APPALACHIAN TRAIL ADVENTURE RUN

   
       
Jim, Sue, Cody, and Tater at Springer Mtn., start of the Appalachian Trail Adventure Run

 

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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
 
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DAY 135:  SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 11
 
Start: Maine 27/Stratton                                      
End:  Long Falls Dam Rd.
Today's Miles:                      19.1
Cumulative Miles:          2,006.2
Miles to go:                       168.7
   
 
" . . . I just wanted to say that I love reading about your adventures . . .
 Your writing illustrates better than anyone's that the goal is the journey."
- a reader in Texas
 


View toward Flagstaff Lake from Avery Peak.  9-11-05

Moss-covered boulders on way up Bigelow Mountain 

This journey has been fascinating, Keith. Although the obvious goal is reaching Mt. Katahdin in a few days, the real journey will never end.

I will always have great memories of this trek through eastern America, and continue to seek the feelings and experiences that have made running and hiking the Appalachian Trail so memorable.

Today's section was very special to me:

I saw Mt. Katahdin for the first time (a local hiker pointed it out to me from Avery Peak).

I passed the magical 2,000-mile mark on Little Bigelow Mountain.

I climbed the last mountains above tree line until the final one, Katahdin.

I was awed by the beauty of the surrounding mountains and lakes, some of the finest views on the entire Appalachian Trail.

I absolutely had a blast going through two mossy, boulder-filled areas on either side of Bigelow Mountain. I have come full circle in my love-hate relationship with the rocks.

And I saw another bear!

DEFINITELY A "10"

This section, particularly the first ten miles from Hwy. 27 to Safford Notch, is on my top-ten list of great places to spend a day or two along the Appalachian Trail. Some of it is runnable but most of it is more suitable for a leisurely pace so you can enjoy the spectacular views, gorgeous lakes, and fun boulder caves.

I said "Wow!" a lot today. I think I need to expand my vocabulary.

Much of this section is in a protected area called the Bigelow State Preserve. In a slim majority in 1976, Maine voters chose to preserve this 33,000-acre wilderness rather than develop it into the "Aspen of the East." It is a very popular hiking area due to its beauty and remoteness.

This section isn't easy. There is quite a bit of elevation change and much of the Trail is either "tedious" or "rugged." At either end are a couple miles of fairly civilized trail compared to the rest of what I've seen in Maine so far. But the rewards are so high, it's worth a trip to hike here.

There is a net elevation gain of 2,900 feet from Hwy. 27 to the high point (4,145 feet), the West Peak of Bigelow Mountain in the seventh mile. The largest gain is in the first four miles to the unnamed peak before Horns Pond. Total gain is about 5,000 feet, total loss about the same. That adds up to a pretty strenuous day.

I enjoyed going through several eco-zones on either end of the Bigelows: the deciduous forests at the lower elevations, birch-and-pine forests, sub-alpine, and alpine zones on the south (west) end, then back down again on the north (east) side.

In Maine, I'm going more east than north. As daylight diminishes and we go farther east it is getting lighter a bit earlier in the morning and darker earlier in the evening. It's light enough to hike by about 6:00 AM under dense tree cover, but almost dark by 7 PM.

THE HORNS

Horns Pond is named after the two highest peaks on Bigelow Mountain, West Peak and Avery Peak. From a distance (and on the elevation profile) they look like horns or ears sticking up from Bigelow's ridge.

I was delighted to see a large black bear about three miles into the run. He had just crossed the Trail and was heading for a nearby creek. He was gone into the foliage before I could get a photo. Bears are like that.

Shortly after this I entered the first other-worldly, mossy boulder area. The AT winds around and between the boulders here (and later, at Safford Notch), not under and over them like in Mahoosuc Notch. This is much easier to negotiate and it's fun to peer into the "caves" the boulders formed when they fell down the mountainside. I felt several cold blasts of air as I passed the overhanging rocks and caves.

There are two fairly new shelters (Horns Pond Lean-to's) and spaces for tents in a notch below the first peak. A short side trail takes you down to Horns Pond, which is very pretty. An MATC caretaker lives here during the hiking season to educate hikers and protect the fragile sub-alpine environment.

