Sunday, August 7, 2011

100 Mile Wilderness Run - Maine Appalachian Trail

The One Hundred Mile Wilderness; a name like that is seductive to a person like me. So, when I was invited to take part in an informal run on this remote section of the Appalachian Trail in northern Maine, I jumped at the chance.

The plan was depart from Abol Bridge at the foot of Mount Katahdin and run south for 100 miles to the town of Monson. While the term "wilderness" gets loosely used here, the area is quite isolated; we'd see no pavement of buildings aside from a handful of primitive backpacker shelters. Our support crew would use the private logging roads that criss-cross the area so we could be resupplied (and kept track of) every 20 - 15 miles. Looking back now, I underestimated the difficulty of this run and my time goals were... optimistic. Coming off a strong summer of mountain running, I figured that there was at least a chance I could pull this off in under 24 hours. In any case, I was physically and mentally prepared to slug it out for as long as necessary

From the start I teamed up with my good friend, Ryan.We'd look after each other and provide some measure of safety, as well as someone to bitch to. Misery loves company, and I doubt either one of us could have done it alone.

A total of twelve runners started from Abol Bridge at 5 am, just as it was first getting light out. The trail was fairly easy, with decent footing and only mild elevation gain and we were able to cruise along at a 5 mile per hour pace that felt comfortable.

The trail wound it's way through mossy forests and over Rainbow Ledges.

There were a few outlooks from ponds and ledges, but we didn't get any views, as the humidity was high and the visibility low.

Just as we began to encounter our first hikers of the day, I felt a bug land on the back of my head, followed by a sharp stinging sensation. Swatting frantically, I let out a string of choice words which made the backpackers look at me a little funny. I haven't been sting by a bee in years, but was left with a painful welt to remind me what it felt like for the next few hours.

We reached our first checkpoint at Pollywog Gorge (mile 20) around 9 am. Things were going smoothly, except for my crew almost being run off the road by a logging truck. It's understood that these are private roads and that logging trucks have the right of way, but blitzing around a blind corner on the wrong side of the road is a bit reckless.

Photo: Ian Parlin

Next, we went up and over Nesuntabundt Mountain, our first real climb of the day, then along a river on soggy ground and past numerous lakes and ponds. Sometimes the trail went right along the shore.

By now, it was midday, the sun was out, and things were getting hot. As we ran by Jo-Mary Lake, I stopped to soak my shirt in the water. It was very tempting to go for a swim.

We hit checkpoint #2 at Jo-Mary Road (mile 41) a bit before 2 pm. After climbing over Boardman Mountain, we had a few minor river crossings to contend with.

The first 50 miles or so were a mixed bag of footing. Some sections were easy...

and some were a bit more difficult.

One of the many backpacker shelters we passed along the way.

We reached checkpoint #3, Logan Brook Road (mile 55), a bit after 6 pm. From there, it was up and over Mount Whitecap with the sun setting, then a rocky ridge run and back into the trees just as darkness fell.

After a wide, knee-deep river crossing we reached our crew again at Gulf Hagas, checkpoint #4, at 10:30 pm (mile 70). By now we were beginning to feel the miles we'd covered and we indulged in a longer than normal break to change into dry shoes and have some hot food. At this point I surrendered my camera, which I never remembered to retrieve once it got light out again. Looking at the map and elevation profile, it seemed all the remaining climbs were moderate and the hardest section was behind us. Oh, how wrong we were!

The next 15 mile leg would take us over 7 hours to complete and it would be daylight before we saw our support again. Here, we traversed the Chairback-Barren range on some of the the most rugged terrain I've ever tried to "run". The trail seemed to meander around in search of every bump on the ridge, while never really making any substantial forward progress. When the trail wasn't going up rocky, rooty ledges, it went through shoe sucking mud. To add to all this, we were both feeling the effects of sleep deprivation. While waiting for Ryan to take care of some issues, I shut off my lights to look up at the stars. For a moment I forgot how grueling things were and felt a profound appreciation for what were doing. It was a warm summer night, the weather was clear, the stars were out, and... I dozed off on my feet. Eventually the sun came up as we were making our way down the mountain to our fifth and final check point, Long Pond Stream (mile 85) at about 6:30 am.

