I woke up at 430am, realizing that the sky was bright and I’d rather have a full day of light ahead of me. By 5am I was hiking and the trail kicked up quickly. I soon learned that I needed to eat a bigger dinner and have some semblance of glycogen stores for the following morning if I was going to hit a big climb so early on. My legs felt weak and I struggled with low energy. I ate several bars and got some candy into my system, hoping the sugar would give me the boost I needed to continue hiking up the mountain. But I essentially was bonking in the first mile.
The worst part of this third day, however, was not a little piece of the learning curve, but rather a realization that I made a serious mistake not starting in Georgia. Before I left I had wondered why Scott Jurek would begin his record attempt down south and have to contend with the slowest and gnarliest sections of trail at the end of his hike. Now I knew. White Cap Mountain was littered and impassable with blowdowns from the long, brutal winter. The trail was impassable and I spent the next 4 or 5 miles crawling over, under, and around pine trees. I was unable to wear my fragile poncho-tarp for fear of tearing it in the sharp limbs, so accepted getting drenched by the rain-soaked trees. When I hit tree line, after a brutal, cold climb up, the wind hit me with a sharp chill. The summit was in the clouds and the wind was gusting to likely 50mph. I was soaked and cold, and struggling to keep my footing in the wind. I wore my thin wind jacket but the dampness made it cling to my skin and the wind pierced and stripped all my heat. I raced over the summit as quickly as I could and was back down to the trees to fend my way through the blowdowns.
Around midday I began to realize that I was running out of food and would struggle to make it to my intended resupply of Caratunk on the rations I still had. I was eating way more than I anticipated, burning more calories in the cold dampness, mud, and blowdowns and had done a poor job rationing on the first two days. I attempted my best at limiting my intake with pretty rough consequences. By afternoon I was sluggish and barely moving. The flat trail of the northernmost 60 miles had ended and now undulated with the summit of White Cap, Hay, Gulf Hagas, and Chairback, and Barren Mountains. None of the climbs were long, but that’s exactly what made the day difficult.
Late in the day I realized I wasn’t hitting the splits I intended to make it another 40 mile day and was getting pretty disappointed to slow down so early in my trip on relatively tame terrain. I hiked past some other SOBOs on the Chairback ridge who were baffled by my tiny pack. They cheered me on, 20 yards past them I heard one shout “OW OW look at that ass!” and then they started chanting “Go Thirst! Go Thirst!” It was an awesome pick-up that really pumped me up and brought me back to the fact that no matter the hurdle, this was my chance. The race had begun and there was time for self-pity or regret at starting in Maine.
Now that I understood exactly why Jurek had started in Georgia, I entertained the idea of starting over down there. I couldn’t know how bad the blowdowns would be from here on and I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk it. And I wondered what my mindset would be like having to start all over again. No. I wouldn’t do it. I had gained momentum already, this was the vision I had of my hike. No matter how bad the blowdowns south of here, I would certainly be through them soon enough and cruising to the southern states. I would soon learn the trails south of White Cap hadn’t been cleared either and would struggle with the fallen trees for several grueling stretches. But sure enough, they ended at the Maine-New Hampshire state line. It was a setback on my hike, certainly, but nothing horrific. And had it not been that, it would have been something else. I just had to hope it wouldn’t be the blowdowns and something else.
I made it to Wilson Valley lean-to after nearly 16 hours of hiking to only go 32.7 miles. It was a grueling day when it should have been a straightforward one. A former thru-hiker out for a section was in the shelter, a guy named Redbeard. He was super nice and encouraging and warned me of a murderer hiding in the woods just outside Monson. He told me it was a domestic dispute and I figured I was safe but still decided to stick with him and avoid solo night hiking to get closer to my original goal, Leeman Brook Lean-to, still over 6 miles away.
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