Katahdin did a number on Caley’s feet.
The day after climbing Katahdin, we spent the morning tracking down a few items we regretted not having the day before (better rain gear, hand sanitizer, and a second headlamp) while my dad was still able to drive us to a store. After stocking up we bade him farewell for now and proceeded to take the rest of the day off since we had already reserved a lean-to at the campground for the night.
During the hike down, it became painfully obvious (literally) that Caley’s new shoes were not fitting right. She had used the same pair in the same size on fourteeners in Colorado without issue, but this time around her toes were slamming into the front of the shoes. Bad news. By taking the day off we hoped her feet would recover and be back to normal for the less extreme post-Katahdin trail conditions. They didn’t.
On day 3, our second day of hiking, we walked 9.9 miles to Abol Bridge carrying food for 10 days. After Abol Bridge the trail enters the 100 Mile Wilderness, a section of trail that doesn’t pass a resupply point for – you guessed it! – 100 miles. By mile 5 or so, we realized that Caley’s toes were in a bad way. Our pace slowed to one mile per hour and Caley was practically limping on the short and steep downhill sections that came to define the trail.
At Abol Bridge we treated ourselves to a feast of a meal at The Northern Restaurant and picked up a few more forgotten essentials from the tiny store next door. For northbounders, this tiny off-grid outpost is the first civilization for a week or more and marks the home stretch of a four to six month journey. For us it was only the beginning.
At our campsite overlooking the mighty Penobscot River that we shared with two section hikers who were finishing the trail after fourteen years, we attempted to fix Caley’s toes. This involved using a a safety pin, a lighter, and a headlamp to drain the blisters we had discovered hiding under her toenails! The blisters were exerting force up on her nail which had begun to cause pain regardless of whether or not she was walking. We got one blister to drain, but the second has not yet allowed us to drain it. This was not an easy night to fall asleep.
We woke up the following morning and entered the Hundred Mile Wilderness, but the situation was not good. It quickly became obvious that Caley’s feet were not getting better, and the weight of our packs with 10 days of food was starting to take its toll on our backs. After lunch we had a chat and decided that it was idiotic to walk into the most remote stretch of the entire AT with an existing foot injury. It’s pretty hard to admit defeat, but we knew that doing the right thing involved making our way back to a town where we could rest and buy new shoes. At that point we were just shy of 4 miles from the road, so we turned around and headed back. It was the right decision.
Enter the Appalachian Trail Lodge.
While resting on a rock about a mile from the road we were caught off guard by the unmistakable buzz of a ringing iPhone – and it was coming from one of our packs! The call was insignificant, but the discovery of service allowed us to call the AT lodge to arrange a shuttle ride back to Millinocket. This was huge. We were picked up by Jamie, one of the owners, and over the course of the 45 minute shuttle ride it became clear that we were in good hands.
The AT lodge has been a lifesaver for us. We arrived on Monday night and spent the night. On Tuesday we got a shuttle to the bus stop in Medway, took a bus (actually two) to Bangor, went to the walk-in clinic (which was no help!), went to an outfitter to get new shoes for Caley (which were a whole size bigger!), took two busses and a shuttle back to Millinocket, walked two miles to Rite-Aid, and proceeded to crash at the Lodge for the night.
Caley’s toes have greatly benefitted from our time off the trail. Through a combination of soaking, icing, elevating and draining, she has managed to coerce her feet into a sort of working order. They’re not pretty, but she can walk in comfort for the first time in a week!
Tonight will be our fourth and final night at the AT Lodge. Tomorrow we’re being shuttled right back to Abol Bridge where we will hit the trail once more in earnest. For the first time since we started re-planning the hike we feel well and truly prepared. One of the biggest changes we’ve made this time around is to utilize a food drop at the halfway point of the hundred mile wilderness. For a small fee, the AT Lodge will meet you at a road crossing with the second half of your food, thereby eliminating the much maligned towering packs of last week. Thanks to the decreased food load and a few other weight liberations, my pack is down to a happy 30lbs including food and water and Caley’s is an even more impressive 25lbs. It’s hard to overstate how much better things are this time around.
So there we are: 15 trail miles in 7 days. What an adventure!
(Sorry for the lack of pictures – I’ll make sure to take plenty for the next post!)