By John E Rodrigue, Trail Monster Running Club
It all began with an email from my good friend Ian Parlin, Trail Monster Running Club president and one of the clubs founders. The email explained that Ian and his wife, Emma, and their daughter Iona were hiking up Madison in NH and had come across Scott Jurek, on the AT trail, had a few words and then, by coincidence, met up with Scott’s wife Jenny and his crew in the parking lot on their return from hiking. As Ian discussed the Trail Monster Running Club and its members, he offered to help in any way that might be needed. Surprisingly, Timmy O’Neil, Scott Jurek’s crew chief at the time, took Ian up on his offer.
It was at that point, Sunday July 5,2015, that the email was sent out to members of the Trail Monster Running Club that would have the understanding, skills and knowledge of the Maine AT trails and/or navigational skills to assist Scott and his crew through Maine’s sections of the AT and roadways. Fortunately and humbly, my name was on the email list.
The email simply explained that our job would be to get Scott to his ultimate goal of breaking the Fastest Known Time (FKT) from South to North through Maine’s rugged section of the AT. It wasn’t about meeting Scott and asking questions or being able to run with one of the most well-known Ultra Runners in the world, it was about getting, a fellow Ultra runner, to his ultimate goal.
This is where it all begun, I was incredibly humbled and honored to have been on the list. I have expressed to my club members as to how this group has changed my life, this was one of those times. I immediately contacted my place of employment as to my request to take 5 days of vacation with no notice. They were a bit hesitant at first, although, I explained that if I was not allowed to take the time off I would be composing my resignation. This was an opportunity of a life time that I was not going to allow to pass. Needless to say, I am still employed, thankfully.
My plan was to leave on Tuesday July 7, 2015 and meet several other Trail Monsters that had already joined Scott’s team, Mindy Slovinsky and Mike Carbone and Scott Jurek’s crew at South Arm Road AT crossing in Andover to let them know I was available to help in any way they needed. Once I arrived, I was greeted by my teammates, Mindy and Mike. We discussed their time on the trail and how things were looking and they shared any details they had with me regarding what had been happening and how Scott was doing. This is when i met Hazel. Hazel was Scott's super fan. She was with the crew hanging out and wanting to be a part of the action. She had been following Scott's tracker and knew his every move. She was his super fan. Hazel was a great lady willing to help in any way.
At this point it seemed things were a bit unclear as to what was happening so I had to focus on the job at hand, but soon I was greeted by Timmy O’Neil, Scott’s right hand man, the General of the operation, so to speak. The President of the operation was Jenny, of course. She made the final decisions. Jenny is Scott’s wife. Timmy hauled me aside, into my car, and had me roll the windows up, close the sunroof and create an air tight atmosphere, as he didn’t like the flying insects Maine has to offer, hahaha, and asked me one question…….”Why are you here”?
My response was simple, “I am here to get Scott to the summit of Katahdin in record time and to help you in any way needed to make it happen. ”Timmy’s response was….”You’re in”. He then proceeded to yell…..”Holy shit, they are here. ”I looked over my left shoulder at the exit of the AT trail onto South Arm Road and there I see Scott Jurek, for the first time in Maine. He was running towards us with Mike Carbone pacing right behind him. It was just Mike with Scott on that section. They were in ahead of time and caught everyone off guard as the crew was not ready for their speedy timing. It turned out that the adventure would begin at that point for me. Scott decided that he needed several hours of sleep before continuing so we all set up tents, found our cars or a spot along the road and got some sleep. The plan was to be up at 4am to continue the journey.
I had literally loaded my car with everything I owned and would get me through 6-7 days of running/hiking on the AT. Tents, Coleman stoves, table top grill, 10 gallons of water, blankets, sleeping bags, gear for every weather condition imaginable, maps, everything I owned for running gear and every hiking pack I owned. Oh yeah, and I can’t forget all my first aid kits that my running friends often poke fun at me about.
Everyone was up and moving. Scott’s van had some movement as Scott and Jenny were awake and getting ready. It was very early. Luis and Chris were gearing up to take Scott through the next section from South Arm Road to Route 17, Height of Land in Township D, just outside of Rangeley. We wished them good luck and sent them off into the wilderness and said we would see them on the other side. The rest of us packed our gear and headed into the town center of Andover to The Little Red Hen restaurant for a good breakfast and an opportunity for Jenny to do laundry as we knew the next several segments we may not be able to get it done. We arrived a bit early, before opening time, so we all took the opportunity to catch up on phone calls, texts and messages. I took some time to check in on Iron Joe and get his plan for joining us to guide Scott through the 100 mile wilderness and for Joe to arrive and give his wisdom about the 100 mile logistics. He would be joining in and meeting us at Route 16/27. I was looking forward to seeing him.
We all then walked into Little Red Hen Restaurant, kindly greeted by a very nice young waitress who sat us for breakfast. I believe I had pancakes, bacon, sausage and scrambled eggs. This might be the last real breakfast I have for a few days. As we sat and ate our meal, I learned about Timmy and Jenny. Timmy is a motivational speaker and stand-up comedian. He proved his comedic talents for the next several days. Jenny was not only a runner but a professional rock climber. She also spoke of her connections to Maine as she had friends who attended Bowdoin College. To our surprise, Hazel walked in the restaurant as we were sitting there. She had her tablet and was following Scott with the Delorme tracker website. She knew his every move. At one point as we talked with her, she stated to Timmy that he must be tired of her obsession with Scott. Timmy promptly responded....."Hazel, YOUR obsession with Scott has become my obsession"......it was tough to hold back the laughter but Hazel was actually a great lady and really wanted to help. We realized that we needed to get to the Height of Land soon as Scott was getting closer to that check point. Only there was an issue. Jenny had started a load of laundry at the restaurant, as they had a washer and dryer, and it wasn't done yet. Graciously, Hazel offered to stay and make sure it got done and no she would deliver it to Jenny at the Height of Land. We all jumped in our vehicles and off we drove. I knew these roads well from my work in the region as a MaineDOT Project Manager so we took the short route.
Once we arrived in Township D at the Height of Land, Route 17, we parked at the new scenic outlook that I helped design and build years prior as a Project Manager at MaineDOT. It was a proud moment to see AT through hikers, sightseeing folks and others enjoying its beauty. It was the most beautiful day, the sun was bright and warm and it just raised my energy. Sitting there with the crew awaiting Scott's arrival was fun and exciting. A group of through hikers had come up the trail before Scott, Chris and Luis. I walked down to greet them and they were happy to know they were near the town of Rangeley and could get hot meals there. As we discussed their AT journey they asked if we were with Scott Jurek's crew, I answered “yes”. They were extremely excited and asked to hang around to meet him. They waited along with us for Scott and pacers to arrive. We had lots of fun repacking our gear, making fun conversation, we picked up whoopee pies and Moxie for the camera crew to taste. We had learned they had never had whoopie pies or Moxie. It was great to see them react to the whoopie pies and then drink the Moxie, honestly, not a great combination at all. I am not sure the Moxie was a fan favorite. Maybe it was the combination or my explaining I used to use Moxie to clean the rust from my bike as a kid. I also learned that Hunter, the camera crew chief, was from Falmouth, ME. Who would have guessed! This was a time of completing the organizing of vehicles, chatting, getting to know each other, enjoy the scenic views and laugh and have fun. It was very clear that the segments ahead were going to be more secluded and tougher.
It had been decided that Mindy (Squirrel) and Mike (Chaski) would gear up to guide Scott from Height of Land to the next check point at Route 4, roughly a 15 mile stretch. Mike and Mindy got their gear ready and were all set to go. As we all waited there it was apparent that Scott had slowed, there was concern of the mood. Scott, Luis and Chris soon arrived. They climbed the hill into the scenic overlook and headed right for the van to refuel and restock for the next segment. Before continuing the next segment.
He, Luis and Chris had appeared at the wood line as they climbed to the parking area. There the care of Scott took place as it had so many times before. It was precise, methodical and calculated. Like a finely tuned watch. It was impressive to see how well it all clicked. Scott had the through hiker group get together for a photo. They were very happy to have waited for Scott’s arrival and have the photo op.
It was here at Height of Land I learned I would be joining Scott with Chris to run the stretch from Route 4 in Sandy River Plantation to Route 27/16 in Wyman Township, roughly a 32 mile stretch. We would be running through the night and having to lay-over at Spaulding lean-to for 4 hours to get Scott some rest. I began my prep and getting my gear together. This stretch was going to be fun and rugged. It had great technical climbs over Saddleback, The Horn, Saddleback Jr, Lone, Spaulding, Crocker Mountains. It turns out that between the food and gear we needed to carry weighed about 30-35lbs for each Chris and I. I was happy to have included my 33 liter pack into my gear before leaving home, it came in handy for this section, very handy.
