It’s Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, and we thought it would be a good time to look back at some of the hikers who traversed all or parts of the IAT in Maine this past summer. While “you-know-what” is still making life difficult, we hope these hiker stories will inspire you to start planning your own hikes this fall or next spring
The first hiker to hit the Maine IAT was Jaime Haskins who began his walk early in the season on May 13th. Jaime is an enthusiastic hiker from Thomaston, Maine who has hiked the Quebec section of the IAT as well as the Long Trail, the Arizona Trail, the Florida Trail, the Cohos Trail and substantial sections of the AT and Bigfoot Trails.
Leaving his car in Patten, Jaime was able to hitch a ride to the IAT trailhead in the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument with National Park Service Ranger, Dewey Loft, who was doing some early maintenance work in the monument.
“They dropped me off at the trail head and away I went with an open spring forest over me. A cold bath in a stream, still snow on Katahdin, gray tree frogs trilling a surprise near the north gate of monument, the East Branch rapids were all new to me.”
Being early on the trail meant there were few biting insects to deal with. However, since the Maine IAT trail crews didn’t have a chance to get on the trail until June, there were many blowdowns to contend with. Jaime, though, was philosophical.
“The blowdowns did not impede my progress too much, but added to the interest of winters work.”
After two nights in the monument (and sightings of moose, fisher and a mama bear and cubs) Jaime arrived at the Matagamon Wilderness Campground, where he enjoyed a “fantastic breakfast” before heading east.
“A long, pleasant road walk in very light traffic for 14 miles to Shin Pond Restaurant for two lunches spaced 2 hours apart. Stuffed, I headed out of town and into the woods again barely in advance of the ATV season. Perfect timing really. That night I slept just in my tarp like a burrito in the woods and caught the music of Long-tailed ducks heading north under misty starlight to the Canada tundra.”
The next day Jaime headed up Mount Chase to end his hike with a last view of Katahdin and Shin Pond. However, on his drive home, he began to hatch another plan: biking the IAT from Mount Chase to Fort Fairfield.
“About two weeks later I came back with my bike and blasted out of Patten on Route 11 up to the [Mount Chase] trailhead. The logging road section was pleasantly easy while a little hilly for some excitement. For lunch I discovered the [Roach Farm] shelter in a big field of grass and dandelions with bobolinks singing. After Houlton, the trail got really fast and twisty-turny before giving way to long straightaways on flat gravel with insects in hot pursuit of me as I passed wetlands. I started spending a lot of time riding no-handed down the “tunnel”, seeing almost nobody. The few who were out there seemed aware of the little paradise we shared. Peepers and toads were in full chorus.”
Two weeks in the spring can make a big difference in insect populations in Maine (they increase!). It’s also a time when amorous male porcupines begin searching for a mate.
“That first night camping with my bike I was not too rested. A porcupine came sauntering along around midnight and I was concerned she would find a salty handlebar to chew on. I hissed and shook the tent to spook her. It worked, but an hour later some unhappy creature [probably a love-struck male porcupine] sounded as if it was being eaten a hundred yards or more off in the woods, and I heard the first porcupine again, still nearby, go scrambling up a tree.”
The next day, after another great breakfast (this time at Al’s Diner in Mars Hill) Jamie headed to Mars Hill Mountain.
“Mars Hill was the grunt of this trip, pushing my bike up a steep ski slope with partial help from added trailside switchbacks. A good test to reacquaint my leg muscle memory. Lunch on top with wind turbines spinning and a lone hare hanging out near the lean-to. Biking along the turbine ridge was like a really big roller coaster ride, going very slow on foot then almost too fast for safety on gravel. Oh, so happy to be on my bike! Just before descending the last ridge the IAT became authentic hiking trail again and I shouldered my bike through the pleasant woods as a thunderstorm approached.”
At the north end of Mars Hill Mountain, Jaime headed east to US / Canada Border and then turned north on the Border Trail. After a few miles of wet and muddy riding, Jaime arrived at the US Custom Station in Easton where he checked in before continuing on the border towards Fort Fairfield.
“The fun part of the trail had arrived. It turned out to be a few soggy hours, but really quite refreshing in light of the dry spring. The mud on my bike and my clothes and my skin made me happy. Bug repellent! Forest then field, gentle up then steep down, rolling vistas, a beaver swamp with the dam as my passageway, bike on shoulder, pack on back. Grass, rocks, dirt, sticks, blowdowns. Mama bear and two cubs! ‘Scuse me! Bye bye! Mosquitos to inhale and black flies plastered in my eyes. I arrived at the [Fort Fairfield] shelter in the late afternoon with the promise of what might the most menacing horde of insects I would ever sleep with.”
Discretion being the better part of valor, Jaime opted to push on.
“I biked onward down the rocky Sam Everett Road to Route 161 and then east to the Fort Fairfield Custom Station and the end of the Maine IAT. But a sleeping place would not come soon or easy. West then south then west then south I pedaled down country roads toward Presque Isle. It was almost dark when I chanced upon a local preserve with a handy little open-sided shelter where I could sit with a snack and then, after dark, discretely pitch my tent.”
“In the pale gray early dawn, I continued cycling toward Presque Isle through farmland. I got some strange looks, I’m sure, from morning commuters. Maybe because we had barely emerged from COVID, maybe because there was news of a recent unsolved murder. Nevertheless, I was happy to get to Presque Isle to get my breakfast at McDonalds and my bus ticket back down to Sherman, where I would again ride north to complete my journey back to Patten”
Jaime’s now planning his next trips: biking the New Brunswick section of the IAT and hiking the Nepisiguit Mi’gmaq Trail which runs from Mt Carleton to Bathurst, NB. Stay tuned!