165 miles is all I had left to go. 10 days is all I had left to do it. Not only had I committed by giving the okay for a day to have people join me on the final climb, but I also had committed by agreeing to go back to work within a couple of days of my arrival on Springer. Sure, it’s one of the easiest sections of the trail, but that only meant it was bound to be even more of a whirlwind tour than Maine was: there were fewer views, fewer hard climbs and fewer reasons to stop or slow down in general. It’ll be a wonder if I can even remember half of it. I’ve certainly forgotten all the names.
It all started in the dark. I don’t mean I got up before dawn. I didn’t. I mean there was no light inside. Despite being a mile from an immense hydroelectric dam, power outages are a recurring problem, and I just happened to start my hike during one of them. As a result, it did no good to make it to the lobby before breakfast ended: how breakfast was canceled. They offered me a room temperature pastry instead. Welp. Good thing we had sandwich fixings in the room. Not a particularly auspicious way to start a 22 mile hike, but on the bright side, it gave me little reason to stick around. Continue reading →
This is a REALLY LONG POST. I recommend spreading out reading it over a few days. Or, you know, just skim it and look at the pictures. I won’t know the difference. I’m not even sure who all is reading these days. You all look like bars on a graph to me.
It was quite late in the day to be starting my first day into the hundred mile wilderness, given that I only had 7 days worth of food for Copper and me. (Yes, I was carrying half of his food to begin with, in a large bag. He carried in Tupperware, which, since his bowl had gone missing on Mt. Adams, he could eat out of) I needed to make ten miles to the Wilson Valley Lean-To before I slept if I were to stay on schedule. And not staying on schedule was not an option when you the trek ahead means crossing an under-trafficked logging road only every other day. The problem was, the trail doesn’t wait until after the first day to start throwing you in front of things worth taking pictures of.
For instance, right past the warning sign, I already reached the first pond of the wilderness: Spectacle Pond. All the ponds out here are scenic, so I succumbed to my urge to move quickly, and skipped the picture. An hour and two more ponds later, I dropped down a steep hill and landed at Leeman Brook Lean-to, where most of the hikers leaving that day had already gathered, some to snack, some just to chat, and some to have a safety meeting. Among the hikers already there were Counselor, Wonder Boy, and Piper. (The latter two may have been largely responsible for the safety material.) Continue reading →
As I just mentioned, the southern part of Maine is known as the most rugged part of the A.T. From the day I left Gorham, it took me three days to do the first 26 miles in the Mahoosucs to Grafton Notch, where I arranged, while at the White Mountains Lodge, for my parents to pick me up. Since it was the beginning of October (this post begins with the 29th of September), I had no other chance to make the Kennebec River crossing or be guaranteed a chance to climb Katahdin if I didn’t skip ahead and do it before most of Maine. Also, I could do the rest of Maine a lot faster without a dog and a pack, and given that there was almost no one left on the trail this far back, I had no reason to draw out my trip any longer. It was time to get a move on. So, this was the plan: get to Grafton Notch, ride to Caratunk, do the Kennebec crossing, ride to Monson, do the 100 mile wilderness and Katahdin, and then slackpack the rest of the state southbound in nine days, before driving back south to do North Carolina and Georgia. It was to be a whirlwind tour of Maine, to be completed (I hoped) before it started snowing. This post should bring the story as far as Monson, after which I expect the story can be finished in just four more posts. So close!
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.
It’s fitting that the Vermont border is at the top of a hill. It was only 2.5 miles from camp to Vermont, but it seemed like more, partly because of the excitement of entering a new, higher state, widely held to be one of the most beautiful on the trail, but also partly because halfway up, I found someone I hadn’t seen in about 3 months…going south. If you knew him, or remember things I wrote half a year ago, you’d realize who I must be speaking of instantly, but since it’s unreasonable to expect that of anyone who wasn’t there, I’ll remind you. Continue reading →