An Amazing Adventure – Maine 100 Mile Wilderness – Monson to Abol Bridge
Life keeps getting richer
By: John “HalfBomb” Rodrigue, Ryan “Snowman” Triffitt and Tyler Lupien
Run start Date: September 16, 2016
The incentive – The Buckle
There was a time, I can’t recall when, I was told about an event, an event that very few had attempted. This event took place in the Northern wooded area of Maine’s wilderness. It is a section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) between Monson Route 15 AT trailhead and Abol Bridge at the base of Katahdin Mountain, presumably to be 100 miles in distance. It had logistical hurdles for runner, crew and pacer. It was very technical terrain, tedious climbs and descents and an un-forgivingness nature. This stretch of the AT is appropriately named the Maine 100 Mile Wilderness.
It was my understanding, when I first learned of this run, there was an original group of Trail runners and several other badass Trail Monsters that organized and set out to “Run” this section to earn a new belt buckle designed by Ian Parlin of the Trail Monster Running. To earn this coveted silver metal belt buckle the distance would need to be traversed within a 48 hour time span. It was my understanding that 7-8 ultra runners begun the first attempt, along with their crews and pacers to have only 2 complete the distance and earn the buckle! It was at a later time and after multiple attempts that a third would earn the buckle, the third would be Iron Joe.
When I originally heard of this unofficial event, I was intrigued but thought it was unreachable for an ultra-runner of my caliber. My navigational skills are somewhat challenged, or if you ask other ultra running friends my skills in navigating may be non-existent. Hahahaha. Due to this I felt this event was dangerous, crazy and unreachable even for it being on the well-marked AT trail.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that the opportunity to assist Scott Jurek in his FKT of the AT came about which allowed me to traverse many miles of the AT through Maine including the Maine 100 Mile Wilderness. My responsibility through the wilderness would be crewing Iron Joe, who was tasked to get Scott Jerek through the difficulties of being on weary legs and to navigate him to Abol Bridge. It was only then that I gained valuable experience to raise my confidence to possibly run the 100 Mile Wilderness but it was still a distant thought in my mind.
Towards the end of 2015, beginning of 2016 while out on group training runs discussions of the 100 Mile Wilderness began to prop up. There were discussions of another possible group attempt. Chaski and Sasquatch were weighing in heavily as to committing to the attempt. I was listening but not committing until I knew more. After several other training runs I decided to jump on the wagon and join in the fun. Talk began of a late August attempt as to get it done prior to Chaski and Sasquatch having to begin school as they are both teachers. Talk continued and time was passing on. It was soon realized that Sasquatch would be looking for new employment and moving to a new home. Chaski also felt he would not be able to put in the proper training with life’s happenings so they would not be able to train as they had hoped so their bid for the wilderness had to be put on hold for this season. At this point I figured my bid had vanished as well as the wilderness is not recommended as a solo run and a group attempt is safer and wiser so I basically let it go as an option for the 2016 season.
It wasn’t until June or July that I was having a casual conversation with Snowman regarding whether we were all still thinking of the attempt. I quickly cast his questions aside and stated I would not do it alone and the others were out. Snowman did not let it sit there, he asked why? I really couldn’t come up with a good answer other than the fear of getting lost and dying. Hahahaha. I said I would never consider doing it like Iron Joe and go completely un-supported; I would need a crew of two or more. Maybe the attempt was NOT hopeless!
I can’t remember the exact time that I decided to just throw this out there, but I asked Snowman if he would be interested in crewing me for the 100 Mile Wilderness Run if I decide to make an attempt at it in September. To my complete surprise his response was simply “You’re going to have to convince Danielle first”. I thought that was the easy part. It ended up that she was fine with the plan. I believe that part of the acceptance for them was they both had thru-hiked the AT and have a love for its draw and beauty. It was now the planning really took fruition. We had tentatively set a date. September 16, 2016. 5:00am start. Stay at Moosehead Family Campground Thursday evening and set out early. It’s a plan, now to make it happen.
Ryan had thought that crewing solo would be ok, but I was having nothing to do with it. After my experience in the Northern Woods and logging areas last year with Iron Joe and some of the issues we faced, I was adamant that at least one other crew member was needed or I would not attempt the run. It was important to me that all stay safe or as safe as possible and the thought of one individual crewing was not a safe idea. So, the search for another crew member was on. Honestly it didn’t take much time to remember that Tyler had expressed interest in crew/pacing to me several times so he was the first I would contact. It would also give him a sense of what crew/pacing entails; basically it would be throwing him right in the hot coals of it. He agreed he would like to be a part of the adventure but needed to get the ok from family and work first. Soon after he was confirmed and the crew was set, now to get details and organize the logistics.
Over the next month or so the details were coming together. Timing, travel, lodging, equipment but the most difficult to organize in the Northern Woods is the navigation to possible runner check points. How to get in, manage the gate access, operation hours available, were roads actually passable. All of these details that Snowman is so good at doing research. It ended up a plan was set into place but there were still questions and possibility that crew and runner could miss each other at check points which could leave me at a huge disadvantage if I were to get to a check point before they got there. Do I Wait? Do I go ahead without them? What do I carry with me just in case we miss each other? What if I get injured? Would there be water supply available on the trail? These were all good logistical questions. All of these questions would be answered as best they could, but there would always be some unreliability.
A dinner meeting was scheduled after a Tuesday night run at SeaDog Brewery in Topsham to discuss more details. The plan was set in stone. The day, time, plan was not to change. Then another get together September 4th at Tyler and Keri’s place to just hang out and relax with beer and brick oven pizza, not much about the planning of the adventure discussed. It’s less than a week away now to start time. During the week leading to the run I packed and repacked my gear several times. Sent my list of gear, food and supplies to the crew and got back suggestions for additions and removals. My gear was now packed and ready.
The draw I felt to this run came from the fact that it wasn’t a race. I could run this trail as I love to run, “Old School style”. It would be just me, my friends, the wilderness and a lot of heart. It was a stretch for me. I hadn’t let anyone realize how scared and nervous I was. I have run other 100’s but this one had the most potential for disaster. I would be alone in one of the most remote areas in the State of Maine. I had doubted my skills to navigate. I questioned my ability to follow the famous white blazes at night. The weeks leading up to this day were restless but I knew I had great friends with amazing experience and caring as my crew. It was time to test my limits once again.
Gear packed and ready
The Bradbury Bruiser comes and goes, now it is Thursday September 15th, it’s time to meet at Snowman’s at 5:00pm pack the truck and head north. Holy crap, is this really happening?
Departure from Ryan’s place in Topsham
Now for the good stuff, let’s get into the actual traveling for the event and the event itself, WOW, what an adventure it was. But first I need to mention that this weekend we chose was a perfect weekend to run such an event. The travel was light, the weather and temperatures were favorable, the Harvest Moon was due the Saturday evening during the run, rain was to hold until Saturday night and thru-hikers were nearing the end of their AT journey and the possibility of meeting hikers along the way was high and I was counting on it. The other part of this journey had significant meaning to Snowman as well. It was during his AT thru-hike with Sparkplug that they passed through the 100 Mile Wilderness on the same weekend as I would be running, yup, the same weekend, so this brought back memories for Snowman, especially our 8 mile run through the Nahmakanta Lake/Nesuntabunt Mtn range, more to come on that.
We arrive at Moosehead Family Campground, it’s roughly 8:30pm and we are late getting in as the campground closes at 7:00pm. The kind owners stayed up for us as I had called them earlier in the day and gave then our ETA. Very kind woman that checked us in. Funny, she took one look at Tyler and said “Well, you boys should get some rest, he looks tired”, hahahaha, Tyler wasn’t exactly sure why she singled him out but she was right, we needed to get set up, organize gear for the morning, sort through what we all had for gear and in bed asap.
