The Rain in Maine
Nuts! I said to myself, we must be nuts! I looked out the window at the dark landscape as it whizzed past. The eight hours of being confined to a chair was taking its toll. My rear was sore and I was growing more restless by the minute. Rob was the lucky one, he managed to doze off.
I sat in the darkness and quietly reflected on our ‘Great Adventure’ so far. Things didn’t start off too smoothly. We forgot the steaks for the first night’s meal at Rob’s house so I dropped him off at the bus terminal with the equipment. When I returned with the steak, there was an intimidating crowd of dismissed high school students circled around Rob waiting for their own bus. The crowd was cautiously distanced and looked at our equipment with curiosity or desire-it was hard to tell.
When I broke through the crowd I saw Rob leaning against a telephone pole next to the equipment with his arms folded across his chest. When I got closer, I noticed that under his right arm he was holding the handle of his hunting knife with his left hand.
“Sorry about that Rob. Any problems while I was gone?”
“No problems,” he replied as he busied himself with tucking the steaks into his pack. “My adrenaline is really flowing.”
“Yeah, I can imagine,” I agreed as the vision of the two of us fighting the crowd with machete, knife and cross bow over our expensive equipment. We stood there in uneasy silence until the students’ bus came. Shortly after, our Greyhound pulled up, we got in, and “Great Adventure ‘89” was officially under way.
That was days ago. No, only hours my watch reminded me. Since then we’ve transferred busses twice and both times I got stuck sitting next to the same man. He was a garbage disposal. Food from three meals ago was crusted in the corners of his mouth and whenever he spoke, which was often, you could tell what his last three meals were. Fortunately, the bus has emptied since then and he moved to get his own seat.
I turned on my private reading lamp and pulled out the road map for the umpteenth time. I should have had it memorized but it’s just not sticking. My concentration was constantly distracted by the fact that each hour of driving was another five days to a week of hiking.
We’ve really gone far I thought as I looked at the zig-zagging line traced on the map indicating the Appalachian trail, and still have two hours to drive then the plane trip. Nuts! I sank into my chair and tried to nap.
“ Bangor, fifteen minutes,” came the driver’s soft voice over the speakers.
I strolled down the aisle to Rob’s seat imagining I was a sailor on a “Christopher Columbus boat” as it rocked and swayed. “Rob, fifteen minutes.”
“What time is it?” He rubbed his face.
“It’s twenty-to-three. Get your stuff together.”
We promptly reached the Bangor, Maine bus depot at three in the morning, right on schedule. We grabbed our packs and disembarked. Our feeling of “Wow! We’re really here!” quickly faded with the sound of the bus.
There we were, three o’clock in the starless morning. A feeling of being marooned filled the emptiness left by our fading euphoria. The streets were dead. We were in a modern ghost town without any signs of life except the occasional piece of paper blown by the warm breeze.
“Well, we have a plane to catch so we might as well get some sleep until then, or at least until sunrise,” I suggested.
“How about right here? There’s no one around.”
“I wonder if it’s illegal to sleep in bus stations in Maine.”
“If we wake up with tickets on our noses then we’ll know,” Rob replied.
We opened our packs and set up a makeshift camp. We set up our hammocks between the poles supporting the awning of the bus station and settled in. The night grew chill as we rested. I couldn’t sleep so I listened to the occasional breeze or car in the distance. Eventually the sky started to lighten so I roused Rob.
We packed up and walked to a donut shop a few blocks away. This was the first time that we actually wore our fully loaded packs and they were heavy. The full seventy-five pounds came down on my shoulders with each step, so hard that my shoulders ached from the three block hike to the donut store.
In the store, the woman serving the donuts was the largest, ugliest woman I have ever seen. She easily cleared four hundred pounds and I swore I saw some shaving cream by her ear lobe.
We got our breakfast and sat down by the window. After eating, I called the plane service to see if they could push up our pick-up time from noon to eight a.m. I returned to my seat in time to catch the tail end of a conversation between Rob and a Viet-Nam veteran he just met. Afterwards, I asked Rob about the bald man in the camouflage he had just finished talking to.
“Yeah he’s a vet. A bit screwed in the head but he’s nice,” he told me.
“The plane can come early, but he can’t say exactly when. We just have to be there at eight thirty and he’ll get there when he can.
“Great,” Rob said. “Gimme some change so I can call a cab.”
“OKAY here ya go.” I reached into the zip-lock bag holding our common monies and pulled out several quarters. Rob took the quarters and went to the phone.
I looked out the window and beheld a dismal, grey day. It looked as if it was as light as it was going to get and the rain was light but steady. Rob came back to the table holding the extra change for me. “Let’s get ready, the cab’ll be here in a minute.’
I took the change and put it back into the zip-lock bag. “OKAY let’s go.” We cleaned up our table and by the time we finished getting our packs together the cab pulled up. The driver could have been the waitress’ brother. I felt bad asking him to exert himself to get up and open the trunk for our packs. The car sighed when he got up and I was amazed that he actually fit behind the wheel. I thought I saw him break a sweat as he moved to the trunk. We loaded up and got in the car. I sat in the front and almost had to sit on the door to get room to breathe from the driver.
“Where you going,” the driver asked in a low voice between wheezes and coughs.
“Lucky Landing on Pushaw Lake.”
“All right,” he said and grabbed his radio microphone.
“Twenty-five to Lucky Landing, Pushaw Lake,” he mumbled so softly that I could hardly hear.
On the way to the lake we made small talk about fishing and bears. The large amount of bears in Maine were a thrill to Rob and I since there were none where we usually hike. The driver told us a few stories about his brother the bear hunter.
We reached the lake and, like almost everything else thus far this trip, it was not as I expected. Not a sign of life and the driver, having been here before and knowing what he was doing, drove right up someone’s waterfront driveway. We unpacked and sent the driver on his way. We were alone again just like the bus station.
Alone, except for the mosquitoes homing in on us. I immediately reached into one of my belt packs and pulled out the bug repellent. After I “debugged’ myself I handed the lotion to Rob. I grabbed my pack and lugged it to shore. Rob soon followed. We busied ourselves with last checks of our gear and then we finally heard the whir of the plane. It felt strange having a plane fly to this lake just for us. It was like having a limousine pick us up in the woods.
It was a good sign that he even came for us at all. We weren’t sure if he would come because of the weather which was drizzling on and off. We greeted the pilot, Mike, and started loading the packs into the plane. He took mine first and tucked it into the small space behind the rear seat of his small pontoon plane. Then I handed him Rob’s pack.
I entered the small cockpit and the first thing I noticed was how cramped it really was. I’ve been in larger cars, I thought as I sat in the front passenger seat.
It took Rob a minute to get in so I studied all the buttons, knobs and switches on the dashboard. I searched out the instruments I’ve seen in movies or heard about.
Altimeter, hmm... ah here it is. Artificial horizon ...there it is. Fuel gauge... full. And there’s the throttle.
Mike pushed the plane from the dock then hopped onto the pontoon on my side. He jumped in front of the still propeller onto the other pontoon and entered the cabin. He pushed a few buttons and pulled the throttle a little. The plane came alive and smoothly scooted away from the small pier.
Mike switched on a small computer centrally located in the dashboard. He entered some numbers and I read the single line display.
LEAV . : PUSHAW LK . . .
Then some numbers replaced the words.
What’s that mean? I asked myself.
Ah! It’s a countdown to Katahdin Lake, but what? Time Or distance?
Hasn’t been a minute yet so it must be eighty-one miles to the lake.
Through the window the landscape slowly scrolled by. Some low misty clouds rested on the tiny tree tops below. The forest beneath us seemed lazy under the wet overcast sky.
After about thirty minutes the countdown reached three miles and I saw the lake before us.
“Is that the lake?” I screamed over the engine.
“Yep,” I saw Mike reply.
When we were above the lake Mike twisted the wheel and pushed it in slightly. The plane keeled over on its side and dove. My ears popped as we spiraled down on the lake. We landed as smoothly as we took off and Mike pushed the throttle in and turned off the engine. The plane drifted towards shore.
Mike reached behind the chair, grabbed a paddle and got out onto the left pontoon. He guided the plane towards shore with the paddle much like an Italian would control a gondola in Venice. I half expected him to bust out into some Italian opera.
The plane stopped with a soft thump. “This is as fah as I can take ya,” he informed us. “You’ll have ta wade ta shar.”
The water looked clear and cold and I didn’t want to stick my feet into it. Unfortunately, I had to. Rob was the first one in the water and Mike handed him a pack. Barefoot, I stepped onto the pontoon then eased myself into the shin-deep water. It was cold but not unpleasant. The bottom was sandy so my feet were thankful for the softness. I paid the pilot in exchange for my pack which he was holding for collateral.
The trail is just inside those bushes,” he pointed. “Ya make a right and the paak is about two miles down the trail.”
“Thanks Mike," I said.
Rob and I waded towards shore then took a few pictures of each other with Mount Katahdin looming behind us. It was about seven miles away but it was the dominant feature of the landscape.
We reached shore and cleaned the lake garbage from our feet. While putting our socks on, we noticed a swarm of Maine’s infamous black flies gathering around us. The biting became unbearable by the time we had our socks on. Frantically I dug into my belt pack for the bug repellent. I squirted some into my hand then passed it to Rob who eagerly grabbed it between swats. At first the flies were undaunted by the repellent and continued bouncing into our skin. They were soon discouraged and hovered near by waiting for a hole to form in our invisible armor.
We gave our packs a final check to make sure all was secure then heaved them onto our backs. On the far side of the lake Mike’s plane sailed into the sky from behind a small island. The maroon Cesna circled the lake. We waved to Mike as he passed over. In response, he waved his wings and disappeared behind the trees.
We were alone.
The weight of our situation dropped on me suddenly just as it did when we reached Bangor.
The nearest town: 120 miles.
The nearest food: 120 miles.
Our food supply: two weeks, max!
