I had taken a ride up the Golden Road to take some pictures of a couple of favorite spots, the dri-ki piled up at the foot of Caribou Lake and Mount Katahdin from the Abol Bridge. It had rained all night, but there was the promise of a little sunshine later in the morning, before more rain moved in during the afternoon.
I was camped up above Moosehead Lake, so this ride would be about a 100-mile round trip. I had the time, as with all the rain I had slowed down on my hiking and climbing because of the conditions. Not only were the trails muddy, or in many cases flooded, but the wet, slippery rocks and roots made any uphill trek even more difficult. Being alone, I didn’t want to have something happen.
The Greenville and the Golden roads are heavily travelled by logging trucks, which tear them up. They are gravel roads and some of the holes, once they get started, can get pretty deep. It was Sunday and the trucks didn’t run, so I didn’t have to worry about running into one of them.
I bounced and rattled up the Greenville Road onto the Golden Road, which after a few miles was actually paved. That’s when the conditions got worse. The paved surface was ripped up even more, and unlike the gravel road, you couldn’t run a grader over it to smooth it out. Some of the holes were worse than anything I’ve seen on Boston streets, which means the pot holes were worse than the streets of Berlin after a 1945 bombing run.
I heard the metal on metal clanging. It sounded like something coming loose under my truck. I pulled over and crawled under the truck, but once stopped everything strangely stopping banging. I got back in and drove some more. The rattling and banging increased. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I kept smashing down into the huge pot holes. And then it stopped. I drove a little further. Nothing. I got out and crawled back under the truck. Nothing moved.
Who knows. Maybe something fell off, a skid plate or a clamp. I was about 30 miles from Millinocket and it was early Sunday morning. My tent and all my stuff was in the woods north of Moosehead Lake. Good riddance, was all I could think at the time, still I drove cautiously.
I figured I should head for Millinocket just in case. One of the few places open were a gas station and a donut shop. I got some gas and a dozen donuts, what else could I do?
I was a long way from camp and didn’t want to go over the Golden Road again. The only other feasible option was to take Route 11 south and cut across the Katahdin Ironworks Road to Greenville and then up the Lily Bay Road. That could take up to two hours, but I just wanted nothing to do with the Golden Road.
Route 11 was an easy, paved secondary highway without a lot of bumps. But the K-I Road was gravel. I’d have to take it easy. I just wanted to get back to camp and worry about the truck the next day. Crossing the K-I would take about an hour. I had been on it the day before and knew if I drove slowly, I’d be fine.
Not long into the trip, as I approached the point where the K-I crossed the Appalachian Trail, a hiker stepped into the road in front of me waving his arms for me to stop. I slowed as he came up to the window.
“There is an injured hiker in the woods,” he pointed up the trail. “He slipped on a rock and hurt his leg. He needs to get to Greenville. Are you going that far?”
“I’m heading for Greenville,” I said out the window as I pulled the truck to the side of the road. I got out of the truck and walked over to where the trail crossed the road. The hiker had gone back up the trail to help the injured man. When they got to the road the man was walking on his own, however, limping badly.
The hiker put his hand on the injured man’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” he said.
I helped the injured man off with his pack and put it in the bed of my truck. As I did, the injured man limped over to the drivers door and was about to get in.
“I’ll drive,” I said motioning for him to go around to the passengers side.
“Do you have any water?” the other hiker asked. I had a case of bottled water in the truck and I gave him a couple of bottles. He thanked me and walked across the road and into the woods.
The injured man had meanwhile climbed into the passenger seat. It turned out that they were not hiking together. The first hiker had come across the injured man on the trail and was giving him a hand.
I got in and held out my hand introducing myself. He shook my hand, but I had no idea what he said. He was Chinese and all I got was Lee.
“Your name is Lee?” I asked. It wasn’t but I was very close.
“What happened” I asked pointing to his leg.
Lee went off in what I assumed was Chinese, I think, explaining to me what had happened. There was a little English mixed in and I was able to determine that he had slipped on a rock and fallen.
“Are you a thru-hiker, are you headed for Katahdin?” He seemed to understand me, because he launched into a lengthy story about how he had just gotten on the trail in Monson, about 25 miles south of Greenville. He was hiking alone. He had eaten all his food and had no water left, and thought he had too much stuff in his pack as it was very heavy. He had lost his footing and fallen, twisting his leg. Lee was very upset that he wasn’t going to reach Mt. Katahdin.
With some difficulty in translation, he explained to me his new plan, to rest in Greenville and once better, return to the trail. Lee was determined to finish, even though he had really just begun.
The Appalachian Trail begins in Georgia. Some hikers begin as early as February to make the 2,160 mile hike. Lee has gotten on the trail in Monson and hiked a day, maybe two before his fall. He’d spent at least one night in the woods and eaten all his food. He covered maybe 25-30 miles and had about another five to seven days to go. He was off to a bad start.
As best I could tell Lee was from China and was not a hiker. He worked in an office, rarely getting outside. It was like he had just dropped into the woods from the moon.
He was talking away, but I really wasn’t understanding. I did get that he had not had anything to eat all day and was out of water. He was wet from all the rain and pretty muddy.
