this post. Although, "you can't always get what you want but if you try sometime you just might find, you get what you need," from the Stones would have been pretty fitting too.

This post is coming shortly after we've made the decision to close off our hike. We'll be following this post with more details and some more great pictures but here's the short version:

From Catawba our start was amazing. Joe from the Four Pines Hostel allowed us an easy 6 mile slack pack and a two night stay to get back on our feet. The next day we were under full packs and hiked up and over the Dragon's Tooth, a stone monolith with great views. We spent that night in our new tent (there's also a post coming about gear changes we've made and what we've learned thus far). The next couple of nights we spent in shelters along the way talking with true SoBos about everything they've experienced that we missed.

The 48 miles that we were able to do before getting back off the trail again were spectacular. It felt great to be back on the trail and in the wilderness again. We walked through pastures, over stiles and over some of Virginia's shorter mountains. But then four days ago we hit a couple miles that were pure rocks. It felt like we were back in Maine getting ready to hit Mahoosuc Notch. I was as careful as I could possibly be and it took us over an hour to get past it all. Afterwards though, my foot was complaining loudly. 600mg of Advil later and we made it to the shelter for the night. The next day I was able to make it the 10 miles to the Captain's house. The Captain is an awesome trail legend who lives thirty yards from the trail across a creek. Hikers like us take a zip line to get there, it's pretty awesome.

At this point I was figuring the pain may just be muscular, a product of not using it for a few months. The we took a zero the next day hoping the pain would subside and we could keep going. Then another the next day and another today. The pain isn't subsiding.

Basically it comes down to money and as much as we'd love to say that we could afford a hotel until I'm healed, we can't. Not that and everything else we'd need to afford to rejoin real life after our hike is over.

We really have still had a most excellent adventure. We've learned a lot too. Now that we've done enough of the trail to learn what it is but so little of it overall, we're already planning a true thru hike again in a few years. I have about two years left in my degree so we may be able to get the time again when I graduate. Hard to say for sure. One thing that is for sure is that Jess and I are thru hikers at heart. We know we have the knowledge and desire.

This isn't the end of our blog though. In a few days we'll be back in front of a computer and be able to post the details of the past few days with the last of our pictures, the gear changes that we made since the beginning and some helpful tips for anyone planning a future through hike. For now though we need to get some sleep, we have a long drive back to Wisconsin coming up tomorrow.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Left Hand and Aves are back!

We're here. We've made it back to the trail and seen our first white blazes in over two months. Coming from the middle of heavily populated Long Island to scarcely populated Catawba is inspiring. Almost like we'd lost our way but now have found it again amongst the mountains and the forest.

Our drive down was fantastic. As we headed south along highway 81 we saw signs for Hershey, PA. We didn't pass up the opportunity. I snagged a Hershey Bears hat (my favorite AHL team which used to be affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche) and we headed over to Chocolate World. Smells exactly like you'd think it would. We didn't spend near as much time as we could have there but we did get to hop on the free virtual tour ride and snag a bag of the new pumpkin flavored kisses.

Last night we stayed in Winchester, VA, about three hours further down the road. I just want to rant-NEVER EVER EVER use Travelocity for anything! They didn't get our reservation to the hotel we were staying at and when we tried to cancel told us that we would be charged the full amount for canceling the day of our reservation. I spent the next hour arguing with an awful "customer service" rep who eventually agreed to just refund our money but couldn't send me a verification email that this is happening. I hope she was telling me the truth but I still have a feeling that the battle isn't over. Meanwhile the guy at the Red Roof Inn took awesome care of us and gave us a discount on our stay even though he had nothing to do with what had happened. So all in all still a good night, but boycott Travelocity whatever you do.

Now we're at Four Pines hiker hostel with the owner Joe who picked us up in Salem after returning our rental car. We're lucky again, to come back to the trail and find out that fall hasn't come yet. Some trees have started to turn but for the most part everything is still green. Seeing fall happen was on our most wanted list and it looks like we're still going to get it.

So here we sit. The night before returning to the trail and it's calm and beautiful. Minus the sounds of Joe's son's ATV it's completely still. Tomorrow we begin anew and are we ever ready!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Tale of Two Beginnings

Life. Sometimes it happens. Like crazy awesome trash drummers in the middle of NYC.

After leaving Maine, and Boston (Thanks again and again everyone!!! We couldn't be here without you!) we since have been on Long Island, NY. A different adventure all together, excellent all the same. Most of my family is here and my grandmother was very happy to let us stay while my foot mended itself. We weren't able to explore as much as we could have (say, without a broken foot) but we got as many mini adventures in as we could squeeze.

This was my first trip to NY without a real time limit and it was great getting to spend some good time with my grandma and some of my cousins. Oh and some family friends from England that just so happened to be there at the same time. Funny the way things have been working out.

We were able to go to both a Mets game (vs. the Colorado Rockies no less), and the 9/11 memorial. The baseball game was fulfilling as we got Jess her first hot dog at a baseball game in NY and the 9/11 memorial was breath taking. It costs 6 million dollars a year to keep it running and in my opinion is worth every penny. A memorial is meant to honor and to remember and there's no way any dishonor or forgetting will be happening while those fountains exist. There is even the "Survivor Tree" that was saved from the wreckage and nursed back to health off-site, then returned to the new ground next to the footprints of the towers. Also can't forget the new world trade buildings. Stunning, even now while they're only just over 50% complete.
Nathan's, the best!

The metal plate the rose is lying  on wraps around both fountains, and has an engraving of every person lost in the attacks.

One of the two "infinity pools" or footprints of the original twin towers, backed by the 9/11 museum which should open soon.
Other New York highlights include hanging out with my cousin Michelle who took us to her husband's band's show on Fire Island, out to the end of Long Island to shop at Montauk and see the lighthouse, to check out incredibly lifelike dinosaur statues and to a number of their favorite places to eat. I've got to say I am now completely hooked on Bubba's Burritos. It's kind of like Chipotle, only bigger and unsurpassedly tastier.

Midst all the fun, we also journeyed out past Lady Liberty to Ellis Island. Absolutely inspiring. My great grandmother came through there from Germany, and to learn about everything she went through was incredibly moving. The journey all those people took to make a better life for themselves... reminds me somewhat of our hike. I understand that the two are incomparable but there is something I understand in the want for travel. The inkling that there's something better just a little bit further. There are spots inside the museum where the curators have removed some of the plaster to show the graffiti that the immigrants left behind. Similar to that left behind on the walls and ceilings of our lean to's.

Ellis Island's Great Hall

Some of the graffiti

And, since my grandma kindly let us borrow her car whenever we wanted, we also got to see the three new tiger cubs at the Bronx Zoo, just put out for public viewing a week before we saw them.

The three cubs and their momma
I could write all night about everything we've done and everyone who did so much for us and with us while we were out here, but it's late. Right now, it's 3:15 in the morning and I need to get to sleep. But there's a reason I'm still typing and a reason I titled this post the way I did:
WE ARE LEAVING TOMORROW MORNING TO GET BACK ON THE TRAIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I've recently had my foot looked at by a physical therapist (thanks Frank!) who referred me to a sports podiatrist and given me the official go ahead to start hiking once again. I've also ordered custom insoles that should prevent this from happening again and give me a better hiking experience overall. I learned that I'm quite flat-footed, which I never knew. 