While Mike and Mindy were on the trail from Height of Land, we all headed into Rangeley to sit and have a hot meal at the Red Onion, a great local iconic restaurant. I had spoken very highly of its great food. We had thoughts of sitting and eating but it was busy and the service was slow that day. We sat for a half hour, or more, waiting for our food and had light, fun and interesting conversations while we waited. We were getting to know each other and asking fun questions. Timmy ended up waiting for the food while we all traveled to the next check point as we did not miss Scott and pacers arriving at the check point. Jenny stopped in Rangeley at the local grocerie store to resupply the van with her food needs and we all fueled up the vehicles and headed out. Once we got to the check point, Chris and I prepared and loaded our backpacks, we split the gear out and equaled the load as best we could. Jenny made sure we had plenty of food for Scott to last the 32 miles. I believe it ended up being around 35lbs of food. We had to pack gear, food, fluids and everything we needed not only for Scott but ourselves as well. It was going to be a long time in the wilderness and we needed to have what we needed to stay energized and strong.
I’m going to answer the question, that my TMR friends are asking themselves right now, Yes, I carried a first aid kit and it had feminine napkins in it. Hahahaha.
As Scott, Mindy and Mike appeared at the parking area at Route 4 they informed us as to how their segment had gone, how Scott was feeling and reacting to the terrain, his eating and getting in fluids. It gave us an idea of what we would be facing in our overnight 32 miler.
I gave Mike and Mindy a congratulatory hug as they were heading home after a few days of running with Scott and helping him through some rugged terrain. Just before I headed out I explained to Mike that the plan had changed and we were packing heavy. He reached over and grabbed my pack and said...."John, that pack is heavy, are you sure you will be good for 32 miles?"......I was going to make it work and I was there to do what I needed to do to get Scott to that record so a little sacrifice was expected. Little did he know, I had concern in my own mind as I was unsure of the climbing and terrain, but my training this year had lots of Mountainous climbing, so I was in good shape and relied on that to get me through. It was time to suck it up and get it done.
Once Scott was fed, watered, and tended to at the van we said our goodbyes. I was sad to see Mike and Mindy head out, but it knew Joe was on his way to join in the adventure soon and another teammate was joining in. We took a moment to get a Trail Monster photo with Scott then gave each other hugs and wished good luck. I peered over my shoulder as I entered the trail and noticed the expression on both Mindy and Mikes faces.....it was and expression of pride, a look of wanting to continue to support this adventure and goal. I will never forget that moment we parted ways and how proud I was to be their teammate and friend.
It was also at this point Timmy O'Neil would also be departing. He had prior engagements and had to fly out with Luis Escobar. They had to drive their rental car to Bangor to fly out. There was no easy way to do this as there was no direct route. I did learn later that day that Luis was scheduled to be back before Scott hit the 100 mile wilderness. I said my goodbyes to Timmy and he gave me a hug and asked that I stay in touch with him as to where we were and the progress. He then looked at me and said...."Don't let him slow down, keep him moving and get him to that record, its going to be close". That stuck with me.
The other thing that will stick with me is seeing Timmy at the summit of Saddleback with PBR's in his hand. The climb up Saddleback was long and difficult and having that beer was awesome. Chris and I pounded the PBR's down and caught back up to Scott as the film crew wanted shots of him alone coming out if the fog so we lagged behind for a bit. Timmy also promised to have beer waiting for us when we finished that 32 mile stretch and I will be damned, he did. he had placed a six pack of PBR in my cooler packed with ice as he was moving my car ahead for me. It was unfortunate that Chris couldn't enjoy them with me as he had to recompose himself as a photographer again and head right back out on trail with Scott. Chris is a beast. He had little to no sleep and then repacked his gear and camera and headed back out.
as Timmy departed, The crew of Topher Gaylord, Kim Gaylord, Krissy Moehl were due to arrive at the next check point to take over until the end.
Up to this point the weather had been perfect. Sunny, warm days but not too humid. Although, rain was now in the forecast for this 32 mile section, and the meteorologists did not disappoint. It wasn't very long before the heavens open the flood gates. We had light to heavy rain and it lasted through the night to Spaulding lean-to. It wasn't just dealing with the rain, it brought the wind, fog and slippery terrain. This section had a lot of climbing on ledge and large rock deposit areas which can be slippery when wet, and it was. Footing had to be deliberate and calculated. I led the group through most of this section other than the first several miles where Chris had lead.
The rain made it fun and interesting to say the least, but when we the fog rolled in, that's when it got dicey. I tried to stay back enough for Scott to see my line and foot placements but also wanted to be far enough ahead to try and motivate Scott to push harder to stay with me as I was pushing the pace. I worked hard to climb, fast and efficiently and keep Scott moving. Between Chris and me, we were reminding Scott of the top and bottom of the hour so that he would eat and drink and how well he was moving and that we were making great time through this section.
I can verify that Scott Jurek is an efficient eating machine. His eating habits while running are incredibly spot-on. This man can put some food down. But along with eating comes bodily functions. Yes, the body has to disperse waste and gasses. Scott had several AT trail names that were shared with his crew only. One name was, “Motor Boat”. This trail name came about due to the way Scott would expel his breath on his exhale. He would exhale and let his lips flap to make a motor boat sound, hence the name motor boat. The other Trail name was “Crop Duster” as he passed gas frequently as you might imagine one would if eating as much as he did and it was like a plane crop dusting fields. It's hard to believe he lost 30lbs during the entire adventure. Jenny had packed plenty of food and it truly was amazing to see Scott eat every last bit of it.
We worked hard through this section. Scott commented on how relentlessly unforgiving the terrain is and how it plays on the mind constantly. We had several Jurek fans find us along the way and join in to run for a short time. I remember a 19 year old guy, Tyler. He was also a Nordic skier like Scott, so there was good interesting conversation for a length of time. The one thing I remember is Tyler asking what his favorite part of the run was for him! Scott slowed, looked over his shoulder and said "Definitely not this part". We all got a chuckle about his response. Once Tyler peeled off after we reached a gravel road crossing, it was back to some silent times and concentration. I would break the silence on occasion to let him know we were doing well and moving along quickly. I could hear Chris and Scott behind me having discussions as we moved along but I couldn't always hear or understand the topics.
The mountains came in this order…..from Route 4 in Sandy River Plantation over Saddleback, The Horn, Saddleback Jr, Poplar Ridge, Lone, Spaulding, Sugarloaf, Crocker Mountains to Route 16/27 at the border of Woman Township and Carrabassett Valley.
The plan was to steadily run to Spaulding Mountain lean-to then to bed down and get a few hours, hopefully 4 hours, of sleep. This would all depend on how well we were progressing. Chris and I checked in with each other along the way as to our movement and we were assessing Scott as well and deciding if we may need to bed down prior to Spaulding. since we were moving well, even though darkness had fallen, we kept moving and forging ahead.
As we climbed these beautiful, rugged, technical and brutal mountains the rain was steady. It seemed to be negligent as far as slowing us down much. It was only when the fog rolled in that it seemed to possibly slow us down. It was only seemingly though as we kept a good hard steady pace through the nasty trying weather. There were several times that it became so difficult to see the infamous white blazes. As I lead through the fog, we had to stop to verify we were on trail and had not wondered off. Scott was extremely cautious and conscious of staying on trail. There was one short section of trail where it appeared the Appalation Trail Club had relocated the trail but had not yet fully marked the new location or removed the blazes on the old section so when we realized this was the case we back-backtracked and did both sections to assure we did not go off trail as it is known.
There was a funny occurance on the trail. We passed a lean-to along the way and there was a througo hiker sitting there talking on his cell phone so we ran past and just said hey as we cruised by. He acknowledged with a hey in return. As we got by him he yells out...."Is that Scott Jurek?".....Scott replies...."yes".....but we kept running and I could hear him say to the person on the other end of the phone call...."Holy shit, Scott Jurek just ran by me"..... it was maybe 5 minutes later the hiker caught up to us running. He had run to catch us to hopefully get a photo with Scott. The funny Thing is he ran a long distance on the rugged terrain in a pair of pink crocks. Scott, Chris and I all wondered if he was actually through hiking in pink crocks.
The stretch between Route 4 and Spaulding lean-to was the most difficult. It was mostly in the darknees, in the rain, in the fog and wind. It was a distance of roughly 19-20 miles. We had arrived at Spaulding around 1:30-2:00am. Chris and I had talked about what needed to be done as we got to the lean-to as to be as efficient as possible as to give Scott as much sleep as possible. I would get Scott's food out and ready and get him fed and then get his change of clothes ready for him. Chris would set up his tent and get his sleeping pad, sleeping bag ready for him to just jump in the tent and sleep. Chris then got his tent up and ready. I got my bivy sack and sleeping bag liner that Mike let me borrow prepared to sleep under the stars, but yes, it was raining. Poor planning on my part.
Scott finished eating, changed into dry clothes and bedded down for 4 hours of sleep. Chris also jumped into his tent as 4 hours would pass quickly. I jumped into my bivy and felt good about our journey so far in this section.
It want long after we bedded down that the rain got a bit more intense, this is where it got dicey for me. I was exposed to the elements in my bivy. I was warm and cozy for about an hour and half then the chills started. the next 2 1/2 hours were concerning. I began shivering uncontrollably and had to get up and walk around while trying not to wake anyone. We were not the only ones at the site. The site was packed. The lean-to was literally wall to wall bodies in sleeping bags and there were several tents set up around the site. We actually had to poke around for a somewhat flat area to pitch the tents. My 2 1/2 hours went slowly. I found myself counting the minutes until we set out again, not a good thing when needing sleep. This was the first time I've ever had concern I might become hypothermic. I tried to focus on pleasant things and the section we had ahead and seeing the crew and meeting Joe. It seemed to work and next thing I know it was time to get Scott up and get going again. I was very pleased to be moving and getting warm. It didn't take long to heat up.
We are back on trail and rested and pressing on for roughly another 12-13 miles. It was light out, the sun was peering through the remaining clouds and the day was looking pretty good. We still had Spaulding and Crlocker Mountains to deal with. There were major climbs ahead and brutal technical descents to negotiate.
All three of us were happy to have gotten some sleep and were eager to get through the next few mlies. It seemed to go pretty well and quickly. We had more conversation and chatting along this stretch and enjoyed the beauty. We talked about Maine facts and why we call it Vacationland. We discussed other beautiful areas of Maine worthy of a visit, its coastline and islands, light houses and cities. Before we knew it, we were descending to Route 16/27 Check point. It was a brutal and very difficult descent as many areas it was necessary to slide down portions on our butts due to its steepness and technicality, although, we moved through this very well and quickly without incident.
We had reached the check point. Chris and I had asked what Scott what he needed or wanted prior to the check point and we conveyed that to the crew when we got there. We get Scott to the crew van and it was amazing to see the excitement he had to see his new crew of Topher, Kim and Krissy. He seemed to have found a burst of energy that the rugged wilderness had stripped away. He now seemed energized and ready to get back at it. Chris and I then let the crew know how it went and what we encountered and how Scott appeared to be doing. The crew was right on top of it and working to assess Scott and be ready for the next long stretch.
The first thing I noticed was Iron Joe standing there and how many people were in the parking area. Many had come to meet Scott and have a phot op. Just before Scott headed out he took a minute to have his picture with his fans. Joe then approached me and shook my hand and we had a quick bro hug and asked if I needed anything....he then pointed out that Rebecca and Ally had traveled to the check point and were awaiting our arrival. I walked up to the parking area and greeted them with hugs as it was so awesome to see my friends and teammates coming out to support Scott and the Trail Monsters. To my amazement and surprise they had filled a cooler with food, drinks and ice for me. I was so happy. They set up a chair and had me sit and eat and enjoy the food and I totally enjoyed chatting with them and sharing the moment. They insisted I keep the cooler and its contents which came in handy throughout the remainder of the adventure. It definitely got plenty of use. They soon left the check point as they were going to they and hike ahead if Scott and see him on the trail and then do their own hike. I am so grateful for my friends.
Joe was the perfect person/Ultra runner to assist the crew and Guide Scott through this terrain as he was most familiar with it. We all sat and discussed the trail, terrain, driving navigation, logging road restrictions, gates and timing, nights and days they would be on the trail and any other logistics and restrictions that could pose an issue. A plan was set in place and everyone was on board. It was great to work with Tof, Kim and Jenny. Everyone was very professional and calculated in their thoughts and scheduling the remainder of the run in hopes to get Scott to the record, but ultimately it was up to Scott.
It was hear that I discussed with Scott’s crew that I am there to help in anyway, although, my main concern at that point was to crew and care for Joe. It would be extremely important that I be there for Joe. He would need someone to make sure he has all he needs to make it through the sections he would be running, stay fed, stay hydrated and be happy. Basically not have to worry about much at all. My job as his teammate was to keep him happy. At this point I really hadn’t had to do much, but that would change soon. More on that subject to come.
We all traveled to Flagstaff Road, Joe in his car, me in mine and Jenny and Kim in the crew van. We got there pretty early so we all took time to catch some sleep, organize our gear, get ready for Krissy and Scott’s arrival and refresh a bit by washing down.
We had plenty of time to chat and get to know each other. We talked about most anything and interest we all had and how the adventure has gone since leaving Georgia. We also discussed how we felt that we needed to crackdown on getting this done as time was seemingly growing short for the record. We decided that we would greet any other through hikers, fans or day hikers and politely mention to them that we have a job to do and time is short so we would keep moving along and not take too much time stopping for conversation or photo’s.
Joe headed back on trail and it seemed like he was gone for a long time. Darkness had come, the crew got a bit more concerned but we knew they were still moving. I kept walking to the trail head on the road, It wasn’t too long after dark that I spotted two headlamps up the mountain, which confused me as there should have been three. Did something happen, did someone get injured, who might it be? Well, those thoughts quickly went away as I saw three dark outlined bodies emerge from the woods onto the gravel road. It appeared Joe’s headlamp was not on, Fewwwwww, thank goodness everyone is here and safe.
Scott was directed to the van and was tended to. Everyone looked great, a bit tired but looked great. Topher was ready to join Krissy as she was going to continue to Caratunk. Krissy had to restock her food, fluids and gear as they knew they would be out there through the night and need to bed down for the night at some point. Both Krissy and Topher laid out all the gear they would need between themselves and Scott and split the load. It wasn’t too long after they arrived that they were ready to get back on the trail. I think Tof knew in his mind that they couldn’t let Scott stay at the check points for extended periods, so he pushed to get going quickly and if they needed to rest it would be done on the trail.
From Flag Staff Road they would hope to make it to a lean-to at Peirce pond during the night. If he couldn't make it that far without sleep they would bed down somewhere on the trail that made sense. They ended up bedding down in a random area for a good sleep period. I can't remember how long but 4-5 hours of sleep comes to mind.
We directed them to the trail head and said our goodbyes and wished them well. The crew then packed up and headed to Caratunk the easy way, on paved or gravel roads, it just didn’t seem right.
While the three of them were on trail the rest of us knew we had to get to the next check point and it was a good distance away. The crew also had to finalize the arrangements for Scott to get across the Kennebec River. They had contacted a local rafting company that could offer canoes and personnel to camp out and wait for Scott to get to the west bank of the Kennebec in Caratunk. of course nobody had any idea how long it would be before Scots arrival. It was estimated it would be in the early hours of the morning.
As Scott, Tof and Krissy were out on trail the rest of the crew gathered and decided we would head right out to Caratunk and I expressed my concern for everyone's safety. We were ALL sleep deprived at this point and it was a long drive on secluded roads in the dark with high probability of seeing large wildlife in the road. I suggested we stay close together and if someone was having trouble staying awake we flash out headlights as to stop and take a break. We ended up stopping twice to get fresh air and stretch out and wake up a bit. The one thing we didn't want was for the crew to be unsafe.
Once we got to Caratunk we ran into Aron Ralston and Walter Edwards. Aron lives in boulder and is friends with Scott and are practically neighbors. Walter is also an old friend of Scotts from Boulder. They flew in to Maine to help Scott to his record breaking goal. At the time, Joe and I realized the company we were in. Scott being a renowned Ultra runner and author, his wife Jenny who I understand is an accomplished climber and runner, Krissy also being a renowned Ultra runner, Tof being the founder of the Mountain Hardware and an accomplished Ultra runner, Kim his wife being an Ultra runner, Aron being the man featured in the film 127 Hours and an accomplished climber, Walter being an Ultra runner and all around great guy. We were in great company but as Joe an me understood, we were all just good people wanting to help an Ultra running friend to a record breaking goal in the Maine wilderness. After we greeted Walter and Aron we immediately found the off road parking for the trail head that was on the east side of the Kennebec then we all set up camp there, some in tents and most in vehicles. At this point Joe and I each had our cars. This was going to be an issue from here on out as we couldn't move two cars ahead so we decided we would get our cars to Monson, the location of the 100 mile wilderness and then we would use my car for the remainder of the trip.
We all got a decent night sleep here. It felt great and was needed as the next few days would be sleep deprivation again.
The morning came, we all awoke and started preparing for the runners arrival. We were now on the east side of the Kennebec awaiting the runners which meant they had to arrive at rivers edge, get into the canoes that were waiting and be portaged across. Kim, who is now the general of the operation, asked that Joe and I go to the river and spot Scott when he gets to the river and let them know. Little did Joe and I know that when we got to the river we would see the canoes waiting on the other side of the river. As we stood there waiting for the gentleman, John, we learned when we met him, would paddle to our side of the river and ask if we were there for Scott Jurek. We answered "Yes". He then said, I can't wait any longer, we expected him here sooner and I have to leave.
At that moment, a bit of panic hit Joe and I because we thought we were losing Scotts transport across the river. But then, John the canoe guy asked...."Do you two want to take the canoe over and paddle them across?" Joe and I looked at each other as though we were kids in a candy store with giant smokes and said "well yeahhhh". John the canoe guy asked if we knew how to paddle. canoe, my response was .... "we live in Maine and if we can't paddle a canoe we shouldn't be living here".
Joe and I then got our life vests on, got into the canoe and paddle to the west side of the river and met up with the other canoe which was handled by Judy. Now Judy looked familiar to me but not sure why. Come to find out Judy has done some ultra running and had raced at Pineland and Big Brad. How ironic is that? We were very excited that we are now involved with getting him across the river. We went from Ultra pacers/runners to canoeist extrodinaire.
Shortly after we chatted, along came Scott, Krissy and Tof from the trail with great excitement and joy to be at the check point. It had been a long night in the wilderness and yet Scott seemed very eager to get into the canoe. He had a smoke like no other time. He got his vest on with a little help and jumped into the front of the canoe and immediately grabbed a paddle and started to paddle which he didn't really need to do but it was great to see him so excited to do something other than run on those gnarley trails. We got across safely, Joe and I pulled the canoes out up on shore as we were directed to do and then caught up to the crew. At the van there was yet another celebration as Scott did not know Aron and Walter would be waiting here for him. Again he had a burst of energy to have new life as old friends and familiar faces join him.
Scott had food, fluids and gear waiting for him at the van as Jenny was always ready with whatever Scott needed and prepared to have his gear and nutrition packed and ready for the next segment as to not waste time getting him back on the trail.
From here Walter and Aron would take Scott through the next section from Caratunk to a road crossing at the head of Moxie Pond, I believe Troutdale Road, roughly 9-10 miles. The travel to this check point was obviously getting more difficult as we traveled on the back country logging roads. There were areas that my little silver Ford Fiesta was having some difficulty, but I kept her moving and didn’t look back. It was a long drive on these logging roads and it was getting more and more remote. It was always interesting traveling behind several other vehicles that were creating a massive dust cloud to a point that you literally held onto the steering wheel and prayed you stayed on the road. After this 6 day adventure my windshield was pitted and my windshield wipers were destroyed. We finally began seeing more signs of inhabitance as camps begun appearing and before we knew it we had found the trail crossing the road.
There was a tiny parking are so a few of us had to park on the road and hoped that the logging trucks were not using this particular area on this day. This crossing was extremely pleasant. It was adjacent to a wide rocky stream crossing with the sound of running waters that were music to the ear.
We all gathered and started preparing for the runners arrival and setting up our gear as we had done so many time before. It was becoming second nature already as it was a systematic habit. It was decided that Joe and Aron would be up next for pacing with Scott. They would get him to the road crossing just outside of Monson at the Shirley Road. That would be roughly a 12-13 mile segment. I worked with Joe to get him ready and geared up. As we all waited we watched the camera crew set up for filming and photos for the crossing of the rocky stream, Baker Stream to be exact. The camera crew had set up a cable across the stream to attach a camera that would be on pulleys and roll along as the runners jumped from rock to rock across the stream. This was pretty awesome. There was a film crew and a camera crew. It was amazing to me that they moved so quickly through the wilderness with all the gear they had to carry and they always seemed to appear out of nowhere like trail ghosts in the woods. Their presence was hardly noticed most of the time.
Ok, now things got a bit interesting. It was the first time that I felt helpless as far as needing help in transporting Joes car to Monson and I had no clue how I would get both his car and my car to the Monson trail crossing. It was there that Joe and I decided to leave his car until the end of the adventure.
We all nudged Scott, Joe and Aron onward, they crossed the stream one by one and disappeared into the thick trees on the other side of the stream as we sent them hoots and hollers of encouragement. They looked like children jumping across the rocks and it looked like fun. We all laughed and thought the same thing……we all wanted to be out there running, but we had work to do. We had to navigate our way to Shirley Road.
I now had to refocus my efforts in finding someone to drive Joes car to Monson. I approached Hunter, the film crew chief and asked if one of his staff would be able to transport Joes car to Monson. With a bit of persuasion, he agreed, what a relief that was. It would have been a logistical nightmare to leave Joe’s car there and not know if it would be there when we returned! They were headed that way anyway, but it was risky for them. If the car had broken down or if something major happened it would cause a problem as Hunter needed ALL his staff. I assured him this was the only time I would have to ask for his help, and it was.
It was time to head to Shirley Road. I was very familiar with these roads as this was my region for work. I travel these roads often and know short cuts. Getting to Monson was not an issue. Scott’s crew headed into town to find a place to get some rest then bunk down for some sleep. They found a bed & Breakfast I believe that was also a place where through hikers typically stay on their way through. I decided to head to the road crossing and check out the situation there. This particular crossing was tight for space and it was on a blind curve in the road, so it was going to be dicey at best for many vehicles. There was a small off-road parking area for day hikers about a quarter of a mile away, but this would not work well for getting Scott and crew at the trail crossing.
While I was there scoping things out several great things happened. I met a gentleman and his daughter that were trying to meet up with Scott. They had heard of his travels on the AT and they lived in Monson so they were trying to connect with him. As I introduced myself and we chatted, they informed me they had seen Scott and pacers at a prior road crossing that they were familiar with. So they waited for him and managed to see him and get a photo with him. The Daughter was so excited and happy to have net him. They informed me he was on his way and it was about 6 miles to go. I continued to wait. I moved my car into the off-road parking for day hikers and got my gear situated and assessed what I still had for food, water and supplies for both Joe and I. I had stopped at a local Subway on the way and picked up sandwiches for Joe and I. I knew he would be hungry after running this stretch and I thought a fresh vegetarian subway sandwich might hit the spot.
As I waited for the runners a couple pulled into the parking area. I thought they might be looking to do some hiking before dark as it was getting close to sunset. I quickly figured out that they did not notice me in my car and that they were there for a private meeting for a little nooky. Hahahaha. I got out of my car and closed the door and the festivities stopped. I was actually going to give them some privacy and walk back to the trail crossing but they decided to leave and most likely find a better place to hang out.
I was due to run the next segment with Scott, roughly an 8 mile section. I later learned that Jenny was going to join us as well as she hadn’t run at all through Maine yet with her hubby. Although, I had mentioned that I would not be offended if she opted to run alone with him for the eight miles. I think that may have been the original plan and I didn’t want to be the third wheel. It ended up that Jenny would run alone with Scott. It was her time to have privacy and spend alone time with him and I later learned that she was assessing how he was and what he really was feeling and needed. Jenny is a great motivator, so I am sure she discussed how Scott could get this done if he really wants it.
The other awesome thing that happened at this location was unexpected. I was walking to the trail head when I see a van driving by. It passed me and then turned around and came back. To my amazement, it was The Raymond family, yup, Linda, Jamie and kiddos. They were spending the weekend at Moosehead and decided to take a ride in hopes to see Scott Jurek. Well, they found the right place as he was due to hit that road crossing within a few hours. We talked for a while and waited together and then they decided to hike back on trail to see if they could meet up with him. It was right at that moment that Jenny and Kim showed up and asked that I gear up and run back on trail to meet the runners with fluids and get information from them as to what Scott wanted when he gets to the van.
As I ran back on trail I met the Raymonds as they hiked. They were headed back to there car as they hit a wide deep stream crossing that was too much to cross. I said my hellos and said I would see them at the road crossing when I returned.
I ran back on trail for roughly 40-45 minutes before seeing Scott, Joe and Aron. Aron got a kick out my red bandana that I typically wear on my hydration pack. He said it looked like a flag waving in the wind. It ended up being a visual cue as to they were near the next check point for the remainder of the adventure. Everyone was in good spirits and looking good, but again very tired. It has begun getting dark and that brings on the thoughts of sleeping. Not always a good thing when trying to break a fastest known time on the AT.
We exited the woods and went right to the van, Scott wanted to assess his feet and eat and clean up a bit before heading out again. This stop would be a little longer in time than others. This gave me opportunity to take care of Joe. I informed him that I would not be heading out on the next section as planned as Jenny is going to go with Scott alone as to have some private time together. I walked with Joe to my car which was away from the hoopla at the van. I gave him his sandwich, an odwalla drink and made sure he was taken care of. He changed and cleaned up a bit and we decided once Scott hits the trail again we would drive to the Monson AT Trail head to get some sleep. Joe was excited to stretch out in his car and sleep!
We hung out with the Raymonds and cheered Scott and Jenny on as they began their 8 mile run to Monson. We thanked the Raymonds for coming out and supporting us all, hugged and we wished them a fantastic weekend camping at Moosehead and then we set out for Monson ourselves.
It was night time and Joe and I were both pretty tired. Sleep would be awesome. Although, we had a little snag. When we arrived at the Monson AT trail head Joe’s car was there, wow what a relief that the camera crew actually got it there. The only issue was they didn’t leave the key!!! Oh no, all of Joes cloths, sleeping gear, food, and belongings were in the car and the camera crew was nowhere to be found. I had Hunter’s cell number so I tried calling without an answer as the coverage was very sparse. I left messages asking if they could get us the key but they were too far away and were all getting sleep and they wouldn’t have the key to us until the morning.
Here we would wait for Scott and Jenny to arrive and then get some sleep. We could see there headlamps through the trees as they made their way to the parking lot, we cheered them on with some local folks that had come out to see Scott and get a photo with him. They arrived roughly at 1:30 am. It was decided that Scott really needed some sleep, he was not functioning well, so 5 hours of sleep would be given here. I realized Scott was the luckiest guy alive when he sat down in a chair, had his feet tended to by Krissy, Kim and Jenny prepared a sponge bath for him and he was bathed by the women before he changed and retired to the van for some sleep. We all went to our vehicles and slept until 3-4am.
