AT day 13. Mile 177. Maine. Pain. Rain. 

Appalachian Trail journal. Day 13. Maine.

I am not enamored with the AT, yet. The PCT could do no wrong by me, I loved it so. But the AT, oh, the AT, ggrrrrr …

Since I left Monson, my days have had a predictable pattern.  I wake up tired, unsure whether it’s raining or just dripping fog from the trees.  I triple dry-bag my gear,  put my achy feet in wet socks and wet shoes, and wobble down the trail.  It’s usually sunny by then.  But I don’t see the sun because it’s shielded by the green roof,  the shelter of infinite leaves all vying for the light. 

It’s alright,  it’s not like I can look up anyway. A cloud of gnats hovers in front of my eyeballs, matching my speed exactly. If I stop, they stick to the sweat on my face. If I accelerate, they dive-bomb my eyeballs. By gnat consensus, whoever dies in eyeballs is granted immediate, uncontested entry into bug Valhalla.  I am certain of it.

I also can’t look up because of all the damn roots and rocks.  No two steps are the same. I have no rhythm. Walking without rhythm is exhausting, and I imagine that the roots only await their chance to take me down. Best would be my face on a sharp rock, but they’ll settle for a twisted ankle. 

I turn inward to escape my bleak circumstances, but it’s just as dark in there. That’s one of the gifts of the trail. So much space is created in the mind that any unresolved issue, grudge or resentment bubbles up to be released into the wild.  But this release requires a clear heart, not a heart already seething with discontent. The terrain and my dark thoughts create the perfect volatile mind cocktail. Suddenly, I am pissed. Anger knots my stomach and clench my teeth. I walk faster. My feet hurt,  and I don’t care. I stab my toes, and I don’t care. I slip, and my poles catch me.

My poles always catch me, sometimes with my face only a few inches from injury – out here, this could be really bad – but they catch me.  That’s usually the turning point. Gratitude replaces anger. Gratitude for my poles, so tough, so light and reliable. Gratitude for my pack, so effortless and compact on my back … gratitude!

Gratitude is an integral part of my gear system. I don’t filter the water I drink. Instead, I love it. I take the time to deeply appreciate it, its beauty, its life giving energy.  I thank it and the stream where I collect it, and know for a fact that I am safe drinking it.  I don’t carry insect repellent. Mosquitoes don’t bite me. I have a long history of appreciating these misunderstood little creatures. I don’t carry bear spray. I am grateful for these powerful animals.  I love them, and I believe they know it. I don’t carry Crocs to protect my feet at camp. I am grateful for the opportunity to ground myself barefoot and boost my immune system.  All in all,  gratitude probably saves me a couple of pounds on my back. And it weighs nothing. And it works. 

I met Firefly and Loon (the man formerly known as John) on day 2. Loon was across the river when I came upon them. Firefly was still on the bank on my side. She seemed anxious.“I hate these!” she pointed to the precarious rock path across the river. “You should change your mind about it.” I told her. “Try this instead, ‘River,  I love you. Please grant me safe passage. Thank you'” And I walked across the river without a pause. Firefly thanked the river and crossed right behind me, confident and safe. Loon asked “What did you tell her? I’ve never seen her cross a river so fast!” It really works. 

So, if I know it works,  it seems all these things that pissess me off are simply indicators of where my relations aren’t clean.  I don’t like mice.  Mice chew through my tent and eat my food. I don’t like gnats. They fly in my eyeballs. I also have adversarial relationships with wet socks, slanted or uneven ground under my tent, steep uphill, slick roots, rocky downhills and sun-blocking canopy … so pretty much the whole of the AT in Maine. 

