I woke up this morning around 5:45, after a not awesome night’s sleep. The tentsite I picked was somewhat bumpy and uneven; it was the best available, though, so not really much I could do about that. The air was a bit chilly, requiring wearing my fleece this morning as I broke camp, but I quickly warmed up once I got everything packed up and started hiking, around 7:15. Naturally, there was a much nicer campsite a short distance across the stream. Oh well.
The early trail, following the West Branch Piscataquis River Valley, start off a little rocky, but quickly became dirt and pine needles with few obstacles, making for a very easy and gradual downhill, and I easily did 2.5 mph to where the AT crossed the West Branch.
The guidebook says that the West Branch is normally knee deep, making for a difficult crossing, possibly even hazardous during periods of heavy rain. Today, though, it was only twice ankle deep, at worst, and the low level made for a relatively easy crossing; I made it most of the way across without even having to touch water.
After crossing the river, the trail was a little slower, with more obstacles, and while it was still overall a gradual downhill, there were more ups and downs interrupting the nice gradualness of the descent.
I took my first break of the day after just under 7 miles, at the Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to, and then continued on another 2.5 miles to the East Branch of the Piscataquis river, which also required fording. Before crossing, I took a short break to rest my feet and swap my shoes, but that turned into a longer break when hiker Orange Crush arrived after crossing the river from the north.
Orange Crush and his wife are doing a single vehicle slackpack, similar to what Papa Monkey, Rainbow, and I were doing before we retrieved my car, and he offered a bit of trail magic: a cooler, placed in the tailgate of his pickup truck located at the ME 15 trailhead, contained sodas.
I wound up sitting by the river and chatting with Orange Crush for half an hour; after I moved on, I regretted not actually having anything to eat there. While it would have been a little early for my second break, it wasn’t unreasonably so.
After crossing the river, the trail climbed up somewhat steeply, and I took my “real” second break about two miles later. After, I continued on, maintaining a brisk pace, but after the start of another relatively steep climb, I found myself tired and quite sweaty, and stopped again for another snack break at a dirt road crossing. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but it was a little warm, and much more humid, at least, compared to recent weather. I was very glad I was able to cut two miles off today’s hike last night, especially since today wound up being nearly a mile longer than I thought it was. (Apparently, I couldn’t math properly.)
I made it to the trailhead at ME 15 around 3:20, stopping just short of the entrance to the Hundred Mile Wilderness, and helped myself to a (warm) Dr Pepper from Orange Crush’s truck (thanks!). I then started to walk to Monson, the last trail town before Katahdin, trying to catch a hitch, before realizing I hadn’t actually confirmed there was no cell service. It turned out service was available, and I called Shaw’s to arrange for a trailhead pickup.
Shaw’s, newly operated by Poet and Hippie Chick, who thru-hiked in 2008, is the trail’s oldest continuously operating hostel. Poet picked me up from the trailhead, and after getting checked in to a new bunkroom (formerly, a garage), I got a shower. (They also had a digital scale in the bathroom: it looks like I’m down about eight pounds from before the trail.)
I got dinner at the Lakeshore House restaurant/bar, and, mostly because it was late and I hadn’t handled resupply yet, signed up with two other people for an (expensive) slackpack tomorrow, covering the first 15 miles of the Hundred Mile Wilderness.