Embracing Lower Miles: Humbled by Southern Maine


Out the gate of the 100-Mile Wilderness I did some big miles. Eighteen to 25 miles happened every coupleof  days. I tried to keep this going through into Caratunk, over the Bigelows, and into Rangeley, but it eventually caught up with me. My body was tired, and my mileage was destined to drop. Coming to terms with lower mileage has not been easy.

Hiking southbound means I shouldn’t have any rush to finish since Springer never closes. The SOBO experience permits me to take a shorter day and live in the experience. I have to constantly remind myself there is no reason to rush the experience; participation is more meaningful.

Mileage Reduction

Upon leaving Stratton, my mileage really began to drop. Ten- to 12-mile days became big days. The climbs seemed to get rockier and steeper. The boulders climbing Sugarloaf were surprisingly steep and treacherous. Although the climbs were involving more rock scrambles and arm use to climb over boulders, it wasn’t the physical difficulty that got to me. The impact the smaller miles had on my mental fortitude was more than expected. Slowing down, I was falling behind people I had been hiking with and the isolation of the trail was beginning to set it.

Southern Maine trail conditions.

SOBO Isolation

I wasn’t entirely alone. Petra caught up with me when I zeroed in Stratton. She had started the SOBO part of her flip with her tramily, but unforeseen circumstances made her decide to push ahead and hike with me. I was grateful for her added company because the stretch from Stratton into New Hampshire was isolated and seemingly desolate. Aside from occasional NOBOs passing, we saw virtually no one heading SOBO. I’m finding how stealth camping might be the best way to meet the sunrise, but is not the best way to meet people.

When I do meet SOBO hikers they seem so focused on mileage. I think it’s easy to get stuck in that mind-set, especially when hiking solo. My first two weeks were relatively solo. I did find myself hiking with Dropsey about half the time, however her schedule was built around 16+ mile days. Also when I did find my solo hiking days to be more focused on getting to the end of the day than it was being in the day. I also think we all want to prove our worth to the NOBOs we come across. After 2,000 miles of hiking, the NOBOs are expecting big days and don’t really take SOBOs very serious. In fact, it wasn’t until I had come through Mahoosuc Notch that NOBO hikers became more friendly. I feel this was more an internal perception. I now saw myself and my experience to have valuable information about challenging terrain.

Crawling through Mahoosuc Notch.

Smiles over Miles

Petra helped me to see the positive in the lower miles. We took time to take in the sights, swim in rivers, and blue blaze to some waterfalls and stealth camping spots. One of the most memorable was the half-mile climb up to Sugarloaf where we stayed in the abandoned gondola hut. On the patio we got 360-degree views of sunset and sunrise. Dark skies provided thousands of stars, views of the Milky Way, and a few shooting stars. Before bed I brought out the guitar and played in the hut. With the hut to ourselves, I was able to sing and play loud and really embrace the acoustics of the abandoned building.

Sunset over Sugarloaf.

Leaving Andover, ME, I got to see my first moose. I was hoping I’d get through Maine and see one. The shuttle driver for the Human Nature Hostel spotted it and stopped the truck so we could snap a picture!

Moose in Andover, ME.

Pushing on over Saddlebacks, Bemis, Baldplate, and Mahoosuc, I began to focus more on taking in where I was. Unfortunately this meant I was taking less notes and don’t have a lot to say about it. However, going over these mountains, I found myself stopping more often. The views were immense and my time in Maine was coming to a close. Every time I stopped, I began to notice little things. Aside from the breathtaking views, I was finding wild blueberries and strawberries, which I ate all the way to New Hampshire and am still finding above treelines in the Whites.

Petra on the Saddlebacks.

I have noticed a sense of urgency to push big miles by many SOBOs thus far. However, the people I see truly enjoying the experience are remaining present. Slowly, I’m learning to let go of the idea of where I need to end up and embrace where I currently am. The less guilt I feel over miles hiked, the more I find myself experiencing enjoyment.

Next stop, New Hampshire.

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