It was Mahoosuc Notch day. The dreaded one mile on the AT that we had been warned about miles before. Too many opinions clouded my mind. People had said that it was their favorite mile on trail, others said it was hell. I guess I had to do it myself to figure it out. We climbed over Full Mill Mountain early in the morning and descended to the beginning of the notch. The air turned cold quick, and the early morning humidity that we had grown so accustomed to soon dissipated. We were in the notch. Peach Fuzz, who was a faster hiker than Margarita and I, elected to go ahead of us. Margarita and I agreed we’d stay together to tackle this. And good thing we did. We crawled, squeezed, climbed, jumped, and skirted out way through this rock maze. White arrows plastered on boulders guided us through. Halfway through the notch we stopped to drink water at an underground culvert. Best water on the trail. In fact, I went as far to say that Mahoosuc Notch water was bad for water in general. I’d be damned to find a colder water source on trail. We continued to meander through the rocks and caught up with another hiker who had started before us. He let us pass him but immediately after going by, we heard a yell and then a thud. The hiker had made a wrong step and fell into a little space between two rocks. I saw it unfold and was quick to ask if he was okay. He affirmed he was fine but took some time to rest. When we finished this section (an hour and seven minutes later), we stopped for a snack before we continued—the Mahoosuc Arm lay ahead of us. The hiker who fell caught up with us and told us his GoPro recorded his fall which he was eager to show to us. Knowing that he was okay and recovered, this video was a nice little medallion for this section.
We climbed the arm, which really was a dry stream bed that went up. 1500 feet and a mile later, we got to the very top and recovered for the final climb of this section. We descended down to Speck Pond hoping to maybe see a moose. We did not. I still haven’t seen moose. But moose or no moose, we had to climb Old Speck, a 4000 footer in order to get to the Grafton Notch parking. We had an incentive to hurry here because Margaritaville’s friend Emily was meeting us in this parking lot. Rumor was that she was bringing some trail magic. We hurried ourselves up Old Speck, took a short break at the top, and then swiftly descended down to the parking lot. We were not running, but we were moving. We all wanted to get to that parking lot, and we wanted to get there now.
When we eventually got to the bottom, Emily was there to greet us. Margaritaville ran to her like two friends seeing each other for the first time in ages. I guess this simile doesn’t really work because this really was what it was like for them. We all went to Emily’s car where she had sodas and more importantly, McGriddles and hash browns. We were in heaven. Actually, I shouldn’t say the McGriddles were the important thing because Emily had actually brought new shoes for me. We were able to get a message to Emily a few days ago asking for her to buy shoes for me (I paid her back) because my Lone Peaks had not been replaced since Harpers Ferry. I got 901 miles in these shoes. But not just 901 miles. Pennsylvania rocks, Vermont, and the Whites were crushed with these guys. Absolutely no tread and no soles left, but hey, I was living on a budget.
After a nice little lunch and rest, we decided to hit the trail again. Emily was actually joining us for an overnight. We only planned another 10 miles so it felt doable for her to keep up. But we started again at around 1:00 and the sun was out. Quick side note. As we were hitting the trailhead, a group of day hikers saw us and asked if we were thru hiking. When we said yes, they responded along the lines of “we could tell, you look a little ratchety.” We all laughed. I suppose Emily might have taken offense to this because she wasn’t actually thru hiking. We then asked them if they had seen any Goshawks in the area in which they responded by providing us with their version of what they sound like. A grown lady started Cawwing at us. This is the trail.
I was going slow up the mountain, partly because it was hot but also because I was just tired. The climb up Baldpate West Peak was a stair master. It felt like it was going on forever. And when we reached the top, we could see the very next peak we had to climb. A big, old, exposed piece of rock slab that had to be a 500 ft or so climb. Peach Fuzz was way ahead of us so it was just Margarita, Emily, and I marching together. As we climbed, the weather started to change. The hot, sunny sky was now developing an overcast with a strong headwind blowing at us while we climbed. The sky got darker and that feeling of a storm brewing started to develop. I turned around halfway up the climb and looked at Margarita.
Do you wanna zero tomorrow?
Yes, I’d do that.
Sweet. Lets go to a hostel today and get away from this storm.
We were bailing from our original plans. I was out of it. I really didn’t want to hike anymore. The Whites had sucked everything out of me, and right now, Southern Maine was taking things that I didn’t even have. My mind and my body was breaking down, and I really needed a break. I suspected Margarita was feeling the same way. Walking above tree line, exposed to a possible storm was the straw that broke the camels back. We needed a break. When we got to the top, we found Peach Fuzz sitting up there waiting for us. I thought he was crazy because I wouldn’t have sat down on exposed rock while a storm casually rolls in. But he was here. I pulled out my phone and tried calling local hostels to pick us all up. The first place didn’t answer, but the second place did. And that place was in Andover. A hostel called Pine Ellis Lodging. Barely having reception, I communicated our predicament and agreed to meet them at a road in two hours for pickup. We descended Baldpate and hustled down the trail. I actually was the person ahead. Something inside me switched, and I was moving faster than before. It was the thought of sleeping on a bed protected from the incoming elements. That is always a good motivator.
