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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 night stand 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.  The routine was consistent – wake at midnight, overdose on vitamin I, and then toss and turn until about 4AM.

At the first inkling of dawn, I was typically moving down the trail.  I told people it was because I loved the mornings, but it was really 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 just needed to move.

I finished packing my backpack, and left the motel room, headed for the convenience store.  I was sure it would be open at 6AM, 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 full, 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 7AM 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 had been a glutton, and could no longer move with ease.

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

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 back seat of the car.   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 “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 trail head.  We all fell out of the car and unbent our limbs, stretching and smiling as we said our good byes 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 at a steady pace, until I reached the summit.  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 over grown trail, 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 “trailey” 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 it’s 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 pointy rocks.  In some cases, I would just 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 down hill, so I just stepped and cursed.  For those that don’t know – profanity increases traction.  Sometimes, I would look down and try to determine how far I would go before stopping, if the profanity did not work.  These types of 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 big 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 just 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.  Pausing occasionally in the climb I was rewarded by incredible views.

Finally, reaching the top, I followed the ridge over 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 a large group of teenagers had taken them all.  I was shocked, and could not imagine large groups of teens consuming all the camp sites 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 then told me there was a good tent site further down the trail, around the corner.  I continued on and found an open space filled with rocks.  I went a little further, thinking that 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, and then quickly set up everything, and immediately climbed into my tarp after quickly shoveling down a few snacks.   It was cold!  Just 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 in some other 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.  I shimmied further down 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 big cold weenie, and can only sleep if very warm.

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