Our only way out: our feet.
What do we do if there’s all accident?
‘Ooo-rah!” Rob barked his Marine roar of motivation. “ Maine will know our name,” he yelled to the mountains beyond the lake, “and bow before the H.E.R.O. Force.”
The answer to my question appeared to me so clearly that it was hard to believe that a moment ago I seriously doubted ourselves.
The Harriman Expeditionary and Reconnaissance Organization- The H.E.R.O. Force! We came to conquer this wilderness. My determination grew. I unsheathed my newly sharpened machete and thrust it above my head. “Next stop: Harriman, New York!” I announced to the woods.
“Ooo-rah!” Rob barked louder than the first.
We dove into the thick brush hacking a path as we went. The thickness quickly died as we got away from the shore. We stepped out of a bush into a dark, wet forest. Once through the bushes, Rob assumed his normal position in front. We soon found the unmarked trail and headed to the right. An occasional drop rolled off the tree tops and smacked the dead leaves on the ground. The random “thuck’ created a soothing rhythm.
A cold drop landed on my head and rolled down my temple. The easy penetration of the drop to my scalp reminded me of how short I had my hair cut for this trip.
Six weeks. My hair would grow a lot in six weeks and it’ll get in the way. So I got a regulation Marine haircut with Rob at his reserve base to alleviate any complications from having too much hair.
We moved at a constant pace over the lumpy roots. The forest was basically the same as what we found back, home in New York although there was a different feeling to it. Back home, if we tried hard enough, we could get maybe ten miles from civilization but here it’s easier to get ten times further. So this felt like real wilderness.
The walking went quickly. Although there were no markings, the trail was worn and easily visible. With relatively few complications and some fine adjustments to our packs we reached a camping area inside the park boundary around one p.m.
Eager to get a good long rest we dropped our packs and started looking for a suitable campsite. We found a few lean-tos and some picnic tables. “How about here Rob,” I asked pointing to the lean-to by my side. “It’s got a stream right next to it and we could use one of those picnic tables.”
“Well, Okay. It’ll get us out of the rain. Just don’t tell anyone back home about it. I told them we’ll be roughing it every night and we won’t be using the lean-tos.”
“Fine with me. Would you like the honors?”
“Sure.” He pulled out his knife and pointed it at the ground in front of the chosen lean-to. “I dub thee HOME.” This was a sacred ceremony we performed every time we chose a campsite.
We just started unpacking when a ranger truck pulled up. The two people in the pickup were about our age so I assumed they were grounds keepers. They asked if we were registered to stay here. When we said “no,” they offered us a ride to the Roaring Brook camp ground which was a five minute ride.
We were here to hike and not hitch rides. We were proud and it would be a breach of principles to accept the ride. We were cold, wet, and tired. I reached a decision at the same time with Rob.
“Thanks, we’ll get our packs,” we said in unison. We had to yield to our bodies’ screams since we were set to stop hiking for the day. We threw our packs into the truck and jumped in. The cold air and rain were intensified by the speed of the pickup and our inactivity. By the time we reached the campground I was shivering so badly that I had to run in place for a minute to warm up. I grabbed a beef jerky and we went into the ranger station to register.
The friendly ranger informed us that we could only stay at established camp sites and must register when we get there. This was because the land was donated to the state provided that it stays as wild as when it was donated. To do this, the amount of people and where they could go were severely restricted.
We talked to the ranger for a while about The Mountain and what to expect. Then we took our time leaving so we could take in all the information displayed on the walls. Finally, we tore ourselves from the nature displays and posters and hoisted our packs.
As the ranger suggested, we headed for the Chimney Pond Campsite. It was only 3.2 more miles and would put us in a very good position for the ascent to the top of Katahdin tomorrow.
We spotted a marker for our trail on a tree next to a bulletin board. The words on the board caught our attention.
BEWARE OF BEAVER FEVER
It was a lengthy and detailed warning about a parasitic infection called giardia that can be contracted by drinking water contaminated by beaver. A wave of fear swept over me and I stood frozen in my boots. The symptoms of Beaver Fever, severe stomach cramps, dizziness, and diarrhea, were exactly the same as what a fortune teller told my mother I would get on this trip.
SYMPTOMS TAKE 9 DAYS TO DEVELOP.
OKAY fine, I’ll just be extra careful with the water. I looked at my canteen and wondered how long my “safe” water from home will last. I dismissed the thought and we left the Roaring Brook Campground and headed for the Chimney Pond Campground.
DISTANCE 3.2 MILES.
The trail to Chimney Pond was steadily ascending and rugged. The hiking quickly became exhausting and we took breaks often. My shoulders were sore from the straps biting into me and my calves felt like rocks. The hiking was really grueling. About a mile from the pond we started meeting more and more people going the other way. It was very frustrating because these people weren’t out of breath and were practically running. The thing I found most annoying about these slow breathing runners was, for some unexplained reason, they were mostly girls around thirteen years old.
“Rob, these people are really annoying me.”
“Yeah, me too. But they don’t have any packs. They must be on a day hike and it’s easier without a pack.”
“But it still annoys me.”
A few minutes later we took a desperately needed break. The air was warm and very humid. Each breath steamed out of our mouths. The woods were shrouded in a thin grey mist. The grayness was disturbed only by random drops as they rolled off leaves and cleared a path through the mist for a moment.
I sat on a wet root and leaned against a tree to take my pack’s weight off my shoulders. The wetness from the root seeped through my pants. Slowly, I pulled my shoulders out of the straps one at a time. The air chilled my sweaty back so I leaned back into the warmth of my pack.
Rob handed me a canteen which I accepted in silence. My hands trembled from exhaustion and I almost dropped the canteen from my weak grip. When I took a sip I felt the cool water slide down my throat and splash in my stomach. That reminded me that I haven’t had anything to eat since seven o’clock in the donut shop except for a small piece of jerky, and it was now well past two in the afternoon. I opened my belt pack to see what was immediately available.
Beef jerky or a sour ball. I need to chew something, -so the jerky it is. I offered one to Rob and he took it.
“This is the longest 3.2 miles I’ve ever walked!” I huffed.
How do they measure these miles? The miles back in New York aren’t this long. I guess a ‘ Maine mile’ is longer than one in New York. I guess it’s because we’re further north and the lines of longitude are closer.”
Rob chuckled at my attempted joke then agreed, “This is the longest 3.2 miles I’ve ever walked too!”
“Do you think it’s much further?”
“It can’t be much more,” he said as he peered up the misty trail.
“Okay then let’s get there.”
We both groaned as we strained to stand with our packs and regain our balance. My legs tightened and were sluggish after the rest. I felt like taking another break after a few steps. After a half an hour of steady up-hill the trail leveled off.
The steps came easier but it was still difficult to lift my feet from the exhaustion. Finally we saw it. Through the trees and over a small hill we saw the roof of a building.
We finally reached it. I can’t wait to get this thing off my back and have a hot meal.
Our steps quickened. Two buildings, three buildings, four, five. There were easily a dozen lean-tos nestled among the trees and bushes.
Suddenly Rob stopped at the approach of a person on a side trail. Obviously a ranger, I thought. The yellow rain jacket, no gear and a bucket in each hand were neon signs to me saying: “Ranger! Salvation! Ranger!”
“Hello,” Rob greeted.
For the first time the ranger looked up and we saw it was a woman under that hood. “Hi,” she returned the greeting.
“We come from Roaring Brook,” Rob informed her, “Coffman, party of two-”
“HERO Force!” I cut in.
“Over there at the ranger house,” she nodded with her head. “I’ll be a few minutes with this water,” she gestured at the buckets in her hands, “so you can put your gear in lean-to number seven and come to the house in a little while.’
“OKAY,” Rob replied and we went our separate ways.
We walked through thick bushes and followed the signs to lean-to seven. It was in better shape than I thought it would be. It had a good roof and an elevated wooden floor which was more than I wanted.
“You may have the honors, Phil.”
“Thanks.” I pulled out my machete, “I dub thee HOME!”
We put our packs on the floor and looked around. To the right of the lean-to was Chimney Pond which I could see vaguely through some bushes. But one of the most awesome sights I’ve ever seen took my attention from the pond. A sheer wall of granite rose almost straight up from the pond to meet the low rain clouds. At least a thousand feet straight up, I estimated. This wall, only on one side of us, made me feel like an ant trapped in an arena some child made to keep me from climbing out. The wall loomed straight up as if I were standing right next to its base although it was a few hundred feet away.
Rob broke my trance as he smacked me on the arm and motioned to follow. We weaved along the tight trail to the ranger’s house. We opened the outer screen door and entered the porch. I noticed a small scale model of The Mountain next to the inner door.
Rob knocked and we entered. Ranger Esther emerged from a back room into the small “office” that we were waiting in.
“You plan on going up The Mountain tomorrow, right!”
We nodded yes.
“You should leave before 10 a.m., preferably much earlier so you can reach the next campground in time. How are you getting down?”
“Appalachian Trail,” Rob replied.
“Okay you’ll be staying at the Katahdin Stream Campground. I’ll call there later to reserve your lean-to. Check with me before you leave tomorrow.”
“What’s the best way to get up?” I asked.
“If you want the shortest, that would be the Knife Edge, but it’s also the hardest. If you want the gentlest slope, then take the Saddle Trail. It’s not open yet because of snow patches on the trail. Your packs looked pretty heavy so I’ll let you go up that way and I’ll show you where the snow is.”
“Great!” I exclaimed.
She took us onto the porch and traced the trail on the model with her finger then showed us about where the snow was. “The problem with this snow is that it melts from underneath. So if you step on it and it gives, you could fall five or even ten feet. When you see it, stay clear and walk off to the side.”
After that we made some small talk about the park and this campsite then we took our leave. On our way back to our lean-to Rob spotted the outhouse and pointed it out to me just before he headed over to it. When we got back to the lean-to I unstrapped the collapsible water jug from my pack and headed for the pond.