Tyler setting his alarm for first night’s sleep
Ryan checking gear prior to bedtime at the campground
We drove through the campground to our site but it was not the best site to set up Ryan’s cabin tent so we were lucky that the owner gave us a second option, site 21 was much better and flatter for the tent. The tent went up quickly with Tyler and me helping to Ryan’s instructions. I’m sure it was not as impressive as the Triffitt tent raising production that I have witnessed many other times. We got my pack ready, loaded with gear and we had our last crew/runner meeting, now time for bed. I think we all had concerns of one or all of us snoring like an ensemble but we actually sleep pretty quietly and restful. The alarm was set for 4:00am. That was enough time to get up, eat some breakfast, jump in the truck and get to the trail head several miles south. Ryan and Tyler planned to drive back to the campground, after I got started with the run, to break down the tent and load up the truck as they would start their own adventure to get to all the check point we had planned on. Here are the locations they would hope to meet me at barring any issues with closed roads or unpassable roads……
Long Pond Stream, Katahdin Ironworks Road, Frenchtown Road, Jo-Mary Road, Nahmakanta Lake, Pollywog Stream and the last final check point would be the finish at Abol Bridge.
We arrived at the trailhead in Monson at Route 15. It was shortly before 5:00am. We chatted for a few minutes but I could tell we were all excited to get this adventure started. I asked to take a selfie of us all and Ryan also took a pic of me at the sign at the trailhead. I looked at them both and told them I was very happy to have them both along and I felt I was in great hands and I would see them soon. Ryan stopped me before heading into the darkness and said “John, you need to know that we are here because we believe you can do this, you can do this, now get out of here”. I gave them both a hug, thanked them again, turned on my headlamp and begun running down the trail, “See you soon” I offered. After their headlamps begun to fade I yelled out “I love you”. Ryan responded as I thought he would, “Pussy”. Tyler was not so quick to respond, and then a few steps later I hear “Love you too”. As the night collapsed around my single headlamp and handheld I quickly realized I was now alone, just me, the wilderness and all it has to offer or throw at me.
During the ride to Monson Trailhead Ryan took this pic: 4:53 am and 37 Degrees.
Monson at 5:00am, gearing up to go
Crew and runner, Monson Route 15, get er done
Last pic and its go time
I have to be honest, I had a single thought of “What the fuck am I doing out here” within that first mile, it soon just became my job to get this shit done. I had put the work in, I felt good, had plenty of rest, took a solid taper time, I had spent a lot of time in the Whites for long climbs and runs, It was time to put the work into action. First major point of interest was Leeman Brook Lean-to. I came to the Leeman Brook and had difficulty finding the trail to cross. There were a few downed trees across the trail which made it difficult to see the trail on the other side of them but after some poking around, I found it. I arrived at the Lean-to as it was still dark. There were two thru-hikers standing by a fire as it looked like they had just woken and were trying to keep warm. I said hello but got no response, they may have just been surprised to see some runner appear out on nowhere with a tiny pack on and didn’t know what to say!
I quickly passed by and noticed I ran by 5-6 tent sites where others were still sleeping so I took care in being quiet. These thru-hikers had been on the trail for months and I didn’t want to wake them as they still had a long way to go.
This first section was 14 miles, more or less. It was a good length and terrain to get my legs under me and figure out how I was feeling and test myself on different types of terrain. I felt great and was feeling strong and rested but knew that wasn’t going to last long as the hours chimed by. There were several ponds and ledges to traverse, streams to cross but no fording as the streams were pretty low and not much flow at all. Little Wilson Falls, Little Wilson Stream, Big Wilson Stream, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railroad, have several minor climbs but nothing too difficult, then to the Wilson Valley Lean-to. I remember telling myself to have patience and take it slow here. My mind was occupied with thoughts of how wonderful and beautiful it was and how happy I was to be out there with the guys. I had thoughts of what they might be up to, where they in the truck, were they sitting in the sun drinking a beer waiting for me? There was still a little climbing remaining before the descent to Long Pond Stream check point. I was happy to have the maps with me to check progress as I got to major points of the trail. I arrived in the daylight at Long Pond Stream. I knew I was close as I sighted Tyler coming back on the trail to meet me. I was very happy to see him. Ryan had estimated a possible 6 hours to get there so the daylight had appeared just a few hours after I left Monson trailhead. The sunrise was a beautiful glow of orange and yellow and it was time to change out of my long sleeves as it was getting warmer.
First check point at Long Pond Stream
The Ford at Long Pond Stream
The crew had all my gear laid out and asked what I wanted. I changed socks, added duct tape, changed shirts, got a full hydration bladder and dumped my headlamp and handheld. The boys had asked me how it was going and the one thing I remember saying is the stone steps throughout the trail were awful and a pain in the ass and it was difficult to keep a consistent run going due to the terrain. This check point went well. It was time to get back at it and get some serious climbing done. Prior to the start at Monson, I had mentioned to the crew that my friend Chris Tarzan Clemons, who had stopped to visit me a few days earlier, mentioned he had a friend that was thru-hiking and might be in the 100 Mile Wilderness the same time I would be there. His name was David. He said if you see a hiker with a dirtbag runner’s trucker hat and wearing Lunas, it’s him. When Tyler met me back on trail, he mentioned they saw the guy with dirtbag runners cap on but didn’t say anything to him and he was about 45 minutes ahead. That gave me some incentive to move quickly in hopes of catching him. I was hoping to meet him on the trail and have a laugh that we have a mutual friend that knew we were both in the wilderness together. I set out in hopes of catching him, head down and bulling through the terrain.
It is here the crew must enter the Northern Woods through the logging road gates. They will enter through the Hedgehog Gate. As we left each other at the West Branch Pleasant River we all knew it was going to be iffy at best to meet at the next several check points so I was ready and geared to move past check points without the crew. I had extra Tailwind mix, water filter, extra clothing. I was ready in my mind to get through it even if it was without them for a while.
Morning fog on North Pond
Little Wilson Falls
Streams are dry
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railroad
Sunrise through the trees
The serious crew, but I know they had fun too…..” Business Time”
The second section from Long Pond Stream to KI Road. This section would be roughly 16 miles long with good climbing and descending and it was going to hurt. It’s Barren Chairback Range. Barren Mtn., Fourth Mtn., Third Mtn., Columbus Mtn., and Chairback Mtn. then a descent into KI Road. Seems easy right, nope, it was brutal. This is where I began to think of bad things. During the climb to the Barren ledges I had my first thoughts as to whether my training had been enough, whether I took too much time off prior to this day for rest, whether my legs would last the 40+ hours I knew it would take to get through to Abol. These evil thoughts would soon be cast away as I got to the ledges. The absolute beauty of the run was filling my mind now.
I was feeling good physically and was looking forward to the views ahead. I knew once I got to Long Pond Stream Lean-to it was going to be steady climbing to the Barren Slide/Ledges and I was not disappointed. Once I hit the ledges the views were spectacular. I laughed at one point as I joked to myself and said “The Mountains of Vermont are so vast” and I knew Chaski and Iron Joe would have gotten a kick out of that, so I laughed out loud. I was taking my micro breaks as I like to do that as I climb to regain my legs under me and each time I would turn and look behind me as to not miss what I had already traversed. As I was climbing beyond the Ledges I spotted a group of 4 thru-hikers ahead. I figured it was the group that Tyler had mentioned were 45 minutes ahead. As I approached the last hiker in the group I said “hello”. He turned around and I noticed his trucker hat that read “Dirtbag Runners” and then I looked down and saw he was wearing Luna Sandals! I immediately pointed at him and said “Peacefoot?” He then pointed at me and said “HalfBomb?” Yes, it was David the friend of a mutual friend; I had caught up to him. We hugged and discussed we both knew Chris Tarzan Clemmons and had been at the Born to Run Ultra run in California. We chatted for a few minutes but he knew of my goal from Chris so he motioned me to press on. I looked at him and said it would be a tragedy for us to meet on the trail and not share some miles together so we power hiked for several miles until we met up with yet another thru-hiking group. At that point Peacefoot was in good hands with other hikers so I pressed onward wishing them strength, endurance and a great celebration as they summit Katahdin.