Due to our time off the trail, being out of shape and still wanting to be done by Thanksgiving, we are skipping some major mileage. We will be picking up the trail in Catawba, Virginia on Saturday. It is our hope that we will be able to return and hit this portion that we've skipped either next year or the year after. For now, though, we still have over 500 miles left this year and are extremely eager to get started. 

With all that out of my system, I'm headed to bed. Ready to begin anew! Next time you hear from Jess and I we'll be in Virginia and will once again have made the transformation into Left Hand and Aves!


Monday, September 10, 2012

dot dot dot

I was thinking today about how many people have read this blog that we probably don't know, or who don't get updates through our parents on what we're up to. Andy's been planning to blog on our goings-on, so I won't get too into it, but we ARE still in New York and we're still holding out hope for continuing our hike. But since Andy's foot is still hurting, we can't commit to whether or when that can happen this year.

Random aside: our southbounder friends have recently been entering New York. Strange to think about.

Anyhow, I'll let Andy fill you all in on the rest!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

From Maine to Boston

Even being off the AT, we wanted to pack in at least a bit more adventure as we progress further into waiting/healing mode. Luckily Andy turned 25 just in time for us to rent a car, and just as luckily the family we were staying with was able to drive us to Portland (a couple hours away) to pick up our rental. It was a snazzy new Ford Focus in which everything was mysteriously operated through a computer screen. Even changing the radio station the first time took more random button pressing than my pride was prepared for.

From Portland, we headed to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. After our three days of slackpacking past Rangeley, we were about five more days of hiking from Gorham, the town at the northern end of the Whites. By car, it took just a couple of hours. One of the stranger aspects of being off the trail but still in the vicinity of the trail for so long is that it gave us a much clearer perspective of the areas we were (or in this case, would have been) hiking through. Not only does it all look very different by road than it does when you're in the woods (we were suddenly looking lazily up at peaks that we would have been gazing down from, muscles burning), but we could see just how strangely the trail winds and curves. Not that a direct course is by any means the point when you're looking to walk through the woods for half a year, but it is a strange feeling to zoom past miles after mile that you know has the potential to contain so much exhaustion, exhilaration, and adventure.

I should probably mention that our main reason for going to Gorham, rather in wallowing in what could have been, was to pick up mail both there and in nearby Franconia. We hoped to be able to drive up Mount Washington, too, as it's said to be the most spectacular peak in the Whites, but Andy's GPS said the drive would add three hours to our trip and it was just too late in the day. It was really too bad--the Whites, and Mt. Washington in particular, are notorious for bad weather and that day was as beautiful and clear as could possibly be hoped for. But of course we'll be back, both to finish our thru and likely just to vacation.

In Gorham, we had one of our massive resupply boxes from Andy's mom waiting (full of extra delicious snacks that she threw in!), and we also got a package from one of our blog readers! It was so exciting that I didn't want to wait to dig out a knife--we sliced the tape on it with my credit card. Inside were a bunch of hiking goodies in perfect travel sizes--including two of the most adorable mini tabasco bottles I've ever seen. Pretty awesome, since Andy had been missing hot sauce on the trail! Thanks so much, Peter!

Next up was Franconia. I don't think that Franconia is a very common trail stop (it only gets a small mention in our guide book), but we had sent our bounce box there to avoid the more expensive lodging of North Woodstock/Lincoln. And then it was off to Massachussetts with a perhaps fitting greeting of gridlock rush hour traffic. Luckily, my friend Michelle lives outside of the city and we were able to skirt our way around most of it. The mass of cars and people and tightly packed spaces was sort of like a mini culture shock--a sensation that took a few days to start wearing off.

I might have mentioned this in an earlier post, but it was sort of unbelievable that Michelle offered to take us in. We were good friends in high school, but for college our whole group spread out around the country and some, including the two of us, haven't seen each other since. Anyway, it was really great and we ended up staying with her for about two weeks. In that time, she took us to a lot of places we'd never otherwise get to go and made an appointment for Andy to see the most legit orthopedist yet. And in an extra bout of luck, Andy's dad was in the area for a business trip and was able to meet up with us. He took us out to lunch at a marina and dropped us off at Andy's appointment. It was wonderful to be able to see him, especially with all the craziness we've been going through since getting off the trail.

One of the things that we kept remarking on during our visit is how funny it is to be in an area with so many different states nearby. In Colorado it's not necessarily hard to get to another state, but odds are good that you'll just find flat dusty nothingness when you get there. In Massachusetts you get on a highway for a couple hours (rush hour traffic excluded), you could hardly help but cross a state border. Taking advantage of this, Michelle took us to Rhode Island twice. The first trip we went to Providence where we walked around a park that must have contained about 15 wedding parties and the second trip we went to Newport Beach, where we drove past massive houses, got solidly burned on the beach (oops), and walked around a very cute downtown.

We didn't do a ton in downtown Boston, but we did walk around some and visit the science museum. We've been kind of torn on this time off as to what to do with ourselves since 1) the budget needed for city roaming is a bit different than the one we have for mountain roaming and 2) walking probably isn't the best for a broken foot (and the crutches hurt, too). But we did do a lot of pack weight cutting, even returning our much-loved tent and ordering a much lighter one. Andy's parents even bought us summer-rated sleeping bags for our birthdays that are also significantly lighter (our current ones are rated for 15 and 20 degrees, the new ones for 40). Regardless of whether we can get on the trail again this year, we've definitely learned a lot of what we do/don't need when we get going again. Hopefully we can get Andy to another doctor next week for a new x-ray and a healing update with good news!

Saturday, August 18, 2012


It's difficult to describe the myriad of feelings that the events of the last several weeks have brought on. In the last few miles that we hiked into Rangeley, the lump on my shoulder had become so big and so painful that I had to loosen my pack for it to hang awkwardly, achingly off of my hips and left shoulder. Then, after visiting the medical center, sorting through our overwhelming amount of mail and being found by the most generous trail angel imaginable. After a few days (under an antibiotic, doing hot and cold treatments, and carrying nothing) had gone by and my shoulder still hadn't improved, Andy suggested that we should start thinking about the possibility of needing to get off the trail. I had to push down the tears I could feel welling up, knowing that he was right but also unwilling to give up on this dream of our thru-hike. And then, incredibly, it started feeling better. The bump wasn't budging but the pain receded. Dawn took us on our fantastic weekend trip that included my first visit to a lighthouse, tons of beautiful views, the very cute town of Freeport, hanging out with some of the nicest people ever, a visit to a really great beach, and, of course, the downfall of Andy's foot. In the couple of days after it started hurting, we finished up our plans for the Whites and organized our food, packed our bags, my shoulder thing started getting smaller... and then realized Andy's foot needed more serious medical attention than ibuprofen could offer.