I signed the shelter register and noted that "Pumpkin" and "Apple Pie" were there four days ago. I hope I catch up to these two delightful young women again before the end of the Trail. Pumpkin is the woman from Vermont who got married in August and returned (alone) to finish the Trail. Apple Pie is an experienced hiker from the Netherlands who has also done the PCT.

The South Horn of Bigelow is another 800 feet up the mountain from the pond. This is where the views really began. Here is a photo of the rocky peak. The Trail goes right up and over it.

After a 300-foot descent and roller-coaster ride on the ridge for a mile, I climbed another 600 feet to the tree-less summit of the West Peak, then down and up again to Avery Peak, named for Myron Avery, who was the driving force behind the AT in Maine.

Several day hikers were enjoying Avery Peak when I got there. A few other trails from the valleys on either side of the Bigelow Range also go to the summits, making for shorter hikes than going out-and-back on the AT. This is another photo from Avery, looking north to Flagstaff Lake and the mountain ranges beyond (including Katahdin):

After a moderate drop of 1,860 feet over two miles to Safford Notch (with more mossy boulders and caves), the Trail gradually climbs to the undulating ridge of Little Bigelow (elev. 3,010 feet), then drops another 1,785 feet to East Flagstaff Road.

I met Jim there, dropped my pack, picked up a water bottle, and took Cody for another 2.3 miles to Long Falls Dam Road. It felt funny running and hiking without my pack! This section skirted Flagstaff Lake, the huge body of water that looked so inviting from the mountain peaks a few hours earlier. Cody had fun swimming in the lake and a couple creeks along the Trail.

CREW DAY

After Jim dropped me off this morning he explored a terrific short-cut from Hwy. 27 to East Flagstaff Road that isn't on most state maps. We learned about it from Bear at The Cabin. It cut off nearly forty miles from a round-about way to get there on paved roads.

(Jim got the DeLorme atlas for Maine and it's in there. We recommend you buy this atlas if you're using trails and obscure little roads in Maine. It's a great supplement to our Topo software and easier for Jim to use in the truck than the laptop computer.)

At Safford Notch I ran into "Charlie Brown." He was complaining about the 68-mile drive he'd made this morning to get his car from Stratton to East Flagstaff Road. Charlie was going south and "Steady Eddie" was going north; Eddie was to get the car and drive it back to Stratton tomorrow.

I called Jim while I was taking to Charlie and found out more about Carriage Road, the short-cut. I relayed the information to Charlie. Jim also drew a map and wrote out instructions for Ed and put it on his windshield at East Flagstaff Road. Charlie was most grateful.

Jim tried other ways to be a trail angel today, like giving hikers rides or snacks, but no one was around the trail heads near me. He saw "The Honeymooners" and "Patch" in Stratton when he went into town to find a Wi-Fi hotspot to download e-mail and upload yesterday's journal. I'm a day or two ahead of these folks, Charlie, and Eddie and don't know if I'll see any of them again unless I take time off to rest or for rain.

THERE'S NO ESCAPING REALITY

My journey along the AT is a selfish, focused endeavor. Even though we have TV reception in most of our campgrounds, I don't pay much attention to the news. I'm most interested in the weather and how it will affect me, getting ready for the next day's section, and writing this journal.

But what's going on in the world still seeps in. It affects us even in the wilds of Maine. We've watched the videos of the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought along the Gulf Coast. We are sad for the thousands who may have died and the hundreds of thousands who have lost their homes and jobs or are otherwise affected.

Everyone in the country is - or will be - affected financially by this tragedy.

Today, of course, is also the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, an event that shook us to the core. I thought about that quite a bit today, even while enjoying one of my finest days on the Trail.

And I realized that I'm fighting back by being on the Trail, doing what I love, fulfilling a long-time dream. None of us knows how long we will be on this earth. My goal is to do things that I love to do, things that are meaningful to me, every single day.

I encourage everyone who is reading this journal to do the same. Sure, there are many things that we must do each day to keep our lives in order. But try to also do at least one thing each day that makes you happy or feel fulfilled.

And never give up on your hopes and dreams. Work to make them happen.

There are many things over which we have no control, such as human or natural disasters. But you control most of your own life. Make every day worth living.

No one ever says on their deathbed, "Gee, I sure wish I'd spent more time in the office!"

End of sermon. Hope I didn't spoil your coffee break!

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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  2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil