July 11 ~ Gorham - New Hampshire at milepoint 293.2 south, 29 days since start of hike, averaging 10.1 miles per day
Day 29: Jake and I made it to Gorham today after 17 miles of hiking over moderate terrain. Of course, Jake got here about 2 hours before I did. I was trying my hardest not to limp because of incipient blisters. But never mind - we made it. Gorham may not be the promised land, but for hikers coming out of Maine, itís the next best thing. There are 17 restaurants ( including all the major varieties of fast food) and a convenience store that sells ice cream 24 hours a day.
Was it worth banging out 17 miles when I could have stopped at a tent site 12 miles down the trail? I donít know, but I guess I was ready to get off the Trail and out of the rain, and I was willing to risk a few blisters to do it.
We got off to a moderately early start; a little before 8. Our first challenge of the morning was a pile of boulders that looked exactly like Mahoosuc Notch. We thought we were done with the jungle gym boulders -- this felt unfair. Fortunately, the Trail quickly turned into a rolling, manageable path again - the first long stretch of easily walkable terrain that I can remember seeing for about a week or two.
It felt wonderful to cross the Maine-New Hampshire line. There were 3 signs to mark the spot - one from the Forest Service, which owns most of the Trail, one welcoming us to New Hampshire, and the other facing the other direction: "Maine - the way life should be." I wonder if the northbounders are going to agree with that sign when they hit Mahoosuc Notch about 6.5 niles from there.
I hiked by myself all day except for a couple of hours when I fell in with an experienced hiker from Newton, Massachusetts. He was my age but unlike me had been hiking on a regular basis since he was 16 years old. An avid AMC member and AMC hiker guide, he and I talked about why thru-hikers almost universally detest the AMC - calling it the "Appalachian Money Club." The main reason is that the AMC charges $6/night to stay in the shelters that are free almost everywhere else. Also, the AMC huts in the White Mountains charge $65/night for a bunk bed, breakfast, and dinner, and this seems like a kingís ransom to most thru-hikers. (By way of comparison, the cost of a bunk at Hikers Paradise here in Gorham is only $12; you have to get your own meals but they have showers and laundry facilities.) Thru-hikers think of the huts as a place for well-heeled dilettantes.
I said goodbye to my new-found friend at the Gentian Pond Shelter - he gave me a home-made brownie (more Trail magic) - and I pressed on. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, other than a rather dramatic forward roll down a slippery rock, leaving me more than a little frightened and with a new set of bruises and abrasions. As I got up, muttering a few words that I donít ordinarily use around the house, I thought: Iíve got to be more careful. I also thought: somebodyís looking out for me; my injuries could have been a lot worse.
I pushed hard all afternoon and into the evening, wanting to finish the 17 miles before dark. I saw almost no one, and I enjoyed the solitude. One of the few people I did encounter left a powerful impression: a northbound thru-hiker named "Amathog" (an acronym for "A Man After the Heart of God"). He is in his forties with a trimmed beard, a huge pack, and the gaunt look that most thru-hikers have after a few months on the Trail. He has a peaceful look in his eyes. When I asked him about his name, he handed me a card which describes the purpose of his hike (mid-life reassessment) and asks: "Please pray that I may have a successful journey." The card also asks the recipient to email his wife and let her know where he is. (Amathog, aka Joe Truskowski, is also a Trailplace journalist.)
Amathog seems like a real pilgrim. I am told that he does not linger in trail towns. I thought about this as I ate my yu-shiang shrimp at one of the two Chinese restaurants in Gorham. Itís hard to get completely away from the things we have learned to crave, and harder still to find detachment from those cravings. The Trail is however, a step in that direction. It is beginning to teach me what I need, and what I donít need, to live.
P.S. My fortune cookie told me: "When winter comes, heaven will rain success on you." Nice fortune, but if itís referring to this hike, Jake and I are hoping to be done by Thanksgiving.
Jacobís Entry: Sunset Gorham Pizza Hut
Oops, missed writing yesterday. Hereís what happened: on Sunday it began to rain shortly after we ate dinner, and didnít stop all night. In the morning we stayed in our tents until 9:00 or so, hoping it would stop, but it didnít look like that would happen soon. So we reluctantly packed up in the rain and headed out. Of course the rain stopped fifteen minutes later. We were happy to have avoided hiking the Notch in the rain.
July 12 ~ Gorham - New Hampshire at milepoint 293.2 south, 30 days since start of hike, averaging 9.8 miles per day
Davidís Entry Jake and I celebrated Day 30 of our hike by taking a "zero day" - hiker slang for being lazy, recuperating, etc. The Hikers Paradise hostel is a great place for a zero day. Lots of time to chat with fellow hikers and a good breakfast downstairs.
