Before reaching Monson, hikers had to cross the Kennebec River. The current there is so swift, the Appalachian Mountain Club pays a ferryman to ford hikers across the river in a canoe. For the last thirteen years, Steve Longley has performed that service. His canoe can hold two hikers at a time and runs between 9-11 a.m. and 3-4 p.m., seven days a week during hiking season. Hikers must either time their arrival at the river to coincide with the ferry schedule or be willing to wait.
Bull moose are big and dangerous, particularly during rutting season, particularly to anyone trespassing into their territory. Fortunately, Dick has watched countless hours of Discovery Channel.
The 100-mile wilderness proved treacherous. Hurricane Floyd had drenched the area with nine inches of rain. Several days later, another four inches fell, leaving the rivers swollen, raging, and dangerous. As soon as the rivers subsided, Dick and RickRock left Shaw's Boarding House in Monson and began the final leg of their adventure. They were three days behind schedule.
Over the next week, from Monson to the base of Mt. Katahdin, Dick and RickRock crossed Big Wilson Stream, Long Pond Stream, the West and East branches of the Pleasant River. In some cases, the water was up to their knees; in some, the water was nearly chest-high. The rising water trapped some hikers between the two branches of the Pleasant River, forcing them to camp for the night. At Big Wilson Stream, Dick slipped and wedged his foot between two big rocks. The pressure of the current forced a rock against his leg, bruising and breaking the skin. He struggled for several minutes until he was able to move the fifty-pound rock and free his foot. Despite that dilemma, his feet remain blister free.
During that same period, Dick and RickRock saw their share of moose. One morning, Dick set out early, as usual, about 45 minutes ahead of RickRock. A steady drizzle drenched the forest, blending the pungent odors of earth with the penetrating fragrance of pine. Like fine incense, the heady aroma lulled him into a state of tranquility, where the rhythm of walking coupled with the rhythm of breathing, and something as big as a bull moose could appear out of nowhere, smack-dab in the middle of the trail.
Moose are known for their keen sense of smell. That would explain why it didn't react with the same shock that Dick did. But react, it did!
Barely four feet away, its back to Dick, the moose turned slowly, lowered its head, charged, and pulled up short. That's when Dick noticed the cow and calf nearby. That's also when Dick raised his hiking poles in a show of both bravado and fear. In retrospect, he said the moose had probably never seen antlers like those Leki poles.
Then, as though sharpening a sword, the moose scraped its antlers on the nearby brush. That's when all those hours of watching Discovery Channel paid off. Dick knew that the first charge was a bluff. He also knew that when the moose started rattling the brush, it meant that the next time it charged, it wouldn't stop. Time to leave! Dick turned around and ran heading south, knowing he'd never get to Maine that way.
A safe distance away, Dick stopped and waited for all three moose to leave the trail. Once the way was clear, he cautiously made his way back up the trail and continued north. He couldn't wait to relay the story to RickRock. After breathlessly blurting out the details, he waited for RickRock's wide-eyed reaction. Instead, his friend nodded calmly and said, "Same thing happened to me."
In some traditions, the appearance of moose as a totem signifies a job well done, a reason to feel good about an accomplishment, an instruction to recognize those who have been of help, a call to share the experience with the world. In his book, The Animal-Wise Tarot, author Ted Andrews writes of the moose, "Its appearance always heralds a new sense of security and attainment. Our life is about to turn around and prosper, regardless of the environment in which our hearth and home are found."
Dick, RickRock, and many others have encountered the moose on this last thruhike of the century. Here's wishing prosperity for them all!