AT Sobo Part 8 – Maine’s famous mountains, injuries and my first zero!
I didn’t realise it yet, but these days would be some of my very favourite on trail. The high, cool mountain tops intersecting with the hot dusky pine forests were a perfect mix; rewarding me with views as I undulated up and down over the many miles. My trail legs were still coming in, so I didn’t beat myself up too hard if I couldn’t do more than 15 or 20 miles when the elevation was so hard. I may have mentioned it before but it bears repeating, that the deep forest; so far from the sea and Cornish coastline that I love, made me feel deeply claustrophobic at times. I was reminded that where you grow up almost becomes part of the very fibre of your being, so emerging on peaks to see large blue lakes was as close as I could get to that, and became as comforting as a hug from home.
The mountains are too numerous to discuss all of them individually, but some are indeed worth a mention. Sugarloaf is big, and the path up is almost vertical. In fact, it’s barely a path but a climb. It’s a well-known ski resort, but there were no ski-lifts from me this time as I launched up; my pack threatening to pull me down backwards. I dropped my poles once and had to watch one clatter back down a steep set of boulders I’d just rounded. So frustrating! However after some hard salty swearing I climbed down, picked them up and dusted myself off to do it all again. There was a short respite at the top to shovel some grotty pop-tarts in my mouth, before I was off again to the next challenge – The Horn and Saddleback.
The Horn is shaped like the top of a bull’s horn (visualise that steepness!) and it nearly ended me. At one point I could only take two or three steps up the incline before I had to stop, heave some breaths in and refocus. I couldn’t tell if I was just old, unfit or my pack was too heavy, so I decided the only thing I could do was pretend that none of the above were a problem and that I was actually a superhuman who didn’t feel pain. This helped, and I eventually got over the top ridge line like a broken, sweaty champ. The beautiful Saddleback was next, and indeed looked like a saddle had been slung over the top of the mountain; rising at the back into the distance.
It was here, with legs like jelly, that I had my first bad fall. I stupidly looked up and over at some beautiful wildflowers whilst going full speed on the flat granite, and tripped over both my poles. I fell onto the hard rock and gouged a large chunk out of my knee on a lone spike of stone. Tears pricked the back of my eyes I looked at the hole in my flesh and the blood pouring down my leg. I then realised I was officially out of any energy to freak out so I laughed at myself instead, grabbed a gauze pad and gaffer-tapped my leg around and around until I couldn’t see the problem anymore. Excellent! In the distance I could see the town of Rangeley next to a huge lake where I would have my first zero!! This cheered me up no end, so I pushed hard to hobble along through into the evening, blood sloshing around in my shoe, until I made it down to the road many hours later.
We cadged a ride into the tiny sleepy town and booked rooms at the only motel, next to the lake itself. The next two days were spent resting; I was amazed at what my body had been through and how it had coped. I realised that your body can honestly do so much more than you mind leads you to believe, and also, by the way, if you ever have the chance to visit Maine you should. It feels alien deep in the woods, but by the lakes and rivers and mountaintops it feels close to home, and the people are like the Cornish; good, honest, funny and kind.
Over the next few days we had a ball. We took open-top canoes onto the lake at sunset to watch the fiery purple sunset over the mountains, we barbecued fresh river trout caught by locals who dropped them on our porch (which reminded me of coming home in Falmouth to find that local fisherman had left us catch in a bag on the door handle!), and one morning I walked to the supermarket and saw my first moose walk across the road and into the woods! It was MASSIVE. Like; monstrously huge, with legs like a lamposts. I loved it. We had been warned to stay out of their way if it was a bull moose as these can be aggressive, but this guy was chill and oblivious. What a privilege to see him! I met many lovely people on our days off; all of them asking where I came from. A common question is to ask very politely whether I am from New Zealand or Australia.
People were then super surprised when I told them I’m from England! I don’t quite know how those accents get mixed up! I actually take great pains to explain that I’m Cornish and really feel much more Cornish than English. They do seem to understand this distinction which is great, and I proudly show them the St Piran’s Flag that I have tied to the front of my pack. A number of people then tell me that they are also Celtic, and have family who have heritage in the South West or Cornwall itself, which we both get very excited about. As these conversations became more common however (especially the one where their ancestors ‘definitely’ traced back to a specific fella on the Mayflower who sailed to Plymouth in Cape Cod from our Plymouth so that we’re ‘probably related’) I realised that perhaps these links might be tenuous, but a lovely way for them to show excitement about where I come from.
So, my days in Maine were nearly over and the border came into view on my maps, but the shock and awe of starting the AT Southbound and dealing with brutal, beautiful terrain was not over yet. Maine had one more extreme gift to give; the hardest, slowest and most challenging mile of the AT; Mahoosuc Notch. This was a mile-long giant bolder scramble, left by a bulldozing glacier. People fall, break legs, smash arms and slip into cracks with dark icy caverns beneath when taking this mile on. How would a Cornish maid fare, and would I get unscathed into New Hampshire? Here’s hoping.