AT 2017: Day 161, ME Hwy. 4 (Rangeley) to Poplar Ridge Lean-to

How you gonna feel when you come to the end of the way?

As my wife Kim convinced me last night I needed to complete my hike by finishing the miles I skipped in New Hampshire, she assured me that she and our sons would be ready to help. I didn’t know it at the time, but I could have easily guessed that she sprung into action as soon as we ended that conversation.

The first thing she did was contact our older son, Logan. Instantly he was on board, assuring her that he and his brother would be there when I reached Mt. Katahdin. Landon soon affirmed that for himself.

Plans were already in motion to figure out how they would reach Maine when I finished.

DateMonday, September 18, 2017
WeatherMostly sunny with a high temperature in the mid 70s
Trail ConditionsMany rocks and roots, with occasional mud
Today's Miles10.7
Trip Miles1960.9

After an extra-long day and night in Rangely, Tengo Hambre, Stick in the Woods and I were feeling energized and ready to get back on the trail.

A past thru-hiker named Jet Pack was scheduled to meet us at 6:30 this morning to drive us back to the trailhead. He was a little late, but we were dropped off and hiking again before 7 a.m.

The trail crossed Sandy River a short distance beyond the road. It wasn’t a wide river, but when the area was harvested for timber, a logging sluiceway was used to channel the water and move logs down to a mill. Evidence of the sluiceway was still visible.

From there the trail began a long climb up Saddleback Mountain. Initially, this was not difficult, though the trail was littered with a lot of rocks and roots.

After the first 1.5 miles of the climb we arrived at Plazza Rock Lean-to. Jason, Boomer, Single T and Maple were there. They had elected to go into Rangeley just long enough to resupply, then continued hiking until they stopped here for the night.

If Tengo, Stick and I had not stopped yesterday for a nero at The Farmhouse, this would have been a nice place to stay. A stream flowed nearby and wooden platforms were provided for tents.

A unique privy was located a short distance from the shelter, which featured a sign that said “Your Move.” That’s not what made the privy unique, however.

This was a two-seater. A cribbage board was mounted between the seats, providing a double entendre meaning for the sign outside.

The trail continued up the mountain. The climb remained relatively easy.

Less than a mile from the shelter we passed a lovely pond called Ethel Pond. A mile farther was another one called Eddy Pond.

After three hours into the climb we reached the mountain’s alpine zone. Signs were posted to remind that this was a fragile environment where camping was not allowed.

Before long the trail poked above the treeline, where we were able to see far-off views of surrounding valleys and mountain ranges.

Clouds hung below us in the valley, but otherwise the sky was mostly sunny. The temperature was warming into the 70s.

The trail went over a long section of mostly exposed granite. We could not have picked a more perfect day to go over this mountain.

Though the trail passed near a ski resort, we never saw any signs of it. It opened in 1960 and became the third largest ski area in Maine.

The resort’s owner became involved in the 1980s in a protracted fight to expand the resort with more ski runs and a chairlift. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and other conservation organizations were able to successfully stop those plans, and in 2000 a large tract of land was sold to permanently protect the trail.

The resort has been closed to skiing since 2015 after the current owners were unable to secure additional funding for expansion plans.

We lingered at the summit to enjoy the spectacular views, then pushed on.

The alpine zone above treeline extended for more than 2.5 miles, so even while we walked we were able to continue enjoying the views.

Unfortunately, I may have been paying more attention to the views than the rocks on the trail. I slipped on one and fell hard once again on my elbow. I don’t know why this has happened to me three times, but I decided I need to work on my landing from these falls.

By the time I crossed the last of Saddleback’s three main peaks, Maple caught up to me, and was soon followed by Jason, Single T and Boomer.

The trail remained above treeline as it went over another peak called The Horn, which was just more than 1.5 miles from Saddleback’s summit.

The descent back to treeline continued over a solid base of granite. Walking on this was like walking on a sidewalk. It was like a rough sidewalk, perhaps, but at least it was a hard surface without a lot of roots and loose rocks.

Reddiington Stream was located at the bottom of The Horn, and nearby was a campsite of the same name. I stopped here for water and to eat lunch.

Leaving the campsite, there was one more climb to complete for the day. That was a steep and rocky ascent of Saddleback Junior. As I went up the trail, the sky began to become cloudy. It seemed the day’s beautiful weather was coming to an end.

By the time I reached the rocky summit, clouds were closing in, diminishing the view. Rain appeared to be on the way, but I still had a couple hours of walking to reach our intended stopping spot, Poplar Ridge Lean-to.

I reached the shelter at 6 p.m., then quickly set up my tent and cooked dinner. A light drizzle started falling at 7 p.m., but by then I was nearly ready to crawl into my tent for the night.

Later, as the drizzle became a light rain and I was lying in my sleeping bag, I thought more about my conversation last night with Kim. This made me realize how close I was to Mt. Katahdin. Finally, it was starting to dawn on me how little time was left for this hike.

Tengo, Stick and I are expecting to reach Mt. Katahdin in less than three weeks. Thinking about this, I had odd, contradictory feelings. As much as I was ready for this hike to end, I was not ready for it to end.

I tried to imagine how I would feel when I reached Katahdin, see my family again, and finish those miles in the White Mountains. I couldn’t sort out the thoughts.

I don’t know what to expect and that's not a normal feeling for me.

Now look at that cold Jordan
Look at its deep water
Look at that wide river
Oh hear the mighty billows roll
You better take Jesus with you
He's a true companion
Oh I'm sure without him 
That you never will make it home

Now what you gonna do
Oh what you gonna say
Oh how you gonna feel 
When you come to the end of the way?

From “Jordan”, aka “Cold Jordan" (Traditional)

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