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Exile's_Home ©1997 George Steffanos

gsat@skwc.com

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Then The Hail Came

Last updated 2/12/97


CHAPTER 25

LONG AND WINDING ROAD

(Abol Bridge, Maine to Katahdin Stream Campground, Maine)

SUNDAY, 10/2/83, MILE 2133.3 --- The backpacker sat on the edge of the shelter, finishing his breakfast. He pulled his serape tighter around his shoulders, tugged the rim of his hat down closer to his eyes, struck a match against the floor, and lit the small, ratty-looking cigar stub clenched between his teeth in the corner of his mouth.

Three other backpackers were in the shelter. They were an ugly crowd in an ugly mood. One man took a long swig off of a bottle of red-eye, glanced at the backpacker, and accosted him in an expressionless monotone, his lips moving completely out of sync with his words.

"Hey, pardner, that's one scraggly dang mustache you got there. I'll bet it grows in real good when you hit puberty."

The backpacker looked bored. He pulled his hat even further down over his eyes and yawned.

The second weekender scratched himself and said, "Hey, stranger, where'd you get that nose? It looks big enough,to have its own weather."

The backpacker ignored him, pulling the cigar stub but of his mouth to spit out a stray shred of tobacco.

The third weekender sauntered over to the backpacker. In the hokiest accent of all, sounding like some European B-movie extra's idea of a Mexican, he cried, "Hey, americano. Dose socks really stink. I bet ju can use dem to strip the paint off a Chevy!"

The weekenders guffawed. A small, but violent quiver began vibrating the backpacker's cheek. He removed the cigar from his mouth and spoke in a quiet, husky, ominous voice. "Are you talking about my little woolly socks? The ones I never wear hiking?"

The weekender grinned and swaggered back to rejoin the others. The backpacker stood and walked slowly over to them. His expression was totally bland. "I think you owe my little woolly socks -- the ones I never wear hiking -- an apology. You see, I know that you boys were kidding, but my socks just don't get it. They're kind of sensitive."

The weekenders continued to cackle. The backpacker flipped the right side of his serape over his left shoulder, exposing the pistol he carried on his hip. His eyes were like ice. The weekenders blanched and lunged for their own guns. Three quick shots rang out.

The backpacker straightened his serape, hefted his pack to his shoulders, and strode away. One of the dieing men groaned and stirred. He found the strength for one last breath.

"Who are you?" he gasped.

The backpacker just smiled and flipped him the bird.

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I had Hurd Brook Lean-to all to myself last night. On my final night in the hundred-mile wilderness, it was only fitting that I should enjoy a little solitude. My last home on the Appalachian Trail, tonight, would be in the middle of the hustle and bustle of one of Baxter State Park's campgrounds.

It rained during the night: short spurts of very light drizzle. This let up by daybreak, but the sky remained gray and overcast. My slim remaining hopes of having a Class I day tomorrow for the ascent of Katahdin died in the early morning gloom. This mess is just not going to clear up by then. It seems hard after all these miles, but that's life.

I changed out of my little woolly socks (the ones I never wear hiking) and left the shelter at 8:15. I had not exactly busted my butt to get ready in a hurry. I did not have far to go today.

My first three-and-a-half miles took me through the end of the wilderness. The Appalachian Trail wound through an attractive forest, and it was gentle walking. When I came out onto the paved Greenville-Millinocket Road at 9:25, only fourteen-and-a-half miles of white blazes remained before me. I turned and began the final roadwalk on the Appalachian Trail.

The AT crossed the Abol Bridge over the Penobscot River and continued to follow the road past a private campground with a small store. I dropped off and made a beeline for the store.

With fewer than ten miles to hike today, I wanted something more satisfying than backpacking food for tonight. I deserved it. I needed only carry food for one more dinner and one more breakfast. I picked up two cans of Chunky Soup and two packets of peanut butter crackers for dinner. For tonight's dessert and tomorrow's breakfast, I grabbed two boxes of Pop-Tarts and four packets of hot chocolate. I picked up a box of granola bars for the trail. For my immediate gratification, I bought two sticky, gooey little carrot cakes, two bags of molasses cookies, and a coke. My last pig-out on the trail was a relatively-modest one.

A bulletin board was on the wall of the store, pinned up with messages from Appalachian Trail hikers written on index cards. The lady who ran the store sensed (or, perhaps, scented) that I was a thru-hiker, and invited me to add my own. I wrote that, having just decided it just was not worth all of the trouble, I was quitting the trail and going home. I signed it, as usual, George Steffanos, Hamden, Connecticut. She told me that she was originally from New Haven, and had worked in Hamden for a business which turned out to be less than three miles from my house. It's a small world.

