Tuesday, September 21, 1999
Today I am have come down with some sort of sickness, I ache and have a cough and sore throat. My body feels heavy and I don’t feel like I even have the ability to lift my body up from my sleeping bag. It started last night a few miles back when I noticed I was at least an hour behind Llama and taking more and more breaks to just sit and check out. I was just sitting leaning against a tree thinking how dirty my boots were, seeing that one of my laces was untied and I had no desire to tie them. Life looked like it was moving in slow motion. It took me several motivational speeches about being all that I can be, promises of pizza when I arrived at the tent (yes, I lie to myself because sometimes it works) and the scare of a bear to get me to the campsite.
I am lying in the tent and again I am overwhelmed by the smell of my right armpit. How is this possible? How has this not driven Llama away, I would think this would have sent her packing long ago. Even after I shower with scrub pads, soap, disinfectant, sandpaper and bleach it still remains. I just about pulled out a disc-grinder out of my pack to see if that could remove it. What gives me hope is that the male sandpiper bird attracts the females by raising up its wing with bold enthusiasm, sometimes both wings fully displaying its pits. It is not known why the females flock to the male when he does this armpit flashing, it might be his musky sandpiper scent. I think I would make a fine sandpiper.
Even when I feel miserable and have no desire to move, I still have no desire for this trip to end. I love this journey. I am so scared to end it. I don’t want to know what is next. I don’t want to leave the woods and the simplicity of life. I don’t know how I will be in real life again. Am I really different? Have I really grown? Will I make better choices in life than I did before I left on this trip? And I don’t want to leave Maine, it’s by far the most beautiful state yet. It is the way life is meant to be.
Thursday, September 23, 1999
I woke up with my bones and muscles still aching from being sick. It’s not the same kind of soreness that you get from a good hard hike, that kind of soreness can easily be pressed through. This kind affects the brain and my motivation. I just want to stay in my sleeping bag and not move but with so few miles left and so little time until winter arrives, I don’t have the ability to “Doot De Doo.” I’ll give myself one day and then regardless of how I feel I have to walk out of here tomorrow and push through the last 185 miles. Llama has been awesome to not be frustrated with me. She doesn’t do well in the cold and all we’re doing is sitting in the approaching winter, the wind bringing bone cold winds across our tent.
As we enter what I think is the most beautiful part of the hike, this is when I wish I had the time to slow down, hike fewer miles and just listen to life around me. I wish we had the time to sit in the beauty that we’re surrounded and enveloped in. I’m getting sad when I think of leaving this home. I don’t have a lot of belongings to pack up but I feel safe here. That still startles me when I think about the process it took to feel this way. I have never felt comfortable in the woods and I’m so thankful for this season in my life.
One noise that does not speak to my soul is all the logging trucks and wood pulp trucks that run up and down the roads roaring and belching up dirt and exhaust. I know they are an important part of the economy and I’m thankful that the woods of Maine have supported people for a few hundred years, I just wish the trail would avoid them a bit more.
The men and women that grew up in this area must be tough people. Those that chose the job of being a lumberjack must have been following a calling. Lumberjacks were tough men made up of Yankee farm boys, French Canadians, Irish immigrants, Indians, and men from the cities seeking an escape. But not all loggers are the same. The best loggers, the elite, were the Swedes, Poles and Finns who became known as the Bangor Tigers. These woodsmen were strong and skilled, known for their skill at dam building, boat handling, beer saloon brawling and especially their “catty.” This is their ability to ride a bucking, rolling, turning log down the river to the mill while wearing their spiked heavy boots. If they got injured they would care for each other, being too far from doctors and hospitals. So for minor wounds, tobacco juice and salt pork was used as a poultice. For frost cracked hands or cuts they would sew them up themselves with needle and thread. If a man felt a little worn down or tired, a few spoonful’s of kerosene was known to refresh and bring life back into him. If a man was to die there were no insurance or death benefits to cover his expenses or to provide for his family. Instead, each man who lived in the bunkhouse with him or shanty would put a week’s wage into a worn battered hat to give to his family back home. In the spring as the snow and ice melted, the men would begin to roll the logs into the rivers that would carry them down to the windmills and ports. A race for time began because they had to move the logs before the rivers fed by the melting snow would swell the rivers and make them too dangerous. So they would dam areas to hold back water when it was at peak flow so that the pressure could be released when. Push was needed to the slowing streams. Sluices were built to help the dams. If a log jam occurred the most skilled me were sent to unlock them. The greatest danger would occur when the timber was unleashed. Men worked from boats with poles and some would leap like a cat from one log to another in their spiked boots trying to un-wedge the logs. Many times, boots were found clinging to a river bank tree being used as a signal to show to others that a Bangor Tiger had died. These men were tough! I have nothing I can complain about. I can’t imagine spitting tobacco into my blister wounds or putting a slab of bacon on them.