Well, it ended up Joe and I slept in my tiny little Fiesta. Joe was due to begin the 100 mile wilderness in the morning and it was critical that he get rest. I gave Joe everything I had for him to be comfortable but how comfortable can you get sleeping in a packed full Ford Fiesta? Well, I can honestly say from experience now……you can’t get comfortable. I think Joe managed to get a bit of sleep, but I felt terrible he couldn’t get into his Subaru station wagon where he would have been more comfy. Well it ended up we slept but not well. The morning came and we were up fairly early, before sunrise. I started up my gas stove, made Joe coffee, oatmeal and anything else he would of wanted to get some food in him before setting out on the 100 mile wilderness.
It was at this point Joe was a bit taken back from all of my help. He is used to doing things solo. We ended up having a discussion about this. I had to convey to him that I was out there for him and that was my sole duty was to take care of him through the next several days as he was a critical part of Scott getting through the 100 mile wilderness. I had to let him know that I HAD to be there as Scott’s crew was not going to crew for him, understandably, and he needed someone there (Me) to make sure he is taken care of for food, fluids, transporting, support and anything else he needed. Joe finally understood that this had to be a team effort. Everything was cool after that morning. We both knew we each had our own responsibility and we didn’t have to discuss it again.
Joe was ready to get the 100 mile wilderness started, you could feel his excitement. He was totally ready to get it done. He and Walter would head up the push for the first section. I know this section was through some tough terrain as Joe and I had discussed this prior. I will be honest, as far as who was pacing with Scott and when, I cannot remember!!! I was so focused on taking care of Joe, getting through the logging roads, not destroying my car in the process, and running back on trail each check point and trying to sleep in between, I kind of lost track of who was doing what and when. Sorry I lost that detail.
The first 50 miles of the wilderness has a lot of climbing, Little Wilson, Big Wilson, Barren, Chairback, Gulf Hagus…..some brutally technical terrain. I only did some running back on trail through the entire 100 mile wilderness and I had a sense of what the runners were going through. It was going to be difficult. There would be multiple check points here. There were many logging road crossings that could be accessed but it was privately owned logging roads that had gated areas where a fee was involved for access and they had time constraints as to when you could come and go through the gated areas. This was going to be a challenge to say the least. The questions were…..Are the logging roads in good shape to travel? Were there areas that could not be accessed? Will Scott be at certain check points in time so we could get into the logging roads and get out when needed? Do we have enough supplies to make it through the wilderness section?
All of these questions would be answered on the fly during 100 mile wilderness.
The next check point would not come until Kahtadin Iron Works Road crossing. This was a very beautiful stream crossing as well. There was. nice wood bridge at this location and it was a drop to the stream from the bridge. We had the crew of Jenny, Kim, Aron, Joe and Myself at this check point waiting for Scott, Krissy and Tof, Walter. We again prepared our gear for the next leg. Joe and Aron would be next up to be on trail with Scott.
As we waited we had time to organize the gear in the cars and assess our food, fluids and needs for the next section. We also dried out our clothes, shoes and sleeping bags by placing them in the sun. As we mulled around just talking and having a little fun we joked around a bit and had interesting conversation. This was a chance for Joe and I to get to know Aron. Until now we really didn't have much opportunity to talk much or get to know him. I broke the ice with Aron by joking around with him, which I thought might have mortified Joe.
I wanted to find out if we could exist as open and forward friends for the remainder of the trip. It was a risk to joke about Aron's experience of losing his hand, but I wanted to get a reaction from him either way which would set how we would treat each other from here on out. Aron was filling his hydration pack and I asked if he needed a hand, jokingly of course, but he didn't know me at all so I want sure how he would take it. His response would set the tone for our time together. He simply responded......"Ahhh, I know right where I left my hand, I just can't get it" and then called me wise ass and we moved onto other joking. I knew at that moment he was cool with us and we were definitely cool with him. We were there for the same reasons....to get Scott to his goal.
We also met a large group of hikers that were on trail for a few weeks. They were all between the ages of 15-17 other than several older guys that were the responsible guides. They were all friends from a summer camp/school and were on this adventure for the summer. They were waiting for a supply delivery to restock their supplies and then they were off again. They did decide to wait for Scott to arrive and have a picture with him.
Scott, Krissy, Tof and Walter arrived. The heat of day had set in and it was quite warm. Scott took little time here. He ate, restocked food, fluids and off he Joe and Aron went. Now it was time for some fun. The crew decided not to let this beautiful clean refreshing stream go without a visit. Everyone stripped down and jumped in the stream to clean off the last few days if trail and just soak in the nice cool waters. It was a good feeling to get clean and refreshed.
We were now getting into areas that would be gated for entering or exiting the logging lands that were owned by the logging companies. Typically these areas are only open from 6-7am until 9-10pm depending on the gate you are at the schedule the gate keepers maintain. There is also a fee associated for entering the land…$12 for out-of-staters and $7 for Maine Residents. These areas were going to be a difficult issue. It all depended on how Scott was moving along and when he would arrive at the decided check points. If the timing was not right on, there was a strong possibility that the crew could be locked out of an area they wanted to access or locked into an area they wanted to get out of!!!!! The Gate keepers timeframes are pretty firm, although, a few gate keepers are willing to bend the rules a bit if you are willing to come up with some $$$$.
It ended up that one of the remote gates that we had to pass through to get back out of the gated areas was operated by remote from the gate house and you have to pick up the phone located at the gate and ask to be let out of the area. They do this remotely. Well, when we got to this gate, called the gate keeper and they said they would open the gate. We waited with the camera crew for quite some time. We called the gate keeper a second time. He tried to open the gate again, with no success. He then gave us a few options. 1.) Wait until he can drive there and he will take the arm of the gate off as he will bring tools or 2.) If we have tools, we remove the gate ourselves! We removed it ourselves and passed through the gate, but we were also instructed to replace the gate after we passed!!!! Yup, this is Maine and this is how it works in logging territory.
This seemed to be a popular area for local fisherman, fourwheelers and campers. We had several four wheeler's cruise by, a few of them younger with their parents following behind in there four wheel drive truck. Then several other trucks came by with folks looking to go fishing. All were wandering why WE were out there. As we explained, they had no idea it was going on and thought we were absolutely crazy but thought we were awesome to be out there supporting a runner through this wilderness.
There was another check point in the 100 mile wilderness that we had traveled to and I can’t remember the exact area. I believe it was prior the Joe Mary Road. We had traveled to a logging road crossing near a State campsite. It was hear that I had decided to get some sleep and ducked into my car and fell asleep. I’m not sure how long I had been sleeping to be awoken by a knocking on my window of the car. When I opened my eyes, I saw Colin, a Trail Monster teammate standing beside my car! I really thought I was dreaming! Here we were out in the most remote places on the face of the Maine terrain on the 100 mile wilderness and what would Colin be doing here? It took me a second, but it was really him. He had traveled from Portland to try and meet up with Scott on the journey. He brought vegan donuts with him to give to Scott. The crew later told me they loved that Colin had made the trip and loved the donuts. While Colin was there, he and I ran/hiked some of the trail looking for a possible spring that was shown on the maps or a good source of water to refill our water jugs, we did not find a good source there. Colin stayed long enough to see Scott roll into the check point and then headed back out of the wilderness. It was awesome to see him and have a teammate travel all that distance to check in with everyone. He also, let me borrow some gear as it would be useful to have.
The runners arrived, quickly got what they needed and pressed on. Immediately after leaving where we had parked they had a wide stream crossing. We all went down to the stream to watch them cross. There was to be another check point, although, I could not get my car into it due to it being unpassable to anything other than a fourwheelers drive. It was decided once we all were waiting at Kahtadin Iron Works Road that my car Aron's rental car would not make it to several of the check points that were scoped out ahead of time. The plan would be that Joe and I and Aron would drive our vehicles to Millinocket to get food and supplies that were needed as we were not going to have any other opportunity to stop at any place for supplies as we were heading into extreme remote areas.
We traveled to Millinocket. The issue, it was late and most stores were closed. So, we stopped at a pizza place to get ourselves fed as we had plenty if time. It was quite a dive but the folks working that night were cool and got our food ready quickly and it really didn't matter as we needed a good meal. It was pizza, spaghetti, bread and drinks. As we sat there waiting for the food to be ready Aron spied the “Katahdin Hotel” adjacent to the pizza place parking lot. He suggested that he rent a room and we stay there for 8 hours of sleep. Joe and I were hesitant as we didn't want to miss Scott at the check point at Joe Mary Road. We then thought that getting some rest would be good as it may be our last opportunity. Aron was really adamant about getting 8 hours of sleep, but that was just not going to happen. We took advantage of having a nice hot shower, ate our hot food, chatted for quite some time getting to know each other and then got caught some Z’s.
We got a good night sleep and I was up early and got everyone up for breakfast at the hotel then we needed to get supplies which was the purpose we had traveled into Millinocket. After the Dunkin donuts coffee and hot chocolate and energy drinks we were also asked to pick up, just in case they were absolutely needed. We traveled back to the wilderness to meet the others at Joe Mary Road.
It is here where the rest of the 100 Mile Wilderness gets a bit fuzzy. I believe this how the events took place. I did not get any pictures from Joe Mary Road to Abol Bridge road crossing so I can’t rely on photos to jog my failing memory.
