I was one of the first out of bed that morning at Hikers Welcome Hostel. I was in the lounge before the pancakes were. I ate as much of what looked good as I could get my hands on, and made sure my slackpack was packed and the rest of my gear squared away to catch the first shuttle to the other side of Moosilauke.
The weather was actually pretty good for climbing a four-thousand footer that morning. There was fog and cloud early on, but it was clear by the time Copper and I hit the trail and started climbing. It stayed cloudy all day, but it didn’t rain until the afternoon, and was just gorgeous through the hiking part of the day.
The AT runs right past a parking lot at Kinsman Notch, so Copper was already on the trail before I had gotten out of the car and put my fanny pack (which detaches from my pack) on. He was trying to go north though. I called him back, and soon we were walking alongside the Beaver Brook.
Moosilauke doesn’t play around. Going southbound, you start climbing almost immediately, and the trail literally climbs the edge of the waterfalls, perhaps somewhat like the Panther Creek Falls Trail in North Georgia, only steeper and more popular.
It took me the better part if a month to get through New Hampshire, because there is no doubt that it was the most grueling section of trail I hiked, not necessarily because the trail was the hardest trail I hiked(it was the second hardest), but because it was the hardest trail Copper hiked. I will not deny that the Whites are a major challenges when stacked up against any section of trail further South: as high as the Smokeys, as rapid in elevation change as southern New York, as rocky (at times) as Pennsylvania, the worst weather in the world (in some places), and as little chance to truly prepare for this challenge as for hiking the trail in the first place. On the other hand, I can’t deny that when they are good, they are absolutely flabbergastingly amazingly mind-bogglingly thought-stoppingly astounding—the highest highs and the lowest lows. I have no idea how anyone ever decides to do the trail Southbound, to attempt Maine and the Whites on fresh legs, and worse, to “eat dessert first” and end with the rather uninteresting-in-comparison Georgia terrain. Rollercoasters have to start with the best and end with the least, but if we had our druthers, would we not choose to do it in reverse?
But I can’t say that all of this assessment is retrospect. The few Southbounders and previous hikers freely talked about how amazing—and how difficult—the Whites would be, and by the time I rolled into Hanover, I was practically gushing over with excitement at how close I was. Less than a week from that moment, I knew I’d already be on Moosilauke, and bagging my first 4000-footer in the Whites. And I knew my pace would be slowing dramatically.
But I also knew it’d been days since my last shower, and that I would be in this town for two more days at least. Might as well take the time to mentally prepare myself for the challenges ahead. Eat some good hot food. Do some slackpacking. Drink a beer. Or two. Or three. Maybe hang out with Six and Dangerpants, whom I knew had gotten there ahead of me. In some sense, I guessed that I had never truly hiked before, even after some 1400 miles, based on what people were saying. That one can’t really say “I’m a long-distance hiker” and be taken seriously until the Whites are behind them, but I hadn’t really internalized it. The excitement was forefront. Now that I’ve done it, I can say: I know that I know that I know that it’s true.
I wasn’t the only one crossing that bridge into New Hampshire at that particular time and place, but I can’t pin down for certain who it was. It might have been High Tide and Blockade Runner again. Or it may have been random non-hiker strangers. Either way, they were nice enough to take our picture.
Dangerpants and I have been planning for the last few weeks to go up to north Georgia and do some magic for some of this year’s crop of hikers, and it turned out this past Sunday was the best day for both of us.
Leading up to it, I had a crazy week preparing, while also helping with planning my sister’s new bunk bed and doing a phone interview and working. On Friday, I went out and bought $150 of groceries and supplies, baked some brownies, and made a list of things to pack, but didn’t get the opportunity to pack them. What with getting my blogging hours in Friday night, I ended up only getting two hours of sleep before I had to get up for work. Then, after work, I had to get to Atlanta to catch the performance of Broadway’s Once at the Fox with my sister’s boyfriend Jimmy. With the MARTA trip both ways, I didn’t make it back until nearly midnight, which, with the time change, gave me six hours of sleep. I’d got most of my blogging done on the train, but I still had a few minutes left, so I finished it out and got five hours before I got up at the crack of dawn. I got enough coffee and cereal in me to wake up, then started gathering and loading things into the car. By the time I got everything together (including tracking down and replacing batteries in a hidden mattress pump) and got Copper in the car, it was almost 9am.
Dangerpants also got up at the crack of dawn, and she had prepared better, managing to make it to the trail on time (about 9am). Since I wasn’t there, she went into Hiawassee to check for calls from me. I was under the misapprehension that I hadn’t specified an exact time of arrival (just intending to arrive as early as I could manage) and so, of course, I didn’t call, thinking she wouldn’t be there yet either. (I also thought she’d be coming from Auburn, which is much farther than where she actually started from.)
When I arrived at the trailhead at Dick’s Creek Gap around 10:30am and started to unload, she got out and walked over, seeming very miffed. Oops. Not a good way to start. Anyway, not too many hikers had come by, so we unloaded our goods and set up, and it turns out she had been quite as creative in her shopping as I tried to be, and there wasn’t any real duplication of items. All the bases were covered for a good hiker feed.
Even before we’d finished laying out our wares, hikers started showing up. Here’s who partook of our offerings, in order of appearance: Continue reading →