David “Peacefoot” Dirtbag Runner, Luna Sandal man, great guy
I reached the summit of Barren Mtn. and I run into three thru-hikers sitting at the fire tower remains. They are having a conversation about their last drinking party before they set out to hike the AT. I stopped to chat for a few minutes and ask them how the journey was going and ask other questions like trails names, where they were from and when they got started. I only wish I could remember all the trail names I heard while out there! I was curious about thru-hikers; they were all smoking cigarettes, which seemed odd to me. I thought I would need to ask Ryan what was up with that.
These hikers were very perplexed as to my goal of “running” the wilderness in under 48 hours, they just couldn’t imagine but of course not I said, you have been on the trail for months now, and running is the furthest from your mind. Well, I said my goodbyes, we wished each other good luck and I ran off into the trees. Now it was time to descend to the base of Forth Mtn. before the climb to the summit. I was still feeling really good here, strong, happy and excited but that would soon end. It was roughly mile 21 when I hit the Fourth Mtn. climb. I’m not sure why this climb was the worst, but it was the most difficult climb and descent for me. It may have been just as simple as my body was starting to feel the “pain of the Terrain” as I was phrasing it in my mind. It just seemed to take the longest and it was never going to end. The descent was slow, tedious and methodical. I kept thinking that I feel lucky that I didn’t need to traverse the third, second and first Mtn. but I was wrong, there is a Third Mtn. “Please don’t let it be like the Fourth”. Well, the Fourth Mtn. was not done with me yet. It was pounding me to pieces slowly and to make matters worse as I got to the end of the descent and where it appeared some possible good runnable area appeared I jumped off a 5’ high ledge area and as soon as my feet hit the ground I felt a massive pain in my right ankle. I had jumped off this ledge and as soon as my right foot hit the ground there was a rock below it. My ankle rolled fairly sharp and badly. I fell to the ground and thought “Fuck, this is it, this is exactly what I didn’t need/want to happen”. I sat there for about two minutes and finally decided to get my sorry whiny ass off the ground and keep moving.
The first few miles after that was difficult as I was limping and shuffling along slowly, but I was just trying to pick my foot placements as to not roll it again and cause more damages. As I kept moving along it seemed as though the pain was subsiding and it was feeling strong again so I began to run any runnable areas and just being cautious of rolling it again. By the time I reached Columbus Mtn the pain was gone and I felt great again. There was a long way to go and I wasn’t even half way into the run yet. It was time to re-focus and get this shit done.
Traverse Third Mtn, Columbus Mtn and Chairback Mtn and keep an eye out for the crew in hopes that they are at the check point and had no issues getting there. It was here along the Chairback I felt a little twinge in my left knee. It was just a little tension but nothing debilitating and was in the inside of my knee. Not sure what it was but assumed it was just a sign that I had done something it wasn’t happy about. I put it out of my mind and pushed ahead.
I had a few decent runnable areas, although, I ran into a length of trail that was marked with blue ribbon flagging and no white blazes? This was unusual and confusing. I didn’t run very far until I decided to turn back and check why there was blue flagging. I got back to the intersection of the last white blaze and beginning of the blue flagged trail. I panned the point where they met and it seemed obvious, at that point, the trail had been re-routed. I could see where they had placed downed trees over the old white blazed trail and scraped the blazes off the trees. I decided to follow the blue flagging. This distance of trail seemed long and was very new, soft, narrow, stumps sticking up from 2”-6”, dangerous footing. Once I got to the end of the blue flags I stopped and confirmed the trail had been re-routed. I saw the same situation on the opposite end. It was confusing as blue blazes typically signify a side trail to a view, water source or lean-to off the trail. So I’m not sure why they chose blue flagging for this re-route! They should have known I was directionally challenged….hahahahaha. I wanted to take pictures of this area but I was consciously trying to limit the stopping and picture taking.
Finally I am descending, I feel my quads talking to me a bit but just whispering. I’m headed down to the West Branch of Pleasant River which is a ford. As I got near the logging road (KI Road) before the river crossing, Tyler appeared on the trail. He wasn’t too far in but I was so happy to see him. We ran to the road together and once we got there I was surprised that the truck wasn’t there. Tyler said they had a little directional issue driving so the truck is not right at the road. They had also decided not to have me meet them at the road prior to the river and then have to ford the river and continue on the next section with wet feet and clothes. They had forded the gear across the river so I could get a fresh change of clothes, socks, food, gear and sit and change. They had picked up pizza and had it waiting; it was a great surprise at this 30 mile mark.
Barren Ledges are near
Barren Mountain, old fire tower
View from Barren Mtn of Lake Onawa
The dreaded Fourth Mtn, little did I know this would kick my ass
The not so fun Bog log bridges
Silhouette of a nearly broken man on Columbus Mtn
Nobody home at the Chairback Gap Lean-to
This says “spring” but there was no water available here….bummer…..
West Branch Pleasant River, these guys are so good to me…..p-i-z-z-a
Tyler at the West Branch Pleasant River, I love this panoramic pic.
While I sat and re-focused on what was ahead, Ryan mentioned that they had a change of plan as they stopped at the Hedgehog Gate to register, get information and enter the Northern Woods area. He mentioned they had tried to explain what they were doing out here to the woman at the desk but she seemed to not understand so she asked for her husband “Bill” to talk to the boys. Bill, from my understanding, was very knowledgeable of the logging roads and how to navigate them. The crew explained their plan while they were in the wilderness and how they had planned to get to me. Bill then informed them that they would not have to leave the wilderness at any point and could stay in and get to all the check points without passing through any gates after or before hours. This was very good news to the crew. All they had to do was figure out how to get food. I was relieved to hear they would NOT miss any check point the entire time within the wilderness. Great news and put my mind at ease. I could now just focus on how “I” was feeling and what I needed to do to get to each check point. The boys would be fine, although, I still thought about how they were doing and what they were up to. I kind of wanted to be part of that fun too. It was time to get a move on as yet another piece of the puzzle fell into place.
Hedgehog Bill saving the day
Once I was changed, fed and given info for the next section, section number 3, I was off and running. I have been informed that the climbing is not done and I knew it. I had White Cap Mtn. to get to and had Gulf Hagas, West Peak and Hay Mtn’s to get over. It looks like a steady climb on the maps but I had learned not to trust the maps elevation profiles any longer after my nightmare on Fourth Mtn.
Back at it, not even half way there yet.
I would be running into nightfall here. It will be my longest time running and traversing the wilderness in the dark. The crew had given me a rough estimate of 6-7 hours before they see me next. I had asked for additional batteries but we all decided that the headlamp should last long enough and I also had my handheld. It would only be a few hours before the sun sets so I will run as far as possible without my headlamp to save the batteries. I was feeling pretty good, just a bit beat up from the technical terrain but it wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to. My feet seemed to be the worst. They were just sore and felt like they had been beaten with a hammer from the underside. Ahhhhhh, you've got to love Ultra running.
The climb to Gulf Hagas was not a bad gradual climb with a few steep areas of strenuous work. The trail basically followed Gulf Hagas Brook and it was quite pleasant. The mossy rocks and green growth in the forest was pleasant as the sun began to set. I got occasional scent of what reminded me of patchouli oils and it was a welcomed scent as I had begun to smell like a thru-hiker. The footing was not as runnable in many areas and I was cursing that I couldn’t keep a good rhythm. It was mostly a hard fast power hike as fast as I could move. The sun was getting closer to the horizon as it set and it dawned on me, ha, no pun intended, that if I busted hump up that hill I might get to see a beautiful sunset from the of Gulf Hagas. The quest for a sunset summit began. I was moving as fast as possible but the sun was dropping quickly. I could see it starting to set through the trees. I kept thinking “I’m close” but I wasn’t close enough. The bright orange and yellow sphere was disappearing over the horizon, I had lost the challenge with Mother Nature but I was happy to have the challenge to keep me occupied.
