Friday, October 18, 2013

Hundred Mile Wilderness

A point-to-point course.  All singletrack.  Best aid stations ever.  Breathtaking scenery.  Challenging terrain (okay, downright cruel at times).  No entry fee.  Where do I sign up?

Of course, this is no "race".  The Hundred Mile Wilderness of the Appalachian Trail is a special place.  A stretch of trail in the heart of the Maine woods where I grew up.  A place where many an AT thru-hiker has encountered some "trail magic" courtesy of my parents (better known as Ma and Pa Pine in these parts).  A place filled with great memories playing in the woods around Camp Pine, "The Erskine Family Retreat".  It was no surprise that when I threw out the idea of "running" the HMW, the family was immediately on board.

Never a hungry thru-hiker leaves Ma Pine.

I often have the conversation comparing and contrasting the hiker/backpacker to the trail runner.  Why do I trail run?  Mostly because I am too lazy to carry a heavy pack and go through all the planning, time,  and work of a multi-day (or multi-month) excursion.  This trail is a bear carrying no pack.  With fifty pounds on your back?!  I can see why 10 miles is considered a good day in the HMW.

So not only was I excited to experience the HMW in the most beautiful time of year up there, but I was also looking forward to meeting the numerous northbound thru-hikers doing much more amazing things than me as they were nearing the end of their 2000 plus mile journey.  The few minutes spent chatting with a thru-hiker were well worth the inspiration I would gain from each encounter.

The plan for this HMW adventure was to go southbound for a number of reasons, the most significant being the fear of getting lost in the northern parts of the trail at night as I had never been on that part before.  So it was a Friday night campsite by Abol Bridge in the shadows of the magnificent Mount Katahdin.

The "game plan".

After a bountiful feast and a restful night tenting on the banks of the West Branch Penobscot River, I was raring to go the next morning at 6:30 with just enough light to ditch the headlamp.  Pacer extraordinaire Brian "Al Wesir" Stefanovic would join me from the start.  I was lucky to discover that Brian had just relocated from Fort Collins to Boston and he jumped at the chance to escape the city life for the Maine wilderness for the weekend.

Off we go!

Going southbound, I knew the real mountains would come in the second 50 miles (and in the dark).  Therefore, I was hoping to cover the first 50 at a decent, yet comfortable, clip.  Brian quickly referred to the trail as the "Rainbow Tunnel" and it was just a perfect morning to be out doing what we both love.

Brian atop the Rainbow Ledges.

Balancing act to the Rainbow Stream Lean-to.

These early miles had us skirting numerous ponds and lakes,

One Maine loon in no rush to head south on this day.

 with some wonderfully runnable trails,

with some not-so-runnable trails,

and plenty of "bog logs".

Shortly after leaving Pollywog Stream (Mile 17), our first aid stop (and right on the projected time), I realized that Brian was falling off the pace.  Unfortunately, I wouldn't see Brian again until Jo Mary Road (Aid #3 at Mile 41).  I think he decided that the pit crew was just having too much fun so he joined them at Nahmakanta Lake.  I was still feeling great and was very hungry (a good sign for my stomach).  I think I impressed my crew most by my ability to down a cup of venison stew, a whoopie pie, a Coke, and a Sam Adams in less than 2 minutes.

Brian leaves me for some high stakes cribbage with Uncle Pine.

Fueling up at Jo Mary Road crossing.

Darkness came early with the 6pm sunset.  I was able to catch some beautiful views from atop of Little Boardman Mountain, my most significant climb thus far, as the sun was going down.  I arrived at West Branch Ponds Road (Mile 55) in total darkness at 7pm (right on my projected time), just 12.5 hours after leaving Abol.

Staring at Little Boardman from Crawford Pond.

View from on top of Little Boardman.

I took my longest break of 16 minutes here at this road crossing getting a good meal into me as I prepared for my longest stretch without aid.  The next 15-mile section would take me over Whitecap (the tallest mountain in the HMW), Hay, West, and Gulf Hagas mountains before the long descent to the Pleasant River.  I expected to see my crew again about 5 hours later at the KI road crossing (just a few miles from Camp Pine).  I left actually looking forward to the mountain climbs and some extended hiking.

Topping out Whitecap above the treeline in the dark was certainly a highlight.  It was still overcast so not too many stars, but I was surprisingly comfortable in a t-shirt.  The only thing that spoiled my summit experience was taking a swig of Brian's Kona Mocha EFS from my (his) gel flask when I was expecting lemon-lime VFuel.  I nearly barfed right there.  No biggie except that I realized I had nothing but water now to get me through the next 4 hours.

Whitecap Summit.

The next 11 miles to the Pleasant River were a grind.  Even though it was all downhill after summiting Gulf Hagas Mountain, it was just too technical to ever find any kind of running rhythm.  The same really could be said for the whole remaining 40 miles.  The KI road just on the other side of the river was a mini-milestone for me though as it was close to "home" (Camp Pine) and meant just 30 miles to go.  Finally I could hear the river flowing and got on to some smooth runnable trail, boosting me into my fastest running pace all day.  Following the beam of my headlamp, a strange dark shadow kept appearing out of the corner of my eye.  I finally look to my left and a bear cub is matching me stride for stride.  I instantly thought "oh shit, where is your mama?".  Luckily I hit the banks of the Pleasant River seeing the lights of my crew on the other side.  I somehow made it across without taking a swim and was stoked to have made it to KI (Mile 70) a little after midnight.

The crew is ready and waiting at KI with just what I need.

