Day 20: Thursday, September 4

Cowboy camping (whatttt?) on the Rainbow Ledges looking right at Katahdin (AT mi 2160.0), walked 22.8 miles today

Slept a little too well on my soft spongy flat tent spot and got a late and groggy start around 7:45. After three miles, got to the stunningly beautiful Nahmakanta Lake shore, deep in the heart of northern Maine's Hundred Mile Wilderness, to find ... a man in flip-flops walking his golden retriever. We've seen day hikers every day out here in the "wilderness"--a wilderness with suspiciously regular road access--and today was no exception. Also at the beach saw, for the first time, section hikers Ross and his Czech girlfriend whose name I never got (although Czech Mate sounds like the obvious trail name), whom I interacted with quite a bit later. Ross is on a mission to climb all 50 state highest peaks and is 70% of the way there, soon to be 72%, at the tender age of 29, and seemed to share similar interests to me regarding long-distance overland travel around the United States.

Took my first break at the Wadleigh shelter, where there was a memorial to Buffalo Bobby, a 2011 thru-hiker that I had known back in Tennessee and Virginia who died of a stroke not far from that shelter, only 38 miles from finishing his thru-hike in 2011. The trail bounced around most of the day after that, never making its mind up on whether to be flat, steep, rocky, muddy, clear, foresty, rivery, lakey or what. It was hard to get into a rhythm, so music helped ... I found myself recalling in particular the opening lines to Madonna's "Like a Virgin"--"I made it through the wilderness, somehow I made it through-ooh-oohhh"--so that ended up on today's playlist. The weather was impeccable the whole day and the vibes were positive; about six miles in was a stunner of a view of Katahdin from the top of Mt. Nesuntabunt, where I and about ten other people at one point stopped to take a break and have photos taken.

The only thing that cramped my style was my second golden retriever sighting of the day (that's golden retrievers two, moose zero for those keeping track); this one belonged to some fanny-pack-bedecked day hikers and seemed to think I was a bear, so he ran a away from me first and then panicked and barked barked barked inconsolably for a minute or two. It seems like such a small thing but it's so ... annoying to have it happen when you think you've finally made it to the part of the trail that's a little inaccessible, a backpackers-only special zone. But it turns out that there's *nowhere* on the AT that's actually remote enough to keep out the fanny pack golden retriever people, even the most northern reaches of Maine. And by the way, I still haven't had to dig a cat-hole to poop in this year, and I'm coming up on 400 miles. The slogan "a footpath for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness" rings a little hollow when one can walk 400 miles of said footpath and not have to crap in the ground.

/rant. The day concluded spectacularly, with a solo climb up to here, the Rainbow Ledges, an area with oddly sparse vegetation, the apparent effect of a forest fire from 1923 (recovery doesn't happen quickly). There are views all around, and I found a little window to the northeast looking straight at Katahdin, and a flat-ish spot to lay my groundsheet and pad out on. The sky is completely clear and the bugs as absent as they will ever be on the AT--not completely absent, but I can almost pretend they are--so I made the bold move of cowboy camping. My backup plan, should the situation suddenly turn wet, is to pack up and hike like hell through the dark a mile or so til I can find a decent tent site. But in the meantime, I will enjoy looking at the big fella, Mr. Katahdin, and in the morning I should be able to watch the sun rise about 60 degrees to the right of it. Not a bad way to spend my last night of real camping on the AT (tomorrow at Katahdin Stream CG won't count). Tomorrow morning it's six miles down to Abol Bridge and the end of the "wilderness" (and the return of restaurant food), then a quick ten more to the base of Katahdin and camp for the night.

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