I moved under the light of sunset for as long as I could until it was just too difficult to see the roots and rocks ahead of my foot placements. It was here I was getting pretty tired so I resorted to taking 5 minute cat naps when my eyes were closing randomly. They seemed to help me get myself back together. I took roughly 10-12 of these cat naps between Gulf Hagas and the next check point at Frenchtown Road. I was still ascending on wooded trails until I got to White Cap Mtn. As I was approaching Hay Mtn. I noticed that there seemed to be a light mist in the air once and a while. It seemed like possibly fog rolling in but where I poked through to the summit of White Cap I realized the fog was not fog at all, it was clouds! I couldn’t see 3’ in front of me at the Peak of White Cap. As I got through the trees it was a ledge summit. I had come out of the woods and now there were no blazes. This was the first time I truly had a panic feeling of I could easily get lost here. I can’t see through the clouds, I have no idea what direction to go and I can’t see any blazes. I thought I might need to wait it out and see if the clouds moved on, but how long would that be and would the crew worry if I wasn’t at the next check point within the estimated time? Of course they would worry, right?
I decided to systematically pan the ledge area, I started by walking straight ahead, looking only at my feet with my handheld for signs of a blaze or trail at my feet on the ledge. I walked what seemed to be several hundred feet. I then walked back the same way but moving over to my left 5-10’ and doing the same back to the point I had just come from. I did this 3-4 times until I felt that I might be getting way of course and then found the trail where I had originally broke out onto the summit. I then repeated this process but moving to my right. I was trying to move in a grid pattern, panning the ledge for anything. Finally I spotted a flash of white on the ground; it was a blaze, a single blaze on the ledge. I was excited to spot the blaze but as I stood over it I stopped to think, how do I know this blaze is leading me in a north direction and it’s not heading me back south? I had no idea, no idea at all! I stood there wondering and finally just went with my instincts and decided to keep looking for other blazes on the ledge, the blaze I had found just didn’t “Feel” right. I then headed in the opposite direction in a line that I thought was directly opposite. I walked roughly 100’ or more and spotted yet another blaze. This blaze was two blazes as you would see one blaze vertical and the other horizontal as to signify a turn. The other paint marks that were above this blaze were the “AT” symbol and just below the corner blaze was the letter “N”. I was so happy to see this much paint in one place. It had everything I needed. I was on the “AT”, I was to turn here and I was headed “N”. Perfect and I could stop having this panic feeling I was having. I was so happy I sent out a hell of excitement “yeahhhhhhh, you didn’t get me this time”. I was back on my way over the summit and headed in the right direction. HalfBomb not lost and scared anymore.
From the summit I had a long descent to the next crew station and it was brutal, long and technical. The only know point from White Cap to Frenchtown Road was Logan Brook Lean-to but I seemed to have missed that lean-to, I figure it was due to missing the signage or just being tired and having to focus on my footing so much. I was getting closer the crew but wasn’t sure how far they were until I caught site of Tyler’s headlamp just up the trail as he headed towards me. I had become used to seeing him or his headlamp approaching to give me hope that I was close, but this section seemed to have taken 12 hours and not the 6-7 hours that Ryan had estimated. Tyler quickly got into a hike with me by following and we may have run a bit at some point, I just can’t remember! Tyler was asking me how I was doing and I told him I would be asking for 20 minutes of sleep, that I had been taking mini naps along the way. We discussed what I had been facing on the trail and what I might need to continue on. He told me something that was totally random. He said as he was running back to meet me he saw a dog on a ledge and it totally freaked him out as he realized it was a plastic statue that someone had placed there but it was freaky. We continued just chatting generally until we got to the area where the dog statue was. He said “John, there it is” I couldn’t see it at first as I wasn’t looking high enough on the ledge. I panned my headlamp higher and there it was. It was a plastic statue of a Dalmatian! The light of the headlamps almost made it glow in the night. It was life size and just so weird to see it out on the trail, it was so realistic looking and just so out of place. We ran by it and headed to the truck where Ryan was waiting.
We reached the Frenchtown Road in the dark and they had everything all set out and waiting. I changed, ate some food as I sat in the chair and Ryan asked his typical questions, one of them being “What do you need?” I asked him to give me 20 minutes of sleep as I had been taking cat naps and I needed to rejuvenate myself with a bit of sleep. He then said “15 minutes”, I agreed. The sleeping bag and sleeping pad came out of the truck and was tucked on a grassy area just off the trail. I lay down and closed my eyes and that’s all I remember until I heard the words “20 minutes are up, time to get up”. I got up and was ready to get going again within a few minutes after getting my bearings again. Strapped on the pack, check my gear and headlamp thanked the guys for the sleep and being with me and got my estimated time to arrive at the next check point and what was ahead for terrain. Ryan stated the worst part was over. I only had a few little “blips” coming up. There would be one steep but short climb just before Little Boardman Mtn. and then Little Boardman itself. He said these were both minor compared to what I had already faced! I took the information in mind and jogged off into the darkness. See you in 6-7 hours. You may notice that not many pictures taken in this last section. I’m feeling pretty beat up and tired and lack of sleep is beginning to get to me. I have never been on a run that was more than 30-31 hours and I am going to experience that on this adventure.
Crew food, ready for a long night.
Not sure what Tyler is reading, but it looks captivating.
Little Boardman is next, time to haul out my next best efforts and get through what is claimed to be the easier half of a northbound 100 Mile Wilderness. That just seems like such a crock of shit at this point as there is nothing easy about this entire run. I just passed through mile 44 and I’m feeling like it was already 75 miles. All I can keep thinking about is the crew and what was said at the start. “John, we are here because we believe that you can do this”. I was also dreaming of that little oval shaped piece of casted metal. “The Buckle”. This section brought many weird things. I had begun seeing shapes that looked like people in the woods that were just leaves or tall stumps. I had actually said hello to one as I thought it was a thru-hiker. I also began to see what appeared to be tents and small sheds with the doors open set up along the trail but they ended up just being large boulders or large downed trees. My mind was playing games with me. I heard owls in the distance and tried my luck at hooting back at them but the sounds that came from my mouth were more like the moans of a crazed man during sex. It was this length of trail I began to notice little yellow reflections the size of pin heads all along the sides of the narrow trails. I stopped to look closer as to what it might be and learned it was the reflection of my headlamp in the eyes of moths that were perched on the evergreen trees alongside the trail. There were so many of them. There were also green reflections on the ground that I later realized were spiders as Ryan and I spotted later in the run. I also had been dealing with spider cob webs across the trail and hitting me in the face all the time. Some would be eye level and they were playing havoc with my contacts. I was already concerned my contacts wouldn’t do me well as I hadn’t worn them for this long a period. They seemed to be ok for now. The moths were also a pain, they fly into the light of the head lamp and of course they don’t always hit the light, they hit your mouth, eyes & nose. This would cause me to swear like a pirate.
I also did not meet up with any thru-hikers during the darkness hours. It seems that thru-hikers bed down at around 5:00-5:30pm most every day unless they have a specific location they are trying to get to. It was very lonely at night in the wilderness and I believe that’s why your mind plays games with you. You can hear yourself talk, sing & think in your own mind.
I had a long way to go. It wouldn’t be until 5:00am before getting to Jo-Mary Road, the next check point so there was a lot of alone time coming up. I got by the East Branch Lean-to and I was feeling pretty good. I soon had a major steep climb directly after the East Branch Pleasant River then onto Boardman. The steep climb for some reason I can’t remember shit about, although, Little Boardman, that’s a different story. I can remember stating over and over “Little Boardman my ass, this is not little, who put this rugged mountain in the middle of this?” Little Boardman was not easy or fun. It took a lot out of me and I was now feeling like shit again, tired, worn and mentally drained. I was taking short micro breaks to regain my composure and to close my eyes for a minute. I was contemplating whether I would need to remove my contacts and use my glasses from the next check point onward. My eyes were tired and I hadn’t worn my contacts for this long, but I decided they would have to do and I wasn’t going to change a thing.
