Brookside Inn at McDonald Road
phone repair camp at Camp at sunset
ECT Miles: 15.2
Total mileage: 2298.3
Altitude change: Gain of 659 feet, loss of 823 feet
We marched east for ten miles, then we marched north for five. And it was the whole road, almost entirely flat and almost entirely straight. It was day. One might be fooled by the simplicity of our itinerary into thinking that SpiceRack and I endured a horribly boring day on the IAT. However, for me at least, blind walking was anything but. This type of movement was everything I had craved for the past few weeks on the AT, as the gnarled roots, rocks and inclines soaked up all my mental and physical energy like a hungry sponge. I just wanted cruise. To be free to let my eyes and my mind wander towards distant horizons, both visible and imaginary, to let my arms relax and my legs lead the way. The TA had taken so much, and I was tired of giving it away. As far as I’m concerned, all that road walking is my reward for walking from Georgia to Maine. I get what I asked for, and so far it’s been nice. Boring? No. Are you relaxing? Yes. Like lounging on the beach.
With maximizing time in town on our agenda so Spice’s feet could recover as much as possible, we let the morning flow like a lazy river. With dark curtains and no alarm, I slept until 7 a.m., waking to find Spice gone, probably checking the town before the day’s bustle picked up, the way she likes it. TO DO. I ate two bananas and a bunch of cereal while tapping on my phone, not at all interested in the world beyond my sheets. Spice returned with coffee and regaled me with stories of groups of men and scorching sunshine as we packed for our 11am departure. We finished the rest of the cereal and swallowed the last of our soymilk, then stepped out into the bright heat of a hot day.
Hitchhiking has never been so daunting. We had a perfect spot, the Walmart parking lot exit. The cars rolled by, each stopping a charming distance from Spice’s bright smile. Still, it took 40 minutes and maybe 100 cars before a couple in a van finally gave us a ride. However, all it takes is one, and after a quick stop at Walgreens, we were speeding down the freeway, hopefully in the right direction. Neither Spice nor I had ever driven through the bed of a truck at such speeds, and we lay flat to prevent our hats and ears from blowing away. Thus, at 12:20 p.m., we resumed our steps from yesterday at the Brookside Inn, and continued our journey eastward, returning to the town we had just left.
A quick jig-jag took us off the main road and onto the parallel pavement of Ludlow Road. It was wide and quiet, with only a few trucks passing by, and even fewer houses scattered among the patchwork of dense second growth and green fields. Puffy white clouds drifted with us as we put our feet in cruise control and sped on, not asking questions or caring where we were going.
With reliable cell service for the first time in days, I let Spice get ahead as we each made calls home to reconnect with a world that looked less and less like us. I grabbed Arthur for a final debrief of his Blackbird adventure, relieved to learn that nothing else had gone wrong and that our van and dog had arrived safely in Quebec for a vacation with family friends while Spice and I walked to Gaspé. After that, I struggled to keep up with Spice as I talked to my parents, an ocean, and many time zones. It was great to see Spice on his wellness stride and to hear that my parents were feeling great too. Everything seemed fine.
A single break in the shady lawn beside a long driveway was all we needed to recharge for our triumphant return to Houlton. Even knowing exactly where it was, the last mile to Walmart felt like five, and the unobtrusive signage kept us guessing until we were over it. The shortage of quality hiking food was even more disconcerting than the stealthy nature of the store itself, but we still left with more food than needed, cautiously optimistic that the dill pickle flavored crackers would be edible. They were, and we licked up the last crumbs before we even left the parking lot.
The metro came next, and the most anticipated part of my day did not disappoint. The iced tea cooled my parched throat and the warm veggie marinara sub warmed my elated stomach. Not only that, but we picked up another bag of dill pickle chips along with my favorite flavor, all dressed. I sensed that we were approaching the natural habitat of Canada’s favorite flea, and I felt endless joy that I had finally reached the promised land.
With the sun still above the horizon, at 6:45 p.m., Spice and I hoisted our bags up and pointed north. Although Canada is only 10 miles to the east, we would now hike 70 miles north, parallel to the border until finally plunging into New Brunswick. The first five of those miles were easy on a wide mostly dry dirt MTB road. The ground was soft and creaked reassuringly against the punishing silence of the asphalt. However, far from the city sidewalk, mosquitoes ambushed us as we again cut between stagnant ponds in the dense forest. The air was cooler here, which was better for us and for the bugs. We quickly applied DEET and continued sailing, looking for a place to camp as the sunlight dwindled and warmed.
Sunset and camping happened at exactly the same time. It was really grand. We pitched the tent on the grassy outskirts of a freshly furrowed dirt field, just in time to watch the wispy stratus blaze pink above the glowing horizon. I ogled and walked in wide circles to keep the bugs off my legs, giving Spice time to settle. After diving into the tent, I topped off the early-night sandwich with peanut butter and Oreos, then braced myself for a massive sugar crash. It descended on me like a thick fog. There wasn’t much for me to do but feel grateful for the bug net, smooth trail, great food, and great company. There was nothing else I needed.
This article was originally published on my hikefordays.com blog. Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including CDT and Sierra High Route.
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