Dick called from a hostel in Stratton, Maine. Last night, he, RickRock, and a hiker known as T-Roy slept in a warming hut on top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Though they climbed three mountains today, they still have 187.4 miles to go. If the weather cooperates, they'll reach Katahdin on September 28. That's a big "if," especially since they're about to enter the stretch known as "the 100-mile wilderness."
The clock is ticking. Mount Katahdin is located in Baxter State Park. The park closes mid-October. Hikers who don't climb Katahdin by then can't claim to have thru-hiked, a prospect that has some hikers doing what's called a "flip flop."
After baking in the drought in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Dick and RickRock are now swimming through Maine. A steady rain over the last four days has made the rocks and roots extremely slippery. RickRock took a nasty fall, but is okay. Dick said he has been falling three to four times a day. Both men are bruised, scraped, sore, and tired. Both are keenly aware that even a minor accident this late in the trip could mean disaster. They've decided to take a zero-miles day tomorrow in order to rest and refocus. To finish on schedule, all they need to do now is average 10 miles a day, but a clear head is critical.
Tomorrow, I'll mail the last of the food shipments to Monson, the last town before the 100-mile wilderness. This will be the heaviest shipment yet, with nine days' worth of food. To lighten the load, I'll include the emails I've received from friends and well-wishers, some as far away as Guam and Cape Town, South Africa.
Thanks to a system of communications that Dick described as "better than drums," he has already received a card from one of his Connecticut hiking friends. On September 5, Ledge Clayton was hiking on Caribou Valley Road near Stratton. He knew that Dick would pass that way soon, so he addressed a postcard to Dick, tucked it in a plastic bag, and tied it to a tree along the trail. Several days later, Dick saw something dangling from a branch and stopped to investigate. Imagine his surprise when he realized it was a note addressed to him and it wasn't from another thruhiker! It made his day and then some.
More good news. Dick and RickRock were hitch-hiking into town and saw a moose and her calf cross the road.
In the mixed news department, Dick said the hikers were excited to hear that a new hostel had been built half-way through the upcoming wilderness. The good news was quickly dampened when they learned that the hostel sits 39 miles from the AT.
Dick has met several hikers who climbed Katahdin a few weeks ago. Rather than heading home, they're waiting for their slower-hiking friends to show up. One woman, Heidi, from Laconia, New Hampshire, hiked Katahdin two weeks ago, but since it was cloudy the day she reached the summit, she climbed it again. The path to Katahdin is seven miles high. Dick said that back in the 1980s, Heidi competed in the Olympics and came in fourth in her event.
A while back, Only Tony left the trail at Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania, in order to compete in a 1300-mile bike trip with his wife. Now he's back on the AT. Knowing he'd never make it to Katahdin before the park closed, he hitch-hiked north, scaled Katahdin, and is now hiking south, back to Delaware Water Gap.
Mike, formerly known as Just Mike, the hiker who came down with Lyme Disease, has left the trail. Weakened from the disease, he wrote a note in one of the registers back in New Hampshire that he has simply lost the will to walk. Dick said these mountains are hard enough to climb when a person is healthy and feeling strong. In his opinion, the hardest portion of the trail is in New Hampshire, followed by Maine, Georgia, and North Carolina. He has enormous admiration for south-bound hikers.
I have great admiration for all hikers, period. My first outing in my new hiking boots didn't last long. At 6 a.m. I left the house for my daily exercise. I'm usually good for 45 minutes during the week, an hour on weekends. But after 15 minutes, I was back home, changing into my sneakers. I swore I was walking with cement blocks on my feet. Dick said his boots are finally wearing out. At this rate, mine will last a lifetime.
The next time Dick calls, we'll make final plans for where and when I'm to meet him. His younger brother Albie plans to go with me. Albie's son died two weeks ago. There was no way to reach Dick until after the service. Albie has just started radiation treatments for throat cancer. He wants to see his big brother make it. Dick wants the same for Albie.