As I neared the pond, the spectacle of the wall became more intense. When looking up, it seemed as if I could reach to the side and touch it. When I got to the pond I hopped on a few rocks to reach deeper water. As I crouched down I felt my legs ache and all the tight muscles stretch. The water was clear, like it wasn’t there at all. I was able to see the bottom as far out as the surface glare allowed me to see. It looked too clear to me. No visible algae, fish or anything else associated with life in ponds. It looked sterile. It must be good to drink, Esther didn’t warn us about it. I quickly filled the jug and went back to the lean-to.
Rob was just returning from the outhouse when I got to the lean-to. I hung the water jug at the front of the three sided house. First and foremost on my mind: how are we going to cook the steaks since we’re not allowed to have campfires here?
Rob looked at his watch, “I dunno but it better be quick. It’s past four and we haven’t had anything except snacks since seven this morning. I’m starving.”
“I got it!” I exclaimed. “We’ll add it to the spaghetti. We saved a meal by skipping lunch so we’ll have today’s lunch when we planned to have the spaghetti.”
“Sounds motivating to me. Let’s set up our stuff so we can eat and go right to sleep.”
We unrolled our mats and sleeping bags, changed into our sweat pants and shirts, hung our wet clothes, and set up our cooking gear. I cut up the steaks into small chunks so they would cook faster to save fuel. When all the preparations were finished, Rob lit his portable stove. We huddled around the small blue flame to try to chase the chill away. While Rob cooked the steak, I hung our ponchos in front of the lean-to to create a fourth wall. The makeshift wall didn’t insulate very well, but it broke the wind and blocked our view of the damp dismal day just beyond the threshold of our shelter. Before long the steak and spaghetti were finished and I mixed a powdered fruit drink while Rob warmed the sauce.
“I wish we remembered to bring the onions, he said after sampling the sauce. “That would put the final touch on this stuff.”
I reached into my mess kit and removed a small vial containing a red liquid. “Will this do?”
He recognized it immediately. “ Tabasco sauce!
“Just a leedle biddy dash gives it- whoo boy! Just the right kick!” I said with my best New Orleans accent.
Rob stirred in half the vial of Tabasco then dished out the servings. I half interestedly watched him reach into his pack and search for something. I stuffed another forkful of spaghetti into my mouth.
“Ah, here it is,” he said.
I sucked in a hanging strand of pasta.
“Motivation in a bottle,” he victoriously held up the pint container of vodka he stashed in a safe place in his pack.
I took another forkful.
He unscrewed the plastic cap and took a small sip. He smacked his lips and inhaled deeply. “That hits the spot,” then exhaled. He carefully poured about three ounces of the vodka into his fruit drink.
I took a sip from my cup.
Then, with the utmost care, he re-capped it, put it back in its zip-lock bag, wrapped a rubber band around it, and carefully tucked it back into his pack.
The meal was satisfying and the Tabasco sauce kept our mouths alive for a while to come.
After cleaning up our dishes we crawled into our sleeping bags and pulled out our maps to study for tomorrow’s hike. When I felt I studied it enough I let Rob have the map to himself and I made a log entry:
We’re getting ready to conquer Katahdin tomorrow. The word for the day is pain!
I pushed aside the log book and prepared for sleep. It felt good to lay motionless at last. I felt the rest that my body needed seeping into my muscles. I also felt the tightness and soreness settle in. In the dimming light, sleep soon came to me in the back of a hiking shelter. Thus ended a heavily overcast and wet day.
A nightmare I haven’t had in years came back to me that night. Rob and I were climbing a mountain back home in a violent thunderstorm. Everything was muddy. As we climbed, the rocks slipped out of the mud and rolled down below us. My hands were caked in the thick mud. It was daytime but everything was dim from the thick cloud cover. A flash of lightning threw a shadow on the rock and mud in front of us. The wind started to pick up as did the rain.
We were near the crown of the mountain and another bolt of lightning cast its shadow. I looked over my shoulder. The low storm clouds were not far above us and I could see the outline of the hills around us through the rain. Everything seemed brown, even the clouds.
The thunder caught up to us but there seemed to be a more violent explosion from above the clouds right after it. We both looked up towards the sound. A high revving penetrated the landscape and we followed the sound with our eyes. The volume and pitch increased as the brown clouds spat a small plane towards earth with its tail covered in flame and smoke. It crossed our visual field heading downward and pitching from side to side. The pitch of the whine increased as it accelerated downward. At the apex of the Doppler shift in the pitch it smashed into a mountain. A bright orange and black ball erupted from the side of the mountain then was quickly consumed by the dismal brown air.
The noise from my own dream woke me. I sat up in my sleeping bag. My body ached. I was as terrified as the first time I had that dream years ago. I sat motionless in the dark. After a few minutes I fell into an undisturbed sleep.
We both woke together around six a.m. My exhaustion was gone but it was replaced by soreness and tightness. By the grunts Rob made, I assumed the same happened to him.
I stuck my head between the ponchos making up our makeshift wall. What a change! No more grey mist. Sharp contours and vivid colors pierced my eyes. The wall was more spectacular today. The morning sun brilliantly lit up the rock face and I could see the deep blue sky above the rocks.
“Rob! Come here. Check this out!”
He stuck his head past the wind break. He summed up the sight in one word: “Awesome!”
We stood there for a moment and beheld the day given to us.
“Okay,” Rob said, “Let’s have breakfast and get to that sign on top of this hill.”
“Just a bump!”
“A pimple on the face of the Earth.”
We had our breakfast: oatmeal and a pop-tart with the rest of the fruit punch to wash it down. After breakfast we brushed our teeth and packed up.
We couldn’t procrastinate any longer. We had to change into our hiking clothes. I pulled my pants down from where they were hanging. They were wet, heavy, and cold. I pulled off my warm, soft sweat pants and sat there looking at those awful wet pants. I finally mustered up the courage and jumped into my pants.
Aaaaaaah! I screamed mentally.
“Nasty!” Rob mumbled as he pulled up his own pants.
A few minutes later my legs grew accustomed to the pants. The shirt process wasn’t as bad since I dress in layers and those near the skin were somewhat dry.
Eventually everything was packed and we were in our packs adjusting straps. The short walk to the ranger station loosened up my legs considerably.
Ranger Esther was already in her office doing ranger things.
“Good morning,” she said.
“Good morning,” we replied in unison.
“I radioed the Katahdin Stream Campground. You have lean-to number nine reserved. So have you decided to take the Saddle Trail or the Knife Edge?”
“Saddle Trail,” Rob answered.
“Okay. You two will be the first ones on that trail this season except for rangers. As I said yesterday, there are patches of snow and ice to watch out for. So be careful.”
“We will,” I assured her.
“Thanks,” we said.
We stopped in the porch to register.
NAME OF PARTY: Coffman/Medina H.E.R.O. Force
NUMBER IN PARTY: 2
TRAIL UP: Saddle
TRAIL Down: Appalachian Trail
We left the station and turned left at a sign saying;
“Well, let’s do it,” I said.
“Take that hill! Rah!” I barked as loud as I could.
We started our ascent of the largest peak in Maine from the north-east side. The ascent was steady for the first half-hour but not worse than we were used to. The morning dew from the close bushes cooled my legs and forearms as we went. Gradually, the ascent became steeper and the world behind soon fell below us.
When we reached about three thousand feet, the trees gave way to bushes. This enhanced visibility so we took a break for a snack and pictures.
Everything behind us was shrouded in a white blanket of fog. I felt like an oracle climbing to the gods on Mt. Olympus. The misty white mixed with blue at the horizon countless miles away. Above us, the blue sky was contrasted by the wispy high altitude cirrus clouds. To the south we could see the only evidence of an Earth below. The Knife Edge lept out from the low clouds. It resembled the blade of a deteriorated and serrated steak knife. Shadows from the early morning sun exaggerated each vertical ridge cut by melting snow waters.
“Where exactly do you think we are?”
I turned around to see Rob sitting on the ground studying the visible land, just as I was doing. I scanned everything visible in a full circle around us and said, “I’m not sure. Wanna try triangulation?”
“Sure!” He reached into a pocket on the side of his knee, pulled out the map and started to unfold it. I quickly looked around our area and found what I was looking for-a large flat rock. I pulled out my hunting knife and lifted it above my head. “I dub thee…” I pointed the knife at the rock as if to knight it, “…Map Rock!”
Rob spread the map on the rock as I opened my compass.
“North is...” I waited for the compass to stop spinning, “…that way,” I pointed still looking at the compass. Rob aligned the map with north, and corrected for magnetic declination.
I sighted a peak on Knife Edge through my compass, “eighty-seven degrees east of north.”
“Got it.” He drew a line corresponding to the direction through the peak on the map.
I sighted another peak, “One hundred, twenty-one degrees east of north.”
“Check!” He drew in the second line. The two lines intersected on the Saddle Trail just as they were supposed to. Rob read our position from the map, “Thirty-two hundred feet. Right- here,” he pointed. “Three hundred feet to tree line. Great! You ready?”
“Yeah just a quick shot of water.”
“Sounds good to me.”
We took a sip from Rob’s canteen and were on our way again. A few minutes later, Rob stopped abruptly and I nearly walked into him. “What is it?” I asked.
“We’ve reached the snow.”
I looked out from behind him and saw a trickle of water bubbling over some rocks and mud. My gaze followed it upstream to its source. Mud, dirt and rocks almost completely concealed the white of the snow.
Rob hopped over the trickle and attempted to walk off to the side of the ice. He made little progress with great difficulty so I decided to get a little reckless.
I unsheathed my machete and jumped onto the muddy snow. I probed the snow with the machete, searching for air pockets or weaknesses, then stepped. Rob soon abandoned his attempt and followed my path as accurately as he could. We quickly passed the test, none the worse except for a little mud here and there.
