Thursday, September 13, 2012

Trail Angel

A true trail angel is one who comes unbidden in a time of dire need.  Dire need - not just any old time as you're going about your business.  Thru-hikers tend to consider trail angels to be anybody who offers them free help or food or kindness even though they don't actually need it.  Today I really needed a trail angel, well, to be more precise a road-side angel - on Jo-Mary Road when I suffered a SECOND flat tire, having not yet repaired the first one.  While the weather remained good, I didn't want to spend any time off-trail that wasn't entirely critical - and that first flat tire was 'under control' (sort of) - I could drive half an hour before needing to pump more air into it.  This SECOND flat was a different story ...

I'm going to let my personal journal account unfold the story for you:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012:


The extra half hour it took to pump the tire from totally flat to 25 pounds pressure, added to the long drive, meant I wasn’t at the Jo-Mary gate until 6:30AM – wanted to get an early start today because of the forecast of increasing chances of rain beginning in late afternoon.

I paid my $10 toll, pumped the tire a little more, and headed in. Then about 7 miles up Jo-Mary Road, the unimaginable happened – though I had actually given that some thought: what if I had a second flat tire? Well, it happened. The warning diagnostic tone signaled me, and I watched the left rear tire pressure drop more than a pound of pressure every second.

I quickly pulled off to the side, added a can and a half of liquid sealant, and pumped a bit, then turned around and headed back toward the gatehouse. My hiking day was suddenly over. With two flats, I’d have to get the repair work done immediately. But I soon realized that this flat was much worse than the one on the right rear. Despite the liquid sealant, the pressure kept dropping fast. After driving a mile or two I had to pull over again and do some more pumping. It might be that way – pump every few miles – all the way to Millinocket! Nightmare!

Then the nightmare got worse. I was pumping the tire and checking the pressure on the dashboard. As much as I pumped, the pressure kept dropping. This leak was obviously massive. I couldn’t move from this spot! The tire was going to go flat and there was nothing I could do about it.

But I didn’t even have time to consider what to do next (change the tire? Walk to the gatehouse and call for help?) before a pickup truck stopped and out stepped a giant of a man – a modern-day Paul Bunyan. He offered the use of his electric pump – plugged into my cigarette lighter.

It soon became apparent that even the electric pump wasn’t able to get the tire pressure up, and even if it did, the tire would go flat again so quickly that I couldn’t drive more than a mile.

Then this true ‘Trail Angel’, or Good Samaritan, really surprised me when he produced a tire plug repair kit and proceeded to insert a gooey rubber plug into the leak.

By then I was gushing with words of thanks. The leak stopped. The electric pump began to increase the pressure. I shook the man’s hand, told him I wanted to give him a hug. I really needed to give him a hug!

Hug received, he offered to plug the hole in the right tire as well – done! I thanked him yet again, gave him back his electric tire pump and was ready to let him get on about his tree-cutting business when he produced a set of tire plug repair tools and a packet of the gooey rubber plugs – handed them to me - said they were spares – wouldn’t accept any money. Then he drove away.

My parting words to him: “Sir, may the light of heaven shine brightly upon you!”

This was true Trail Magic – day hiker style. Not only did I have no further flat tire worries, but my tires were repaired – these plugs are permanent and can seal the leak completely. I’ve driven tires thousands of miles with such plugs.  I promised Paul Bunyan that somewhere, somehow, I'd pay forward his kindness.

Suddenly my day went from disaster to redemption! I could still do my hike. Before turning around and heading on toward the parking area for the day, I pumped the tires up to a decent level and noticed that the left tire was still hissing. So I used my ‘manna from heaven’ tire plug repair kit and added a second plug to the hole. That completely stopped the leak. Obviously this was a massive hole.

Paul Bunyan had told me that the problem is the very sharp granite gravel on these roads. And yes, to take a handful of that gravel and rub it between your hands, you can draw blood. Moreover, the granite grains are just the right size to lodge themselves in the grooves of the tire tread, letting the road pounding drive them in, deeper and deeper.  I immediately resolved to no longer drive the 40 to 45 mph road-pounding pace that I had been driving. I headed out at a steady 20 to 25. That would take longer, but the risk of yet another flat would be reduced perhaps a hundredfold from my two-flats-in-four-days rate.

I found the nice little trail parking area right next to the trail crossing and just before a rickety sagging bridge over Nahmakanta Stream at the south end of the lake by the same name, parked, prepared, and was on the trail at 8:50 – still enough time to do all the hiking that my logistics required.

I headed south along the fairly rugged trail that follows Nahmakanta Stream but doesn’t stay along its banks. It makes a couple of short climbs to avoid steep bluffs, the first one takes you past Wood Rat’s Spring then down, then up again then down into more serene terrain. The trail passes the Nahmakanta Stream campsite then crosses a series of streams including the colorfully named Tumbledown Dick Stream. There I found a totally incongruous aluminum stairway emplaced on the northern bank of this stream. You still have to ford or rock-hop the stream. There’s no bridge, just this bright shiny silver staircase, railing and all!

Finally at the side trail to a campsite at the north end of Pemadumcook Lake the trail leaves Nahmakanta Stream and heads into the woods near the lake but only occasionally in sight of it until my turn-around point at the lakeshore Katahdin Viewpoint. I had predicted that I’d see nothing there today after having a magnificent view of the mountain yesterday, but I was wrong. Today’s view was just as good or better. Today the mountain was manufacturing only a tiny cloud that wasn’t shading the summit the way the larger cloud of yesterday had done.

I turned around at noon and headed back north, reaching my parking area at 3:15PM with the weather beginning to get cloudy but not looking threatening yet. So I reloaded supplies and headed north for a short but very picturesque leg – just a mile and a half – along Nahmakanta Lake. There were frequent views, and I passed three beaches, but the best view was of a grizzled old red pine perched on a rocky bluff above the lake with a view of one of the beaches behind:

I turned around at a long gravel beach just 50 minutes down the trail. It had turned much cloudier in that time, so I didn’t want to risk getting wet. I was back at my parking area by 5:20 and there was a little rain starting at 6PM, though that turned out to be no more than passing sprinkles, soon over. The real rain, it turned out, didn’t reach here until after midnight. Meanwhile I found my tire pressure virtually unchanged from this morning in both tires. Wonderful! So off I headed at 20 miles per hour for the 25 mile drive back to the Jo-Mary gatehouse.



Here's the map of the route for today's hike, and a link to more photos:

AT Day 224 - Pemadumcook and Nahmakanta lakes at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Maine

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