Hale Brook to Brookside Inn
Dat Rain Cray Camp to Phone Fix Camp
ECT miles: 18.5
Total miles: 2283
Elevation change: 1224ft gain, 1421ft loss
The endless treadmill of northern Maine continued for at least one more day as SpiceRack and I continued our roady march to Canada. Picking up where we left off, the IAT led us from dirt to pavement, where we stayed until catching a ride into town. The hiking was as cruisy as could be, smooth and mostly flat, with clouds and a steady wind to keep us cool and bug-free. Even the few showers that gave us a rinse were warm and friendly, like the endless sky was giving us the sloppy licks of an eager puppy. Still, even the easy days are not entirely without pain, and Spice took on more than her fair share. Tender blisters and stumpy feet reminded us to take nothing for granted, and that sometimes plans change. But hey, that’s the beauty and challenge of a thru-hike. Adaptability is key. And if a change in plans means that I get to eat at Subway earlier than expected, then I’m all for it.
Considering how loud the rain thundered on our tent throughout the night, it was hard to believe that I got any sleep at all. The memories of crescendoed drumming were plentiful when I beat my alarm to the morning, yet I felt rested and somehow knew that I had slept great. Spice hadn’t been so lucky, and snoozed long past the horrendously early sunrise. She needed to fill the sleep quota that had been perforated by the night-long cacophony and burning in her feet as the nerves screamed their final, anguished death-cry. By the time she got moving around 8am, the day was blinding and warm. I sweltered in the tent after she left, harnessing the groove that I felt, letting my thumbs do the talking as I attempted to capture the emotions I had felt on Katahdin, confined by what could be expressed with the English language. After a quick poop and pack-up, I got going myself, blazing in mind and stride, pushing to make up my hour deficit as quickly as possible.
Puffy clouds drifted across most of the sky, providing glorious relief from the hot sunshine as I pumped my legs as fast fast they would go. I lengthened and shortened my stride, trying to find the fastest gait, but never held my concentration long enough to take any comparative measurements. The day was too beautiful, too bright and fresh after the long gloom of the previous days. A mother grouse carefully escorted me away from her chicks, a few sprinkles of rain blotched my sleeves, and the sun and shadows swooped over the dense shock of green. The lushness was interrupted only by the gray of the gravel road cutting a canyon through the dense jungle.
I found Spice after turning right onto pavement only because she had stopped to wait for my lazy butt. Despite my super speed, she’d still had plenty of time to filter water for both of us, take a comfortable break, and start to wonder what was taking me so long. “The groove,” I said. I took it as a good sign that she had been hanging around for so long. That meant that her feet weren’t holding her back so far. I got her up, and we shared a few tic-tacs as we continued along the rippled asphalt in just about the straightest line that one can imagine.
A long climb earned us a steady breeze and expansive view of what felt like the entire world. After being below the surface in a sea of trees for so long, I felt like a submarine coming up to breathe when they transitioned to wide fields of flowing green grass. I gazed at a distant Katahdin, perhaps for the final time, its wide summit scraping the clouds, or maybe holding them aloft. It looked far away now, yet it still loomed large in my mind. I was both sad and ready to leave it behind. It had been an important goal to me for so long, but now I had to let it go. My story had intersected with the Great Mountain, and it was time to move on to the next chapter.
A chugging pickup truck farted in the distance, covering our last few miles in just a few minutes, making the world seem small again. Spice and I continued on the potholed road, pleased with the almost nonexistent traffic and wondering what all these empty fields were used for. Maybe just for some mental breathing room, we hypothesized. That’s what it felt like to us, at least, and I reveled in the wide vistas of blowing cumulous.
After many miles, during a break along the side of that same road, we booked a room for the night in the town of Houlton. The trail passed right through it, but we were going to hitchhike in today rather than wait until we walked there tomorrow. Spice’s feet needed some love, and there was no reason not to give it to them. We’d still walk the miles, but hopefully a night of soaking and rest would put her worst blisters to bed.
Not much further, we joined Route 2 in Smyrna Mills, a small community that I had not been expecting. The road was instantly smoother and busier, which did nothing except make us feel rougher and slower. Still, the wide fields persisted, some of these ones with cows in them, allowing us to watch the clouds while we bumped music and even danced a little bit. We could see the dark showers coming long before they hit us, but there was nothing that we could do about them. We hiked on through the short bursts of warm rain. Once, twice, the drops shone brightly as they fell, and then left the pavement shining even brighter when I turned around to face the sun.
Spice bought a lump of chaga from an Amish produce stand as we waited out the final deluge. A mile later, on the stumpiest stumps, we reached Brookside Inn, our chosen hitching spot, and called it a day. A stoned local talked our ears off and offered a bag of pre-ripe plumbs from the comfort of her driver’s seat while we shuffled uncomfortably on aching feet, wanting nothing more than to sit down and take off our shoes. Finally, we dropped our packs on the side of the road and stuck out our thumbs. Spice took traffic turning onto the highway, while I covered the smaller road into town.
Forty minutes later, after much rejection and a not-actually-tense, tense stare-down with the sheriff, we caught a ride with the patron saint of hitchhikers, Dude In A Pickup. Our ride turned out to be one of the nicest and most interesting people in the world, answering every question that had stumped us about the landscape. He knew every tree, and taught us so much about the local environment. Turns out, open fields are anything but emptiness for emptinesses sake. They are as good as gold in this place, where trees grow fast and thick as weeds. When he dropped us off at the funeral-home-turned-motel, I was genuinely disappointed that we didn’t have a longer ride. I can’t say the same for him. My feet stank.
Our room was large and perfectly situated between Subway and Walmart. After stashing our packs, we hobbled across the road to gorge on air conditioning and footlongs. I left satisfied, grateful for the fresh veggies and the knowledge that I would have the opportunity to indulge my appetite there again tomorrow. All this road walking had its perks. That made three straight days of town food, with the fourth just waiting for the clock to strike midnight. Back at the room, Spice soaked her feet, then we troubleshot her phone’s charging issues. Another extremely friendly Mainer gave us some great advice over the phone during his dinner, and it worked. A little rubbing alcohol and scrub was all it took. Sleep came easy after all the good food and friendliness. Cornbread swirls, baked in the microwave, were my final act of the evening, and I fell asleep happy to be right where I was, next to Spice.