Nina Baxley: AT Thru-Hiker

Caratunk, Maine

Wednesday, July 5, 2000
AT Miles Hiked: 151.2
AT Miles Remaining: 2015.9
Location: Caratunk, Maine

The last few days since Monson have been grey, dreary, and a bit rainy, making the woods a dark place to hike. It's been nice, though. I hike early in the morning, and the woods have been quiet and still. I generally hit the trail at around 6:30 a.m., which gives me several hours of solitude for hiking before other southbounders begin catching up with me.

I've really enjoyed getting to know the other southbounders. The group I originally started with has moved ahead by a day or two. Lately, I've been hiking a lot with Blue Skies (a recent college grad from North Carolina) and Matt (a geologist from Tennessee), whom I met as I was leaving the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail last week.

There are some really neat people hiking the Appalachian Trail this year. Isis and Jackrabbit, two sisters from the coast of Maine, are hiking the trail barefoot. I've really enjoyed getting to know both of them; they're very creative, they sing and tell stories, and their mom makes excellent homemade cookies! Another southbounder, Tenbrooks, started hiking north from Georgia in April, but decided to head up to Maine with his dog, Molly, and hike south. This is called"flip-flopping," when a hiker switches directions of his hike. O.D. (Old Dude) and Bugbiter are a father-son pair who are hiking the trail together. Highlander, who is from San Francisco and is a first-time backpacker, has an excellent singing voice and often entertains us with Scottish and Irish folk songs.

And then there's me. My trail name is Waterfall. We all have trail names out here, except for Matt, who can't decide on one, so we just call him"The Hiker Formerly Known as Matt." Trail names have become a tradition on the AT; hikers adopt a new name once they are on the trail, often one that reflects their "trail personality." For me, "Waterfall" seemed most fitting, for several reasons. One, I seem to have the power to make water fall from the sky. Two, I fall a lot, often in the water. The most important reason for this trail name, though, is that waterfalls are transitional and always moving. I thought that was in a small way symbolic of my life on the trail: I'm constantly moving. Flowing. Learning how to be flexible and accept the trail as it is, and not as I want or expect it to be.

The thru-hikers I named above are the ones with whom I've been staying at shelters for the last few nights. There are numerous shelters set up along the AT, generally near convenient water sources. Most have spots where hikers can set up tents; otherwise, hikers just sleep in the shelters, which can generally house six to eight people.

I prefer to set up my tent outside the shelter; this gives me a bit more privacy, and it keeps me from becoming mosquito bait in the night. The last few nights, however, the shelters areas have been quite crowded with southbounders, early northbounders, and scouting and summer camp groups. Because the camp groups typically use the tent sites, I've had to sleep in the shelters several nights.

With a few exceptions, the shelters are built and maintained by the Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC). In fact, the MATC maintains the entire trail in Maine. This is an amazing feat, and the thru-hikers are constantly marveling at the quality of trail maintenance along the AT. Bog bridges, built in part to protect the fragile bog communities, ease the hiker's path through swampy, boot-sucking mud. Stone steps help make the climbs up and down steep mountains a little less precarious. Wooden signs along the trail give us information on how close we are to the next shelter, or where we can find water. The efforts of the MATC have made hiking the AT even more of a pleasure for us.

My next planned stop is Stratton, Maine. Between now and then, I'll be climbing the Bigelows. I'm hoping for some nice weather and outstanding views!

What is she carrying? Check out Nina's gear list and pack weight
See the trail dispatch archive for previous weeks.


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