Friday, August 14, 2009

Andover, ME

Finally, some time to write! I wonder if I can fit it all in the time I have.

As I said before, J and I left his house after fourth of July festivities to try to hitch hike to Millinocket and begin hiking the AT south. The hitching was a mixed bag, and it took forever to just get out of Ohio. We also found a kitten, a hairy orange guy, in a ditch while walking through one town. We bought him food--he got gravy on his face, so we called him Gravy. I sacrificed my cotton thrift clothes that I bought to wear around J's house so they could be Gravy's bedding, and we carried him in a box for an evening and a day until we could get to Portsmouth, OH, where we heard that an animal shelter was. The unhelpful lady on the phone--when we got to Portsmouth--told me there was no space for more cats, and she didn't have any suggestions of where to turn, either. We spent a lot of time at the library trying to find a place to take him along our route, then we took him to the vet to get checked out. Luckily, a woman named Crystal picked us up as we left the vet and promised to take care of him until she could find him a home. She talked about rescuing kittens before, and said she'd take Gravy back to the vet for extra treatments, so we felt good about leaving our baby with her. We had only had him for a day, but it seemed like longer, having to make sure he was comfy and happy and didn't run off, which he tried. It was an emotional parting, really, and Crystal said we were going to make her cry!

The next few days we hitched through a corner of Kentucky, up West Virginia, into Pennsylvania. We stayed at a campground one night, found a spot in the woods another night, pitched behind a narrow tree by the highway another night. All sorts of people picked us up, genders, races, ages, and numbers. Trucks with single drivers and empty beds passed us up while cars and trucks full of people and equipment found ways to squeeze us in. People offered us food, drink, smoke. Best was the grapefruit at one guy's house!

In Pennsylvania we failed to contact J's friend who was supposed to live around Pittsburgh. We chatted a guy at the coffee shop who took us to a place to camp in the woods, and started hitching the next day. First we were harassed by the police for walking along one highway--it didn't have the limited access sign on the ramp we took!--but he told us hitching was legal. Then we tried back at the ramp, got one exit down, and got stuck for almost five hours as car after car passed us. It was depressing. THEN another cop came and told us that people had called in to REPORT us for standing there to hitch, and hitching was actually illegal, and we would have to leave. It was such a crappy day that I gave up. We took a local bus back to Pittsburgh, found our way to the Greyhound station downtown, and hopped on immediately. A day later, we arrived in Bangor, ME. It was my first bus trip ever, and quite the impulsive travel decision.

In Bangor the next day we saw a pair of traveling kids with their dog--Panda was the name of the guy--and they were pleased to see us and pass on info about Bangor and Bar Harbor. They told us of a secret place to camp in Bangor by the river, which we eventually decided to try. Sitting there, waiting for it to get dark, a woman passed us with her dog, asking us if another dog sniffing around was ours. No. Then, she simply asked us if we needed a place to spend the night, and invited us to her house. Her name was Sarah, and she was a French teacher working on, I think, a folklore dissertation. Her dog was named Tillie because she liked collecting rocks and ripping up sod, and Tillie had twenty-six toes. Sarah lived in a beautiful house like the kind professors have close to college campuses. She gave us her back room, the sunroom I guess, and I slept on the daybed. She let us bathe and wash our clothes, and she told us to help ourselves to the food and drink in her fridge. Her house was filled with books, and I wanted to read them. Sarah was so poetic in her demeanor, and spoke about oral histories and connecting children to their communities, and spoke about the friends she made in France when she was younger. She lost herself in telling her own story while driving us up the interstate, and passed our exit by a long shot, even though she had meant to take us only a few miles!

We got to Millinocket quickly, found my box was not at the post office, hung out with some high schoolers who showed us the way to the trail. A man picked us up in his car before we even put our thumbs out, and before we knew it we were in Baxter State Park. July 12 we hiked to the base of Ktaadn (seeing four moose and a bald eagle on the way) and started our ascent, too late in the day for my pace! It took us 12 hours, when others took 8-10 hours. There was so much rock-hopping, and climbing, and clambering! We had our full packs on, and I had to drop some of my things behind a rock to lighten my load and center my balance better. I literally required J's hand up on some of the rocks because they were so slick and tall. We summited around 6:15 pm, two hours after we saw the last group on the way down. It was freezing and windy up there, so we took our pictures by the sign and got going down, hoping to make it below treeline before nightfall, which we did. It was 12:19 a.m. when we got back to the campground, and I was so tired.

Next was the "100-mile wilderness" which was not really a wilderness, but definitely fewer roads crossed. The mosquitos were infuriating, as was the mud and the rain and the roots and the rocks, and the dozens of orange slugs we found on our gear and ourselves in the mornings. The terrain was flattish, but we were slow going. We had a day of me going back in to Millinocket for more food, and J going in thinking he would get off the trail, but his mom convinced him to wait it out. We got a hitch back to the wrong trailhead and lost a few days doubling back over the missed section so we wouldn't skip any trail. We met more hikers and dogs, one named Morgan with a pink nose and beautiful blue eyes, and we made it through the wilderness (swamp) into Monson. J was ahead of me, so I hitched by myself. On the back of a motorcycle. Oh yeah.

Molly in Monson let out a room and let J work for it, so we had a private room with sheets. The bar had great pizza, and lake access. We hung out for a bit, zeroed, used the internet to fiddle with my pictures. Shortly after Monson J and I separated on the trail and crossed a major ford, the west Piscataquis. I cross upstream among several islands, got tangled up and turned around, but eventually made it back to the trail without having to spend the night lost. J crossed at high water and got swept away momentarily, immediately assumed I had drowned, swam to the shore, and then saw me clambering out of the woods back to the trail. He was soaked. We called it quits for the day and built a fire.

Soon after that we met a group of hikers we've been with for about a week. Some of them flipped at Damascus after we did. We've been going into towns together, hanging out, drinking, doing Karaoke, watching TV, enticing each other to zeros, and so on. Currently I'm at the Pine Ellis hostel in Andover with TNT, as I lost J and the others a few days ago at another town. I think they stayed in town longer than expected, and if they made it off the trail by now they are probably at the "party" hostel near here. I like this place though, with internet and phone and shower and sheets and laundry and a porch. TNT was helping me with some fungus I have, directing me to soak my feet in salt water. It burned indescribably, and David, who runs this place (his home, really) gave me beer to ease the pain. And foot powder too. And I got to float around in a pretty floral skirt because they provide clothes to wear while doing laundry! How nice! Right now I'm trying to let my shoes dry from their washing--hopefully that will help with the fungus.

I am almost out of Maine now, and into the Whites, and close to Mahoosuc Notch, which is supposed to be the hardest mile on the trail. They say that about a lot of places, so it's hard ot believe, but Maine has definitely been a whole different animal from the southern part of the trail.

I'm sure I could say more, but I've been typing for almost an hour, so I'll have to call it quits.