"It's time to end this thing." That's what Dick said when he called from Andover, Maine, on Friday night. In a voice filled with weariness, he told me how he and Rick had struggled to make it through Mahoosuc Notch. But make it, they did. They've covered 1,904 miles. Still ahead: 256. Estimated completion date: September 28. Dick has now lost a total of 48 pounds. His water filter failed and the nearest outfitter didn't have a replacement. The manufacturer, Pur, was supposed to have shipped a replacement to arrive in Andover that day. Dick said he'd wait in town until the post office opened on Saturday morning, but if the filter didn't arrive by then, he'd have to use iodine tabletsÍcourtesy of his trusty back-up, RickRock, whose goal is to see a moose before he finishes the trail.
A footnote to Report No. 24. For years, thruhikers climbing Mount Washington have observed the stately tradition of mooning passengers on the cog-rail that also climbs the mountain. In return, the engineers throw chunks of coal at the hikers. Dick assured me that he did not participate. I didn't have a chance to ask RickRock how he observed the tradition.
Mahoosuc Notch. Dick spoke in awe of the place known as the meanest mile on the AT. He said it looks like a mountain of solid rock had collapsed into a narrow valley, clogging it so effectively that hikers are forced to crawl on their hands and knees over and under boulders as big as houses. He and Rick had grown accustomed to clocking 18 to 20 miles a day. At Mahoosuc, they struggled for an hour and a half to cover one mile, one notorious mile. Then came Mahoosuc Arm Mountain; after that, the 4,180-foot mountain called Old Spec. They hiked all day and covered only 5 miles. Dick said Maine's rocks makes those of Pennsylvania look like pebbles. He and RickRock will be happy if they can cover 10 miles a day, though at that pace, they won't make it to Millinocket in time for the festival.
Maine is the 14th and final state on the AT. According to Dick, the state has its own look: huge, steep, bald-topped mountains, and massive, rock ledges. To me, it sounded as uninviting as it was tempting.
The weather has been beautiful, 90 degrees with bright blue skies. Still, the nights get cold enough to confirm that winter is nipping at the heels of those racing for Katahdin. In Dick's most recent food shipment, I included his long-sleeved Polartec pullover. On the night that he called, he and RickRock had a reservation at the Pine Street Bed & Breakfast. For $10 they each got a shower and shared a room for four. Breakfast was $5; use of the laundry $3. Dick took advantage of the sunshine and hung his clothes on the line.
For several nights prior to reaching Andover, Dick and RickRock have been the only hikers in the shelters. The trail has narrowed and isn't nearly as worn as it was back in Georgia, evidence of dwindling traffic and, for some, discarded dreams. Dick laughed when he said he has a new appreciation for running water. He spoke more seriously when he talked about how hiking the AT teaches a person to make good decisions. Determining which rock to step on next may sound simple, but the wrong decision can be painful, even life-threatening. That skill will be particularly valuable when it comes time to make the seven-mile climb up Katahdin.
Here on the homefront, I continue to walk every morning at 6 a.m. with my friend Marie. I realize that I'm not ready, physically or mentally, to attempt anything as strenuous as Mt. Katahdin. But our local outfitter, EMS, is having a sale on all Vasque boots. I just might go there tomorrow and see if the "Sundowners" come in a size 5 wide.