We are fortunate tonight to have two narrators for The Maxwell Road Adventures, Part I…
From Joe Wesolaski: We started near Sugarloaf Ski Resort in ME at Flagstaff Lake on Saturday, July 29th for an “easy” 6-mile cruise to the West Carry Pond Shelter. Ben Harding, Mark Budreski, Jed Sheehan, and I (all neighbors of Rick’s) and Ben Bell, my buddy visiting from Florida, all went to REI the week before and crammed to outfit ourselves so we could hit the trail ready with Steady. What we lacked in boy scouting skills we made up for in bravado and beer. We were committed to hiking in some refreshment for Rick, and ourselves of course, and the few extra lbs was a small price to pay.
We had perfect weather as we departed Saturday morning and started rounding the Southern lip of Flagstaff Lake and headed inland over some slight rollers. It was a cool and crisp day, and the sounds of singing loons on the lake kept us mesmerized as we churned through the first few miles. Steady was moving well and easily navigating the footbridges, mud sections, and elevation changes, and at one point even telling me to pick up the pace! About 2 hours in we heard a hiker fast approaching on our tail. We stepped aside to let him pass, and “House” quickly greeted Steady as an old friend. Steady and House had already met several times on the trail in VT and NH. The legend grows! Soon after seeing House we passed thru the 2000-mile mark on the AT. After a few photos and one-liners team Maxwell Road plodded on.
We turned inland from the lake and started to climb – the trail became a bit daunting with lots of roots, rocks, off-camber descents and some very narrow and overgrown sections. Rick was moving well and defied the odds more than once with some nimble foot placements over treacherous stream and rock crossings. Our quick morning pace had started to slow. There was nothing easy about this day as we reached 2000 feet in elevation at one point and the trail became increasingly difficult. Maybe it was the beer in our packs, but all the boys had aching shoulders as we legged out the final rooted stretch before the shelter.
Upon arrival at the West Carry Pond Shelter we met a diverse crew of thru-hikers who were quickly impressed by Rick’s effort and accomplishments. There was a group of very experienced hikers from the South, travelling together with an impressive collection of white and grey beards. While they marveled at Rick, they were not shy about ribbing the rest of us over our AT naivety. “That freshness pack in your dehydrated meal won’t taste too good, you should probably remove it first before you add water.” The beer in our packs stayed remarkably cool, at least until we tried sinking it in the Pond to chill it further. Oddly enough it had the opposite effect – sorry Rick, your Long Trail was colder 30 minutes prior (but he didn’t seem to mind).
We all had tents and pitched camp near the shelter. A few of us awoke to the sounds of loud thuds scampering by in the middle of the night. Moose? Whatever it was it was big, not light on its feet, and a terrifying sound in the middle of the night!
The next morning Rick, Ben, Mark and Jed packed up and headed out. Before we left, one of the wise old sages of the trail came up to us and thanked us for what we were doing for Rick. He said it “restored his faith in humanity.” We said nearly in unison that Rick would have done the same for us, and it was the least we could do. Florida Ben had a plane to catch, so he and I doubled back the way we came. It was great to be out there with Rick if only for a day. Steady and the boys had a long stretch in front of them for Day 2 – we wished them well and sent them on their way.
From Mark Budreski:
It’s pretty hard to describe how amazing the last 3 days have been for all of us. Words could never do it justice, the incredible photos could never do it justice. I was trying to think about a summation point, and I think I have one, and it came through the eyes of other thru-hikers we met on the trail… The effect that Rick had on them was stunning.
Day 1: We left the shadows of the Bigelows from the southern tip of Flagstaff Lake. We weren’t 2 minutes out of the cars and into our packs before we made our first blunder—actually before I made my first blunder. We came upon a group of southbound hikers at our starting point, and they were of course friendly (like almost all hikers are). They inquired as to our plan and where we were headed, to which my immediate response was we are headed “EAST.” Technically, and while correct perhaps by way of our general compass bearing toward the mighty Kennebec, there are only TWO ANSWERS TO THIS QUESTION EVER. You either go North or you go South. Now that this was settled, we headed North (instead of East), even though it was ultimately all the same direction. This became a bit of a joke and a good way to get our trip started—despite the fact that we likely instilled the fear of god in Rick as he was quickly realizing the crew was a bit “green” to say the least.
Not more than 30 minutes into our trip we were passed by a nice guy with the trail name “House.” Rick and House had previously met in NH and VT, and this was their 3rd encounter on the AT. House had published a piece about Rick on his own blog to raise awareness. Couldn’t have been a nicer guy, wished us all well and kept trucking toward Katahdin. We were all in a bit of awe immediately. Rick had made multiple impressions on the first person we encountered out on the actual trail. It wasn’t too long before we realized how metered Rick’s efforts were, and how much concentration and deliberation went with each and every step that we all take for granted. The amount of mental and physical energy required to endure these extremely rugged and challenging sections of the AT is simply mind-blowing.
We made our lunch stop halfway to West Carry Pond, which was 6.5 miles from our starting point. We made Rick a seat and he enjoyed Ramen while we ate some squirrel food and Clif Bars. Shortly after lunch group of six passed us, descending from 2000′ feet through a boulder, chute en route to the West Carry Pond Lean-to. They said their hellos and hoofed it past. We arrived many hours later and they welcomed us to camp. This group was mostly middle-aged, recently retired sectioners, with the exception of 1 thru-hiker from the swamps of Louisiana. We soon learned all their trail names: Joe “Guiness,” Rick “Ragnar,” Jonathan “Red Mage,” Steve “Front Pockets” and Tim “Coffee.” They hadn’t realized exactly what we were all doing when they cruised past, but now that they got to meet Rick and sit down with us by the campfire, all perspectives were immediately re-adjusted. Without so much as saying a word, these guys were now on Rick’s team and had our back too. And this is how it would go for the next two days.
We settled into camp, and Rick got situated by the campfire with a Long Trail. A few of us had a swim (clothing optional), we watched the sun set and I think we all had a line on our trail names for the next few days… Joe W was “Floss.” He had complained about beef jerky being stuck in his teeth, and we weren’t going to let him live that down. Big Ben (Joe’s amazing friend from Florida who took time out of his family vacation in NH to join us) was “Moose.” Well deserved. Jed was “Boose” (to go with Moose, but also b/c he spent some time at the back of the train before honing the tip of the spear and leading Rick fearlessly later in the hike). Ben was carrying more than all of us and had Rick’s heaviest items I think. His role was sherpa, and in a Ben Hur-like fashion he rescued our own family, thus becoming “Hur.” I was “Toad.” With all trail names now in place, we settled into camp for the night to prepare for first light and Day #2. Tomorrow there would be a 10-mile hike through more challenging terrain en route to the Pierce Pond Lean-to.
(Part II tomorrow…)