The Maxwell Road Adventures, Part II…
From Mark (Toad): With Day 1 (Day 45 for Rick) in the books, it was time for Day 2. Today was set to be the biggest day of our 3 days with Steady on the A/T. It would also prove to be more challenging as we were losing Floss and Moose due to previously planned vacation logistics. They were great wing men and would be missed! The rustling in camp started around 5:30 AM and by 6:00 we were all out of our cocoons and gathered to help break down, eat and pack up. The Jetboil and Gaz cookstoves were lit and the oatmeal was delish. I had smuggled in a few packs of Untapped Vermont Maple Syrup shots. Steady was in good spirits and we could tell he was rearing to tear out of camp. We were facing 10 very long miles to the next lean-to site at Pierce Pond. Once we started this section, there was no going back – it would be longer to backtrack than to push forward once we were a few miles in.
Reluctantly, we said our goodbyes to Floss and Moose. Steady immediately launched forward onto the trail. Boose took his spot at the back of the train and I began making careful work of picking lines through the rocks and roots surrounding the pond. We commented how the pond sections were really tricky (despite zero elevation gain). Little did we know what was to come later that day after our lunch at Sandy Beach. Hur caught up to us about 15 minutes in after finishing his packing and remarked at Steady’s excellent pace and cadence. Rest and food make a big impact on Steady, as ALS has an effect of really spiking the metabolism and Steady needed a big start this day. We passed through dense dark forests and swamps which looked to be prime Ewok habitat. In reality, they were homes for wood frogs, leopard frogs, American toads, green frogs and bull frogs. While we tracked a moose and saw some sign of bear, we never had our daylight encounter. Joe “Coffee” later showed me videos of the moose they ran into ahead of us, so we likely just missed our chance at a good sighting on the trail. After a few hours we approached another tough section. Finally, we could start to make out a break in the forest as we approached East Carry Pond Beach. The “Beach” (a rare 15-foot section of sand) was to be a welcome lunch spot for us. We were 3.7 miles in with 6.3 miles left to go and we were a bit behind schedule. In a surprise move, Steady opted to ditch his Ramen and share a dinner-sized meal of freeze-dried beef stroganoff with Hur. At the end of the trip they both agreed that this was their favorite meal in a bag.
We packed quickly and started out along the western edge of the pond. I had been picking blueberries here and there (and Steady had appreciated a few berries earlier in the morning) so we had a few more. This section of trail was exploding with ripe blueberries, but we had no time to stop so we snared what we could as we as we hiked past the bounty. Our progress immediately slowed however. Upon reaching the northern section of the pond we encountered a series of hewn log bridges over water. The doubles (two logs side by side) proved to be OK for Steady, but there were probably 15 single-log bridges with consequences. Many were elevated high above rocks and swamp. We provided the required guidance and side support for certain sections. Steady made consistent and incredible progress without our aid. “One step at a time, one foot in front of the other, nice and slow.” Before we could blink, another hour had ticked away, and we had barely left the pond. With about 5 miles down (and 5 to go) we started discussing contingencies. We took a break to give Steady some water (which makes Eileen very happy) and Steady relayed via his notepad that he was losing some strength and focus and didn’t want to fall at this stage. He asked where we could make camp. Boose, Hur and I consulted our AT app and decided on our “Plan B” for the day. We asked Steady if he could make about 1 more mile to a logging road near a water source, and he gave the thumbs up. We reached this waypoint around 3:30 PM, but water was not looking great and a spot to make camp was not immediately evident. We did find a box of trail magic designated for hikers, but it was picked through. The decision was made to set camp, but we also decided that I would need to continue forward to Pierce Pond so I could hike the final section to the Kennebec in the morning, cross the river, get my car, then extricate the crew around midday tomorrow. We figured I could make the first canoe ferry at 9:00 AM, which would require a 3.5-mile hike after packing up in the AM. I would then drive down the Kennebec around Wyman Lake, cross the river, then drive North through the logging roads to find the Plan B waypoint. We figured that with any luck, I could make it there by noon, but if for any reason I wasn’t there by 3:00PM, the plan was to call for assistance with Rick’s Sat Phone hook-up. Boose walked the first 3/10 of a mile to scope water with me, then he took Rick’s supplies and headed back. At 4:00 PM and with a lighter pack, I was now free to fly onto the Pierce Pond Shelter.
Upon arrival near sunset, I found the whole crew from the Carry Pond Lean-to inside the Pierce Pond Lean-to. They were excited to see me and had wondered if we were OK. I confirmed that all was well, but we had to adjust our plans on the fly and that Steady was settled back at Scott Road crossing. The Pierce Pond site was amazing, and I wished the group was here. The pond was refreshing, my hammock site was perfect and there was a sportsman’s camp .3 miles away that would serve a full hot breakfast at 7:00 AM for $12 – I thought the guys were lying to me. I desperately wanted Steady, Boose and Hur to experience all of this, but also knew that we had made the right decision – that Steady had made the right decision, and that we were all safe. I ate dinner with the crew lakeside and hit the hammock after we all shared a swig or two of High West whiskey from my flask. Morning came fast and Harrison’s Camp served us a mile-high stack of blueberry, apple & strawberry pancakes. I bought the lean-to crew b-fast and said my good byes. They were very appreciative and wished Steady the best. They were off to Caratunk then Katahdin bound, and I had to catch the 9:00 AM ferry.
