Mary Ellen, my host in Hampden was supposed to come to Big Moose Campsite on Thursday and hike Katahdin Friday. That's why I came to this camp site and why I booked two nights. But I hadn't heard from her and now I had no phone signal. Her friends from Vermont and Massachusetts had driven up to hike Acadia and Baxter for 5 days and she had off handedly suggested I meet up with them in Baxter. I confirmed before I left her house that I'd see her Thursday night and now it was Thursday night and I was trying not to worry.
I had confirmed with the front desk that she had reserved a site (serendipitously the site right across from me) and I knew the drive from Acadia could be a few hours and so I tried to stay positive and secretly made a plan to hitchhike in the morning and hike anyway, even if she didn't come.
I ate the second half of my sandwich from the gas station/ souvenir shop/ deli next to the camp site and drank a cider. I needed to clean my bike chain and gears and busying my hands would keep my mind off high alert every time a car drove by wondering, "is it her?"
My chain was filthy and full of grit and gunk for the road. I removed the debris and most of the old grease but when I went to put new new grease on I couldn't open the bottle. I tried and tried. I set it down and took a breath and tried again. It's a. Child locked cap and I just couldn't get it to open. I decided to look for help.
I found it in a group of 4 guys from get this, Ohio, who had flown into Bangor and rented a car to go hiking. One went to Kent, another was wearing a Cincinnati University shirt. Small world. One helped me open the grease and I found out they didn't have a parking permit, which is mandatory to drive a car into the park in the morning to hike. I wished them luck, told them about my hitchhiking plan and headed back to my camp site.
Lo and behold there was a car parked in the site across from mine! Mary Ellen came! But her friends had bailed. One needed to get back to his sick wife and the other was worried he wouldn't have a ride back to Vermont if he didn't leave with his buddy. Mary Ellen said she had thought about canceling, her gear was wet and she was tired but when she stopped home her boyfriend encouraged her to come up anyway. I was so happy he did. We made plans to depart around 5:30.
I broke camp, hobbled my bike near the camp ground office and said a little prayer that it would be exactly as I left if when I got back this afternoon, put my valuables in Mary Ellen's car and we set off for Baxter state park.
We got in line before the park gates open at 6 am and there were already 20 or so cars in front of us. A pickup truck with Massachusetts plates came up and tried to cut the line, realized we weren't all queuing for fun and reversed to take their proper place in line. "Massholes," Mary Ellen said shaking her head. The term is widely used by Mainers to refer to entitled city folk who drive up to vacation in Maine and think they own the place.
Finally a ranger drover up to open the gate. A guy in he front of the line had fallen asleep and as we all drove around him he ranger knocked on his window to wake him up. Poor guy lost his spot for a few more Zs.
We parked, signed in at the ranger station and headed around Chimney Pond to the Saddle Trail, which we would take both up and back down Katahdin to Baxter Peak. The trails in Acadia are manicured and perfectly maintained. The trails in Baxter are wild, filled with boulders, steep inclines, and at times it's easy to loose the way.
We followed the blue blazes to the Chimney Pond campsite and ranger station where I had my first experience with a compost able toilet (sprinkle a cupful of mulch down the hole after solid waste.) We signed in again, the sixth group that day to make it to this station and asked the ranger about the weather. She said it might storm but no lightening this afternoon.
We followed a solo male hiker from Concord, New Hampshire up the steep rocky side of the mountain to the table, a wide, flat expanse covered in grass, mosses and lichen. The clouds had come and gone all morning and now they were directly ahead and a strong wind was beginning to swell. I put on my hat and fleece and we started up the final path to Baxter Peak.
The path was covered in small red rocks that stood out in stark contrast to the grey and green all around. A group of three hikers descended towards us and said they could only see bits and pieces between the clouds. We kept going up big boulders. I wished I had hiking boots as my tennis shoes felt flimsy on the rocks.
Finally we reached the top! As as we did the fog lifted and we had perfect visibility off the front of the mountain over Chimney Pond and the 5.5 mile route we had taken up! It was a surreal experience to stand at the peak, touch the sign and imagine finishing the Appalachian Trail right here this time next year.
There were a ton of people at the top eating snacks, taking photos and chatting. We walked over to watch the people on the Knife Edge crossing the very narrow ridge trail that would also bring them to the peak. A raven landed on one of the rocks not too far away and stuck around for a bit.
Someone had brought a lawn gnome to the summit and placed it in the flora a few hundred feet away. This is clearly against the park's leave no trace policy but was certainly entertaining. Eventually we had had our fill and decided to start heading down the way we came. I didn't see any white blazes while we were hiking nor on the summit, although I was looking. I've never seen one in person, only in photos.
We passed a group of hikers by a babbling brook on our way down. One had feathers in his hair. They all stank. "Those guys smell like through hikers. You can never really get the smell out of your clothes and bag," Mary Ellen said when we were out of ear shot. She wondered out loud of she smelled like that and I said I thought she probably became immune to her own scent.
Mary Ellen drove me back to the campsite where we parted ways. She made me promise to keep in touch and to let her know when I crossed into Maine on my hike so she could join me for a bit. Through this hike my resolve strengthened. Seeing the end goal in person made me recommit to a promise I made to myself late last March. I committed to hiking the Appalachian Trail in spring 2019. I will hold Katahdin in my heart and in my mind until I see her again this time next year.