It was a long summer for Krisdin Diehl. From mid-June until last weekend, she has worked for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club as a ridge runner.
Her job was to patrol the trail from Monson to Logan Brook, near Jo-Mary Road in the “hundred mile wilderness,” a section of trail that has no resupply easily accessed by hikers.
You might have seen her if you hiked in Gulf Hagas this summer. That side trail is the most heavily used trail on the AT in Maine by day hikers, and being a presence there was her primary assignment.
But now that summer’s over, she has to move. So a volunteer crew organized by Janice Clain, Diehl’s boss for the Maine club, met up at Katahdin Iron Works gate to pack out her camp for the winter.
Along with Clain, I met Julian Wiggins and Sherri and Ed Langlais at the gatehouse, now closed for the season. We drove up to Hay Brook in a steady drizzle, where we met Ron Dobra, another volunteer who’s the overseer for the Whitecap district of the trail.
The stream was high due to three days of rain. Wiggins decided we’d need a rope across the stream if we were going to get all the materials from the camp back across. Wiggins went knee-deep in the quick moving current with the rope, tied it to a tree on the opposite bank and soon we were all safely on the other side.
Langlais unlocked a garden cart, which we would load for the pack out, from a nearby tree. Then, it was only a third of a mile up the trail to the camp, a tent platform near a ford that hikers use to cross the West Branch of the Pleasant River. The ford’s near the Hermitage, a huge stand of mature white pines. Diehl was there and waiting for the move out with everything packed up except for the tent and portable garage-type walled shelter which covered it.
She has worked a rotating shift during the summer that varied from five days on duty and two days off, to 10 days on and four days off. For the past four months, when she wasn’t in town for her resupply of food and to do laundry, she lived in the tent. When she was patrolling the AT, she lived out of backpack. She hiked about 50 miles a week, either patrolling Gulf Hagas or the Appalachian Trail.
This year was her second season as a ridge runner and because it has been a long summer, the former thru-hiker is ready to move. “I’m ready to go back to society I guess,” she said. “But I’ll miss the woods, I’m sure. I mean I want to come back, possibly as a ridge runner. After living in a tent for four months, I’m pretty excited about living in a house again. But I know that after living in a house, I’m going to want to get back to the woods.”
It has not only been a long summer but a busy one as well. “I don’t know what the numbers are, in terms of hikers,” she said, “but it seemed about the same as last year. The Gulf sees the most visitors of any of the four sites where the club has ridge runners.”
While we took the tent down and stashed the poles and hardware for the winter near the site, the steady drizzle turned to a brief shower. Soon, everything on the platform was carried to the cart for the haul out. Once the cart was loaded, Wiggins and Langlais pulled the huge pile on wheels up the trail to the crossing at Hay Brook.
Along the way Diehl, 27, from Bethlehem, Penn., explained that her season was relatively quiet in terms of hiker incidents. “There was one incident on my section where a thru-hiker, ‘Rusty Bumper,’ broke his ankle on the descent from Chairback Mountain. It was a busy Saturday and I was in the Gulf. I couldn’t help with the rescue, but I heard the helicopters going and he got out safely.”
Wiggins and Langlais got the cart to the bank on Hay Brook, but only after bending up one of the wheels like a taco, crossing the outlet to Pugwash Pond. Once at the bank, we unloaded the cart to ferry the materials back to the other side and piled them in the trucks.
When I asked her what she liked most about her job, Diehl said, “The job involves a lot of hiking, and I like to hike a lot. I like the hiking community. For the most part you meet really good people. What I like least are people who have bad Leave No Trace practices and are disrespectful to the woods. It’s my job to teach people better, who might not know better, that their practices are harmful.”
After the last of the materials were loaded on the trucks, we said our goodbyes. Diehl will spend the winter in an apartment in Portland, where she has friends. The memories she has made during four months of living near the trail will probably last through the winter, at least. That experience of living near the river and hiking the trails will have to last until next June, when the call to the trail will, no doubt, bring her back to the woods.