[at-l] Maine - 1999

South Walker southwalker at windstream.net
Mon May 30 10:37:52 CDT 2011

Many months ago I was struggling through Maine. It was a wonderful experience, that beginning at thru-hiking. Although I had sectioned hiked on the AT many times and had in fact done about 1/3 of the entire trail and more than 50% of Maine before heading south, it was different this time. I was attempting a thru-hike. Headed for GA. Going the distance. And the idea alone was elevating, invigorating and made me feel special and blessed.

The memories of those first weeks on the trail continue to be very clearly focused in my head. Of walking alone, day after day. Of bugs and frogs and cold rain falling on new green growth. Of struggle and glorious solitude. Last night I counted the number of people I saw in the first ten days and the total was less than 20. Even between Monson and Caratunk I saw few people and had only 1 night where there was another person in the shelter. Most of the people I did see were not on the trail proper but seen from the trail as they fished in lakes, or just happened to drive by when I crossed a road. Only one of the 20 was headed for GA. In fact on several days I saw no one and on only 4 nights was anybody else where I spent the night.

When I read about 50 people starting from Springer on a single day I am numbed by the vision.

I arrived in Monson on Memorial Day weekend. What a special place. Quintessential inland Maine with it's old white houses that lean a bit, sagging with age, and old people catching the sun on the porch.  It is devoid of the luxuries offered by larger towns and cities and is better for it. Monson hosted their annual Memorial Day Parade while I was there. Not a huge parade by most standards but it had the prerequisite fire truck with siren wailing, kids waving flags and old men squinting in the bright sunlight. I suspect that the parade was organized by the senior members of the community because it started at 8:00. Consider that for a moment. I mean you have to salute any place that fires off a cannon and begins a parade at 8:00 AM. My plan for the day had been to sleep late and take a short day. I hadn't figured on how early the sun rises in ME. I woke up at 5:15 when the sun streaming through the window on the 2nd floor of Shaw's Hostel made me so hot I couldn't sleep. When I looked at my watch and then out the window I thought for a minute that I was experiencing a tear in the fabric of the time-space continuum. The sun up at 5:15? Impossible! But true! 

Other sobos arrived in Monson and we established a bond that would last for miles and months. There were 7 of us that formed that initial group and 4 of us made it to Springer. Lizard King was our first fatality. He left the trail somewhere, although we never knew where or when or why and we wondered what happened, experienced a sense of loss that was out of context with the brief time we knew him. Suddenly he was gone, like he had died in a far away place and there wasn't a funeral to attend. There seemed to be a perverse sense of relief also. No one wanted to be the first to fail. In fact most of the sobos wouldn’t admit they were actually attempting a thru.

In Caratunk I had what in retrospect was the probably the most satisfying town stop on the whole trip. I arrived in town about 10:15 and left at 4:00 and hiked to Pierce Pond Lean-to. While in town I got a mail-drop, had a shower, bought some groceries, had a long slow lunch with Steve at the big place up the road, did my laundry and spent a hour on the phone with my wife. In spite of all that activity I still managed to do about 10 miles that day.

It was a long time before I was able to put in words what the special feeling of the beginning was like. I finally realized that I felt the same way before as a pre-teen. Every summer in fact seemed to feel like that. School out, gone from my thoughts and every day was a day of play. To young to be burdened much by expectations from my parents I spent every day doing whatever I wanted. And that is how it was on the trail, at least early on. Later in the summer a small still voice in the depths of my head begin to say quietly, "We must reach Georgia", but it wasn't until late in fall that it begin to speak louder. Even then it didn't negate what I wasn't doing, the freedom I felt and never made me miss the opportunity to stop and visit with someone and share life stories with them.

In the many months since I finished my hike there hasn't been a single day when something didn't make me remember the days on the trail. We had fried green tomatoes the other night and I thought of the Whistle Stop Cafe and the owner who turned up her nose when I suggested that if the name of the cafe had true meaning she would serve friend green tomatoes. I went to lunch with an old friend at Cici's Pizza. Good deal at $3.99 for all we could eat. My friend is elated at the value and I am wondering just how much damaged to the profitability of the establishment a bunch of thru-hikers could do.

There is always something to focus my thoughts on the hike. May God grant that it will always be so.

Happy  Memorial Day everyone!

South Walker

Alcohol does not solve any problem, but then neither does milk.
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