The Keepers

Mahoosuc is an Abnacki Indian word for "the abode of hungry animals"…referring to bears and wolves. Today, the Mahoosuc Range may not be so full of animals, but it is still the most wild and rugged section of the entire 2100 miles Appalachian trail. I had hiked all of Conn.…all of mass…all of Vermont…and almost all of NH on the AT, so this step to the hardest stretch was by no means fool hardy. I was well prepared for the frequent climbs and descents, as well as the rough and many times, wet footpaths. I was told not to underestimate the severity of this section,  Although only 33 miles it was mentioned that I allow 3-5 days for this traverse. Sure seemed like a lot of time for such a short distance. Many days on the AT I have logged 20 miles for the day. Could the conditions be so tough that it slowed me down to 6-7 miles a day????………I can run that distance half asleep. I will be sure not to take more than 3 days…. Striper mike can take all this rugged trek will offer. ……and more…after all , its only hiking with a 50 LB pack on…piece of cake.

The long ride to our starting point allowed us, my wife and I, time to plan out our venture. We were well supplied…well trained…and energetic about this dangerous , yet thrilling endeavor. So , arrive we did…….helped each other with our packs…….and started trucking !!!!(thats an old hippy term)

The trail crossed very wild and rugged terrain. It passes a few tarns….mountain lakes or ponds…and traverses all the major peaks in the area…most of which are over 4000 feet. The trail also passed through the Mahoosic Notch…a DEEP cleft between Mahoosic Arm and Fulling Mill Mountain. It was incredible wild and had an almost moon like appearance to it.   Giant boulders fell from the notches steep walls and clogged the floor of the notch. This necessitated climbing over and under these megaliths. Some, being as high as 40 feet, made these "climb overs", virtually mountain climbing. If you fell in this wilderness and were injured….you might, I say might, be lucky enough to be discovered and air lifted in a week or so!!!!!! To add even more oddity to this section, even in august when I was there, ice caves were under these massive boulders. The notch is only one mile long…….it took three hours!!!!!!

Sun

Alas, testimony for the good parts….like wild Maine blueberries and a HUGE moose and views that can test our long range vision capabilities. It was thrilling to see undeniable bear tracks on a streams bank…while feeling the cooling rapids sooth the days steamy blisters. It was a day of enormous physical strain and inspiring American beauty. I bet I fell asleep in under 1 minute when I crawled into my bag that night.

Right about now, I am sure you are asking yourself how the title of this tale fits in. ....read on!

Food is very important……….but not nearly as important as WATER. Unfortunately the predicted water sources according the trail guide were very low and water became an issue…….a big issue!. If you cant bank on it, then you have to carry extra when you find it. Water is very heavy, in case you forgot science class. The second day brought stiff muscles to the standing position and my shoulders ached as I rolled my mobile home onto my back. The hotter it got…and 90 degrees is hot!, the less I felt like eating. We had to ration the water, so I never got a belly full of that either. When not much goes in the engine….not much comes out of it.

About ¾ of the way up the last ascent of day 2……………….I crashed. I got very light headed…dizzy etc. Not the way to be when you are close to nothing……except more wilderness. Right on the side of a very sheer drop, I took the pack off and Susan began to talk me through some initial steps to recovery. EAT something!…Granola and a lot of water were forced down. It worked. I felt the life flow back into Striper mikes veins and .... energy renewed after ½ hr break, I gathered myself and moseyed into campsite number 2 . Dam , this is grueling! Oh by the way, My wife, barely 100 lbs and a lifetime of aerobics under her belt, felt it was sort of hard also.!!!!! She’s tough.

After burning up a weeks calories in one day…dried rice and canned chicken crap, just didn’t make it…. I ate all I could find…felt full but drained….and fell asleep counting the throbs from all the blisters on my feet.

Today was a 12 mile day if we were to make Speck Pond for the final night. The mountains were not as plentiful or steep but the weather continued to melt us and we had to drink every half hour to maintain the rapidly depleting fluids in our systems. God this is difficult!!!! If we made it to Speck Pond, it was a simple descent the next morning and that would put us on the predicted three day itinerary we had planned…..A super act of physical fitness……Determination overcame exhaustion and we plodded, relentlessly, on.

