Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sometimes you gotta follow the Yellow Blaze to get back to the White Blaze

Here's a quick recap from my last post "Smiles Not Miles:" After crossing over Saddleback Mountain, we stopped early due to my nagging knee injury. I spent the night on Poplar Ridge and hiked out to the road with Beans the next day. We ended up in town of Stratton, Maine, where I iced my knee and made plans for the next day. 

Thursday September 25th

Weather: terrific
Trail: Not much trail today, hitchhiking back to vehicle from Stratton to Andover, Maine

Beans and MacGuyver headed out for a hitch back to the trail for a steep climb over the Bigelow Range. Views from Avery peak and North and South Horn are awesome as I recall from my Southbound Thru-hike in 2011. They should have a great day of vistas over Flagstaff Lake. 

I had already been there done that, and felt ok about taking the day off and resting the knee. But I still had somewhere to be. So as MacGuyver hitched east to the A.T., I hitched west towards Rangeley. I was going to try and make it back to vehicle in Andover, so I could stage it in the next town. Then the plan would be to spend the night on the shores of the Kennebec River and take the ferry southbound the next morning to meet up with my crew. So here's how I got to Andover with my magic thumb:

1st hitch---- short ride about 4 miles to somewhere outside of Stratton. Cows kept me company at this pasture stop.

2nd hitch---- Mickey picked me up and we rode together through the multicolor foliage talking about life's mysteries. This whimsical woman was living in Maine after many years in New York City. Her silver hair was crazy and her New Age music played on the car stereo, as she shared some brief tidbits of her life with me. I shared with her my travel story of the past week or so. Then Mickey. dropped me off at a gas station outside of Rangeley.

3rd hitch----George saw me getting out of Mickey's car and offered a ride. I rode with him to the job site where he was supervisor at a roof repair. I met his crew, shot some shit, and got back in the truck with him. He was headed further south to pick up materials for the job. So I got as far as the Maine Highway 17 overlook of Lake Mooselookmeguntic thanks to George.
..... it turns out I had crossed this road via A.T. just four days prior. this location ended up taking me quite a while to get another ride, but it was not at all a bad place to be stranded. It was here that I had breakfast, talked with many motorists, met some trail angels heading the opposite direction, and ultimately waited for about 4 hours for a ride. 

4th hitch----It was a 'leaf-peeping' couple from Concord, New Hampshire that were very familiar with the area. I offered to take their photograph in front of the lake, and then they offered me a ride. The couple knew just where to drop me off. They were headed to Mexico, Maine. But they crossed the Swift River a few miles early to drop me off for my final leg into Andover on Roxbury Notch Road.  

5th hitch---- Angelo, an Andover native picked me up in a Crown Vic. The large trunk fit my pack easily. He was playing the most beautiful opera music on the stereo. He knew David at Pine Ellis Hostel quite well. And when I told him about my car window getting busted out at Grafton Norch, he said he'd been wondering what the story was with the minivan with plastic bag taped over it parked in David's front yard. Angelo had hiked the entire trail back in the 60's when the trail was just beginning to see annual pilgrims in small numbers. For many years since his experience on the Appalachian Trail he's lived in Maine.

Map showing my 'yellow blaze' route back to my vehicle in Andover.

So from Pine Ellis I drive to Caratunk, ME stopping along the way to pick up tiki fuel for Beans' torch. As I approached the Kennebec River, I thought about those three consecutive summers, probably '93-'96 I had enjoyed camping and paddling along its waterway with my Dad, Uncle, and Rogebo. I was a pilgrim revisiting the place of my spiritual origin. The rafting outfitter, now a brewery; the pizza joint, still a pizza joint; and the campsite alongside the Kennebec River where I saw my first meteor shower. As a 12 year old boy from the light polluted suburbs of Baltimore, the fantastic streams of light originating in the dark night sky's Perseus stirred a primal sense of spirit in me. I can confidently say that this was the most vivid early memory of feeling apart of something larger than myself. I still have a small quilt I made in middle school art depicting this scene: The camp fire, the tents, people large and small laying out in the grass gazing up in amazement, the river, the trees.

So I reached this spot with some daylight left and was extremely happy to see it had not changed much. The only difference was the presence of a few picnic tables and some steel campfire rings. I walked down to the river and looked across. Still the pristine river I remembered.

Next I drove a few miles down river to where the A.T. crosses. Parked the vehicle at the Post Office in Caratunk and walked down to the river to make camp in the pitch black. There were a few shooting stars, the sounds of the river, great horned owls asking "whooo's awake?" and the flicker of Beans' new torch fuel. I slept like a baby on a soft bed of pine needles. The next day would bring me across the river and traveling southbound once again to meet my friends at camp.

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