I believe once we got to Joe Mary Road crossing, we, Joe and I stayed until Scott and his pacers came into the check point. We then waited until he was ready to head back out on trail and Joe and I decided that it would be a long stretch from Joe Mary Road crossing to Abol Bridge for Scott and his fresh pacers so we made a decision to travel back to Monson to get his car and then drive to Abol Bridge at the trail crossing there. We were knew it would take some time for Scott to get there and the plan was to get him some much needed sleep before the final push to Baxter Peak in the morning.
Joe and I headed back to Monson. We both had the same thoughts as we were driving as we both hoped that his car was still there after all this time hoping it hadn’t been towed, broken into or some other foolish thing done to it. It was a long drive to Monson but it was really the only time available for us to get his car unless we waited until the end of the adventure. Speaking of that…….
Joe and I both figured that when we reached Abol bridge we would no longer be needed to help with the pacing or getting Scott through the 100 mile wilderness. We had decided in our minds that our time with Scott and our newfound friends would be over. He would have more than enough people to get him to the Summit. Joe and I were completely prepared that the journey was done at Abol Bridge. We had even spoken of how nice it would be to get back home after being out in the wilderness and that we would most likely stop in Millinocket for food before heading home.
Our trip to Monson and back to Abol did not go without issue or incident. There was a stop along the way for food at a little pizza shop in a town I can’t remember, but I bet Joe will remember as he called his wife from there to let her know where we were and how everything was going. After a good meal we hit the road as it was going to be very late when we were due to pull into Abol and we needed some sleep. We made it back to the parking area at the AT crossing in Monson and Joe’s car was safe and in great condition, that was a relief. It was crunch time to get to Abol. We would be traveling on some of the most remote roads in the state. They were long, wide and dusty gravel logging roads…..I believe we drove into Greenville and took the Lily Bay Road to Kokadjo then the Greenville Road to the Golden Road. Abol Bridge is actually on the Golden Road so we had to get to the Golden road.
This night was seemingly the darkest night I had ever seen, the stars were extremely bright when the dust c louds settled on the dusty gravel roads we were traveling. These roads were also the most secluded roads one might ever travel. When traveling at night there is high probability of seeing large wildlife, bears, moose, deer, lynx, bobcat, fox……traveling on these roads at night can be very dangerous. Not only hazard of hitting animals but also vehicle breakdowns. There is rarely any cell service so calling AAA is not an option, and if you had cell phone coverage, AAA would just laugh at you if you called them and tried to explain where you were.
I mention vehicle break downs for a reason. These roads are pretty decent roads for gravel roads but they do have areas where they have washouts, deep ruts, large rocks that have heaved up from winter frost. These are logging roads so they are not maintained often as the logging trucks can navigate them much more efficiently that a Subaru station wagon or a Ford Fiesta. We had a little issue as we traveled on the Lily Bay Road. As we were traveling and trying to avoid and hazards you just couldn’t help but hit a few rocks or ruts. I was leading, as for some reason I was actually getting satellite GPS and was able to navigate in the darkness with my GPS. Joe was cruising behind me but keeping a safe distance as the dust clouds made it very difficult to see if you were following another car.
I would keep his headlights in my sights. As we were somewhere on the Lily Bay Road I realized that I no longer saw Joe’s headlights, so I slowed. Still no headlights, so I stopped. Still no headlights, so I waited. Still no headlights, so I turned around and headed back to see if he stopped to pee or maybe had to stop for another reason. As I traveled back to where I came from I finally saw Joe’s headlights but as I approached, I was shocked and amazed and deeply concerned as to what I saw. Joe had his head lamp on and he was standing next to his car and picking up pieces that had been knocked off his car!!!!!
All I could think for a split second is “What the hell did he hit?”, It turns out he had a blow out, his tire blew out from what he thought was a rock protruding from the gravel and he couldn’t avoid it!!! As I got out of my car and accessed Joe’s car it appeared his tired exploded. It literally stripped his car of mud flaps, body panels and left rubber everywhere along the road. I had concerns his rim may be destroyed but it didn’t matter as we needed to replace that rim with the donut spare tire he had for his spare. This is where the fun started; Joe didn’t have a wrench for the jack or a lug wrench to remove his tire. Luckily my lug wrench and jack wrench worked out but then my main concern was when I asked Joe if the spare had air in it, he was not sure. We were going to have to place it on the car and lower the car before we knew.
I mentioned to Joe that when I have my tires rotated every Oil Change I have then check the spare for air pressure as well because they won’t do it unless you ask them.
The moment of truth, the flat tire is off, the donut tire is on, we crank the jack down, keeping our fingers crossed……Ooooo, Oooooo, Oooooo, oh no, as the car put weight on the donut tire it was not looking good, it was definitely not at the required pressure. It was not completely flat and seemingly had enough air in it that we felt we would just have to drive slowly and be extremely careful of other hazards in the road. We gathered all the car parts and rubber from the road, threw then in Joe’s car and decided from hear he should lead as I will follow in case something else happens so I don’t lose him. We continued on with a questionable tire at a low rate of speed and now I was knocking on wood, crossing my fingers and resorted to praying that nothing else happens.
We managed to get to the Abol Bridge. We passed the trail head but didn’t see the crew van or vehicles and we were surprised they were not there. Joe knew of a large gravel Parking lot directly across from the campground building so we continued there. We pulled in and set up for the night to sleep in our cars. I know that Joe was very happy to have his car and be able to stretch out and sleep better than the cramped quarters of my Ford Fiesta. After we freshened up, washed down and got comfortable, it wasn’t long before we were sleeping, at least for me as soon as I closed my eyes, I was in dreamland. We set our watches for 3am as the plan was to give Scott sleep when he gets to Abol, but have him up and moving at 5am to give him a solid 12 hours to get to the summit from Abol. Joe and I had discussed this with Scott’s crew that 12 hours is a realistic amount of time to make sure he can get to the summit but that would make the record very close. Very close!
Joe and I were up at 3am, we gathered ourselves, ate some food we had in my cooler, pulled some of our gear together in the hopes they may ask/invite us to climb to the summit with them. It was nearly 5am as we walked to the Abol Bridge to see if everyone was up and going but to our surprise everyone was sleeping and there was barely any movement from the crew camp. They had obviously arrived at the Abol Bridge very late in the night. There were tents set up all along the road, between all the crew vehicles and other cars of people that had come to see Scott. Joe and I were a bit baffled as we thought Scott would be up and ready to go at 5am?
It wasn’t long before there was movement. Luis and Chris, Camera crew, were beginning to awake to prepare for the day in taking pictures and documenting the climb to the summit. We greeted them as Joe and I were happy to see them again. As we chatted quietly as the others still slept we asked if the plan had changed. Luis informed us that Scott had some rough going in the last section. He actually had stopped along the trail and told Topher, who was pacing with him at the time, that he is done and the record is gone, it would just be a hike from there. Tof being and Ultra runner himself said one thing to Scott. He said….”Scott, you either want the record, or you don’t. If you want the record you can’t quit now, if you don’t then we’re done”. Now this is what we were told from Luis and Chris and I imagine they were out on trail with them at the time.
As we were told, as Scott approached Abol Bridge he was very adamant about getting some good sleep so the crew agreed to give him a few hours than planned. It turned out that Scott began leaving Abol Bridge roughly at 7am. Joe and I both expressed to each other that it is going to be close. We both knew that Scott and the crew were not clear as to the terrain ahead to climb to the summit but we stayed in the background as we thought we were not going to be part of the climbing group.
As everyone awoke and people started rolling out of their tents and cars I noticed some unfamiliar faces. We were introduced to Andrew Drummond and his wife who had traveled to Abol the day before and climbed to the summit then descended to run back on trail to meet up with Scott as they had run with him for portions of the NH AT. They were all great people and fun to be on the trail with. There were also other unfamiliar faces but it turns out that they were fans and campers that were staying at the Abol Camp ground and they were hoping to see Scott begin his trek up Katahdin.
It was a perfect day; it started out a bit cool but warmed up nicely but not too humid. Joe and I mulled around for a short time and we were approached by Kim and Krissy and Jenny. We told them that we were assuming that our journey was done at this point and we were planning to head home. They seemed surprised by this and asked why we were not going to climb with them to the summit!!! Well, it didn’t take a second for Joe and me to hustle back to the cars and re-pack our packs and be ready to join in the last leg of the adventure. It was going to be an amazing finish and triumphant accomplishment, but we had to get him up that mountain quickly.
It’s roughly 7am and we are off and running, and I mean running. The stretch from Abol Bridge to the head of Hunt Trail is fairly runnable and quite pleasant, almost like a plush carpet compared to what the last 5 days had been like. It would be 6.2 miles of great, easy, scenic, beautiful, pleasant running until we get to Katahdin Stream Campground where Hunt trail and the real work began.
The group would split in two. It would be Scott, Aron, Walter, Andrew, Joe and I that would run from Abol Bridge to the Katahdin Stream Campground and the remainder of the crew, Jenny, Kim, Tof, Krissy, Andrew’s Wife would drive the crew vehicles there as to have the final check point before the rugged climb to the summit. The Camera and film crews would also drive to the campground along with any others that wanted to be part of the last crew check point. Joe and I were so excited about being asked to join the group we didn’t put much thought into how we would get back to our cars when we had to descend. We figured, worst case, we would be running back. Best case we would be hitching a ride from someone that would be heading back to Abol. Either way we didn’t care.