Buying and inhaling the food killed almost an hour. I picked up a Mount Katahdin patch, filled my canteen at the water pump outside, and stepped back out upon the steadily-diminishing remnant of a long and winding road. How 2138.5 miles dwindled down to 14.5, I will never know. I just kept on walking.

The next five miles on the Appalachian Trail passed through private lands owned by the Great Northern Paper Company. It stayed on the paved road for another quarter-mile past the store, then turned off onto a gravel road. After another quarter-mile, the AT turned onto an old, unpaved logging road. For the first half-mile, the road was fairly wide and showed signs of vehicular traffic. It crossed several brooks on small bridges. Gradually, it diminished to a grassy, abandoned lane.

I passed through the outskirts of an immense area which had been burned-over in a 1977 forest fire. Six years later, the surroundings wore far from desolate. Occasional blackened shells of partially-consumed tree trunks still stood their mournful watches, but a dense mass of scrubby second-growth was springing up all around them. Its saplings were far ahead of most of the older forests through which I have traveled in attaining their autumn foliage, and the area was a riot of reds, yellows, oranges, golds, and innumerable shades of green. It was one of the most unique and schizophrenic sections of the entire Appalachian Trail.

The trail paralleled the Penobscot River, occasionally leaving the old road in order to travel the river bank. It was an attractive walk, but the footway was rather poor. Oh, well -- that's Maine. The sky tried to clear a couple of times as I walked along, but on both occasions the clouds quickly returned. Despite the overcast, it was still remarkably warm for the place and the season. I sweated buckets.

At the point where Nesbwadnehunk Stream emptied its waters into the Penobscot, the Appalachian Trail turned right off of the old tote road for the final time and followed the stream bank into Baxter State Park. The burnt-over areas had been left behind. I followed the stream for more than two miles through mature forests, past a progression of cascades and waterfalls. I had expected the section between the wilderness and the park to be rather boring, but it was great. I had also hoped that the trail would be easy. Well. . . that's life. I will take this tradeoff any day. A couple of the stream crossings were especially shaky, and at one point I had to bushwhack around. some flooded trail. But it wasn't boring.

A side trail brought me to Big Niagara Falls (no, the other one). The falls were not enormous (no, that's the other one), but they were impressive enough, and quite scenic. Little Niagara Falls (no...) were pretty, too, and the spot featured a nice view of the surrounding mountains.

I arrived at Daicey Pond Campground and walked over to the ranger station to check in. This spot was the setting for the mental image I created long ago in Georgia and North Carolina -- the one I had utilized many times in the dark hours of my quest to help me along. The place itself was not at all unlike my mind had pictured it, although I cannot testify to the accuracy of my imaginary picture of its view of Katahdin. Thick overcast squashed any chance I might have had of actually living that vision.

The ranger on duty checked and informed me that lean-to's were available in Katahdin Stream Campground. As it was just 2:15, and Katahdin Stream was two miles closer to Baxter Peak, I reserved one. The six-dollar fee for a single night was identical to the fee at Daicey Pond.

After a beautiful walk past several wild ponds, I arrived at Katahdin Stream. Far across the last pond, I spotted two more moose, bringing my total for the trip up to seven. It was a male and a female having a drink together before a night of passion. It was good to see that somebody was getting some.

For some reason, the ranger had reserved for me one of the campground's largest lean-to's. As big as most Appalachian Trail shelters, it was almost like having one last lean-to all to myself -- a fitting conclusion to this odyssey.

An extremely cocky chipmunk paid me a visit a moment ago. I was sitting on the edge of my shelter, eating a Pop-Tart. He ran inside and sat down about one inch from my thigh, staring up at me and waiting for a handout. Out of months of habit, I told him to get lost, and he ran off to try his act one someone else. I'm sorry I did that. Such brashness deserves to be rewarded.

It is K minus one. The forecast for tomorrow sucks. As a matter of fact, it is predicted to be the lousiest day thus far this week. The entire day is going to be cloudy with scattered showers. You can't always get what you want. Unless it is absolutely miserable, I am going up. That mountain is directly before me now, looming huge in my psyche although the vision itself is completely lost in low, gray clouds. The magnetic pull on me at this range is irresistible.

My mother was supposed to show up here today, but she never did. That's too bad, because I was hoping to get another roll of film from her for tomorrow's concluding chapter. I have either one or zero shots remaining on my last roll. I had thought I carried plenty of film out from Monson, but I did not count on the scenic qualities of the hundred-mile wilderness. It is one final disappointment, but I guess I will have my moment in the sun tomorrow, anyway. Even in the clouds and rain.

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©1997 George Steffanos

gsat@skwc.com

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