Two of the hikers I talked to this morning are headed for medical school when they complete their northbound thru-hike in a few weeks . They became hiking partners mid-way thru the AT when they realized how much they had in common both of them women ( a distinct minority on the AT, both vegetarian, both future docís etc.). Both have done paramedical work, and I was able to get answers to a bunch of questions: How long can I use iodine to purify my drinking water without harmful effects? How much ibprofen can I take before it will make me sick? Is there anything I can do abut the lactic acid build-up that causes my legs to sting? When you sit and chat with experienced northbound thru-hikers, you also get useful info on blister prevention, how to reduce the weight of your pack, and which sections of the Trail are going to be particularly challenging, or fun, or beautiful, or devoid of water.
In order to do our shopping and resupply in Gorham, we borrowed bikes from the hostel. The hostel owners are so concerned about getting sued that they actually "sell" you the bike for $1.00, which is returned to you when they "buy it back." Gorham is laid out along a one-mile stretch of highway because itís bounded on either side by national forest land - i.e., nowhere else for expansion except along the highway that connects Gorham with the rest of the world. Hence the need for bicycles to get from one end of town to the other. The major stops - supermarket and camping equipment store - are 1.5 miles apart.
Part of the day was spent making arrangements for this coming weekend, when Beth and Lily will be coming to the White Mountains to see Jake and me - for the first time in a month. I canít wait. Weíll have a weekend together at a B& B.
But first we have to hike over a few mountains - Moriah, Carter, and Wildcat - in order to reach Pinkham Notch, our rendezvous point. That should take us a couple of days.
One of the most interesting hikers I met at the hostel was a pediatrician from Kentucky (trailname "Andy Panda"). He is 81 years old and he is almost done with his northbound hike on the AT. He and his wife hiked the area from Georgia to Damascus, VA many years ago, and he decided this year that he would try to finish the rest of it (His wife said she was planning to stay home this time.) Andy has practiced medicine and hiked in many parts of the world; he has been a hiker since he was little. A relatively short, solidly built guy with a short-cropped beard and a wonderful twinkle in his eyes, he told me that he has survived bouts with prostate cancer and colon cancer, and prepared for this hiking with swimming and jogging almost every day. He plans to reach Mt. Katahdin by the end of August. (Thatís an average of 5 miles per day, as compared with the 15 miles per day that the two medical students, both age 23 are planning.) It was very inspiring to talk with him about hiking and about his life. I hope that, if I live to see 81, I will still savor life and its adventures as much as Andy does.
1:30 -Fortune Cookie Restaurant
Dad suggested I go ahead and do 17 miles into Gorham on Tuesday, so I left him with the food he needed and set off. Doing 17 miles was difficult but the terrain wasnít that bad. I made it into town by 7 or so. I met some NoBos who were waiting at the road to be picked up and waited with them. Soon Bruce from Hikerís Paradise showed up and drove the three of us to the hostel. On the way, we passed Blue Light and Martha, who had gotten a ride part way into town and were walking the rest of the way, so Bruce picked them up too. Mother Goose was already there, as were a bunch of NoBos. I went to the Pizza Hut for dinner, after a visit to McDonaldís for some fries. When I got back to Hikerís Paradise, Dad had arrived. Evidently, he had arrived at Trident Tentsite and decided to push on. It was good to see him.
July 13 ~ Zeta Pass, New Hampshire at milepoint 305.7 south, 31 days since start of hike, averaging 9.9 miles per day
Day 31 and weĎre back on the Trail. Gorham was lot of fun. The Chinese food was disappointing (Jake would say very disappointing). But we managed to find a few good things to eat and to rest our weary bones.
A member of the hostel staff named Bruce gave us a ride to the Trail. He looks like Burl Ives (large guy, large beard). He loaded seven of us with full packs, into the hostelís pickup truck and took us for a slight detour to a woods in Gorham that contains several virgin pine trees, estimated to be 600 years old. They were quite a sight - "majestic" sounds like a cliche but thatís what they were. It took three people, linking hands to circle the base of one of the trees.
The first few hours of hiking today were fairly easy. I had time to learn a couple of songs as I hiked, and also time to think about the Trail.
I was pondering one of the questions that was discussed at the hostel: why are all the thru-hikers weíve met white? I asked the Northbounders at the hostel - they had been on the Trail for several months but had seen no African-American, Hispanic, or Asian-American thru-hikers. One recalled seeing a few Asian day hikers, and someone else saw a black man at one of the AMC huts in the White Mountains - he was a professor, up for the weekend. Jake and I met a section hiker who is black, but no thru-hikers. There are other kinds of diversity on the Trail - weíve met gay hikers, hikers of all ages, men, women, people of varying socio-economic backgrounds. One theory expressed at the hostel was that, at least for black Americans, the deprivations of the Trail are too close to those that their ancestors suffered - thereís nothing appealing about it. Another theory was that a certain critical mass needs to develop before any distinct minority will take to the Trail in representative numbers.
Jake and I both think that the latter theory is more persuasive - but just as I was thinking this over, I came upon a group of young hikers from the Boston area. There were 6 or 7 teenagers from a youth leadership group mostly black and Hispanic, with large backpacks, sitting by the side of the Trail and listening to one of the two counselors read to them from a paperback book about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. We chatted a bit when they paused in their reading. Theyíre hiking for eight days and they asked me a lot of questions about hiking to Georgia. As I headed back to the Trail I concluded that I had just met the next generation of thru-hikers.
