10/7 Millinocket (7.5)

October 25, 2013 at 6:03 pm

IMG_20131007_073336_793We succeeded at one of our rare sunrise hikes today.  Flicka and Snacks, on the other hand, had a different opinion about waking up.  LadyMac tried to round them both up, but had better luck with the one she had a harness for.  A grumpy morning husky sniffed and snorted irritably around Snacks’ motionless hammock, infuriated that only one of them had to wake up at this ungodly hour.  We like to think that it was this bitterness mixed with the intrinsically devious Husky nature that prompted Flicka to leave Snacks a gift directly under his hammock as we watched.  LadyMac sighed and told us she would catch up.

It wasn’t easy to get up in the dark cold and pack up a wet tent, but knowing that we are leaving the Hundred Mile Wilderness today and approaching Katahdin gave us wings.  We could have done anything.  We charged up Rainbow Ledges in the first light of day, the red, green, and yellow lichens blurring together with the early blue backdrop to create an apropos effect.  We found ourselves very grateful we didn’t march on into the rain the night before; there was no place to camp on the barren rock and its delicate hat of scrub brush.

It seems that this is the hour of the grouse.  After having the daylights scared out of us on a regular basis by these easily startled ‘wild chickens,’ we assumed that they spent all of their time hiding in the bushes directly adjacent to the trail.  But here they were, hopping on the rocks, digging for food, and making odd little noises as they ran past each other, seemingly unperturbed by our presence.  Shortly after the signs at the top, I saw what looked like a peacock mixed with a rooster preening on a rock.  It was a male grouse!  I stopped and shushed Snakebite and Mark as they approached.  The male grouse was doing what looked like a little mating dance for a very disinterested looking female.  Two other female grouse were watching with rapt attention from a distance.  At least, as much attention as the animal that is a prime candidate for the next Dodo can muster.  She seemed to be a lot more concerned with finding grubs, but he hopped on a rock and strutted with his feathers held high before she ran into the bushes with a squawk.  Evidently, we are not the only thing the female grouse will run loudly away from.

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The fog obscured our views of Katahdin today, but we aren’t too disappointed.  Something about the prospect of hiking our last day toward Baxter in a cloud strikes us as fairly romantic, as if the forest has provided us with a stage curtain that it will use to grandly reveal our end goal.  It is nice, too, to not be hiking under the watchful gaze of Katahdin as a constant reminder of our destination.  Instead, today we are simply hiking and each step is a story by itself, rather than a chapter in a larger compilation.

Hurd Brook Lean-to was full of people’s last goodbye messages.  It was strange to read the final thoughts of so many hikers the day before they summitted Katahdin, knowing that they are now in Millinocket, or boarding a bus, or perhaps warm and confused at their home in another state.  It felt like we were hearing echoes with a private knowledge that they would meet an unresponsive wall and be silenced.

Shortly after Hurd, we met with the Northern terminus of the Hundred Mile Wilderness and crossed the threshold.  A paved road surrounded by bright trees sacrificing their leaves made a definite right angle in our usually winding path.  We were in a cloud, finally walking over Abol Bridge on the Golden Road.  Ahead, it was 15 miles to the summit of Katahdin.  We were so grateful to see LadyMac’s grandparents’ camper and be shaken out of our own pervasive fogginess.  We broke from the linear road and ran down the embankment into the campsites by Abol Bridge.  As we approached, we saw a woman sitting by the river drinking her coffee.

“Are you the Moose Killer?”  She laughed and corrected us, “MooseSlayer, but yes.”  LadyMac’s grandmother let us into the camper and we were greeted by the happy faces of Limey, Greenlite, First Gear, and Tennessee eating breakfast.  Junior was churning out egg sandwiches like it was his job, and everyone made room for us to squeeze in.  We were all a noisy mess catching up with each other.  They had gotten there the day before and waited, knowing we would show up.  They had avoided the rain in the warm camper and laughed at us for getting stuck in the storm.  Shortly after, LadyMac and Snacks showed up.  Flicka almost exploded from happiness.  I don’t think any of us were prepared for how happy that husky could be when she realized she didn’t have to hike anymore.  In no time, Junior was feeding and petting a little quivering ball of joy and LadyMac was sighing again.  It was sweet to see her reunion with her Grandparents; an independent, down-to-earth, tough individual, LadyMac got nothing but love and adoration from her doting grandparents.  We watched them insist on bringing her soup tonight at Katahdin Stream Campsite, despite her protests.

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We received our weather update for the first time in a week from the general store.  The weather tomorrow was supposed to be similar to today’s weather: cloudy, windy, and cold.  We were disappointed to hear the news and spent a considerable amount of time debating our options outside the general store.  we had just decided to hike on and summit tomorrow, rain or shine, when Walmart made a memorable pitch about the benefits of waiting for a clear day that convinced all of us to stay.  After Walmart’s amazing delivery, Snakebite stepped up and suggested Millinocket for the night, and before we knew it there were six of us crammed into Uncle Buck’s car headed for the little town, nearly bottoming out on the wet, winding roads.  We decided that after hiking for six months, we can wait one more day to see the top of Katahdin, especially if that day determines whether or not we’ll actually be able to see the top or just be wandering through another cloud.  At the hotel that night, watching a zombie movie on the tv and eating candy in celebration of October, the lights seemed far too bright and the appliances all seemed to be humming different tunes.  As usual, one night in a motel made us miss our little tent and fluffy, smelly sleeping bags.  We are standing on the edge now; we are ready to be done with our journey, but we aren’t ready to go back yet.