Day two dawned bright and lovely. Newcomb Lake was still and flat and the surrounding mountains were so perfectly reflected that had you taken a picture (which we did) it would be impossible to discern which were the real mountains and which the reflected.
We ate our respective breakfasts. Len likes sweet in the morning and so had oatmeal with raisins. I prefer savory and ate my homemade concoction of grits, garlic salt, parmesan cheese and pumpkin seeds. (When I premade the mixture at home I discovered we were out of sunflower seeds and so used pumpkin instead–not nearly as good–but hey–on the trail? You eat it.)
We donned our nearly dry boots and I debated whether or not to break out my backup pair of thick, dry socks. The previous day’s walking had given me a blister which I tried to pop using Len’s hunting knife, but couldn’t. The skin was still too supple and the corresponding pressure of the blister didn’t offer enough resistance.
Another troubling development involved my second toe, specifically the toenail. (I know, I know, TMI, but backpacking really is all about the feet.) My boots have been my faithful companions for hundreds of miles in the Adirondacks, the Grand Canyon and elsewhere. They fit well and don’t give me problems. But thanks to the combination of that sucking mud and the wetness that finally made it through the seams, my socks were being pushed down into my boots and congregating painfully against the toes. I also wasn’t crazy about the way that second toenail floated around when I pressed on it, but we had a lot of ground to cover so I rolled my fresh, dry socks down to the ankle to create a rim that would keep them up, repositioned my gaiters, and pressed on.
Again, the trail was unbelievably wet, often with no way to go around the water; I immediately regretted wasting my dry socks. To cope, we became trail automatons, trudging straight through whatever we encountered. Running water? Meh. Splash, splash, splash. A blowdown across the trail? Psh. Crackle, snap, scrape. Our end point was a pair of lean-tos located on Moose Pond Stream. (So named because it is a stream that empties from Moose Pond and flows north. This tiny bit of information would prove to be very important on Day 3.)
As I said before, this trail was so remote that we not only saw no other hikers, we saw no footprints. No signs of human activity. And the trail crossed two good-sized creeks. At the first creek, Len used his poles and stepped from rock to rock; I opted to take off my boots and socks, roll up my pants and wade across. Icy water is an amazing tonic for poor, tired feet. The second creek (Calahan Brook, three miles on) was deeper with fewer exposed rocks and so we both removed our boots and waded across. The water was moving quickly and it wasn’t easy to cross on slippery, rounded river rocks in fast moving water, with an extra 35-40 pounds on the back, but we made it, picking our way across slowly, then reapplied our boots and trudged on.
Shortly after this second crossing, I descended into madness. Specifically, mosquito-madness. Mosquitoes adore me. I am the blood hunter’s bounty, a five-star sanguine sucker restaurant, and mosquito meals-on-wheels all rolled into one. When I enter their territory, there is much mosquito singing and dancing. And feasting. The particular hell of this area (affectionately named “Mosquito Alley” by yours truly) was compounded by a resident gang of black flies and the occasional mobster horsefly: they don’t leave bites, they leave holes. I wore a bandana (open) over my head, held in place with a hat. Over that I wore my indispensable Survivor buff which is stretchy and conforms to any part of the body. In Mosquito Alley, though, no barrier proves too great for the ravenous hordes. They bit through the double layers of bug-sprayed fabric at my ears. They bit through my pants, my shirt, they swarmed and celebrated. They flew into the space between my glasses and my eyes. Madness, I tell you! MADNESS!!! Bwahahaha. I raced in front of my husband, arms swinging around my head, and speed-walked the trail for the next mile or so. I did not look back.
When the cloud of mosquitoes finally cleared, I waited for Len, whom the mosquitoes do not love as much, and we continued on. And on. And on. I gradually moved into the only emotional state that will allow me to continue hiking when every fiber of my being is screaming Stop, Stop! That state is rage. Rage will get me through anything, I’ve found. And I was surely pissed. Pissed at the trail for taking so damned long to deliver me where I wanted to go. Pissed at the running water that was everywhere it wasn’t supposed to be. Pissed at the thick black mud that never betrayed its depth until you placed your full weight on it, and by god, pissed at the bugs. Pissed at the blowdowns that crossed our trail and slowed us up. Pissed at the heat index that was dangerously high that day. Pissed, pissed, pissed. If I had fallen and broken my leg, I would have risen up, pissed, and walked furiously on.
Let me tell you folks, rage really gets you there.
9.9 miles after leaving the glorious Fish Rock lean-to we staggered into the clearing of the Moose Pond Stream lean-to and made camp. In the way of all great physical trials (childbirth, marathons) we soon forgot our pains and reveled in what beasts we were to have come so far, so well. The nearby creek had a lovely sandy beach where we cooled our bodies and Len discovered the joy of creek-cold water poured over a hot scalp till the water runs cool. (I am honored to be the one to introduce him to this singular joy.)
The lean-to had a scythe and we cut the surrounding thigh-high grass (so grateful to have some work for the body that didn’t involve carrying and walking that I sang “Don’t Fear the Reaper” while swishing the scythe back and forth) and cut a path to the small beach. We spent the remaining afternoon wetting and rewetting our scalps as the sun blazed down and shone right into our lean-to. We hung our socks to dry and laid our boots upon a sunny rock, tongues hanging out, looking exactly how we felt.
We ate a whole dinner each that night (A Mountain House freeze-dried entree proclaims that it “Serves Two.” Hah. Not after our day.) We gathered wood and assembled a fire which we would be too tired to light after the sun went down, and fell asleep knowing that the next day would involve nothing more than retracing our steps and connecting back up with the Camp Santanoni trail. We felt relaxed and secure. In the language of the trail, it would be all downhill from there.
…Stay tuned for Day 3.