We should have known better. Within 50 yards of leaving the road, we encountered an open stream bed and we skirted out onto the ice of the adjacent lake to circumvent this obstacle. We bushwhacked back into the woods, broke out the GPS and tried finding our trail again, splitting up to cover more area.
“Greg! You on it?” I shouted out, even though I couldn’t see him through the thick undergrowth.
“Um, I think so?” he replied. I could hear the uncertainty in his voice.
“If you’re where I hear you, according to my map, you’re on the trail.”
“Yep! I got a blaze!” he responded enthusiastically.
Over the next nine days, that sort of back and forth between David, Greg and myself would play out often. We all decided over six months prior that attempting to snowshoe and ski Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness in the winter was a “good” idea. We all had plenty of winter travel experience, and based on all the research I’d done, we couldn't find anyone who had documented a successful hike in one push. So why not us?
That first day on the trail was a doozy. We covered more than 10 miles of untrodden terrain, encountering every type of snow condition from warm, slushy, punchy snow, to deep unconsolidated powder, to bare, frozen ground. There wasn’t a single step taken with predictable footing. We didn’t know if we’d break through to our thighs (even with snowshoes on, we each carried 40-50 pound packs) or step abruptly onto terra firma.
At this point, Greg and I both had our doubts about David’s ability to continue. We were thinking he must be miserable; he may be contemplating bailing out. We’d soon find out David was thinking the same.
“Hey man, how you doing?” I asked as we shouldered burdensome packs to continue our trudge through the landscape.
“Well, there’s this,” he replied, holding one of his snowshoes in both hands, flexing the plastic hard and folding the shovel of the snowshoe back toward the binding. Rendering it barely useful.
Greg quickly chimed in with his typical dry sarcasm, “Interesting! Well at least it’s not slowing you down!”
David forced a laugh and strapped his shoes back on. “You guys go ahead. If the crossing at Big Wilson Stream isn’t easy, wait for me there, otherwise head on up to the lean-to.”
Greg and I continued on, catching glimpses of David from time to time after we’d gained some elevation and could see through the forest. At this point, it was almost four in the afternoon and we knew we still had three or so miles to camp.
Our motto for the trip turned out to be “one mile an hour power,” forged on this first day.
The crossing at Big Wilson Stream was solid and straight-forward, though it was starting to get dark and the freezing rain predicted for the day was materializing. Greg and I made our way across an ice bridge and continued the last three-quarters of a mile to camp. While we filled water bottles and got dinner ready, David finally staggered in.
“Phew! For some reason I thought we had another two miles to go after the crossing. Boy am I glad to see you guys!”
“Yeah! Good day, eh David?” I poked.
“Well...” in his self-deprecating manner, “I was pretty sure I was going to follow those railroad tracks out to Greenville (15 miles away) and call it good. But I think I can fix my snowshoes and be good to go for tomorrow.”
Morning came and after getting some breakfast in our bellies, David went to find a small sapling to fashion some outrigger supports for his ailing snowshoes. Within a few minutes he was back with a small length of maple. He split it lengthwise, and using bailing wire, attached two, one-foot long pieces on either side of his snowshoes to keep them from buckling.
It was pretty ingenious. Despite having to make minor adjustments here and there, the fix took and he never lost ground on us for the rest of the trip.
As we started to get into a routine, we kept joking about how the trip was turning into a blur of snow travel punctuated by lean-to experiences, drinking coffee and sleeping. Each day saw us getting closer and closer to the end. By day eight, we were striking distance of Abol Bridge and the end of our trip.
“If we get to Hurd Brook by 1:00 p.m. tomorrow, I say we just bust out the last three miles to the road,” shared David.
We packed up camp on the morning of day nine, and after some easy miles on a snowmobile trail and five-plus miles across Rainbow Lake, we came to the last challenge of the trip: a steep climb up to Rainbow Ledges and a five mile slog to the road. The trail had been packed out by snowshoers prior to our arrival, which quickly became a blessing and a curse.
It was above freezing, so the snow was punchy, but the packed out trail gave us a firm base to walk on. However, the trench created was only two snowshoes wide, and the sleds we were hauling at this point were wider. As a result, dragging our sleds forced massive amounts of snow to pile into them, adding considerable weight to our already demanding loads. The trail’s twists were hard to navigate given our long turning radius, and we eventually straight-lined sections of trail to avoid the serpentine route.
This method was effective, but incredibly taxing. When we stepped off the trail, the soft snow plunged up to our thighs, but we justified all the energy we exerted by thinking of the beer and food that awaited at the end of the trail.
We came across the sign demarcating the end of the 100-Mile Wilderness, and soon enough we were on the Golden Road pulling our sleds across Abol Bridge and into the small parking lot. Greg’s girlfriend rolled in shortly after, pizza in hand. We couldn’t have been happier to see another human after nine days of constant travel.
We loaded our gear into the car, celebrated with a toast of delicious beer, and wolfed down the entire pizza before piling in and heading down the road.
100 wintery miles on the Appalachian Trail? Check!
Want to know more?
Read Part 1 of 100-Mile wild and be sure to check out www.threlkeldoutdoor.com. You can also follow Brian on Instagram!
Brian Threlkeld is an adventurer and photographer based in Portland, ME. He first started exploring wild places with his father in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota as a child and he has continued to search for adventure everywhere he goes, from Alaska to Iceland and California to Ecuador. After getting diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 30, the desire to play more and adult less is constant. Thankfully, his incredibly supportive partner Anna and her seven year old son Arlo help to make that work/life balance easier.
Special thanks to our co-sponsors Big Agnes, Osprey Packs and Good To-Go!