The Trail got steeper, gradually but steadily. We walked more than six miles - all up hill - before reaching our first summit of the day, Mt. Moriah (4,000 ft.). Later, we reached Carter Mountain (more than 4,500 ft.), a big climb for me because Gorham is only at 750 ft.
Our destination for the evening, 12 miles out, was Zeta Pass. There is no official camp site there, but we were told by some experienced hikers that we would find water and "stealth" tent sites there. The Forest Service wants people to stay in the shelters and official tent sites, but there is nothing illegal about camping elsewhere if you are below the tree line. Thus, hikers pass along info to each other about these hidden sites, which the Forest Service sometimes blocks from view with logs and brush.
Unfortunately, there was no water to be found at Zeta Pass. There was an official looking sign that said, "Water," with an arrow pointing into the woods, but when I followed the sign, there was nothing but a dried-up stream bed.
This left me more than a little concerned because Jake and I each had about a pint of water to get through the night and on to our next water source at Carter Notch. We quietly decided to dispense with dinner, because all our meals require water (noodles, rice, etc). Jake had a tortilla, a candy bar, and a granola bar; I had a sandwich and an apple. Neither of us drank anything.
We went to bed early and I thought about whether a pint of water would get me to the Carter Notch Hut only 2.5 miles south but with two mountain tops to cross. I had a string of dreams about the hut - a place where one can normally find a kitchen, bathroom, and bunkrooms. In the dream the hut was undergoing extensive re-construction and was therefore unavailable to hikers; trenches had been dug every which way and there was no water. Near the hut, a religious group had set up an encampment under large tents, where they were serving food - delicious food - and they offered me some. But when I asked for water, all I got was evasive answers. "Weíll talk with you later about drinks," they said. I woke up several times throughout the night wondering if there was enough light for Jake and me to pack up and leave.
So, Wednesday was a good pig out and relax day. I actually got up early, half because everyone else was up and half because I was hungry. We mostly hung around all day, although at one point we borrowed some bikes from the hostel and went to some stores and the library. Hereís what I ate over the course of a day and half in town:
Supersize fries Large Pizza Pint of Ben & Jerryís Chocolate Fudge Brownie 2 eggs toast 5 pancakes
A bad Chinese food entree mixed with too much MSG and no tofu because they DIDN íT HAVE ANY. I donít know how a Chinese restaurant can run out of tofu.
Another large pizza Half a bunch of cherries 2 eggs 5 pancakes YUM!
July 14 ~ Pinham Notch - New Hampshire at milepoint 314.2 south, 32 days since start of hike, averaging 9.8 miles per day
Davidís Entry: Pinkham Notch
Day 32 - I got up about 5:30 a..m. and left Zeta Pass at 6:15 a..m. Jake said he would catch up with me. I was thirsty and with only a pint of water, I wanted to get to the hut at Carter Notch quickly. I was almost immediately presented with a dilemma: There was a short-cut side trail that would reduce the 2.5 miles to the Notch down to 2.0 miles by-passing one mountain. Whoever laid out this section of the AT decided the longer route was better. This is in keeping with the AT philosophy that, if the goal is to get from Point A to Point B, the route should take you over the largest possible number of mountains.
I decided that the longer "official AT" route was the path I should take, and that I could handle an extra half mile of being low on water. It turned out to be a good decision because when I got to the top of my first mountain of the morning - Mt. Hight - I saw a moose at the summit. He was there checking out the view, which was spectacular - 360 degrees with great visibility from a tree-less peak. He was standing about 100 feet from me. He had a small rack of horns and seemed as surprised as I was. He looked at me and then looked away slightly. I put down my hiking sticks very quietly and reached for my camera. After I took a few pictures, I slowly approached him, but he took off at a full gallop as soon as he saw me getting closer.
I looked out at the mountains with the sun beaming through low clouds at the horizon. I could see Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range on one side and all the way back to Mt. Katahdin on the other.
It was just a little after 7 a.m. when I left Mt. Hight and saw my second unusual sight of the morning. Coming toward me on the Trail was a bearded hiker in his 40ís, I would guess, with a full pack but without a stitch of clothing other than socks and boots. I tried to act as casual as possible but as we got closer, we both knew this was a little unusual. "Hi, are you a thru-hiker?", I asked. "Yes, " he said, "this is actually my second thru-hike, though I have been doing this one in bits and pieces." I asked him if he always hikes without clothes. "Whenever possible," he said. He told me that he puts on clothes as the day wears on but he hardly ever sees anyone this early. "This is only the second time ever someone saw me on the Trail like this," he said. He said his trail name is Pan the Goat Man. Jake saw him later in the morning when their paths crossed and Pan was wearing shorts. I later learned that Pan is a dairy farmer (goats, of course) in Central, Massachusetts, and his wife looks after the farm when he hikes.
