Although I didn’t die on Katahdin, I was black and blue from the knees down and took a zero. I didn’t leave Hollywood all day. The only time I exerted any hustle was when a chipmunk threatened to eat the Greek Chocolate, which had been left out while Milam and his parents paddled on Daicey Pond. I shook about five pounds off Vanessa, and spent one last night as a car camper.
Our first milestone was to get out of Baxter State Park, which called for 14 or so miles before even getting into the wilderness. The bugs in Baxter weren’t too bad to begin with, but as we continued farther onto the trail we were happy to have headnets to protect us from mosquitoes. They became a necessity in the wilderness, as swarms would accost you for blood at every pause.
The headnets, arguably the most fashionable piece of hiking apparel, were peculiar to acclimate to and were something like a sneaky glass door, in terms of drinking, having a snack break, wiping sweat from one’s brow, and spitting – which Milam did, before remembering to lift his net. We learned quickly after that.
We also learned quickly that our terrain was composed not just of rocks, but roots and sludge. Even while surrounded by green life, there’s clear erosion on the trail, with roots formed into perfect steps (although their texture is slippery and sometimes renders their stair-like quality moot) and new paths being made to circumvent mud pools.
Only a few times did we need to find a new path for ourselves – fording. The first ford across which we came was high as the snow had just finished melting (Milam threw a snowball at me on top of Katahdin), and we had to find an alternative ford downstream of where the AT directly crossed. After successfully getting our stuff across, we enjoyed a well deserved swim.
It was a fairly leisurely day, with each meal at a picnic table, but we quickly realized that we still had too much weight and our food was not calorie dense enough. We weren’t going to make it the 14 miles to the first shelter into the hundred-mile wilderness, Hurd Brook lean-to, and were feeling a bit discouraged. Just as we were rounding a bend in the trail, dragging our exhaustion off the back of our packs, we saw that we weren’t the only ones who needed a swim that day – a moose bull was shoulder-deep into a pond, dunking its snout to drink and eat.
It startled me, as it easily could have come sloshing violently out of the water in charge at us, but it took a look over its shoulder at our ogling it and simply continued its business. Milam said he thinks of moose as these ghostlike benevolent protectors of the forest, nocturnal colossi with 8-foot racks watching over the trail (and pooping on it) (a lot).
We stealth-camped in a perfect clearing just outside of Baxter State Park, hung our first bear bag, and fell asleep feeling accomplished as logging trucks lulled us to bed. For the first time we felt the exhilaration of absolutely no one knowing where we were.