Sunday, October 8, 2017 (Day 159)
It did not rain through the night. I rose, packed up my things, and set on my way.
I came to the West Branch of the Pleasant River. I removed my boots and socks and rolled up my pants in preparation to ford. The water was shockingly cold at first, but my body was quick to adjust.
Two other hikers and an employee of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC), whom I had met once before, greeted me on the other side.
I sat with them and chatted. The topic of water came up. I mentioned that I did not have a filter. The MATC employee suggested a water source up ahead, just off the trail, would be best for me to collect from.
“How far off trail?” I asked with a smile. At this point in the game, detours did not sound appealing. “Is there a sign that says ‘water’?”
At that, a day hiker who had just made it to the banks of the river, laughed to herself and offered sarcastically “Honey, this is the wilderness!”
I was hot with shame and embarrassment and guilt. “There often is a sign.” I said, in my defense.
“She’s right.” said the MARC employee.
Thoughts of society and the woods racing through my head, I continued on.
I quickly came to a stream that flowed directly on trail. I pulled off my pack, and squatted beside it to collect water.
The hiker who had made the eye-opening comment passed by with her hiking partner. “I see you found the water” she jested.
At this point I had to say something. I told her that I was a thru-hiker and that her comment had made me feel quite badly. I told her that this close to the end, one is racing to the finish line and any detours are painful. I mentioned that the focus needed to spot a slightly beaten path leading to water, as opposed to a sign tacked to a tree are different, and I wanted to be aware of what I was looking for. I confessed to how it is somewhat sad, however, that even out here it is not ‘wild’; that there are signs, and pipes, and that the romance of searching for a source is rejected in favor of an easily labeled trail. The wilderness was infiltrated, and I was using it to my advantage to race to the end.
They did not say much, just nodded in agreement and marvelled at how long I had been in the woods.
They left, and another couple with two small children hopped along the stones over the stream by which I sat. “I see you found the water!” they said smiling.
Oh, goodness. I repeated the same spiel, and watched them head on their way.
I journeyed on over Hagas, Hay, and White Cap Mountain.
Night fell. I stopped and sat on a leaf covered clearing just off of the trail, not far passed the Logan Brook Lean-to. I decided to stay.
Tucked inside my sleeping bag, I dropped a handful of noodles in to my cooking pot, added water, lit my stove, and left it to boil.
Moments later I turned to see that the mixed fuel cannister had caught fire! I was at once shocked and terrified. I jumped out of my sleeping bag, knocking over the pot. I grabbed the base of the canister and ran with it to the center of the trail. The flames were ablaze and growing. My puffy and hair caught fire. I sat the canister down on the trail and ran to grab one of the two liters of water I had with me and a boot to stomp it out. I tossed a liter over the flames. The fire ceased but for a moment before reigniting with a vengeance.
I was horrified. Leaves began to catch fire. I looked around me. Not enough dirt to suffocate it. Nothing to put it out. My mind raced. Is this how I am going to die!? How do I warn other people!? When is it time to run!? Is it going to explode!?
I quickly realized that I had to reach in to the flames and unscrew the canister. I took a deep breath and gripped the base of the cannister through the fire, unscrewing the stove. The fire stopped instantly.
I stood, in shock and relief. Then my headlamp flickered rapidly and died. I stood there in complete darkness in the center of the trail in my socks, hand badly burned, mouth agape, as I processed the situation and willed my eyes to adjust to the blackness of night. I clumsily felt around for my nalgene and boot and stove and canister. Fumbling and awkward, I found my way to my sleeping bag and located my external power bank that also served as a flashlight.
My body was flooded with adrenaline. I had a spare set of batteries. I considered hiking on. My eyes were very sleepy, however, and my thumb began to scream in pain. I decided to rest and let my body heal.
I took some aspirin, burrowed myself back inside my sleeping back, listened as my racing heart began to quiet, and fell asleep.