I finally made it to Carter Notch hut and got some water. I had to climb almost 1,000 feet up and 1,500 down to get there, but I still had a few ounces of water in my bottle as a reserve. Jake met me at the hut and after a long break we headed for Pinkham Notch.
Today was a big day for Jake and me because my wife Beth and my daughter Lily were driving up to meet us and spend the weekend. We had not seen either of them since Mt. Katahdin. I was aching for some family time. All I had to do was climb up Wildcat Mt (5 peaks - packed closely together) and then down 2,500 feet to the Pinkham Notch visitor center. This looked to me like a very manageable day - about 8.5 miles until I actually hiked it.
Thunder rumbled in the distance as we crossed the Wildcat Peaks. Jake and I made noodles for lunch (last nightís dinner) at a look-out platform near the last peak. The thunder was so far away, and it didnít sound ominous. Jake, of course, made it down from Wildcat without getting rained on. His father - the one with the sore knees and wobbly ankles - spent 3 hours climbing down and got completely soaked. I made up my mind to retire my New Balance hiking shoes, which got me through Maine. The tread has worn down and they are now like skates on wet rocks. I spent a lot of time on my bottom coming down the Wildcat ridge.
I looked pretty soggy when I got to the bottom and met Beth and Lily at the Visitor Center. They apparently didnít mind and we had a wonderful reunion, with a stop for dinner and a visit to the laundromat to dry out my gear.
We are staying at a charming bed and breakfast (the Wildberry Inn) where the proprietors are taking very good care of us.
Itís great to be with family.
July 15 ~ Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire at milepoint 318.0 south, 33 days since start of hike, averaging 9.6 miles per day
Day 33 was family fun day with just a few errands. It began with Beth, Jake, Lily and me sitting around the breakfast table at the B&B, eating a wonderful egg casserole and a fruit salad with blueberries picked that morning from the backyard. It felt very cozy and domestic - I like it.
The proprietors - Jackie and Bob Corrigan - are lovely people. Although they are retired school teachers, they still teach part time and have received a number of awards for community service. (They were too modest to mention this, but we saw some plaques in an upstairs hallway - along with a picture of them receiving one of the first Presidential "1000 Points of Light" awards, from George Bush, Sr.)
Jake and I made a brief foray into North Conway, with its commercial outlet malls on a strip of highway just south of here. I got new boots and a new pack cover (the old one having disappeared when I was slipping and sliding down Wildcat Mountain), and Jake got an LED flashlight (which weighs about half an ounce, if that).
Back in Gorham, we all ordered some take-out lunch and headed for Mt. Washington. The seven-mile road to the top is a mostly paved toll road - very expensive, in my opinion, at $34 for the car load of us. The sign at the entrance got our attention: "The Mount Washington Auto Road is a steep, narrow mountain road without guardrails. If you have a fear of heights, you may not appreciate this driving experience." Beth decided that she would probably appreciate the experience less than me, so I drove. Even at 20 mph, which is the recommended maximum speed, the road was scary. We had great views from the switchback turns until we got up into the clouds at about 5,000 feet. (Mt. Washington is 6,288 feet high.) My family kept reminding me to rely on their descriptions of the views rather than checking them out myself.
At the top, the wind was blowing at 52 mph with gusts in the 60-70 mph range. We could barely walk straight. Inside the visitor center, we watched the clouds blow past and then return; we got intermittently wonderful views.. Jake and I left a box of supplies at the information center - our hike will bring us back to the summit of Mt. Washington in a couple of days. As we were leaving, we saw the Cog Railway train chug its way to the top, spewing black coal smoke - an hourly environmental disaster, evidently protected by some well-connected special interest. Our drive down the twists and turns of the mountain was made more exciting by dense clouds covering the road, reducing visibility to about 20 feet. By the time we got to the bottom we definitely felt we had had an adventure.
The four of us had dinner at Libbyís Bistro, recommended to us by everyone we met in Gorham. Libby, the chef and owner, trained with Julia Child, and the food was as good as anything weíve had in Boston (not that weíre big gourmets). The restaurant is housed in a former bank with two vaults forming the center of the building, so we even got to try moving the hug steel door that now protects mushrooms and arugula instead of money.
I donít think I can find the words right now to express how good it felt to be with Beth and Lily, having fun, hanging out at the B&B, and catching up on the news from home. Iíll leave it at that - it was great. Saying goodbye tomorrow will be hard.
July 16 ~ Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire at milepoint 318 south, 34 days since start of hike, averaging 9.4 miles per day
Davidís Entry: Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire
Day 34 - We tried to get back on the Trail today, but the weather seemed to have other plans for us. Intense rain, then drizzle, then sheets of rain brought hikers streaming back into the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center from various trails. They told us about flooded streams and hiking paths turned into roaring brooks. The winds above the tree line were howling.
