For Dick and RickRock, Shaw's Boarding House in Monson, Maine, was the last stop before entering the 100-mile wilderness. Slowed down by heavy rains, they arrived at Shaw's a day later than scheduled. They planned to stay one night. Swollen streams forced them to stay three. Countdown: 112 miles to Katahdin. My next contact with Dick and RickRock will be on September 28, when they climb the final mountain. If you think I'm excited, you're right!
For over 50 years, Manchester, CT, has hosted the Annual Thanksgiving Road Race, which features internationally known, world-class runners as well as thousands of local runners and enthusiastic walkers, many in costumes ranging from Puritans and turkeys to dragons and the Blues Brothers. The five-mile race route winds through a residential area and is lined with cheering fans, assorted picnics, and live music-a rock band, a polka band, and bagpipes. The route runs by the end of the street on which Dick and I live. Every Thanksgiving morning, we head out early with our hot chocolate and claim our spot on the sidelines. Our spot is near the bright blue, permanently painted stripe that runs across the street and announces to those who cross it, "3 Miles." To those who are in the race for the first time, that 3-mile mark is encouraging.
In the area of Little Bigelow Moutain, Maine, the AT crosses a paved road. Painted on the blacktop in bright yellow is another inspiring message: 2,000 MI.
Hurricane Floyd whipped the wind deep enough into Maine to create havoc on the AT. Streams that were normally nine-feet wide became rivers thirty-five feet wide, rushing with a vengeance, sweeping tree limbs along as though they were toothpicks. Several dirt roads were washed out entirely. So close now to Katahdin, the temptation to do as Garth Brooks would say and "dare to chance the rapids," was great. Fortunately, RickRock's plan required covering only 10 miles a day during this last stretch, allowing ample time to make up miles lost, and proving the wisdom in the words: "Prior planning prevents poor performance."
Though I hadn't heard from Dick in a week, I wasn't worried. Ray Ronan, a Trail Angel of the highest order, had emailed me to say he had seen Dick on September 12, that his spirits were great, and his appetite "normal for a hiker." Ray started reading this journal when he noticed that Dick began his hike on April 7. Ray plans to thruhike in 2000, and to start near that same date.
In his email to me, Ray wrote, "I was following his progress to get a feel of where I might be and when". I noticed that Dick's timetable was possibly coinciding with an event I take part in once a year. A group of friends, hikers and maintainers get together in a gravel pit at the base of Little Bigelow Mountain (a stone's throw off the AT) and have a four day cookout feeding any AT hiker that wants to stop and visit. We have just about anything a hiker could ask for and we have a really great time with them. Last year we had 28 hikers and this year we had 27."
When Dick eventually did call, he told me about coming across an oasis of food and provisions. He said he was sitting on a rock, eating some delicious pasta salad, when one of the trail angels responsible for the feast walked up to him and asked, "Are you Dick Christian?" When Dick said yes, the angel asked, "Where's RickRock? If you're here, he must not be far behind." The angel was, of course, Ray Ronan. He explained that he recognized Dick from the website. Dick, in turn, said all the hikers had been talking about this particular site of trail magic and that he and RickRock had hoped to arrive in time to enjoy it.
As I mentioned, Ray told me that Dick's appetite was normal for a hiker. Ray didn't elaborate. So I asked Dick what he had eaten. He groaned then recited the litany: 2 cheeseburgers, a generous portion of pasta salad, 4 glasses of juice (apple and cranberry), 3 slices of watermelon, 2 big brownies, a banana, some grapes, assorted cookies, and 4 pieces of pie (apple, blueberry, cherry, and strawberry).
A day or two later, Dick and RickRock saw a sign announcing the birthday of a hiker known as "Songbird," and inviting anyone who wanted to join in the birthday festivities to meet at the general store in Karatunk at 4 p.m. Knowing that parties usually mean food, Dick and RickRock hiked into town and found their way to the general store. So did 11 other hikers. Songbird came by in a truck, after having already picked up 13 hikers in Monson. She called a friend, who came with his truck and, together, they managed to get all the celebrants to her parents' home-47 miles away! Dick said it was fun to celebrate another hiker's birthday. He enjoyed the hot dogs and beer too. The next morning, Songbird and her friend drove all the hikers back to the trail.
As of Friday, September 17, Dick had still not received his replacement water filter from Pur, though a company representative had assured him he would have it by the 15th. Another phone call to Pur proved less than satisfactory. He bought more iodine tablets.
Over the next few weeks, Dick, RickRock, and many other hikers will celebrate again at Katahdin. I asked Dick what he thought was the most important thing or quality a person had to have to complete this journey. Experience? Equipment? Knowledge? Money? He thought for a minute then said, "Desire. A person has to have a burning desire to do this. The physical demands are considerable. But the mental demands are far greater." He added that a hiker never knows what will become the challenge for him-failed equipment, a missed food shipment, illness or accident, severe weather, a shortage of water, encounters with wildlife, lost maps, a missed blaze, an emergency at home. "You've got to solve problems here, the same way you have to at home."
Back in Shaw's Boarding House, Dick and many other hikers sat around for three days, waiting for the water to recede, knowing how crazy it would be to proceed until then, knowing that precious time was ticking away. He told me if they didn't go back to the trail on Sunday, he'd call again.
The phone didn't ring. They're on the last leg to Katahdin.