Very Emotional Day

For hiking enthusiasts as well as many others, October brought an end to a two year  mystery that has haunted the Appalachian Trail in Maine ~ the disappearance of experienced hiker Geraldine Largay on July 22, 2013. The Boston Globe featured an excellent article in December 2014 which explored in depth one of the biggest mysteries and largest manhunts in Maine’s history. Despite massive searches no trace was ever found and eventually life continued. Tributes to Geraldine aka “Inchworm” were left at trailheads and laminated signs were prominently placed by the MSP both on the actual AT and in surrounding areas.

This past summer when I was searching for the missing dog, Jumper, it was sobering to see  memorials and signs like these in Stratton:

MSP Signs
MSP Signs
Stratton AT Trailhead
Stratton AT Trailhead

Then on October 14, 2015, a set of human remains along with personal items  believed to be Geraldine’s, were discovered by an independent contractor conducting a survey on Naval property.

Yesterday it was confirmed by the medical examiner that the remains were indeed hers; cause of death was “accidental, caused by lack of food and water and environmental exposure”. A cellphone found with the remains indicated that she had reached Orbeton Stream on the day of her disappearance. I actually had to sit down and reread the article a second time in order to fully comprehend. Then I burst into tears for I knew the area where she was found very well; I too became lost there earlier this year. Since I live in the Western Mountains of Maine within close proximity to the trail, I was doing sections of it as day hikes. My grandson was graduating from high school and I didn’t want to leave for my thru hike until after this special milestone. June was a particularly rainy month so I encountered trail conditions that were probably quite similar to those Geraldine met. If memory serves me correctly, there was a heavy rain storm the day before she disappeared. I entered the woods via an access road accompanied by my little dog Bailey B. The forest floor was quite wet and streams bursting but it was a warm and sunny day. We took our time, enjoying the day and taking frequent sniff stops for Bailey. The further we travelled, I marveled at how brutally rugged the terrain was. At times the  trail was an obstacle course of steep slabs, trip wire roots that resembled thick tentacles, steep rocky ascents and tooth rattling descents. It began to seem that I was now taking five steps forward only to encounter shoulder high rocks to climb over followed by vertical slabs. I remember being thankful that I had opted for long Columbia  pants that day as opposed to shorts because I did a lot of seat sliding. I could faintly hear Orbeton Stream and figured BB and I would take a break there. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment but I suddenly  realized I was off trail. “No big deal” I thought as I slowly turned around looking for the white blazes. Instead I saw more rocks, roots and trees ~ but none bearing the familiar white markings. It didn’t take long for panic to set in because in just that short time NOTHING looked like the trail. I didn’t expect to see a lot of evidence of foot traffic as SOBO hikers were really just beginning at Baxter and the bulk of those headed NOBO hadn’t reached Maine yet. In all honesty, in my many day hikes up until that point I’d encountered very few people which I attributed to the copious rainfall in June. I tried sending a text to my backup people from my inReach satellite handheld but it couldn’t pick up a signal. Even though I knew it was futile I still tried my cell phone to no avail. As I forged ahead towards what I thought was the stream, I began to second guess my decision for what I worried about the most was Bailey. Im sure she sensed my anxiety because where she once hopped confidently by my side she now darted back and forth in front of me but always looking back. She didn’t ask to accompany her human into the woods that day, I made the decision to bring her and I was obligated to get her out safely. So I sat down on a log and assessed the situation. Like so many tech junkies I had relied strictly on my hand held and didn’t have a compass. I also hadn’t clearly marked all the access roads between Point A & B because it was supposed to be a relatively short hike. **Hint** Take notes and learn from these two mistakes! I decided that if my family came looking for me that they would begin at the access road where I’d entered. I also knew that the closer I got to that point there was a better chance of obtaining a satellite signal. I decided that I was going to rely on my senses and reverse course. The first thing my senses told me was that the animals of the woods were definitely more vocal as the day passed. BB’s previous confident swagger was now fully replaced by fear and furtive movement; I knew if necessary I could carry her. I realized I had to stifle my anxiety as she was also feeding off it so I began to sing. Barney theme song, Elton John, Queen ~ anything I could belt out.And then mistake #2. I tripped over a particularly tuberous root and then over a rock, losing my glasses in the process. **Hint** Wear a strap to secure glasses to head. Even though I wear progressive lenses, I always remove my glasses to read, knit , etc. I needed them more for distance and that darned “middle” area. I stayed on my knees and tried to find them but the frames were black and apparently blended in well with years of leaves and tree debris carpeting the forest floor. I wanted to scream and run away but that wasn’t an option. Neither was clicking my heels together three times. I got up, resumed singing and kept moving. Had a lot of run ins with inanimate objects because I basically walked looking down at my feet. As I walked and sang I started to second guess myself, thinking perhaps I should just break and set up camp but one look at BB and I knew I had to keep going. Plus I knew if I didn’t return or get a signal to my family they would invariably come looking for me in the dark. Several hours later I  stopped for a “break” and when I headed back out I saw a white blaze. I can’t even describe my elation. As we continued I began to recognize a few areas where we had earlier stopped for one of Bailey’s sniff fests. Then I heard a familiar beep from the inReach and knew my text was on its way. By now it was dark and I was wearing my Black Diamond headlamp. I was innately calmer and think that Bailey sensed it because her small body appeared more relaxed. As I got closer to the access road I switched from singing to calling out my husbands name. Suddenly I heard him respond along with the trusty bark of Sasha, one of my beloved German Shepherds. He met me in the middle of a bog bridge where I began crying and didn’t stop until BB and I were safely out of the woods and into his truck. I’m not typically a dishonest person but I was mortified to admit that I had become lost in an area that by Maine standards was in my backyard. I felt stupid and ill equipped, especially for someone who had spent hours researching, planning, hiking and most of all, was leaving on a thru hike soon. So I fudged the details of my mishap to both my family and friends. I downplayed the “terrified & lost” component to the “we lost track of time” one. I’m not sure if my husband actually believed me because I’m also not prone to fits of hysterical crying while hiking but he’s too kind of a person to say anything.

