Now I’m into it, deeply and thoroughly. The milestones are beginning to click by already. The first 100, 200 and 300 miles. The first state line crossing. My first, second and third resupply stops. My trail name (Deja) sounds more natural to me and is used more often than my real name. I’ve hitched to towns. I’ve been part of a bubble (a group of hikers that stays together) and already lost my bubble. The routines have been established and the weekly shower is just one part of it. The trail is hard. I’ve fallen countless times, been on the verge of hypothermia, and had an afternoon of serious doubt about being out here. All of this is just par for the course on the AT. Nothing new under the sun.
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Mileage, Trail names, and Lingo
Every so often the length of the Appalachian Trail increases due to relocations. When the trail was completed in 1937, the trail was 2,058 miles. When I first hiked it in 1998, it was 2,168 miles. This year it is 2,189 miles.
After 24 days on the trail, I’ve taken three full days off (for rest and for teaching online). My highest mileage day was 21.5 miles on day 4. My lowest was seven miles on day 8. Everything else has been in the ‘teens.
Taking on a trail name has been a longstanding tradition on the AT, as well as on other trails. They’re simply nicknames hikers adopt, or are given, during their hike. In 1998, my trail name was Critter (short for Coffee Critter and a play on my last name, Crispe, as in Crispy Critter). When I returned to the trail in 2010, some hiker friends from ’98, suggested a new name, Deja-thru. Since I didn’t complete a thru-hike in 2010, but finished the trail in two sections (2010/2011), I just went with Deja. Most friends from my ’98 hike still refer to me as Critter.
Other hikers I’ve met so far include Float, Little Bird, Tank, Loon, Hands, Forger, Soynuts, Seaweed Sally, Metric, Bad Dinner, Brandon and Davis. (The last two are foregoing trail names, but get honorable mention because they’re great guys and part of the group I’ve hiked with recently.)
There’s a lot of lingo on the trail:
Sobo – Southbound
Nobo – Northbound
Flip Flop – To hike from one point to another (e.g. Georgia to New Jersey), then get a ride north and hike back to the last point (e.g. Katahdin to New Jersey).
Zero – No miles hiked.
Nero (a “near zero”) – To hike just a few miles into town or out of town.
Thru-hiker – Someone who completes the whole trail in one season.
Section hiker – Someone who hikes a section of the trail.
Trail angel – Someone who helps a hiker in some way.
Trail magic – Spontaneous acts of kindness and helpfulness directed toward hikers.
The 100-Mile Wilderness
After leaving Katahdin, I was in Baxter State Park for about nine more miles, then entered the 100-Mile Wilderness. Although not entirely isolated, the Wilderness includes some of the most remote part of the trail. There are a few logging roads, but access to the trail takes more time and effort than access to other sections. It took me a week to hike through the Wilderness. The trail in the southern part was particularly difficult and although I’ve experienced mostly good days, day 6 was frustrating and slow. That was my lowest point so far. It had been raining most of the day. The trail was muddy, the ascents were steep and rocky and the descents were slick and dangerous. As soon as I could find a suitable camping spot, I set up my tent and went to sleep. I don’t remember if I ate dinner. I couldn’t think about the option of quitting so soon, but I was tempted.
The trail on a better day.
A Sobo Bubble Comes Together
The next day, the sun filtered through the trees and everything seemed fresh and new, but still muddy and boggy. After packing up my wet tent and everything else, I began walking, eventually reaching the top of the next peak, Barren Mountain, which rose above the clouds. I took out most of my wet gear and laid it out to dry in the morning sun. After a while, another hiker walked up and I had the happy occasion of meeting my first fellow southbound thru-hiker, Forger. We chatted for a bit and admired the view around us. Forger continued on and soon another southbound thru-hiker, Soynuts, came through. Suddenly I was in a sobo bubble! Later that evening we all met at a campsite near a river, and camped together. It was great to make connections with these guys and share the excitement of our journey.
The next day we hiked a rough, muddy and relentless seven miles to the end of the 100-Mile Wilderness, reaching the road that led to our first resupply town, Monson. It only took a few minutes of hitchhiking before a young man in a truck stopped for us. He was on his lunch break and said he often picked up hikers on his way to town. Forger, Soynuts and I were more than ready to get to Shaw’s Hostel, get cleaned up and eat some restaurant food. Here, we met another hiker, Saint, who is a “flip-flopper”. He started in Georgia, hiked to Waynesboro, VA, then, after working a few weeks, returned to the trail, summited Katahdin and is hiking south back to Waynesboro.
So our little sobo bubble grew to four! We celebrated our arrival in Monson by going to dinner at the Lakeshore House and indulging in “pachos” – a huge plate of French fries covered in cheese and bacon. It was the perfect hiker feast.
Our temporary sobo bubble: Deja, Soynuts, Saint and Forger.