We all got to the road and Pine Ellis was there waiting for us. The shuttle driver brought some delicious lemonade, and we all had a few cups on the ride to the hostel. The driver gave us a nice little tour of the small town which lasted maybe 2 minutes. The section of Andover that we were in has a population of under 1000 she said. The area was quaint. We got to the hostel which really was just a house with a separate building where all the bunks were. I may have been critical of the state of the hostel if this was in Georgia or North Carolina, but me being in Maine now, this was place was perfect. It was only $25 a night, and I got a decent bed that was underneath a roof, a shower, and laundry. What more could I ask for. We got comfortable, showered, organized some of our gear and all made our way to the town convenience store/restaurant. Now I don’t mean to be dramatic or over express myself here, but this was probably one of the greatest restaurants on the trail. Not only was the food cheap, but it was delicious. And even better, they had craft sodas in fridge. I went to town on all of those. I had three sodas for dinner to pair with my reuben sandwich was bomb. Mills Market. My favorite market. Never have I ever seen a place with so much character. And I even want to extend this compliment to Pine Ellis. That place was simple, cheap, and had amazing ladies who ran it. I love Andover. I’m so glad Margarita and I decided to zero here.
Pine Ellis Lodge
The best way to talk about this day was that I stared my day at Mills Market and I ended my day at Mills Market. Emily had gotten a shuttle back to her car early in the morning so I didn’t get to say goodbye to her. Peach Fuzz actually wanted to continue to hike. He had a deadline of August 4th, so he needed to push more miles. Margarita and I both told him that we were zeroing but wished him well. If anything he was going to be dropping dead weight because he had the strength to push 30s in Maine if he wanted to. Margarita and I though, we needed today to reevaluate everything. We walked to Mills Market and sat down at a booth for breakfast. This was when Mills Market truly shined. The locals in the area flocked here for breakfast, and we had a front row seat to the characters that live in this town. Literally, there was a wall right next to our booth called “The Handsome Face of Andover.” It was an awesome wall. In any other place I would call this creepy. But not here in Andover. This was so fitting. Portrait and candid photos filled every space in that wall. A true marvel in interior decoration.
While we were eating breakfast, a kind, older gentleman turned around at a table near us and asked us what we were doing. We told him we were thru hikers and we were resting in this town. We proceeded to have quite an extensive conversation with this man who explained some of the faces on the wall right next to us. After some time he left us and continued at his table that was filled with all of his friends at a table called the Liars table. Just guys (older guys) being dudes, talking about the daily news and gossip of Andover. I guess they do this every morning. I aspire to be at the Liars table one day. One day. Another gentleman from the liars table approached Margarita and I and gave us some fun facts about the town. After this man left, another came over and informed us that he was the man who puts up the photos on the wall. We were in shock. He was the man. This man was our Picasso. He gave us a rundown of the history of this town. He told us about the Liars table, the old photos on the wall, and also explained the backstory of a portrait that Margarita and I took a strong liking to. Margarita even was able to convince the man to put her photo up on the wall. To be honest it didn’t take much convincing. She basically just asked and he said yes and pulled out his phone. Seeing that the author of this wall was just putting anyone up, I asked if I could be put up there in which he said yes as well. I highly doubt our photos are up on that wall. I want to believe that it is. So I’m gonna say it is up on that wall. If not, I guess that older man has two photos of some disgusting thru hikers on his phone.
Margarita and I spent time at the booth to talk about stuff. I think this is where we really bonded. We vented about the trail and other things. Talked about when we wanted to finish and trail gossip. While we were talking she got a text from Peach Fuzz who said he was coming back to the hostel after 10 miles. He said he started to smell of ammonia (body breaking down muscle) and decided to take the rest of the day off. After some time Margarita and I retreated back to the hostel to continue our lazy day. But after some time we both realized that Mills Market was just the place to be at. So we went back. Our booth, unsullied by any other persons that day, saw to us again as we just loitered in the market. The owner did not care and in fact she was very receiving of us. The staff clearly was used to thru hikers, and I think they also knew that we were going to be hungry again soon. Which we were and we soon ordered lunch. Other thru hikers came in and out of the market. Most of them drenched head to toe from the storm that had passed through this morning. We saw some old friends like Sleepy who we thought we would never see again. After another hour we did go back to the hostel. We actually decided to try to filter our sawyer squeezes because our flow rates were abysmal. One of the shuttle drivers had a syringe that he let us use and we all went to the front yard to back flush our sawyers. It became a spectacle for all at the hostel as we watched gunk flow out of our filter systems.
For dinner I went to Mills Market with some other hikers at the hostel and topped off the day with some final sodas and sandwiches. I went back to the hostel and tucked myself into bed for some sleep. Tomorrow Margaritaville and I will start our hike again, hopefully fully rested for some bitter miles ahead. We were closing in on Katahdin but she still felt too far away. Imagining myself on top of her summit, standing on that sign, still felt like a farcry away. But each step I take is a step closer to the end they say. So tomorrow I will walk. And as far as I know, for the past 79 days, this is all I know how to do.
Pine Ellis Lodge
I love you Andover, Maine. Margarita and I’s faces better be on that wall 😀
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