Once again, food became an issue…..peanut butter and raisin sandwich for lunch, on stale pita bread, just didn’t make it!!.. I needed real food. Food that smelled good and tasted wonderful. This being our last night, we were doomed to "finish" up the junk we had packed in. It looked like another can of horrid chicken by products…. Mixed with whatever was left. Yum Yum, tongue in cheek.

It took almost ten hours of hiking that day, but as predicted, we eased into Speck Pond Campsite at about 530 PM…I was going for a long , chilly , swim before I did anything. IT WAS ONE OF MY MOST MEMORABLE DIPS EVER! Skinny dipping in the Maine wilderness……….the best!!! I noticed a very bubbly brook flowing into the pond and went over to soak my raw feet in the effervescent bubble pools of the brook. Hallelujah it was like sitting in a spa in the middle of no where. Nirvana!

As we sat and wiggled our toes to ease the days burn, I felt something glance off my foot. Crawfish???? The pool was about 6 feet in diameter. And about 3 feet deep in one edge where a ledge hung over. Alright already….here comes the fish part!!

I told Susan to pull her feet out and let me scan this scene. It took me no time to realize that the brush against my feet was a native brook trout that was as wild as the area it lived in. In fact there were a bunch of trout in that pool…..and in that brook. As you know I am a big adviser for Catch and Release….especially for those big KEEPER striped bass. Today that would not be my credo. The 5" trout were the REAL FOOD that I had so yearned for and actually desperately needed at this point in the venture. Wanting the brookies and getting them are two different quests. If I could catch them…These mighty mites would be KEEPERS for Striper Mike , my growling tummy cast a vote to pursue them also. But how????

Susan had some small brass safety pins….sort of like a hook …right? I had a shoe repair kit with some sewing thread. I guess that’s today’s fishing line!!! I giggled when I cut I whippy aspen branch for my ultra light rod!!! And now……BAIT. What’s under this deciduous forest floor of leaves??……….no worms……or even any crawly type stuff. Hmmm,  I started turning over rocks near the edge of the pond and with in the brook itself for hopes of a terrestrial to put on the hook. Nuttin. Plenty of flying critters around..but I cant slide them on to the brass safety pin. I know that for sure, cuz I tried! I WANTED THOSE TROUT FOR SUPPER……I WANT REAL FOOD!

It is times like these that make it fun being me!!! Striper Mike calmed down ..and thought. Here is what followed. Using my Swiss army knife, I cut a few small clumps of my beard hair. Nice red hair. I took the sewing thread and wrapped the hook and the hair together. It was loose….the hairs were not secured well at all. But it looked buggy……alittle heavy to be called a fly….but maybe they would like my "sinking" fly.. I went on the side of the pool where I was least noticed and gently dangled it near the waters surface. These guys were so wild , that had no hook fear and I game 5 incher darted up and gulped it. I pulled him to the bank and had my first KEEPER….Five more followed with my Striper Mike fly. I rushed back to the camp site and carefully dressed each little beauty. I put the old rice with dried scallions in as stuffing and put some of that yucky squirt margarine on them. I tended to them intently so that our real food would not burn over our oven like campfire. The smell was heavenly. And every little tidbit was consumed., with as much appreciation for these KEEPERS as I have had with any Keeper, much larger than these. The fact that I usually use fish bigger than these as bait, did not diminish the life long memory of this fish dinner. That was real food…from the real place…where real trout still live....wild and free. That is how I felt sharing natures bounty with my hiking partner and wife. Just as when I am surfcasting! I felt part of speck ponds environment, not an intruder in it. I will and have caught hundreds of so called keepers…….giant fish of all species…..but when asked which keepers were the most memorable..Speck Ponds Native brookies always seem to head the list.

Be sure to eat what you decide to keep. Eat it differently than you do other meals. Taste its naturalness , not the tarter sauce. Ingest its wild nature and absorb its sacrificed energy. Don’t just kill fish. Take their life so to improve yours…it’s the cycle. Some cycles end in the garbage can after a photo at the house. Death without purpose is sinful. Please practice catch and release , when you are sure that this great food will not be on your table.

I saved THE BEARD FLY…..until a mouse ate the hair…..! Hike into nowhere…..find adventure….manipulate your environment….appreciate little things………that come at big times. Appreciate life, because if your not living………your dying!!!