Speck Pond Shelter to Gentian Shelter – 15 miles
I’ll be honest, I am ready to be done with Maine. These 281 miles were pretty, but also a suffer fest at times. Putting this down in writing and sharing it in a public place feels difficult, like admitting defeat.
This trail in this state is stupidly steep and unnecessarily so. Worse, people are very proud their trails are so “rugged.”
The caretaker at Speck Pond explained that the trail building philosophy is for erosion prevention, not user ease, but their strategy is counterproductive. Some of the trails are so vertical that it’s impossible to gain enough friction to walk on them. Users bypass the official trail, causing more erosion in the process.
On the uphills I try to balance on the coarser quartz veins, where I can get more traction. I hold my breath and weight my foot, hoping I don’t cheese grater myself on the rock. In this activity – like in rock climbing and in life – if you don’t stand firmly on your two feet and fully commit to a move, your shoes will banana peel out from under you and you’ll go careening down a wet granite slab on your ass. Even if you’re careful, sometimes you fall anyway.
Coming down, I feel like a wobbly kneed baby giraffe trying to lean on my fully extended poles and gently lower myself down steps that are way too big, without tumbling down head over heels. Sometimes my pole gets stuck in a root bundle and yanks me backward.
Then there is the Mahoosuc Notch, which is one of the most feared stretches of the entire 2,189 miles. The guide describes it as the “most difficult or fun mile of the AT. Make way through jumbled pit of boulders.” The Notch takes most hikers about 2 hours of scrambling over rocks and crawling through passageways so narrow you have to remove your pack. I used some crack climbing techniques, a few kneebars, and a heel hook or two. At one point in the Mahoosuc Notch, the trail crew had the nerve to mark a double blaze, indicating a sudden change in direction. Understatement of the year.
Descending last night’s Speck Peak, I was perched precariously above a piece of trail that doubled as a waterfall while a NOBO tried to come by. In passing, he said, “man, sometimes this trail is dangerous.” Yes, hiker man, yes.
Maine was about not breaking an ankle, snapping a trekking pole, or knocking out a tooth. For all the fearmongering I’ve heard about the difficulty of New Hampshire, the trail was noticeably easier south of the state line. I hope this trend continues.
The past two and a half weeks have been hard and uncomfortable and not always fun. I’m hoping that struggling through these difficult miles and spending time outside my comfort zone will help me build resiliance.
I am learning to see this trail for what it is, not what I want it to be. People seem to adore these northeastern woods and the AT the way I love the Sierra and the PCT. I don’t share their admiration yet, so I’ll have to keep walking to find out what all the fuss is about.