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

Finally!

After hiking over 150 miles of the AT in Maine, I have a new respect for my adoptive home state. I’ve been hiking, primarily in the Western Mountain region, for 10 years and have enjoyed every footstep. The rugged terrain of the AT however has taken me to a different skill level. Quite challenging and the fact that it rained nearly half the time I was hiking only added to it. I’m off to continue the trail south but hope to compete BSP later this year. Next year if still living in Maine I’d love to try Acadia.
My new partner and I are on our way to the NY/CT border where we’ll begin hiking NOBO in CT. Saturday night I set waypoints through each state on my GPS. When I got to NH I was dumbfounded; just never realized how massive the White Mountains are, especially the Presidential Range. Very impressive – if you’re a mule.

I became a little spoiled doing the bulk of Maine first because I had the luxury of returning home frequently. I didn’t have to carry as much pack weight because home was only an hour or so away. Now that I’m beginning the next leg of the AT I’m concerned about keeping the pack below 30#. So far it’s a losing the battle for it weighs 32#. My headlamp simply “broke” as I was putting new batteries in it this morning but fortunately I have another albeit less powerful one. Family will exchange the Black Diamond Spot and send the replacement to me in CT.

Hoping to see Jumper and his “Dad” at some point. Jumper went home with his grandparents but is supposed to resume hiking in VT.
It dawned on me last night how much I’m going to miss my family, both human and fur kids and my dear friend Liz. I also made another new friend recently who shares my love of nature and passion for animals. Plus a composer of incredibly beautiful music. Yep going to miss all of them (except the television)…

Today I’m spent but very happy!

Yesterday I literally spent from 0630 to 1000 looking for Jumper, the beagle who became separated from his owner on the AT on Sunday June 21. I quickly printed the “Missing Dog” picture posted on social media by Maine Lost Dog Recovery and made 30 flyers. Armed with brad nails and small hammers we went to the Stratton trailhead where Jumper ran off earlier in the week. I went NOBO on the trail with my GSD Inga and my daughter went SOBO putting flyers on trees while hubby drove into Stratton proper and posted/searched.

My hasty flyer
My hasty flyer
Good water!!
Lip lickin’ water
Now where do I go?
Now where do I look?

Since Jumper’s owner Eric had been faithfully searching the trailhead area, I thought perhaps Jumper might follow their scent back in the direction they had come, north so I hiked as far as Avery Peak in the Bigelow range before turning back. Then we put the last of the flyers in Rangeley. I saw two hikers walking and asked if they had been on the trail and if so had they seen a loose dog (I didn’t mention breed). They were NOBO and said the previous day they had seen a brown and white beagle running with another dog near Piazza Rock. They remembered it because the dogs appeared to be alone. Theoretically it could have been Jumper they’d seen because the distance between the two locations via the AT is approximately 31 miles and he’d been lost for three days. Armed with this information we drove to a logging road, hopped on the trail and hiked to Piazza Rock. There were several dogs but all were with their owners. I left Jumper’s information with the caretaker and we headed home after stopping at the Hiker Hostel to alert them. The rest of the evening I couldn’t shake the image of Jumper from my mind so on a whim I did my first true night hike – back to Piazza Rock with Inga. Nothing but the sounds of wildlife. Dejected I texted Eric. By this time I was achy, cold and had a headache the size of Texas. My mind kept drifting back to Jumper and my fear that his pack would become ensnared on one of the many pipe size roots that I’ve come to despise. He would be trapped and susceptible to predatory animals that inhabit the area. All of a sudden around 1100 I received a text from Eric saying Jumper had been found! I was ecstatic. Apparently some hikers saw the flyers and took a picture of it. Later they spotted Jumper wandering on the street close to Route 27 and called. According to Eric he was thinner, sans backpack, a bit shaken and exhausted. I am so happy because the thought of him never being found disturbed me. Yes I’m an animal lover, one of those people who puts my animals well-being atop the hierarchal ladder. You know the type – more than one pet yet not in the “Crazy Cat Lady Down The Block” category.
So let me introduce Eric, who’s determination and devotion to his four legged friend never waned, and
Jumper.

Jumper after rescue
Jumper after rescue
Eric and his best buddy
Eric (DreamWeaver) and his best buddy
Wow what a trip!
Wow what a trip!

Jumper will be going home with his grandparents who drove to Maine from New York with several other family members to join in the search. He’ll get some much needed rest, a medical exam and regain the lost weight. Once Eric finishes hiking the rugged terrain of Northern New England, Jumper will rejoin him for the more forgiving remainder of the trail. Eric is a wonderful young man who’s love for his dog humbled me. It’s been an honor to interact with him and I wish them the best of luck going forward in their journey. I know his parents are very proud of the fine young man he is. I hope I’ll meet them somewhere on the trail, IF I can manage to finish the last 148 miles and get out of Maine. Meanwhile, if you meet DreamWeaver and Jumper on the trail, please say hello.

