AT 2017: Day 169, Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to to ME Hwy. 15 (Monson)

Wait until that deal come 'round

I still couldn’t believe what the flip-flop hiker told us last night. He said a hiker named Skittles fell and broke her wrist just outside of Monson. Was this the same Skittles I knew?

This morning I texted Skittles and told her what I had heard. “Please tell me this isn’t true,” I said.

Later, when Skittles replied she said it was true. In fact, she had just left the hospital after having surgery to repair the break.

There was good news, though. She said Jeff and she still intended to finish their hike. They would take another day off, then make a trial hike to make sure she could hike with her arm in a sling, but she thought she could. She would only need help putting on and taking off her pack.

DateTuesday, September 26, 2017
WeatherMostly sunny to partly cloudy, humid with a high temperature in the mid 80s
Trail ConditionsSome sections of rocks and roots, but mostly flat
Today's Miles9.0
Trip Miles2056.1

I was relieved to get the news. I know how difficult it is to walk this far, but I can’t image what it would feel like to have the intended outcome taken from you near the end.

My own experiences, which include a few falls that made me momentarily fear I had broken or seriously damaged a foot or elbow, have shown me how easily and quickly a sudden end to a hike can come. Even when you think you’re taking all possible care, you can’t guarantee something bad won’t happen.

The sun was shining again this morning when Stick, Tengo and I started hiking. We left Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to before 7:30, even though we only had nine miles to walk to reach Monson. We hoped to have most of the day to prepare for our remaining hike to Mt. Katahdin.

The east branch of the Piscatiquis River can oftentimes be difficult to cross, but today for us the water was low. This was the same as the streams we crossed yesterday had been. Our only challenge was to avoid slipping on a few wet rocks.

The trail crossed a logging road that at one time was the railroad grade for the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad. It began transporting passengers, potatoes and other agricultural products, as well as paper and wood products, throughout Northern Maine in the 1890s.

During the Cold War, the railroad’s trains also carried aircraft fuel to Loring Air Force Base for use by Strategic Air Command bombers. The railroad’s business faded in the latter half of the 20th Century and it shut down completely in 2013 after a series of ownership changes.

After crossing the logging road, we discovered a cooler of soft drinks. By now it was only 8 a.m., but this was still welcomed trail magic. I enjoyed a Coca-Cola from the cooler, which is something I don’t normally drink.

The trail continued to be easy to walk. For a short section it followed another road, which is probably now also used in winter by snowmobile enthusiasts.

As we neared Monson, we passed Lake Hebron. If we had a boat, we could have used it to cross the 525-acre lake to Monson, which is situated on the shore. Seeing no boat, however, we continued on the trail.

Once we got near Maine Highway 15, we passed an opening on the edge of Buck Hill that gave a view of the 100 Mile Wilderness. This is where we will be hiking tomorrow.

It didn’t take us long to get a ride to Monson. When we reached the highway into town, a section hiker told us her husband would be willing to take us there, but a short time later, Poet arrived. He and his wife Hippy Chick are the owners of Shaw’s Lodging, which is where we intended to stay.

Shaw’s is one of the legendary stops along the Appalachian Trail, having provided a place to stay for thousands of hikers since the 1970s.

The original owner, Keith Shaw, died in 2004. The hostel was put up for sale in 2006, and many hikers feared even if a buyer could be found, the character would change. It took a long time to find a buyer.

When Poet and Hippy Chick (Jarrod and Kimberly Hester) bought the place, they had known it well. They had stopped here on their own thru-hike in 2008.

They have worked hard to maintain the original character of the hostel, which includes keeping the original name.

Poet took us to a room with three beds, so Tengo, Stick and I were able to stay together.

After getting cleaned up we were ready for lunch, so we walked down the street to the Lakeshore House. By good fortune, we saw Skittles and Jeff there.

Skittles assured me she was doing well. If the test hike goes well tomorrow, she said, she should be able to summit Mt. Katahdin and will need only a little assistance.

We then discovered that Single T, Boomer and Jason were sitting outside near the lake. Maple was there too, but she was staying cool in the shade under the picnic table. Another hiker named Scout was with them. He was not the same “Scout” I met in Virginia and saw several times along the trail.

Once we finished our lunch, we walked to the Appalachian Trail Visitors Center. A volunteer named Wendy walked us through what to expect when we reach Baxter State Park and climb Mt. Katahdin. There is a permit we will be required to obtain. Wendy also told us about how to secure a camping spot the night before we intend to summit the mountain.

Monson has a population of fewer than 700 people. I expected that resupply options would be limited and expensive here, so several days ago I asked my wife Kim to send me a box of food. I made a guess of how much food I’d need to get through the 100 Mile Wilderness and sent her a list of items to ship to Shaw’s.

Tengo and Stick hadn’t done that, so they needed to resupply. We walked down to a gas station to see what was available there. The selection was limited, and though I wanted to buy a couple more Snickers bars, they were sold out. We then went to a general store, which was nice but pricey. Snickers bars were sold out here too.

Poet operates a store for hiker supplies in a building next to the hostel, but he didn’t open it today until late in the afternoon. When I picked up the box Kim had sent to me we checked out the store and discovered it was well stocked.

Additionally, Poet sat down with us to talk about what to expect in the 100 Mile Wilderness. He offered to hold part of our food and deliver it to us at the halfway point. There was a fee for this, of course, but it seemed very reasonable, so we agreed to the offer. Otherwise, we would have to carry all of the food we need for seven or eight days.

Late in the day we saw Frodo. Samwise and Gimli weren’t there, but they couldn’t have been far away.

Although we still have a week or so to go, everyone here is in a celebratory mood. They will finish in a week. I’m feeling it too, but I know I still have 21.2 miles to finish after I’ve reached the summit of Mt. Katahdin.

There’s no guarantee one of us won’t suffer a similar injury as Skittles. There’s no way to predict or prevent it.

All we can do is do our best and let the cards fall as they may.

Since it cost a lot to win
And even more to lose
You and me bound to spend some time
Wondering what to choose

Goes to show, you don't ever know
Watch each card you play and play it slow
Wait until that deal come 'round
Don't you let that deal go down, no, no

From “Deal” by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead)


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