McDonald Road to Prestile Stream
Sunset Field Camp to Dirty Hippies Camp
ECT miles: 20
Total miles: 2317
Elevation change: 709ft gain, 748ft loss
For a day that offered little to no variation in scenery, there sure was a lot of stuff worth talking about. SpiceRack and I hiked straight north from the time we packed up until our final evening collapse, sometimes on dirt ATV roads, but mostly along the main highway. This punished our feet and challenged our minds, but it also allowed us to sample the culture of Northern Maine, from the relentless drone of lawn mowers to the unfiltered kindness of complete strangers. It’s not a place that I would trek if not for it being part of a larger thru-hike, which makes the endeavor feel pointless and dumb when it’s hard, but also so awesome when it rules. By the end of the day, I’d had my fill of hot pavement and buzzing mosquitos, yet aside from my aching feet, I could have kept going all night. I felt grateful for the opportunity to walk through a place that I would not usually walk through, to see it from an unconventional perspective, and to share that experience with Spice. My mind and spirit were free, even if the speeding cars made me feel like my body was stuck in the mud. Good food, good conversation, and good times.
The day was already sunny and hot when I woke up, and that was still before my 6am alarm. I tried to snooze, but to no avail. I had slept too well, it seemed. By 7:06am (precisely) we were fed, packed, and hiking north on that same, straight ATV road. We chuckled when a shelter appeared not 100 yards from where we’d camped. How this was not mentioned in our navigation app, we couldn’t guess, but neither of us were complaining about last night’s sunset view.
It was nice to be moving early, in the morning cool, before the bugs started their frantic buzzing. We glided quickly across the flat expanse, our trail lined with bushy bushes and puffed-out greenery. Occasionally, a dip in the foliage granted us glimpses of the fields around us, and a sign on a silver building of corrugated metal informed us that they were farmed by Good Farms Inc., “Home of GOOD POTATOES.” Question answered, no Google needed.
Spice’s feet were feeling morning fresh, if not totally blister-pain-free, and we made great time to start the day. An experimental Coca-Cola Coffee might have had something to do with it as well, but for my part I was strongly drawn to the gas station just a couple miles ahead. A flush toilet is a powerful motivator for me, and an unexpected snack promised to sweeten the deal.
To my dismay, the Sunco was closed on account of it being Sunday. However, the front door was unlocked, so after some ethical deliberations, I scuttled inside to use the facilities and fill up our water bottles. It was either that or dig a hole in the bushes behind the building, and I was pretty sure that the owners would prefer the former. Still, job done, we didn’t hang around to wait for confirmation, and made our slow, 3mph getaway along the wide shoulder of Highway 1.
The morning was finally starting to wake up as we carried on past sparse, yet numerous old homes lining the road. They were each charming and unique, giving us plenty to look at without truly seeing, and nearly every one was circled by a buzzing lawn mower. No wonder nothing is open on Sunday’s. Riding a sit-down mower had been a childhood dream of mine, one that I still carried with me, so I was just a little bit jealous of these lucky souls and their mindless productivity. Domestic bliss.
We turned off of the official route to visit the Blue Moose Restaurant, a mysterious and well-reviewed sanctuary from the endless treadmill of Northern Maine. We arrived before they opened, but owners Hillary and Josh rescued us from the shady front lawn when they invited us inside anyway, after rolling up on an ATV. On the back porch they chatted us up about our hike while providing us with all the vegan treats we could handle and endless good vibes. It was too early in the day for a break of this magnitude, but we rolled with it, knowing that this is what it is all about. To cap off their tremendous hospitality, Hillary wouldn’t take our money, and we promised to pay it forward as we waved goodbye.
While we were eating, Spice and I had decided to walk nine miles on the highway rather than following the official “red line” twelve miles on ATV road to where the routes intersected once more. Avoiding the backroad mosquitoes while also saving an hour of walking made this seem like an obvious choice, but we ended up paying the price as the day heated up. It’s easy to underestimate how brutal walking on pavement can be, or in our case, to forget the pain we had felt just yesterday as we stumped into Houlton. As the temperature climbed into the 80’s, the exposure to the bright sun began to take its toll. Again, Spice had the worst of it, dealing with the pain of resurgent blisters. As our feet swelled with the heat and repeated pounding on hard ground, she removed her insoles to give her’s more space. That helped a little bit, but she was in for a tough grind.
The straight monotony of the highway didn’t offer a lot to distract from each ache or sharp twinge. However, the endless determination of the lawn mowers provided more reasons to chuckle, as did our new game of adding the letter “r” after every vowel when we spoke. Apple saurce. When our enthusiasm for that game subsided, Olivia Rodrigo picked up the slack, and we looped Sour between shady breaks on freshly mowed lawns where they met the road.
By the time we passed the barrel shop on the outskirts of Bridgewater, we were good and roasted, and had had enough of all the pavement. We filled our bottles from a parkside spigot and collapsed in the shade of a bushy tree after a few dips on the swing set. Although the clouds had been building all day, it wasn’t until this snooze that the heat finally broke. I needed the rest, but not as much as Spice. She didn’t complain, but I could tell by the way that she stiffly hobbled to the trash can that all of my discomforts were whimpers compared with her foghorns of pain.
With a yawning “back on the red liiiiine,” Spice announced our return to the official trail where we followed the ATV road after it crossed the main highway. It felt good to have a softer crunch with each step, even as the mosquitoes came out in force along with the trees’ lengthening shadows. A podcast carried the attention of our fried brains through the forest, but the wide sky of grooved and quilted clouds stole the show when the conifers gave way to more fields of furrows and fallow. Mars Hill, with its prickly pate of wind turbines was the only prominence rising above the flatlands. I knew that we were headed up it tomorrow, and it locked in my sense of place in a way that I imagine feels familiar to those spying land after a day, or days, at sea.
A small park on the bank of Prestile Stream provided the flat patch of grass that we so dearly wanted to find. Even though it was only 7pm, we pitched our tent and zipped in for the evening. Hydration and rest for our feet were the priorities, followed closely by dinner and cooling down. We accomplished all of these goals as the sunlight faded and a fresh vanguard of mosquitoes bounced fruitlessly against our mesh walls. It hadn’t been easy, but we were hanging on. Canada wasn’t far now, and each day was a major step closer to Spice’s blisters healing up. One day at a time, that’s how we would make it. That, and plenty of arpple saurce.