Day 16: Sunday, August 31

Tenting near the Long Pond Stream Lean-To (AT mi 2081.6), walked 18.6 miles today

Slept in my tent in the side yard of Shaw's, as I had done three years ago, for the same reason as then, which is that it seemed a lot more restful than the bunkroom. Proved to be true: slept great and the first time I woke up was at 6:30am, just in time for breakfast at 7. Filled up on the standard breakfast foods while talking to my tablemates, a trio of 50-something south-Georgia-born siblings who are out to do part of the 100 Mile Wilderness. The brother has lots of backpacking under his belt, including an AT thru-hike and some adventures in Alaska, while his two sisters have zero. None of them look physically fit for backpacking, and the brother seemed just a bit imperious with his own expertise; they are heading southbound so I will no doubt run into them in a few days and see if they have injured themselves or one another yet.

Got a ride out from Shaw's to the old AT trailhead on Pleasant St., from whence I'd departed the trail for good in 2011, with Dawn the owner and Eastwood, the hiker I'd met and dined with last night. This saved two miles of non-trail that I'd assumed I'd have to walk this morning, which is good, because the 18 miles I did do took all freaking day. Right away the vast differences between the PA trail I'd just left and the Maine trail were apparent: it looks and smells deliciously sprucey; there are great water sources every mile or two; the trail is not especially rocky but definitely very rooty, although everything that isn't exposed tree roots is spongy soft organic matter; there are lakes and ponds everywhere, and north country lakes get me all hot and bothered, so I was really excited all day; and every now and then, unseen from one of said lakes, a loon would call out over the still Maine woods. Loons also get me hot and bothered. It was quite a day.

The trail was very crowded with hikers going both directions; not even counting the gaggle of day-hiking ladies I saw right after starting, there might have been two dozen other people I encountered today. The trail was slow going, but I didn't mind and no one else seemed to either because it was so wild and tranquil and north-woodsy, not just miles of fucking shit like Pennsylvania. Only took two substantial breaks, one at each intermediate shelter, after six then thirteen miles respectively. Met several NOBO thru-hikers who are finishing up and are for now on the same hiking schedule as me: Swiss Miss and Nobody, a young Swiss couple; the aforementioned Eastwood; Speedo and Grunt, an Alabaman couple who like me are finally finishing the trail after a failed thru-hike bid in 2011; and a German middle-aged banker whose name I haven't caught, but he and I talked about soccer for about two hours straight ... He is, first and foremost, a HUGE Borussia Dortmund fan and he was telling me about American prospects in the BvB youth academy that I've never even heard of. That and many other soccer-related things; I got the sense he hadn't met too many people on the trail with whom he could talk about the sport in much detail. I know I haven't met those people very often either, and when I do I tend to blurt soccer things at them nonstop until they come up with some excuse to stop "for a second" and ditch me completely.

The miles, as mentioned, took the full day from 8:15am to almost 7pm, by which point it was getting twilighty. The shelter seemed full and I wanted some quiet time, so I tented off away from it by myself, which I'm more comfortable with the routine of anyway (after the PCT). Tomorrow is a big test day, ideally a full 21 miles over some large elevation gains and uncertain trail to the Carl Newhall Lean-To. If it works out, I'm in better shape to climb Katahdin in the beautiful forecasted weather on Friday; if not, I'll readjust and aim for Saturday. Not a huge problem to have to spend an extra day out here.

More pictures on Instagram:

This sign means absolutely nothing in 2014