Monday August 2nd, 2021, 0730-1700
Caratunk to Little Bigelow Lean-to, SOBO AT mm 173
4091 gain, 2815 loss
It rained again all night but not too hard. I did a better job managing water ingress but still ended up with a wet floor. Some of the rain ran down from the tent wall and got caught between my polycro ground tarp. My tent floor has lots of holes from being used heavily, so it’s to be expected. I’ll have to try folding the polycro to avoid this. At least it was easy to mop up and my thermarest protected all my stuff from getting wet.
Speaking of my thermarest, in my fairly new uberlight version, one of the baffles has already come apart. This happened to my original one but only after many years of use. I’m pretty disappointed in it but at least I got it for free as part of my gear testing for Trailspace.com. Not sure if it’s going to last this whole trip. It’s way too early to be having gear troubles but so it goes.
I slept in a little because of the rain and ferry schedule. I had coffee and cold pizza for breakfast… the fuel of long distance athletes. Finally I got sick of waiting around and packed a very wet tent in the rain. I could see that the river level had gone down by almost a foot overnight. They release water during the day to aid the rafters, so it’s usually lower first thing in the morning…I’d learned all this from the Sterling Inn owner the day before. He was the first person I’d talked to that gave me straight answers about fording the river…something thru hikers used to do regularly before the ferry service was established. I wasn’t keen on crossing the river in the rain, because of the poor light, nor was I keen on standing around for an hour and half in the rain. So I decided to attempt the ford of the infamous Kennebec river… foreboding music ensues.
My first attempts were no good. I went in only a few feet, finding it too deep and swift. The clear water was deceiving…it looked much shallower than it actually was. But this is where experience comes into play…knowing when it’s time to turn back before things become a problem. I was about to give up when I decided to try one more time upstream where the water was quite calm. This often means the water is deep but in this case, it was only thigh-high. There was still a current and the rocks were coated with algae, some of the slickest I’ve encountered. I was through the deepest part in about half a minute but the river’s so wide, it takes some time to get all the way across. It felt like a slow process, especially because I was alone. But I’ve done many solo crossings, so having no audience was more a disappointment to my pride.
By far the worst part was having to walk the riverbank downstream about a quarter mile to get back to the AT. There was no social trail on the south side and the vegetation horribly thick, so I had to stick to the slick, slanty river rocks on the edge. The rain made it that much worse. But once I got back on the AT, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. I like being self-sufficient and also practicing some advanced trekking skills. The river crossing brought me back to my days on Te Araroa. The rain and rugged trail further reinforced the feeling throughout the day, so I decided that it was to be a TA day. Live it, love it, learn from it.
If it was going to rain for much of the day, then this was the section to do it. It was 21 miles of overgrown trees and pond and river sidling, water dripping from everywhere…TA classic jungle / bog snorkeling. I was able to get the umbrella up and just enjoy a 2′ dry view of my lush world. Up a gushing stream, across a 3 log bridge (TA 3 wire bridge style!). Along lakes, through boardwalked bogs, over roots, piercing the bushes. I just had a great time pretending like I was back in New Zealand, I really did!
Because of my late start and the challenging conditions, the miles came really slow. I just plugged away, noting the rain turn to drizzle then stop. Then slowly the light began to increase. Maybe even a spot of blue here and there. I took only a few small breaks. The first was at a shelter but as it wasn’t raining anymore and because the shelter felt dark and dank, I moved on for a few hours to Flagstaff lake. There I found some sun and a breeze, so refreshing. Unfortunately I didn’t pause here long either because I was just too eager to get to my final camp to dry my tent. So I pushed on another 2 miles.
Crossing a road and heading into the Bigelow range, I immediately noticed a difference in the quality of the trail. The previous section was more like a connector piece and it was clear that this section received a lot of day and weekend use. At least the final bit of my day was pretty easy. The terrain steepened as I started into the mountains and there finally was a beautiful spot above a stream and pools, my second shelter of the trip.
Only 3 people were there so I could have easily snagged a spot inside. But I used the early stop time to dry my tent and get it set up…needed to dry it anyway. The shelter filled in less than an hour after I arrived. I’m so glad that I’m not depending on them because there seems to be so much competition for space. One NOBO arrived after it was full and looked pretty disgusted about having to go set up his tent. You have to stop pretty early to ensure a spot or, just count on sleeping in a tent, like me.