I got an incredible night sleep and woke up around 5 with no alarm. First fantastic night’s sleep of the trip, likely because of the overwhelming exhaustion setting in. I was on the slopes of Little Bigelow Mountain, essentially the start of the famed grueling but beautiful section of south Maine Appalachian Trail. I started the morning working my way up the Bigelow ridge. The skies were completely clear, the air was warm, and no rain was forecast for the entire day. Time to knock out some terrific miles. Up on Avery Peak, I was reminded on the easy access for day hikers by a large man in khakis and suspenders up on the summit. We exchanged pictures and I got working down to the next peak. I was thrilled to be up above tree line and not have to worry about the weather.
I danced along the rocks, occasionally reminded on a 4 inch gash in the side of my shoes worn through from all the mud and rocks so far when I pinched my foot in between two rocks. But for the most part I was having a great time. I had made sure to eat a solid dinner last night to replenish my glycogen for the early climb this morning and the foresight was paying off. Coming down off Bigelow ridge I dealt with a few blowdowns which were exaggerated by some other hikers. I laughed at them as I worked around the fallen trees. Compared to up north this was like stepping over a twig.
I just want to clarify, I am eternally grateful for what trail crews do. They do an amazing job and I never judge when a trail is poorly maintained. I know it is an impossible task and respect whatever they can do. And I can imagine no section more difficult to maintain than the 280 mile stretch in Maine. The inaccessibility, low population density, marshes, heavy snowfall, and abundance of evergreens all make that section by nature rugged and hard to maintain. The fault of the blowdowns in Maine was not of the trail crews. It was simply an oversight on my part to expect them to have completed an impossible task so soon after the snow had melted. I should’ve started my record attempt in Georgia, no question. But live and learn, and unlike some of the older guys gunning for these records, I’m just getting started.
Once off the Bigelow ridge I immediately began the climb up Crocker mountain, another tremendous climb that would put me just above tree line. I took the opportunity of having cell service to call my parents and a couple friends to catch up and get some a much needed boost. I used my headphones so I could hike and talk at the same time and enjoyed nearly an hour long conversation with my parents. Eventually the climb knocked me out of breath and I had to say bye but I really enjoyed the longest conversation with anyone since I had started. It’s a lonely venture going for a SOBO thru-hike record, far lonelier than I ever could have imagined. But it was too late to turn around and enjoy some hiking sessions with some of the speedier NOBOs. I was committed, so phone conversations it would be.
At this point I was beginning to feel my glutes from all the climbing. After so many days of flat trails with the only challenge being pulling my foot out of the quicksand-like mud, the drawn out climbs were wearing on me. I had seen the elevation profile and knew what was ahead too. At the base of Crocker I would immediately begin climbing Sugarloaf mountain. Earlier I had talked to one of my friends from undergrad and told her how desperately I craved an apple. For some reason the urge had plagued me all day and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Like a primitive urge, all I could think about was the pleasure of biting into a crisp, juicy apple.
Up on sugarloaf, while rocking out to Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel soundtrack I came upon a bag of apples hanging at eye level from a branch on a tree. I had hallucinated already on the trip but not quite that vividly and certainly not this early in the day. I reached my hand out. McIntosh, about 10 of them. I stood there for a moment. No way. Some Snow White scheme going on? Trail magic? Had someone read my mind? I couldn’t take it anymore. Whoever they were for, or if just left by a day hiker for a few minutes, I craved one more than I craved oxygen. And now that they were right in front of me, I couldn’t resist. I grabbed one and quickly started back hiking, tearing into it with the ferocity of a wolf into a fresh kill.
It was amazing, exactly what I had wanted but a few hundred yards down the trail, after consuming all but the seeds and stem I wished I had grabbed another. There wouldn’t be another hiker through here for at least a day. They could manage another. I felt guilty for my justification but it was too late anyway. I was well down the trail and nothing in the world could get me to hike another pace more than I needed to at this point. To whomever left those apples, you’ll likely never see this or understand how much that meant to me, but thank you. That was the most amazing treat I’ve had on any of my trips and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.
After the euphoria of riding up the ridgeline and the apple began to fade, as the sun began to work it’s way back down toward the horizon, I started dropping down into the valley. The descent was gradual but I knew the next climb was not. I remembered it from 2009, one of my all time favorite places on this globe, Saddleback mountain. The saddle shape of the ridge allows you to see the trail traversing up and over the opposing sides for nearly the entire length of the ridge. It’s incredible near constant 360 views had me jumping for joy six years ago and I knew with clear weather would have me thrilled again.
Down in the valley my legs were worn from likely the most elevation gain I would see on one day for the entire trip. I decided to not work my way up Saddleback and opted for a good night’s sleep in the warmer air of just up from the valley. I filled my bottles in a creek and hiked just a bit further before setting up camp on a comfortable bed of pine needles. I hiked 34.8 for the day and was nearly a tenth of the way through the trail. Today was my biggest day elevation gain wise with climbing over 12,500 feet.