A Visit From Sly Jangles
During my hike, I had been in touch with my hiking buddy, Sly Jangles, from my 2010 section hike (Georgia to New York). Sly lives in Montreal and wanted to come hike with me for a while. I kept him updated on my progress and left the details of how he would meet me up to him. And then, one day, he magically appeared in the Bigelow Mountains. He met me on the trail, hiked up Little Bigelow with me, then, after a few hours of great conversation and lunch at the top, he simply walked back down the mountain and to his car. I was so touched that he would drive so far (three hours), just to spend a few good hiking hours with me.
Sly and me on Little Bigelow.
My second town stop, after hiking 220 miles, was Rangeley. It was such a beautiful, neat little town. It’s a shame I had a trail to hike or I might still be there. I stayed at the 1950s-era Town and Lake Motel. My backdoor faced Rangeley Lake, where kayaks and boats were docked, loons called and occasionally a float plane landed. It was there that I met the intrepid, two-time (nobo and sobo) AT thru-hiker, Seaweed Sally, who was my next-door neighbor at the motel. Oh, and she also hiked the PCT back when everybody wasn’t hiking it. And she’s hiked a bunch of other stuff too, but you wouldn’t know it unless you turned the conversation in just that certain way so as to glean this critical information out of her. We sat in our chairs, watched the sky turn beautiful shades of night-blue and talked.
Rangeley Lake from my motel backdoor.
The next day, Sally left town before I did and made tracks down the trail. I thought I’d never see her again. But the next day, I took a break at a shelter where I was immediately befriended by two other hikers who had camped with Sally the night she left town. Apparently my name came up in conversation and Bad Dinner and Metric knew who I was when I introduced myself. Sally had just left the shelter before I arrived and the three of us booked it out of there to try and catch up to her. Soon, I was lagging behind and thought I’d lost all of my new friends for good. As evening came on and I was looking for a spot to set up my tent, I passed a small opening in the woods and there they were! All hunkered down in a cute little stealth site, eating and chatting. The new band was already back together again.
Seaweed Sally and me.
Metric, Bad Dinner and Seaweed Sally. Getting ready to hike down to Andover.
Breakfast in Andover
An evening, a hike and a mission. Sometimes it seems that’s all it takes for a group to bond on the trail. Seaweed Sally, Bad Dinner, Metric and I spent the evening around a small fire, telling stories about our hiking escapades and laughing until fatigue overruled. Morning came, a quick chat about second breakfast in Andover ensued, and we were off, hiking hard down the trail to a gravel road hoping for an easy hitch to town.
Bad Dinner forged ahead and as we got close to the road, we heard a vehicle, a holler from BD and down we ran to the road, to a waiting vehicle. Second breakfast was on at the Red Hen in Andover! We ate until we couldn’t move. Then Metric surprised us and paid the bill for our breakfast. Trail magic and a trail angel all in one go! Thank you, again, Metric!
Our reunion was short-lived as Bad Dinner and Metric were ending their section hike in Andover. Sally was skipping ahead to another section and I had to return to the road where we got picked up. The local hostel in town, Pine Ellis, offered shuttles back to the trail for a small fee, and soon I was back to my task alone.
Mahoosuc Notch and Crossing into New Hampshire
Two days later I began the only section of the trail I had been dreading: Mahoosuc Notch. This is a one-mile section that is traditionally considered either the most difficult or most fun mile on the AT. I find it mostly difficult and annoying, a little fun, and fairly dangerous, especially if it’s been raining. Fortunately, on this day the weather was great. The notch is a ravine that is filled with huge boulders that have fallen from the high cliffs above. A hiker is forced to climb over, around, under and through awkwardly-angled boulders jammed together. Most of it is okay if one goes slowly and carefully. But it takes a long time of careful maneuvering to not fall. Brandon is very comfortable with rock climbing and bouldering and he zipped through the notch in one hour. That is fast. It takes most people 1 1/2 hours, which is what it took me the last two times I went through. This time it took me two hours. There were a lot of people going both directions, and we all had to wait for each other at certain points. Most people I talked with really enjoyed it. I was just glad to get out in one piece and know I don’t have to do it again.
The reward for making it through Mahoosuc Notch was getting to cross into New Hampshire seven miles later! State line crossings are exciting. After hiking 281.4 miles through Maine, a simple sign welcomes southbound hikers to New Hampshire.
Crossing into New Hampshire.
Gorham, New Hampshire
17 miles later, the trail leads the hiker straight to the doorstep of the White Mountain Lodge and Hostel. Marnie and her staff run a relaxed and cozy hostel which includes a wonderful breakfast and lots of room outside to organize and hang out. I’ve been here for two days and after a few errands will depart this comfortable place and enter the next big challenge – the White Mountains.
White Mountains Lodge and Hostel.
More photos on my Instagram link.