From that point, the ascent got steeper and rockier. The bushes thinned out until only the heart of the weed patches remained. The rocky ground often gave way. The climbing became exhausting. With a last, motivated effort and a lot of yelling, we scrambled up the last hundred feet to the end of the Saddle Trail.
We were still a thousand feet below Baxter Peak, the highest part of Mount Katahdin, so we rested for a while before taking the Northeast Trail. I could see the trail extending both to our right and left- clearly worn into the rock and rubble.
The wind was blowing wildly and we soon put on all the clothing that was accessible. I took shelter from the chilling wind by sitting between several rocks and ate a granola bar. The view was superb, but we still could only see the mountain we were on since everything else was under cloud cover. The trail up to the peak looked much gentler than the last thousand feet we just climbed. It seemed as if the hardest part was over. It was now eleven a.m. and we had only a mile to go so we decided to have lunch on the peak when we got there, which would be around noon.
We rested for a few more minutes then made our last push for the summit. As I had gathered from our resting place, the trail wasn’t as steep as what we had experienced up to now. Nonetheless it was still hard walking since the trail was entirely made of rocks and boulders.
The gently sloping plateau we were on had the appearance of a desert. If it hadn’t been for the cold wind in the middle of the day, I would have been convinced that that’s where we were. Barren of vegetation, except for the scattered patches of alpine weeds, the exposed rocks encrusted in lichen gave the landscape a yellow-green color.
Around 12:20, after going over ridge after ridge thinking that “this is the last one and the sign is just out of sight,” we finally spotted it! For the last few hundred feet we kept our composure and refrained from running to the sign.
We tagged the sign, looked at the plaque next to it, and dropped our packs.
“Lunch break?” I asked.
Our joy at that moment was suppressed by our exhaustion. We took a few pictures, read the plaque more carefully then pulled out our lunch.
As we were digging through our packs a cloud rose up the mountain and engulfed the peak. The sun disappeared and the temperature dropped. The cloud was so thick that when I looked at Rob standing ten feet away, I saw him fading in and out as the mist passed between us. The mist felt cool and refreshing when I breathed it in.
I began to grow nervous from fear of a possible storm. Mt. Katahdin is rumored to have the quickest changing weather in Maine. This put me on edge and I grew anxious. Then suddenly, as quickly as it engulfed us, the cloud passed, unveiling the blue sky again.
We ate our lunch, sheltered between some boulders. The military food we had was good contrary to the reputation it has, although I figured that my state of hunger altered that perception.
We cleaned our mess, packed up and went back to the sign.
BAXTER PEAK elev 5267’
“Off to Katahdin Stream Campground and then to New York,” I said.
“Okay. Rock and roll.”
We tagged the heavily weathered and worn sign then turned our backs to it.
The descent on the rocks and boulders, to our surprise, was a lot harder than the climb up. Each controlled step was carefully placed and was taxing on our legs. The full weight of my pack crashed onto my shoulders with every step down. After an hour of descent we took a break to care for our feet at a small muddy spring.
The plaque at the spring told us that the spring was named after the author Henry David Thoreau. He came here on a hike up this mountain in the 1800’s and drank from this spring.
“Looks pretty gross to me. I wouldn’t drink from it. He must have been thirsty.”
Rob changed his socks to prevent blisters. “In boot camp,” he explained, “when we went on long hikes, the drill instructor always told us to change our socks every chance we had to prevent blisters and to air out our feet.” He rubbed his feet. “Change your SOCKS!” he barked out in his “drill instructor” voice. “Change your SOCKS! And shut your SUCK!”
Then we started barking “Change your SOCKS” and “shut your SUCK” at each other. After a heated exchange of “shut your SUCK!” between ourselves, we mustered the strength to stand and start moving again.
We reached “The Gateway,” which was the edge of the relatively flat “Table Land” that we had been on so far. Then it started going down the southwest side of The Mountain. The descent was extremely difficult. Before long I felt at least two blisters on my feet and my new boots were taking a severe beating. During a short rest break Rob noticed the same with his.
“These boots are supposed to handle anything they’re put up to,” he commented.
“But I bet they haven’t been tested on The Gateway.”
“I’m gonna send a letter to Timberland to tell them.” He pulled on a small section of his sole where it separated slightly from the boot. “Look at this!” These boots are almost new!”
“Mine are okay. Just a couple of hot spots.”
We compared pains for a little while longer, then continued. Down and down. Hours passed. Each step we took we dropped two, sometimes three feet. There were several rocks that we had to turn around for and climb down backwards. At points the trail squeezed between boulders or through cracks in the granite.
One crack we reached was too narrow for our packs so we had to take an alternate route- up and over. I put my pack down and took out my grappling hook and rope. I climbed over the rock and found the crack I was hoping would be there. I wedged the hook in as hard as I could, then tugged on the rope a couple of times. “Rob, pass up the packs.’
“Okay.” He latched the clasp on the other end of the rope to my pack and guided it up as I pulled on the rope. The seventy pounds were extremely heavy on the rope. I got my pack, removed the clasp, then passed the rope between two bars and grabbed both ends. Like that, I was able to lower the pack on the other side of the rock, release one end of the rope, and retrieve it. I repeated the process with Rob’s pack. Then I rechecked the rope’s security and told Rob to come up.
“Motivating!” he said as he scaled the rock face. The drop on the other side was not far so we both jumped when Rob reached the top. I packed up the rope and we continued.
This rock skipping went on for an eternity. We couldn’t rest too much since we had to reach the next campsite before it got too dark to walk. The westerning sun was in our faces. I felt the heat from sunburn occasionally flash across my face and arms.
No shade. Not a tree in sight. This can’t go on much longer!
A few minutes later, I heard Rob from a little way ahead, “Ooo-rah!”
I looked up from my constant searching for secure footing. A bush! Tree line! Shade!
My spirits grew and I jumped down from rock to rock ignoring the pain on my shoulders and feet. We finally made it to tree line! Our descent was about half finished, we still had about twenty-four hundred feet of vertical drop to go. The visual stimulation from bushes and trees helped our motivation and the rest of the descent went quicker.
We reached the campground a little before sunset, just about seven o’clock. We counted the loan-tos and reached number nine. Home!
The first thing I did was to drop my pack and rub my shoulders. Then we had to get to the business at hand.
“I dub thee HOME!”- I quickly went through the formality. “See if you can track down a ranger and register. Find out what kind of facilities: outhouses, water- that kind of stuff- this place has. I’ll get some wood for a fire.”
“Copy, copy,” he replied.
We went about our assigned chores, then changed into our camp clothes. The warm, dry, soft clothes were protected deep in the pack. The lean-to was on the bank of the Katahdin Stream so we only had a few feet to walk down stairs to reach the stream. I soaked my feet while I filled the water jug. The water was of the same strange quality as the water in Chimney Pond: lifeless, sterile and crystal clear.
We made a feast for dinner that night: more spaghetti, iced tea and Kool Aid. For desert we snacked on Jiffy Pop popcorn as we lay in our sleeping bags talking quietly about the day and our pains. I fell asleep around 9:15.
Day was done and The Mountain was behind us.
We woke about 7:30 to see an overcast, foggy morning. I slept well but regretted waking up. My shoulders and lower back were very sore, and very stiff.
We made pancakes for breakfast and cleaned our gear thoroughly. I added some extra padding to my pack straps. We were finally ready to go around ten o’clock. My pack felt heavier but it must have been an illusion. Lean-to number nine quickly faded into the morning mist behind us. We made a short detour through the ranger house to sign out of the campsite, then we went back onto the trail.
The hiking was much easier than what we’ve experienced so far. The trail had no more boulders and it was level or slightly downhill. After about two hours we reached Nesowadnehunk Stream which we followed for a couple more hours. We stopped for lunch at a rocky section of the stream.
Rob took out his fishing gear and spent his lunch time fishing. I sat on a rock on the bank under a pine tree to escape the rain. It varied from steady drizzle to heavy rain. We both had on our camouflage ponchos so the rain did not bother us.
“I got one!” Rob yelled.
I looked up from my lunch and saw him reeling in his line with a bent pole. Eventually he landed the fish- a young brook trout, a little small but not bad for a first catch in Maine. He unhooked the fish and threw it back in.
He cast the line back in and started fishing again. I went back to eating my lunch.
A short time later I heard the pole whipping back and forth. I looked up and saw Rob trying intently to loosen his lure caught on a rock on the far bank. He yanked and tugged from every angle possible. I got up to help and we went in opposite directions to find a place to cross the stream. I had no luck finding a good crossing point so I went back to see how Rob was doing.
I returned to see him about one hundred feet upstream halfway across. He was crouched so low on a rock that his knees were next to his shoulders and his palms were flat on the rock. He sat motionless, studying his next move. He suddenly sprang up like a big camouflaged frog. He leapt high above the rapid water in a ‘spread eagle’ position and sailed through the air. He landed on all fours on a rock with a respectable jump behind him. He crouched down again for another leap.
This time he fell short. He threw up a wall of water several feet high. Quickly, before the water settled down, he scrambled up the rocky shore, He ran into the bushes and disappeared.
A moment later he emerged from the bushes directly across the river from me. He released the lure and threw it into the water so I could reel it in. A moment later the ‘Great Green Frog’- hopped across the rocks upstream. He returned soaked.
We finished our lunch then continued walking. Soon after we started, we reached the edge of the park. There was no fence or visible border or even a sign telling us that we were at the edge of the park.
“PROPERTY OF THE GREAT NORTHERN LUMBER Co.” was all we saw. We took a quick map break then left the park, continuing to follow the stream we’ve been following all afternoon. Then we reached the junction of the stream with the much larger West Branch Penobscot River. We followed the new river downstream. We had to cross over two tributaries that were a little swollen from the rain. The second stream we had to cross had risen slightly above logs that were dropped across it as a simple bridge. We cut into the bushes upstream and found a downed tree suitable for crossing, then cut back downstream again to pick up the trail.
