Moxie Bald Mountain to Monson, ME
Sunset Breeze Camp to Root Beer Float Camp
AT miles: 20
Total miles: 2082.8
Elevation change: 2444ft gain, 3760ft loss
Sunrise, mosquitoes, river, black flies, river, and root beer float. That is how I will remember today. The bread of this bug sandwich was worthy of the best days, and even the filling had some merit, as my itchy bites prove. The walking was about as easy as could be through more of that smooth, Northern Maine flatland, dipping into dense valleys of green and along rushing rivers of tanic water. The relentless blood suckers kept me moving except for a carefully located lunch spot, yet besides the extra pep in my step that they inspired, were not too bothersome. My full-coverage clothing and waving hands made sure of that. Finally, function matches style.
Camping on the summit of Moxie Bald Mountain will go down as one of my best decisions of this entire hike. The sunset yesterday evening alone was worthy of remembrance, but it was the stars that I loved the best. When I unzipped my tent and clambered out the low opening to pee in the middle of the night, I was floored by the spread of twinkles above me. They burned cooly through the clear black depths of space, the brightest poking from the darkest. The long smear of the milky way streaked across the sky, strangely close to the horizon, and was as humblingly vast as ever. Why was it so low? Latitude, I consoled myself. Latitude.
The sunrise was also a shock. I’d spent so many mornings camped in the trees that I’d forgotten how slowly the day unwraps itself. Dawn brightness fluttered open my lids hours before my alarm, and I poked my head out to see that the thin streak of clouds on the horizon was already burning pink. It was still crazy early, much too early to wake up, but I did feel a little guilty when I pulled my beanie over my eyes, rejecting the gifts of the sun and returning to the darkness of slumber. Latitude.
The sun was high in the sky when I finally did start hiking, and it almost felt like a different day entirely, too harsh and bright to have been born from such a tender beginning. The black flies soon found me as I followed the trail across more summit slabs and back into the still air of the forest. They buzzed around my face, darting to my temples and eyes, eager for their snack of a lifetime. I brushed them away as needed as I walked, but for the most part, they did not bother me as long as I was moving. And that was great, for moving was what I intended to do all day.
Mosquitoes joined the flies when the trail leveled out in the swampy flatlands around an invisible pond. I would have stopped to check it out, but stopping was not an option here. I swatted and scooted around the shore, close enough to smell the water, but not to see it. The trail was surprisingly rocky for sustained stretches, sometimes reminiscent of the friendlier days in Pennsylvania, so it took all my concentration and coordination to stay on my feet and keep the bugs off of my face. I breathed through my overhanging mustache to keep them out of my mouth.
I kept an eye out for, yet saw no leeches during a thigh-deep fording of the west branch of the Piscataquis River, which for spelling purposes will heretofore be referred to as “the river”. The tea-colored water stirred around my legs, providing a welcome cooling sensation and itch relief. My shoes slipped on the slick stones of the riverbed, but my poles kept me on my feet. Sloshing back to dry land on the far shore, I rocked from heel to tippie-toe to squeeze the water from my shoes and socks. They were still soaked and heavy after several rounds, but that didn’t stop me from turning to follow the trail down river. Things to see, miles to hike, bugs to swat.
I plugged into some Lady Gaga followed by Guns n Roses, the rising aggression of the music matching the increasing turmoil of the water as it poured through a rocky gorge. The trail sometimes clung to low cliffs above the rapids, and other times faded away to the flats when the river widened. All the while, the bugs buzzed, I slapped, and the beech leaves rustled.
The walking was sweet, and I was just getting into the November Rain-Don’t Cry-Estranged trilogy when I splashed across the east branch of “the river”, this time just knee high. Again, no leeches spotted, and again I squelched in my shoes to squeeze out the foot juice. But it was time for lunch anyway, so I perched above the river in the shade to rest my pruny feet and put some fuel in my belly. I emptied my food bag, polishing off my granola, trail mix, and dried fruit. It was just over six miles to the road, and my remaining bars would get me there, no problemo.
The final miles were the quickest and sweatiest of the day. I left “the river” behind me to gradually rise up and over a low lump in the forest. The trail was littered with dry leaves and difficult to follow at times, though I expected this to change when the main Maine hiking season picked up. For the time being, I was happy to feel a little pioneering as I scouted for blazes and roots worn smooth by thousands of feet. After one epic toe stub, I lurched across the highway and into the gravel trailhead lot.
Tango and SpiceRack were there to welcome me home with excited whimpers and a root beer float. We lay in the warm sunshine as I felt my rabid energy peak, then quickly crash as the sugar rushed through my system. When the ride was done, I was sleepy, and even rallying for a shower felt like a tough job. However, it was worth it, and I sunk into the couch, feeling better and more at peace than I had in many days. I watched Spice turn paint into art, then turn vegetables into dinner. The stew finally did what the root beer float couldn’t, knocking me out for the evening. Stuffed to a nearly uncomfortable level, I only left the couch to move to bed. A few patient mosquitoes eyed me from the ceiling. They would drink their fill soon enough. With grim acknowledgment of this fact, I rolled over and buried my face. I didn’t want any more bites on my moneymaker. It itched enough already.