I have been trying to work on my attitude problem about it. I mean, I can see that the forest is gorgeous, but I don’t always love it, yet. And, honestly, I think it doesn’t care much for me either. On day 3, I hugged a tree by the side of the trail. I have hugged trees all over the world.  I always get a happy feeling when I do – a love returned kinda warm glow. But when I hugged this one,  I felt annoyance.  I wasn’t annoyed,  the tree was.  Two other tree huggers have since shared similar experiences. Loon says this forest feels like Fanghorn. It has neither patience nor care for the affairs of men. I imaging we are nothing but nuisance, like gnats, to the trees.  The AT is old. These trees have seen too much. Maybe, too many have taken knife to bark to carve initials,  or painted blazes,  or cut roots to clear the path, or, like the very nice and well-intentioned trail crew man today, with his deadly sharp tool, wacked off leaves within the corridor of the trail “for the hikers”. No permission is asked from the trees. No apologies are offered. 

Those were the thoughts running through my head today,  while dripping sweat up the Little Bigelow Mountain in the thick, sticky, buggy air. I stopped and placed my hand on a tree in apology. Five gnats immediately landed on my eyelashes, and I let them – an opportunity to maybe mend another relation. The sky grumbled. As though in answer to my handshake, the top of the canopy began to shake, and a breath of cool air funneled down through the narrow trail, sweeping all the insects away. I grabbed a quick snack before the noontime dawn. Oh yeah,  I knew what was coming. I’ve felt that cold breeze before. I know this pattern:  

It begins when the insects leave. The breeze clears the way, the trees shake, the sky grumbles and darkens. “Noontime dawn”, I call it – almost dark enough to use a headlamp. Anticipation mounts. Creatures scurry to their holes,  hikers speed to shelters. I stay out, in eager excitement, with rain gear on standby. Then, suddenly, the sky unleashes. Within minutes, the whole world is drenched, starting with my shoes. The trail becomes a chocolate river and every leaf owns a waterfall. I love it! I love the rain in Maine. It is one of my best relations on the trail. 

When the rain falls, and I known that my gear is safe and dry, I get giddy with joy,  I jump in puddles, I hoot to the sky.  I fall in love with this trail, this difficult trail I sometimes hate.  In the rain,  all anger and sweat get washed away. The forest speaks and I hear it. And for one brief moment,  I am at peace with ALL my relations. 

P.S. mike 188 – I have another blog post/story titled “Please don’t step on the fish” in the works. I don’t know if I’ll have it done by tomorrow. Resupply in Stratton is going to be a touch and go. So it might have to wait for the next zero.  

AT day 7. Mile 99 – 24 hrs in the life of the Bobcat

​Appalachian Trail journal. Day 7. Maine. 

Whenever I am sad or out of sorts,  my friend Weathercarrot always reminds me: “24 hours in the life of the Bobcat is like an eternity in someone else’s life.” By that he means that my life changes so fast that usually by the next day a whole new story is underway,  canceling out any qualms I had the day prior. So far, it has always proven true. 

And this might apply on the trail even more.  On day 5, after I wrote the “amateur hour” post and slept a little more, I transformed the Hefty trash bag I had used as bivy bag into a rain jacket, tucked my down sleeping bag as far into the pack as I could it and left for the day’s miles in a torrential rain. By the time I reached the next shelter, only 8 miles later,  there was not an once of my gear or self still dry. 

“You should stay here. Stay. Stay.” Firefly insisted.  “But I’ve only walked 8 miles.” 8 miles is nothing when you have hundreds to thousands to go. 

“But tomorrow the sun will shine,  and you’ll be able to dry all your gear and make up all the miles.” She sounded so sure and cheerful about it – she is Firefly for a reason, bringing light in dark places. I didn’t believe her one bit – it seemed then that the sun would never return – but I loved how intent she was on keeping me there. It’s nice to feel wanted. So I stayed,  and I was glad I did.  By 1 pm,  7 of us were wrapped in our sleeping bags, tucked in for the rest of the day. There were, in order in the shelter, John and Firefly, me, the well-named and  only nobo thru-hiker Giggles, Walking Bare from Germany, Thorny, and Purple Crayon. It was a fun crew, and we laughed all afternoon. Purple Crayon had a space blanket I could wrap around my soggy lumpy down bag and myself. I was wet,  but at least I was warm. Actually, he was still Ian at the time.  He didn’t get the name Purple Crayon until later that evening when he told us of his childhood habit to taste everything. 

