Twig Adventures

AT Day 12: Saddlebacks & Magic

Thursday August 5th, 2021, 0600-1900
Sluice Brook logging road to South Pond, SOBO AT mm 222.5
15.5 miles
4500 gain, 4500 loss

Today was my favorite day yet, probably because it had a little bit of everything. Up first was another big climb, ending at the top of a series of peaks collectively known as the Saddlebacks. I passed a few NOBOs first thing, the earlybirds. Then more early birds…a family of grouse that let me get really close. The momma was alarmed at first but actually called the 4 chicks into the trail to peck at tidbits while I got a good look. I had told her that everything was chill but actually I lied because I really wanted to catch and cuddle one of the chicks, I just knew they were too fast for me. I love mountain chucks.

A family of ruffed grouse

The first peak, Saddleback Jr, was pretty good, with nice views of the valleys filled with clouds. On the way up to the Horn, I caught 3 SOBOs: Walk, Jason, and Too Easy. I hung out with them for awhile on the top, doing some Peakfinding. We could see all the nearby peaks but not Katahdin, which showed on the screen of my app but was too far behind to see in the haze… gone for good on this trip, I’m sad to say. I had a good run seeing it on 6 different days, all the way up until Day 10. On the PCT, I was able to see Mt Rainer over a span of 20 days. Still, this is a pretty smashing statistic for the AT, especially considering Katahdin’s location is at the terminus.

The last summit was connected by a long, wide and open ridge, which resembles a saddle. We could see folks coming up and down from far away. I had a blast walking this ridge. It was so nice to walk for so long above treeline. I like being able to see where I’m going.

On Saddleback Mtn, 4,120′, I met some day hikers with cute doggos. I talked to them while I petted the dogs and I swear I wasn’t even trying to yogi but out came the trail magic. One lady gave me an apple and the other half of her turkey sandwich. This ended up being my lunch, which means I carried a whole extra day of food for the past section…just the less I needed to buy in town I guess.

I had so much fun on the peaks, I didn’t want to go down. But some clouds were rolling in fast and I needed to get my shopping done so I could get back on trail the same day…my goal for reducing time spent in towns thus far. The day hikers had come up via the ski lift…I wished that was the official AT. I still had about 4 miles to walk and then a hitch.

I’d hammered out a plan the night before, deciding to hike all the way to Gorham, New Hampshire without resupplying in-between. It meant 78 miles of very rugged trail and a heavy food bag. I set my average at only 20 miles a day… that’s less than when I started. I haven’t been able to do more than that in days, always being interrupted by towns. Who knows, maybe I can do some bigger days now that I don’t have to make any resupply stops. Or maybe I’ll be suffering terribly to try to match such a pace.

I felt pretty energized most of the day, especially heading down. There were some good stretches of rock slab that made it possible to break into a controlled run, at least for a few steps. My shoe grip is trustworthy so long as the slab is dry but there are a lot of seeps interspersed, making the rock slick in places. By the road, everything was starting to hurt again. These steep descents are killer on the joints. At least my timing was good, as it just started to rain as I finished. It was around 1 pm.

There’s a lot of these rebar ladders throughout southern Maine… it’s that steep.

I went into the parking lot to search for a ride and found Owlcat in her van, doing trail magic. She hiked the trail with her dog a few years prior and was now supporting her thru-hiking boyfriend and friends through Maine. I scored a soda and some snacks. I forgot to mention that there have been several road crossings in past days where I found coolers or bags of snacks, but this was the first set-up where I got to meet the trail angel. She even had a journal for me to sign.

In my milling about, a day-hiking family returned to their car and I was able to ask for a ride to town. It’s much easier to get a ride when you can speak directly to the driver (as opposed to just sticking out a thumb). They were so accommodating that one of the teens squeezed into the trunk so that I could have a seat, despite my protests. Yeah Subaru families!

They dropped me at the grocery store, the largest I’ve yet visited. I’d made a list of what I needed so that I could be efficient and not buy too much…this mostly worked. I realized that I should just get deli stuff for dinner rather than eat trail food. Outside, I repackaged while hanging with a crew of happy NOBOs. They were all rocking Hyperlite packs and it turns out one of the guys, Strawberry, works for the company. A few also had Hyperlite umbrellas, which haven’t even been released to the public yet. I found out one lady, Skunk, lives in Steamboat, so we exchanged numbers. It will be nice to know some people when I go back to visit my aunt.

While we were all hanging out, our hikertrash presence attracted the notice of a kind patron. He brought us a pack of Klondike bars and rice crackers and even slipped some cash into one of the hiker’s hands. I’ve always been uncomfortable with taking money, preferring to only accept gifts of food and whatnot, so I’m glad he didn’t hand it to me. He explained that he was the father of an AT thru-hiker. Yet another instance of trail magic on this day.

I also met Piper and Ace at the grocery, a pair of SOBOs. They mentioned that the town theater was airing a documentary, based off a book I read. It’s about how trees communicate with each other. Suddenly the town vortex was trying to exert its hold, as I really wanted to stay to watch the movie with them. Fortunately a trail angel with a large van had offered Team Hyperlite a ride back to trail, so I joined in. Jen even drove me to the gear store so I could buy a fuel canister. I didn’t get to see much of the town but it looked pretty touristy. The are no hostels in town, just expensive motels. Without anyone to split the cost of a room, I had intentionally planned to just do an in and out. At least I accomplished this.

Before hitting the trail, I stopped at the Hiker Hut, a hostel just 0.3 miles down the road from the trailhead. I only wanted to see the place, an off-grid bungalow retreat run by a guy that splits his time between it and India. Cannabis plants were growing throughout the garden and it definitely had what would be described as a hippy vibe. I might have stayed if I could have pitched my tent. Instead, I waited out the rain then went back to the trail. More NOBOs were hanging at the trailhead, offering me a wine cooler that I couldn’t refuse. I chatted with them for too long and it was after 6 pm when I finally started hiking. The town vortex almost got me this day but I broke free and felt really proud in doing so.

I’d been hoping to get another 4 miles done this day but 2 was all I could manage. It was a beautiful evening and I arrived just in time to enjoy the last light on a picturesque pond. A perfect tentsite was right next to the water and there were a few rowboats and a canoe. I had just enough time to go for a swim, making up for my lack of showering in town. I didn’t bother with the boats, even though I wanted to. They looked very heavy and I didn’t want to hurt my back…maybe if I’d had a partner. Lights out on an awesome and eventful day.

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