Saturday, June 29, 2010
We go left when we should have gone right. We pulled into the parking lot of the Abol Store and Campground, eight miles south of Katahdin. Jeff was anxious. I was filled with a nervous excitement. He suggested I pick up the Appalachian trail outside of the park and hike in to the park, then back out. After getting directions to the South Entrance from the store, we back-tracked to that fork, the one where we had decided to go left, instead of right.
The South Gate entrance had a line of cars back from the gate and booth. There was a uniformed man, clipboard in hand, stopping each vehicle. It was our turn. We pulled up. Maxwell had been curled up on the floor, at my feet, but immediately popped up and into my lap when we stopped. The man, park gate security, was wearing a plastic name tag reading, ‘Wayne’. He’s a heavy-set older gentleman and short in stature.
“No dogs allowed.” he said, as he peered through the driver’s side window at us, to which I responded, “He’s a Service Animal. I have a note from my doctor.” and gave him a pleasant smile. Jeff tensed up but sat quietly, pressing back into his seat as we speak across him.
The gate guy, Wayne, sighed, tapped the clipboard with his pen in irritation, then goes into the booth. We heard him call over a radio, “I got a girl here trying to bring her dog in. She says he’s a Service Animal?”
The mosquitos were numerous and aggressive. The air was oppressively hot, humid and still. There was no breeze. The little vampires swarmed in through Jeff’s open window attacking us.
“A Service Animal…there’s nothing you can do, we have to let it in.” a disembodied male voice responded in a crackle of radio static.
We heard Wayne sigh his frustration. He reappeared at the door of the booth, pen poised and said, “Let me have your reservation.” as he avoided eye-contact.
“Uh…my what?” I recalled looking at the Baxter State Park website, I didn’t remember seeing anything about reservations, “I didn’t know a reservation was required. Are there any sites available?” Wayne smiled broadly, “No.” and Jeff tensed up again.
“My friend just drove six hours so I can thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, starting at Katahdin.” I explained. “I made a mistake about making a reservation. I apologize but I need to hike that mountain. I was planning on doing some back-country camping and brought a two pound tent.”
“That’s not allowed here. You can only stay at designated sites.” he replied gleefully. “You don’t have any sites, not even a tent site available?” I asked.
Wayne sighed. He remained somewhat calm and pleasant but his irritation was apparent, carrying through in his body language and vocal tone, “It’s very dangerous. And you don’t look like you’re in the right physical condition. You hear that helicopter up there? A man got lost somewhere off the Knife’s Edge, Search and Rescue has been out looking for him for two days.” he said.
“Well, I’d like to hike the Helon Taylor, across the Knife’s Edge and then down the Hunt Trail. Who wouldn’t want to hike a trail called the Knife’s Edge?” I said cheerfully, ” I know what Search and Rescue is…I’ve participated in them when I was a member of the Civil Air Patrol.” I smiled, “My friend just drove me up here, he’s just dropping me off, he’s gotta head on. Is there anything available tomorrow?”
Another sigh, “I don’t know what to do with you.” he said as he turned and walked into the booth. He walked out a couple minutes later, “There’s a site available on Monday, two days from now.”
“I’ll take it.” I immediately responded.
Wayne stared at me a moment, shook his head, “Where will you stay until then?”
“I’ll figure it out. I’m sure I can find somewhere to pitch my tent until then.” I said with a confident and reassuring smile.
“Well, the computers are down so you’ll have to come back tomorrow. Can you pull your vehicle over to the side so I can tend to these other people waiting in line.” he says.
I got out of the vehicle, grateful to have my arms and legs covered with all the mosquitos, but sweating in my pink Nike jogging suit. Jeff drove the car though the gate, u-turned around the booth, and parked on the side of the road. After I walked towards Wayne and the booth, the next car pulls up and stops to check in.
“What time do you open tomorrow?” I ask.
“At six am.” he said looking past me at the car.
“It must be first come, first serve huh? And, if I’m not here right at six am, and someone else gets here before me, I won’t be able to get that spot, right?”
“That’s right.” A smug look on his face.
“And there’s just no way to make that reservation today?” I stared at him, disbelieving.
“Nope.” Wayne says.