I jog-hiked my way to the Kennebec from Harrison’s and made the first canoe crossing with Greg the ferry operator at 9:00 AM as planned. He got the last dollar in my wallet as a tip. I grabbed my car from the ferry lot and made it into Bingham to buy a plug kit and a can of fix-a-flat (just in case). Based on the logging roads I would likely be traveling on today, this was a prudent choice. I also grabbed some cokes, waters and Kit Kats for the boys. I arrived just before noon to smiling faces and more thumbs up (after only 2 wrong turns in the woods). No surprise…Steady was eating his Ramen.
Now we were off to find Hur’s truck back at our Flagstaff Lake starting point. We made the long haul south only to arrive at a closed gate to the access road leading into the Bigelow Preserve! The Native American landowners had closed the gate and posted a sign that they were doing road work. We now had to backtrack and go around the east side of the river to Flagstaff, adding another hour to retrieve the truck. We finally made it to Flagstaff and it started to rain a little. Quite appropriate actually, as this signaled that we had completed our 3-day adventure. It was OK for Mother Nature to rain now — Steady was off the trail and headed home, and he only brought good weather to the A/T! Steady was now my co-pilot back to home, and we shared what turned out to be a very unexpected and emotional moment. Rick’s son Philip and his Winchester a cappella group sang The National Anthem at Fenway Park as part of a contingent from the ALS Therapy Development Institute on Saturday night while we were out on the trail. Rick started playing the video from his iPhone once we had cell coverage. At this point we both completely lost it. Rick had what I’m sure were tears of both joy & sadness streaming down his face. I put a hand on his shoulder and tried to keep the tears from obscuring my vision of the Maine turnpike. What had started as a 9:30 AM drive in Maine ended at 7:30 PM back in Winchester. We were home.
Meanwhile, on another part of the A/T…
From Ben (Hur): Day 2 & 3 continued: After Mark took off on his race through the woods of Maine, Jed, Rick and I decided it was time to find a home for the night! We headed to higher ground where we cleared out some limbs and found some nice flat area for us to make home, and tried to avoid sleeping in a mosquito bed. With a thumbs up from Rick we knew that this was the spot. Once Jed, Rick and I had all made our homes for the night we then needed to do some work on the kitchen. I must admit that our kitchen/ living room wasn’t the best, but we made do, and greeted hikers as they raced through the woods to the next lean-to. Jed somehow still had his flask full, so we enjoyed that while DJ Rick spun some tunes on his phone. It was about 5pm so we decided to cook up another freeze-dried creation, and we all had a nice calm dinner. Our new home didn’t have any lake views, so we had to hike around for water, and found none. We quickly gained a lot of respect for the many hikers and their water management; you become very thirsty when you know you don’t have water. We decided it was time to turn in and the only thing we had to do tomorrow was find water, so a 7:30pm bedtime and we are done.
On Day 3 at about 5:30 I heard a rustling in the tent next to me, and I knew that Rick was on the move. At around 6 (sleeping in) I climbed out of my tent to find Rick with his pack completely full and he was now starting to break down his tent. I went into full pack mode and made some breakfast; I eventually woke Jed as I knew this train was going to leave the station if he didn’t get up soon. We decided to take it easy and hike to a stream a mile in, get water and then hike back to our meet up spot with Mark…or at least that’s what we thought. We got to the stream, and of course Steady pointed across the stream after looking at his watch; we hadn’t gone far enough :). We continued to hike through more rocks and rough terrain until finally Rick let us take a break. We looked at the clock and realized we should probably start heading back to the stream to fill up water then back to the meet up spot. Before we left we decided to create a Cairn to mark the trail with Rick, this was to create a mark for how far north we got that day. This was a pretty emotional time for the three of us, and we all helped put some rocks on to signify our great accomplishment.
We went back to the stream and rested and got some water. Rick was on a beautiful rock by the stream and looked so comfortable, but that only lasted a few minutes as he was ready for more. I helped him off the rock and before you know we were on the trail again; and Jed would catch up with us once he was done pumping. This was the first time that Steady had led the way, and I wonder why anyone had ever gone in front of him because I think we were just slowing him down. We flew back to the road to meet Mark; Jed and I had a couple of espressos and Rick had some ramen. Within 20 minutes our savior arrived in the Volvo. We left each other 20 hours before and came within 15 minutes of our plan…amazing.
Words really can’t describe the experience that we had over those 4 days traveling and hiking in the great north. I feel so blessed to be a small part of Rick’s journey and to have moved into a neighborhood with such a giving, passionate, and caring group of people.