These men lived in dirt floor shanties heated by fire pits and slept together in bunks to conserve any heat possible. Private space didn’t seem to be a high priority. On a normal work day they would be awakened by the cook banging on an iron pot at 4am. He would have breakfast ready, the first of the four meals a day they would consume. On their plate would be salted pork, baked beans, rock hard biscuits with molasses, and a pot of scalding hot black tea. At the end of the day they would stumble back in exhausted for the same meal.
They worked six days a week, taking Sunday off. If they had any spare time they would play cards, smoke their pipes, and dry their boots and socks off by fire. On Sunday they would sleep in, write letters to family and loved ones, sew up holes in clothing, grease their boots, and read old newspapers. Some of the men might go hunting for a deer or moose. If they had lice they would shave themselves and boil their clothes. And nobody but the Finns, none of the men would bathe for any reason. The Finns would sometimes build saunas to sweat and then wash in the river. Many hikers have the logger’s creed of no bathing. I try to bathe at least once a week but I know others who nightly wash themselves thoroughly in the cold creeks and ponds. I think I’ve grown accustomed to my smell (with exception of my right armpit) and the feel of dried sweat and dirt. I wash my face nightly, clean my cooking pot, inspect my equipment and repair anything I need to, set up tent and find or make clean water. These are the non-negotiables with my time.
Friday, September 24, 1999
I did not want to hike today. I don’t want to move. I’m still feeling the need to recover from the cold, it has left me feeling very weak and worn. It was a cold that gave me a sore throat, light headed spins and the worst being muscle ache and skin irritability. But I moved. I hiked. I walked in the sun and in the cold. Llama encouraged me and cheered me forward every time I tried to sneak in a nap. The deadline for Katahdin closing is getting closer and closer, we have to push.
Two weeks from today I am hoping to climb to the summit of Katahdin. And in two weeks I’ll be seeing my parents, they are flying out from Oregon to celebrate the completion of my journey on the Appalachian Trail and to meet Llama. I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings about seeing them. I love my parents and I carry many other emotions that I’m still trying to work through.
Saturday, September 25, 1999
I’ve been thinking about seeing my parents all day and the feeling of home. When I left home to go away to college I gave up the place where I knew I fit in and belonged. As an adultish I begin a journey to find my home, where I fit in and that began 11 years ago. I feel like I’ve been wandering and looking for something deep in my soul that feels like home. I’ve attended 8 colleges and universities, lived in many different states and also out of the country. And every step of the way I keep letting go of where I am to press onto something new, I keep moving forward. I’m wanting something that feels secure and satisfying. And I now I’m not the only one that feels this way, this is the same as most people. Its even the story of men and women through the entire bible, where they were roaming from one disconnected experience to the next, never feeling at peace where they were and uncertain that the next would give them that sense of belonging. And ever time I leave a place, this desire to be where I belong is growing stronger and stronger in my soul. I worked hard at the jobs I had but I would wander from one job to another, from one relationship to another, from one dream to another not wanting to stay with my disappointment that they didn’t fulfill that longing inside. So I wandered, every time, more devoted and intense to find the right fit. I drove many people away and ran over even more. And over time I began to no longer believe any place can really be right for me. But I still had this longing deep inside for a place to fit.
