August 30, 2008
This is the post where our family vacation meets my writing up of my Appalachian Trail experiences from 1993. My parents didn’t find Rangeley, Maine, entirely on their own. They asked me for my input, seeing as I had walked through the state. Of course, my walk-through provided a pretty narrow perspective, but I told them that Rangeley would be as good a place as any for them to do some cabin-scouting. As it turned out…that’s where they wound up buying a cabin!
The Appalachian Trail (AT) gets its closest to Rangeley when it crosses Rt. 4 about 10 miles southeast of town. I’ve mildly fantasized over the years about bringing some “trail magic” to the AT. Trail magic is loosely defined as some sort of unexpected, highly pleasant experience on the trail, typically spawned by an act of goodwill either by a local person/community or a non-thru-hiker. I experienced my fair share of trail magic, and read about others’ that happened while I was hiking. A couple of times, someone would arrive at a shelter with beer and share it freely. That‘s what I’ve had my mind set on for years — either hiking into a shelter or sitting at a road crossing with a cooler. If at a road crossing, there would always be a couple of large pizzas included as well.
On our last day in Rangeley, after I had already told Julie that it didn’t look like I’d get to fulfill this fantasy on this trip (which wasn’t a big deal — my parents aren’t getting rid of the cabin any time soon, and we will be back!), Bob and I decided at 3:00 that we would give it a shot. We weren’t even sure if we could buy beer in Maine on Sunday, but we headed out. We picked up a 12-pack of Heineken cans at a convenience store, drove over to the AT, and hiked in the 1.8 miles to the Piazza Rock shelter.
I signed the Maine Appalachian Trail Conference trail register shortly before we got to the shelter (my note was that the trail looked great!):
Bob and I took each other’s pictures at Piazza Rock itself:
We arrived at the shelter to find one person there — “Silver” was a 57-year-old gentleman who has completed the AT four times since his first thru-hike in 1999. He lives out of a camper and tools around the country doing long-distance hiking. He winters in the Florida Keys, where he volunteers 3 days a week in a park in exchange for a free camper site. He was hiking from Monson, ME, down to Gorham, NH, on this trip.
We had a nice chat with him. As I’d hoped, his eyes lit up when I offered him a beer, and he assured me that the remaining beers would be appreciated. Bob and I each drank one with Silver, leaving 9 in the shelter for Silver and other hikers who passed through in the next few days:
We chatted longer than we should have, probably (Julie and Jen wound up squeezing all of the kids into our minivan and driving into town for dinner — leaving us a note to meet up with them), but it really was a neat experience.
It was a little odd to have a 57-year-old man telling me how much things had changed on the trail since I had hiked wayyyyyy back in 1993. I was the “old-timer!” But, there were also a lot of things that stayed the same. The shelter itself had been newly built when I passed through, and it’s been well-maintained and looks great. The fellow who ran the ferry across the Kennebec River for years — Steve Longley — was still involved with a hostel in the area, but had given up ferrying duties a year or two ago. He had actually driven me to the airport when I needed to fly to D.C. for Dee’s funeral. And, we chatted about various hostels and trail towns in the area that had changed over the years.
Silver also brought up the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association and their annual “Gathering,” which rang a bell deep in my brain, but of which I hadn’t been consciously aware of in years. He told me about trailjournals.com, which I think I had stumbled across several years ago when the daughter of some friends of my parents was hiking the AT. Times certainly have changed, as Silver talked about how internet access was expected at each of the hostels (allowing people to update their journals on the internet as they hiked, among other things, presumably). I suppose people may even use mobile devices to make journal entries from within a shelter, which I guess I am a bit of an old-timer about, as that just seems wrong! Silver also brought up how the stove fuel of preference these days is isopropyl alcohol (it was white gas when I was hiking).
I’ll do the same thing again, given the chance. Maybe even with the kids as they get older (it’s only 1.8 miles in to the shelter, but it’s got some steep climbs and some muddy sections that require walking across flattened logs). We were a bit late in the year to catch southbounders, and a bit early to catch the first big wave of northbounders…but it was great to meet a thru-hiker nevertheless and compare notes and experiences!