PS. I think Jumper’s trail name should be “JJF” for Jumpin’JoeFlash.

Missing Dog

Today I climbed Sugarloaf which wasn’t as difficult as I’d feared. My family left me on the trail just south of it this morning because my intention was to stay out and continue on towards Stratton then the Bigelows. I was having lunch atop the “Loaf”, marveling at the excellent cell reception when I received a tweet about a missing dog. Jumper is a 5 year old beagle that was doing a SOBO with his owner. They’d made it through the 100 Mile Wilderness and most of the Western Mountain range when Jumper took off at the trailhead in Stratton on Sunday June 21.  He had his pack and leash on which is what concerns me. I’m sure he could chew through his leash if it became tangled but the pack could become ensnared on one of the many pipe sized roots. I’m not sure he could get himself loose if that happened. I really can’t imagine what it must be like for his young owner – to be in a strange state far from home, extremely limited cellular signal, only the pack on his back and his dog is missing. So I made the decision to come home and print the “Lost Dog” picture that Maine Lost Dog Recovery posted online. I made 30 copies and have enlisted my family to go with me to Stratton early tomorrow morning so we can help this young man in his search. We’re getting on at the trail head with me heading north and daughter heading south, hanging flyers on trees and armed with hot dogs. Hubby will take the town section which is extremely small. Hopefully with extra eyes out there we can find Jumper. I was fortunate that his owner, Eric, reached a cell signal tonight and I was able to tell him my plan.

Please say a prayer that Jumper is found safe and reunited with his owner.

**I did get a lot of nice pictures and videos while at Sugarloaf which I’ll post over the weekend.

                               Jumper
         Jumper

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

Hiking Maine

Hiking Maine is something I definitely don’t recommend doing solo if at all possible. And if solo is your only option then carry a GPS device such as the InReach or Spot which will allow you to send an SOS. I’ll admit I got off trail near Saddleback but luckily found my way back to it by following the sound of the stream. It gave rise to the thought ” What if I REALLY did get lost?”. I’ve seen online comments that nobody can get lost on the AT in Maine because it’s well marked. Wrong! I passaged several areas in the Western Mountains where the blazes were faded and almost unrecognizable. It’s early in the season and NOBO’s are arriving slowly and SOBO’s just starting so one doesn’t see a myriad of footprints in the bogs etc. to indicate you’re on the correct path. To date I’ve seen two SOBO, two NOBO, a family of four day hikers and Mr. Magoo’s twin brother. So when I got off trail I just relied on sound because every time I looked at my InReach it told me a waypoint was “.2 miles” – no matter where I was or what direction I was headed. Then I sent a test message from the InReach and it took almost an hour to send leading me to the conclusion that GPS was sketchy. BUT at least it finally went so even if just used for an emergency it’s well worth the cost in my opinion. Several times while navigating the rugged terrain I thought ” What if I fall?”which again made me thankful I had a GPS transmitter. The other day a man from Texas fell and broke his ankle. It took rescue crews over 4 hours to get him out because the area was so rugged. Sad way to end his hike that began in GA. I wish I had a partner for the rest of Maine but since I don’t it’s carry on Quickie. Two more days of hiking and I’ll be done with the rugged terrain – for a little while. I estimate I’ll summit Katahdin around July 12 – give or take two days. Usually the AT in Maine takes about one month to traverse so my time is on target considering I had some missed opportunities. I’ve decided however to take BB home and leave her there until I’ve completed Maine. The terrain is just to difficult and I don’t want her getting hurt. When we walk through bogs she sinks almost to her tummy.

Piazza Rock
               Piazza Rock
BB at Saddlback
               BB
Enroute to Saddleback
  Enroute to Saddleback

Having her tethered to my waist is difficult because the lead gets caught on roots or rocks requiring me to free her multiple times. It’s hard to take pictures because I’m never really hands free. I’ve also noticed more wildlife activity in the woods after 3pm which frightens BB. I hear noises that I don’t hear earlier in the day, especially the eerie scream of fishers.
I’ve also come to the conclusion that peakbagging the 3000 and 4000 footers carrying my backpack is really hard. I was concerned about my “fake knees” but it’s the metal in my ankle that seems to ache with the activity/extra weight. So I’m tackling the mountain ranges as day hikes carrying a lighter day pack. I’ve always complained because living in the Western Mountains of Maine means a lengthy car drive for most things. For the AT however it’s manna from heaven because I live right in the middle of them. I know; I’m getting spoiled by being able to return home at the end of a day but that luxury is quicky coming to an end. I’m ready!!!

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…….