The first car I had was a solid car with quirks. It had an alignment problem, (I’m fairly certain I caused the problem when I drove over a curb at a very high speed) which made the front wheels always lean to the right. I never fixed it and just learned to correct the problem as I drove, always keeping the wheel guided to correct. That is how I feel like much of my life has been, bent. And I’m spending a lot of my time pulling the wheel to correct and hide the issues in my heart. If I ever let go, I would fly off the road and into a tree.
I’m always worried about my choices, I have so many options to make and I fear that I will make the wrong choice that won’t satisfy and then I will be stuck. I will miss my opportunity to find this place I desire, where I will fit and belong or with the person who will fit me. I fear that I will make a choice that will put me in the wrong place, again. Every road leads to a fork and that fork in the road leads to another fork in the road and it goes on and on. I get so scared of choosing the wrong meaningless fork I never grab any fork. When I was a kid I was taught that you have to pick the right college, the right career, and definitely you have to pick God’s choice in a spouse. You don’t want to miss out on God’s chosen mate for you. You don’t want God’s second best because you didn’t pay attention. I worried and stressed over that all my life. I worried that I missed opportunities and also that I didn’t have a close relationship with God because I wasn’t hearing his voice like others said they did. It made me feel more lost and left behind, that I wasn’t able to make decisions and that I wasn’t loved by God or God would share his answers of direction with me. So I pull on the wheel harder to not crash into a tree. That kind of stress is hard on the soul. I now know that this is all false teaching but its what’s shaped me most of my life.
Even when the Israelites had no clue where they were traveling in the desert, what was important for them was to continue connecting and meeting with God along the way. They carried their meeting place with them on the backs of the priests. So when they got to the promised land they were ready. They had carried the one thing that mattered most, their faith and trust in God. And when they finally arrived at the promised land it wasn’t the land of paradise, it was just the next place on their journey where they would serve others around them and spend time loving God. I’m seeing that no place I’m looking for will be paradise. No place or person will give me the feeling I’m searching for. I’ve spent way too much energy of my life running and missing and making this way too hard on me and others. If I could have just stopped and taken the time to listen to God sooner. I would have heard that I am deeply desired, that there is a place for me, that I do belong.
I think that I will take the job in Washington when I’m done with all of this. I’m going to leave the desert wandering and go and enter a place where I will serve others, invest time loving others and helping others listen to the voice of God. And that place, that job, those people won’t meet my desire for belonging. In fact, they will probably burn me at some point. But God will meet my need if I lean into Him. I’ll carry him on my back, I’m home when I’m with Him. It’s a new feeling inside me I’m just beginning to experience. It’s pretty cool.
Sunday, September 26, 1999
We arrived at Long Falls Dam Road, I looked down at the pavement to see “2,000 mi.” painted in the middle of the road. This was one of my best moments on the trail for the feeling of accomplishment. I never knew I could do something like this, I couldn’t even comprehend what it would take to walk this far. We took our packs off, got some snacks out, sat down and just grinned at each other.
Just over a year ago I was ignorant to the idea that people could walk that far, especially for fun. But when it is a sunny day like this, it truly is fun. The leaves light up to show off their brilliant colors as they start to turn and the many lakes I passed today were a vibrant royal blue. At first I was annoyed at the amount of mud on the trial that thickened on my boots making my feet heavy and clumsy. But after I worked through my frustration I went with it, it was a slip and slide balancing act. I think this was as close to perfect as a day could get. Most of the mountains are behind me and I’m on the last sprint with a mountain as the finale.
At one point I hiked part of a route the native Abnaki Indians used. Their name means, “Those living at the sunrise.”I love that, I want a name that sounds romantic and mystical at the same time. They lived in mostly the territory that is now the state of Maine. Unfortunately, most people didn’t experience them as a magical people, they were fierce warriors that filled the hearts of the colonists with fear. They would sweep out of the northern woods burning, killing and pillaging the settlements in New England, sometimes referred to as the Abnaki Wars of 1688. They became strong allies with the French, raiding the British settlements in New England time and time again relentlessly.
