I got up early again and packed up as quietly as I could. Don't think I woke anyone. Was already on the trail by 545a. It had rained literally all night, or at least it was raining everytime I stirred in the night. That meant the mud and puddles were out in force today. I'd done a decent job of keeping my feet dry much of this trip, but it was basically impossible today, so I found myself traipsing willy-nilly through the puddles that crossed and the streams that ran down the trail.
As Stryder explained last night, the climb up Nesuntabunt Mountain was steep but short. It was the last significant climb between Wadleigh and Katahdin, and I'd hoped to get LTE service to check the weather as I had on a number of mountains before this one. No such luck, though. This was also the last big view, which was unfortunately tainted by clouds and fog. So much for "partly sunny." Ah well, still pretty. And the colors were popping a little later in the day as I neared Rainbow Stream shelter. There were loads of desiduous trees- Ash, Birch, Hickory, Maple, and others. Brilliant colors everywhere, truly a Rainbow Road.
I really hit my stride after the Hurd Brook shelter, and I crushed the last 3.5 miles to the Golden Road and Abol Bridge Convenience Store. Popped a few Ibuprofen and ignored the Achilles pain. I was on a mission. I didn't know what time the convenience store was going to close, but I knew that I didn't wanna miss it! Arrived at 445p assuming that the store wouldn't close before 5p. Thankfully they closed at 6p, which gave me plenty of time to pick up a soda, a candy bar, a pack of crackers, and a V8 juice. I was psyched, especially because I wasn't convinced that my persistent 2 mph pace would suffice. Ended up staying for an hour, which allowed for some much-appreciated RnR as well as some outstanding sunset light over Katahdin. For all of the unpleasant weather this trip, that moment was perfect. And as I was sitting on a boulder out front of the convenience store, snickers in one hand and soda in the other, I was reluctant to leave. But I was far more reluctant to cover the next 9.5 miles first thing tomorrow morning, since I'm meeting Ryan and Nate (and hopefully Sarah) at the Hunt Trail TH in Baxter State Park at 8a. Trying to avoid yet another early start.
There are loads of flyers at the AT entrance to Baxter State Park warning against entering the park without a camping arrangement secure beforehand. One even said "Expect to be stopped by a ranger." Ok, so I expected it. The sun had set, and it was getting dark quickly. I started hiking figuring that it's not peak tourist season and that many of the thru-hikers have already finished, so it should be pretty reasonable to find a site. And I figured worst case, I could pay someone to let me set up in their site. I hiked hard to make sure I got there at a reasonable hour. Ended up passing a ranger outpost about a mile or so beyond the signage. No one came out, so I just kept hiking. Considered trying to stealth camp near Big Niagara Falls, but I knew that I'd have to leave before first light anyways, so it wasn't worth the risk. I had hoped to find a spot, but I was shocked to arrive at Katahdin Stream Campground a little before 10p and find a shelter empty. I was elated and left $40 with a note on the end of the platform in case a ranger came around while I was knocked out. Not trying to hijack the site, just didn't wanna wake anyone up at the ranger station because it's so late.
After 33 miles and 16 hours on the trail, my feet are totally shredded and my Achilles is still swollen. Truth be told, I'm a little worried about the climb tomorrow. I can totally manage, just don't wanna hold my friends back. I think the weather is going to be gorgeous for the first time all week, and I'm confident we'll have plenty of time despite our late 830a start. It's 1130p, and I'm finally hitting the sack. Seven thirty wake up tomorrow morning.
Miles Hiked: 33