Wadleigh Stream Lean-to to The Birches Lean-tos – 33.0 miles
It downpoured all night until 9 AM. With the conditions, it looks like I’m in for a long, slow day. Of course the trail is underwater: muddy, slick, and slippery with wet roots and rocks.
It is a slow morning. I have very little energy. Each small incline is difficult. I am slow and the trail is slow. I am getting to Katahdin Stream Campground today, no matter how long it takes me or what time I get there.
My feet hurt, badly. My shoes are absolutely shot. It’s not that the worn shoes are tearing up my feet; they can’t keep out debris, which is rubbing my feet terribly. My socks are shot too. My shoes and socks are hundreds of miles beyond their time. And well beyond the wear my prior shoes have seen.
About 4:30 PM, I arrive at Abol Bridge Camp Store; the end of the 100-Mile Wilderness. I’m craving a root beer, as usual, but forget to get one while buying other items. I purchase a Little Debbie Nutty Bar, large Little Debbie Peanut Butter Crème Pie (very good!), Skittles, bag of caramel popcorn, Butterfinger, and JJ Bakery cherry pie (which I haven’t seen since Tennessee). All these things are about three times more expensive than they are down south (Thankfully, I just need a snack and not more). I sit outside with some SOBO hikers and eat everything, except half the popcorn and Skittles, which I save for later.
The SOBOs warn me there are two good sized fords ahead. When I ask how far, they give me a range of distances and I nervously realize I need to get a move on. I need to book it to make the two fords before dark. It sounds like they may be the hairiest ones yet. It already looks like I may get to the lean-to about 9 PM.
Nothing has motivated me more these last four days in Maine than hiking fast in the afternoon in order to ford rivers before dark. I certainly don’t want to have to come up short of a crossing because I get to the water after dark.
My 20-minute break is over; I got to go. About five miles later I ford two rivers, but neither one is as described by the SOBOs. One crossing is quite deep in fasting moving water. It takes me a minute of walking up and down the bank to find a good place to cross before deciding there isn’t one. I cross the rapids on the upstream side of boulders with my body pressed against the rocks by the force of the water. It seems like the best method. The river is certainly the deepest crossing, nearly up to my waist, and when I slip, the swift water rises mid-chest. Whoa!
I keep pressing on. I check my guide book and see no other streams. That’s it! My lifted pace makes great time and I’ll be at camp just after 8 PM. This is a lot better than what I thought the day was going to be like earlier.
Shortly after entering Baxter State Park, I stop at the park kiosk to register my stay at The Birches (as thru-hikers are supposed do), but there are no papers. I’ll just deal with it (or not) when I get there. I follow the trail through the park, arrive at the campground, and go to the closest lean-to. There are not many folks here, so I don’t bother signing in at the ranger station.
I’ve arrived. It feels good getting here and knowing I have only 5.2 miles up Katahdin and 5.2 miles down. Then I’m going home. I eat a ton for dinner. I chat a little bit with the newlywed couple next door who summited today to begin their southbound thru-hike. They did the roundtrip hike in something like seven hours, which makes me feel pretty good. I had heard much lengthier times. They assure me I won’t have a problem.
I decide to sleep in until 5:30 AM again and then get up and get this thing done. I can’t wait for town food.