The 99 Mile Wilderness

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(4 days ago…) We are so close to Katahdin we can see it, rising off the hazy valley floor like a giant, sleeping mammal. We saw it from the peak of Whitecap Mountain, where we dried our tent in the breeze and spread some of the last jar of peanut butter we will buy for the foreseeable future onto day-old cinnamon raisin bagels. There are fewer than 70 miles left in this journey. Tentatively, Monday is Summit Day. The forecast, fingers crossed, looks good.

We had our first string of six consecutive days without rain (or other precipitation). It was the heat wave that consumed the country, and it ended in a thunderstorm that rocked the sky just as we dove into the tent, our evening chores finished hastily as the first drops fell. The dry spell was a gift, and so was the rain after, which cooled the earth and renewed the springs.

We are over halfway through what is called the Hundred Mile Wilderness. It’s not really wilderness: it may be 99 miles long, but it’s only two or three miles wide, and crisscrossed with dirt roads containing parking lots. Still, the sign at the borders makes a swift hiker feel tough: it warns travelers not to enter without ten days of food. We headed in with a scant five. We’ll be through it in just over four days… and that’s with a slowdown the last two, to set us up for a morning summit, and to properly enjoy the last few days out here, the views and air and lakes, the mornings and evenings, one last full moon. To savor.

Which is funny, since I write this at 2 am, not exactly when I want to do said savoring. I am awake itching. Mosquitoes. The first few days of Maine, I kept hearing a mechanical drone in the atmosphere. Maybe a ski lift or dam equipment? Finally I realized it was the constant whine of bloodthirsty insects. There are usually two flies circling my head as I walk, burrowing into my sweaty scalp until I smother them in my hair. And I am going to have to start putting DEET on my butt, because the mosquitoes have figured out that there’s fresh meat available every time I stop to pee. Thankfully, it’s been a bad year for black flies… the record spring rainfall kept them in check, a welcome silver lining to wet shoe syndrome. When we are done, I fantasize about soaking in a vat of chilled meat tenderizer.

Speaking of which, we have been discussing what creature comforts we crave most afterwards. The White Flash wants a watermelon. I want a salad bar. The Georgia Brothers want to go back to the South, “down in the dirty-dirty, where the beer is cheap and the girls are purty.” And Zippy keeps mentioning a La-Z-Boy in an air conditioned room. At the same time, we will miss sleeping in our little fort in the cool woods. (Isn’t it amazing that even here and now, a person can bring a piece of cloth and netting into the forest and sleep for free in comfort and privacy?) We will miss walking all day, nearly every day. It is true, though hard to believe: we do not get bored of it. We will miss the simplicity. There are still chores, but none of them involve the DMV or scrubbing a shower stall. I am already thinking about where I can take long walks when we are done.

I clench and grind my jaw overnight, my body’s unsubtle protest against uncertainty and impending change. It is coming soon!

3 Replies to “The 99 Mile Wilderness”

  1. I will so miss your posts and a vicarious journey through time and space. I’ve watched your rose blooming in Missoula. Many buds this year. This post reminded me of a hot dusty day doing geological field mapping in Nevada. My fantasy was a chilled silver goblet filled with icy shrimp cocktail and beads of moisture dripping down the sides. Sweet mental torture. Hope you guys stop back on Missoula sometime.

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