I really can't say enough about how wonderful Dawn and her family were to us in Rangeley, right down to making Andy a birthday cake and helping us keep our chins up while we hung in limbo over our hike. Her parents even drove us a few hours to Portland so we could pick up a rental car and head a little further south. Now we're here at another wonderful friend's home. Michelle and I went to high school together in Illinois, but when we graduated I headed west, she went east, and I'm pretty confident in saying that this is the first time we've seen each other since. And yet, being the awesome person she is, she's taken us in and let us more or less take over her Boston apartment while we plan our next move.

It has seriously been the most bizarre mix of good and bad luck that we have experienced--because although the nurse who helped us at the Rangeley medical center called our injuries 'the strangest' she had ever seen, Dawn and her father are a retired nurse and doctor and Michelle is an administrator in a part of a hospital that includes, as luck would have it, orthopedics. Go figure. So she was able to get Andy an appointment that finally included a less casual take on healing--namely, a hard-soled boot, a pair of crutches, and some pain meds. After the first doctor suggested we go ahead and hike and see how it goes and the second doctor said wait 4 weeks to hike but it's ok to walk on, it was a strange relief to hear this third doctor say to stay off of it as much as possible, get a follow-up in about a month, and not even consider the possibility of hiking for 6-8 weeks. That was about a week ago now, which places our earliest hope of returning to the trail at mid-September. If the doctor gives the go-ahead, we'll probably need to start back up around Harper's Ferry (the trail's unofficial halfway point) to try and finish before December. I'm sure that hoping to get back out there sounds crazy--if it were last summer and I was reading a post like this, it would probably seem pretty crazy to me. But we both want it so badly that neither of us is ready to give up just yet. So we're cutting pack weight, reworking the timeline and budget requirements, and... we've still got some summer to enjoy!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Fractured Plans

Today, the mysteries have been solved. By a specialist. Go figure. My left foot is fractured in at least one place, possibly two. The doc was able to find a small cloud coming off my third metatarsal on the x-ray (check out the picture below) and identify what he called "the wake" of the fracture. He said I was lucky, that these kinds of fractures sometimes don't show up on a normal x-ray for 2 weeks. I also circled n' question marked the place where he said the second fracture may be. 

Can you see it? Three other doctors couldn't. 
So what's next? We're asking ourselves the same question. Mentally, nothing has changed, we're still thru hikers in our heads. Mentally (and 99.9% physically) we're ready to go. Our stuff is packed in a storage locker which has been paid through January. The trail is calling. 

But I was told it will be 3.5-4 weeks before my foot will be healed enough to hike on and possibly 6-8 weeks before I stop feeling pain. 

Right now we're working on where to stay and what to do while I heal. Since starting to plan our hike I've wanted to visit my grandmother in New York and take Jess to see the city and surrounding area. So the next month has turned into a jigsaw puzzle of putting together how to get from place to place to place and then back to the trail once my foot is ready to go. So our plans are to make our puddle jumps, then get back on the trail in New York and hiking from there to Georgia. We'll have to make plans to come back and complete the section of the trail from New York to Andover, ME. Of course by doing this, we're missing Mahoosuc Notch, the Whites and Mt. Washington. All of which I had been very excited to see. I know, I know, they'll be there next year. Maybe even the year after that too. 

Having taken 2 weeks off the trail and with at least another month to come, our dreams of being able to thru hike the trail are over. Guess we'll have to save the complete thru for the PCT or CDT. The best we can hope for now is to come back and complete our hike next year. Two chunks isn't so bad. If we're able to complete everything from New York south this year, added to what we've already done, we'd only be leaving approx. 500 miles for next year. Completing almost 1700 miles of the trail still sounds like a decent accomplishment to me. 

Our time in Maine has been great. We are very lucky that we found someone kind enough to take us in in our time of need. Not to mention letting us stay for almost 3 weeks with us doing nothing in return other than some dishes and gardening. We got to see the coast (even if it did break my foot), the monster L.L. Bean store, a fort, a lighthouse and make tons of new friends and connections. For now we are going to find a way to keep our trip alive. 

Our countdown to hiking will start again anew, and we're even going to try and find an REI along our way and see about losing some pack weight. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Just Give Me a Pegleg

Well...we didn't leave today. Obvious, as I'm posting this when we should be at Baldpate Mountain Lean-to right now. Last night my foot took a turn for the worse, swelling is as big as ever and the pain was enough to wake me up several times in the night. This morning I could hardly put my shoe on.

Trying to avoid any further delay my only hope was to make the drive an hour away to the ER in Farmington, ME. So we did. More x-rays and more "I have no idea what could be the problem!" The doctors there were extremely kind and helpful. They understood my situation and offered me a final solution. To avoid a specialist I could take an antibiotic and we could assume that this is Cellulitis, which they said there is about a 10% chance it could be. If it is Cellulitis than I should see improvements in about 3 days. If it isn't Cellulitis, the antibiotics won't do any harm, but it will be time to see an orthopedist. Which, aside from avoiding some kind of surgery, will most likely mean 4-6 weeks of recovery.

We are praying (a word I rarely use) that the antibiotics will work and will not be trying to figure out what to do instead of continue hiking.

It's so frustrating. Jess's shoulder is all but healed. Mentally we're ready to hike. 98% of my body is good. But the foot. At this point, it's got to go. Chop it off and give me the prosthetic already.

Under doctor's orders, I am to be off my foot with no strenuous activity until Monday. The appointment with the orthopedist is set for Monday in case, but the intention is to gloriously call and cancel it, while pulling a victorious set of Mr. Bojangles worthy heel clicks. It will take almost all my strength to avoid spitefully renting Saw and watching the scene where the doctor cuts off his foot over and over again.

Thanks again, everyone, for all your thoughts and emails. Amid all this helplessness the trail still calls and we will do everything we can to get back out there. Until Monday...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Flat Tire

Good news: The x-rays were negative and there are no breaks nor fractures in my foot.

Bad news: My foot didn't hear the news that it wasn't broken and is still acting like it is.

The swelling and pain haven't yet subsided, but we are planning on being back on the trail tomorrow morning and pushing for 8 miles over the Baldpate Mountains. Vitamin I is about to become my new best friend and my jaw muscles are about to receive one heck of a cringe-workout. That's OK though, better than taking a full two weeks off the trail, which is what we would have to say should we be staying through tomorrow.

On the bright side, we will hit Mahoosuc Notch (in case you haven't been paying attention this is the hardest single mile of the AT) on Saturday and the forecast is extremely favorable. Fingers have been crossed in preparation. Rangeley has also decided to send us off in style. Today there was a craft fair in town with all the local artists displaying their best, and the BBQ place which had been closed due to faulty plumbing has reopened. It was worth the wait, though certainly not on par with The Rib House & Georgia Boys BBQ back home. So far from the hubs of BBQ, though, it hit the spot.

We are anticipating a slower pace now, with my flat tire. We're hoping to be in Gorham, NH in 5 days and done with the Whites in 14-15. Mount Washington is looming in the future and only injury and weather can stop us.

