It’s hard to imagine now, but in 1973 AT thru-hikers started out unencumbered with much info about what was in front of them. No social media groups like this one to talk things over with, no web, no YouTube videos—just a couple of mediocre books and the ponderous ten volumes of ATC guides. That’s all there was. And you had to drag yourself to a pretty good library to find even these.
So I was clueless, so clueless that I didn’t know it was fair to drop your pack at Katahdin Springs Campground and slack up to the start of the trail. So instead I hitched into Roaring Brook Campground on the north side of the mountain (hitching in Baxter Park was illegal then, but the road walk from the Gatehouse to Roaring Brook was a ton of dirt miles, and the flower-painted VW hippie bus rumbled quickly to a stop when I stuck out my thumb) and dragged eleven days of food and a huge mass of Everest-quality gear (Maine is the “north”; I thought it would be cold in early June) up to the Katahdin sign to the start my walk.
The compensation for my ignorant choice of starting point? Just a few hundred yards upstream from Roaring Brooks is a small lake, and I wandered up to it at dusk, too nervous to relax after supper and too harried by black flies and mosquitoes to sit around the shelter.
I turned a corner on the sloppy trail around the lake and there was my first moose, standing high-butt deep in the lake to escape the bugs and lazily munching away on some floating green muck in the water. A horse with antlers, as I had heard from all my friends who had already seen one? Nope. A horse the size of a jacked-up pickup truck—with antlers as large as a mall Christmas Tree? Yes.
But majestic? Nope. Awkward looking, cross-eyed, same expression on her face I’d had when I was facing a Latin exam in high school. He looked up, spotted me with little enthusiasm, and went back to his snack with total disinterest.
But me? I’d seen my first moose, and the AT trip was already a success, no matter what came next.