I crest Little Boardman and I was happy to descend but it hurt like hell. My quads were strong, my body was ready but my knees and feet were now toast and beat to pulp. My knees were feeling a constant sharp pain on the inside and it was difficult to manage other than just not thinking about it. I would definitely explain to the crew what was going on and the pain level I was feeling.
The next major point of interest I would cross was the Kakadjo Road. This would be a well-defined gravel logging road. For some time I thought I had passed right by it without noticing but that was unlikely. I kept plugging forward but kept asking myself “Where is the logging road, I should have reached it by now”! It just seemed I had missed it as I looked at the time and tried to figure out where I would be according to time but I couldn’t even do simple math at this point. Soon after getting frustrated thinking I had missed the road, Bammmm, there it was. I knelt down in the middle of the road and said thank you, now I was certain where I was in this section. The joy soon passed as knowing where I was in this section meant knowing I was only half way through……uuuuggggg. This particular section was mentally draining and damaging. My mind was thinking I was moving faster, but in reality I was moving slow. I started letting things get into my head like “The crew will be out looking for me soon, I’m late getting to the check point”. “My chances of getting that buckle are slipping away”. I quickly had to get these evil thoughts out of my mind, they were weighing me down. I reverted back to the beginning and this statement from Ryan echoed in my head so many times to keep me moving…”John, we are out here because we believe you can do this”. That statement proved to be my driving factor. It brought me back from some deeply dark times.
Now it was onward. I had traversed half the distance to the Jo-Mary Road, now let’s see what I can pull off from hear. It was all about just getting the job done now, get to the crew, get some energy, encouragement and rest for a few minutes and then see how I feel.
Somewhere after the Kakadjo Road I had a few great running stretches. I could actually get some consistent runs in. Maybe they were only 50 feet long, but they seemed longer and it felt good to stretch my legs out. It was then as I was running I saw a flash of light colored feathers fly towards me. They came fairly close to me and enough to scare me into stopping. The feathered friend had flown past me just above my head and landed in a tree just behind me. I then walked over to it and it appeared to be a hawk! I thought “How odd, what would a hawk be doing in the darkness”? I walked closer to it and realized it had landed on a branch that could barely support its weight and was hanging upside down with its wings spread and it was just looking at me with its head cocking back and forth. I actually talked to the bird…”Hello Mr. Hawk, what are you doing out hear’? I then decided to get my cell phone out and try to take a picture of it as I knew the crew would never believe it. I managed to get the photo, but still not sure if it was a hawk or owl? This diversion was just what I needed for a few minutes, got my mind off bad shit.
Birds of prey in the night
The other amazing reason that we had picked the best time of year to do this run was this night the Harvest Moon was out. It was bright and at times large in the sky. I turned off my headlamp several times to see how much moonlight was making it through the trees onto the trail, it just wasn’t enough to run or power hike. It was spectacular though. I wished I had been able to see it while on Little Boardman but for some reason I don’t remember seeing it there and it would have been great from White Cap but as you know that was clouded in when I got there so I didn’t have any views. Thank you Ann Alexien for letting us know it was the Harvest Moon.
I’m now near the 58 mile mark and I’m tired and worn from the constant adjusting of foot placements and balancing act it takes to stay upright. My frustration of toe kicking roots, sliding off rocks and jamming my ankles between stones has reduced to I don’t feel it anymore so I can’t whine about it. Even though I felt nothing I still felt I had some energy to keep moving. The sun would be rising soon after I meet the crew at Jo-Mary Road and that, in it, could help me regain my energy as it has in past events, so I cross my fingers the sun comes out and there is not overcast as rain is in the forecast for Saturday late afternoon. I also look forward to the sun because the thru-hikers will be waking up and hitting the trail so I may have opportunity to meet others on the trail.
I see Tyler’s headlamp shine once again, thank goodness I made it, let’s get rested up, and supplies replenished and let the crew know what I have been through. I mentioned the things that I had to deal with to Ryan and he would give me the usual, “…suck it up and deal with it, there’s nothing you can do about it so stop whining and complaining and just keep moving”. Got to feel the CREW LOVE. I asked Ryan what my mood was like at Jo-Mary Road. His response was simple, “Well, you’d been at it for nearly 24 hours at that point, and, about 1.3 of that in the dark, alone. So, factoring all that in: you didn’t have a mood, you were just existing”. I have a feeling the crew was getting a bit sleep deprived as well at this point but they would not ever lead into that notion of course.
Feeling cold and tired
Crew sleeping quarters
Okay, I need to apologize right up front, my recollection of this section between Jo-Mary Road and Nahmankanta Lake check point is not that clear. Even though this was in the day time I was in a bad place here. Major pain cave. Everything hurts and is talking to me loudly now, my body stopped whispering to me and said you fucking asshole better listen to what I’m telling you or I’m going to shut down. It was yelling at me like a Mom catching her kids smoking weed in the shed in the back yard.
The crew got me changed, fed and restocked for the next 7 hour stretch. I made a decision here to change into my New Balance Hieros. This may have been a mistake! I felt I needed additional cushioning below my feet on this terrain but the shoes were not the right size in length, they were sized to fit and not sized to fit my hugely swollen masses of foot flesh! I went with them.
I left the crew after they told me it is easy going and flat from here. The words I remember were…”There are no major climbs or descents in this section”. I’m not entirely sure I believed it as the map showed a little blip at Potaywadjo Ridge. If it was like all the other “Little Blips” then this was going to be tough.
The good thing is the sun was going to rise. Come on to the sun, bring it on. Not long after getting into what seemed steady run I saw the sun raising through the trees and felt I could take my headlamp off. Last time the sun rose, I left my headlamp on thinking it would help until the sun was up fully, but it actually drowned out the trail.
Crew getting rest and relaxation
Sunrise for a second time
I managed to see a few things along the way here and pulled out my cell phone for a few pictures. There was an AT marker that seemed totally out of place mixed within the rocks, roots and leaves. It caught my eye when the sunlight seemed to make the top shimmer. It gave me a few minutes to take a micro break.
The Blaze that shine like light bulbs at night
I also ran across, yet another, re-routed section of trail. It was marked with blue ribbon tape again like the first. I did the same recon as I did the first time to assure I was not traveling in a direction I would regret later. It was definitely a new AT re-route section of trail as this one had a paint can with white paint and paint brush that I found sitting behind a tree when I doubled back to make sure it was a good trail to stay on. There were also areas of new drainage ditches to prevent erosion. I was happy to see that there might be others on the trail today. It wasn’t long after I caught up to thru-hikers and yes, a thru-hiker caught up to me! That guy was moving so fast, was he really a thru-hiker?
AT re-routes and trail work being done
I was very pleased to see there were some runnable sections here, but they were not without issues. Earlier on in the adventure I had turned my right ankle badly at Fourth Mtn. This time I had turned my left ankle badly on a massive inner twined root system and I sent out a yell. It hurt fairly badly but again I did not sit very long and decided to just keep moving as to try and work through it. The pain seemed to disappear quickly as my mind was focused on getting through this 15 plus miles. There were bog bridges and low lying wet areas to cross. I fell off a few of these bridges as I noticed my balance was not as keen. I stepped into the bogs a few times thinking it may be dry enough not to get full of mud. Ha, that was not the case. The mud was deep, dark and plenty wet enough. It almost took my shoes off.
Ahhhhh yes, a runnable section
I had reached the “Little Blip”, Potaywadjo Ridge, it wasn’t too bad but my God, this section is taking forever. I should be more than half way. I got over the ridge and on the descent I quickly realized I had already made it to Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to. Yessssssssss, maybe there will be some people there to help me wake up. The lean-to seemed unoccupied so pressing on.