It is exciting to know that we will be experiencing New Hampshire a year older! I turn 25 August 5th and Jess follows two weeks after on August 19th! As a shameless birthday plug, anyone who wishes to send us a birthday cake (or something a little more trail-applicable) can use either of these two post offices, depending on ship dates:

Andy Jensen/Jess Quig
C/O General Delivery 
Franconia, NH 03580 
ETA August 16th 

or Hanover, NH 03755
ETA August 23rd

Thanks to all for your thoughts and well-wishes these past couple of weeks as Jess healed her shoulder and I continue to work on my foot. Her shoulder is almost completely healed and only a small bump remains! The next we post will be from Gorham, New Hampshire, across our first state line!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"On the Trail?" Says I

"Not Just Yet..." says my body.

We were hoping to be back on the trail this morning. Now we are hoping to be back on the trail either tomorrow morning (unlikely) or Thursday morning. Amid our fun this past weekend, something happened to my foot Saturday afternoon and we are now eagerly awaiting x-ray results that should be in sometime tomorrow morning. I'm not really sure what's going on with it, I only know that the problems started after walking on nice soft sand and putting my foot back into my shoes for the walk back to the car. With the way that it feels and is swollen, there may be fractures inside my foot but I'm really hoping it's only bruised. Only time will tell. On a happy note, Jess's shoulder is no longer in pain and the bump seems to be receeding back from whence it came, so that's really exciting!

I would now like to speak of my new found love for the state of Maine. Saturday morning we left for the coast along Brunswick, only a 2.5 hour drive. We arrived at the parking lot and had to hike 2 miles from there to the beach, as we were in a preserved area. They didn't allow umbrellas, balls, frisbees or any kind of noise making machines at this beach. It was very serene and uncrowded when we arrived. The weather forecast said that there was a 50 percent chance of rain, but we got nothing but sun with a light spotting of clouds. Perfect beach weather. Boldly I stode into the waves, intent on getting a good swim in and also testing the water-proofness of my camera. Both were very satisfying. The bay we were at actually got some good waves (I love diving through them) and I was able to catch a few and body surf a little. Our only complaint was the horse flies, I killed around 36 of them while hanging out on the beach and started my own fly cemetery in the sand beside my towel.

Couldn't find any white blazes...
After spending a good amount of time on the beach, we next headed to an old army fort south of our beach. About 1/4 mile into the walk back my foot felt as if it had started cramping. I figured at this point that it just needed a good walk and to stretch it out. Never stepped on anything but soft sand and the inside of my shoes I've been hiking in. The road back to the car was flat and mostly paved. The fort was as excellent as the beach. There was no park service or anything of the sort to impede total curiosity, and we explored the whole thing. Though it was a little in ruin, most of it was intact and I even searched dark rooms with the flashlight app on my phone. Through the hallways the surf echoed and the windows varied from being completely open, to having one shutter closed or both shutters closed. Being there was surreal, imagining the men who slept and worked inside these stone walls when we had been living completely free inside wooden shelters and our tent for the past month.

We then headed to a new friends house. Shiloh, his trail name, thru-hiked the trail NoBo in 2008 and was very happy to have us there. He had come from Baxter State Park earlier in the day and had summited Katahdin the day previous. After a meal, lots of excellent tips on gear and the mentality of hiking we hit the hay. Sunday came and the four of us headed into Freeport to see the L.L. Bean Super Store. This thing was massive. The only way I can really describe it is to imagine a full sized REI consumed a full size Cabela's and ate a JC Penny's for dessert. The building we went into was monstrous and there were 2 smaller buildings we didn't visit. From L.L. Bean we did some damage to an all you can eat Chinese restaurant and split ways. Dawn headed back north to get fresh blueberries she had ordered, and we went with Shiloh south to Portland. 

See the McDonald's logo? This magnificent house on the left of the photo was the compromise that the people of Freeport and McDonald's came to after denying their request to build a traditional McDonald's building in their town. 
Before getting into Portland we got to see the Portland Headlight Lighthouse. Since the weather was as poor as it was, both the light and the two fog horns were actively communicating with the boats. We didn't pay the fee to enter the museum and climb to the top, but we did learn that a ship had crashed on these rocks long ago and got to see some pictures of it in the gift shop. 

Portland was another awesome city. We went into EMS (East Mountain Sports) so Shiloh could grab some Aquamira and I could try and look for a lighter alternative to my Nalgene. One of the salesmen looks at my headband and says, "Is that a Left Hand Patch?" I had sewn one on to my headband and my pack to represent my trail name (and favorite brewery) and was surprised to learn that he was out here for law school and originally from Boulder. In Old Town Portland Shiloh treated us to some Ice cream treats, and as we headed down the street we saw a massive schooner we decided to go take a look at. As we passed the gates where it was docked, we thought that we wouldn't be able to get any closer as there was a big sign that read "Secure Area" and a guard standing outside. We soon realized it was open to the public, and as we walked up to it realized also that we would be able to go aboard. What luck!

After a little more exploring the cobble stone streets and Maine-accented shops my foot was really fuming, and we decided to head back to Brunswick. About a 10 minute drive from Shiloh's house there's a movie theater and Jess and I borrowed his car to go see the new Batman. As enthralling as the movie was, I checked the emergency exit more than a few times. My heart goes out to those people and their families in Aurora.

Monday morning we took another walk (I had borrowed Shiloh's bike to stay off my foot) to another beautiful bay in Maine. I got pretty sunburned on the beach Saturday and only that stopped me from plunging into the ocean once again. Back at the house we enjoyed a full pan of nacho's, said a fond farewell and made the drive back to Rangeley. We also found out that Shiloh and Dawn may be able to hike a section with us after labor day and Shiloh will be in Georgia about the time we (still) plan to finish our own hike. The prospect of being able to meet them again on our journey is truly exciting!

Jess and I had always wanted to see the coast of Maine, and this weekend we got to do just that plus a whole lot more. It was an amazing experience we didn't think we would get on our thru-hike. Another reason to be grateful! Now, we're sitting at the closing Rangeley library and about to be kicked out. Just can't type fast enough sometimes to get it all out. Wish me luck with my foot, hopefully our next post will be from on the trail or New Hampshire! 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Words Fall Short

There are times in life when words just can't truly define what I wish to say. We are still in Rangeley, being well cared for by the family who took us in last Friday. But we haven't been idle. In addition to making sure that we are comfortable, and Jess's shoulder is being taken care of and getting better, they have been slack packing us through some of the final sections of Maine. In the past three days we've completed another 36.6 miles, including Bemis mountian that all of the NoBo's have been complaining about.

Words have fallen, now, far short of the gratitude I would like to express. Our relationship has also grown from hiker-trail angel to that of lifelong friends, and it will be such a pleasure to be able to keep in contact after our hike is complete. I really hope we can persuade them to come and stay with us in Colorado.

In the wake of the recent movie theater tragedy, Jess and I have found ourselves full of our first dose of culture shock. On the trail, every person we've met cares about the other hikers and we have become a part of a community where complete strangers help one another. Hikers are not alone out here. NoBo's and SoBo's share information along the trail about what's coming up, parts to look out for and how the water sources are. Day hikers have asked us how we are and if we could use any fresh food. We all make sure that everyone is taken care of when it comes to first aid; sharing vitamin I (ibuprofen), band-aids, antibiotic ointment, moleskin and anything else a hiker may need. It comes as a great surprise that there are people out there who wish others harm, and for no reason at all. If only life could be as hiking the Appalachian Trail is. Out here we realize we're all on common ground, have the same basic needs and abilities to offer much needed help to one another.

