The Bear Minimum
There is a moment of panic that arises sometime after breakfast, caused by the ever-new realization that you get to do it all over again. No, you cannot go back to bed. You have to put your bed into one of many bags. By now you know where every bag goes and what it’s used for: A bag for the bag, a bag for the pad, a bag for food, stove-bag, pan-bag, trash-bag, water-bag, baggy-bag. You won’t be returning to this breakfast nook ever again. A new (temporary) nook awaits you ten to fifteen miles away! It feels nice to know that everything I need is on my back, many bags in one big bag. I wonder about human need. What determines our needs? What do we really need and what do we only think we need?
In Millinocket, the first trail town, I sent home twenty-three pounds of stuff I didn’t need: long underwear, hat, hoodie, shorts. I had another shakedown a few days ago at Pleasant Pond Lean-To. I shared a shelter with 2 bearded and beaming Northbounders (NOBOs); they are at the end of their journeys. The packs they carried weighed twenty-five pounds and they encouraged me to try and shed as much weight as possible (not counting the weight I’ve already lost from hiking: 10 lbs). So, much like I did at the AT Lodge with Ole Man Paul, we went through my pack.
NOBO #1: Get rid of those food bags.
NOBO #2: And that carabeaner
NOBO #1: You could detach the top part of your bag and send that home.
NOBO #2: Basically, you want to think radical
Ok, I can do that. So when I hit the next town (Caratunk, population 177) I sent home a whole 2 lbs! It actually does make a difference when you’re hiking fifteen miles and climbing thousands of feet a day. It’s funny, I spend all sorts of money to buy stuff it’s gonna take all sorts of money to send home. This reminds me of the time I tried to check a futon bed as baggage at the airport for a two-week trip to NYC when I was 15. Live and learn, right? My bag now weighs thirty-three pounds (that includes about 3 days of food and a litre of water), which is pretty good I think.
After stopping in Caratunk (population 177) for some jalapeno poppers and a beer (and a soak in the hot-tub and a game of pool), we went on toward Stratton. The people I’ve been hiking with are good people. All guys so far, I’m praying some women will come along soon! 🙂
We had to take a little canoe across the Kennebec River. It is the only part of the entire AT with a moving white blaze.
The Pierce Pond Lean-To was amazing. It is a little three-sided shelter on the lake. We went swimming and I thought this might be the best summer ever. There is a man down the path who runs a sporting camp named Tim Harrison. He will make you 12 pancakes, eggs, sausage, coffee and juice for 10 bucks. We did that in the morning and headed south.
After this it was over the Bigelow range. These are the second highest peaks in Maine–the first being Katahdin, which ahem!, I climbed on the first day. 🙂
The Bigelows were amazing. Starting off at 1,760 ft they rise to 4,090 feet after seven miles, then dip down to 3, 850 feet and back up to 4,145 feet then back down to 1,350 feet–all within twelve miles. My knees were KILLING me. When I got to the top of the first peak, there was a girl-scout troop at the top. One of them took this picture.
When I passed the 2,000 mile mark (meaning I only had 2,000 more miles to go) I met “Pete from Maine”. This is how he introduced himself: “Let’s shake hands, we just passed the 2,000 mile mark. My name is Pete from Maine”. So, in the middle of the Bigelow mountain range we had ourselves a little celebration.
I should have taken a picture of him. He is about 5′ 6″, white hair and beard and bright, shocking blue eyes. I need to make it a point to take more pictures of the people I meet up here. There are so many good people. One lady, she called herself Playboy, left us some “Trail Magic”. Trail magic is an amazing thing. People who support hikers or have hiked themselves will leave treats for hikers. Playboy left us a cooler full of sodas and a box of Snickers and hot-chocolate mix. They were inside of little bags with hearts drawn on them. So many people, including myself, were concerned about my safety out here, but honestly, I’ve never felt safer anywhere in the world. Everyone I’ve met just wants to help me out in any way they can. Don’t worry, I’ll still be cautious and wary of people, but so far those I’ve come across have proven themselves to be extraordinary. It gives me faith in human nature. This is what I need. I think this is what we all need.
As I get rid of the things I can do without I come to know more and more what I am capable of. And as I get rid of the extra weight I become capable of more and more. I’ve come to need less as I realize I have to carry, or commit, to what I’m holding onto every moment. And what I really need, which is to know (not just believe) people are good, doesn’t weigh a thing. I found out today that my good friend, Ajeet Matharu, died yesterday in a car accident while in India. Sitting at a picnic table in Stratton, ME, I cried without reservation. A woman pulled up in her car and asked me if I was OK. When I told her why I was crying she got out of the car and hugged me. She held my hands and prayed with me. And just magically, she had a white candle and a Native American sage smudge with her. She gave these to me and told me to light the candle and sage and think about all the good qualities of my friend. She told me that the love I learned with him will never die. Then she got in her car and drove away. I needed that more than anything.
So onward I go, back into the woods tomorrow morning. I’ll be thinking about all of you, and about Ajeet. Life is so precious. We are so lucky to have today.