More Bog crossings at low elevations
Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to
There were lots of bodies of water. Ponds, lakes, but I wasn’t sure what they were or their names. I had stopped to look at the map but I wasn’t sure which one I was near! I took a photo of what I thought was Pemaduncook Lake but I was unsure.
Pemaduncook Lake, I think
There were streams/brooks to cross but nothing of major significance. After looking at the map while sitting on a boulder for a bit and getting a cat nap I see I have two major camp sites to cross, a state campsite and the other Nahmakanta Stream campsite. “I am going to keep my head down and cruise through this and get to the crew quickly”, I tell myself. I hear sounds of water running in a steam once and a while. The trail is descent to move along but I’m very tired, can’t think straight and the forest seem to becoming alive. Again, leaf formations look like people and rocks and trees look like large tents and buildings. I believe this may be where I saw the bear walking in the middle of the trail, or it may have been the last section. I yelled as loud as I could and whistled a loud whistle and it ran off as scared as I was. The bear didn’t stick around to see if I was a good meal or not.
Somewhere near the check point I had become very tired and was having trouble keeping my eyes open. All I remember is waking up and seeing a thru-hiker walking by me as I opened my eyes and realizing I was face down on the trail and must have fallen as I fell asleep hiking. I have no idea how long I had been there and how many hikers just walked over me. I got myself back up and started to move forward again when I see Tyler coming up a small incline towards me. If he had been just a few minutes earlier he would have seen me face down on the trail sound asleep! Hahahaha. Man, I was so happy to see him as this last stretch was so long and tedious. It took what seemed forever. Let’s get to Ryan and the truck. I don’t remember much about what Tyler said to me but I do remember the look in his eyes when he was running towards me. He couldn’t hide the fact that I looked like shit. His expression was not mistakable. I think he was worried about my physical appearance at that point and the fact that I may have told him I think I might be done and my knees were shot!
We got to the truck and the boys had it all set up to get me resupplied, feed, changed, new socks and shoes. I heard Tyler mention to Ryan that I told him I was done. Ryan quickly said he’s not done lets figure out what he needs. Ryan asked what was going on and I told him my knees were shot, my feet were destroyed and I was tired as hell and fell face down after what I thought was falling asleep while running! He said “Good, that sounds about right for being 73 miles into this so let’s get you packed up and taken care of”.
They brought fresh shirts to me and I changed into them, they changed my socks for me and I applied more duct tape. I told the crew that the hieros were a bad idea that I needed my size 10.5 Inov8 Race Ultras as they had more space for my feet right now. As soon as I slipped them on, I felt the relief and less pressure surrounding my feet. Ahhhh, what a difference a shoe can make.
It was here after all this time dealing with the pain in my inner knees that Ryan worked some kind of magic with that tube of muscle rub. I don’t know if he performed some kind of voodoo ritual on it or poured some kind of magic powder in it but he knelt in front of the chair and rubbed my knees with the muscle rub and the pain seemed to just slowly wither away. It really was a magical voodooish moment.
Magical muscle rub and Doritos and iced tea, can’t beat it. It’s like being at the beach.
Thru-hikers enjoying the crews Trail Magic, Energy drinks and candy bars. The hiker in light blue shirt is the hiker that passed me.
View of the River from the timber bridge
Once I had some food in my belly, an iced tea to drink and the magic rub, it was time to head out on the next section. This next bit was 8 miles. I would be joined by Ryan as pacer on this stretch. Nahmakanta Lake to Pollywog Stream. This meant that Tyler was to travel on his own to the Pollywog Stream. The crew told me they had time to have scoped it out and drive it before I arrived at Nahmakanta Lake check point so they were all set. Tyler would drive ahead and get set up for our arrival as Ryan estimated roughly 3-4 hours to get there. It was about 11:30am when I arrived at Nahmakanta so that puts me at 3:30pm to arrive at Pollywog. Ryan explained that this 8 mile section is not going to be easy but it will be beautiful and there were several places of interest he wanted to point out and show me. I was totally up for that as any change of what I had seen for the last 73-74 miles would be welcomed. I would sit and watch toads fucking for something different. He did say there would be some nasty climbing, yup, stone steps but it would go fast.
When I got to this check point I thought I was done, dead for sure. Somehow, Tyler and Ryan’s magic revived my torn body. I felt pretty good. Ryan got himself ready and said “Ok, let’s get out of hear”. I gave Tyler a hug which had become typical bro-hug and wondered onto the trail. As we began moving up the trail I was adjusting my trekking poles and one of them malfunctioned. We tried to fix it but Ryan said keep going and I will catch up to you. He knew I was going to need them. Soon after he caught up and murmured “Holy crap dude, your hauling ass” (Even though he tells me later that I was slow as fuck). Now that we were together it was time to get this shit done. 2 more check points, Pollywog Stream and then Abol Bridge.
I learned that Ryan and Danielle had remembered this stretch of the AT quite well. Ryan went on to tell me about their hike through this section and that Ryan had convinced Danielle to hike to this section instead of setting up camp at a normal location for thru-hikers. Ryan happily consumed most of the conversation as we power hiked here and I was perfectly fine with hearing his voice and hearing the stories.
We had a long step stone step climb, not my favorite. Ryan reminded me here not to think about the things I don’t like and just power through them and stop being negative as it will eat me up. He was right. I was finding that was all I could think about so I just started listening to his stories and his excitement for being back on the AT. I was amazed to heat that this day, September 17th was the same exact time and day that he and Danielle had hiked the wilderness. I felt very proud that he was out there with me during this special time but wished Danielle could have been as well to share in that moment.
He went on to explain how he got Danielle upset as he had convinced her to hike further that day and it got past 5:00pm which was dinner time and Danielle doesn’t like to miss dinner time. She was getting grumpy until they got to the spot Ryan was hoping to get to, I t was an amazing spot to set up your tent if you are a thru-hiker. It was up on a little knoll on soft pine needles with a fire pit in a selective tree location overlooking the Nahamakanta Lake.
Random shot in the beauty of it all
There were areas of great beauty and wonderful scenery in this stretch. There wasn’t much running as the climb up Nesuntabunt Mtn. was steep and had long runs of stone steps. I took several micro breaks along the way. Ryan took some great photos in a few interesting spots. I had to laugh as Ryan kept referring to the Mtn. with some Name that didn’t sound right so I had to ask him what he was saying. He told me he was calling the Mtn. “NastyButt” as it is a name given to the mountain from the thru-hikers. It was appropriately named for its nasty stone stairs and steepness but it surely was beautiful with its mossy covered boulders and fern grown undergrowth.
Powering through, getting it done at the Pollywog Pond
Ryan’s special photo op location. These Glacial Deposits were so cool.
View of Katahdin in the horizon.
Our 8 mile run was filled with stories and fun. Ryan was great at keeping my mind occupied with conversation while I was hurting and my legs were a bit weak and I was hoping to recover a bit. We stopped at an overlook off the trail a short distance to take in the view of Mt. Katahdin. There were a few thru-hikers already relaxing and enjoying the view so we chatted for a few minutes but didn’t stay very long. We started the descent to Pollywog Stream. Nice and steady we go Mr. Snowman. I’m very happy to see Snowman so happy to be back on the AT.
Katahdin, seems so far away!
One of my favorite photos of the adventure, I was feeling the pain cave here and my expression shows it. This is one of my famous micro breaks. We were moving along at a pretty fast power hike at this point of the run, roughly 80 miles, and I needed a micro break and that mossy knoll seemed perfect. Ryan snapped this photo as I sat down and took a big breath of air into my lungs and then filled my cheeks with the release. This captured exactly how I was feeling.
Pollywog Stream check point, mile 81.6, it’s roughly 5:30 pm and darkness is going to come for the third time. I started in the dark and ran for a few hours, ran through the daylight, then into a full evening of darkness and back into the daylight and now looking at roughly another 4-5 hours of darkness to end this run. Man, this is tough mentally to run back into the darkness but just one more leg to complete.