Many people we've helped (or vice versa) we chanced meeting. They were only there for a matter of minutes, hours. We will probably never see any of them again but we feel them in the next successful step that we take. A step that we may not have been able to take without that help. Much of the success of our hike now Jess and I will owe to our new friends. We couldn't have afforded to stay in Rangeley and Jess couldn't have carried her pack any further. This easily could have been the end of our thru hike but instead is another step in the path. I will be forever grateful.

Day 1 of slackpacking, we found this awesome beach on the shore of Sabbath Day Pond, just south of Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to.
As I said, though, Jess and I have not been idle. Our slack packs have been great fun as each time we're dropped off at the southern point, and then we hike back north. We passed a few fellow southbounders who looked at us oddly when we told them we were SoBos too, and then even more oddly as we crossed paths again the next day. We've also seen all the white blazes NoBo's get. There's tons of them! Often as we're hiking south we'll have to turn around to look for them to confirm we're still on the trail.

Jess coming down a section that's just before Moody Mountain

There could be quite the waterfall here when it rains!
It was a great three days, we hit four mountains (none over 4000 feet though) and are within 30 miles of finishing Maine and entering New Hampshire! Mahoosuc Notch still stands between us though, known to all as "the most difficult or fun mile of the AT". We have one more day of slack packing left before we're out of reasonable driving range, and we've taken up an offer to visit the coast of Maine this weekend. In one of the lean-tos we stayed in there was a piece of graffiti that read, "It's not about the miles, it's about the smiles!" Jess and I are building up the latter and truly enjoying our time here. We've always wanted to see the coast and were a little bummed that we haven't even been able to catch a glimpse from the top of a mountain. Oh how those tables turn.

Jess's shoulder is getting better and we'll be on our way soon after our visit to the ocean. Also, I cut the beard off last night and got my hair cut today. It's like a vacation from our vacation!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Trail & Mail Update #2

Miles Hiked: I don't have the guide on me... somewhere over 200
Miles Ahead: We're under 2,000! Woo!
Mail Drops: To send us something, it has to come USPS (the post office won't hold anything from FedEx, UPS, etc). Address it like this:
Andy Jensen/Jess Quig
C/O General Delivery
[Town, State   Zip]
Please hold for AT hiker
ETA [Date]
Next up:
  • Gorham, NH 03581 (ETA 7/31)
  •  Hanover, NH 03755 (ETA 8/10)
We're coming up on some of the most notoriously difficult parts of the AT--Mahoosuc Notch and the Whites of New Hampshire. Hopefully we'll pick up pace after those!

From Stratton to Rangeley

We left Stratton after our 4th zero day. When we arrived in Stratton Jess was having some knee issues (more muscle related than anything) and we decided to take another day off to allow her knee to heal up. Our spirits were high as Sue dropped us off at the trailhead and we prepared for the five mile climb to the top of Crocker Mountain.

Remember that shirt I was super stoked on? The one I thought would be a lot tougher and last a lot longer? Yeah, big holes. Didn't make it 5 miles.

The top of Crocker Mountain was unfortunately just as dissappointing. It was the first mountain we had climbed with an altitude over 4000 feet that didn't have a view. Wasn't above treeline. We decided to push down to our next stream fording and camp by the bank. It started to rain that day. We climbed up and down super slippery rocks and slogged through some more mud. Kind of a bummer.

That next day we climbed again in the wet and the cold, trying to get past that next lean-to. The hiking that morning was pretty incredible though, it wasn't raining and we were dipping in and out of the clouds along a ridge, so most of the walk was through the misty forest. Definitely a neat experience.

Along the trail, we then ran into a mouse! Poor little guy was curled up into a ball sitting on a rock on the trail shivering. He was so helpless, doing anything he could do get some sunshine or warmth, he didn't even move when we walked up to him. As he was sitting there I realized I was confroted by my first hiker philosophy/karma crossroads. Should I just leave the little guy to fend for himself and live by the hiker code of 'don't feed the animals'? Or should I give him what help I can and take this as an opportunity to earn some good mouse-karma? I chose the latter and gave him two pieces of dehydrated strawberry and a few almonds, hoping that the sugars in the strawberry would help to warm him and the almonds would keep him going until he could get more food. I sure hope he's alright.

 Shortly after leaving Biscuit (we named the little fella), we hit our 200 mile mark at the plaque that commemorated the completion of the last section of the Appalachian Trail!

2,054 miles long!? That would've been nice. It's 2,186 now!
Things really started to pick up then, as we arrived at the next lean-to we completed a quest that we were set upon many miles ago: The Quest To Find Rayo! This particular lean-to (wish I could remember the name) was off the trail on a blue blazed route. We got there and met two French-Canadian section hikers and two other SoBo's called Poncho and Pepper. It's always nice on the trail to have a) company and b) a roof over your head in the rain, so we decided to stop short and stay there, rather than press on a have to set up our tent in the wetness. It turned out to be perfect, because in comes a northbounder stopping for lunch.

Here's the backstory. Miles ago we got an email from Patti, asking us to tell her son Rayo that she says hi when we pass him. Naturally we thought this was awesome, and I'll be darned if I didn't ask more than a few NoBo's we crossed paths with if they were Rayo. But when we started talking to this particular NoBo in the hut, I chose just to ask him his name. When he told us it was Rayo, we both just stared at him with our mouths open before telling him that we'd been looking for him and his mom says to say hi! To this he replied, "Who are you guys?!" It was all very funny.

From Left: Left Hand, Rayo, and Aves ;)
So, with our spirits back up (one of the French-Canadians had green thread and allowed me to repair my shirt) and the sun out once again we strolled on. We put in a good day complete with a stream crossing and over Jr. Saddleback Mountain, and stopped at a new campsite at the base of our next summit. Poncho and Pepper had planned on stopping there too, and we found them on one of two decks built for tents. Quite the luxury item!

The next day we only planned to hike seven miles, so we spent the morning in our tent relaxing and watching tv shows on our iPods. It was a good little break but it sure did make it that much harder to get going. Especially since this was about the time that Jess developed a swollen bump underneath the skin on her right shoulder that was making it difficult to carry her pack (more about this in a little bit). We made it though, up and over two more peaks with incredible views and down the other side to Piazza Rock Lean-to. The wind had kicked up at the tops of the mountians, so we didn't get to spend as much time as we would have liked up there, but the hike was really great.

Jess descending Saddleback Mountain
Our plan was originally to try and get through Rangeley without paying for a night. It's more of a resort town so the hotel rooms are pretty expensive. From our campsite at Piazza Rock Lean-to to the road was under two miles, and we did that hike fast early in the morning. When we got to the road, Jess couldn't have any pressure on that swollen part of her shoulder, so I grabbed her pack as we headed toward Rangeley (9 miles away) trying to hitch a ride. Hitching didn't take long but we did have to walk past a couple long sections of road with guard rails so that somebody would have a spot to pull over. Joe, a local business owner scooped us up in his truck and drove us to the medical center.

