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How I learned to stop worrying and love the rain

For the rest of the afternoon at Rainbow Stream, it rained.  It rained and it rained and it rained.  Then it rained some more.  I’m the first person to admit that my tent is pretty heavy; it’s really too heavy for a solo thru-hike, but in that dreary constant rain, it was a luxurious dry PALACE and I loved it.  I knew I wasn’t going to love it when it came time to pack it up (packing up a wet tent — especially if it’s still raining — is just about the most unpleasant hiking task there is, second only to setting up in the rain), but for the time being, I was dry and comfortable and almost downright cozy as I listened to the rain beat down incessantly.

For those of you wondering why I just didn’t stay in the lean-to, where I would [presumably] have stayed just as dry and wouldn’t have had to worry about packing up a wet tent the next day, I can only tell you that the idea of sleeping in a lean-to is pretty unappealing, even in a steady rain.  (Had it actually been storming — you know, with wind and lightning and scary booming sounds — well, that would have been different.)  There are about 250 shelters like this along the trail; they are typically 10 or 12 miles apart, and most are simple, 3-sided structures that will hold anywhere from six to ten hikers (although there are a few that boast some fancier construction or nifty features like solar showers and pizza delivery.)  They also usually hold anywhere from six to ten million mice.  Now, I don’t have a problem with mice; I’ll even say that I think they’re cute.  But I don’t think they’re cute when they are rooting through my pack, making nests in my shoes, or running over my face all night long.  Also, the idea of trying to sleep in a shelter while crammed like a sardine with a bunch of other wet, smelly hikers doesn’t sound like a good idea at all — and probably less so for them than for me: I toss and turn like meat on a spit all night long, and usually and have to get up to pee at least 3 times.  I’m quite sure I’d be the first person ever voted out of a shelter and cast off into the dark.  So while I deeply admire the work it takes to build and maintain these shelters (and the privys usually located nearby), and I appreciate having a dry place to sit for a while, I much prefer to sleep in my tent.

 (As it was, I did have one little terrorist-mouse climb up underneath the rain-fly of my tent and scamper up the the wall of my tent.  He would have eaten a hole through my tent and set up house in no time had I not kicked him off and yelled some un-ladylike things at him….  Little bastard.)

There was of course no cell phone reception.  I was many miles off my intended pace, had no idea when I’d make it to Monson, and no way to let Chelle or Jessica know how far behind schedule I was or that I was safe.   A couple of days earlier, that inability to communicate with them left me feeling frustrated and a little agitated — which was all the more frustrating and agitating because I had fully expected to not be able to communicate.  But now I was more at ease and relaxed about it.  After all, there wasn’t much I could do about it, and each day had plenty enough other challenges to keep me busy.  The rain was a drag, but I was grateful for a dry tent, a dry sleeping bag, and a JetBoil stove that could serve up a hot cup of tea in a flash! There are few joys in this world like getting into warm dry clothes and sipping tea while listening to the rain outside your tent.

Late in the afternoon I heard some voices yelling over the sound of the rain and the rush of the stream; it was clearly a couple of young women who were clearly having the same anxiety crossing the log bridge as I’d had.  I poked my head out of the tent to see if they were okay, hoping like hell they hadn’t fallen off and weren’t being swept to their death downstream.  The wide and relatively shallow stream narrows quickly and tumbles down a beautiful and deep gorge a few hundred yards from the shelter; it’s probably a great swimming hole most of the time, but on a day like this it would only be certain death and feeling crippled as I was there would be no way I’d be able to help anyone.  (Okay, I don’t think it was really all that dangerous, but the constant roar of the water sure made it sound dramatic.)  The water was even higher than when I crossed, and was lapping across the top of the logs; I’m not sure I would have even attempted to cross it now, to be honest.  But then, what else are you gonna do?  There certainly isn’t any other safe place to cross, and there really isn’t anywhere on the other side to pitch a tent because it is so densely wooded and rocky.  I watched the girls as they inched their way across, happy to see them make it safely.  They looked up the hill, saw me, and waved happily before they retreated into the shelter.

I figured I’d wait for the rain to let up and then I’d go down to the shelter to be sociable and eat some dinner, but the rain just seemed to get heavier.  I heard one of the girls trudge up the hill looking for the privy,  and then listened helplessly as she quite obviously slipped and fell on her way back down to the shelter.  I decided to sit tight and just eat in my tent — little bastard mice be damned.