The news on the weather board at Pinkham Notch was equally depressing: chance of thunderstorms and showers for the next three days. Jake and I decided if weí re going to hike into this rain, we should do it with the possibility of reaching a secure shelter, such as one of the huts. So, we began looking for accommodations and made a plan to climb Mt. Madison tomorrow - God willing and the creek donít rise.
We found that thru-hikers do volunteer work at Camp Dodge, a nearby AMC center that houses trail maintainers. In exchange, they would feed us and put us up for the night. (This is called "work-stay" and is available at most of the huts also, but only for the first few thru-hikers to arrive.) So Beth and Lily drove us to Camp Dodge, we were assigned to a bunk room, and we did jobs - some sweeping and cleaning.
It was, as I expected, very hard to say good bye to Beth and Lily. We were all pretty slow to pack up this morning, and lingered around the B&B, hoping the rain would stop. But I was also hoping it wouldnít. We will see them again in a month or two. It felt good to introduce them to some of our thru-hiker friends who were in Gorham. Beth even got to see Hikers Paradise and chat with some of the guests. She noticed immediately a certain "thru-hiker culture," evident from the lingo, attitudes, and values of the hikers. Itís a wonderful live-and-let-live community, but like any community it creates barriers to entry. Beth was an outsider, but she was greeted warmly because she was family.
Beth, and the rest of us, also enjoyed reading a spiral-bound book written by a thru-hiker who had stayed at the B&B: "Trail Magic: Journal of an AT thru-hiker," by Jeannie Hines (trail name "Spaz"). She gave the owners a copy of the book, which closes with this comment about reaching Mt. Katahdin after her northbound hike: "it was worth it all to reach this holy ground."
July 17 ~ Madison Spring Hut - New Hampshire at milepoint 325.3 south, 35 days since start of hike, averaging 9.3 miles per day
Day 35 began with breakfast at Camp Dodge. We were asked to wait until all the trail maintainers had lined up for breakfast, but there was plenty. Afterwards, I went into the kitchen to thank the chef for breakfast, and she handed me half a loaf of homemade raisin-walnut bread Ė still warm - for the Trail. It was gone before lunch.
Justin, the Camp director, gave us a ride to the trailhead at Pinkham Notch. We weighed our packs before heading out. Jakeís weighed 50 lbs. and mine was only 37-38; but weíre traveling with only two days worth of food. Weíll both be carrying somewhat more when we pick up our box at Mt. Washington tomorrow. The current disparity in our pack weights is part of an experiment to see if it will help my painful knees. In exchange for Jakeís taking on a larger share of the weight, Iím going to do all the laundry and the dishes.
It felt good to be hiking again after two days off the Trail. I was a little nervous though about hiking to Mt. Madison. Itís a tough climb - approximately 3,500 feet up from Pinkham Notch, much of it boulder-hopping. But what made me more nervous was that Jake and I had tried to hike Madison twice before a couple of years ago and didnít make it to the top. The first time the weather turned bad and we had to head back. The next day we tried again on an easier trail, but the path was so long we had to turn back in order to avoid hiking down the mountain in the dark. So today as I was climbing, I was wondering what the deal is with Madison. My fear of this mountain made each step up the steep trail feel that much harder.
Yesterdayís deluge also made the stream crossings more complicated. Every stream was full and going at full tilt. I stood on a rock in one of the streams for about 5 minutes debating whether I could make it to the next rock about 4 feet away without a dunking. I threw my hiking sticks across the stream and tried to focus all my mental energy on the leap to the next rock and the one after that. I bounced a little on the balls of my feet and then lunged toward the rock. It wasnít graceful, but I made it. I looked behind and was relieved to see that no one was watching my clumsy leap.
Iím breaking in new boots today. Breaking in boots on the Trail is not the recommended method - most people do it more gradually. But I would rather put up with blisters than the additional weight of extra shoes. The boots are good, though - lots of traction and only one blister so far.
I needed the traction when we got above the tree line. The boulders, covered with green and black lichens, were jangly and ominous. Itís scary sometimes on the trickier downhills, realizing that a false move could propel me headfirst onto the rocks, with the added velocity that a full pack gives you. But Jake and I both felt energized by getting out of the narrow tree-covered paths and into the open air. Even when the clouds closed in, we could see much farther ahead. Above the tree-line hiking also gives you a wider path, and therefore more options for finding some easy footing. The breezes cool you off, and then occasionally thereís sun and views - though not today.
When Madison finally came into view, I was relieved. But the folks heading home from the Madison hut warned us that we wouldnít get much sleep if we stayed there. Tonight is the annual gala for all of the hut crews, and on top of that, itís the hutmasterís birthday. Approximately 100 people are expected, in a hut that holds 52. Music until at least midnight is planned. As we arrived at the hut, we saw crew members - all roughly college-age - hauling up musical equipment, amplifiers, food, and 12-packs of beer on wood-frame carry-packs. The crew members were decked out in dresses (including one guy in a skirt), flowered head-garlands, and viking hats. One woman, in lieu of a top was wearing a wooden plaque, hung from her neck and back with gray duct tape; on the plaque was a plastic fish which, if you press the proper button, sings "Take Me to the River," and flaps its head and tail to the music.