We weren't there for long even though they didn't really know what was going on under Jess's skin. The guess is that it's an infected bug bite, so they put her on antibiotics and told her that she needs to make sure she doesn't start running a fever, which would be a sign that the meds aren't working and we need to get her back to the doctor. Since yesterday, so far so good.

Then, Rangeley turned magical. The company Outdoor Research is warranteeing our gaiters, my head net and my other shirt for us, all of which got holes or had broken buckles. The store where I bought my new shirt allowed me to exchange it for another of a different material. We had tons of awesome stuff waiting for us at the post-office (a massive thanks to both our Moms and to my Grandma for everything that's going to keep us going on the trail)! And in the hours that we were at the post office sorting through our stuff and trying to figure out our next move around Jess's shoulder we met our first trail angel

To be fair, we did send two of these boxes to ourselves from earlier on the trail. Still an impressive haul! OH and my newest shirt!
She and her parents took us in, allowed us to shower and do laundry and are keeping us today so we can zero while waiting for the antibiotics to kick in (and hopefully while the pain subsides). Not to mention that she is a retired nurse and has been helping Jess by putting on charcoal compresses to draw out any bacteria and administering hot and cold treatments for the swelling. We find ourselves truly blessed to meet such wonderful, caring, kindhearted people in our time of true need.  

We're both still doing great, but Jess is currently in a good bit of pain. I'm not sure what our pace will be like from here, but we have trailnames and 200 miles under our belts!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Trail Names

We have our trail names! Mine is Left Hand (after Longmont's Left Hand Brewery, and not to mention I'm left handed) and Jess's is Aves (pronounced Avies, after the biological classification of the bird family). Hers is also funny because her prescription sun glasses are aviators, which is the connection everyone makes upon hearing it for the first time.

We've made it to Rangeley, ME on schedule and hope to get to the library at some point today to put up a quality post.  Aaaand, the new Batman movie is out today so we're gonna try and squeeze that in too. Busy day!

Oh and another highlight-- We've also completed more than 200 miles of the trail! Hooray us!

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Before leaving for the trail, I had a lot of conversations revolving around our hike-but the one that's lingered in my mind the most has, perhaps ironically, been about all the thinking time I'd have out here. What the heck would I think about? (I wondered with my coworker) So much of my world has revolved around teaching for the past few years. I worked intense out of school hours, all of my local friends worked in the district, and Andy spent half the day in the same building I did. So we talked about school a LOT and (inevitably... sadly) school would wind up I'm my dreams. If that's not bad enough, sometimes I even dreamed about being back as a high school student myself. Which leads me to the question I pondered with my coworker: What would I think about when the main objective of each day was just to hike? Well... it's kind of weird, to be honest. For the first week or so, my thoughts were kind of like radio stations. Sometimes I'd even get the kssshh noise as I switched from one thought wave to the next. The same Joshua Radin song played in my head for at least five or six days... only to reemerge again after a few days of peace (at which point I pulled out my iPod). I searched my memory for the most delicious flavor of ice cream I could fathom (Ben & Jerry's Cinnamon Bun: "Caramel Ice Cream with Cinnamon Bun Dough & a Cinnamon Streusel Swirl") and then fixated on it so intensely that I passed up ice cream altogether at the next town because they didn't have the right kind. Andy and I have pondered questions like 'why do beavers build dams?', 'what do mosquitoes eat when they're not eating us?', and 'what do frogs do in winter?' One evening we were still hiking when darkness was closing in and all of the AT's horror stories started sloshing around in my head, haunting the growing shadows. But there's also a pretty good bit of time when I'm really not thinking about much of anything but whether going to the right or left of a tree looks easier or if stepping on that rock or that root is less sketchy. But my favorite description of the funny tracks of hiker thoughts is here:
And as a notable aside, I very nearly finished a half gallon of ice cream all by myself (cookie dough, I'm a bit sorry to say). Near the end I was just picking out the chunks of dough, but it shouldn't be too long before I can polish it all off! Yeahhh hiking metabolism! :)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

No Laptop...But WiFi!

It seems we have begun to hit the crazy north-bounder rumors that included a loaner laptop at the Stratton Motel. Along with these false rumors we also heard that the 'Wolf Burger' at the Wolf Inn down the street came with an egg on it. That one wasn't so bad, the burger still had cheese, bacon, an entire sausage party (a burger first for me), lettuce, onion, mustard, mayo, and relish. All the calories a thru-hiker needs. But still, no lap top so we're going to have to try and find another way to get our pictures up here. Bummer, too, because we are building quite the collection.

Our last post came from the top of Avery Peak which was a monster climb. From there we headed down and up again to West Peak, about another 500 feet of elevation gain. West Peak was actually about 100 feet higher than Avery and the view opened up to a full 360 degrees. We get amazing views from the peaks in Colorado and the views from these peaks in Maine 10,000 feet lower are equally amazing. Even with the haze brought by the heat of the day our line of sight was still barely impaired. There was Canada to the north and west, we could see Sugarloaf mountain to the south and a whole lot more I can't even name.

Alas, what goes up must come down. We heard from an uber-hiker trail named Lake (he's done the PCT, CDT, an we met him on his third AT hike, only this time he's going from Key West, FL all the way to Newfoundland) that the AT is the hardest of the long trails for this reason: hikers go up one mountain, hit a few peaks along a ridge and then drop back to the bottom to hike a few miles before heading up the next. It kind of makes me feel like a bouncy ball.

Early on in our hike, more NoBos (just a wealth of wisdom) told us we'd come to love the ups more than the downs. I've figured out a few reasons why:
1) Up causes temporary muscle burn, down causes lasting joint pain.
2) Up generates a massive amount of endorphins, or a "runners high" resulting in smiles, laughter and a desire for more.
3) Up there's a breeze, a summit and views ahead, down there's humidity and bugs. Lots of bugs.
4) Down isn't really any faster when climbing down generally requires either butt sliding or chucking hiking poles downhill so that hands are free to grab onto tree trunks for better leverage.

Last night we made it to the Horns Pond Lean-tos which actually was an established campsite with a caretaker. We met some locals and a little girl gave us some delicious sugar-snap peas. Delicious. Fresh produce has become a delicacy I'm happy to say. There were two lean-tos that were clean and well kept, and the privy didn't even smell too bad. This morning we had to get into Stratton before the post office closed and we made the 6 mile gap in just over two and a half hours. For almost the whole hike I was forcing myself to breathe through my nose. It was a stretch of fresh, young pine forest. I couldn't get enough and the funny thing was it reminded me of the smell on the E.T. ride at Universal Studios in Orlando. Which is exactly what they were going for. I tip my hat.

Sue and her dog Knucklehead who thru hiked together in 2004 and own the motel picked us up at 10:55. The post office closed at 11:00, but we made it. Got into town, hit the grocers and the outfitter and saw our second bull moose eating in a stream next to the road! Thanks to Amy and Jess's grandparents for the package with the cookies! Right now they're actually hidden upstairs. Just too good to share at the moment.