Then it dawned on me. “You’re hungry, right?” Lee nodded a little sad.
“Do you like donuts?” I asked.
He just looked at me with a puzzled expression.
I stopped the truck and got out. We were on a gravel road in the middle of the woods. He really must have wondered what I was doing. When I got back in the front seat I was holding an open box of a dozen assorted donuts. Lee’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. I set the dozen donuts in his lap.
“Help yourself,” I said reaching behind my seat.
He was on his second donut before I pulled the two cans of beer from the rear seat pocket.
“Do you like beer?” I said handing them both to him. Lee looked like he would cry. He said something in Chinese while nodding his head, but even if his mouth wasn’t full of donuts I don’t think I would have understood, but I knew what he meant.
We continued our slow roll toward Greenville, with Lee spitting donuts all over the passenger’s side of the truck while speaking Chinese. So far there was no metal banging and clanging beneath the truck..
Lee was living the dream. He finished about three donuts per beer. Fortunately I had more beer. Crumbs fell like rain from his mouth, and he was thirsty enough to guzzle the first couple of beers and before I knew it he was asking for a fourth. He had eaten about seven or eight donuts by this time.
“I guess you were hungry Lee,” I said in response to a long speech in Chinese, “and pretty thirsty too.”
We were getting near Greenville. Lee was rattling around in his empty beer cans, with a nearly empty donut box on his lap. He had vanilla and chocolate icing on his chin and a bit of jelly to the side of his mouth and white powdered sugar on his heavy black-rimmed eye glasses. He let out a loud belch and smiled. Then he said something, which of course I didn’t understand. When he grabbed his crotch; I got the point and pulled over.
Smiling and nodding his head, while babbling a mile-a-minute in Chinese, Lee stumbled off the road into the woods. I guess he was pretty particular about his privacy, because he didn’t just stop at the side of the road to go, he staggered off into the woods.
Now I’m trying to be the good Samaritan and help out my fellow man, but how long was I supposed to wait. After five minutes I got out of the truck and shouted for Lee a couple of times. After about 10 minutes I walked into the woods, still calling his name. Where the heck did this guy go? There was no reason to run off, we were nearly in Greenville and his backpack was in the back of the truck.
“Lee!” I continued to shout. I looked to see if I could find a trail or anything that might indicate where he had gone. Nothing.
“Lee you crazy bastard, where the heck did you go?” I continued to shout.
He had that leg injury and could not have gone too far.
“Lee, come on man, where are you?” still nothing.
I went back to the truck. Maybe it was more than just pee. I figured I give him some more time. If he was squatting up against a tree, I could understand him not answering and calling me over. Another 10 minutes or so went by and still no sign of Lee. By this point he’d had enough time to read the entire Sunday Cape Cod Times, if he had had one. Maybe it was the donuts and beer. I began to wonder. Could Lee have gotten sick after eating a dozen donuts and swilling four beers. Maybe he wasn’t used to it. And if he hadn’t eaten all day and that was all he had, maybe he’d gotten sick.
“Lee!” I shouted out the passenger window.
“Lee, are you okay?” Still nothing from the wet woods.
We’ll, he did have all that sugar icing on his chin and jelly on his face. Maybe a bear ate him. No, I’m sure I would have heard the screams.
“Lee, brother if you don’t come out of the woods, I’m going to leave you here,” I figured I throw out a threat and maybe make him hurry.
After about a half hour I figured Lee’s time was up.
“Okay you crazy fool,” I shouted at the apparently empty woods. “I’m outta here.”
I got out of the truck and walked around to the tailgate, opening the back I pulled out his backpack.
“Lee, I’m leaving your pack here beside this tree,” I shouted as I set it off to the side of the road. I also left him some water.
I got back in the truck, but was feeling terrible about leaving. How had this guy become my responsibility?
“Greenville is about two miles down the hill,” I shouted and rolled up the window.
I started the truck and blew the horn. Nothing. I rolled ahead about 40 yards. There was nothing in the rear view mirror.
“Crazy Chinese guy,” I mumbled to myself as I backed up.
“Lee, lets go buddy,” I was wasting my breath.
The next day I had to go into Greenville to do some laundry. I figured I’d also look for Lee. I had told him about the campground just outside of town. If he had a tent in his pack, which he probably did, I expected to find him camped there nursing his sore leg.
I checked in the office for a Chinese gentleman named Lee something. They knew who I was looking for and told me where he was camped. I drove over to his site. Lee was there and he immediately recognized me and the truck. He had a big smile on his face as I got out of the truck.
“Lee, where did you go yesterday?” I asked as we shook hands.
He answered something about walking in the woods, but I didn’t understand him.
“Well you made it here safely,” I noted. “So what now?”
He said something about his injured leg and resting. Then he lit up in a huge smile and said something else, but all I caught was donuts.
“Did you like the donuts?” I asked.
I don’t know what he said, but he was pretty excited and I heard the word donut more than once. With my international diplomacy accomplished, I wished him luck, shook his hand and drove away. I don’t know what became of Lee. He may have developed an insatiable donut and beer habit, grown fat and still be living at the campground. Or he may have made it to Katahdin.
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.