Nina Baxley: AT Thru-Hiker

Monson, Maine

Saturday, July 1, 2000
AT Miles Hiked: 114.5
AT Miles Remaining: 2052.6
Location: Shaw's Boarding House, Monson, Maine

Battered, blistered, bitten, and bleeding, we (Matt, Blue Skies, and I) made our triumphant thru-hiker entrance into Monson, Maine, today. The last town stop for northbounders with sights on Katahdin, and the first for southbounders straggling out of the 100-Mile Wilderness, Monson is a bit of a promised land on the AT. Shaw's Boarding Home, where I am staying, is a trail institution; for the past 24 years, Keith Shaw and his family have provided over 29,000 weary thru-hikers with delicious home-cooked meals, hot showers, good company, and much-needed rest.

Hiking the 100-Mile Wilderness was a real challenge for me, particularly when it rained. The AT here consists of rocks, roots, and mud, making for precarious hiking in wet weather. Hiking down White Cap Mountain in the rain was a test of concentration, patience, and endurance; one small misstep on a slippery rock or root could result in a sprained ankle —or worse.

When the weather is nice, we are rewarded with sweeping vistas from rocky mountaintops —a perfect reward for the treacherous climbs that characterized the second half of the Wilderness for us.

Another characheristic of the Wilderness has been the BUGS. Mosquitos ravage us in the morning, then the black flies join them in the afternoon. And sometimes the big, shiny deerflies will join the bloodsucking party as well. No one goes unscathed. We all are bitten from head to toe, despite our bug headnets (the height of thru-hiker fashion!). We wear 100 percent DEET like it's aftershave or one of those good-smelling body sprays you get from Crabtree & Evelyn. I always feel silly spritzing it behind my ears, as if it is a fine perfume, but that's one place the bugs love to bite! I sometimes think that the true test of our endurance is NOT the rugged terrain, NOT the heavy packs, NOT the blistered feet . . . it's the bugs.Even though my hike has been tough at times, it's already been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. While taking a day to do the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail (a side trail off the AT), I found myself thinking about how ALIVE this world is, and how ALIVE these Maine woods are. As I climb over mountains, I feel like I'm walking across the massive backs of great beasts, furry with moss, lichens, flowers, grasses, and trees. I almost expect the mountain to breathe, stretch, and roll over in its deep sleep.

And then there are the tree roots. They, too, seem so alive as they reach out hungrily in all directions, slithering over and around the rocks like great tentacles. At Gulf Hagas, trees seemed to grow right out of rock high along the gorge walls. Down below, water has carved rock so smoothly that the rocks look liked mounds of potter's clay, and not ancient stone. Butterflies flutter along the creeks, now one, now two butterflies, circling each other as they fly. Ants make their homes in and near the rocks in the water, and I sit wondering how they got there, and where they get their food. In the forests, the new growth of hemlock and spruce is bright green, making shoots of green fire of their fingertips. Nature is so unimaginably miraculous and beautiful, and I feel so lucky to be here in the midst of it all. Even though the trail is unbelievably hard, it has definitely been worth the struggle these first hundred miles. Onward to Georgia!

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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