For the moment we're dry, full and fully resupplied which is a great feeling. I also got another new shirt, this one is tougher and will hopefully last longer than the two weeks the last one made it. Seriously, I sneezed and that shirt got a hole in it. I am looking forward to showing off my new found spiffy-ness in the upcoming photos. But it's bedtime, more smiles and more miles on the 'morrow!

Friday, July 13, 2012


Jess and I are sitting on the top of Avery Peak right now, just over 4000 feet after a 1900 foot climb. Sure feels great and the views are incredible. We just met a local hiking north with his son who pointed out Canada. We will be in Stratton tomorrow where we've heard we can borrow a laptop, so a longer post with pictures should follow. Since Monson our weather has been awesome and shows no sign of changing. The trail has been nothing but fun and we can't wait to share the details!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Trail & Mail Update #1

Miles Hiked: 114.5
Miles Ahead: Let's not think about that just yet
Mail Drops: To send us something, it has to come USPS (the post office won't hold anything from FedEx, UPS, etc). Address it like this:
Andy Jensen/Jess Quig
C/O General Delivery
[Town, State  Zip]
Please hold for AT hiker
ETA [Date]
Next up: (the ETAs have a major emphasis on the "E"... but we're "E"ing on the early side, so we shouldn't arrive ahead of anything and the post office will hold them as long as a month)
  • Rangeley, ME 04970 (ETA 7/12)
  • Gorham, NH 03581 (ETA TBD) ... I don't have this section of our guide right now (sent  ahead), so I'll try to remember to update this when I can!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The First Days

Mt. Katahdin as seen from Abol Campground. Yeah...I took this picture!
Before I start, my Grandma celebrated her birthday last Thursday the 28th, so I just want to say: Happy Birthday Grandma! Sure hope we get to see you when we get to New York!

It was truly a great start to our hike, all troubles aside. Jess and I are still thrilled to be out here on this amazing adventure, and we've got the 100 mile wilderness under out belts! There's a ton to say (and a ton more I've forgotten, I'm sure) about the start of our hike, so I'm going to attempt to break it all down. I'm sure there will be some overlap too so forgive me, but it's all stuff we'll want to remember when we read this blog 20 years from now :)

Day 1: Getting to the Trail & Summiting Katahdin

Ole Man from the AT Lodge gave us the ride to the trail head at 6:30 in the morning. It was a little under an hour drive, mostly uneventful except for a fawn that got so startled when we came around a corner in the car that it actually skid on the dirt road before bolting into the forest. It gave all three of us a good laugh. When we arrived at the ranger station we unloaded our essentials and borrowed a couple of day packs they keep for hikers just like us. Nice to only carry about 10 pounds up the mountain rather than 50. Before we left the station the ranger inside told us, "If you hear thunder, just turn around..."

Our hike up was hot, super humid and very sunny. We had heard about hikers that had gotten some hospital-quality sun burns on the top so we were prepared. We weren't prepared for the climbing. There is a good section above treeline where the route requires hand over hand climbing, and in several spots iron rods have been planted in the rock to use as hand/foot holds. After all the climbing there's another 2 miles of decent enough incline and spots where the terrain flattens out. Those who know the mountain have a name for it, but I don't recall what it is.

When Jess and I got within a mile, and could see the famous sign at the top of the mountain, the thunder rang out. It was a good distance away, but we were told to turn back if we heard it. And we would have. But we were too close and didn't want to hike all the way back to the top. The decision was made to hustle up, take the pictures we needed to prove we were there, and hustle down. Also, like Jess said, we couldn't consider the 5 miles (and 2400 feet of elevation) we had just done as part of the AT. This was all approach trail.

Getting to the sign was so rewarding! We did the last quarter mile almost in the fog but it cleared a little as we got to the top, just enough to see how high we had climbed. Funny thing was we were still below Denver's elevation. But as the storms we were warned about were rapidly approaching, we had to snap some quick pics and hustle down.

The famous sign and the official start of our hike!

The climb down was heart pounding. The thunder was getting closer and closer and closer. Finally, right before we hit tree line (thankfully we were underneath huge boulders so we were no longer the tallest things around) a bolt of lightning hit behind us, so close we heard whatever it hit sizzling with the electricity. Too close. We've learned our lessons, though, and will be seeking tree line on every moody mountain we come to now. 

Then the rain started to fall, and pour. It was a very wet descent. Thankfully we had a lean-to that night, so we set the tent up inside of it as a bug screen, ate a good meal and quickly fell asleep.

Day 2 & 3: To Abol Campground and Our First Zero

The next day we were SORE. Katahdin kicked our butts. We felt like if we kept moving, we'd loosen up a bit. Not. We ended up hiking in the rain just about all day, but the trail at least was flat. It was a long day gone when we made it to the little store in front of Abol Campground. Ole Man told us we had to try the Whoopie Pies there, so we stopped in to grab them and a campsite. $10 got us a campsite, but upon discovering the menu on the wall, we quickly spent more for some hamburgers.

We got to our site and set our tent up in the rain, once again crawling in to fall asleep almost instantly. Gotta love the Big Agnes Q-Core mattress. The next day passed by fast, we knew we were leaving the next day and the weather seemed to finally be cooperating. We were still super stiff, but ate some good food at the store and kept walking around. We were even able to watch a bull moose eating in the lake as he passed through. Must've been 7 ft tall.

Now, though, for the scary part. We had discovered an electrical outlet in the bathrooms and gone back to charge our phones and cameras. This was about 9 o'clock. Near 10-ish I walked out of the men's bathroom over to the women's room too see if Jess had gone to bed. Thankfully, she had. I turned around to go back and grab my stuff when I heard a snort, and there about six feet in front of me was a black bear. Not sure how or why I didn't panic, but I looked at him and he at me, then I calmly walked back into the men's room. Adrenaline pumping, I told the other guy in the bathroom (a fellow SoBo named Yash who we met on Katahdin) there was a bear outside. We watched as the bear tore into the trash can guard, grabbed a regular size metal can and dragged it into the forest. Later that night, Yash who was camped next to us heard him going after our food bags. Our we tied "PCT style" in the tree (future thru-hikers-- learn this tactic!) and his was in an "Ursack" which is a type of bear proof bag. We found some teeth and claw marks on his bag the next morning, but it was otherwise undamaged. All of our food was fine.

Days 4-12: The 100 Mile Wilderness

The next few days were spent in pouring rain. I set the tent up and took it down in the rain. We got ready to hike and left our warm sleeping bags in the rain. Two hikers actually gave up, dumped there food in a pile at there campsite and turned around. 

