Brookside Inn to McDonald Road
Phone Fix Camp to Sunset Field Camp
ECT miles: 15.2
Total miles: 2298.3
Elevation change: 659ft gain, 823ft loss
We hiked east for ten miles, then we hiked north for five. And it was all road, all mostly flat, and all mostly straight. That was the day. One might be deceived by the simplicity of our route into thinking that SpiceRack and I suffered a horrendously boring day on the IAT. However, for me at least, the mindless walking was anything but. This type of movement was all that I’d been dreaming of during the final few weeks on the AT, as the gnarly roots, rocks, and steeps soaked up all my mental and physical energy like a hungry sponge. I had just wanted to cruise. To be free to let my eyes and mind wander to distant horizons, both visible and imagined, to let my arms go slack and my legs lead the way. The AT had taken so much, and I was tired of giving it. As far as I’m concerned, all this road walking is my reward for walking from Georgia to Maine. I’m getting what I asked for, and so far it’s been sweet. Boring? No. Relaxing? Yes. Like lounging on the beach.
With maximizing town time high on our agenda so that Spice’s feet could recover as much as possible, we let the morning flow like a lazy river. With dark drapes and no alarm, I slept all the way until 7am, waking to find Spice gone, probably checking out the town before the day’s bustle revved up, as she likes to do. I ate two bananas and a bunch of cereal while tapping away on my phone, not in the least bit interested in the world beyond my sheets. Spice returned with coffee and regaled me with tales of men’s groups and hot sunshine as we packed up for our 11am checkout. We finished off the last of the cereal and chugged the last of our soy milk, then stepped out into the bright warmth of a day in full swing.
Hitchhiking has never been so disheartening. We had a perfect spot, the outlet of the Walmart parking lot. Cars streamed by, each one coming to a full stop within charming distance of Spice’s brilliant smile. Still, it took 40 minutes and maybe 100 cars before a couple in a pickup truck finally offered us a ride. However, all it takes is one, and after a quick stop at Walgreens, we were speeding our way down the highway, hopefully headed in the right direction. Neither Spice or I had ever ridden in the bed of a truck at such speeds, and we lay down flat in order to keep our hats and ears from being whipped away by the wind. So it was that by 12:20pm, we had picked up our footsteps from yesterday at the Brookside Inn, and continued our journey east, walking back to the town that we had just left.
A quick jig-jag got us off the main road and onto the paralleling pavement of Ludlow Road. It was wide and quiet, with just a few trucks trickling by, and even fewer homes scattered among the patchwork of dense second growth and green fields. Puffy white clouds drifted along with us as we put our feet in cruise control and wandered ahead, not a question or care about where we were going.
With reliable cell service for the first time in days, I let Spice pull ahead as we each made calls back home to reconnect with a world that decreasingly felt like our own. I caught Arthur for a final debrief of his adventure in Blackbird, relieved to hear that nothing else had gone awry and that our van and dog had made it safely to Quebec to holiday with some family friends while Spice and I hiked to Gaspé. After that, I struggled to keep up with Spice while I spoke with my parents, an ocean and many timezones away. It was awesome to see Spice in her feel-good stride and to hear that my folks were feeling good too. All seemed well.
A single break in the shady patch of grass next to a long driveway was all that we needed to recharge for our triumphant return back into Houlton. Even knowing exactly where it was, the final mile to Walmart felt like five, and the subdued signage kept us guessing until we were right on top of it. The dearth of quality hiking food was even more flummoxing than the stealthy nature of the store itself, but we still left with more food than we needed, cautiously optimistic that the dill pickle flavored crackers would be edible. They were, and we licked up the final crumbs before we were even out of the parking lot.
Subway came next, and the most anticipated portion of my day did not disappoint. The iced tea cooled my parched throat and the warm veggie and marinara sub warmed my delighted belly. Not only that, but we picked up another bag of dill pickle chips as well as my favorite flavor, all-dressed. I had sensed that we were approaching the natural habitat of Canada’s favorite chip, and I felt endless joy to have finally made it to the promised land.
With the sun still hanging high above the horizon, at 6:45pm Spice and I hoisted our packs and pointed north. Although Canada was just 10 miles to the east, we would now hike 70 miles north, paralleling the border until finally diving into New Brunswick. The first five of those miles came easy on a wide ATV road of mostly dry dirt. The ground felt soft, and crunched reassuringly relative to the punishing silence of asphalt. However, away from the pavement of town, the mosquitoes ambushed us as we once again cut between stagnant ponds in the dense forest. The air was cooler here, which was better for us and for the bugs. We hurriedly applied DEET, and kept on cruising, looking for a spot to camp as the sunlight dimmed and warmed.
Sunset and camping happened at precisely the same time. It was grand indeed. We pitched the tent on the grassy outskirts of a field of freshly furrowed dirt, just in time to watch the wispy stratus clouds flame pink above the glowing horizon. I ogled and walked in wide circles to keep the bugs off of my legs, giving Spice time to get settled. After diving in the tent, I supplemented the early evening sandwich with peanut butter and Oreos, then prepared myself for a tremendous sugar crash. It descended on me like a heavy fog. There was little else for me to do besides feel grateful for the bug mesh, smooth trail, good food, and tremendous company. There was nothing else that I needed.