Thursday, June 28, 2012

Almost to the middle

Were here sitting at White House Landing, a hiker hostel almost halfway through the wilderness. To say the least the first part of this hike has been a lot more challenging than we originally thought. Our next post will be a lengthy one and were planning on getting that done in Monson when we arrive in about six days.

In short, though, Katahdin is a butt-kicking mountain and we've had almost nothing but rain which I've been wishing we could send to Colorado to help with all the fires. We sure don't need it here, all the water levels are above high-flow and the trail has been mostly flooded and very swampy. We had to stop here last night after hiking with wet feet the past few days.

But were doing well, morale is high and the hardest part of the AT is behind us. We have lots of details to post but its almost lunch time here, then were getting on a boat to get back to the trail. Monson here we come...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Starting Logistics

I can’t pretend to have all the answers (yet…), but here are two questions I did quite a bit of research on:

1) How the heck does one get to this Katahdin place to start the hike?
Well, it’s surprisingly difficult to hunt this one down before you buy your trail guide (we got AWOL’s AT Guide, but the AT Conservancy makes one too). For those like us who can’t feasibly be driven and dropped off, here’s what you can do:

Day 1: Flight In
·         Flight arrives in Bangor (US Airways)
·         Bus leaves for Medway (Cyr Bus Lines) –$11.50/person
o   Contact: Toll Free: (800) 244-2335; Local: (207) 827-2335 
o   Bus Stop @ Concord Coach Lines - Bangor Transportation Center, 1039 Union Street (1.5 miles from Bangor Airport—you walk there)
·         Bus arrives at Medway/Irving
o   Pickup by/to Appalachian Trail Lodge*, Millinocket, ME
§  Contact (Paul):
§  Shuttle Medway to Lodge= $15 total (less if more people)
§  Private room w/ shared bath= $55
*There are other options for places to stay, but this is what we chose

Day 2: Katahdin
·         6:30: Shuttle from AT Lodge to Katahdin Stream Campground = $48 total (less if more people)
·         7:30: Arrive @ KSC
o   Sign in/pick up day-packs @ KSC ranger’s station
§  Contact (Baxter): (207) 723-5140
o   Go up Hunt Trail (or Abol Trail if ride to start), come down Hunt Trail
·         Camping reservations @ KSC (tent site)
o   Reserve by mail in advance:

2) How do you carry enough food to get through the 100 Mile Wilderness?
One of the things (I’ve heard) that can add challenge to a southbound hike is that your first week or so is in the 100 Mile Wilderness with no access to towns. If we can manage to average 15 miles/day, we’ll be able to hike into Monson, at the southern end of the Wilderness, on the morning of the 8th day. But we wanted to have enough food for 9 days to give some wiggle room. And even with all dehydrated/dry foods, this stuff is HEAVY! In any case, I found three resupply options…
  • AT Lodge (drop-off at Jo-Mary Road)
  • 100 Mile Wilderness Adventurers and Outfitters (drop-off at Jo-Mary Road)
  • White House Landing (hostel & store)

White House Landing was beyond our budget (especially for just starting a hike), but the re-supplies are pretty reasonable—especially if you’re staying at their hostel, too.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

That Darned Prologue...

Well we've come over the threshold, written the preface and slipped through the prelude but the prologue is having a hard time letting go. Our flight from Milwaukee to Philidelphia went smoothly, but then our flight up to Bangor was delayed. A plane was stuck at the gate our plane was supposed to use. They changed the gate and didn't really announce it. We were sitting there at the original gate watching people getting off the broken plane, then one of the folks that wasn't fuming told us that this was the plane to New York and ours had been moved. Originally we had a 45 minute layover which gave us about 15 minutes to use the restroom, buy lunch and eat it before boarding our next plane. We ended up running mid-sandwich to the correct gate to find that the plane hadn't made it there yet.

Now we had reason to fret. We needed to get to the Cyr Bus Line station by 6:30 to board the bus to Medway, where the folks from the AT Lodge were going to pick us up for our reserved stay that night. We arrived at Bangor International and had our bags by 5:55 and the bus stop -we didn't know how to get to- was 1.5 miles away. We didn't make it, after a sweat-drenched-walk-as-fast-as-you-can trek. We made it to the wrong bus stop just after 6:30, on the hottest day of the year which broke the record set in the '60's.  But it wasn't all bad.

We ended up staying in Bangor for the night and made arrangements for the AT Lodge people to pick us up at our hotel, since thankfully they happened to be going to Bangor anyway. This whole time we had been worrying about how to send the duffle bags we checked our backpacks in back home. The FedEx store was only a mile away from our hotel so we walked there in the morning. I also ended up wanting to get a different shirt and a waist pack, since my shirt ended up reeking after the short walk to the bus station and I'm tired of having stuff in my pockets while hiking. The nearest outfitter was about 4.5 miles from the FedEx store so we walked there next.

