This journey has been fascinating, Keith. Although the obvious goal is
reaching Mt. Katahdin in a few days, the real journey will never end.
I will always have great memories of this trek through eastern America,
and continue to seek the feelings and experiences that have made running and
hiking the Appalachian Trail so memorable.
Today's section was very special to me:
I saw Mt. Katahdin for the first time (a local hiker pointed it out to me
from Avery Peak).
I passed the magical 2,000-mile mark on Little Bigelow Mountain.
I climbed the last mountains above tree line until the final one, Katahdin.
I was awed by the beauty of the surrounding mountains and lakes, some of the
finest views on the entire Appalachian Trail.
I absolutely had a blast going through two mossy, boulder-filled areas on
either side of Bigelow Mountain.
I have come full circle in my love-hate relationship with the rocks.
And I saw another bear!
DEFINITELY A "10"
This section, particularly the first ten miles from Hwy. 27 to Safford Notch,
is on my top-ten list of great places to spend a day or two along the
Appalachian Trail. Some of it is runnable but most of it is more suitable for a
leisurely pace so you can enjoy the spectacular views, gorgeous lakes, and fun
I said "Wow!" a lot today. I think I need to expand my vocabulary.
Much of this section is in a protected area called the Bigelow State Preserve. In a
slim majority in 1976, Maine voters chose to preserve this 33,000-acre
wilderness rather than develop it into the "Aspen of the East." It is a very
popular hiking area due to its beauty and remoteness.
This section isn't easy. There is quite a bit of elevation change and much of
the Trail is either "tedious" or "rugged." At either end are a couple miles of
fairly civilized trail compared to the rest of what I've seen in Maine so far.
But the rewards are so high, it's worth a trip to hike here.
There is a net elevation gain of 2,900 feet from Hwy. 27 to the high point
(4,145 feet), the West Peak of Bigelow Mountain in the seventh mile. The largest
gain is in the first four miles to the unnamed peak before Horns Pond. Total
gain is about 5,000 feet, total loss about the same. That adds up to a pretty
I enjoyed going through several eco-zones on either end of the Bigelows:
the deciduous forests at the lower elevations, birch-and-pine forests,
sub-alpine, and alpine zones on the south (west) end, then back down again on
the north (east) side.
In Maine, I'm going more east than north. As daylight diminishes and we go
farther east it is getting lighter a bit earlier in the morning and darker
earlier in the evening. It's
light enough to hike by about 6:00 AM under dense tree cover, but almost dark by
Horns Pond is named after the two highest peaks on Bigelow Mountain, West
Peak and Avery Peak. From a distance (and on the elevation profile) they look
like horns or ears sticking up from Bigelow's ridge.
I was delighted to see a large black bear about three miles into the run. He
had just crossed the Trail and was heading for a nearby creek. He was gone into
the foliage before I could get a photo. Bears are like that.
Shortly after this I entered the first other-worldly, mossy boulder area.
The AT winds around and between the boulders here (and later, at Safford Notch),
not under and over them like in Mahoosuc Notch. This is much easier to negotiate and
it's fun to
peer into the "caves" the boulders formed when they fell down the mountainside.
I felt several cold blasts of air as I passed the overhanging rocks and caves.
There are two fairly new shelters (Horns Pond Lean-to's) and spaces for tents in a notch below the
A short side trail takes you down to Horns Pond, which is very pretty.
An MATC caretaker lives here during the hiking season to educate hikers
and protect the fragile sub-alpine environment.
I signed the shelter register and noted that "Pumpkin" and "Apple Pie" were
there four days ago. I hope I catch up to these two delightful young women again
before the end of the Trail. Pumpkin is the woman from Vermont who got
married in August and returned (alone) to finish the Trail. Apple Pie is an
experienced hiker from the Netherlands who has also done the PCT.
The South Horn of Bigelow is another 800 feet up the mountain from the pond.
This is where the views really began. Here is a photo of the rocky peak.
The Trail goes right up and over it.