In spite of the hoopla, Jake and I signed up for work stay. Our job will be to clean up in the morning after the festivities. This could be more work than we bargained for but at least weíve got a roof over our heads. This is a real plus when youíre at 5,500 feet in the White Mountains and the forecast calls for possible thunderstorms.
True to predictions, the party tonight is going full blast. Iím drifting off to the sounds of 80-decible bluegrass.
I havenít been writing in my journal so much lately, and I canít figure out why. Iím not quite sure whether Iíll stop writing altogether or pick up again. Weíll see.
Anyways, to catch up a little bit, the hike into Pinkham Notch was mostly unremarkable. We got caught briefly in a thunderstorm but the lightning was far off. I also later found out that I accidentally skipped a mile. I took a side trail that I thought was the AT.
At Pinkham Notch a few remarkable things happened. I ran into Sam again, as he was finishing his trip, and his father Tom was with him. It was cool to see them. I also met Sarahís youth group leader, Mother Goose, and her hiking partner and fiancee Father Time. They were both very cool to talk to. MG had actually gotten off the Trail and was driving alongside FT while he finished, and they were going to hike the Hundred Mile Wilderness together.
We also met Mom & Lily at Pinkham Notch, which was terrific. I was very happy to see both of them. We all went to Saladinoís for dinner.
Saturday, we did some shopping and drove up Mt. Washington. I may comment on the irony of that and how much I disliked being a tourist on a noble mountain and contributing to its touristification, later. It was good to spend that time with Mom & Lily though.
We had dinner at Libbyís. It was delicious. Sunday, it was raining pretty hard so we did workstay at Camp Dodge. The next morning it had stopped raining so we got an early start. We hiked to Madison Hut, planning to do workstay and it turns out theyíre having the annual staff party here. They say theyíll have plenty of cleanup for us to do in the morning though, so we can stay.
July 18 ~ Lake of the Clouds Hut - New Hampshire ... in New Hampshire-Vermont - map at milepoint 332.8 south, 36 days since start of hike, averaging 9.2 miles per day
Day 36 - I woke up throughout the night, with party sounds still coming from the dining room. By 4 a.m. everyone was snoozing and sleeping bags covered virtually every square inch of the two bunk rooms and a good part of the dining room. The bunks are stacked 4 high to the ceiling, and some of them had two people jammed into them.
I felt like I was in an over-crowded coed college dorm. Groggy-eyed party-goers emerged from their bunks and sleeping bags around 7 a.m. These are obviously people who are accustomed to living in close quarters. They dressed by artfully donning one piece of clothing under another and stripping off the top layer.
Last night, I was told, the folks at the party were a lot less modest. Apparently, the dancing got pretty intense and about half the people at the party were dancing without clothes. I was trying to decide whether I was glad I slept through that part of the festivities. I am sure I was the oldest person at the hut, by a decade or so. I felt a little out of place, and was quite content to let Jake party with his contemporaries, without my presence. I would have probably embarrassed him if I had joined in the dancing with or without clothes - not to mention embarrassing myself.
Jake and I did our morning chores at the hut - part of our work-stay arrangement. Jake swept and I helped get the bedding organized. Other crewmembers sorted and discarded beer bottles and cans. There was a box for Budweiser (marked "Dead Soldiers"), Sam Andrews ("Dead Patriots"), and Long Trail, a local brewery ("Dead Thru-Hikers"). By 10 a.m. the hut was relatively clean and the various crews had loaded up their pack boards with musical instruments, amplifies, and party debris, and had begun hiking down the mountain. I thanked the hut master for putting us up for the night, and we headed out.
The Trail was all rock, all the time, today as we crossed the ridge that connects Mt. Madison (elev. 5,363 ft.) with Mr. Washington (elev. 6,288 ft.). Tricky footing made it slow work.
We passed several northbound thru-hikers, including several my age, which was a treat. We talked about failing knees and ankles and other aging-thruhiker maladies.
The terrain here is stark and beautiful. The clouds were blowing by, but we got good views intermittently of the whole string of tree-less summits: Mt. Madison, Mt. Adams, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Clay, and Mt. Washington. Although Mt. Washington is the tallest and most massive, the buildings and antennas at the summit mar the aesthetic impact of the mountain. The other peaks have a more austere beauty.
Occasionally, I could hear under the jumble of boulders a gurgling spring or stream. With a mile to go before reaching Mt. Washington, rain, thunder, and lightning rolled in, and I had to scramble to the top.
At the visitor center at the summit, a Forest Service staffer told us another storm was coming shortly after this one, and suggested that we sit still for a while.
Jacob and I were both feeling a little restless. We only needed to hike 1.5 miles to reach Lakes of the Clouds hut. We each ventured outside for a minute to guage the intensity of the storm. Our alternative was to catch a shuttle bus down to the highway and find a place to stay. We decided to brave the elements and continue on the Trail to the hut.