This ended up being a blessing because our walk took us through the downtown of Bangor. Our hotel wasn't in such an attractive part of town it turns out. Downtown Bangor is actually very nice, a lot of very red brick buildings and old-style architecture. We didn't spend a whole lot of time there since we needed to get back to the hotel and check-out but I could see going back and exploring in a future vacation.

After checking out of the hotel, NaviGator (one of the owners of the AT Lodge) picked us up along with another couple at the airport. They are a good bit older than us, but are only hiking the 100 mile wilderness. They plan to summit Katahdin tomorrow then will be driven to the bottom of the wilderness and hike back up to the base of the mountain, so we'll be running into them again on our way south which will be fun.

We finally made it to the AT Lodge though, paid a $15 transfer fee to move our campground reservation at Baxter State Park to tomorrow night and headed out to explore the town. Millinocket is a very friendly town! We chatted with the folks at the post office awhile after they helped me mail my old shirt home, and we learned that yesterday and today were the two hottest days and tomorrow when we actually start our hike should be a lot cooler. Thank goodness!

Our next stop was at the North Light Gallery recommended to us by NaviGator. This gallery had a little of everything: metalwork, paintings in different mediums, photography and even a set of four handcrafted mandolins. If I had $1600 and a reliable way to get it home undamaged I would have bought one. We ended up meeting Marsha who's watercolor paintings were amazing. They're website is check it out! As we got on the subject of funny trail names she handed us a book as a good luck gift for our hike written by an ex-thru hiker "Sourball." The title is Dreaming the Appalachian Trail and is a fictional account of a character who also thru hikes. Unfortunately the author died in January but he lived here in Millinocket and actually signed our copy before giving it to Marsha. We're so lucky we stopped in there!

Another few blocks brought us to the Appalachian Trail Cafe, also owned by Ole Man and NaviGator. We had a great dinner there (accurately proportioned for thru-hikers with an appetite) and headed back to the lodge. The AT Lodge is great too- three floors with nice rooms and a common area with a fridge and tv. What else could a hiker want?

Now, What did we learn?- 1) we should've left ourselves a better window between getting off the plane and getting to the bus station. 2) we should have figured out where the bus station was before hoofing it to the wrong one. 3) Bangor is pretty cool 4) Millinocket is amazing and the people are even better 5) and finally like our good friend Sam says when we're disc golfing, "let the shot develop." All these setbacks have made it possible for us to summit Katahdin in better weather than the 95 degrees with 80% humidity we would have hiked in had our plane been on time.

BUT- The hike starts tomorrow morning, here we go!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Storm Before the Calm

In the summer before I left for college, I did a lot of preparation. I was about to move from suburban Chicago to the foothills of Colorado, and come the end of summer I knew everything would get crazy. So I was reading a summer book assigned by a professor (freshman fear tactic, I’m sure), riding my bike (growing up as somewhat of a suburbian bookworm, I had this fear of being the least fit person ever to move to Colorado), packing (more on that later), and saying goodbyes. I hate goodbyes. And since my family was moving to Wisconsin at the same time I was going to Colorado, I couldn’t say for sure when I’d see my friends again.

I’ve moved many times since then and gained and, in a sense, lost many friends. But I can say with certainty that this move—or, to put it better, this life shift—leading up to our hike has been the most exhausting of any of them. These last few weeks, I’ve been falling asleep to visions of trail walking and waking up to heart-palpitating zaps of thoughts on all the things I still needed to do before leaving my job, moving out of our rental house, driving to Wisconsin, and finally starting our hike. There were nights when my brain felt so leaden with thought it seemed there must be something must be sitting on my head (snickering too, I’m sure). Perhaps ironically, this is exactly the sort of emotional exhaustion that I want so fervently to escape on the trail. After putting everything I had into a day of teaching, I would come home and fall into this leaden-brain stupor and wonder, vaguely, how I might possibly make time go fast enough to bring me back to life yet slow enough to be able to do all of the packing and things needed to make this trip possible.
And now, perhaps by magic, the time is nearly here. Tomorrow we fly to Maine, and the next day will be our hike up Katahdin to begin our Appalachian adventure.

A lot of people have been asking me if I’m excited, but the answer in my head is a lot more complicated than what they’re looking for. I’ve been excited for this ever since we started planning last spring, pumping all spare energy into plans and preparations. In a sense, this adventure has already been underway throughout all of that. After so much thinking and dreaming and a half million trips to REI, the start of our hike is so close and the only word I can conjure is… surreal. Even more so, I would say, since while I’m typing this I’m sitting on a cozy couch at my parents’ house, listening to my younger brother play the guitar. Outside, I can hear Andy, my older brother, and his girlfriend talking and laughing. It’s a rare and comforting thing to have the whole family together, and the idea that in a couple of days Andy and I will be out in the middle of nowhere Maine is an odd contrast to wrap my mind around.