After a 300-foot descent and roller-coaster ride on the ridge for a mile, I
climbed another 600 feet to the tree-less summit of the West Peak, then down and
up again to Avery Peak, named for Myron Avery, who was the driving force behind
the AT in Maine.
Several day hikers were enjoying Avery Peak when I got there. A few other
trails from the valleys on either side of the Bigelow Range also go to the
summits, making for shorter hikes than going out-and-back on the AT. This is
another photo from Avery, looking north to Flagstaff Lake and the
mountain ranges beyond (including Katahdin):
After a moderate drop of 1,860 feet over two miles to Safford Notch (with
more mossy boulders and caves), the Trail gradually climbs to the undulating
ridge of Little Bigelow (elev. 3,010 feet), then drops another 1,785 feet to
East Flagstaff Road.
I met Jim there, dropped my pack, picked up a water bottle, and took Cody for
another 2.3 miles to Long Falls Dam Road. It felt funny running and hiking
without my pack! This section skirted Flagstaff Lake, the huge body of water
that looked so inviting from the mountain peaks a few hours earlier. Cody had
fun swimming in the lake and a couple creeks along the Trail.
After Jim dropped me off this morning he explored a terrific short-cut from
Hwy. 27 to East Flagstaff Road that isn't on most state maps. We learned about
it from Bear at The Cabin. It cut off nearly forty miles from a round-about way
to get there on paved roads.
(Jim got the DeLorme atlas for Maine and it's in there. We recommend you buy
this atlas if you're using trails and obscure little roads in Maine. It's a great supplement to our Topo
software and easier for Jim to use in the truck than the laptop computer.)
At Safford Notch I ran into "Charlie Brown." He was complaining about the
68-mile drive he'd made this morning to get his car from Stratton to East
Flagstaff Road. Charlie was going south and "Steady Eddie" was going north;
Eddie was to get the car and drive it back to Stratton tomorrow.
I called Jim while I was taking to Charlie and found out more about Carriage Road, the short-cut.
relayed the information to Charlie. Jim also drew a map and wrote out
instructions for Ed and put it on his windshield at East Flagstaff Road. Charlie was most grateful.
Jim tried other ways to be a trail angel today, like giving hikers rides or
snacks, but no one was around the trail heads near me. He saw "The Honeymooners"
and "Patch" in Stratton when he went into town to find a Wi-Fi hotspot to download
e-mail and upload yesterday's journal. I'm a day or two ahead of these folks,
Charlie, and Eddie and don't know if I'll see any of them again unless I take
time off to rest or for rain.
THERE'S NO ESCAPING REALITY
My journey along the AT is a selfish, focused endeavor. Even though we have
TV reception in most of our campgrounds, I don't pay much attention to the news.
I'm most interested in the weather and how it will affect me, getting ready for the next day's section,
and writing this journal.
But what's going on in the world still seeps in. It affects us even in the
wilds of Maine. We've watched
the videos of the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought along the Gulf
Coast. We are sad for the thousands who may have died and the hundreds of thousands
who have lost their homes and jobs or are otherwise affected.
Everyone in the country is - or will be
- affected financially by this tragedy.
Today, of course, is also the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, an
event that shook us to the core. I thought about that quite a bit today, even
while enjoying one of my finest days on the Trail.
And I realized that I'm fighting back by being on the Trail, doing what I
love, fulfilling a long-time dream. None of us knows how long we will be on this
earth. My goal is to do things that I love to do, things that are meaningful to
me, every single day.
I encourage everyone who is reading this journal to do the same. Sure, there
are many things that we must do each day to keep our lives in order. But
try to also do at least one thing each day that makes you happy or feel
And never give up on your hopes and dreams. Work to make them happen.
There are many things over which we have no control, such as human or natural
disasters. But you control most of your own life. Make every day worth
No one ever says on their deathbed, "Gee, I sure wish I'd spent more time in
End of sermon. Hope I didn't spoil your coffee break!