Dear Herm’s Hikers,
Greetings from Monson, Maine, the gateway to Katahdin and the beginning of The Wilderness, the last 100 miles of the trail. Southern Maine has been a hiking adventure. The mountains are not as tall as the Whites, but at times, they are just as difficult. Hiking in Maine can be best described as rocks, roots, and stretches of something that resembles a hiking trail. The good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful! There have been a number of steep mountain climbs with hiking above the ridge line for a few miles. Descending the mountains, there have been numerous bogs, marshes, and muddy boots, but NO MOOSE sighting to date. I do have a rather fine collection of moose (metal, plastic and wood) from various commercial establishments in the trail towns. Everybody’s cashing in on the moose craze. Now I just have to see one. Guess, I will have to take one of those moose sightseeing tours when the hike is over if I don’t see any between Monson and Katahdin. But there’s more to Maine than moose and lobster? Yeah, I know rather hard to believe. So the question remains - what does Maine have that the other states on the trail do not? Ponds ponds and more ponds,hundreds of scenic ponds tucked against the mountains. If Minnesota is the land of a thousand lakes, then Maine is the land of a thousand ponds. Seems that many New Englanders have waterfront cabins as a summer getaways. What a fantastic way to spend a summer vacation. And surprisingly, the water is not that cold. Believe me, after being in the green tunnel for over 1,500 miles, it is emotionally and spiritually refreshing to see water. Ah, clear, cool water (Hey that’s what the Beach Boys once sang about). Water, a baptism a rebirth, the essential of life.
Stayed at the Gull Pond Lodge in Rangeley, a great little hostel right on a pond, Gull Pond as a matter of fact. Even had a chance to take out the kayak in search of the elusive loon. Talk about a tough bird to capture on film, it’s the loon. Every time I got within camera range, the duck would dive and surface about 30 to 50 yards away. I did manage to sneak up and take a great picture of a beautiful duck which looked like a loon. For some unexplained reason, the duck set on the water floating rather casually. Upon closer inspection (I was wondering why the duck didn’t dive or fly away), I quickly discovered, my duck was a decoy that was anchored to the bottom of the pond. You can take Son-Dance out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of Son-Dance. At least I got a great picture of a decoy. What a wonderful stay at the Gull Pond. My special thanks to Bob, the owner, and Bonnie for their hospitality. However, there’s was some sadness mixed with the happiness. While at the hostel, Bob’s 14 year-old Chocolate labrador named Gwendy (now that’s one old dog) started to experience difficulties in walking and standing. It was a tender and heartfelt moment to watch Bob care for his faithful canine companion of so many years. The next day I drove with Bob to the vet’s in Farmington. They keep Gwendy overnight, and since I was back on the trail that day, I didn’t find out what happened at the vet’s. But Bob had come to terms with the likelihood that Gwendy would have to be put to sleep. She was suffering, and it was plain to see that Bob was also suffering.
Finally after 100 miles of mountains, I reached the Kennebec River, another milestone on the trail, in addition to reaching the 2,000 mark. The ferry runs from 9 to 11 and 2 to 4. Arrived at about 1 o’clock and had to wait an hour for Dave, the ferryman to arrive. Well, the vessel is not exactly a ferry but a 16 ft. canoe that ferries hikers across a rather dangerous stretch of river. The Kennebec has a dam upriver that releases water for rafters and kayakers. As a result, the river is prone to sudden surges in depth. IN 1985, a hiker got caught in a surge and was washed downriver to their death. Even at low level, the water at the crossing is knee to chest deep over a bed of slippery rocks. I would have hand cut a grove of trees with my Swiss army knife and built a raft of logs before attempting to ford the river with a backpack on my back or held over my head.
After crossing the Keenebec, it was back on the trail at the town of Caratunk. Caratunk has a post office and a field office for the forest service, and that’s it. There were some great old buildings that could be used as a set for a Clint Eastwood western, but that was it. Not even a soda machine. Looking for a place to rest my weary head, I hitched a ride to Northern Outdoors Resort about 2 miles north of the trail crossing. With the weekend, not a room was to be found at iMaine’s northern capital of whitewater rafting. But it sure looked like a fun place to go rafting! It would be the perfect set for a whitewater rafting movie starring Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray and Chevy Chase. It was wild and crazy! A lot of estrogen and testosterone in the air! Also couldn’t find a room at the Sterling Inn a miles west of the trail (they were having a wedding), so I hitched a ride to Bingham, 16 miles south to stay at the Eagle’s Nest Lodge. What great advice from a day-hiker! What a great stay! For 30 bucks a night, I had a house to myself, bedroom, kitchen, living room, and TV. Ah. life is good on the trail so good in fact the next day I hiked about 13 miles to Moxie Pond Road and then accepted a ride from a day hiker for another ride into Bingham and another night a the Eagle’s Nest. Never turn down “trail magic’ or a “trail angel.” That’s a commandant of the trail. Had a great, but slow ride, into town with Peter Davis, who provided the narration for a history tour of life in Bingham, the Canada Road and the Somerset Railway. Thanks Peter for a great history lesson! A fellow local history buff (that’s me) salutes you! And thank you Cathy and Mike for your hospitality at the Eagle’s Nest, the best kept secret on the trail! And Mike, thanks for the home-cooked dinner. It was a real treat to eat real food.
Time to go and explore the town of Monson and wait for Rainbow Brite (that’s Mrs. T) to arrive! We started the hike together and so we shall end the hike together. As the miles dwindle so do stories from the trail, but I still have some great ones to tell. I always wondered how my spiritual journey would end. I think I have found the answer in Monson. And, once again, it involves Paul (Paul the Apostle and Paul the Thur-hiker) on the road to Katahdin. The irony is just fascinating! Intriguing! Spellbinding! As the hike reaches its end, I’m glad, but sad, to see it come to an end. My days as a gypsy hiker are numbered. Before long, it will be back to civilization.
Keep me in your prayers for these final miles. Hike with your angels and hike in peace!