AT Sobo Part 3 – Into the 100 Mile Wilderness
Day two of the official great adventure; Alice and I woke, got packed up and ready to start. We slung our packs on and started the 12 mile forest walk towards the official start of the 100 Mile Wilderness. No camping is allowed in Baxter aside from designated areas, so we absolutely had to clear the miles to be able to set up for the night.
My pack was so heavy I couldn’t believe it; especially when we were only carrying 6 days worth of food. Although the 100 Mile Wilderness (actually about 118 miles) contains no official resupply points we had organised a bucket drop on a dirt road that we crossed just after halfway. We split all our food and dumped 5 days worth in the sealed sturdy tub, which would be deposited in a secret spot behind some tree so that we could find it and bears would have trouble getting into it. Still, despite not lugging that weight I was boggled by how my pack felt.
I have a habit of being an over-packer anyway and I’d clearly done myself proud. There was no chance or place to dump gear out part-way either – Leave No Trace principles means that whatever you take in, you take out; so I was in for a haul. Alice was a bit more savvy and had had a shakedown by a hiker in the hostel whilst I was up Kathadin. He’d stripped stuff out from her load and offered to drop it at the hostel at the other end of the 100 mile – a genius move on her part! So, off we lumbered.
The first day was incredible but a huge learning curve. I had no idea what I expected the terrain to be like underfoot but I was getting an immediate lesson; curled gnarled roots webbing the floor so that each step had to be closely considered. No rushing here lest you end up in a crumpled heap with your pack following closely behind to thunk you on your noggin as an extra surprise. Bogs up to your knees (and beyond) which you had to navigate over on slippery logs, rocks with gushing water over them akin to flume rides, and the most bugs I’ve ever seen. Unbelievable bugs. Alice had read a blogpost before she left the UK about someone coming across a man crouched weeping on the side of the trail who couldn’t bear to go forward or backwards because he was so overwhelmed with the intensity of the bugs and bites.
They legitimately land on your eyeballs constantly, go up your nose and down your throat. They buzz loudly because they are stuck in your ears and hair, and Alice and I had something upward of 40 mosquitos each biting us through our leggings at any moment. We had to start using deet on TOP of our clothes to begin to deter them. Hell! When we emerged at the end of Baxter there was a campground which had a store; just before the 100 mile officially began. We both bought the most ridiculous bug outfit for our upper body – full mesh from wrist to wrist, cinched in with bungee at the top of the thighs and with a whole net head covering your face like a fencing mask. They had a small zip by the chin to open and spoon food and snacks inside. Effective but ridiculous. The amount of times I absentmindedly shoved a Snickers plus netting into my mouth without undoing the zip doesn’t bear mentioning, but it saved our skin for a while.
Day after day Alice and I trudged through beauty and pain. The blisters, shoulder aches, pack sores, joint pain and exhaustion were well compensated by the incredible views and natural landscape. The thing I found the hardest was the feeling of being utterly tiny and overwhelmed by nature. I didn’t expect to feel this way so it caught me by surprise. I have never been so surrounded by wilderness. Not just the 100 mile, but the thousands of miles of forest in every direction around it. I was a mere speck and utterly isolated except for those other hikers we passed every now and then throughout the day. Hours and hours would pass and I would see and hear no one, just the bugs and animals and the weather through the pines. Evening comes early in the deep forest, and the twilight glimmers of fading light creeping around rocks and tree trunks gave me a feeling of deep seated primal fear that I can’t describe. It actually made me burst into tears the first time, because it was as if the forest was warning me to get to safety and out of its belly; that night was coming and I should be next to a fire, leaving the wilderness for the night creatures.
We hiked, noted the miles notching up, swam in in beautiful lakes, washed our clothes with safe products in streams and hung them around our tents in the sunshine like joyful hiker-flags to dry. We made friends with those we hiked with and the first trail families (tramilies) formed. One evening we exhaustedly set up camp in the dark after summiting and descending Whitecap mountain as a storm rolled in, and a guy skidded into our tiny clearing late with a huge grin and a lightening bolt of charisma after his 26 mile day: Hambone. No introduction can quite sum up what he would bring to our journey but this was our first experience of a hiker who wasn’t going by the book, and we were to learn a lot from him. The 100 mile wasn’t done handing out characters, adventures and lessons just yet, and we still had 4 days to go until we were out!