A few days hiking with Brandon

Below is my account of hiking a few days with Brandon just before he entered the 100 mile wilderness.

The plan was to fly up to Maine, hike with my brother Brandon (a.k.a. Trill) for about 5 days on the Appalachian Trail and leave him at the beginning of the “100 mile wilderness” (100 mile stretch without any roads or ways out other than to hike it out).

I had a late flight into Portland, ME, picked up a rental car, and found a cheap-ish hotel just outside the city for the night.  I woke up the next morning (a little late) and began the 3+ hour drive up to Stratton to meet Brandon.  Since I had most of the day and haven’t ever been to Maine I decided to stick to back roads on my trip up there.  I didn’t have a really good map, and following the road signs became a bit tricky.  Thanks to my phone and Google Maps, I was able to finally meet up with him just as he was getting off the trail.

What a sight and smell.  Brandon has obviously lot a good bit of weight, added a spectacular bushman beard, and the stench to go with it.  When you are out in the woods, without a shower, you get used to the smell but seeing as I had just showered that morning, he stunk.  I quickly shuttled him into town and we grabbed a hotel room a quaint little inn.  While Brandon showered I enjoyed the view over looking a little creek from our hotel balcony.  Brandon was filled with stories from the trail and was really excited to have someone to share them with.  He told me all about the crazy people he met on the trail, some of his own crazy experiences and his general out look on life.  While he tried hard to explain how things on the trail are, I can tell that he will never be able to fully explain the journey he has been on for the last five months to anyone who hasn’t been there.  It’s hard for even me to explain how he’s changed to you here.  I think he has a new outlook on life, nature, and who he is personally.  All good changes, but changes nonetheless. We spent the whole night just catching each other up on what’s been going on in our own worlds.

The next morning we slept in a bit and hit the trail about 10 AM.  Since we got a late start and it was my first day we decided to do a short day and spent the night in the first shelter about five miles down the trail.  The hike was pretty nice to start with, but had a few climbs near the end that slowed me down.  He of course had no trouble.  That first night we had the shelter all to ourselves (aside from a caretaker that had her own cabin).  He showed me the ropes in regards to how he settles into a shelter, cooks dinner, and just enjoys his life.  The only downer that night was the fact that the bugs were out and they have a fondness for my ears.  All night they buzzed in my ear making it difficult to get really good sleep.  I guess he’s just used to it.

The following morning I was to wake up at first sunlight and get a jump start on him since he hikes faster.  Brandon has telling time by the sun down to a fine science and I had not picked up on it the first morning.  I thought it was about 6 AM when I woke up, but it turned out to be closer to 8 or 9 when he finally woke me up and told me to get a move on.  I got about a hour jump start on him.  By the time he caught up with me, the rain had begun.  The whole day it rained.  This day we were shooting for about 15 miles with two big mountains to cross (4000+ feet in elevation) and one smaller mountain later.   With the rain we quickly decided that we’d do another shortish day and pull into a shelter about 7.5 miles down the trail.  The two big climbs were spectacular.  The views they offered were awesome, however getting to the top wore me out.  He had no problems with it and blew past me on the way up, only to sit in the rain at the top to wait on me.  It was such a great feeling to get to the top of each of these mountains, turn around and see where you had come from.

Unfortunately on the way down from the second mountain I slipped on way down and twisted my knee pretty bad. I was able to hobble over the the last mountain but was very relieved when we finally made a shelter.  Somewhere crossing that last mountain we crossed the 2000 mile mark of the trail.  With each step, I could tell Brandon was having mixed emotions.  He had now hiked over 2000 miles from the start of this trip, but with each step he was growing ever closer to it’s end.  It was still raining cats and dogs when we pulled up for the night, but luckily were in a shelter with a few other folks who were going through the same thing.  I guess that’s part of the journey.  You get to see God’s spectacular creation from mountain tops that few others get to experience, but you may have to learn to find the beauty in His life giving rain in order to get there.

Having started with two short days, it was time to make up some miles.  Luckily the following day held 17.6 almost completely flat miles.  This time I did get up at first sunlight, grabbed some breakfast to eat while hiking and left Brandon asleep in the shelter.  I was able to get about three or four miles down the trail before Brandon caught me.  During those miles we crossed a road, that at one point was closer to the 2000 mile mark, and someone had spray painted “2000 mi.” right in the middle.  The rest of the day we pretty much hiked together, stopping occasionally along the some of the many mountain ponds we wound around for a snack.

My knee was really giving me trouble most of the day and I had decided that there was just no way for me to continue another 40 more miles hobbling along like I was.  We were to cross a major road the next day and I went ahead and made the decision to pull off there and let him continue alone.  It was a really hard decision.  I wanted to continue hiking with my brother and spend more time with him, but I knew I just couldn’t and that the right decision was to get off before I really messed up my knee or worse didn’t make it to the end in time to catch my flight to New York City for the rest of my vacation.

Having made up my mind I soaked in everything I could of our last night.  We got into our shelter with plenty of day light left, made dinner, set up camp and then went swimming in the beautiful pond next to the shelter.  From the other hikers I gathered that this shelter was one of the better ones for spending the night.  The shelter was clean and flat and had the most amazing view of the sunset from inside the shelter.  The only problem was the bugs.  The bugs were again out in full force that night causing everyone in the shelter to get up in the middle of the night to reapply bug repellent.  We also had a huge storm blow through that night that apparently woke up some of the other hikers when it was blowing rain inside the shelter.  I was so tired I slept right through it.

The night before a gentleman from some hunting camps about a half mile from the trail came by to tell us about his 12 pancake breakfast he served to through hikers for a modest fee.  Brandon and another man from the shelter took him up on his offer which worked out perfectly.  It gave me just enough time to hike to the ferry and let Brandon catch me there.  Now this ferry was pretty neat.  It is the only place on the trail that goes through a river that is too large to just hike through or cross on a bridge.  The ATC therefore pays for a local outfitter to man a canoe throughout the season to ferry hikers across free of charge.  You simply arrive to one side of the river, wave a flag to signal the ferry, and take the canoe across.  They even have a white blaze painted right on the bottom of the canoe so you know that it’s part of the official trail.  We crossed together, and this is where I said goodbye.  I arranged with the ferry man to drive me about half way back to Stratton to pick up my rental car, and Brandon waited with me for a little while until his lunch break.  We traded some gear and I left him most of my food.  The food he didn’t want to take, another through hiker that we had camped with came by shortly after and graciously took the rest.  We said our goodbyes and he continued on down the trail with 15 more miles to that day.

I had a great time and have a new apreciation for his amazing accomplishment.