Tyler and Ryan have been a rock through this and have given me my information for the last section to and over Rainbow Mtn. to Abol. It will be a 16.5 mile stretch and they will be expecting me at midnight but informed me if I get there before 11:00pm I will be under 42 hours. Just before I headed down the trail for this last time Ryan explained to me what he and Tyler will need to do to get to Abol Bridge. He told me it would take he and Tyler 2 ½ hours to get to Abol Bridge. There they would set up and then possibly go into Millinocket for food. They would return and Ryan would gear up to run back and meet me wherever I might be at that point. We then hugged for the last good luck. See you in roughly 8 hours. Last miles, let’s get this done.
What I didn’t let Ryan or Tyler know is they had just given me my incentive for this final leg. I left Pollywog Stream with the thought in my mind that I was going to push as hard as I could, keep my head down and push to try and minimize the miles Ryan would be running back to meet me. I had thoughts of getting to Rainbow Mtn. and not see him. I wasn’t sure if I could keep up that kind of pace or not but I was giving it my best efforts. I did stop several times for my micro breaks and to look at the map. I noticed how almost everything along this trail had the word “Rainbow” in it. Rainbow Stream, Rainbow Deadwaters, Rainbow Springs Campground, Rainbow Lake, Rainbow Ledges……well, I can honestly say it was not all “Rainbows”. I was pushing ahead as fast I could. I really wanted to get to Abol before Ryan got started to run back and meet me. Pushing was taking its toll. I was extremely tired and my lower legs were barking at me again. Anything that resembled a descent was causing severe discomfort but there was no stopping now. I managed to get to Rainbow Ledges and still no sign of Ryan. I climbed the ledges thinking he would appear soon. It was dark, these ledges were marked with white blazes on the bare ledge and it seemed as though there were blazes everywhere. I stopped and looked around and immediately felt I was running in circles! I looked around a second time and still felt the same but my instincts told me to keep going, “DO NOT TURN AROUND”. Those instincts proved to be right. It was soon after I was entering the woods on the other side of the ledges and all was good. Still no sign of Ryan.
Ryan geared up and ready to find a HalfBomb in the wilderness.
I began the descent to Hurd Brook Lean-to. This was going to be slow as I was exhausted. I kept looking for Ryan, but still no signs. It had become a game now, how far could I get before he appeared? It wasn’t until about a third of the way down the ledges I saw a headlamp flashing through the trees. Could it be Snowman? I waited, it got closer and finally I shouted “Is that Snowman”? The headlamp ahead stopped momentarily and panned the trail towards me. I hear Ryan’s voice “Holy shit dude, you’re cruising; I’m only 4.5 miles in”. We met, we hugged and I was very happy to see him as it was almost done. I noticed right off that Ryan was pretty amped, I asked if he had drank RedBull before coming in, “oh yeah I did” He was full of energy and I wished I could have drawn from that. Instead, as we discussed finishing this adventure, I looked at Ryan and told him as soon as I saw him my mind and body kind of shut-down. It had convinced me that the run was over, it was Ryan and it is over. Not the case at all, we had 4.5 miles to go to the end. Ryan looked at me seriously and said John you need to understand something. “This next 4.5 miles is going to be a smorgasbord of what you have seen for the last 93 miles”. At that point I had to muster up whatever energy I could. I felt like I had enough and I was moving well until I asked Ryan to move ahead of me as it might be better for me to try and stay up with him. I thought we were moving fairly fast, but I was very unstable and learned later that I was not moving that fast!
Ryan snapped this as we met on Rainbow Ledges, 4.5 miles to go.
We crossed streams, bogs, large rocks, massive root areas, open wide areas, several little climbs that felt huge. We hit it all. Ryan had carried in several bottles of Tailwind in case I needed it but at that point I was tired of the fluids. I was still drinking but not at I rate I should have been. I felt bad that Ryan was carrying the additional weigh but he didn’t want to empty them to only find out I would need them.
We finally poked out onto what appeared to be a snowmobile trail. It was wide, maybe 8’ and up ahead I see Ryan run up to a wooded box on a post. It was a thru-hiker registration box. He put his arm on it and said “You’re done, we’re here”. I was in awe. “We are here? I said” Ryan then told me “well, almost, just another quarter mile up this trail to Golden Road where Tyler will meet us”.
I’m going to try and explain how I felt at that moment we got within 50’ of Golden Road and we saw Tyler’s truck sitting there and heard it running. We noticed Tyler wasn’t anywhere to be found! We walked up to the truck and he was laying back in the seat sound asleep. What I didn’t realize is they had not planned on me being at the Golden Road for another hour and half. Tyler was getting some much needed rest before my arrival. Hahaha, I foiled that plan, but it was fun to bang on the window and see the look on his face when he looked at his watch, realized it was us and we had already arrived…………I felt relief over anything first. I felt relief that I had just completed the Maine 100 Mile Wilderness in less than 48 hours. Then I felt an immense emotional crash as I hugged and celebrated with Ryan and Tyler. I could already feel my mind and body begin to slowly decompress, kind of like a balloon deflating slowly.
I didn’t just finish in less than 48 hours; it was pretty darn close to the estimated time we had planned on of 42 hours. I asked Ryan what the total time was and if I had made it under the 48? He said “John, you crushed it, you are well under the 48 hours” but we all had some difficulty doing the simple math at that time and didn’t know exactly the total time. It ended up that Ryan calculated 42:14.
As Ryan and I ran the 8 mile stretch that he paced me, I told him I did not ask Ian to order me the belt buckle as I didn’t want to jinx the run. He told me it was smart not to have the buckle now and he was sure Ian had some lying around and he would have a buckle for me but I had to finish first and the buckle was not important right now!
The photo above is at the Golden Road. Ryan had asked Ian for the buckle before we departed for the run. He took the buckle out of the truck and held it up and said ‘Would you like to have your buckle?”. That brought tears to my eyes. Seeing Tyler and Ryan standing there and remembering what they said to me before I took my first stride….”John, We are here because we know you can do this”, and reciting that in my head so many times within the 42 hours was priceless. These guys earned that buckle with and for me. It was a team effort and they deserved the buckle too.
We then loaded the truck and drove to the Abol Campground where I thought we would be set up to tent for the night. To my delightful surprise, Tyler had rented a Bungalow. It had 6 bunks and was actually a bed. I was so happy to hear I would be able to sleep in a bed and we would have company as well. We had all met a thru-hiker. “Husker” and the guys invited him to bunk with us, a little trail magic delight. We all sat up and had a beer, discussed the trip for a while, Tyler mentioned that breakfast was at 7 which was included in the costs of the bungalow and then got ready for some sleep. Ryan asked me to take a look out the window, I dragged myself out of bed and realized it had started raining only 30 minutes after we had finished. Yet another piece of the puzzle that fell into place like clockwork.
Photo taken after breakfast before leaving Abol Campground for home.
On the ride home processing what just happened and catching up with civilization
Battered, torn and swollen 100 Mile Wilderness feet.
There were several happenings during this run that are difficult to write within the story so I decided to place them at the end.
During the run, I managed to endure the hiccups several times that lasted for miles and miles. It got as frustrating as it was hard to breathe properly with the hiccups and they made me vomit a few times. I have no idea where they came from or why but I was talking to myself out loud asking them to just go away, but they just wouldn’t. I remember mentioning to the guys, but what were they going to do other than just say “Deal with it”. They finally passed or I just got used to them.
There was one point while the darkness of night that I heard voices. I figured I was hearing things. It was on a rocky climb, but I can’t remember where exactly. I heard the voices and then heard pots clanking and echoing through the night woods. I figured it was a thru-hiker up ahead that was late setting up camp and getting dinner. As I climbed I spoke to them as I got near. “Hello, how are you?” The response, “Holy fuck, are you thru-hiking in the dark?” I said “No, I am running the 100 mile wilderness in hopes of 48 hours or less.” Then there was silence for a few moments. Finally the words “That is fucking crazy dude, just fucking crazy, good luck.” I wished them luck on their journey and pressed on. It was just a weird encounter.
