Previously on AT Day 110:
The high of total success was intoxicating when I touched my first official IAT trail crest upon reaching Katahdin Loop Road. All of the things that had to go right had gone right. Spice and I were out of Baxter, embarking on a mysterious international adventure to one of the many tips of the continent. We were healthy. We were happy. That’s what was important, and we were replete with both. We laughed and hollered for Tango as we approached the trailhead of our planned rendezvous with Arthur. Any second now we would round the bend to see that pink tongue lolling from that foxy face as he bounded toward us. On a whim, I turned on our Garmin InReach to search for messages. It was our only mode of communication with the outside world in the Maine flatlands. The device beeped on, then chimed with a new text. I read it and stopped in disbelief. “Stuck in mud. I tried getting her out for about an hour. Walking into town, it’s 10 miles. But I just got service and so will try to call someone.” So much for everything going according to plan. Everything had changed, and now we were stranded in a remote corner of the Maine wilderness with just a single sleeping pad and quilt between us, not to mention just a few bars and a handful of trail mix to get us through the night. You wanted adventure, and now you got it…
The message from Arthur was shocking, no doubt about it. What should we do now? Damn, we were so close to pulling it off. SpiceRack and I discussed our options as we turned around and walked back down Katahdin Loop Road. I’d had a sip of cell service several minutes back, and it seemed like getting in contact with my brother was the most important thing to do. It was getting dark and we were many miles from where he might be stuck. 10, 20 miles? We could walk the distance, but not without a rest first, and we were carrying just enough gear to keep us alive through the night, but not comfortably. Huh. We needed to figure out exactly where he was.
The situation was looking bleak, and like we were in for a lot of discomfort. But then, I heard the low rumble of an engine at low RPM. I almost didn’t believe it. Miraculously, a blue pickup truck appeared behind us, and I flagged it down, kind of standing in the way blocking the road. No way was I going to let the driver ignore us.
The dude and his passengers agreed to give us a ride without hesitation, so Spice and I climbed into the truck bed and settled in for a bumpy trip. I couldn’t believe our good fortune, and smiled at Spice in disbelief, thanking the universe for the most important hitchhike of our lives. We could get to Millinocket now, at least.
A couple miles later, I got enough signal get a call out. Arthur’s voice betrayed all of his frayed emotions, but it was comforting to hear that he was safe and that a tow truck was on the way. He sent us a pin with his coordinates, and we told him that we’d be there in 20 minutes after plugging them into Google. An hour of bumpy, cold road later, we tapped on the truck window. This was our stop, an unmarked junction of two dirt roads deep in the woods of Maine. After thanking our ride profusely, and hoping that we had made the right decision to let him leave as the truck taillights disappeared around a bend, Spice and I pointed down the narrow strip through the trees and got walking. The darkness was complete. We were in the ocean, underwater at night.
In less than a mile, we started hooting and hollering. We were close, but it was hard to believe judging by the state of the ‘road’ which wasn’t much more than a muddy track. But sure enough, there was Blackbird looming in the darkness. Arthur was covered in mud, head to toe and had clearly been working at it for a while. He looked exhausted, at the end of his tether, and relieved to see us. We were both relieved as well, to see him, our home, and Tango. Whatever happened next, at least we were all together.
The van was in deep. Arthur gave us a tour of his personal hell, from the deep hole dug by Blackbird’s rear wheels, to the chewed up door mat that he had sacrificed in an attempt to extricate himself. Everything was smeared in mud, inside and out, the door handle, the seats, the steering wheel, and the shifter. When all attempts had failed, Arthur walked down the road, prepared to hike all the way to Millinocket in the dark to find help. Fortunately, he found a phone signal long before then and made the necessary arrangements for someone to come and get us.
We could hear the tow truck searching on adjacent roads, so we honked the horn and flashed our lights. A few minutes later, the beastly truck bounced and blasted its way towards us, flooding the forest with light and confident presence. It’s all going to be alright, it seemed to say. Todd wordlessly assessed the situation, hooked up some burly straps, and winched us forward, out of the ditch. 50 feet later we were stuck again, and this time he hooked us up and led us out at a creeping pace. The ride was bumpy and nerve wracking to my summit-fried brain. Somehow I was behind the wheel of a van stuck in the mud only hours after finishing the AT on Katahdin. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend how one had led to the other.
A loud bang brought Blackbird to a shuddering halt. Some wicked rock had stopped us in our tracks with a solid shock to the differential. There was no going around it, and Todd told me that it was better to hurt once and hit it fast. I backed up and gunned it forward.
The lurch and sound made me sick to my stomach. No way that didn’t break something important. Ahhhh, our home. The shocked faces of Arthur and Spice who walked behind didn’t inspire confidence either. The rear driver side wheel wasn’t even touching the ground anymore. What that meant, I had no idea. I didn’t get out to look for myself, I couldn’t. Then Todd winched us forward and Blackbird was free at least. The van made a strange noise when it moved, but it drove out to the better dirt road under its own power. Maybe broken, but free at last. I felt nothing. Numb and empty.
The $450 bill was gladly paid, and before Todd left he made sure to ask, “what possessed you to drive on these roads?” It was a valid question. “Google,” answered Spice. “Stupidity,” said my brother.
We identified the source of the strange noise as a “U” of metal that straddled the driveshaft. One of the bolts had disappeared, so it flapped loose against the spinning cylinder. We decided that we didn’t need it anymore, or not tonight at least, so we removed the other bolt and put it in the trunk. Everything else looked surprisingly clean and roadworthy, even the differential, so we drove slowly until finding a pullout to call home for the evening. No being picky. It was well past midnight and we all needed to sleep. Arthur and I killed a hundred mosquitoes while Spice cooked pasta and tofu for an overdue dinner. It was excellent, of course, and knocked me out. I nodded off on the couch, too emotionally and physically exhausted to keep my lids open.
Somehow, I made it to the bed and under the covers, still dressed in my hiking clothes. What a day. Katahdin seemed so distant now, almost like a side note. What would happen tomorrow? None of us knew, but I couldn’t care just yet. I had nothing left except for a full belly and gratitude for our hitch out of the wilderness and the loved ones around me. In that moment, gratitude was all that I needed. It wrapped me up like a warm blanket and put me to sleep before I could even consent.