Then they found Inchworm’s remains and now we know her location and cause of death.  As I wrote at the start of this entry this  information upset me greatly. Not because I thought I could have helped her; I became lost a year after her disappearance. No, I was upset because after being lost in the same general area for several hours, I can’t even imagine what she went through and it truly breaks my heart. She was found approximately 3,000′ off trail (one half mile). When we think of that distance we envision a quick jaunt but in the rugged terrain of the area it might as well have been ten miles. I also feel foolish and ashamed that I ever felt the need to downplay that day to the very people that care about me the most. There is no shame in admitting your mistakes;the shame is when you don’t learn from them. I’ve since learned to be proficient with an old fashioned compass, to mark all access routes whether I think I’ll use them or not and I bought two head-straps for my glasses.

I’m terribly sorry for the tragic turn of events that cut short Geraldine Largay’s productive life and I’m thankful that  she was found so that her family has some type of closure. This tragedy has also made me rethink that old adage “Well they died doing what they enjoyed”. After being lost for the better part of a ten hour day, I’m pretty damn sure Geraldine didn’t enjoy anything.

In closing, beginning with the disappearance and continuing with her remains found on property which is part of a Naval SERE Training Camp, the discovery has given rise to conspiracy theories and speculation, none of which I subscribe too. However I’m inserting a few links if anyone cares to explore. The last article is by Paul Dorion, Registered Maine Guide and accomplished author.

Map showing location of SERE Training Camp
Map showing location of SERE Training Camp
 AT
               AT Sign
Bailey B
          Bailey B

Mountain Goating, Crab Crawling or Bear Crawling?

I’m trying to define the way I’m traversing the Appalachian Trail in the Western Mountains of Maine. Sometimes I walk confidently along the trail, taking in the beauty of the woods coupled with the sounds of nature. I’ll take a short break sitting on a moss-covered tree, fiddling with my pack or camera. Other times I’ll reach a steep pitched area full of craggy rocks and pipe sized tree roots and say “Oh hell no”. Since I’m determined to make it to Katahdin I brace myself and find a way up the rocks. Seriously, if someone told me a year ago I’d be doing this I would have laughed.

Mountain Goating
Mountain Goating
What I feel like
What I feel like

As for my crawling technique, not really sure what it’s called other than “Please don’t let my pants rip”.

I’m just beginning to see other hikers and I always watch how they scramble up and over the rocks because maybe there’s a better way that poses less risk to my pants. Tomorrow I’m ascending one of the 4000 footers so I’ll take Cliff Notes ~ I’m sure there’s a more graceful way. My GoPro is finally updated so perhaps I can capture a lesson on video.