I have hiked this short stretch before. In good weather, itís a relatively easy 1.5 mile hike, all down hill, rocky, but with a gentle slope. Today the wind was blowing 30-40 mph, with rain, hail and no visibility. We stayed closer together and made it to the hut in a little less than an hour. I fell a couple of times on wet rocks trying to keep up with Jake but did not break anything. We didnít see the lightning that was listed as a possibility but thatís what kept us moving quickly. Just before reaching the hut we passed a sign - aimed at the people who might be heading up to the summit of Mt. Washington: "Stop. The area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there from exposure even in the summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad." Well, too late for that.
The crew at this Hut will let us stay for free and fed us in exchange for working tomorrow morning. They have a guitar here, so I got to strum a little. And the crew has been very friendly. They mentioned how hard it was to go back to work after the party at Madison.
I talked with one of the crew members about diversity. I asked him why all the crew members - all 100 or so at the party - were white. He said the AMC has been trying, without success so far, to recruit minority staff. He mentioned that the AMC (founded in 1876) has traditionally been run by old line (i.e., white) Bostonians, and that may have something to do with it. (Thereís a photo at Mt. Washington of a 1915 AMC meeting and as you might expect, it was an all-white, all-male group.) The staffer said he met one black thru-hiker last year. And we both recalled an Indian woman who is one of the supervisors at Camp Dodge.
There is also an interesting class issue. Almost all of the Hut crewmembers - all 100 or so - are either college students or recent college grads. They come from good schools: Cornell, Wesleyan, Boston College, Middlebury, etc. Their clientele have at the huts are relatively affluent and well educated. There are nature talks in the evening. It is not surprising that many thru-hikers, who come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, would scorn the huts and the AMC as basically serving the rich.
But tonight, as the wind pounds the walls and rattles the windows with a 50-70 mph blast, and rain pings against the glass, Jake and I are very grateful to be bunking down in this unheated but very welcoming refuge, among the privileged class of hut-to-hut hikers. After all, thatís how we got interested in all of this ourselves - by meeting thru-hikers at the huts.
The party last night was terrific. People trickled in bit by bit, most carrying heavy loads. Their cargo was primarily alcohol (for themselves) and speakers and amps (for the band). They had a pretty impressive set up, with most of the audio equipment youíd find at a regular show, except it was all packed up a 3.5 mile access trail and running off of a generator powered by propane helicoptered in annually. I met some cool people; Emily who works at Pinkham Notch, and who I saw a couple of times when we were down there; Mike, John, and Nicole, who work at a valley camp Lexcept; Nicole, who works at Bascom Lodge), who, I went for a short walk with to see the pond and a nice view from one of the ledges; and Adam from the band. I also talked briefly to the Hutmaster, "Biscuit," who turns out to got to Cornell. She seemed quite cool too, but was very busy with keeping things going. The band, "Smoking Grass," was quite good and kept the crowd dancing. The party didnít end until around 1:00 a.m. I wound up sleeping in the aisle between the bunks because there wasnít enough room for everyone. In the morning, we helped clean up, but the staff largely picked up after themselves, so there wasnít too much. We washed the floors, took down decorations, moved the furniture back in, and other random stuff. Iím writing by flashlight now, so Iíll stop here and finish writing about today tomorrow.
July 19 ~ Ethan Pond Shelter - New Hampshire at milepoint 346.9 south, 37 days since start of hike, averaging 9.4 miles per day
Day 37 - I woke up every hour or so through the night because it was so cold. Outside the hut it was 40 degrees and inside it was barely 50 degrees. I lay under the hutís wool blankets and tried to read a bit. I had to keep shifting hands, keeping one hand under the covers. At breakfast, we learned that the winds had gusted to 70 mph during the night and with the current 40 mph breeze, the wind chill factor was 0 degrees. July in the White Mountains!
I put on an extra layer of clothing, and Jake and I started our work-stay chores: wiping down the dining room tables, sweeping the dining room, common area, and 8 bunkrooms, and making sure each of the 90 bunks had a pillow and three folded blankets. We were done by 10 a.m. and sat down for breakfast with the crew. I actually enjoyed the work. It felt good to be helping out. Usually in our world the connection between work and shelter/sustenance is somewhat attenuated. Here it is quite direct. You work, you eat.
By the time we started hiking, the weather had improved. The visibility was low for most of the morning and the wind was ripping along, but the rain had stopped. By afternoon, the sun made an appearance - its first in a few days. I hung some of my damp clothes out to dry on the various straps on my backpack - hikers often look like walking clothes lines.
We spent the morning above the tree line but by lunch time we had descended into the "krumholz," the low-lying shrubs that live near the tree line. Then we reached actual trees - we hadnít seen them since our climb up to Madison Springs Hut two days ago. Our surroundings then shifted from all evergreens to a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees. The bunch berry flowers returned - no more diapensia. The Trail became a mixture of rocks and roots again, and the song birds were back.