At lunch I ate on the shore of West Carry pond and I saw my first loon diving for fish. To the early Abnaki Indians it was a messenger of Glooskap, one of their main deities that they worshipped who gave the bird a voice similar to a dog. They believed that the call of the loon at night on a quiet lake was the bird delivering a secret message to his master in the sky.
Monday, September 27, 1999
As the sun set across the lake the sorrowful sound of the loon spoke up. It sounded so lonely and mournful. This is one of his four calls, all are very distinct. They have a song of solitude, a long drawn out “hoo-ing”that the bird is famous for. They also have a famous “laugh,”a little yodel; then there is their short cooing sound that is made when several loons are together. And lastly they have a sorrowful cry that old Indian guides name the storm call because it always precedes bad weather. The sounds of the loon made me feel welcomed to their home and were a soothing sound that lulled us to sleep.
When we get into our shelter at night, all the hikers who arrive quickly make their meals and do all their chores trying to beat the sunset which comes earlier and earlier each day. There are still hikers I haven’t met before showing up. Everyone is gathering for the last mountain and put the gas to the floor to make it. So many who have been behind me are catching up to make the deadline. When the sun sets we all head for our sleeping bags to stay warm and to allow sleep to overtake us. And we all are sleeping about 10 hours a night. When the sun rises around 6 a.m. to greet us again, we all slowly and sorely peel away our cocoons and crawl out for our next days adventure. Even with all this sleep my body is still completely worn out and ready for me to stop the madness.
When Llama and I got to the Kennebec River e saw a wide river spanning about 70 yards across and very calm. Kennebec actually means “long, quiet water,”though it is really very deceptively dangerous. In 1985 a thru-hiker drowned trying to ford the river and many others have come close. One of the several dangers is the unpredictable water levels due to the dams upstream. The periodically will release water to cause a quick swell in the river that can catch hikers who are crossing it off-guard. The water level can change faster than it can be crossed. For this reason there is a ferry service generously available at certain hours to shuttle us hikers across. (As a note for purists, this ferry is part of the original historic route of the A.T. so there is no guilt in taking it.) They provided us with life vests and happily carried us across in their canoe. No drama for Llama.
Friends and family continue to send me mail that I received in Caratunk, I really needed it this week. It filled me and deeply encouraged my spirit. Not only have letters filled my heart with joy but it also is a safety net to keep me on the trail, a boost of energy when my heart is low and dragging. If nobody knew I was hiking and nobody missed me it would be easy to turn my steps towards home with my tail between my legs. We are not meant to do life alone.
The destruction of Hurricane Floyd is seen with almost every step of every day. The waters are still high, making the rivers we cross difficult to ford. The worst damage was done with the flash flooding that followed. The beaver dams could not hold the increase and would break, adding battering rams to the flood. The valleys were laid waste, the waters washing away anything within 20-30 feet of any stream or river, including roads and buildings. For me the worst part is the mud as the earth had too much water to try and absorb. Some people pay good money to have a mud bath, at the end of each day I am encrusted from my waist down as it splashes and even squirts at times up my legs. My legs are going to be soft and supple and so touchable. With so much water being dumped on the trail the land cannot soak it all up so it just sits as mud that covers the trail waiting for a ride on my boots. The rocks are slimy and slicker and hidden under the mud which has caused many instantly inspired modern dance moves as I regain my balance to prevent a complete mud facial. Llama unfortunately has not danced but decided to let gravity have its way. Her worst fall was at Baker Brook as she jumped to a rock and her foot slid right off and into the murky knee-high water. She stood in the mud and freezing water just staring at me with such a sad face, trying to figure out how to hike out of the watery mud field. She was okay for the most part, her pride sustaining the biggest injury.
I learned today that there are no poisonous snakes in Maine… Maine, the way things should be.