The rain stopped. The trail became more civilized and slowly changed into an unpaved road. Rob stopped suddenly and, again, I nearly walked into him. A huge grey rabbit was standing motionless no more than fifteen feet away. Ears and all, he must have stood two and a half feet tall.
If I can reach my crossbow we’ll have rabbit for dinner and save a meal.
Rob read my thoughts, or so it seemed, and slowly angled his pack towards me so I could get the crossbow from his pack. I made one movement too quickly and the rabbit bolted.
“That was a stupid rabbit,” I said.
“Did you see how close he let us got to him?’ Then Rob mimicked a rabbit eating grass. I leveled my finger at him like aiming a crossbow. I pulled back the imaginary string with an audible “zzip.” He looked up as a rabbit would with a confused look and his upper teeth in “Buggs Bunny” position. I squeezed the invisible trigger, “thunk!” Rob craned his head over and flicked his arms in a nervous twitch. The whole little act was pretty morbid but it was the best laugh we’ve had since we got to Maine.
Finally we spotted our destination for the day: Abol Bridge Campground. It was a private campground with a general store. We went in and asked the lady for a lean-to. She told us that they only had tent sites at the campground and also that there was a spot across the road in the woods that hikers used for no charge. We thanked her and went to set up camp.
It was not far to the site but far enough off the road to give us privacy. We searched around for the best spot and “I dub thee HOME!” The phrase itself lifted my spirits from the promise of rest.
We set up the tent then dug a pit around it to act as a water channel in case it started to rain again. Then we collected firewood and set up a fireplace. When all that needed to be done was finished. Rob went back to the general store to fill the water jug from their spigot and to get a few supplies. A short time later he came back with the full jug and a grocery bag. That night after dinner, we had chocolate chip cookies and milk, beer and soda.
The stress of the last few days finally caught up to us and our bodies began to ache more than the previous night. We opened up a new tube of Ben Gay and used nearly the entire tube between the two of us.
We each took inventory and planned out each meal for the next ten days. We were about to enter true wilderness once we packed up from this site. The next town was over one hundred miles away so we had to make sure we had enough supplies before we were out of sight of the general store. When we finished inventory, we packed up our supplies and retired for the night.
We woke to the sight of more clouds. Luckily it was not raining. The cool grey weather dampened our spirits and we decided to rest for the day. Our equipment needed to dry out from yesterday’s rain and we needed to get organized for the “hundred mile wilderness.”
We didn’t want to use up an extra day’s food by sitting in the same camp so we concentrated on “gathering” our meals. Rob fished most of the time and I tried to hunt down a bird or two with a slingshot.
The entire day, one phrase I read in a survival book echoed through my head: ‘all North American birds are edible.’ Every bird became a target. I walked around with my slingshot and a pocket full of rocks. I came so close every time but not a hit.
During one of my returns back to camp to see how Rob was doing I noticed movement among our gear. A red squirrel darted from behind a canteen and ran to a nearby tree. I quietly took cover behind a pine tree and loaded the sling. The squirrel stuck his head out from behind the tree. He didn’t see me pull the slingshot as he came full out from behind the tree hanging sideways on the tree. I took careful aim.
The rock sailed true to its target. I watched the rock sink into the golden brown fur. The blow knocked the squirrel off the tree and he looked stunned.
“Rob! I got one! Come here!” I felt victorious- I hit my target. Then my target moved. It tried to run but his legs were not moving. He looked at me then continued trying to run, his fluffy tail twitching nervously as he crawled. Joy abandoned me.
What have I done!
“Rob get the crossbow! He’s in pain, we’ve got to finish him off.” Rob grabbed the pistol style bow and loaded it as I followed the squirrel. The animal crawled into a hole with Rob on his heels. Rob looked into the hole, took aim and released the small arrow.
We both looked into the hole and the squirrel was gone. “Where’d he go?” I asked.
“He must have gone deeper, but he’s got an arrow in his back.”
“He’s in pain, we’ve got to finish him.”
We dug out the hole for an hour with no luck of finding the “Rambo Squirrel” as we called him. I felt terrible. Not only did I painfully kill a harmless squirrel, but it was for no reason. I didn’t even know if they were edible before I shot. Rob went back to fishing and I put the slingshot away.
For a day’s effort, Rob managed to get three trout and a small salmon. We cooked the fish in noodles.
When we were almost finished with dinner Rob attracted my attention. “Psst,” he hissed quietly. I looked up from my bowl of fishy noodles. He motioned to the side with his eyes. I followed his gaze and saw a big black bird sneaking around the perimeter of our camp looking for food.
All North American birds are edible.
Slowly, I placed my bowl of noodles on the ground in front of me. I reached for the nearby crossbow. The bird walked behind a tree and I moved quickly while it couldn’t see me. I loaded the bow, rotated in my sitting position and took aim. The bird emerged from behind the tree. Carefully I aimed, carefully ... carefully ...
The arrow flew. The bird flapped its wings and I thought I missed. It rose about two feet then it keeled over sideways and landed on its back flapping its wings. I grabbed the machete, Rob took the bow and we ran to the bird. It looked dead but Rob made sure with an extra shot.
Within a few minutes we had it reduced to a pile of feathers and innards and the bird looked like a small turkey ready for Thanksgiving roasting. We cooked the bird and cut it in half. It was small but it supplemented the fish and noodles to finish a complete meal.
“That was a good black chicken,” Rob commented when he finished. It started to get dark so we cleaned up camp and turned in for the night.
We woke to hear the sound of torrential rain. I looked out of the tent. The campsite was swamped. Luckily, the pit around the tent had kept us dry. We groveled and complained for a while as we ate our breakfast. We reviewed our options and decided to pack up and hike to the next lean-to, which was 3.4 miles away, and regroup there.
In the pouring rain we packed up. We were thoroughly soaked and our ponchos had become useless except for heat retention. I got stuck carrying the tent which was drenched and must have weighed twenty pounds. Once we got moving we realized that we couldn’t get any wetter so we enjoyed the walk and motivation grew. We stopped at the general store and filled all canteens with fresh water which added even more weight to our burden. I estimated that all the extra water weight must have increased our packs to ninety pounds. Then we walked back onto the trail. Shortly after entering the woods we saw a sign:
100 MILE WILDERNESS
MONSON 97.8 Mi
Rob and I looked at each other. “Ooooo!” I said. “That scares me.”
“HERO Force! Let’s go,” Rob said, and we stepped into a swamp!
The first mile and a half of the ‘Great Wilderness’ was through a cedar bog. Most of the bog had logs cut lengthwise lined along the trail so that walking through the mud could be avoided.
Occasionally, our balance on the narrow walkways failed and we had to step into the shin-deep mud to stay upright. We weaved along the winding path. Sometimes we had to duck under a branch and sometimes our feet slipped off the wet wood and plunged into the mud.
It was hard to tell where the swamp ended because of all the mud patches. The rain was constant. All I could hear was the hiss of the rain or the splash of footfall or the occasional gurgle of running water.
We reached Hurd Brook lean-to just after 12:30. “I dub thee home,” and we each scurried about gathering firewood and getting cooking water from a nearby spring. We relocated the fireplace from in front of the lean-to to underneath the eave of the roof in an act of desperation to get warmth.
Starting a fire with wet wood was difficult, to say the least, but we carried birch bark with us. “Gasoline,” Rob called it. “Gasoline that grows on trees.” Birch bark, which burns vigorously when wet and is a great fire starter, saved the day.
We ate our lunch according to the menu we made yesterday. When lunch was done, we pulled some rocks from the fire place and rested our socks on them to dry off. Our larger clothes were more difficult, but we managed to dry most of our clothes with the heated rocks.
We were finishing our dinner when Rob said that there was someone coming.
A moment later I heard footsteps. “Hello?” a voice called from behind the lean-to where we came from. A large man came around the lean-to covered in his blue Goretex rain suit, and he looked unmotivated. In a cloud of steam he huffed and I saw disappointment cross his face due to our first claim on the lean-to.
“Hello,” Rob said. “Are you hiking alone?
“No,” said the man, “I have two more behind me.”
I didn’t think they were in front of you. Jeeze! Look at this guy. I’m not impressed. Blue! Get camouflage and they won’t see you coming. Lose a few pounds and they won’t hear you coming!
“You’re welcome to share the lean-to,” I offered. “There’ll be room if we move our gear over.
“Sounds alright but I’ll wait for them to see what they say.”
“Fine.” We busied ourselves with small talk until the second hiker showed up.
Wow! The first guy might be a bit over weight for this kind of stuff but this guy is a 95 pound geek! He certainly can’t be cut out for this.
A few minutes later the third showed up.
“Do you think it’s a good idea to be so spread out?” Rob asked. “What happens if one of you gets in trouble?”
“Well it hasn’t happened yet,” said the large one, “but we catch each other every couple hours or so.”
Really smart! So the guy in the back has to bleed for three hours before you realize there’s a problem. “Oh, by the way. I ‘m Phil and this is Rob.”
“I’m Rich, and this is Jerry and Jerry,” he introduced.
Cute! Rich, Jerry and Jerry- the three stooges.
“How far are you guys going?” the second Jerry asked.
“ New York- or six weeks- whichever comes first,” I answered.
“We’ve got two months,” Rich said.
We made some more small talk and watched them set up their cooking and sleeping gear, picking up pointers from everything they did. They may not be the most athletic looking bunch but they’ve got some experience and showed show us a trick or two.
Weariness soon took over me so I brushed my teeth using the spring water. I fell asleep that night to the sounds of cooking and quiet, friendly conversation. It felt very homey and pleasant. I slept well.
We woke up at 5:30 and ate breakfast quietly so we wouldn’t disturb Rich, Jerry and Jerry. Rob was getting tired of oatmeal every morning and passed a portion of his meal to me. It was starting to taste like cardboard to me, too, but I knew I needed the nourishment.