“What was your favorite strange thing you ate?” John asked.  “The purple crayon.  It wasn’t chalky like the other ones.” That’s how he got his name.  

I didn’t believe Firefly,  but 24 hrs later in the life of the Bobcat,  the sky was impossibly blue and the sun was shining through the canopy, illuminating each drop of rain from the previous days like myriad little diamonds in the forest. I started very slowly that day. The forest was so beautiful in the sunlight.  I needed to look at everything everywhere. Luckily for my daily miles, I soon fell in step with Thorny. We talked for hours. He told me tales of his adventures in South America,  crossing rivers in hand-pulled baskets of death and finding ancient ruins off the beaten path, of waking the Camino in Spain, of building log cabins by hand,  and dozens other fascinating stories. The miles flew by, even though they were hard miles of sharp rocks and roots straight up White Cap mountain.

Around lunch (according to my stomach,  I don’t have a watch),  just like Firefly said, I yardsaled all my gear in a clearing. A nap later, all my gear was dry for the first time since Katahdin. 

After lunch, Thorny and I caught up to Purple Crayon. PC and I fell into step while Thorny (Thorn  Knee) slowed down to walk his own hike. For the next few hours I got a full seminar  on how the jedis and sith lords came to be, how light sabers are powered by crystals , how dissension in the sith lords ranks created the party of two rule, and the full lineage of Anakin Skywalker. Seriously. Who need podcasts? PC was in a lot of pain though. Maine is hard on the body. He caught a ride out at a road intersection. That’s it. One day, he’s rescuing me from hyperthermia. 24 hrs later,  I’ll never see him again. Such are friendships on the trail. 

Today was yet a completely different kind of day.  After so much social time yesterday, I got a full solo day today. I only shared lunch with a group of 3 vivacious flip-floppers who taught me how to set a trap with 3 sticks and a rock to catch prey. They caught and roasted a squirrel for breakfast just this morning. I had so many questions. I don’t kill bugs or anything senselessly, but I would kill a squirrel and eat it, with respect and gratitude. They promised they’d show me how, if we ever camp together. But they are already to the next shelter. I think Thorny knows how to as well. He can also track,  and start fires with sticks. So much to learn in the woods. Teachers everywhere.

I really enjoyed hiking solo today. The trail was almost vertical in places,  just a jumble of large sharp boulders to the summit of a mountain,  then back down to a bog, then back up another mountain,  and so forth. The air was hot, thick and sticky, like in the south, but the sun was shining and most mountains had a view. It was a 17 mile day that felt like a hard 35 but I loved every step of it.   

Everybody is asleep now, knocked out by the miles of the day. Each in their little repair chamber,  side by side in the shelter.  It’s 8 pm. I’m the only one still up,  writing this. 

Tomorrow will be our last day in the 100-mile wilderness.  It is too soon to expect any sort of cohesion,  but our little budding trail family decided we’d sick together at least to Monson. So tomorrow Thorny, John, Firefly, Walking Bare and I are stopping 3 miles short of town. Some of us will be out of food (I already am),  some have packed too much. It’ll all equilibrate and everyone will be fed.  

Eventuality, I speculate that Thorny will need more town zeros than I can afford.  John and Firefly will be much faster than I am once they get their trail legs (they already are). Waking Bare will fall back or lose me when I get off trail in North Conway. We’ll dismantle, or not,  or flow back together down the trail. What a treat it has been to share some hard and wet miles with these amazing people. And who knows who I’ll meet tomorrow.  24 hrs from now.  A whole universe away.  

I need repair too now. Good night. Xox. 