The last 15 miles were no give away and we walked nearly all of them. Working our way up a climb that would have felt trivial the day before, I noticed a fun-size Milky Way bar on the ground, still in its wrapper. Without a second thought, I picked it up and devoured it. It was delicious. On and on, across a set of railroad tracks, another knee deep river crossing, and past more ledges and ponds. I had been hallucinating for some time now - not the trippy psychedelic kind, but I almost jumped out of my skin every time there was a root in the trail that looked vaguely like a big snake.

Eventually, we ran into Kristina, Ryan's girlfriend, who had come out looking for us, and we knew we were almost done.

With the sound of cars on the highway in the distance, we even managed to run a little bit.

And before we knew it, we had finished. Our final time was 30 hours, 48 minutes, and 30 seconds.

Some well-deserved rest.

In the end, only two other runners of the original twelve made it the whole distance. One came in about at 37 hours, and another in 42. My congratulations to both of them.

This was my fifth successful 100 mile run, and easily the hardest. I'm sure that someone will someday set a faster time, 24 hours isn't out of the question for an elite runner, but I think I've had my fill. I'm grateful to have had the chance for such an adventure and someday I hope to come back in a more leisurely style, ideally as part of a walk from Georgia to Maine. Special thanks to Miriam and Kristina for supporting us. It sounds like they had almost as much of an adventure as we did. And I also want to express my gratitude to Emma and Ian Parlin for their efforts in putting this whole thing together. It's an experience I'll remember for the rest of my life.


  1. Great recap. Thanks for sharing. C. Hayward.

  2. Nice writeup and awesome pictures. I think you are the guy to pull the sub-24 next summer. Good luck at Wasatch.

  3. Great write up and pictures Adam. Way to go!

  4. Adam,

    Great job - I'm in awe! I like the first line of this post, as I agree with it whole heartedly. I've been thinking of organizing a race on this section (it seems a natural 100 mile course and we need more 100 milers here in New England), so would love to hear your thoughts about the feasibility of something like that (from a runner's perspective and if it would be foolish to do this in anyway other than Fat-ass style). My email is Again, great work - simply insane. And great pics.

  5. Josh,

    I really like the way we did it, in a limited fatass style, and I'm not sure anything official or any bigger would suit the character of the area. I agree we could use more hundreds in New England (NH really needs one), but I wouldn't be in favor of expanding this one.

  6. Excellent job gentlemen... thanks for providing the writeup and pix...

  7. Great blog man, and congratulations once again. It's interesting you were experiencing the Chairback-Barren range in the dark as Emma, Ian and I were moving over Whitecap at night as well. What a fantastic adventure. One that I look forward to completing soon.

    Jeremy Bonnett

  8. Adam, congrats to you and Ryan (and the two other finishers). Over the years I'd heard a lot of talk of doing this, but you guys actually DID IT! :)

    Sue J.

  9. Congratulations. That was an awesome run. You guys are beyond hard-core. I've hiked the Wilderness twice, at the beginning and end of a 15-month journey on the Appalachian Trail. The 1st time we took 12 days because we were slow, and the second time we took 10 days because we wanted to make it last. I hope you guys will have a chance to backpack it someday and really explore; see Gulf Hagas in all its glory, see the butterflies and chipmunks and moose, and actually go swimming in some of those ice-cold ponds and streams.

  10. Nice job Adam (and Ryan)! I agree with you that this course should only be done "Fat Ass" style with a small group or on an individual basis. It is, and should always be, a special section of the AT and not a race course. However, I'm glad you posted your time to Bakwin's FKT site. It surprises me that the route hasn't drawn the elite ultra runners like the Long Trail has. It's the perfect distance. I may give it a shot next year so I am glad you guys put a good time on the board to shoot for. I grew up there but have been in Colorado for 17 years. Thanks for sharing your adventure.