The three stooges woke up just as we were finishing our packing. We bid them farewell and left them. The morning was sunny, luckily, but everything was still wet and there were scattered patches of fog drifting through the trees. The trail immediately started climbing up the Rainbow Ledges. The packed soil of the trail along the entire ascent was submerged in a few inches of runoff water from the rain.
As we walked, the clouds began to roll in again and by ten a.m. the sky was overcast and grey once more. We hiked along the shore of Rainbow Lake just inside the woods. The trail followed the lake for five miles and it took us about two hours to reach the end where we stopped for lunch.
Motivation and energy were at extreme lows. As we prepared lunch, the clouds opened up accompanied by strong winds. I improvised a makeshift dome with our ponchos and some string but it helped only a little. We huddled around the portable stove. The food was very good, unfortunately it didn’t satisfy my hunger.
We packed our garbage and left the lake behind us. Shortly after, we met someone coming from the other direction. He was a small thin man, about our age using an ice pick, of all things, as a walking stick. A short chat revealed that he was the first ‘through-hiker’ to make it from Georgia this year. He had the ice pick because he started on January fourth from Springer Mountain in Georgia- dead winter! He seemed healthy and in good spirits. We wished him luck and congratulated him on his accomplishment then we went our separate ways. An hour later we reached the Rainbow Stream Lean-to.
It was a beautiful lean-to. The roaring Rainbow Stream ran past it. We had to cross a two-log foot bridge to reach it. The rain made it a difficult crossing but we made it across with no incidents. We had the sacred dubbing, collected wood and made dinner. Meanwhile the rain tapered off and stopped.
Soon after the rain stopped, Rich showed up looking rather beat. We watched the entertainment as he tried to cross the bridge. I was ready to place bets with Rob as to how far he got before he fell in. Lucky for Rich, he made it.
“Hey! It’s the marines,” he greeted. Rob’s camouflaged clothes and our haircuts obviously made them think we were both in the corp. I didn’t mind it, but it felt strange being referred to as one who made it through boot camp.
Jerry soon showed up. A few minutes after, the second Jerry, who was the first Jerry from yesterday, arrived.
Today we were more awake so we were able to talk to them about hiking things. We compared equipment, places to get equipment, and places to go hiking. We also talked about Monson, the town on the other side of ‘the wilderness.’ They told us about Shaw’s Boarding House which is where most hikers stayed while in Monson.
“Mrs. Shaw can fix up anything you want, Jerry told us, and it’s all you can eat.”
My mouth watered. We talked about hiking until we decided to go to sleep. We learned a lot that night from the three more-experienced hikers. Jerry let me glance through a hiking guide he had and something caught my eye:
No problem! I’ve been careful.
... CAN BE TRANSMITTED BY DRINKING TAINTED WATER OR EVEN BRUSHING TEETH WITH TAINTED WATER.
Oh no! I brushed my teeth with spring water that may have been tainted We’ll be in Monson before the nine days that it takes symptoms to develop, so I should be okay.
I fell asleep thinking about Shaw’s Boarding House in Monson. I dreamt of stacks of pancakes and bacon and eggs, but there was also an uneasiness as I wondered if I was infected by this intestine-dissolving parasite.
Again, we woke up before the Three Stooges. The sun was out this morning and we were motivated. We had breakfast, cleaned up, and said goodbye to Rich, Jerry and Jerry. Hopefully, we won’t see them again until Monson. They may catch up to us but I don’t want them to pass us. That though kept me moving throughout the day.
The walking went quickly. The terrain was tame and was rarely steep. We walked up a small mountain whose Indian name was a more difficult task to master than the ascent. The view at the top was magnificent so we stopped for lunch.
We had military hot dogs.
“These are pretty nasty,” Rob warned as he heated the food packets.
When he finished heating the franks, I tasted one. “Nasty is an understatement! But! I have another surprise…” I reached into my mess kit and pulled out a small squeeze tube filled with mustard.
Rob’s eyes opened up. “Outstanding!: He grabbed the tube. “This is going in my report…What else do you have in there?”
“I think that’s it for the surprises.”
We finished lunch and went down Nesuntabunt Mountian (we practiced the name during lunch and finally got a hold of it). We planned to have dinner at the Wadeleigh Stream lean-to and then continue walking some more after that. When we got there we found it occupied. Our hearts sank.
Inside the lean-to there was an ugly girl resting in her sleeping bag, reading with a mosquito net over her head.
“Hello,’ Rob greeted then looked around, “are you alone?
“I am now,” she said. “I was with a girl and her father but I hurt my ankle and stayed behind.”
Must have been here all day, I noticed. Her shoulders are bare. so wearing a shirt must have become uncomfortable after lying here all day.
While Rob talked to her about the trail and the area we were in, I noticed a note pinned to a post on the lean-to:
Me and my father couldn’t wait any longer and you were asleep…
That must be that girl and her dad that the through hiker told us about, but who’s this’John’? He must be someone else. Something’s weird here.
“Oh, by the way,” Rob said, “I’m Rob and this is Phil.”
“Nice to meet you,” she said.
Wait a second I know what the problem is. I figured it out.
She pushed the net away from her head and went to get up, bare-chested! Rob turned away from embarrassment- or courtesy- I wasn’t sure which.
I continued looking, testing my theory. The sleeping bag slipped off of her. Her “breasts” were there, but poorly developed for her size- she was a bit overweight.
“Hi,” she extended her-hand to shake, “I’m John.” I sighed, relieved that my theory was right. I felt Rob’s tension ease up.
John was about our age but not completely through puberty yet. His voice was high but neutral and his body was just as neutral. On a more relaxed level we continued talking to him for several more minutes.
When we were rested enough we said good-bye to John and continued on the trail. We stopped hiking around four o’clock that day and made our camp/home on the side of a river.
The black flies were intense. We had to stay in the smoke of the fire, even with the repellent on, to escape the onslaught of the pests.
We fished a little in the river and we each managed to land one fish each to add to our dinner. Rob was so hungry that he couldn’t wait for the rest of dinner. Immediately after catching it, he cleaned it out, and poked it into a stick then into the fire. That fish was out of the water so quick that it twitched and its gills moved for a minute or so after it was in the flame. When finished cooking, he made such short work of that fish that any bear that may have watched would have been jealous of Rob’s speed in devouring fish. After I caught my fish, we cooked dinner and had a more civilized meal.
I was tired that night but had an uneasy sleep for fear of being caught in the tent by rain again.
We woke to find our campsite wet. Wet as if a shower had passed in the night but it was only heavy dew. We immediately took down the tent and let it dry in a sunny patch while we had breakfast. We packed up and went on our way.
Motivation sank slowly throughout the day. The trail wove in and out of the trees and was difficult to follow at times. It even pushed Rob’s trail blazing skills to the limit. We wasted a lot of time back tracking and map reading.
After lunch, motivation sank to a new low. Rob lost his flashlight and the pork patty he had was disagreeing with him. We had to stop for uh “temporary gastro-intestinal malfunction and discomfort” (He looked a bit green too.) We began to seriously talk about leaving the trail. I was ready for home that first morning that we were caught in the rain but Rob was my strength. And now that strength was gone.
We reached the Antler Campground on the shore of the Lower Jo-Mary Lake. We set up camp and made dinner. Then we began planning the best way to escape the trail. The trip was over. I wanted to go home, I had enough. Walking back to New York was crazy, and I wanted to enjoy the time remaining of my summer vacation.
Rich showed up. Then Jerry. Then Jerry. Rob went to talk to them at their campsite a short distance away. A few minutes later someone I barely recognized came running back. For the first time all day Rob had a smile on his face. Jerry found his flashlight and held an to it for him. Jerry also was unloading some weight and donated some extra candy and snacks to our cause. Last, and most important of Jerry’s gifts was a pep talk. He screwed up Rob’s confidence and determination, which boosted mine. We were determined to make it for the next sixty miles to Monson.
As an additional motivation booster we had an unscheduled Jiffy Pop. That night I fell asleep to the haunting cry of the loons out on the lake.
At 5:30 my watch alarm went off and we woke to a beautiful sunny day. We had breakfast, packed up and left the campground and the Three Stooges behind. Thanks Jerry. We were mighty motivated though I think I was more so than Rob. I wanted to get to Monson at soon as possible. Rob soon got angry because I was constantly “hurry, hurry, hurry.” It was hard to tell he was mad since we usually do little talking while hiking but I got the hint when I requested a map check.
“Do you think we have enough time?” he snapped at me.
“I just want to get to Monson and I think today will be our twenty-mile day,” I rebutted.
“I want to get to Monson too, but I want to enjoy getting there.”
Point well made.
After we continued walking, a tension remained between us for a while and we walked in a brooding silence. The tension slowly faded.
The sun was hot today. We both sported tank tops below our pack straps. For the first time since we got here our boots were dry.
Rob stopped dead in his tracks. I bumped into him.
I looked in front of him and saw a large snake slide up the trail and into the high grass on the side. Rob asked for the machete. He hates snakes. A few minutes later we ran into another. He took the hiking stick I’d been using. He walked with the machete raised in one hand and probed like a blind man with the stick in the other hand. A few snakes later he got frustrated and asked me to take the lead.
I took the stick and left him with the machete in the rear. I hit the bushes in front of me as we walked to scare off any snakes. I stayed in front for the rest of the morning and early afternoon. We had no more snake events until we were passing a small pond and Rob yelled from behind.
“What?” I turned around and saw him about fifteen feet behind. He was frozen in his tracks and had his hand out like he was trying to grab my pack. His eyes were wide and fixed on my feet. I looked down at my feet, saw nothing, and looked at Rob again. He finally exhaled a long-held breath and relaxed.
“You just walked through a nest of about five snakes!”
“What!” I looked down and spun around looking for these sneaky snakes and caught a glimpse of one as it shot into a small bush. None the worse for it, I continued walking. Soon after, we took a short break then Rob took the lead.
