July 3 - Ole Man and the AT Lodge
After landing in Bangor, ME and walking all over town to get our food for the first stretch of the trail and send the luggage we flew our packs in home, we hit the Concord bus station to wait for the Cyr bus to Medway, ME. Having been up since 3am and walked 6 miles in Bangor, I was already beat, so I did what any soon-to-be hiker would do - I fell asleep in a sunny spot near the window on the bus station floor. Gotta get used to the strange looks in public early, right? We slept the hour and 40 minute bus ride, legs sprawled into the aisle and pressed diagonally against one another and into the window in a weird slumped cuddling position that probably looked super comfortable but was not at all. We woke to the driver's monotone "Medway" over the PA, as we pulled into a bus station and parked behind a white van. As the bus driver grabbed our packs from under the cab, we noticed there was a third pack. It belonged to a tall man maybe in his late thirties or early forties with a dark ponytail a little sparse on the top and wide green eyes. Another hiker! The bus driver handed us our packs and one by one followed with "good luck." Out of the white van stepped a small framed old man with tan skin and a head of white hair which was accented by an unexpected tiny white ponytail held by a clear rubber band where his neck met his head - Ole Man. He smiled at us and threw open the back doors of the van where we stacked our packs before heading off to the AT Lodge in Millinocket. As we drove, he told us a little about himself.
Ole Man came to AT Lodge 13 years ago - he and his wife, NaviGator were nomads and traveled around the US. Their dream was to have a big red barn down south to make a hostile out of for hikers. Instead, they ended up with a big red 118 year-old house that used to be a boarding house. He said that one day Ole Man and NaviGator hiked to Millinocket, laid their packs down and resolved to buy the AT Lodge and become a permanent part of AT hiker culture. We passed some old industrial buildings, and Ole Man explained that Millinocket used to be a paper mill town with a population of 15 or 20 thousand. He said the town had a bias against hikers, and thought that they hurt the town's reputation. Ole Man and his wife NaviGator have worked hard over the past decade to change the town's view of hikers because they boost the town's economy, especially since most of the paper mills have shut down and the town's population has dwindled to a mere 4 thousand. The streets and buildings looked deserted as we drove. The AT Lodge includes hiker housing, a gear shop, and a cafe, though the cafe is a little ways down the street from the big red house. As we got closer to the Lodge, Ole Man gave us some expectations - he told us we'd get to the lodge, lay our packs down outside, find a bed in the bunk room, then he'd take us downstairs to get checked in and take care of our food drop for the 100 Mile Wilderness. Just as he said, we laid our packs down on a screened in porch and headed inside the bunk room where there were bunks in every usable space available. To claim a bunk, just put something there, the beach chair system. He showed us where there were showers available, told us the rules about hanging our towels on the hooks by the beds, and we headed down to the office to meet NaviGator and get checked in. NaviGator is tall woman with cropped grey hair and sharp facial features to go with her strong personality. She talked us through when to get our food dropped in the 100 Mile Wilderness (there are old logging roads that go through the wilderness that Ole Man uses to drop hikers food), and gave us advice on how much fuel to carry for our stoves. The hiker from the bus was there as well, who said that he didn't plan on a food drop, but he had about 9 pounds of food on him. Usually the rule if thumb is to plan on 2 pounds of food per day, so Ole Man explained that 9 pounds was only about 4 and a half days of food, which had to last him through summiting Katahdin, the 10 miles out of Baxter State Park, and then the 100 Mile Wilderness. The hiker seemed nervous, but he didn't opt to get more food dropped to him. We headed back to the bunk rooms where Mason and I chose a top and bottom in a room where a hiker was sound asleep in the bunk on the adjacent wall. We showered, called our moms, and headed to bed to prepare for our AT journey's beginning the next morning.