Only 30 miles to go?  No problem!  Yeah right, I was already familiar with what lied ahead and was fully expecting another 12 hours to get this thing done.  The Chairback-Barren range is the most challenging stretch of the HMW.  I was encouraged by the fact that part of my amazing crew was planning to hike in a side trail and meet me in the middle of the night somewhere between Third and Fourth Mountains.

The Chairback "Slide"

Glad to see the crew still having fun at 3 in the morning.

By this point I wasn't sure which summits I had topped and which ones I had not.  There are many ledge-cropped summits through this range and I wasn't sure if I had come over Third Mountain yet when I saw a headlamp approaching.  It was great to be met by Brian who let me know we had just a little over a mile to the trail junction and the rest of the crew.  Now the stars were out and despite my fading condition I couldn't help but appreciate the fact that I was in such a wonderful place with wonderful people doing something really cool.

I met up with the rest of the crew and laid on the ground for a few minutes.  My sister Regina, aka "Whispering Pine" would be joining me for the rest of the night.  An AT thru-hiker herself and the one who has spent more time hiking these trails than anyone I know, she was ready to get me over Fourth and Barren Mountains and through the remainder of this relentless mountain range.  Hopefully, my energy would be renewed by morning as we would be meeting up with Ma and Pa Pine at Long Pond Stream, my next aid station.  I definitely went through my lowest point through here, swearing at every rock and root and hoping not too fall and break my neck on the crazy steep descents.  As expected though, when the skies lightened up so did my spirits and we were greeted with amazing views atop the Barren Ledges.

Barren Ledges.

Long Pond Stream.

With the Chairback-Barren Range in the rearview mirror, my energy coming back, and just 14 miles to go, I am ready to push this thing to the finish.  I want to run, however the HMW just never cooperates.  If there was a section I underestimated it was this stretch from Long Pond Stream to Little Wilson Stream.  Three more hours to cover this measly 7 miles?  It was great to see my first thru-hikers of this new day, a fun group at the Wilson Valley Lean-to.  They about flipped out when I told them what I was up to and that I had left Abol Bridge just yesterday morning.  They flipped out even more when I emptied my pack of all the snicker bars I was carrying.  I left to loud cheers from this grateful bunch, just the boost I needed.

My last aid stop, another hike-in aid by my amazing crew, came by Little Wilson Falls with 7 miles to go.  I'm now thinking a lot about doing this thing faster than anyone has been known to do it, the "Fastest Known Time".  It's 10:30am, I am 28 hours into this, and I have just about 2.5 hours to get the FKT.  I probably wanted it even more now for my support crew than I wanted it for myself.  They worked so hard for me.  So I threw off my pack, grabbed a can of Sprite and an apple and barely stopped here as I knew time was becoming critical.

Hoping this final section would at least be a little easier than the previous 7 miles, I longed for just a half-mile of runnable trail (or a quarter-mile, or a tenth of a mile).  But as expected, the HMW stayed relentless all the way to the end.  I am able to run a few pretty good stretches, enough to make me confident I am going to cover this section faster and that the FKT is going to happen.  I finally hear the sound of traffic and shortly after I am met by Brian who lets me know there is just 0.4 miles to go!  I hit the pavement of Route 15, completing my journey in 30 hours 22 minutes and 5 seconds, a mere 26 minutes faster than Ryan Welts and Adam Wilcox did it in 2011.

Bringing it home!

Mission accomplished.

This Hundred Mile Wilderness adventure will be something I will treasure forever.  My family and friends obviously went above and beyond even the high expectations I already had, just because that's how they do things around here.  I can guarantee that no one has ever received the support I had over the course of the HMW before.  I am so lucky for the experiences trail running has brought me, and loved sharing this one with my Maine family.

-Brother Pine

Even a custom finisher medal!

The data (mileages based on AT Data Book)

Start: Turn off the Golden Road pavement just west of Abol Bridge (10/12/13 6:30:00am)

Aid #1 (Mile 17.4): Pollywog Stream (Arrive 9:58am, Depart 10:04pm)

Aid #2 (Mile 25.7): South end of Nahmakanta Lake (Arrive 11:55am, Depart 12:02pm)

Aid #3 (Mile 40.9): Jo Mary Road, Cooper Pond (Arrive 3:21pm, Depart 3:29pm)

Aid #4 (Mile 47.8): Kokadjo-Johnson Pond Road (Arrive 4:57pm, Depart 5:00pm)

Aid #5 (Mile 54.7): West Branch Ponds Road/B Pond Road (Arrive 7:00pm, Depart 7:16pm)

Aid #6 (Mile 69.5): KI Road (Arrive 12:12am, Depart 12:25am)

Aid #7 (Mile 76.4): Third Mountain Trail Junction (Arrive 3:30am, Depart 3:37am)

Aid #8 (Mile 85.3): Long Pond Stream (Arrive 7:33am, Depart 7:35am)

Aid #9 (Mile 92.6): Little Wilson Stream (Arrive 10:26am, Depart 10:27am)

Finish (Mile 99.4): Edge of pavement Maine Route 15 just north of Monson (10/13/13 12:52:05pm)

Total Time: 30:22:05

GPS data:

Track 1: Abol Bridge to KI Road click here
               66.95 miles, 10013ft gain, 9856ft loss

Track 2: KI Road to Route 15 click here
               28.07 miles, 7038ft gain, 6567ft loss

Total: 95.02 miles, 17051ft gain, 16423ft loss


  1. Awesome report, Rob. Brings back memories. Sincere congratulations to you!

  2. Awesome read! Hard rock and the FKT this past half year sounds like quite the accomplishment! Congrats!

  3. That looks pretty hard core!

  4. Great story! Happy adventures!