The trail to White House Landing felt rough, it was flooded and muddy, but we didn't know anything yet. We hadn't really even gone up a mountain since Katahdin, and there were a few coming up. Thankfully, we got through the entirety of it with no major injuries and were feeling good now. Although, on day 10 my Katadyn Vario Water Filter quit working, even though I took it all apart and put it all back together in what seemed to be perfect condition. Then on day 11 my SteriPen stopped working too. It tells me that the bulb (which is supposed to last a very long time) needed to be replaced, and I had only treated maybe 50 liters with it. We were lucky enough to be able to rely on other hikers to get drinkable water. I was actually able to call my mom (thanks mom!!!!) from the top of Chairback Mountain to buy me replacements from REI and overnight them to us here in Monson, which I will be picking up tomorrow when the post office reopens. I'll be sending the broken ones back to her so that she can return them and get her money back. I really just love REI at moments like this. 

But to sum up the 100 Mile Wilderness, I'd have to say, kind of false advertisement. There's actually two hiker hostels inside the wilderness that will feed you, provide resupply and a place to stay for the night. There's a stream to ford near the southern end of the wilderness that is .2 miles away from a very busy parking lot where a hiker in trouble could find a ride to town if needed. But it's relatively easy as long as you're prepared. We were actually over prepared and sent a bunch of stuff to Caratunk from White House Landing.
Alas, I could write a ton more but it's getting late here. Our new bedtime is around 7 now and we wake up at 5 in the morning (even though the sun actually rises at 4:30 here). I have to say that we've met so many wonderful people, and everyone is so helpful and supportive. Yash is a good friend, and I'm sure will be down the trail. We also met a triple-crowner who is on the AT for his third time, although this time he's doing the International AT and started in Key West, Florida. There are too many others to list. But before I go I have to give a shout out to Rollie and Priscilla who rode with us from Bangor to Millinocket:

To Trail Blazer and Pokie Okie:
                Since White House Landing we had heard of a hiker that had become exhausted on Katahdin and had to be rescued on a stretcher from near tree line. We were so relieved to see your comment on our blog and finally know for certain that this wasn't either of you. It was tough to find our food drop and not see a bucket there for the two of you. 
                I'm sorry to here that you had given up after Katahdin, but that mountain was hard. Extremely hard, even for us and the 100 mile wilderness didn't get any easier. But don't hang up the boots yet! Head to Colorado, find the Wild Basin Trail Head and hike in to one of the campsites there. You'll need a permit from Rocky Mountain National Park, but it's worth it. The trails are excellent and maintained, and you'll still get beautiful views and the remote experience, especially if you can make it to the sites at Thunder Lakes, which if I remember is an 11 mile hike one way. Also while in Colorado get to Estes Park and hike in the national park, then drive over trail ridge road through the towns of Grand Lake, Granby and Winter Park. 
               We were sorry not to see you in the wilderness, but are glad you are both safe. Please email us if you would like any more suggestions of hikes or with any questions or comments as we continue on this journey. 
                                             Happy Trails! --Andy and Jess

Rain, Pain, & Serendipity

And so begins the madness! We're finally out of the Hundred Mile Wilderness and staying at Lakeshore Lodging & Pub in Monson. Andy wanted to stay here because when he read the part of our AT Guide said our stay would include free kayaking and a water trampoline he was like a kid at Christmas. So in order to finagle our zero to fall on the fourth we really pushed it these last few days... but so much has happened over the past week and a half that I need to back up and attempt to go in order, starting back at that beast called Katahdin.

Now the tricky thing about starting the AT at the northern end is that technically our hike wouldn't start until we'd summited and begun hiking back down. And the day our hike started there was a 90% chance of thunderstorms, so the rangers were warning most hikers off of going to the summit... but we'd already been delayed a day (from the late plane that made us miss our bus) and we were feeling good. I can't say we weren't warned of the weather or the challenge--but I think to say that Katahdin kicked our butts doesn't even begin to cover it. We went up the 'easier' Hunt Trail, and a pretty good portion of it was bouldering (which we weren't expecting) and very rough trail. The funny thing is that when we tell people we're from Colorado, they're immediately impressed--like this should be easy for us. And we kind of thought so, too. Before. But even at high elevation, most trails we've done in Colorado are really smooth and have a well-established feel, and trails out here are just ridden with roots and rocks. There were two or three places hiking Katahdin that even had metal bars drilled into boulders so you could hoist yourself up or down a rock face. That would've been plenty to take on, but there was also a storm building up as we got above tree line. So we raced to the summit (more ridiculous trail), snapped a couple pictures, and raced back down as fast as we could manage. I was so terrified of the boiling storm and booming thunder that my whole body was shaking--and just as we were nearing tree line a bolt of lightning burst at the ground probably 100 yards away, so close Andy says he could hear it sizzle. I've honestly never feared for my life the way I did as we raced for those trees. My stomach feels queasy just thinking of it... of course, that may be partly the french toast, bacon, eggs, potatoes, sausage, orange juice, and coffee I had for breakfast.

Which brings me to my Coulda Shoulda List. I can't speak for the rest of the trail, but for this section (Katahdin & the 100 Mile Wilderness) here's what I'd do differently. And trust me when I say I've had a good bit of time to ponder this list :)

  1. Wait until a great (or at least decent) weather day to hike up Katahdin. It's a huge effort to get up there, so you may as well get a view at the top and, you know... survive. Also the rangers will do their best to help you change camping arrangements (you have to book camping to stay in the park, but the rangers don't want to have to rescue you!)
  2. Consider (non-waterproof) trail runners in place of boots. Trail runners are like beefed up sneakers. I have waterproof Gore-Tex boots, and I love everything about them except for how effectively they hold water. There are so many streams to ford out here (plus so many puddles) that we just started plowing right into the water with our shoes on... and then I'd slosh along in my boots until the next ford. Trail runners get faster, but the water also has a chance to leak out.
  3. Bring extra toilet paper... and then bring more extra toilet paper. We almost ran out, and it was at the point that I'd stopped blowing my nose for fear of getting down to leaves. I don't know about you, but I'm really not okay with leaves.
  4. Bring more ibuprofenI'm not much for taking pain-killers, but with my body still breaking into the hike I can't make it more than a few hours in the morning without some ol' vitamin I to subdue the aches.
  5. Pack less weight... and then pack even less weight. I think this is going to be a continuous process, but some of the things we sent out at White House Landing (close to halfway through the wilderness) included my fleece, Andy's vest, an extra Camelbak (there are vast quantities of water in Maine--no need to carry extra), and antiperspirant. We'll probably also send away our down jackets since it's been a lot warmer than we'd expected--we're so used to Rocky Mountain weather, we were thinking it'd be a lot cooler in the evening. In retrospect, there are even more things I would've shipped to Monson just to start with less weight...  like my iPod and chargers (not many chances to charge before here anyway)

Alright, well it's the Fourth of July and Rebekah (one of the owners here) is going to take us to Greenville to resupply and watch a parade! I guess I haven't really addressed the serendipity part of my title, but let's just say that despite everything that has gone wrong (delayed start, lightning, failing muscles, failing gear (everything from Outdoor Research has broken!), a bug bite over my right eye that bled and then blew up like a balloon, mosquitoes, black flies, obscene quantities of rain, temporarily getting lost, falling, rashes, a scary hungry bear encounter... that's Andy's story more than mine), I feel really, truly happy to be out here right now doing just what we're doing. Happy Fourth!