Lunksoos Lean-to to Bowling Pond Road
Fireflies Or Going Crazy Camp to Yep, Fireflies Camp
ECT miles: 22.1
Total miles: 2242
Elevation change: 1742ft gain, 2231ft loss
Exercise: Find a handful of rice, any kind will do, and scatter it on a clean surface. Now picture that each grain is flying, some hovering, some zipping in circles, and trying to drink your blood. Now imagine that you are hiking away from them as fast as you can, but one still occasionally dive-bombs your face, or lands on the back of your leg. You slap them away. As soon as you stop, you are surrounded and realize that even though you are tired, hungry, and thirsty, the only thing to do is to keep on hiking. The rice allows no rest, no sanity. Exercise complete.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, each grain of rice represents a single, terrible mosquito. This exercise was intended to help visualize what SpiceRack and I saw trailing behind the other for most of the day. Never before had we seen so many mosquitoes, not in Montana on the CDT, not in the Sierra on the SHR. It was madness. Fortunately, each time that we really needed a break today, some version of walls and a roof presented itself, allowing us to dry our soggy feet and count our new bites. Yet besides the mosquitoes and sloppy mud, today was an enjoyable cruise on the easiest of trails, or roads, rather. Endless, quiet, beautiful roads. Mud ones, dirt ones, paved ones, wide ones, narrow ones, ones for dancing, one for stumping. I loved them all. My feet and hips ached at the end of the day in new ways, but it was worth it for the mental break from the rigors of trail. Besides, SpiceRack, who is still breaking in, had a much more difficult day. Endless roads can feel like endless torture if one is in pain, yet she pushed through the new blisters without complaint. She’s the best, and I am so happy to be hiking with her again.
Heavy rain poured from the light gray sky. Wind rushed through the varied canopy of green on the edge of my peripherals. This was a nasty morning, one for snoozing, and I was grateful for the sturdy lean-to for keeping us dry and providing energetic separation from the wild wetness of the untamed natural. I tapped away on my phone, comfortable in my quilt, while Spice snoozed away the morning, her body in shocked recovery mode.
Our loungitude outlasted the rain, and we were rewarded with a cooling carwash as we left the shelter to push through the chest high overgrowth. The road was a scar across the landscape, but it wouldn’t last forever as the living things grew up to reclaim the open space. This forest was dense, a jungle really, and it would not be denied. My legs and feet were immediately soaked through, but my rain jacket kept my top dry as I followed Spice at a safe distance as to avoid the smacking branch spring-backs that would see my face red and welted.
The distant hills that we could see were shrouded in mist, and I thought that the scene could almost have been tropical. The tiny pink lumps of lichen on the gravel were certainly exotic enough for me. With our feet already sloshing, we splashed across Hawthorne Brook without reservations, then even gave up trying to avoid the mud puddles after so many sloppy slips. It was a wet day, and we were just going to be wet. It was warm at least. There was no question of freezing to death, that’s for sure. The mosquitoes though, they might have killed us if we stopped long enough to let them. At the time it seemed like we were trailing the largest swarm of bugs ever assembled. However, time would prove that it was just getting started.
We swatted and splashed our way through the forest, paralleling the Penobscot River, sometimes close, other times far from the deceptively fast water. Around noon, we were ready for a break and so took the short detour across a small suspension bridge to a hunting camp of some sort. The place was practically deserted, but we did find just what we needed, a pavilion enclosed by bug mesh. With sighs of relief we dropped our wet packs and peeled away our sodden socks. The bare concrete felt like heaven on my pruny feet as the porous material wicked away the moisture. A quick break quickly expanded into a full-blown lunch once we realized that this was probably our best shot at a bugless and rainless rest. We shared some tea, and I ate from all of my tattered baggies. The ancient smooge of snacks gone by smeared on the inside somehow made it all taste better.
Back across the river, we left the muddy tracks behind for quality gravel that drained the rain well. Smooth walking on the wide road helped us stay abreast of the mosquitoes and make great time along the river. A rushing corner of rapids captured my imagination just as it must have of everyone to come before us. The power of the river, swollen with rain was hard to ignore and impossible not to respect. The deep rumble of the water reverberated in my soul long after its echoes on the trees faded behind us.
The Haskel Hut provided another unexpected respite from the rain and bugs. It was perfectly timed for another break, so Spice and I popped off our newly damp shoes and wandered the cozy cabin. Spice, doing what Spice does best, lit a candle, making the cold emptiness feel almost homey for a few minutes while I read some pamphlets about Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. I hadn’t known that it was a thing. I hadn’t known that we were walking through its heart.
However, before long we were leaving it behind us. The wide gravel entrance road sped us north through endless beech trees that blazed violently green when the sun began to poke through the diminishing clouds. To pass the miles, we dared ourselves to play the song Bulletproof on repeat until we reached pavement in over four miles, but we didn’t even come close. Before we finished two, we had moved on to bigger and better playlists. All the while, our walking turned silly, from runway fashion show to long stepping shuffles. It was fun, it was tiring. Goodness, it was good to have SpiceRack with me again.
The final grind of the day came on pavement. Fortunately, it was about as quiet of a road as they come, so we were able to walk side by side except to let trucks with their screaming tires pass us. A rest and a sandwich at the Matagamon General Store gifted us yet another refuge from the swarms of bugs, and I watched in fascinated curiosity as children and parents came and went on ATVs and dirt bikes, often switching places and chasing one another like a British comedy set to Yakety Sax. Maine culture on display.
The final four miles were the worst from a bug perspective, and we hiked almost fast enough to keep them off. Spice gave a heroic effort, pushing through the early-hike stumpiness and painful blisters that had crept up during the long day. I hiked behind her, using my pole straps to swipe the mosquitoes away from her vulnerable back-of-the-legs. That seemed to work, but I still had to laugh at how preposterous the situation was. Never before had I witnessed mosquitoes massing in front of me while I hiked. The majority of the swarm trailed behind us by the hundreds, but they also buzzed ahead. It was crazy.
Still swatting, we turned down a dirt road, hoping to find a suitable campsite for the evening. It took some ‘shwacking, but eventually we found a massive gravel turnout that was plenty for us. We pitched the tent, then I took refuge in the cabin of the nearby construction equipment while Spice made her home, free from my flying elbows. Then I sprinted to the tent and dove in myself, bringing only two bugs with me. They were quickly dealt with, and then there was peace.
Couscous and beans filled what gaps were left by the sandwich we’d eaten earlier, but the sweaty heat diminished my appetite. It also made me sleepy. So sleepy. Even the itchy welts on my ankles couldn’t keep me awake long enough to eat too many Oreos. I fell asleep next to Spice, sure that those flashing streaks in the night were indeed fireflies. Maybe I hadn’t been so crazy last night, after all. Maybe I was still crazy.