AT day 5. Mile 60. 4 am – amateur hour 

​Appalachian Trail journal. Day 5. Maine.

It’s 3:33 am, and it’s raining inside my tent. This 100-mile wilderness shakedown is shaking me down alright.  

Before I left, I set up the tent on my friend’s lawn to seal the seams. I had the sealant, the time to seal,  and everything,  but in the sun the tent looked so nice and tight, I thought “it doesn’t look like it’d leak. It’ll be fine.” … Now it’s day 5, and I haven’t seen my shadow since Katahdin. 

On day 2 most of the afternoon was composed of a downpour.  I hiked the 11 miles to the next shelter as fast as I could and stayed there for the rest of the day. Before the hike I said,  “I won’t be staying in shelters. All these people crammed side by side,  no thank you. I need my privacy.” I take it back.  Shelters are dark, smelly, rodent-infested,  overcrowded wonderful little haven of dryness and friendships. Who knows how long I would have shivered without my new friends’ body heat around me. When I got there I was drenched, and the foot of my down sleeping bag was wet.  

Before I left,  my being so crafty and all,  I decided to turn an old tarp I had found in a hiker box back in 2012 into a poncho to cover both me and the pack and double as a footprint under the tent. It’s actually pretty nice – The seams are neat. The hood is stylish and fits perfectly. The only problem is that whatever material that tarp is made of is not waterproof. I had tested it in my friend’s living room by pouring a glass of water on it, but Maine rain is apparently wetter than NH tap water. This wet poncho is the only rain garment I brought. At the last minute before heading up Katahdin, I took my hat and gloves out of the pack and gave them to Sally. You’d think I’ve never lived or hiked in the Pacific Northwest.  At the time, it made sense.  It was sunny, my pack was heavy and I had a massive mountain to climb ahead.  

Not all is lost though. Under, the wet poncho, I also had a Cuben fiber pack cover Miles (Knight Shift) let me borrow. He’s hiked the AT before. He knew.  

So everything in the pack was dry, except for the foot of my sleeping bag, because my platypus water bladder leaks.  My previous platypus got me through the entire PCT, so I didn’t worry about that particular piece of gear. Now that I look at it, which I should have done before I left for the middle of nowhere, the plastic looks melted,  like that Tupperware in my front seat in Sedona just a few weeks ago.  I think Sedona melted my platypus, probably on that day when I was cooking eggs on the hood of the truck.   

And it’s not just the water dripping from the seams that’s keeping me awake. There are mice crawling all over the tent – only two have made it in so far, by chewing themselves doorways into the mesh. I’ve escorted them out swiftly and tried to fix the holes with Silnylon tape,  but the fabric is too wet,  it won’t stick. I don’t know what they want in for anyway. I’ve got no food in here.  It’s all hanging about 100 feet away, under the shelter. Now I wonder why I’m not in the shelter.  It wasn’t raining yet when I got here and I thought this spot by the river looked lovely. Well, I suppose it still is lovely, just a bit wet and micey.  

If I’m going to have mice in the tent anyway,  I wish I had kept my food bag with me. My stomach’s been growling for a few hours. I don’t have my trail legs yet,  but I sure have hiker hunger already. I see now that I made poor nutritional choices for this first carry – the longest of the whole AT. I tried to be both healthy and thrifty.  I packed nuts I’ve had in the truck for too long, some crackers and organic rice quinoa mix. I’m over them. My body is saying “Dude! Where are the m&ms, the cookies,  the chocolate,  the corn nuts, the sesame sticks, the beef jerky, the sausages?” It’s day 5. I’m 4 days to the next town. Half way. My food bag is looking meager and sadly devoid of anything I actually want to eat. Before the hike, I said I was going to limit my town stops and eating out to safeguard my tiny budget. Now my brain won’t stop fantasizing about whatever burger joint awaits me in Monson. I don’t even like burgers. It’s alright. I’ll learn and adapt. I’ll find silver linings.