We’re two very lucky individuals with so many incredible people in our lives, and I want to say thank you to everyone who gathered to wish us well. We were so grateful for the goodbye parties thrown for us, giving us a chance to see our friends and family before heading out—Zach, Nikki, Sue & Ray, MPHS staff, Grandma & Grandpa K, thanks for being wonderful hosts J! And gigantic thank yous Grandma & Grandpa K for driving us to a distant airport and to Mom and Sue for being up for sending us crazy huge mail drops along our hike!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Ants Go Marching One By One, Huraah Huraah...

Since I last posted, we've moved through what we now know to be the eye of the hurricane and into the other wall. Moving out of a house is never easy, and the fact that our storage unit was 3 hours away over a mountain pass didn't help. We even ended up driving to our house to grab the last of our stuff and clean it out at 3 in the morning. Then without sleeping, drove back down at 9 the next morning. But that's all done now.

The second section of craziness we hit is the massive forest fire west of Fort Collins. We didn't have any direct contact with it thank goodness, but our storage unit with all of our belongings was (and probably still is now) covered in smoke. Our last drop off was made in what could've easily been fog, except for the ash and the smoke. I'm sure by the time we get back our stuff will be fine, but if we were to move it out now there would be a need for a monster amount of Febreeze.

We were able to spend a few days with my parents before heading out, which was great. Jess and I would both personally like to thank them, my sisters and our friends Greg and Susan who all have very generously contributed to the success of our hike and our happiness. We are very lucky to have such great friends and family.

As time moves on now, so do we. We've been on the road since then, travelling north to spend time with Jess's family in the North Woods of Wisconsin. We drove from Longmont to Des Moines in one shot, had our last experience (I'm sure) in a clean chlorinated swimming hole, and completed our drive the next day.

All these things, I've been telling Jess, are preparing us for our hike. Over the past few weeks we've:
- spent more time in the car than we have sleeping
- moved stuff much heavier than our packs, without having nice padded shoulder straps and hip belts
- been sleeping on air mattresses
- eating way too much fast food and junk food (with the massive exception of what our parents have been feeding us)
- been showering just a little more often than we will on the trail
- been thinking about little else than finally starting our adventure, which in turn means stretching our legs and no more TRAFFIC!!!! YAY!!!

We are so close now though. Our flight is Wednesday and we summit Katahdin that next morning. Also, we do have a bunch of pictures to post and emails to answer, but up here we're lucky if we can find even dial-up internet and cell phone reception is even more scarce. Probably another way our universe is preparing us for the trail, but we'll find a way to get them posted I'm sure.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Have You Ever...?

We've entered the ring, I think, of the biggest challenge we've faced so far: planning 6 months in advance. Ever played that party game where the players go around in the circle and eliminate others by asking "Have you ever _____?" The players that have done that thing are out. Now it's my turn.

Have you ever planned every possible detail of the next 6 months?
Have you ever bought food for the next 6 months and organized it meal by meal?

We've been grocery shopping for this trip for a while now. Jess posted some of the awesome recipes and resources that we'll be relying on to eliminate repetitive eating (as much as possible). But trying to buy food ahead of a 6 month span is expensive! We're certainly not buying everything now, we'll be relying on grocery stores and resupplies for most, but still. Also, since we've moved everything out of our house the food has moved in and absolutely covered the floors.

A small portion of what we've gathered so far, mainly snacks and breakfasts for the first month, or so. 
The other challenge of packing the food ahead of time, is how much should we be packing? Without being familiar with the area's grocery and general stores it's difficult to judge how much this stuff is going to cost. It's the shipping that's causing these questions. Our parents (with a huge ahead of time thank you!) have agreed to ship us mail drops that we're going to set up.

The question is, will it be cheaper to buy these things at a store like Costco or Sam's Club and then pay the additional price to have them shipped; or will it be cheaper just to buy them on the trail? I'm not sure that the answer to this question is anything more than a judgement call.

Next, we're starting our hike on what's arguably the most difficult part of the Appalachian Trail. Once we summit Mount Katahdin, we enter a section of the trail known as the 100 mile wilderness. This is the longest point on the trail that a hike will go without having access to a town/resupply point. Thankfully we've found an awesome place that will help us with this section. The Appalachian Trail Lodge ( is picking us up from the bus stop after we get off our plane in Maine, giving us a room for the night, breakfast in the morning, and delivering a resupply of food and fuel to us about halfway through the 100 mile wilderness section. All this for a very affordable price, too.

This has been probably the most fun part of planning, though, too. It is a very interesting and revealing thing to try and plan out 6 months of food meal by meal. To be able to truly see what I actually need to make it for 6 months comes with a lot of insight. Come to think of it, I could probably start one of those super popular weight loss programs this way: "Have those extra pounds to lose? Buy Andy's Ultimate Weight-Loss Plan and shed 'em before you get 'em! All you have to do is follow these two easy steps: Go grocery shopping once in the next six months, no matter what happens AND no tap water allowed! From this point on, you can only drink what you can find naturally and filter!"

Problem solved ;)