There’s a popular saying on the Appalachian Trail: “No rain, no pain, no Maine.” It suggests that a hiker who chooses not to walk through rain or pain will never get to the trail’s northern terminus in one year. I think I was under the impression that all of the rain veteran hikers spoke of was going to fall before I got to Maine, but that wasn’t the case. What they didn’t tell me is that I’d be met with a whole lot of rain in Maine — and pain, for that matter.
And, when the water falling out of the sky isn’t enough to soak you, Maine is riddled with river and stream crossings and trailside ponds.
Before I go further, it’s important to point out that I love hiking in Maine. Even through the rain and pain, I appreciated the rugged natural beauty of the state on my thru-hike, and I have spent part of each of the last four summers hiking in it. The Hundred-Mile Wilderness is one of my favorite places in the world, and I intend to continue hiking it as a summer tradition (whenever I’m not on another long trail).
One of the greatest things about hiking in Maine is visiting its glacial ponds. The AT passes by a couple dozen of these ponds, sometimes going so close that hikers walk on the sand at their shores and other times passing out of view of the ponds, which are accessible by short side trails. On warm and sunny days, these ponds, with their silence and stillness, make ideal swimming holes. Lying on their hidden beaches and swimming in their brilliant blue waters evokes a sense of complete solitude, peace, and blessedness. My favorite non-mountainous spot on the AT is on the shore of one of Maine’s ponds.
But, Maine is definitely not all sunshine and rainbows.
In that state, the Appalachian Trail crosses numerous large streams and rivers. Before you say it, I know, they’re nothing like the swollen streams from Sierra snowmelt, but they can still be dramatic.
The first time I walked through the Hundred-Mile Wilderness (which wasn’t in 2012 because of my broken foot), it had been a very rainy summer. Before entering that famous stretch of trail, I’d spent a sunny afternoon resupplying and talking on the phone at Greenville and had just climbed into the SUV in which I was hitching back to the trail when the skies opened up.
I walked up to the “Welcome to the Hundred-Mile Wilderness — Prepare to die” sign in a deluge. Having waited two years to see that sign, I instantly got choked up at the sight of it, but my tears were indistinguishable from the raindrops coursing down my face. I snapped a picture of the sign with my waterproof camera and entered the Wilderness.
After wading down the trail for three miles, I spotted the shelter where I intended to camp. There was one problem: The shelter was on the other side of a ravine, through which was gushing a very narrow, whitewater stream.
I stuck one of my trekking poles into the water, working to push it down rather than letting the water force it sideways. The ravine was rocky and clogged with logs and branches; I was worried that I’d get my ankle wedged under debris as I tried to cross it. I considered camping on the south side of the little ravine, but the allure of being under the roof of the shelter in the deluge was too great. Acknowledging that I had the attention of a boy who was camping with his dad at the shelter and would take notice if I was washed away by the surging stream, I stepped into the water, which flowed around my waist, and climbed onto the opposite bank.
When I returned to the Wilderness the following year, the stream in the ravine was flowing gently, and I almost didn’t believe that crossing it had been so treacherous a year earlier.
That has been the case with many of the streams in Maine that I’ve repeatedly hiked through. During wet seasons, I have carefully forded streams that reached to my waist or higher — or camped on the south side of them and waited for the water to subside a bit — but, in dry times, those same streams were barely mid-shin deep.
Conversational blue blaze: More than anything else in the woods, water crossings used to terrify me. I’d fallen into a frigid stream in New Hampshire in 2010 and been pinned under a rock for long enough to scare myself; since then, I’d had a petrifying fear that approached phobia status. I didn’t get a chance to test my fear on the bridges of the southern Appalachian Trail, but I had to face it head-on in Maine. At first, I’d only crossed streams if other people were around. Then, I’d come to the curious conclusion that I was actually less nervous if I intentionally walked into the streams, rather than attempting to rock hop over them. Finally, I became the capable stream crosser that the number of miles I’ve hiked would seem to indicate that I am.
And, that is a huge improvement, as it allows me to enjoy all that the Maine woods have to offer.