Where's Waldo?
Where’s Waldo?
???
                    ???
More hikers
          More hikers

Rain, Rain Go Away

I’ve done 89 miles since June 7 which isn’t too bad considering the terrain. The AT is somewhat convoluted in Western Maine as it seems to weave and crisscross. The good thing however is that after being on it for almost a week,  AWOL’s Guide finally makes sense. Previously it felt like reading hieroglyphics whenever I tried to study it but once I started hiking and got a visual feel for the trail, the guide made sense. (💡) .

So far I’ve been doing a combination of day hikes and a few overnighters because my daughter has been joining me but  can’t do overnights. However I’m almost to a point where coming home at the end of the day would involve a lengthy drive so towards the end of the week I’ll start staying out until I’ve completed Katahdin. After that  I’ll return home to get on the trail where I initially started only this time to go SOBO.

Today I spent quite awhile in the Sugarloaf area where I saw a young moose. Of course he appeared as I was digging through my stuffed pack and by the time I was ready to take a picture he’d disappeared. I’m sure there will be many more sightings as moose are common in Maine. While I was hanging at Sugarloaf I decided that my backpack was too heavy and both ascending and descending inclines were more difficult because of it. With my 3 L bladder full and several days of food it weighed 40# ~ too much. Last week Matt, owner of  Tumbledown Brewing in Farmington, helped adjust the pack and gave me valuable insight as to the most efficient way to pack. Today after returning home I touched base with another hiker and she helped set me on a lighter course. That, coupled with the advice from Matt, made a huge difference. My self made first aid kit had so many items that it probably would have worked in a war zone; definitely an overkill. I ordered a lighter but equally efficient water filter from REI which will hopefully arrive soon. Based on my hiking friend’s suggestions I swapped out a lot of clothes.  Then came the really hard part. It was “very difficult” to thin out the assorted hair products I’d packed to maintain “The Bush” but it had to be done. I’ll just have to stop every once in a while to have it weed whacked. End of that problem.

Showers are forecasted again tomorrow but I have a pack cover so am headed back out. I actually find the woods somewhat tranquil during rain but not sure if Bailey B will feel the same. So far she’s been a champ but…….

Grounded

Glad to be home but anxious to return. I’m grounded for rest of the week but for a good reason – I am loved. Apparently a black bear attacked a teenage boy in the Smokies a few days ago. Young man is so lucky he didn’t lose an eye. My daughter is concerned because Maine has a black bear population so she ordered bear spray from Amazon which is scheduled for delivery Friday. It’s going to add another 11 ounces to my weight but who am I to complain? I feel blessed to have a daughter that loves me so much. My friend came over and assembled the tent in a matter of minutes. How many ways can I say Duhhhh@me? I’m going to set it up several times before going back out to make sure I’ve mastered it. He also looked at my JetBoil and it has a broken igniter wire. I could just continue to use matches but considering it was over $100 I think I’ll exchange it at LL Bean. I’m just tired of gear replacements and shopping in general; I’d rather be hiking. I do have one more thing to buy though, a life jacket for BB. I’d feel better with her wearing one when we ford. She’ll be attached at my waist and if for some reason I drop her she’ll be safe with a jacket until I can scoop her back up. She looks small but she’s actually 25#.

Day Tripping

Finally being on the AT was exhilarating, even if for just a few days. I hadn’t figured out my UL Big Agnes tent so had an older one. It’s funny how our minds perceive certain things; I’d looked at that tent dozens of times, watched a a You Tube video, and still couldn’t figure it out. Sometimes the simplest things confuse me the most because I think as a society we’ve grown accustomed to intricate directions written in a plethora of languages and online tutorials. The days of “connect A to B” are long gone.

My iPhone really used a lot of power taking videos even though I kept it in airplane mode. It’s in a Mophie case which I turned on by the time I’d reached Saddleback Stream. When I left that morning I didn’t plan on staying out so didn’t bring the battery charger. Big mistake which I won’t make again because I want to capture as much of the trail as possible either in photos or video.

