We had breakfast at a picnic table at Abol Bridge. Most of our meals have been at picnic tables up to this point. Serious luxury. Then, into the wilderness – a sign warns all who enter of the difficulty of the terrain and the isolation that will accompany you along your journey. And that of you are not prepared or do not have enough food, you had better turn around. Now.
At Hurd Brook we ran into Old Man, who we had heard of in Monson at Shaw’s when we stopped to get fuel and water for Baxter State Park – he is Hippie Chick’s step dad and owns the AT Lodge in Millenocket. He’s usually your first or last stop on the trail, either before you head home or you head into the wilderness, unless your parents drop you off at the base of Katahdin.
Old Man had a crew to check in with the Hurd Brook lean-to, finding traces of garbage in firepits (plastic and foil do not burn off like wood) the occasional apple core (still counts as trace and will attract animals, even though it’s biodegradable), or ditched-gear like the two machetes Old Man found at the shelter. Bushwhacking isn’t needed and is definitely not encouraged by the principals of Leave No Trace. The Wilderness is not THAT much of a wilderness – though it yields many a wildflower. Who would want to whack those?
We had dinner on the rocks in the water, where we enjoyed pecans from Milam’s Aunt Suzanne with a bit of chocolate spread. Hopping out to the dinner spot was a bit difficult, and while I had lost my initial walking stick acquired on Katahdin, I had another in tow named James 2 to help me over the water (named for his predecessor, who I posthumously named James after a favorite character of mine).
We slept at Rainbow Stream Campsite, and in the morning we heard our site-fellows, two young men from Tennessee, discussing the possibility of rain and whether the grouse who had flitted around the leaves of our campsite through the night had indeed been a grouse or something a tad more menacing.
“I think it’s going to rain,” said one of the boys, the lesser prepared of the two.
“When are you gonna use those tampons you brought with you?” The other young man jabbed at the first, a commentary on his status as a man for being worried about the rain. And then, “Oh shit. I think it is going to rain.” The rain doesn’t care whether you need tampons or not – it will pour on you regardless of your ability to menstruate.
The rain made bugs go away but melted the trail into sludge. Some sections of the trail had rock or log bridges places by trail crews aware of the murkier bits, but other parts were flooded into quicksand-like conditions – some places were so sunken that not even the sticks, logs, and smaller rocks that other hikers tossed in would keep you from dipping ankle-deep into the sodden dirt.
We lunched at Rainbow Stream lean-to looking out over the rushing stream over which the Southbounders had to cross a precarious-looking log bridge, slick with the morning rain. A group who was behind us (and soon ahead of us) came one by one over the bridge, drenched, all male and hiking home to the south, but none of them impressed me as much as Breezy.
She had left the last shelter at 6am and already had a full hike under her belt – if she’d been wearing a belt, or rain gear, or a bra. She plowed into the shelter, soaked, audibly expressed her disgust at the cigarettes the boys had lit up under the overhang and a generalized chagrin toward their machismo, and at an exactly timed moment bared breast to change out of her wet clothes – to no other witness but me (in a shelter packed with men). Soon after that I also stopped hiking in my bra.
Milam and I split up after that for the day, meeting up for water and eventually to sleep, which is unfortunate as my ascent and descent over the small mountain before the Wadleigh Stream shelter was chock-full of slapstick falls. I fell. A lot. I fell on my ass, on my knees, twice in a row, once where I cut open my pants and my leg – but my favorite fall was when, as I was attempting to get back up, I kicked dirt (hopefully only dirt) into my mouth and had such a violently loud reaction that every bird within a quarter mile fled the area, loudly, so as to warn all other birds of my crazed mud-eating presence.