The run from Abol to the campground was a run of fun, chatting, moving quickly, enjoying the terrain, taking in the scenery but we knew it could not be one of relaxation or rest. Time was short and the record was going to be close. We had some amazing discussions, reflections and emotional moments. This was it, we were on our way. We stopped along the way as we had a great view of the mountain and it was cool to stop and say….”Scott, there it is, that’s where we are heading”
The run to Katahdin Stream Campground will be a memorable time for me as it was a humbling feeling to have spent this time on the AT with such amazing people and new friends. We all had a common interest, common goal, and common connection. Beautiful streams, waterfalls, trails, views, ponds, sunshine, it seemed as though everything had awaken to greet us seemingly like nature knew we were coming and wanted to let us know we are nearing our destination.
Okay, let’s get to the camp ground.
We had reached the Katahdin Stream Campground. It was great to see the remainder of the crew and campers at the campground. Some of Scott’s fans were there. The film and camera crews were there as well with the producer as he had traveled to see Scott prior to his final climb.
We all prepared for the climb ahead, carried all the gear we thought we might need, but we carried light as not to weigh us down so we could climb light, easy and quickly. Joe and I stashed extra water under some shrubs at the camp ground for the return trip so we would have extra fluids waiting for our run back to Abol if that needed to happen. Scott was being taken care of at the van as Andrews wife was a physical therapist and was working on his back which has become slightly uncomfortable. It wasn’t long before we gathered as a group to give a last huddle and a few words of encouragement to finish this thing.
Joe and I were packing light. It was pretty much a light weight jacket, full bladder for me and full water bottles for Joe. We were asked to carry a change of warmer clothes for Scott for the summit as it will most likely be windy and cooler at the top and were happy to do it. As we gathered we were approached by a Ranger asking if we wanted to sign the Hiker Registration book as to his arrival at the campground. It was an exciting moment as it seemed to validate his journey officially and he would be listed as a through hiker/runner completing the entire AT. It was a monumental moment……..It was a bitter sweet moment.
It had been 6 days assisting Scott and his crews and it was nearly at its ending. I wasn’t really confused as to how I felt. I was feeling excited he would most likely reach his record breaking goal, I felt sad this amazing journey was going to end, I felt happy, honored and very fortunate to be there for this once in a life time opportunity. Nevertheless we still had 5.5 miles to get to the summit and it wasn’t going to be easy for a man that had just traversed over 200 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
Andrew and his wife set out 20 minutes earlier as they wanted to climb ahead of the group. The camera and film crews had begun their ascent 20 minutes before that as to get to areas where they could get good scenic and mountainous photos of the group and Scott making his way up. Now the group of Scott, Jenny, Tof, Kim, Krissy, Aron, Walter, Joe, me, Hunter and one other film person headed to the trail head. There we were met by two other rangers. They asked that we wait for a few minutes to allow the group that had just recently began their ascent to create a little space on the trail ahead of us. This gave Scott time to sign in the group at the trail head. Scott signed us all in himself and now we were ready to get this climb going. Hi Ho, Hi Ho it’s up this mountain we go.
It was a happy and exciting time, the group was talking a lot, having fun and stopping periodically to make sure Scott was eating and we were all taking in fluids and nutrition. These periodic stops were starting to worry Joe and me as they became times to have mini celebrations and they seemed to be taking more time each time we stopped. We both thought that the record pace was slowing and it was getting closer and closer to the current record time but we pressed on as Joe and I tried to stay in the back ground.
This was a Sunday, a Sunday of special significance for Joe and I. The Trail Monster Running Clubs Dirt Series 6 mile Scuffle race was being run this day. I usually volunteer or run these races so I was feeling sad I was not going to be there for my teammates to cheer them on or running and not being able to be there to help them mark the course and set up the venue for the race. I did realize that I was on an adventure to help another Ultra running friend to a different goal and that was the focus.
It felt amazing that our teammates and friends were supporting us through their thoughts while we were away. As we all made our way up the Hunt Trail, I looked at my watch and I was surprised that I happened to look at my watch at nearly the exact time our club race was due to start. It was 9:04am. I quickly said…..Joe, do you know what time it is”?, He said “yes, its 9:04”. I said…..”No, it’s Scuffle start time; they are just beginning the Scuffle at this very moment”. We both sent positive vibes back home for everyone to run well, run safe and to have lots of fun.
The journey began to feel like a dream. Are we really here? Is this really happening? Will this record be broken? The push up the mountain was beautiful, sunny, perfect weather and the beauty was heightened by our excitement of the grandeur of the adventure. As we continued to climb, the terrain was becoming more technical with Maines infamous glacial deposits, large jagged granite type boulders that were becoming increasingly more difficult to traverse. We had stopped for breaks a few more times and I felt time was becoming short as we had not reached the most difficult sections of this climb.
We had passed Owl Trail and had some very steep sections of climbing ahead. I decided it was time to discuss with Tof and Krissy that we cannot continue to stop so frequently, it was taking valuable time off the clock. I informed them that we had much more difficult areas that would slow us down naturally as there were some Class III hand over hand traversing that would be difficult for Scott on weary legs to maneuver. I also showed Krissy some pics of similar terrain from my recent trip to Baxter with Mike Carbone. I think it was at that point we did not stop again unless it was to urinate of course.
Along the way we met through hikers, day hikers, fans and park trail workers. We did not stop often, although, Scott did take the opportunity to take pictures a few times with others as it is what he does and enjoys about this journey. He admires the hikers and what they are doing. “Have a great Journey” was a common phrase that I heard from Scott to other hikers. It didn’t matter if they were out there for the day or had been out on trail for months, it was always a positive comment about how awesome they were for doing what they do.
We reached the Gateway and everyone thought the summit looked far away and the terrain, now being above tree line, seemed exposed and totally gnarly, which it was! Lots of hopping around, hand climbing with long reaches and precise hand and foot placements. There were several areas of utilizing iron bars that had been set into the boulders to use as leverage to traverse difficult steep areas. “It may look far off, but its only 2 miles; we just need to keep moving.” Once we got passed The Gateway we got to a plateau. From there we could sight the summit of Baxter Peak to the west. It seemed like it was so far off. This area was not as difficult. Movement seemed to pick up here, well, that’s how it felt at the time.
I could feel the excitement building with every stride, closer, closer, yet closer we got. We passed groups of hikers in this area. A large group of girls that made human arbor that we passed under while they cheered and sung a real energy booster for sure. We passed a group of trail workers dressed in yellow hardhats and worker jump suits, they all looked the same. They were placing string-line on the trail in vegetated areas to keep hikers off the vegetation and it appeared they were also doing some type of study.
The summit is so close; we can actually pick out human forms on the summit. It appears there are many awaiting Scotts arrive. We can hear the cheering; it’s getting louder and louder with every stride. I wanted to take in the beauty of this moment so I snapped a few pictures of the mountain around us but kept my eye on the group. We are in our final 200 yards, the cheers are erupting, clapping is sounding off, whistles of support ring in the air, I look at my watch….”Yes, he’s going to do it, he’s going to get the record”.
It would be the last final steps. The group backs off; even Jenny pulls back a bit. It was Scott’s time to run to his final stop, his final push to his record. He gets to the sign and embraces the sign and kisses it. I wondered what was going through his mind at that very second but only he would know. Jenny joins in quickly as both she and Scott embrace and celebrate. It was Jenny’s birthday this day and she was sharing her special day with her husband’s special day and maybe we all knew this was a special moment more than we all knew.
The crew and fans were all celebrating in our own way at that point. For me, I needed to congratulate my awesome teammate and amazing friend Joe. He was the first I sought out. I embraced him and congratulated him for his incredible tenacity and endurance in getting everyone through the 5 days he was on this journey. I learned much about Iron Joe and spending 6 days on a journey that challenges you in ways that most can’t imagine. In my mind Iron Joe IS the Maine Ultra Running Legend that I read about. Joe, it was a pleasure and an honor to have stayed by your side through this incredible journey. It will be a part of me forever. I will forever be humbled.
After Joe and I celebrated we congratulated all the others in the crew. It was a time of reflection and celebration. Scott was handed a bottle of champagne that another hiker had carried to the summit. He shook the bottle and then popped the top and champagne shot into the air as the crowd cheered with support of his accomplishment. Many shared in the ceremonial toast to Scott.
Soon Scott sat at the base of the Katahdin sign and seemed to just melt into the moment. He asked if there were any other hikers wanting to get to the sign. There were several that had climbed to the summit that day. Scott moved aside to give them their time as well.
Scott then sat in front of the crowd of people and questions began to erupt. How was the journey? What was the most difficult? Will you do it again? What’s next on your plate? We listened to his answers and thoughts and his explanation of how he was feeling at that very moment. It is a time that I will never forget. We all stood so silently awaiting his every response as to almost relive his journey vicariously. The wind was blowing; it was getting cooler by the moment as we had stopped our constant moving forward and just making our feet go one in front of the other. We all pulled our lightweight jackets out and put them on.