“Y’know, this all seems very against Thoreau. And Thoreau did once say, ‘Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will follow it.’” I was not endearing myself but I continued on, “How often do you hike Katahdin?”
Wayne’s eyes darted at me then away. “I’ve hiked it once.” he replied rather sheepishly.
“Well, can I see if there’s someone who might let me stay at their site.” He stared at me, frazzled, “Uh, no.”
I turned to the people sitting parked, waiting to check in, “Hi, are you by chance staying at the Roaring Brook Campground?” I asked. They say ‘no’ and I move on to the car behind them. “Hello, I was wondering if you’re staying at the Roaring Brook Campground?” I asked. They replied ‘no’ as well. And so on and so forth down the line of waiting cars.
“I don’t know what to do with you. I’m going to call in the Assistant Deputy Sheriff to come speak with you.” Wayne said.
I smiled, “Great!” and I followed Wayne to the booth entrance. A younger uniformed man, maybe mid to late twenties, clipboard in hand, takes over the check in. Wayne sat down on a stool and said over the radio, “That girl…the one with the dog. Can you come and deal with her?”
I sat down on the edge of the booth’s concrete pad and waited. I got up after a bit and walked over to Jeff and recounted the conversation. He mentioned, hiking in from elsewhere again. I walked back over and asked Wayne how long he thought it would take for the Sheriff to arrive, “A while.” he responded.
After a long while, I walked over to the car and decided to get in to escape the mosquitos. A few minutes after getting in, Jeff said, “They’re here.” a vehicle pulled up behind his car, parked, three men get out.
I got out. I walked directly at the lead man, shook his hand and introduced myself, ” Hello, Nichole Hastings.”
“So what’s going on here?” he said.
“Well I came here to start my south-bound thru-hike, starting with Katahdin, on the Appalachian Trail. I made a mistake, didn’t make a reservation. There’s one available two days from now but apparently the computers are down and I can’t until tomorrow morning. I’m here and apparently it’s first come, first serve so I can’t even reserve the space. And I’m being told I don’t ‘look like’ I’m in the right physical condition to hike. ” I said, “I’m perplexed as to how Wayne would know I’m not in the right physical condition. You don’t know me and you’re refusing to let me even try?”
The Assistant Deputy, flanked by his two guys, hands on his hips, said, “I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by that.”
“Well, I don’t judge a book by its cover. You often under-estimate people that way. ” I said.
We look at each other, pleasant smiles on our faces, he says, “You have a dog. And according to the American Disabilities Act no one can demand to see proof of a Service Animal.”
The statement was quickly digested. I mentally thanked him for telling me, then I looked him dead in the eye and said, “I do have a note from my doctor. And if I don’t have to show it to you then I’m not going to. He is a Service Animal. He’s prescribed for anxiety. I don’t want to use ‘that’ word but I’m just a little confused as to what’s going on and why it’s so difficult to book that available reservation. I just want to hike that mountain.” I pointed at Katahdin.
It was quiet, for what seemed an eternity, as we stared each other down smiling.
He suddenly shifted his weight, “Let me see what’s going on and if anything’s available.” turned and walked to the booth. I chit-chatted with the other two, asking how many times they’d hiked Katahdin, their favorite trail, etc.
Five minutes later, Assistant Deputy appeared back, “We have a tent site available for you today at Katahdin Streams Campground.”
I thanked him and walked over to the booth to talk to Wayne. He refused to look at me, clearly disgruntled, “It’s thirty dollars. The tent site is for a group so it costs more.”
I pulled out my money to pay him, all I could think about was the excitement of starting the hike tomorrow. As he started to take down my information on his clipboard, a young woman sitting in the passenger seat of a small pick-up truck and waiting to check in, called out to me, “My mom and I are staying at Katahdin Streams Campground. We have a four person lean-to but it’s just the two of us. You’re welcome to stay with us.” she said.
I wondered at my luck, at that serendipitous moment, I happily accepted the offer. I offered ten dollars, which she refused to take at first but I insisted, then ran to get my pack. I updated Jeff and he climbed out of the car, visibly relieved. I gave him a big hug and thanked him for the ride. With Maxwell and my gear in tow, I jogged over and put my pack in the back of the truck. Max and I got in, and away we went, the air rushed through the open window and we left the mosquitos behind.
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