AT 2017: Day 159, Bemis Mountain Lean-to to Little Swift River Pond

I'm the baddest man alive

It has now been a week since I took a double-zero to rest and heal. I can't say for sure if those days are the reason why, but since that time off I’ve felt stronger and more capable.

I suspect the weather and Maine’s scenery have had something to do with this feeling. They have both been outstanding.

DateSaturday, September 16, 2017
WeatherPartly cloudy with a high temperature in the upper 70s
Trail ConditionsMany rocks and roots, with occasional mud and a couple of steep climbs
Today's Miles12.9
Trip Miles1945.4

Though I have been feeling stronger and more capable, the trail isn't getting any easier. The mountain ascents and descents continue to be rocky and steep.

The temperature has been creeping higher each day, which has added to the difficulty. Temperatures have returned to the upper 70s and this was unexpected. I had expected by now, halfway through September and well into Maine, I’d be finding much cooler weather.

Keeping with our intentions of leaving camp earlier than we had been, we left Bemis Mountain Lean-to this morning at 7:30.

The trail made a gradual climb for 1.5 miles up Bemis Mountain Second Peak. Along the way it crossed several small and rocky alpine summits.

Each one of these mini-peaks was covered in clouds, so there were no views to be seen from the open spaces.

After more than an hour of crossing these rock slab openings among the scrubby conifers, the sky slowly began to clear. Although a clear view wasn’t possible, I could just barely make out the large profile of the next mountains.

The Saddleback Mountain range was more than 20 miles away, and on clear days it may have been visible from here, but not today.

The departure from the top of Bemis Mountain Second Peak was steep, and the trail was filled with exposed roots and rocks. I took this section slowly because roots are just as difficult to walk over as rocks. In fact, they can sometimes be more tricky. It’s easy for your foot to slide on a root that’s angled just right.

Despite my care, I slipped and fell backwards on this descent, and my elbow struck hard on a rock. This was the second time I had done this in the last few weeks, and just as before, the fall scared me. The blow to my elbow was so sudden and hard I thought for an instant I fractured a bone. It wasn’t the pain that made me think that, but I was alarmed by the sudden and heavy way I hit the rock in such a vulnerable spot.

After a quick check of my elbow I was convinced — and grateful — nothing was broken, so I continued on down the mountain.

This difficult descent made me concerned that the treads on my shoes were losing their ability to grip smooth surfaces. Later, though, I mentioned this to a couple other hikers and they said they were having the same problem.

At the bottom of the descent, where the trail crossed Bemis Mountain Road, I found an unexpected surprise waiting for me as a reward for my troubles. It was a cooler filled with chilled water and snacks.

Because of how remote the trail is in Maine, I had given up any expectation of finding trail magic here.

Bemis Stream was located just beyond the road. The Guthooks app said a dry crossing was usually not possible here, but I found the stream easy to cross without getting my feet wet. I was able to walk on rocks the full width of it, which was about 100 feet.

From the stream, the trail made another steep climb. Near the top of the climb the trail crossed Maine Highway 17.

I found a bench there, which offered a pleasant spot to sit and enjoy a view of the Bemis Mountain range. Looking below, I could see Mooselookmeguntic Lake, the largest lake in this part of Maine.

The time was noon, so the bench seemed like a perfect place to stop for lunch. I had it all to myself, as no other hikers came by while I was there.

After lunch, the trail continued its climb up Spruce Mountain. This section was also steep, and I was now getting warm and sweaty.

As the trail went up and down smaller hills and passed Moxie Pond, I began to get more weary. This reminded me once again that I tend to lose energy quickly as the temperature rises.

I continued down a rocky descent to Long Pond, which was followed a short time later by Sabbath Day Pond.

The time was 3:50 p.m. when I found near the pond a note Stick and Tengo had left for me. They said they were continuing on to Little Swift River Pond.

I decided to walk a short distance to Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to, eat a snack, drink some water, and assess my options.

A part of me wanted to just stay here. I was feeling worn out and Little Swift River Pond was more than four miles away. If I continued, I would have to make a couple more climbs, and I wasn’t sure I was up to that.

I looked at the trail app for clues of the difficulty of the trail ahead in case I decided to keep going. I also considered various options for camping if I needed to bail out early before reaching the pond.

After resting and snacking for 15 minutes, I went back to the pond to collect water. I also drank some more water to make sure I was well-hydrated.

Then at 4:20 p.m. I decided to go for it. I put my head down and charged up the trail, almost surprising myself with my newfound energy and resolve.

I set for myself a goal of reaching a power line cut, and decided when I reached it I would check that spot against the remaining daylight and distance to Little Swift River Pond.

When I arrived there at 5:10 p.m. I was surprised by how much energy I still felt. Another 1.7 miles remained, and I told myself it was a firm go all the way.

The trail had a few more climbs and rocky spots along the way, but I didn’t let them slow me down. I continued on with determination.

It didn’t hurt that the sun was sinking. The dropping temperature seemed to give me more power in my step.

When I arrived at the pond before sunset, I still felt good. I hadn’t set any speed records, but I was happy about my ability to plow through my mid-afternoon fatigue, set a goal and reach it.

“Gravity is back!” I said with a smile to Tengo and Stick. They didn’t realize, though, how much I had struggled earlier in the day.

By now the light was fading, but I was able see a moose feeding on the opposite side of the pond. It was a female, contentedly eating a long distance away from where we were camped.

Later, after I had finished dinner and was settled into my tent for the night, I began to hear some splashing and crunching sounds. It was too dark to see anything, but I presumed I was hearing the same moose, still feeding, but now much closer to our campsite.

For a few minutes I worried the moose might walk through our campsite. My tent would be the first it would come upon, which concerned me because moose have poor eyesight. The last thing I wanted was an animal weighing 900 or more pounds clumsily plodding through my tent.

Fortunately, though, after several minutes of feeding the moose left in the opposite direction.

After that, I was able to relax again and reflect on the day. When I told Tengo and Stick “I was back,” it was a sort of reflexive, celebratory statement. I was finally feeling back to my old self.

It felt good to recognize I was strong and healthy again, and this feeling came just when I needed it.

I’m not sure I have it in me to do all of the miles I skipped in the White Mountains, but it sure feels like I can make it to Mt. Katahdin.

I'm the baddest man alive
I take no measure, I take no jive
Sometimes I feel like I can fly
I'm the baddest man alive
I'm the baddest man alive

From "I'm the Baddest Man Alive” by the Black Keys and RZA


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.