The landscape changed. It became dominated by moss carpeted boulders and fallen trees. The constant up and down to get over the rocks was a slow process. The randomly fallen trees slowed our progress even more. Many were too large to step over so we were constantly going around the up-ended roots. The terrain was unchanged for two miles. The ninety minutes it took us to get out of it lasted forever. We reached a logging road and collapsed on its shoulder- exhausted.
Black flies started biting. We applied some bug repellent and checked the map. Logan Brook Lean-to was a mile away and nine hundred feet up. I looked up the slope in front of us.
This is going to he a rough mile. I don’t want to climb. I’m exhausted and the last section really put me in a bad mood.
Rob must have had the same thoughts. He turned and saluted the rocks and fallen trees with his middle finger. “Snack break?” I suggested. Without replying, he took out our allotment of snacks. He also took out the remaining goodies that Jerry unloaded on us.
Not a bad little feast! We sat in the road for fifteen minutes eating jerky, cheese flavored Ritz crackers, and peanut M-n-M’s.
A bad mix, I thought at first, but it was satisfying and boosted our depleted energy. Fresh as from a night’s rest, we climbed up the nine hundred feet to the lean-to.
When we got there I wanted to scream. I wanted to scream out of frustration. Not only was the lean-to occupied, but it was full and the area around it was dotted with tents. I knew now how Rich must have felt when he first saw us at the Hurd Brook lean-to when we met.
Rob cursed under his breath.
Two people, a young man and woman, approached us in greeting. They informed us that they were all one group and they would yield the lean-to to us. We agreed to take them up on their offer if we couldn’t find a place to set up our tent.
At first, we seriously searched for a spot but the idea of sleeping on a non-rocky surface with a roof above us started look more and more attractive. Before long we were only going through the motions of looking for a spot.
We returned to the two leaders. “We’d like to take you up on your offer.” I looked at the lean-to. It had a tent set up inside it and saw some of the others faces frown slightly at my words.
“Oh”, said the man, “we’ll have that tent out of th--”
“But!” I cut him off, “we don’t need much room so if you could just move some of the equipment in there somewhere else that would give us plenty of room and the other can still fit.” I saw some faces lighten up.
They accepted the compromise and began moving the equipment. We had the sacred dubbing, moved our gear to our share of the lean-to and began setting up our cooking gear. I fetched some water for the night from Logan Brook a hundred feet away or so. When I returned a few minutes later Rob had made a few friends and was deep in conversation.
When I returned he told me that the group was an Outward Bound group out here for the second night out of a month-long trip. Most of the members were our age or younger and obviously new to the outdoors.
“They also gave us this,” he said and showed me a decent serving of dinner they had left over and were going to throw out.
That’s half a meal saved for each of us!
I pulled out my machete and began collecting and chopping wood for a fire.
Rob was in his prime. Surrounded by inexperienced campers he began spinning yarns greatly exaggerated from the truth or totally fictitious. He told the wide-eyed greenhorns about bears and snakes and cliffs and all that stuff. I occasionally added in a “that’s right” just to help him along.
Then the female leader called everyone together for a meeting. Rob and I watched from the lean-to as we ate. They discussed problems they had during the day in retrospect. After that discussion she talked about first-aid. She seemed very competent and I was greatly impressed.
After the meeting we went to sleep.
The scurrying of the awakening Outward Bound group woke us around 5 a.m. We stayed in our bags and watched them hustle in the chilly morning air to make breakfast. I dozed off again for a few minutes. Rob woke me with a shove.
“Here.” He shoved a canteen cup in my face.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“I don’t know but they say it’s good for you. It’s got amino acids.”
“It’s called kasha,” said the female leader whose name I gathered to be Mandy. “It’s a mid-eastern grain,” she continued, “that supplies amino acids that your body doesn’t make.”
I took a taste. It leaves something to be desired but it’s not oatmeal, it’s good for me, and it’s another free meal.
“Here, this may help.” She handed us some cinnamon and syrup. I added the “smothering agents” and gobbled down the newly improved kasha.
By the time we finished, the group was ready to move. We exchanged addresses, took a few pictures, and thanked them for their food, company and hospitality.
“That was a really nice group of people,” I told Rob when they left.
“Yeah! And they unloaded their packs on us a little.” He hold up a small bag of donated left-overs. We cleaned up and left Logan Brook Lean-to behind us as we ascended White Cap Mountain. A few minutes later we met a lady quickly hopping down the slope from rock to rock.
“Hi,” Rob greeted.
“Hi,” she returned.
“Where are you coming from?” I asked.
“Carl A. Newell Lean-to,” she drawled in a deep southern accent.
“When did you leave?” I asked surprised that she covered the distance between lean-tos this early in the morning.
“About two hours ago.”
“You were moving!” Rob obviously recalled the distance to the next lean-to.
She was anxious to get to the out-house at the lean-to so we cut the conversation short and said good-bye.
The ascent was quick since we started from halfway up. The summit was just at tree-line so there were no trees to block the cold morning wind. We took a short break to admire the view. We could see Mount Katahdin still standing high from over fifty miles as the crow flies.
We left when we got too cold. Then we had a crisis. We lost the trail! The white trail blazes were difficult to spot on the white and yellow lichen-encrusted rocks. We searched for a long and cold twenty minutes until we stumbled upon the trail.
We walked atop the gently rolling mountain ridge for most of the day. Around lunch time, again, the clouds rolled in and it was overcast for the afternoon. We reached the Carl A. Newell lean-to just as it started to rain again.
After the appropriate dubbing, we set up our gear and made a fire. The rain continually weakened the fire and we began to grow cold. Luckily, Rob found a piece of sheet metal left over from the out-house construction and we made a roof over the fire. We used up most of our “extra” food to combat the cold and sinking feeling that the rain was bringing.
We were finished eating and in our sleeping bags studying the maps by flashlight for the quickest way to reach Monson when we heard a lot of activity outside the lean-to. We stealthily crept to the front of the lean-to and on Rob’s cue we simultaneously flashed our lights in the direction of the noise. A grey rabbit looked at the light then shot into a bush. Outside of the circle of light I caught a glimpse of an other grey shadow dart through the almost complete darkness and into a bush with a loud rustle. Rob spotted an other one. “They’re all over the place!”
We immediately switched into “hunter mode and pooled ideas to catch a rabbit without the crossbow or slingshot. After observing the rabbits for a little time we placed a cord loop in a spot where they stopped frequently and waited. A rabbit stepped into the loop and stopped to chew some grass. Rob slowly pulled the string and I watched it close around the animal’s feet. Just -as the loop touched it, the rabbit jumped.
Next, we spread a hammock in the same spot and covered it with leaves. The same rabbit came back and sat in the same spot. Rob quietly counted, and on three we yanked the ropes tied to the hammock for all we were worth. We both flew back into the lean-to, landed on our backs, and the hammock-net landed on top of us empty! We tried a few more times in vain then I decided to turn in but Rob continued.
I Was dozing off, on the outskirts of la-la land. Suddenly, I heard Rob move and a half moment after that he landed on me with his feet in the air. A heartbeat later, the net floated down across us-empty. Rob finally gave up and packed it in.
I woke to the hiss of rain. By the time breakfast was over, we decided to stay for the day and rest. We gathered wood and did our daily chores so that we wouldn’t have to go into the rain for the rest of the day. While cracking wood over a rock for the fire a piece bounced up and hit me square in the face. “Ah!” I grabbed my face. My eyes were forced shut and I was dazed for a moment. I was relieved when I was finally able to open my eyes and saw that they were still working. Rob told me that all that I got was a cut across the bridge of my rose.
That’s all that happened! Hmm! It hurt hell!
After the wood pile was big enough we stayed in the lean-to all day-not to come out again. We looked at maps, napped, then looked some more. After hours of studying we concluded that, except for death, we won’t get out of this for at least two days.
To give ourselves a reason to survive the next two days and to cure boredom, we made lists of things to do back home: gluttonous feasts, barbeques, stacks of pancakes, sleeping late, being lazy. We argued about which movies we wanted to see first. We also promised each other that not only were we not going to be hungry for the first twenty-four hours back in civilization, but we would be painfully bloated for the entirety of that first day.
We also occupied our time by telling jokes and singing stupid songs. Rob introduced me to a song he heard on the radio called “The Mayberry Rap.”
Then he’d bug his eyes out like Don Knotts and continue the song.
Luckily no one came by because we were singing and laughing and being stupid all afternoon.
Eventually, grey sky faded into nightfall. We played with the rabbits and went to sleep.
We woke, had breakfast, packed up and were on the trail by 7:50. Our packs felt light. Maybe we were well rested. Maybe we ate a lot of the weight yesterday. We quickly descended the South side of White Cap Mountain. On our Way down, it began to rain again. Motivation dropped and we took out our ponchos. At the foot of the mountain we reached “the Hermitage”. It was a section of old trees reserved as a special park. The pine trees were easily over a hundred and fifty feet high and some dated back to the Revolutionary War. Rob and I were able to walk side by side on the dirt road that passed through the dark grey woods. The rain continued to hiss.
Rob started to sing cadence in a low voice. He was trying to boost his motivation.
I joined in for the chorus.
We continued our singing until we passed through the Hermitage. We reached the edge of the high trees and I looked ahead and beheld the last thing in the world I wanted to see- the Pleasant River! Seventy-five feet of knee-deep water and no foot bridge.
Rob sat on a rock and began removing his boots and socks. I stood motionless, cursing in my mind, searching for any options…none! I was cold and wet and didn’t want to do this. I had no choice. I sat down and uncovered my feet. Rob went in first, inhaling sharply between his teeth every time the water rose higher up his leg. He watched his feet and carefully stepped along the pebbly river bed.
