Monday, September 2, 2013

A Limp in the Woods...or not (Day 162)

An Appalachian Trail Tale
Day 162: September 2nd, 2013

Millinocket Zero Day = 0 miles
Miles to date: 2,181

Millinocket: Don’t Knock It!

Granted, it is a Monday, the quietest of days in an alleged tourist town, but it’s a holiday for crying out loud! Millinocket might as well get it over with and take its own life. A long-laid parade: a city-side suicide. It is, by far, the most depressed and depressing of sectors paralleling the AT. I thereby suggest, for their help (i.e., maybe put it back on the map), the following town slogan: Millinocket: Don’t Knock It!

In reality, a better one would be: Millinocket: Don’t Bother Knockin.’

Few outsiders bother. The streets were all devoid of traffic and even the remotest sign of a pulse. ‘OUT OF BUSINESS’ signs crookedly hung from inside nearly every shop in town; each shop had long since departed. Dust was gathering and had already done so. Huge, lonely houses--once each a home--had been left unattended, for vandals and vagrants to take over. In fact, I’d acted as the latter last night, sleeping inside an abandoned house. The place was enormous--four-storied, four or five thousand square feet--but had been unfilled for years. Its ‘FOR SALE’ sign out front was discolored and coated in rust, marking the passing of time.

It reminded me of the Tuareg proverb that states that houses are the graves of the living, but here now it looked like no one was alive. Only the dead persisted.

On the whole the place was sad, and in every possible respect, saddening. Left to die when the loggers left (or were forced to leave) and when the paper mills shut shop and moved abroad. There’s been talk of the possibility of a new national park in the vicinity--eighty-eight thousand acres of land has already been purchased and was donated to the feds by Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees, given along with a multi-million dollar financial donation--but many of the locals seem reluctant for the change, unable or unwilling to adapt to changing times. (Can a city win a Darwin Award?) Of all people, I can empathize with this reluctance, but parks seem to be one of the things our federal government does reasonably well, minus the constant lack of funding, the excessive road-paving, the dearth of bicycle infrastructure and so forth. At this stage though, it’s not hard to see that Millinocket needs whatever change it can get, if it is to survive. “It is not,” said Darwin, “the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

There was, however, one sparkling element of town. The Appalachian Trail Café. Catering to we Roamans and the locals who need somewhere besides the grocery store in which to eat and see others--to know that they do indeed exist--it seems almost always packed. Raucous, even. I’d end up having breakfast then lunch in one long sitting, and then returned again later for a malted milkshake and some human interaction. My sincerest of apologies (and respect) to Christopher Knight, but it’s hard being a hermit.

As alluded to, Millinocket was once a bustling burg, thanks to a thriving tree-killing industry. But those jobs, and those times, had clearly faded into extinction or shifted elsewhere. Gone the way of the trees. I was surprised to discover that a Discovery Channel reality television show had once been filmed here, one called American Loggers, chronicling the chronic life and times of local lumberjacks. But, not unlike the trade it tracked, the show breathed its last gasp a couple years ago after just two or three seasons. Chronic? The family featured then now run a restaurant in town, the Pelletiers, but I’m guessing it’s likely to follow in the show’s steps. A dead-end. If they swing through, hikers are apt to be the last viable business opportunity for this place.

A local hostel, the Appalachian Trail Lodge, understands as much and is almost as busy as the café. Both are owned and operated by the same intelligent gentleman, a leathery-looking sixty-something year-old dude named Paul Renaud. Renaud thru-hiked the AT in 2006 and decided he liked the area enough to relocate to it. So far he’s surviving doing so. The ridiculously cheap prices in buying a building or house didn’t hurt his cause, I’m sure. (Below is a photo of the mansion I slept in, priced at a whopping fifteen thousand dollars {yes, that’s $15,000}, complete with furniture, a detached garage, an expansive work shed and an extensive yard, mowed and all.)

Anyway, it would rain much of the day, bearing witness that yesterday’s forecast--a chance of rain--was today’s truth. More of the same is expected tomorrow, so it looks like I’ll be hanging on for one more day. Like the few hapless locals I’ve seen. Hanging around, hanging out, hanging on. Anymore than one more day and I might hang myself.

No offense, Millinocket.

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