Monson, Maine & The 100-Mile Wilderness
The post office in Monson, Maine, isn’t the prettiest building you’ll ever see. Yes, it’s on the shore of Lake Hebron at a spot so beautiful it should be printed in every dictionary under the definition of “picturesque.”
The fluffy clouds, undisturbed shorelines and the hills and mountains in the distance behind the post office will make you want to say, “Hey, [Martha or Billy Bob]. We should move here and live happily ever after! What could possibly go wrong?”
Sounds nice … until visions of snow and winter weather invade your pretty little dream.
But I digress ….
Everybody who wants to be an Appalachian Trail (AT) thru-hiker wants to visit Monson’s post office. Probably because you cannot make it all the way without replenishing your supplies there.
The AT begins/ends up the trail from Monson. The iconic sandwich board atop Mt. Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park marks the northern terminus.
That spot, campers, isn’t exactly a hop, skip and a jump from a cozy parking place nearby. It’s more like a “pull yourself up a cliff, walk across places where goats cannot go, hike so high you have to duck when airliners pass by and descend hills so steep you need a parachute” kind of hike.
That’s why petite ladies, hardbodied dudes, stray old folks and everyone in between tackle the AT. And they must pass through Monson on the way.
Therein lies a tale for each and every hiker.
Southbound from Mt. Katahdin to Monson, the trek along the AT is about 100 miles. Compared to the length of the AT — calculated this year to be 2185.9 miles — a hundred miles ought to be a piece of cake. How could 4.57477469% of the trail be a big deal?
If you are serious about hiking the AT, you owe it to yourself to memorize a few simple words. Descriptive words that symbolize what are typically the final “few” miles of a thru-hike from Georgia to Maine. The words? “One-hundred mile wilderness.”
It’s like … let’s see … walking through a wild wilderness for … say … a hundred miles.
The next time you drive 100 miles, take a look around. None of what you see will be available to you in the 100-Mile Wilderness.
Let’s just pretend that you’ve survived the wilderness and you’re ready to breeze your way to Springer Mountain. Or, maybe you’ve been on the trail for months and you’re prepared for your wilderness journey.
You’re in Monson. You’re hungry and you need a place to stay. We have good news.
Two very cool, friendly and harmonious spots have the hiker hostel market pretty well covered. Shaw’s Boarding House would be a nice place to stay no matter where it was located. But in Monson? It’s perfect. (OK, so [insert name of shallow, spoiled movie star here] might be too snooty for Shaw’s. That’s their problem.)
Susan Stevens and Dawn McPherson-Allen run Shaw’s, after buying the business from Keith and Pat Shaw in 1977.
Shaw’s boarding house/hiker hostel/lodging is on Pleasant Street. Right where it belongs. They have a bunkhouse, a little shop to restock your stuff, showers, rocking chairs, other hikers, swell sleeping facilities and actual toilets that flush — just like the kind you don’t have on the AT.
The breakfast at Shaw’s is worth the hike. Don’t miss it. Delicious food. Cooked by other people. Who bring it to you and ask if you want more. Then, they do the dishes while you sleep.
SECRET HINT: If you mention my name and ask kindly, Dawn might sell you one of her very cool custom T-shirts at the special price that I personally paid.
For dinner, head back toward town. (Trust me, you can’t miss it.)
You might want to stop by the local shopping mall on the way.
It’s called “Monson General Store.”
Laugh, but the stuff you’ve been craving on the Trail is probably for sale there … unless you’ve been craving a grand piano or a Veg-O-Matic.
Down the street is another hiker-friendly non-hostile hostel, right on the water. Not surprisingly it’s called The Lakeshore House.
In addition to the laundromat, Wi-Fi and loaner computers, great food, cold beer, hot wings, cool people and warm smiles abound.
You might be sick of being outdoors, but we *loved* eating out back at the edge of Lake Hebron. The food was worthy of Suzannah’s praise, the service was enjoyable and the scenery was heavenly.
Rebecca Anderson and the crew at The Lakeshore House will treat you well. If Max is working, ask him about how he climbed Katahdin.
You have a lot of friends who want to visit California’s Highway 101 or Venice or Paris or the Great Wall of China. Hawaii is spectacular. Washington, D.C., is like being in every country all at once. Las Vegas is mind-blowing. Asheville is cool. Atlanta has a big airport. Dallas has fascinating buildings with neon lights that bounce off other buildings at night.
There are zillions of places that have one thing or another. But Monson is an oasis at the cusp of the 100-Mile Wilderness. That, my friend, makes Monson one of the coolest places you’ll ever visit. Even if you don’t thru-hike the AT.
If you get there on foot, don’t give up. Keep going.
One step at a time. One day at a time. One mountain at a time. One wilderness at a time … and you’ll make it all the way.
On the AT or in life itself.