And there are many silver linings: 

1. I’m small enough that I actually can curl up and fit entirely under Miles’s Cuben pack cover. It’s not particularly comfortable,  but I slept like that for a bit earlier,  until I got too hot.  Then I remembered that I had packed a Hefty plastic trash bag. It’s now half a bivy bag.  I’ve also hooked Chris’s bandana under the main leaking seam to catch the bulk of the water coming in, and have Deborah’s cap over my head to prevent the Chinese torture water drip on my head. It looks like everything’s holding. For now. With a little help from my friends.

2. I get to write a story in the middle of the night! That’s exciting!  I had imagined I’d write every day, like Carrot Quinn does.  I even bought a large smart phone and extra charger specifically for that purpose. But it turns out,  when I’m in the woods,  the last thing I want to do is turn on the electronics.  For the past 3 days, I have not needed my glasses to read the data book at all.  Guaranteed, I will after this post.  There is an immediate and direct correlation between the quality of my vision and the time I spend on this phone.  Also, I’ve been watching the battery percentage free fall with each sentence I write. Even with the extra charger. Writing every day would require me to go into town to recharge constantly.  If I’m going to be in town that often,  I’d rather go to the library and write with an actual keyboard. Besides, I promise you’ve not missed much. So far, it would read something like “I woke up. It rained. I walked for 12 hours.  It was gorgeous. Same thing tomorrow.”

3. It actually is gorgeous. The amount of green is surreal. I walk through an ocean of leaves only interrupted by lakes. Everything is pristine and quiet. I’ve been waking through fields of ferns, on narrow log boardwalks over swamps, across fresh streams and clear bubbling brooks, like through rain forest postcards. I’ve been dancing the AT dance to navigate the complex network of slick roots and sharp rocks they call a path.  I’ve gotten lost a few times,  because all my attention must be on my feet, then found the white blazes again. I’ve been getting ample space and solitude and have met good people. I envy their rain gear.  Firefly gave me some chocolate to comfort me. It’s all good. It sucks a little, but I’m still going.  

4. I’m still going.  In spite of Murphy’s grip on my gear,  my body still feels strong. I did 21 miles today,  20 the day before.  No blisters after walking in wet shoes for 4 days. No rashes, not even where the pack’s straps is cutting through my shoulders.  Legs are sore,  but they still go. I’m being shaken down, but still feel lucky to be here,  on this trail,  in the woods. 

Sounds like the rain is getting even harder. I’m gonna try and catch some zzzs. I have a mountain to climb tomorrow according to the data book.    

Bobcat out. Xox. 

AT day 1. Katahdin. Life is short. Eat dessert first.

​Appalachian trail journal. Miles for the day 10.7. AT miles 5.2. Maine.

This morning, a brand new triple-crowner I met on Baxter’s knife edge assured me that there is no terrain on the AT like the one I navigated today. Thank Goodness!

I vowed to not compare the AT and the PCT. I don’t want my mind to linger on another trail and miss the one right under foot. Plus it’d be rude. As, Ponte, my first new AT friend pointed out, trails are like boyfriends: the new one really doesn’t want to hear about the last one. But since it’s raining and I’m in my zipped up tent, I won’t miss much for the next few minutes. And I don’t think the AT can hear me with the river nearby and the waterfall just up the trail. So here it goes …

On the PCT, I was deposited right at the monument by car. A few photos, and I was on my way down a soft, gentle trail with open vistas and wild flowers along the sides. 

The AT is not here to cajole anyone. My trail angel Sally and I were climbing over roots and boulders by 5:30 am this morning. It got steep pretty fast. And then steeper. A few miles in, we turned onto the knife’s edge. Full pack, 8 days of food,  a body straight off the truck’s seat and suddenly I’m scambling class 3 and 4 rock with mad exposure on both sides. I was coated in sweat and pumping adrenaline well before noon. “I’m not entirely comfortable with this.” (very calm voice) is apparently what I sound like when I’m scared. And still, I loved it. I felt alive. I was the Bobcat again, flushed with mini waves of Trail High, like hot flashes. My ass was getting kicked, and I was home. 

