On the flight over, I flew over southern Utah/Northern AZ and picked out Monument Valley. We did a family trip there when I was a kid. It's actually kind of hard to pick out from the air.
We flew into Boston and drove up to my friend Erin, and her boyfriend's house. I first met Erin and her mom when I was in Georgia on the AT. Waiting for us at Erin's house were her parents. A real surprise. I last met them when I was in Maine and it was fun to see them again. Hard to believe it had been five years. They waited till 10pm to have dinner with us that Erin made with vegetables from her garden. It was delicious. In the morning we had pancakes with maple syrup from Erin's family farm. There's nothing like it.
From there we headed up to Monson, to drop off our car where we would be finishing and then drove around to Abol Bridge to start. We set off and our goal was to cover 100 miles in the next eleven days. We brought a lot of food.
The first day we hiked 3 miles to the first shelter. We got there early and set up camp next to the lake. We realized we had both forgotten our flashlights. It was the next day we got a taste of what we might be in for. It was less of a trail and more a path of roots and rocks. I think when I was hiking I just became accustomed to bad footing.
The weather started out hot and humid, very much not what we were expecting from late September in Maine. At night it rained, but it never seemed to cool anything off. The next couple of days were pretty typical, rocks and roots, and not enough leaves. On the 5th night, we got in early to Cooper Falls shelter and had time to rinse off in the stream and enjoy the nearby waterfall. It was dry enough to hang up our clothes and equipment to dry out.
The next day we got in early and decided to push 3.6 miles on to the next shelter. It started to rain and then didn't stop. It was also 3.6 miles straight up. Not just a steep trail, but vertical up 60 degree rock faces. It was intense. By the time we got to the shelter we were drenched. Dad crashed in the shelter and I crashed in the tent, cold and wet.
We tried to wait out the rain in the morning, but at 10am we had to push out. It was our first day in the mountians. 6.7 miles and 4 summits. The elevations didn't make the climbs sound hard, but it was straight up and down the whole way. Add to that the trail was a swamp. Sometimes a running stream. There were some areas submerged 6 inches or more. Nothing was waterproof in this weather. We got to the shelter just after 5 and missed the last two spots in the shelter. We were to exhausted to cook, and just passed out. We didn't take any pictures that day. Easily one of the hardest ugliest day of hiking for either of us.
Over night the storm cleared and the wind picked up drying things out nicely. After a little delay drying things out before leaving camp, we headed down the trail to a cool blue day. We stopped by the Gulf Haggis canyon which has a pretty spectacular waterfall. Then came the river crossing. Two days before it was running about ankle deep, today it was above my knee.
That night we didn't quite make it to the shelter, but had a great campsite next to a lake. In the morning was a beautiful sunrise with steam rising off the lake. The cool air brought out more colors in the leaves and the rocky climb up Chairback provided great views. The vistas were filled with red, orange and yellow trees. We also realized that the trees change colors from the top to bottom, so the canopy would be red, but only green could be seen at ground level.
We didn't make it to the shelter again, but had a quick camp next to a little stream. Now the 10th day we made a late push to get to the shelter just before dark. Surprisingly, there were no other hikers already there. One soon showed up. We'd seen about 20 thru-hikers a day up till then and the shelters had been quite full. I didn't realize so many people would be finishing up at the end of September. It was a great place to camp for our last night on the trail.
Ten miles from the end seemed like too many more rocks for us, so we chose to bushwhack 2 miles downstream to a road. It wasn't as fast as hoped, but we got to the road about 2pm. After about an hour of walking, the first truck to drive by picked us up and took us to our car. We took a stroll down to the lake to see where I lost my boot on my first hike and on the way back to the car had a resounding high-5. If it was a movie it would be freeze-frame, roll credits.
The epilogue was a night in Monson. We went to the only bar in town where a few straggling hikers were drinking with the locals. It felt good to be done and the trip was a success. The bar had a dock on the lake with a few brilliant trees shimmering in the setting sun. At night they floated out a little barge and lit a bonfire on the lake, while we went through e-mail at the bar. We missed the breakfast in the morning at Shaw's because we had to leave at 5am to make it to Boston for the flight home.
It was a hard trip, but a good trip.