This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
We leave Gorham at 7:30, a late start for us. I have problems straight out of town. The bugs are out and I inhale one, coughing on the side of the trail. And then I can’t stop. We are of course climbing, and I wheeze my way up to trail, unable to breathe. It feels like I’m having as asthma attack: tight chest, wheezing. I stop to try and catch my breath and it gets a little better. I wonder if I should turn around, but slowly my breathing improves.
We’re up and down the way the trail always is. My knees ache til I want to cry. We enter blow down hell, which is La Copa’s least favorite kind of trail. I squeeze under most of the trees, but he has to go over, stepping from trunk to trunk and trying not to impale himself. It’s a pretty day though, sunbeams filtering between the clouds. We hit the Maine border, and the trail gets wild. Suddenly there is rebar everywhere, and staircases constructed just so you can get up and down the mountains. My knee pops going down some rebar, and it hurts enough to make me scream. Still, it’s bearable once the trail levels out and I make the shelter just as it’s getting dark. I take ibuprofen before I even leave in the morning. There’s a brutal descent down to Mahoosuc notch and I stop on the rebar to cry a little. I’m no stranger to pain while I’m hiking, but this is bad. I’ve hiked over a thousand miles with plantar fasciitis and 100 miles with a possibly broken toe, and nothing has made me cry like this before. I don’t think anything is torn or broken- I think it’s just an overuse injury. And those take a long time to heal, so there’s not much to do except struggle through it. We enter Mahoosuc notch, famous as the hardest mile on the AT. It is a tangle of boulders the size of cars, that you have to scramble over and under. If you’re unlucky like us, it will be raining when you go through. If you’re extra unlucky, you’ll hit it when it’s still snowy. Ice fills the cracks between boulders, limiting footing even more and there are deep snow fields. I post hole to my waist a few times. Still, we somehow make it in around 2 hours, including a break to wait out the worst of the rain. We climb the Mahoosuc arm, another scramble straight up. I’m soaked from the rain and the postholing and so sore. I catch my dress on a tree and almost rip the sleeve off. It’s falling apart and it feels like a metaphor for my body. I catch La Copa on the downhill, inching his way down wet slabs after falling. We are beat up and miserable. There’s a road in 5 miles, where we can hitch to town. So we do. Bethel is far off trail, but our hitch drives us past a pie stand and drops us at a little B&B. I buy frozen corn and spend most of the evening with it on my knees. In the morning, I hit Rite Aid for some knee braces. A kind man goes out of his way to drive us back to the trail, and then its straight up to Bald Pate. My new knee braces don’t seem to do much for steeper sections, so I inch my way up hill. I crest the first summit, and then the second, where the wind almost knocks me over. Some weekenders are out, bundled up in hats and rain gear, and they stare at me, the crazy lady with giant knee braces, wind catching my torn dress and making it billow like a sail. There’s a steep descent from the summit on slick slabs, and my knees scream at me, but then the terrain gives me a break. There’s fivish miles of gentle down and then sixish of gentle climbing. I average over two miles an hour, which hasn’t happened since before Moosilauke. And when I get to the shelter, I realize I haven’t cursed or yelled in pain since Bald Pate. It’s the best day of hiking I’ve had in a while. It’s a steep drop down from the shelter and then a steep climb up again right away. We have 3 of these Vs to do today, and they hurt. We climb up over Old Blue Mountain, then down Beemus. I slip on a slab and bruise my tailbone yet again. I’ve also pulled a muscle behind my knee, but I’ve taken so much Ibuprofen that I can’t feel my knees themselves, so that is good. I get some decent views, in the gaps between trees and looking out across slabs. Maine is beautiful: lush and green and ruggged. We have ten miles to Rangely in the morning. They are easy miles- relatively little elevation gain, but my pulled muscle makes me hobble and it takes forever. My tailbone screams at me, so I don’t even notice my knees. There’s a little hostel just off trail that I reach just after ten. They shuttle us in to town for food, and I buy a new shirt to replace my destroyed dress. We leave bright and early. The sun is shining and everything is beautiful as I climb Sadleback mountain. I can see back as far as Mount Washington. The weather holds and I have a fairly easy day for once- no new injuries. It’s hot in the morning, and I’m awake at 4am. I’m packed up and hiking just as it gets light. It takes La Copa a long time to catch me despite my slow pace: hot days are his weakness. We drop down, then climb up. The heat is unbearable and it’s not even 9am. We quickly downgrade our miles for the day. I drink so much water I almost run out, rushing past the 2000 mile mark. It barely registers that I’ve walked that far yet again. We stop at Horn Pond lean to, at the beginning of the Bigalows. Thunderstorms are forecast and we have two 4,000 ft mountains between us and the relative safety of the forest, so it’s another 4am start. I leave with my headlamp still on, climbing South Horn in the clouds. We drop down, then climb Bigelow and Avery. The clouds part enough for a view on Avery, and then it’s down, flat and down to the shelter where we stop for a break. Solo, one of the first SoBos, is there, pondering if he should go up with the forecast. We chat for a little, and then continue. From here, the trail is flat, at least in comparison to what we’ve been doing. I fly and nothing hurts. Its a huge confidence boost after the pain I’ve been in that there’s nothing seriously wrong- it’s just the crazy elevation change since New Hampshire. We reach the next shelter at 2pm and head out just as thunder starts to roll. A mile down the trail, it echoes all around. Two miles later, it mists down. Three and the rain is torrential. We skirt lakes as the trail slowly becomes a river. It rains hard all afternoon. I’d probably be dryer if I jumped in the lake. There’s a sports camp just past the shelter we’d planned to stop at- maybe we can dry out there? We make it before six, for a 28.5 mile day. I haven’t done those kind of miles since Massachusetts. At the camp, we get a little cabin, the owner stuffs us full of leftovers and puts my soaked sleeping bag in the dryer. In the morning, most of my stuff is still soaked, but there is coffee and pancakes. We leave after breakfast. It’s 3 miles to the Kennebec, where we have to take a canoe across. Heatwave is already waiting. She is finishing up her hike from last year and it only takes five minutes of chatting for us to figure out we have a mutual friend- Glimmer! I stop in at the hostel on the other side of the river with her, buy a soda and some other things I need, and get ready to chase La Copa down the trail. I have some chafing, probably from the heat the day before and hiking in wet clothes. It’s mostly around where my knee brace goes, although I’m not wearing it today. By lunch, it’s bad enough that I stop to slather it in antibacterial ointment. I stop again a few hours later, and then, as I’m climbing Moxie Bald, it is suddenly so painful I don’t want to walk another step. I check on my leg and discover blisters the size of quarters. I cut my pant leg so I can hopefully lessen the friction, and hobble to the shelter. It’s not much better in the morning. Luckily, it’s only 17 miles to town. It’s easy trail, but I’m slow, wincing my way down. At the highway, the first car I see picks me up and takes me to the hostel. La Copa has obviously spent some time convincing the SoBos and owner that I need a zero and they gang up on me until I relent. The hostel owner, Poet, is worried enough to call a nurse practitioner friend, who tells me he thinks it’s an allergic reaction, probably to my knee brace.
Taking a zero is almost as painful as my leg. It will mean losing La Copa, who I’ve walked almost a thousand miles with. It will likely mean walking the last 100 miles alone, and finishing the triple crown without anyone to celebrate with. But the thought of pushing it too far and needing rescued from the 100 mile wilderness makes me squirm in embarrassment. There’s only so much stubbornness can do when my body is unhappy. I’ve walked well over 7,000 miles in a little over 2 years, and I’m starting to feel it.