Setting up the old tent was a breeze as was inflating the Big Agnes Q Core. I was glad that I’d chosen a down sleeping bag with a rating of 15 because I’m a cold sleeper. My hard work dehydrating foods paid off because the meals I’d brought rehydrated beautifully. Here I was in the middle of the woods of Maine eating Spanish rice & beans while BB chomped down on her rehydrated Honest Kitchen food. I’d brought sleeping pills as suggested in case the night sounds bothered me. They did spook me a bit but I was afraid if I took a sleeper I wouldn’t wake up if there was a problem (like Bigfoot stopping in for a nocturnal visit). I’d decided before the hike that I’d keep BB leashed to my waist strap during the night in case she decided to get up and sneak out but to the best of my knowledge she didn’t even try. We woke around 0600 and had breakfast. Gotta love the JetBoil Mini Mo – heats water quickly and efficiently. Only problem is the “sparker” isn’t working so used matches. Hopefully my friend who’s going to help me figure out my tent can look at the stove as well. I cleaned up camp and decided to try and make it to Saddleback and Route 27. By this time I was berating myself for not configuring my inReach correctly because I was encountering glitches. I’d spent so much time cooking and dehydrating that I shortchanged my gear. No big deal though because I’d fix it when I got home. This trip wasn’t about sweating the small things; I do enough of that at home with my AAA personality. This trip was about not caring about anything but the present. I refuse to get agita over things out of my control, worry about what ifs or has beens.

Taking Baby Steps

I was so excited to be on the AT even though I knew it was only for two days. The first thing I passed was a small but tranquil water falls. Then as I walked ahead I saw steep rocks and gnarled tree roots. Now what I haven’t mentioned is that I had both of my knees replaced in 2011 and haven’t done much climbing since. I approached the rocks while trying to convince myself that they weren’t really that difficult. I grabbed onto some roots and up I went. Pheww! Even though small it was my first test and I’d passed. My hiking partner, Bailey B (trail name BB for Baxter Babe) scampered over rocks and roots as if she was frolicking in a meadow. This was her first outing in the forest and she was thoroughly enjoying it. As we walked through the forest I couldn’t help but think about the book that sparked my interest in the Appalachian Trail, Blind Courage. It’s the story of Bill Irwin, a seeing impaired alcoholic who, guided by his service dog Orient, was the first blind person to hike the trail. I thought back to the rocks I’d initially encountered and marveled how Mr. Irwin had navigated not just them, but far bigger and more dangerous obstacles along the way. He was driven by faith; both in God and Orient. I suddenly felt very small and insignificant for having panicked at the sight of a few rocks.

I rambled along the trail at my usual snail pace, loving the trees and tranquility. I was a bit surprised to see trees marked with a white rectangular shape as I’d always read about the “white blazes”. Nonetheless they were marked so I knew BB and I were heading in the right direction. Then I saw it – a bog bridge. Now logically I know that should I fall off a log the only thing that would happen is I’d get really muddy. I just wasn’t prepared to play Indiana Jones less than two miles in. Bailey took it in stride, leaving little wet paw prints on the logs. We finally reached the end where the trail exited onto a dirt logging road. We crossed it and continued on the other side. There were more bog bridges but at this point I felt like the Log Lady – I rocked those babies. Soon we came to Piazza Rock, a name I recognized from the trail guide which excited me almost as much as Starbucks.

Bog Bridge
                  Bog Bridge
Bailey B  Trail Name BB for Baxter Babe
                 Bailey B
Trail Name BB for Baxter Babe

D-Day But I’m Not Ready

I didn’t want to start my hike in Georgia otherwise known as NOBO because those typically start in March and April. My granddaughter’s First Holy Communion was in April, my grandson’s high school graduation June 5 and I definately wanted to be present for both. So I decided I’d start in Maine and head to Georgia thereby becoming a SOBO hiker. Technically I’m a “flipflopping SOBO” because I’m starting in Western Maine, working my way north to Katahdin, returning to my starting destination and heading south. Phewwww! That even confuses me. I wanted to begin my hike on June 7, my grandson’s birthday, because I knew it would be lucky and I needed all I could get. Few little problems loomed in front of me; I was waiting for replacement of a defective piece of gear and I hadn’t had the time to properly program my inReach Explorer, the satellite tracking device I’d purchased. Being a somewhat superstitious person, I was convinced that if I DIDN’T get on the trail on June 7, petulance, famine and warts would plague me. So bright and early (well perhaps not early), I took my first step onto the trail. Wow! Not sure what I expected but I was super excited.

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