The section where I climbed to the summit of Barren Mtn. When I summited there was an old fire tower at the summit. There sat several thru-hikers. Both smoking cigarettes and just chatting. I stopped to say hello and ask where they were from, when they started the journey and what their trail names were. One was Dastardly Dave and the other I can’t remember. They asked what my trail name was and I explained it is “HalfBomb”. Dastardly Dave didn’t quite understand, in a nonchalant kind of voice he says “Well, that’s an unusual trail name, Half Dong”. I quickly said “No, no, it’s “HalfBomb” not Half Dong!!! We ended our chat and wished each other good luck and I left them to their cigarettes on the summit.
Ryan also reminded me that I brushed my teeth at Jo-Mary Road check point. I remember asking to brush my teeth at one point but thought I had forgotten to do it. Apparently I actually did brush my teeth at Jo-Mary. I know that around the halfway mark I was making mental notes of what I wanted or needed prior to getting to the check points and brush teeth made the list in hopes of refreshing my mouth from the Tailwind.
Ryan and Tyler told me about their traveling to checkpoints and listening to the radio and satellite music. They at one point heard a song by the “Flight of the Conchords”. The song title was “Business Time”. They said they heard the song and just couldn’t get it out of their heads after so, of course, I had to check it out on YouTube. It is the funniest song I’ve ever heard. Catchy tune but when I looked it up it immediately gave me a warning of adult content and should give you an idea of its content. If I’ve got you curiosity up, check it out, it’s really just too funny thinking to of my friends/crew were cruising the Maine Northern Woods logging roads listening to this tune. Hahahahahaha. Love it.
Also, early on in the run I had come to my first ford across a river, I can’t remember the river name. I got to the river and noticed the rope that was spanning the river, roughly 8’ above the river rocks. I looked at the river and noticed a thru-hiker back to me half way across but not using the rope line. I decided to watch him and possibly learn something as to how to cross but soon realized this hiker was in trouble. He was wearing huge pack, lots of weight and was trying to cross barefoot and just using his trekking poles for balance. The river crossing, at most, knee to waste high but still moving swiftly and enough to make the crossing difficult. As I was watching the hiker struggle he lost his balance and fell. When he fell he was completely submerged with water! My heart raced. As he came back up to his feet I yelled and asked if he needed help, I heard nothing back. He took several more steps to get across and down he went again but this time his pack was on top of him pushing his face down into the water. I yelled as loud as I could and said “I’m coming in to help you, stay there”. I grabbed tossed my trekking poles in my pack, grabbed the rope and worked my way to him. The rocks below were very slippery and you couldn’t find and even footing to stand on. As I reached him I grabbed his pack and lifted with all my strength to get him above water. Once he was on his feet I grabbed his trekking poles and instructed him to grab the rope as I hauled it to his level. We worked our way across to a spot that was on the embankment and dry. His bag had filled with water and was very heavy but luckily he had clothes in a wet bag type thing so he had dry clothes. His name was Jimbo. He told me he was 72 years old and had been very ill this past week and his wife had begged him not to attempt this hike. He was hiking the wilderness and had been there for 5 days already and very ill. We got him dressed in dry clothes and chatted for a few minutes and I told him I thought he should make his way into town at the next road crossing, get a ride if he could. He then looked at me and said, “You sound just like my wife”, I told him I would consider that a compliment. We shook hands, he thanked me and asked for my trail name and then we parted ways.
Jimbo after we got him dressed in dry clothes.
Final notes and thanks…….As I mentioned to both Tyler and Ryan, I could NOT have run this adventure without them. They earned that buckle just as much as I did. They may not have actually run the 100 mile trail but they kept me alive, moving, and happy and knew exactly what I needed before I did. Ryan’s ability to organize the logistics prior to the run and ask the right questions of the gate keepers was critical to the success of the crew’s access and availability to get to all the check points. Tyler’s rock solid nerves and patient demeanor for driving in the northern woods and his willingness to crew for the first time and to be thrown into one of the most logistical areas of Maine to navigate were amazingly brave and steady.
Both Ryan and Tyler were good players of the “Tough Love” card. Ryan maybe a smidge more than Tyler, hahaha, but Tyler did see that it needed to be done and understood why. I had a few dark moments where I thought I was going to end the attempt, bad knees, tiredness, exhausted but they knew just what to say and do to get me back into the overtime period.
This was truly a team effort, three Trail Monsters in the 100 Mile Wilderness for a purpose. We had a goal and everyone worked towards that goal. Running an adventure like this takes sacrifice, lots of sacrifice and the crew made it happen. All my job consisted of is running, hiking, navigating and not dying so the crew didn’t have to carry the carnage out.
Thanks to the entire Trail Monster Running friends. I ran many miles with many teammates, any which would join in a run with me. It didn’t matter where, when, how far or what pace, it was all about time on my feet. Special thanks to Chaski, Iron Joe, Ryan, Jamie for this pat years adventures in the White Mountains and the long hours of mountain running we did. Thanks to Zak for the last long night run we did for the UXBBA. That long night run helped get my mind in a good place for night running. Thanks to the Tuesday night and Thursday night run groups for the beat downs and getting me prepared for the wilderness. They came in handy when times were tough and I had to dig deep.
Here is the emotional part. When you embark on an adventure like this and you pull your crew together, a bond begins. That bond strengthens throughout the event. Each check point you gain more and more trust and companionship. By the time the event ends, you have become tight, solid and bonded. You begin to guess what each other’s thinking, what each other needs and wants. It is a bond like no other I have ever experienced. The emotions of pure joy, excitement and satisfaction a runner gets when you get to the finish and share that moment with you crew and friends is overwhelming.
Thank you Ryan Triffitt and Tyler Lupien for being my greatest friends in times of darkness and knowing what I needed and taking the best care of me in the most incredible adventure I’ve ever tackled.
A great thanks to their wives Danielle and Keri and their children for letting me borrow your husbands to run around the Northern Woods of Maine, you owe me for taking them away for several days, hahaha.
It’s been 7 days since we completed the 100 Mile Wilderness, and I am still processing the events and little bits and pieces are coming back into my memory. It’s amazing how many things happen within 42 hours on the AT trail between Monson and Abol Bridge. I will hold them close forever.
Just a few details……….
Monson Trailhead, Began at 5:05am
Section 1…Monson to Long Pond Stream, 5:05am - 9:32am, 4 hours 27 minutes
Section 2…Long Pond Stream to Katahdin Ironworks Road, 9:32am - 4:21pm, 6 hours 49 minutes
Section 3…Katahdin Ironworks Road to Frenchtown Road, 4:21pm - 11:27pm, 7 hours 6 minutes
Section 4…Frenchtown Road to Jo-Mary Road, 11:27pm - 5:07am, 5 hours 40 minutes
Section 5…Jo-Mary Road to Nahmakanta Lake, 5:07am - 11:50am, 6 hours 43 minutes
Section 6…Nahmakanta Lake to Pollywog Stream, 11:50 am - 4:07pm, 4 hours 17 minutes
Section 7…Pollywog Stream to Abol Bridge, 4:07pm – 11:19pm, 7 hours 12 minutes
Abol Bridge…Completed the run at 11:19pm for a total of 42 hours and 14 minutes.
Arrival Home, photo by Ann Alexien (George, Val and Rick)
I am very, very proud to wear this buckle, very special indeed.
This photo was posted several days after my completion of the Maine 100 Mile Wilderness, but the thru-hikers in this photo were many that I met along the way. I was very happy to see they had all made it to their goal of summiting Mt Katahdin. If were not for these thru-hikers to see along the way, it would have been a very, very lonely adventure. Thanks for the constant reminder that I had only been out there for hours and YOU had all been on your journey for months.