The Rain and Pain in Beautiful Maine

My second night at Rainbow Lake was wonderful, knee pain or not.  If I can have only one memory from this adventure, that will be the one I choose.  It was clear and cool and beautiful, and for a while it was astonishingly quiet.  And I mean really silent.  The songbirds had quieted down for the night, and even the little bastard red squirrels — who are constantly chattering and taunting me — were finally quiet.  There were no voices or planes or trucks or trains, no sounds of rushing water or even leaves rustling in the breeze.  There wasn’t a sound.  Anywhere.  It was simply, thunderously, silent.

It stayed quiet until the loons started yodeling, and I listened happily to them for a while.  A while later in my half-sleep, I thought I heard a competing set of loons off to the east…but there was something different about that sound, and it took me a while to realize that they weren’t loons, but coyotes.  I lay there in the dark, listening to loons and coyotes singing together.  It was awesome.

It was as dark as it was quiet, and the tenting area was open just enough to see a few trillion stars through the trees.  I could look up and see more stars than I’ve seen in years.  I thought of my friend Jim at McCormick’s Creek, and how much he would enjoy this incredible show.  I wish I could have gone down to the lake shore — THAT would have been stunning — but I wasn’t feeling that brave.  No, I wasn’t worried about bears (much), but I was worried about limping around in the dark and tripping over a root or rock.  My knee was hurting enough as it was, so I just spent the night penned up in my tent and enjoyed the night from there.

I slept in and took my time in the morning since I knew I was going just a short distance.  Well, I also had to take my time because it was almost impossible to move my knee.  The swelling was down (sorta), but it was still a little on the wicked side of painful.  Getting out of the tent in the morning was a painful and awkward maneuver (I will spare you the details of dealing with the call of nature), but once I was moving around a little it seemed to get better.  Sorta.  I mean, I needed to use my trekking poles as crutches and could only move with little baby steps about six inches at a time, but that’s better.  Don’t you think that’s better?  I thought it was better.

The morning was grey and it started to rain the very instant I had my pack on my back and started down the trail.  Funny, God — real funny.  I just managed to almost dry most of my stuff from the other day, and now it is getting wet again.  Oh well.  Before I started this hike I had asked God for a couple of good nice dry days to start my trip, and of course had begged Him not to let me fall off Katahdin, so I guess a couple of days of hiking in the rain is a fair price to pay.  The trail followed the shore of Rainbow Lake for a couple of miles, and really was pretty level and flat, with just a couple of small little hills up and down, which was good news for my knee (the descents are KILLER on the knee!), but the trade-off was that it was very swampy, rooty, and muddy.

I got to the cut-off trail for Rainbow Lake Dam, and a big part of me wanted to take that short little side trip because I thought it would be a perfect chance to see a moose, even so late in the morning. It was tempting, but I decided against it: an extra half mile was going to be a bit too much to do to my knee — that’s why I decided on such a short day in the first place.  And hell, there was moose poop EVERYWHERE on the trail anyway; it literally covered the entire surface of the trail for dozens of yards at a time. If I didn’t pay attention, I could walk right into a moose taking a big dump right in front of me.

The rain was steady, the roots were slippery, and the mud was deep, but it was still a pretty hike. I covered the four miles to Rainbow Stream lean-to in about three hours, which is a pretty slow and tedious pace, considering this is pretty flat terrain, but my knee wasn’t going to let me go any faster.

The lean-to sits on the far side of the stream, which was running high because of all the rain.  There is a long log bridge across the stream which was slippery and a little tricky to cross — the water isn’t deep, but it was running pretty fast, and I found out quickly that trying to use my poles for balance was a bad idea, as the water just grabbed them and actually pushed me off balance.  I just inched my way across slowly and was glad to make it across without slipping and taking a dunk in the stream.

There wasn’t anyone at the lean-to (I didn’t expect there would be at this time of day), but I smiled to see an entry addressed to me in the shelter register from Sean and Clayton.  They were a full three days ahead of me now, and I know I won’t see them again at this rate.  I sat in the lean-to for a while and had a snack and some tea, and when there was a break in the rain I hobbled up the hill and set up my tent — just in time before another long deluge!

Four whole miles.  Sitting in the tent again, in the rain.  Everything is soaked and muddy, and my knee hurts like hell. Other than that, it’s wonderful out here!