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Appalachian Trail – Crockers

Appalachian Trail – August 10, 2013
Ugggghhhhh, I moaned as I rolled over early this morning. The ache in my legs was still waking me at midnight each night, and as I fumbled through the miscellaneous crap on the nightstand next to my bed, looking for ibuprofen, I wondered how much longer the lactic acid from my muscle stripping would keep me up all night. Unfortunately, the routine was consistent – wake at midnight, overdose on vitamin I, and then toss and turn until about 4 AM.

At the first inkling of dawn, I was typically moving down the trail. I told people it was because I loved the mornings but because I was old and slow and needed a few extra hours to make the miles I wanted for the day. I was also usually about over the constant aching and needed to move.

I finished packing my backpack, left the motel room, and headed for the convenience store. I was sure it would be open at 6 AM, forgetting I was in a small rural town. Finding it closed,  I went in search of another store. The first one I passed appeared to sell plants and concrete lawn ornament gnomes, but my pack was complete, although it would have been fun to place one of the creepy gnomes alongside the trail.   The town was eerily quiet – no traffic, or people, so I did what any good long-distance hiker would do – went to find food.

I knew the White Wolf Inn served breakfast at 7 AM, so I poked my head in and asked if I could be fed early. A large omelet and biscuits and gravy later, I rolled out the door and down to my room. I flopped on the bed for a few minutes as food cramps rolled across my tightly packed belly. As usual, I was gluttonous and could no longer move with ease.

I finally rolled off the bed and finished packing my toiletries. About five minutes later, I was on the road in front of the general store with my thumb out. Stratton sleeps in on the weekends, as there is zero traffic. A young man approached me and asked if I wanted a ride to the trailhead. I happily said yes! He said he needed something in the store, but his girlfriend and her dog were in the parking lot around the corner.

I trotted around the old brick building and introduced myself to Ellie and her cattle dog Jack. I explained her BF had offered me a ride to the trail, and she gladly began to make room in the car’s back seat.   I stuffed myself into the car, and Jack promptly sat on my lap and proceeded to wash my face.   They remarked on his affection for me, but I just explained I had only showered three times yesterday and probably just still had a “trail scent” on me. They were headed up to Horn pond for an overnighter, and it was fun to chat with them as we headed for the trailhead. Finally, we all fell out of the car and unbent our limbs, stretching and smiling as we said our goodbyes and headed in opposite directions.

The hike up South Crocker was long, steep, and rocky, but it was not the rock-picking, hand-over-hand climbs I had experienced over the last two days. Maybe I had finally left the Maine brutality. Thanks to 10,000 calories, I moved along steadily until I reached the summit. Unfortunately, there were no real views, so I decided to detour to North Crocker peak.

North Crocker views were about 50 yards off the trail.   I held my hiking poles together as I pushed through the slightly overgrown path and headed for North Crocker Peak. Coming out onto a rock outcropping, I found two local hikers out for the day, and we all ate and chatted about Maine, along with other “trailer” topics. We compared trail notes, and they asked questions, interested in my hike also. Finally, they said they were going to head back down the mountain, and once they left, I removed my shoes and socks and laid them out on the rocks to dry. I then stretched out myself and baked for another 20 minutes while I ate a PB&J burrito.   Breakfast was but a distant memory, and I needed my energy!

The climb down to Caribou Valley was rock-picking at its best. I moved straight down the mountain, searching for stable foot placement with each step down onto the rocks – no trail, just large and small, very sharp stones. Sometimes, I would sit and lower myself, hoping that the wet rock I was about to hit hard with over 150 pounds would be gripped by my shoe. I can typically judge the rock surface, but sometimes they are misleading, and I slide. I needed not to slide on this downhill, so I just stepped and cursed. For those that don’t know – profanity increases traction. Sometimes, I would look down and determine how far I would go before stopping if the filth did not work. These fun mind exercises got me through the trying moments and added a little variety to the more challenging climbs.

Reaching the bottom, I rock hopped across a stream/river filled with giant boulders and then swayed across a wooden plank perched on top of two boulders. It sprang under me like a diving board and was a little unnerving,  but that was my fault as I stepped down too quickly.   Adrenaline was still flowing from the rock scramble.

Crossing the scary river, I began my climb up Sugar Loaf, which included a hand-over-hand climb up a rather long rock scramble. This was turning into a classic Maine hiking day. In several places, I would throw my poles up as far as I could and look for the best hand and foot holds to use for the pull-up as I heaved myself and my pack up and over the large boulders and rock slabs. I was glad I was going up and not down. Although occasionally paused during the climb, I was rewarded with incredible views.

Finally, reaching the top, I followed the ridge to Spaulding mountain. It was getting late, and as I dodged roots and rocks through the darkening spruce forest, I was surprised at how cold it was becoming. I stopped to put on my wind jacket and kept moving. Yesterday’s rain must have brought in a cold front.

The trail down from Spaulding Mountain included more knee-crunching rock picking down to the bottom, and as I reached the turn-off to the lean-to, I met a hiker coming down to the creek for water. I asked about tent sites, and he told me many teenagers had taken them. I was shocked and could not imagine large groups of teens consuming all the campsites in Maine. It is probably hard to detect the sarcasm here, but it is there. I was hiking Maine at peak season for forced hikes by grumpy teenagers. This was only frustrating because, in many instances, it was hard to find an open spot in the dense Maine growth.

The same hiker told me there was a good tent site further down the trail, around the corner. I continued and found an open space filled with rocks. I went a little further, thinking that it could not be the “good tent site” he had mentioned, only to give up and head back to it. I spent five minutes trying to angle the tarp between the rocks, then quickly set up everything, and immediately climbed into my tarp after fast shoveling down a few snacks.   It was cold! Like asking other hikers about hiking conditions, asking about good tent sites is also relative. He may have grown up hiking and camping only in Maine or another similar state lacking all topsoil. In his opinion, this was an excellent tent spot.

It was good to have stopped and to be home in my nest for the night, listening to the cold wind blowing against, and rattling, the thin little tarp. The disadvantage of a tarp over a tent in chilly weather is that it provides little protection from cold and wind. So I shimmied further into my quilt and pulled it around me as frigid gusts blew under the edge of the tarp. This is why I carry the twenty-degree quilt year around. I am a giant cold weenie and can only sleep if very warm.

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