Antlers Campsite to Pollywog Gorge
100 Mile Wilderness | Appalachian Trail
I watched the sun rise over Lower Jo-Mary Lake while I made the first (and only) hot breakfast of my hike. I had picked up a baggie of homemade oatmeal from the freebie hiker box when I collected my resupply on day four. At one point I was going to make these baggies for every morning meal (instant oatmeal with nuts, dried fruit, and seed). I opted for Bobo’s bars because I didn’t want to have to clean oatmeal out of my camp cup every day. One morning of oatmeal was a nice treat, especially knowing there was rain coming.
The fact that I’d only encountered a few sprinkles before this point was wonderful luck. The forecast (texted to me by my dad via my Garmin InReach) called for afternoon showers, heavy at times, clearing in the evening. In these cases, some hikers, like the ones I encountered on the Pemi loop, will hunker down in a shelter until the storm passes to keep their gear dry. I can’t imagine anything more boring, and I was on a self-imposed schedule, so I didn’t even consider that option.
I packed up my gear, making extra sure the trash bag liner was securely rolled closed and my rain cover was easily accessible. I left the campsite around 9am, an obscenely late start time for a thru hiker. On my way out, I noticed something hanging from a tree in one of the other tent sites. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was Grampa Fuzzy’s paracord line with his baggie of rocks attached, the one he used to haul up his bear canister. I could not believe that after five months on the trail and two days away from finishing the AT, he’d forgotten it!
I pulled it down and hesitated briefly before dumping the rocks out of the bag. I really hoped they weren’t special rocks he’d been carting along since Georgia, but there was no way I was taking the extra weight. I rolled up the cord and bag and hoped I’d see him again.
Two miles after leaving camp, I came to the Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to. I had a vague memory of someone, somewhere, telling me to stop here and see the spring. Well, I did, and I’ve never seen anything like it. Potaywadjo Spring is one of the largest in the state. Water bubbles up through a shallow gravel pit about ten feet across, with a plank leading into the middle to collect water from. It is cold, clean, easy to collect, and has been called the best spring on the whole Appalachian Trail. You still have to filter it, because as the someone, somewhere also told me, “Moose use it too.”
The following five miles were really lovely. The trail is relatively flat and travels next to water almost the whole way. First past the enormous (for this part of Maine) Pemadumcook Lake and then along Nahmakanta Stream, which ends at Nahmakanta Lake. I reached the lake around 2:30pm and the clouds above it were starting to look menacing. I decided to swim despite the weather. It was warm and humid, and swimming in lakes and streams was part of my agenda for the week.
Nahmakanta Lake is wildly shallow. I walked out a long way in very tepid water before the ground dropped away, and I was suddenly in freezing cold mountain water. I stayed long enough to cool off (not long) and headed back to the beach.
By the time I dried off, the weather was changing. Wind was making ripples on the lake and I could see the rain coming from the north. I preemptively put on my raincoat and the rain cover on my pack. Within minutes, it was raining, but the sun was also still shining. Eventually it was just pouring. I reached the Wadleigh Stream Lean-to, which was full of hikers waiting out the storm. One group told me it was supposed to let up soon. Since the lean-to was full and I was already wet, I kept going.
The next four miles were quite possibly the hardest of the 100 mile hike. Not because they were actually hard, but because of my mental state and the conditions I was in. I climbed Nesuntabunt Mountain in a torrential downpour. I was absolutely soaked. Water pooled in the bottom of my rain cover and overflowed, pouring down my legs. I gave up on my raincoat because I wanted to keep the inside of it dry for later, so all my clothes were soaked. Nesuntabunt Mountain is known for its interesting rock cliffs on the way up. I saw them. They were interesting. And wet. Water was running down the trail in rivers, and all I wanted was to be on the other side.
There is also a lovely view of Katahdin from the top of Nesuntabunt. I didn’t even bother with the outlook spur; it would have been a view of fog. It was nearing 6pm, and I was pretty miserable. The rain wasn’t stopping. I needed a pick me up in order to keep going.
This is the point at which I started singing to myself. Loudly.
The sun’ll come out tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow
There’ll be sun
Just thinkin’ about tomorrow
Clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow
‘Til there’s none
When I’m stuck with a day that’s gray and lonely
I just stick up my chin and grin and say, oh…
Over and over and over again. My singing did not make the rain stop, but it made me feel marginally better. I decided to keep walking until the rain ended or I was physically exhausted, whichever came first.
When I finally reached Crescent Pond, I was actively looking for a place to camp. I knew I couldn’t make it to the next lean-to, Rainbow Stream, which was four miles away and would absolutely be full. There was flat space at the bottom of the pond, and there were already several hikers making camp there. I could have found space, but I was not in the mood to even say a polite hello to another human. I kept going, looking for a spot, but the woods on either side of the trail were dense and steep. Anxiety was starting to stir inside me for the first time on the entire trip. I needed to stop. The rain was letting up but more critically, I was DONE.
Then I saw it.
A perfect, tent-sized clearing on the edge of the trail. And when I say edge, I mean inches. It may as well have been a 5-star hotel. I dropped my pack and put up my tent, piled my wet clothes on the ground under my tent flap (there was no chance they would dry), made dinner, and ate it leaning out of my tent, bears be damned. At that point everything smelled so bad, it was hard for me to imagine an animal coming within fifty feet of my tent.
Day five, you nearly did me in.