Location: Hiker’s Paradise
Today Stick and I crossed the Maine-New Hampshire state line. I felt a full sense of accomplishment for completing the hardest state on the AT without injuring myself. I had some hard falls, but each time I fell I got back up and continued hiking, taking the blood, bruises, and close calls of all kinds as they came. Sometimes I needed rest to recuperate, but I have returned to the trail after each town, resisting the urges to return home. Stick took a picture of me at the sign marking the border. There isn’t a sign welcoming SOBOs to New Hampshire, so I posed for a picture in front of the sign that says, ‘Welcome to Maine, the way life should be.’
I’m glad to have endured the trials of Maine. I’ll never be able to explain how difficult the 281.4 miles have really been. Neither pictures nor words can possibly reveal Maine’s beauty and danger: the steep rocks, the slippery rocks, and the sharp rocks; the deep mud, the glassy ponds, the thick forests and the thick mosquito swarms. Words and pictures can reveal none of these. My words can’t explain how close I came to serious injury and ending my trip, how I sounded and felt when I skinned my knees, elbows, and palms or came to tears when a thick branch stabbed me in the ribs or muscle. No one will know of the humidity, the cold, the wet, and the fog like I know it. I can’t explain through words well enough any of these obstacles, and the pictures can’t show through color. Only a person that walks the trail through Maine can know fully the dangers and the beauty. Only those who venture from their comfortable worlds and test the balance of their body and mind will ever know exactly what it takes to hike through such terrain. I discussed my dilemma with a man yesterday, and he told me of an old Chinese proverb about the frog and the tadpole.
If a frog and a tadpole could talk to one another, the frog would never be able to explain to the tadpole the life of a frog. Though the tadpole is destined to become a frog, he can’t understand what it truly means to be a frog, no matter how much the frog might describe the lifestyle. From the tadpole’s perspective, having lived all his life in the water, he cannot comprehend what it means to breathe air, eat insects, or hop on the land with legs. His ability to understand is limited by his present position in life and his limited knowledge about the other environment.
After crossing the border, Stick and I climbed up and down our first few mountains in New Hampshire. As we neared the summit of Mt. Success, a thunderstorm exploded with a crack over our shoulders. We knew severe thunderstorms were approaching from the west today, but we hoped we could beat them over the high mountains in the early afternoon. Stick and I waited just below tree line as the thunder rumbled in the gray clouds over the pine trees. As soon as the rain lightened, Stick decided to cross the bald. I chose to wait a few more minutes for the thunder and lightning to subside significantly. After a half hour, with the thunder still rumbling faintly in the distance and occasionally overhead, I strapped on my pack on and began up the mountain. At the threshold of the tree line I froze. I couldn’t push myself any further up the mountain. For many minutes I stood in the same place, not fully understanding why I couldn’t take the next step. Fear, I suppose, had frozen my legs. Because of my close encounter with lightning in the 100 mile wilderness, I must have developed a fear, a real fear, a phobia of lightning. After realizing I couldn’t move for fear, I decided to turn and climb down the mountain. Another reason influenced my decision though. I had nearly run out of food. I had one packet of tuna and one packet of instant grits to feed me for the rest of today and then tomorrow’s 11 mile day into Gorham. I had only had a pop-tart for breakfast. I was literally starving. I figured though that if I made it to within 11 miles of town that I could hike quickly though uncomfortably into town for a huge dinner. I don’t know how I had too little food to make it to Gorham, NH, but I think that I may have left a Ziploc bag of food in the bear box or someone accidently picked it up off the lean-to floor.
Since I couldn’t get across the top of Mt. Success and I didn’t know how long the storm would grumble, I decided to hike down to a trail junction and follow a blue-blazed trail called Success Trail three miles to Success Pond Road. The trail was poorly maintained, and I slipped and slogged for much of the three miles. The thunder continued as I descended on the muddy trail. When I reached the bottom, I was greeted by a maze of gravel logging roads. Every bend and intersection looked the same. As I explored each as far as I could or needed, I scratched notes to myself in the gravel and dirt, indicating from which way I had come, which roads were dead-ends and which led to more intersections. Eventually I met a truck at an intersection as it sped past in a cloud of mist and dust. I didn’t get the opportunity to ask for directions, but at least I knew that traffic followed that particular road. While debating which way to walk, a figure rounded a bend hundreds of yards down the road. I sat and waited for the person to reach the intersection.
A young girl in a UNC-CH visor greeted me with a wave and a smile. I told her I had run out of food and that I needed to get to Gorham. Immediately she dropped her pack and opened her food bag. She gave me a chocolate chip bar and a granola bar. I tried to mind my manners by I’m sure I took them down in no time flat. She sat with me and showed me on the map how to get to Gorham. As purple clouds peaked over the treetops and rumbled with deep thunder, we parted. She, Bugs, was bypassing 25 miles of trial so that she could finish Maine by mid-August. I began the 6 mile walk down the dirt road to Berlin.
The rain and the lightning began to increase with every few steps I took. Several times I wondered if I’d be safer wading in the storm ditch, yet I continued, waiting for another car to pass and possibly stop to give a poor stranger a ride to town.
Mile 5. Mile 4. Mile 3. No cars. Still storming. Finally, a small truck snuck up behind me. I turned quickly with a pole and thumb out and advertised my misery on my tired face. I caught the man’s eyes from behind the wet lenses of my glasses. He stopped. I ran to the window and told him I needed to get to Berlin. He pointed to the bed. I squatted on the spare tire and ducked behind the toolbox to escape the cold wind and rain.
He stopped at an intersection and I jumped out. I asked if I was in Berlin and he laughed and said that this was it. I looked left and right and saw nothing but road and trees. I asked which way to the nearest convenient store. He pointed to the bed again. I jumped in and he drove me five more miles down the highway to a gas station.
I bought some snacks and began exploring Berlin. I walked up and down every street looking for a hostel or open restaurant. I saw nothing appealing and no ‘Hikers Welcome’ signs. Most places that looked like satisfying restaurants would not have taken someone as wet, muddy and smelly as I. I walked back to the gas station, bought plenty of snacks, and I began walking the highway to Gorham. On the 55mph four lane highway, I didn’t bother with sticking out my thumb. I walked the shoulder eating Doritos, Pringles, and Honey Buns. Four miles I walked. With only two left, a truck pulled to the side of the road. The woman driving, Pinger, let me in the front seat, but she took care to cover it with a quilt.
As she drove me into downtown Gorham, she pointed to the summits of the Presidentials. I can’t wait to climb them. She took me to Hiker’s Paradise, The Barn, and then back to Hiker’s Paradise when I decided that I didn’t want to stay at The Barn. I’ve settled into the hostel now. I’ll take a zero day tomorrow and get my first pictures developed. Hopefully Stick will arrive in town tomorrow, and more hopefully I can get in touch with mom and dad in the mountains to let them know that I am in New Hampshire.