I was so happy that Scott had done it, but I had other worries and concerns that I expressed to his crew. I approached Jenny and Krissy and told them I had concerns of their descent back to the campground. I explained it was the only way to get back and it wasn’t going to be easy. Scott had just run over 2000 miles and his body has just now had time to settle, cool and come down from the last 46+ days of constant stimulation and pushing. It is a natural come down and he is going to be weary, tired and stiff for the descent. It will be very slow and methodical. I felt they should begin to make their way down soon.
It was at that time that I was panning the crowd of hikers. I looked to my left and slowly panned to my right. I noticed several large birds, possibly chicken hawks and crows, flying by. As I got to my right side I noticed a familiar profile so I kept my eye on that person for a moment. As he turned towards me I realized that it was how I thought it was. I was in total disbelief. It was Scottie Wilkinson. Scottie was a former baseball player I used to coach in his Little League years. I hadn’t seen or heard from or of him since then. We recognized each other and offered a great hello.
Scotty was one of those players a coach has that he never forgets. He was a great kid to coach and was a great athlete and person. We chatted for some time as he was also in total amazement that I was there. He seemed really interested in the fact that I had traveled with Scott Jurek through his Maine AT adventure. We ended our conversation hoping to get together soon to sit and really talk about things and catch up with where our lives have taken us.
I caught up with Joe again; we both had the same thoughts. Daylight was increasingly getting short and we had to descend Hunt Trail back to Katahdin Stream Campground and either gets ready for our run back to Abol Bridge, where our cars were parked, or hopefully find a ride back and not have to run back in what might be darkness. It was going to be close. We said our heartfelt goodbyes to everyone. It was very difficult and emotional. When you spend that amount of time in such close communication and close quarters with someone it’s difficult to just say goodbye and disappear into the distance.
We had decided that we would get our last run in. It was a running descent. I stopped several times to look back and see if the crew had begun their descent. I was happy to see that they had started and the crowd had disbursed from the summit, I was relieved and hoping that Scott would have the strength to traverse the difficult climb down. We met up with Dima and Karen, then Bob. I was moving very quickly as I love to descend on the rough rocky terrain so I soon lost the small group and began passing others that had started there hike down earlier. I figured I would just meet Joe at the campground as he ran with Karen and Dima for a while. I wanted to have my alone time to process what just happened for the last 6 days, how I even got there and how amazingly good I felt about the entire adventure. It was nice to just be within my own head and have nothing else to worry about, it was bliss.
I got to the campground. Bob was shortly behind, then Andrew and his wife. They must have really stepped up there pace down the hill. As we all seemed to just feel the emotional come down, we sat on the grass in the sun and just chatted about the summit experience. Soon a young man arrived from a Maine TV station, I can’t remember which one. He asked if Scott was on his way down and when he would arrive at the campground. We informed him it would be quite some time as his descent would be slow and tedious. He then asked if I would be agreeable to give an interview that he could use on for the local news cast. I had no hesitation to say…”No thanks”. This was not my journey and the man you need and should talk to is on his way here after an amazing accomplishment, which is the guy you need to be interviewing. He asked me several times, he could not wait around. My thoughts were if you want the right guy, the real story and the best interview, then you need to be a good reporter and wait for the man that broke the record. Although, he was not agreeable so he got Andrew and Bob to give interviews and packed up and left the campground.
Soon Joe arrived at the campground. We ended up chatting with Andrew and his wife for a few minutes and they offered to give us a ride to Abol Bridge. What a relief. Even though running back with Joe would have been fun and given us a chance to talk about things or just run peacefully together back to the vehicles, it saved us a lot of time. We had a long travel back home and getting started would be great. Joe’s car is still not functioning at full capacity with the donut tire still being an issue. Andrew and his wife were very nice people and we had great conversation back to the cars. We couldn’t thank them enough and they would not take anything we offered for their help.
I mentioned to Joe that our journey is not done. We had a long way to go to get back home and it’s going to take a long time as he wouldn’t be able to travel at a high rate of speed with the donut tire on his car. I decided that I would not leave Joe. I insisted that I would follow him until I get to Brunswick. He had to get to Falmouth from there because he refused to let me follow him all the way home.
We stopped many times on the way home. We stopped in Millinocket at the Katahdin Café and had a great meal. Joe mentioned he had never had Poutin. It’s French fries with gravy and cheese on top and delicious so I ordered it and we shared until our meals came. They could have served us the most disgusting food and we would have thought it was made for a king. We were so hungry for real food I think we would have eaten anything. We were back on the road in no time. Here’s where it gets wonky.
If you want to ever discuss being tired, well, Joe and I can talk to you about that. The drive home was bad. It was long stretches of pavement, tires humming in a constant hum, eyes heavy from the lack of sleep for 6 days. We were taking it slow and easy as to not put stress on the donut spare on Joe’s car. It wasn’t long before I see Joe swerving side to side on the road. I just let it go as maybe it’s the tire causing the car to be unstable; I figure he will slow down. We keep driving; soon again Joe swerves, this time even more. I realize he may be falling asleep. I honk my horn and flash my headlights……I’m Thinking…..”Come on Joe, wake up”. We drive a distance longer, it happens again. Now I am okay, time to pull over and see if he is good to drive. We stop and just get some fresh air and it seems to wake us up a bit. I am extremely tired but honestly, I was driving behind Joe and needed to stay awake in case something happens to his car!!!!
This went on most of the way home. We had to stop periodically to get some air outside the car, get a drink full of caffeine or just talk and check in with each other. At one point, we thought about getting a hotel room, but we quickly dismissed that thought as we really wanted to just get home. It wasn’t until we got just outside of Gardiner and Joe really swerved on the I-95. That one really worried me so I flashed my lights at him frantically which got him to pull off the highway and pull into the visitor’s center. We got out of the car and Joe said….”I need to sleep for a few hours”. I said Okay, I will stay and sleep too. He insisted I keep going and after a few hours he would be good to get to Falmouth.
I was not entirely comfortable with this plan. I told Joe I would NEVER forgive myself if I left him only to find out he never made it home. I made him promise me two things if I was to leave him there. 1.) Call me as soon as you begin driving again, no matter the time 2.) Call me as soon as you pull into your driveway in Falmouth, no matter what time. I left Joe there. He actually slept in his car for more than two hours. He got some much needed sleep. He sent me a message that he was on the road again, and then let me know when he got home. I was so happy to hear from him that he was safely home.
Our Journey was over. We were home and safe and comfortable.
The days to come would be filled of sharing my experience with any that asked about it. Talking with all of my TMR friends and sharing some of the nitty gritty details that are in this report and recollection.
As the days would pass, Baxter State Park would publically condemn Scott’s accomplishment and use him as an example for the issue that Baxter State Park claims they have with through hikers completing their AT through hiking journey at Katahdin Baxter Peak. I am not going to get into any specifics of this in this report as I have offered to anyone that wants to know the truth that they contact me and meet me for a beer to discuss. It is the only way to really understand what really happened that day he entered Baxter State Park.
Several days after Scott completed his FKT record breaking AT adventure. Joe contacted Scott and Jenny and requested that we meet them for lunch in Portland as they were staying in Portland to visit with friends. The agreed to meet with us and there was a reason we wanted to see them. Joe, Me, Mike Carbone and Ian, Mindy was out of town and could not attend, met with him as he had earned his 100 Mile Wilderness Trail Monster Buckle and we wanted to present it to him.
The Trail Monsters Running Club had begun this event that if any runner could run the entire 100 mile wilderness and prove that they did it without a doubt within 48 hours they would earn a belt buckle. This is no easy task as I learned along this journey. Joe had made several attempts before actually completing it in 43 hours+. Not many have completed it within 48 hours! Scott happened to complete it in 46 hours and some change. So he earned the buckle. That day at the restaurant in Portland was a great day. We got to sit with Scott in a different light. We were just runners in our everyday attire sitting around discussing whatever. We even mentioned to Scott that we have several Ultras that we host at Bradbury Mountain and Pineland. We had a final photo taken of the presentation of the buckle and we parted ways.
What a great ending to an amazing adventure. I will never forget this as long as I live. I tried to bestow into my children that if a once in a lifetime opportunity is ever set in front of you, never pass it up for any reason. Regret is a terrible thing, so take up on your opportunities and live.
I am very Humbled, Honored and grateful to have had this Once in a Lifetime Opportunity.
Thank you to all my friends, family, teammates and Scott Jurek and all of his crew for this incredible adventure.
Mahoosuc Range to Route 4 Sandy River Plantation
Route 4 Sandy River Plantation to Flag Staff Road Dead River Township
Flag Staff Road Dead River Township to Route 15/6 Monson (Beginning of 100 Mile Wilderness)
Route 15/6 Monson to Barren Mountain Elliotsville Township (100 Mile Wilderness)
Barren Mountain Elliotsville Township to Nahmakanta Lake (100 Mile Wilderness)
Nahmakanta Lake to Abol Bridge T2 (End 100 Mile Wilderness) (end Baxter Peak, Mount Katahdin)