We got to the top of Katahdin at noon. I’d love to hike nobo someday, just for the pleasure of that dramatic finish. The PCT start monument was lovely, and I walked away almost immediately.  But that AT wooden horse with its bold letters sign is so iconic that it held me spellbound. I could see all of you, my trail family, standing on it over the years. Onager in his tuxedo,  Kristo the Lion, triumphant and wet, LB, Pepper, Chili, Moss and so many others. Suddenly it was a real, physical object, with depressions in the wood in the back where all the feet of all the hikers have stood. It felt like legacy – like a sacred artifact to be revered. I didn’t feel I had earned climbing it yet, but I did anyway. I reasoned that life is short, and it’s okay to eat dessert first, or start at the grand finale. 

I experienced magic of ridiculous proportion on the PCT. But never before had a stranger purposely stopped me from a cadenced step to ask if I was a thru-hiker and wanted a Snickers bar. In fact,  since I left my truck yesterday – which was as difficult as you might imagine – I have been spoiled at every turn. Non-hikers know about thru-hikers in these parts. This is an old trail. We are not a novelty.  And everyone, it seems, is game to uphold the magic. At the grocery store in North Conway, one of my favorite yoga students from 2 years ago paid for most of my resupply for the week. The man at the post office sent me off with a “You’re awesome.  I love you.  Good luck.” Then there’s Sally, trail angel extraordinaire, who not only drove me 6 hours to Katahdin, but also navigated the scary rocks all the way to the summit with me. And Thorny, whose camp site I am currently occupying in exchange for a square of chocolate he didn’t even finish (I did). And the stranger lady, whose Snickers bar I refused. “It’s too soon in your hike I understand,” she said. 

On the PCT, I got lost within a few miles of the start. On the AT, I did as well. At least some things are consistent. I thought I was going down to cross the Abol River to get out of Baxter State Park before the night, but the white blazes went elsewhere,  so I followed them instead.  I had no reservation for anything in the park, but figured something would work out or I’d walk 20 miles today, up and over a moutain, and really start this trail with a bang.  But as soon as I came out of the woods, Thorny found me.  He couldn’t believe I climbed up the knife edge and down the boulder field with a full pack. Apparently, hikers don’t climb Katahdin with full packs. Everybody slackpacks. It was my claim to fame for a bit.  Thorny would introduce me as: “The Bobcat,  she did the knife edge and the Hunts trail with a full pack” And this coming from a man who once build a raft out of wood logs and raced it down the Amazon River. I take it as a compliment, even if I feel I was walking a fine line between bad ass and dumb ass on this one.

Overall, I did feel baddassly strong today. Very grateful for my body. In the past I might have disliked this or that about it,  but I have nothing but gratitude for it today. It never complains, it just keeps going. It’s perfectly suited to my lifestyle,  down to the eyelashes that keep black flies out of my eyes. I mean, it’s sore. My legs feel pumped and my arms and shoulders too from climbing over boulders and pushing on This and That to propel me uphill. But sore just means that I was alive today, that I had a worthwhile adventure. My body will repair in my sleep, and tomorrow will be easier. And we’ll keep going that way,  being alive during the day and repairing at night, for months.  

A few days ago I was freaking out about this hike. That was another lifetime ago. Now I’M ON THE FRIGGING AT!


Nobo – northbound, Georgia to Maine

Sobo – southbound,  Maine to Georgia

Slack-packing – hiking with a day pack while someone shuttles the heavy pack to a rendezvous point.

Magic – a direct experience of the kindness of strangers and friends. Magic is many other things too. 

This and That – the names of my hiking poles.