A Day in the Life

A trail update is on its way soon! Currently we are taking a Zero-Day in Stratton to wait out rain and let some friends to catch up.

We’ve had a couple of people ask what a typical day on the trail is like, so here goes:

5:00 am- Sunrise. If a NOBO (Northbound hiker) stayed the night in the lean-to, they’re already gone. The one’s we’ve seen are the fastest of the fast. NOBOs may slow down as we reach the back of the pack. Around this time, people start rolling over and waking up. Not us, or at least not Kristen.

6:00-6:30ish Now we can start getting up (with Kristen’s permission). The higher the temperature, the easier this is. Typically we do any needed wardrobe changes under our sleeping quilts, then deflate the pads and pack our clothes. We smush clothes, quilts, and sleeping pads into our compactor bags inside the bottoms of our packs. If we feel like it, we heat up water to make oatmeal and coffee. There’s nothing quite like peacefully sitting surrounded by nature, sipping a pot full of steaming coffee (according to Kristen. This is slightly stressful for Levi as he wants to start moving). Otherwise, we pour Carnation Breakfast Essentials powder into a water bottle and divvy up snack food for the day before packing food bags into our packs.

6:30-7ish One last privy stop and water bottle fill before hitting the trail. Typically lean-to sites have wooden privy shacks (more on those in a later post) and water sources close by, though nowhere near one another. Gotta avoid Giardia!

7ish-12ish Hike. Stop frequently for breathers if traveling uphill because we still haven’t got our trail legs. The trail so far has been rocky and rooty so we go around 2 mi/hr. Occasionally we stop for water fills at streams/springs, make some Gatorade or Propel, and eat Cliff bars/Poptarts/Snickers. If we hit a good resting place like a lean-to or mountain top we may also make peanut butter and Nutella tortilla wraps. The more calories, the better!

2:30 Our typical rule is if we hit our mileage goals by this time, we reward ourselves with more hiking. In other words, if we arrive at our intended lean-to stop for the day we sign the trail register and move on to the next one.

Sometime between 4:00-7:00 we hit our final campsite or lean-to for the day. Don’t worry moms, in Maine, it doesn’t get dark until almost 9. With our 3-person tent sometimes we are unsuccessful finding a tent site and choose to sleep in the lean-to. We have only slept ONCE by ourselves. Typically we have plenty of SOBO friends sharing the site (more on them later, too) and someone else gets a fire started to keep bugs away.

We arrange our sleeping area (tent set up or pad/sleeping bag set out) and then begin filtering water and making dinner. Kristen makes Ramen or mashed potatoes (or some combo of the two), plus olive oil for dinner and Levi does the dishes. Basically he scrapes the pot, swishes it with water, and swigs what remains. Delightful. Sometimes there is evening cocoa, cider, or tea before bed.

Then we sleep (usually before sundown).

Baxter SP and the 100 Mile Wilderness

Day 1 – 5.2+5.2 miles, 8000+ ft in elevation change.

Our first day started with us climbing 5.2 miles and 4000′ to Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin in order to start our journey south. The climb was tough, and included multiple rock scrambles. Some locations included rebar hand and foot holds, but most had the climber depend on granite and friction to make their way up.

Views above treeline were breathtaking, and the alpine ecosystem was packed with beautiful low-lying vegetation.

Once we reached the northern terminus, we started the AT by turning around and going down the same way we came up. A seasonal spring near the top was dry, leaving many of our group without water on the first few miles of the difficult descent. The granite was rough enough to chew a rubber piece off the bottom of Levi’s shoe.

Thankfully, the full group made it to the peak and back without issue, and set up camp at Katahdin Stream Campground.

Day 2 – 17.8 miles

Day 2 saw less elevation but more miles. Upon leaving the campsite, we hiked 9.1 miles to exit Baxter State Park. Right outside is Abol Bridge with wonderful views of Katahdin when the weather is clear. We weren’t so lucky. We had our first rainy day.

Shortly thereafter, we entered the 100 mile wilderness. Entering from the north end means instant gloomy overgrown and mossy ancient forest. Roots and rocks coat the ground, and an incredible silence fills the air.

After a few miles, we started an ascent to rainbow ledges, a granite capped hilltop with occasional views of the expansive wilderness. We ended our day by setting up a rainy camp next to Rainbow Lake, the only flat tent site for a few miles. Luckily, the rain stopped by evening, and despite dropping to 35 F the condensation on our tent was not bad.

Day 3 – 15.2 miles

Day 3 started slow as we were trying to dry out everything from the day before. The trail took us by some beautiful lakeside views as well as some mountaintop panoramas.

We first started feeling the effects of food intake and got zonked at separate points. Camp at Wadleigh Stream Lean-to was particularly buggy.

Day 4 – 13.5 miles

Day 4 was limited in elevation but included very tricky terrain. We wanted to break 20 miles, but unexpected miles of swamp rock-hops and root scrambles encouraged us to leave some trail for the next day.

We spent the night at the Antlers campsite, which was a beautiful lakeside site with (gasp) cell service. Good company was had, and we got word from a speedy section hiker regarding others who started the same day. Many are still on trail, but a few others have dropped out.