I stepped in. Aaaaaaah I never felt water this cold in my life. It was painfully cold. My foot slipped down a small rock and the bang intensified the pain. Rob was moving too slowly for me and the pain wasn’t subsiding. I passed Rob and headed for the opposite shore moving as fast as the current and slippery rocks allowed. I reached the far bank and my legs below the knees were numb. Rob joined me and we sat down and rubbed our feet for several minutes.
On this side of the river the trail curved up the next mountain. We ascended Chairback Mountain. At first, the climb was in steep woodland, then it gradually changed to evergreen and the rocks became bare. The rain changed from heavy drops to drizzle to mist as we ascended into the cloud. Near the top, the slope became steep and we had to climb with our hands. Visibility shrank to a misty fifteen feet and the markers were hard to spot.
Finally we reached the top. We knew that only because we stopped going up. We were engulfed in a thick white mist. I turned around and looked into the featureless mist. I felt that there was a great view beyond the misty veil but that reward for climbing this mountain was stolen from me.
We skipped lunch and continued walking, uninterrupted. The rest of the day was easier but it was just as wet and misty. Around 2:30 we reached the Chairback Gap Lean-to. We were cold and miserable and quickly went through the dubbing ceremony.
‘There’s someone who is feeling worse than us,” Rob pointed.
My gaze followed his finger and then spotted what he was referring to. A large owl-looking bird, its head pulled into its chest as far as it can and its feathers fluffed up, was looking at us. The poor fellow looked more miserable and unmotivated than us. He continued watching us as we bustled about, and he didn’t move.
We made dinner and ate in the rear of the shelter. I found some candles in a corner of the ceiling and lit then up hoping for some extra heat. We also used them to bring some water to near-boiling for hot chocolate.
We were sipping the fortified cocoa beverage (as the military refers to it) and studying the maps when I heard motion. I looked through the spaces in the log walls and caught a glimpse of a hiker. A moment later, he was dropping his pack in front of the lean-to.
"Hello,” he said, “You guys must be the Marines.”
“I’ve been following you guys for days and was beginning to think that I’d never catch you. My name is Bruce.”
Definitely, I friendly person. Looks a bit strange, but friendly. He had dark hair, a beard and mustache and looked too happy to be all there. He pulled off his colorful knitted cap that looked like his mother made it and he was wearing it to make her happy. It covered his ears and tied under the chin like a baby bonnet. He wrung out the excess water in the cap. “The rain in Maine falls mainly on the brain.” I didn’t know if he said it to himself or to us.
“It seems as if the rain doesn’t get you down.” Rob commented.
“It’s good for the flowers, besides, getting mad at it isn’t going to stop it. It’ll only ruin your walk.”
Words to live by.
He set up his stove and prepared macaroni and cheese, which he told us is all he has eaten in the last week or so. We continued talking while he cooked and ate his dinner. He was an interesting person. Freshly divorced (and still hurting from it) and recently unemployed. He planned on hiking until he ran out of money then he’d go home and get a new job. All three of us went to sleep at the same time.
We three woke together but Bruce was packed and ready and left forty minutes before we did. We saw a few patches of blue in the sky and we hoped that it meant the end of the rain. All hope died when my scalp began to get wet again.
We walked in the rain for a couple of hours with no incident. Then I heard a faint, distant rumble. It sounded like a lumber jack had just cut down a tree on the neighboring mountain. Then I heard another, but this one continued to rumble. “Rob, I think we’re in for a pounding.”
We began to climb up Barren Mountain when the thunder got louder and the rain increased. It turned into a torrential downpour. Water slid down my arm and ran off my fingertips as I walked. I felt a cool stream flowing down my leg. The rain fell harder (and colder I noticed) and I began to see flashes. I started timing the distance between flash and thunder.
One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand f-.
Forty-four hundred feet.
The lightning got closer and we continued to ascend into the storm cloud. The rain got colder again. “All we need now is some hail!” I yelled up to Rob. I felt it was inevitable. A few moments later it began to hail.
I started climbing a steep section on all fours with my hands grabbing the muddy rocks when a flash threw my shadow in front of me. It was a scene out of my nightmare. An icicle of fear froze my spine.
One thousand one, one thousand two, one thou-
I climbed quicker. This is it, I thought. I’ve got a bad feeling this is the end. It’ll be quick maybe a burning sensation on my scalp for an instant and then lights out.
I wondered what it was like to die and seriously considered the possibility. I thought of my family and friends. I’ve been a good person. It’s been a good life. It’ll be over in an instant and I won’t feel any pain. It’ll be quick. I accepted my inevitable death as something I couldn’t change and it’ll be too quick to do anything about it. I accepted it and grew calm. I waited for it unafraid.
The air tingled. My neck hair prickled. A brilliant flash forced my eyes closed. I heard unrestrained power and energy slice through the air. Half an instant later, a deafening explosion shook the ground and air.
I woke from my “death trance.” I suddenly wanted to live. I looked up and saw Rob, crouched over as if he dodged the lightening. He looked at me. I could see that he feared for his life also. The explosion died into a rumble and we simultaneously scrambled up to the crest then bolted into a sprint. We ran out of sheer panic. Through puddles, bushes, over rocks and logs. We just kept running. The lightning was intense. Sparks dropped all around and my ears started to hurt. All I could see of Rob was a glimpse of his boot as he cornered a turn or I’d see a bush shake that he ran past a moment before. It was two miles to the Cloud Pond Lean-to and we ran all the way- full packs and all.
When we got there we saw Bruce huddled inside the worst lean-to we’d seen along the entire trail. It had an unlevel dirt floor which was currently flowing into the pond a few feet away.
I started to get cold so I took off my pack to get some more clothes. A puddle from the top of my pack spilled over and ran down my back soaking the last dry spot I had on my body.
The three of us talked for a while. The storm died out and passed. Bruce left right away and we stayed behind to have lunch and dry off. The sky cleared while we ate lunch.
Rob decided to share some insight with me. “That was a Marine Storm,” he said. “Those were Marine Clouds that came in and pushed those belligerent rain clouds out of here. That’s why it was so intense. The Marine Clouds were up there kicking some Communist cloud ass!”
“Oh, I see,” I said.
We dried off in the hot noon sun for a little then hit the trail again. Within an hour, the sun faded and the clouds rolled in again.
“You see, the Marine Clouds came in and kicked the Commie Clouds outta here and handed control over to the Army clouds. And they screwed things up like they usually do. So the Libyan Clouds are sneaking back in while the Army Trash Clouds are sitting on their butts being stupid!”
“Oh, I see.”
We started descending the last hill when it started raining again. We were almost there. The road to Monson was at the bottom of the hill on the other side of the river. Our motivation was high and we moved quickly. The rain didn’t get us down anymore although Rob mumbled “army trash” every once in a while. The thought of a real bed in a real house and a real meal at Shaw’s place kept me moving fast.
We reached the Long Pond Stream and it was raining heavily. I could see the road to civilization a few yards past the far shore.
The river was swollen and running wildly rapid. It looked bad.
I... have to get across! We can’t be stopped now- so close.
I screamed at Rob over the roar of the rapids, rain and wind, “you go upstream and I’ll go down. Look for a good spot to cross!” We split and went our own ways. It looked impossible. The water rushed over boulders and shot through channels between the rocks.
I tested a few spots. Each time, my foot was swept away on about the third step. No luck here. I looked up towards Rob. He gave me a sign that I thought was an “Okay” sign so I went into the bushes on the bank and headed upstream to Rob’s position. When I got near his position I emerged from the bushes and stood on a boulder. Rob was not to be seen. I looked around- nothing but rocks and splashing white water.
Oh my God. A sinking feeling pulled at my insides.
“Rob! . . .” Nothing. “ROB! . . . “The water roared. He tried crossing and the water pulled him under. I strained to see any sign of him. With his pack on he would easily be pinned under the water.
“ROB!” Time was running out. If he was under there he’d be running out of air. I unbuckled my pack and prepared to take it off to jump in.
One last “ROB!” before I jump in. Nothing but the churning water.
“- rah!” I faintly heard from behind. Rob came running toward me. He obviously saw the panic I was in and let me know he was alright.
“I thought you signaled that this was a good spot to cross and fell in crossing.”
“I said I was going upstream.”
I caught my breath. “I didn’t find anything down there how about you?”
“Nothing. This looks like the best spot.”
“Okay, let’s go for it.”
Rob went first. He unbuckled his pack and stepped the water. He probed the ground with a walking stick searching for good footing. He got about two steps and the current got too strong to take another.
“This isn’t going to work!” He screamed over the roar.
My mind raced for a solution to our problem. Then I remembered a magazine article 1 had read about crossing rivers. “I know what to do...” Rob read the same article and the came to him also. He threw away the walking stick.
“The Pivot!” We said together.
I waded out to him. We faced each other at arms length and grabbed each other’s shoulders as securely as we could.
“I’ll go first,” I said. “You ready?”
I held on to him and moved one foot. I found secure spot on the bottom and wedged my foot between two rocks. “Okay I’m set.”
Rob moved one foot then the other. The water was above our knees and exerting pressure on the back of my legs like I’ve never experienced before.
We moved as a team, one foot at a time while the other three held secure footing. This technique was called “the pivot” because the circle of people (in our case- two) slowly spins as if on a pivot as it crosses the river. We reached an eddy behind a boulder and took a short rest, still locked in position. When we were ready, we moved again. The storm-swollen river reached up to my hips and my foot was swept frequently as I probed for footing.
“I’m set. Okay go.”
“I’m locked in. Go ahead.”
It took us ten minutes to cross the fifty feet of rapids.
We reached the far bank and sat down in the dying rain. I looked back across the river. The water looked terrible. If we didn’t know what to do, we could have easily been killed. Suddenly I felt grateful, more than I think I ever have been before. Silently, I thanked the friend who gave me the article.
“We made it, Phil.”
“Yep, we really did.”
The rain stopped again while we rested. The sun came out and we started our walk down the road to Monson. We walked side-by-side and laughed about it.