Day 5 – 19.7 miles

The return of the miles. We got an early start and a nice boost from smooth trails. 12 miles were down by lunch, which is when we picked up our paint bucket food resupply for the rest of the 100 mile wilderness. With full packs, we decided 7 more miles and 2800 feet of elevation gain was a no brainer.

We ended our day at Logan Brook Lean-to halfway up Whitecap Mountain, the 100 Mile Wilderness’ highest peak. The camp site is a small tent city tucked next to a beautiful cascading ravine. Kristen almost caught the lean-to on fire while cooking in the wind, giving her the trail name Danaerys.

Day 6 – 12.8 miles

The day started off with a windy and foggy ascent of White Cap Mountain followed by a rough ramble through the White Cap range. The subsequent peaks allowed for great views and brief breathers before the next rocky descent.

Rain and the looming Chairback range inspired us to stay the night at an unnamed campground.

Day 7 – 11.1 miles

Day 7 took us into the Chairback range, by far the toughest challenge yet. We tackled Chairback, Columbus, Third, and Fourth mountains and had enough. The mountains are so exhausting that they gave up naming them after the second one.

We took a short side trail to beautiful Cloud Pond and spent a couple of hours drying out before taking an early bed time.

Day 8 – 16.2 miles

After a good night’s rest, we decided to get ourselves in good position to exit the 100 Mile Wilderness by the next day.

Great views on Barren Mountain led to a long day of PUDS (pointless ups and downs) and some scenic stream crossings. We settled down at Leeman Brook Lean-to a few miles from the exit, ready to heal up and chow down the next day.

Day 9 – 3.0 miles

After an early start, we made it into Monson just in time for breakfast at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel. We were met by a few familiar faces and many more have since joined.

We’re in Maine!

We made it to Maine on Sunday evening after a long but picturesque drive through PA, NJ, NY, CT, MA, and NH. Fortunately it only rained for an hour or so, and being able to belt out Frankie Valli and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes kept us trucking along.

We’ve just boarded a bus that will take us to Medway, where we’ll catch a shuttle to Millinocket and the AT Lodge. We’ve already met a few potential thru hikers who will be starting the trail over the next few days. The levels of preparedness vary quite a bit from hiker to hiker.

As for us, we’ve been preparing for this for over a year both mentally and logistically. You could say we’ve been preparing physically, but that’s stretching the truth a little bit. (As they say, “The AT gets you in shape for the AT,” right?) We have gone through many iterations of backpacks, tested out sleep systems, and experimented with bug protection. We read numerous books, including a joint effort of Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis, a book about mentally preparing for the AT. If I had to recall, we also probably spent over half of our premarital counseling sessions talking about hiking and life on the trail.

In addition to preparing gear, we’ve been able to prepare our responses to common questions. Will you carry a gun? How do you get food? Will you sleep in a hammock? What do you do about bugs? Bears? Ticks?

Our answers have changed over time, but currently stand at: No; via resupply boxes and stops in town; nope–we have a 3 person tent; and Permetherine/Picaradin and headnets, run and shout, and nightly tick checks in addition to bug protection.

It was difficult to arrive at answers to some of those questions. It was comforting when we both blurted out the same answer (Will you be hunting squirrels on the trail? No! Are you trying to finish the whole thing? Yup!). But more often than not we had to do some further discussing (How many pairs of underwear will you take? Will Kristen sleep in a hammock?) The most memorable of these was probably last 4th of July when Levi surprised his family (and Kristen) when he declared, “We won’t even be carrying a cookstove!”

Excuse me?

“Yup. No cookstove. They’re heavy and we can just cold soak our meals.” (Whatever the heck that means).

That changed.

We ‘compromised’ with a 30 gram cookstove that burns both alcohol fuel (not the good kind, though) and esbit tabs. Kristen can have her coffee and Levi can have much more pleasant mornings.

Sometimes it wasn’t about compromising, but about solidifying our reasoning. Yes, our backpacks are really really light and no, we aren’t carrying many items that some people think are entirely necessary for surviving for 6 months in the wilderness. If it weren’t for all of the supportive yet curious friends and family members, we might not be able to explain why, though.

Anywho, here we are, prepared as we’ll ever be with many a thanks to all of you who’ve expressed interest in our journey!


On our way to Maine!

The last few weeks have been crazy! Kristen finished her school year, we got married, and our house is all packed up and under contract. We’ve split up our earthly possessions between a 10’x10′ storage locker and a crawl space and are on the road with two backpacks, a cat, and a lot of food.

The drive thus far has been pretty straightforward, save an escape attempt by the cat at a rural McDonalds. No worries – she is still safely on her way to the Grandma Dee Kitty Hotel.

We want to thank everyone for being supportive (both emotionally and physically) as we start this adventure. We’ve found words of encouragement around every corner and couldn’t feel more loved. We hope you enjoy tagging along from the safety of your computer screens as we brave bugs, rain, bears, moose, mice, intermittent internet access, weird smells, and probably too much ramen.

Stay tuned! We know people are curious about pretty much everything, so feel free to comment with questions!