Our plan was to stop at Mizpah Springs Hut and have lunch. This was to be our first "fail-safe" point of the day, but Jake was nowhere to be found. He had been ahead of me all morning. I was mystified. I looked in the Trail register - no entry. I asked the Hut crew, I looked around, I waited - no Jake. This was our first missed connection of the hike. I decided he must have blasted past Mizpah because we were trying to make it to Zealand Falls Hut by the end of the day - what we thought was a 15-mile stretch. (As it happens, we were both wrong: Zealand is 19 miles along the AT but only 15 by a side trail.
I left Jake a note in the register, because I thought there was a small chance (very small) that he was behind me. Perhaps he had taken a side trail to one of the peaks or gotten lost. All of this seemed very unlikely. So I pressed on, trying to hike faster because I realized it would be very hard for me to get to Zealand before dark, and I wanted to know where Jake was.
I ran into several northbound hikers, and cross-examined them about whether they had seen Jake or "Gollum", as he is known on the Trail. Some said they saw a guy who fit his description - sort of - but they didnít remember the name. Some did not recall seeing someone who looked like Jake. This was unusual, because Jake usually talks with the Northbound hikers he meets. When they get to me an hour or so later, they usually greet me by saying, "You must be Dad," or something like that. But not today, So, I concluded, Jake must be bearing down, hiking fast to get to Zealand, not talking to people - I better hurry.
Hurrying, of course, can be a problem when youíre climbing up and down mountains. We crossed Mt. Franklin, Mt. Jackson, Mt. Pierce and Mt. Webster today, and skirted the peaks of two other mountains - all but one of them more than 4,000 feet. Of course we were on a ridge line, so the actual upís and down ís were only a few hundred feet each way. But the climb down from Mt. Webster was intense: 2,700 feet of continuous descent. The northbounders described some of the sections as quite "sketchy" - trail talk for "very difficult." The profile map shows one section as nearly verticle. I realized, as I was rushing down the hill, that I was getting used to the fact that I am going to take a fall every now and then, no matter how careful I am. I fell hard 2 or 3 times today. It reminded one of a scene from junior high school when my friend Morty Mittenthal shoved me the boxing gloves in his basement rec room and tried to teach me how to box. He said the key to boxing is this: "you have to be willing to take a punch." If you arenít, he said, youíll never be able to land a punch." So, as I am hiking, I say to myself, I have to be willing to fall down occasionally - take a few punches - if I am going to get anywhere on this Trail. If only I could become as skilled at hiking as I am at falling!
At the bottom, the Trail crosses U.S. Route 302, and I left a note for Jake tacked on the Trail sign, in case he was behind me. I hitched a ride up to the Crawford hostel, 5 miles north. One of the northbounders had said he met a guy who looked like Jake who said he was going there. The woman who picked me up was a former thru-hiker herself (trailname "Monarch"). She waited at the hostel while I went in. Jake wasnít there. No one had see him so she drove me back to the Trailhead. (Thanks again, Monarch, wherever you are.)
Of course, at my age, willpower will only carry you so far. I had boogeyed up the hill only about half a mile when I had to stop for some food. I still had not had lunch, and here it was dinnertime. Jake had all the food except the snacks. While I was sitting there, munching my last Snickers bar and getting ready for more climbing, a very welcome sight cane into view: "Jacob, is that you?" It was. He had gotten behind me in the morning when he accidentally went off on a side trail. When he reached Mizpah and saw my note, he was 2 hours behind me, and he spent the rest of the day trying to catch up. What a role reversal!
We assessed our options. Jake wanted to do some night hiking, but I suggested that we just hike another 2.5 miles to the Ethan Pond shelter. We had both been pushing very hard, and so he agreed.
As it got darker the climb got harder, and I got grumpier. I donít like hiking in the dark. The views are poor, and I stumble even more than during the day. But I did make it to camp, passing near the end a beautiful sight: Ethan Pond, in the dwindling twilight, with a hint of sunset colors still visible in the sky.
As I inched my way along the rocks toward the shelter, I was glad to hear voices and laughter. I might be getting close. There was a campfire with several hikers, including our friend, Footprints, sitting around. I was relieved, exhausted, and hungry. Jake and I had our dinner by flashlight at about 10 p.m. and tried not to wake some of the hikers already asleep in the shelter. The skies were clear tonight. As I looked up, I thought how lucky I was in spite of a hard day to be having rice and beans, under the stars, next to a campfire with Jacob.
Hiking yesterday was relatively easy and mostly uneventful. Some day hikers gave me some trail mix, and I met some more NoBos. On the approach to Mt. Washington, the trail was parallel to the cog railway for a while, and a downward-bound train passed while I was hiking, so I followed the thru-hiker tradition and mooned it. I was startled to see black rocks start falling around me, and stood up to see the engineer throwing lumps of coal at me. He was far enough away that I had plenty of time to dodge, ad he didnít hit me. I gave him a wave and a thumbs-up. I found out later that the engineer throwing coal is also part of the tradition. Why did no one tell me this before? The weather was good when I arrived on Mt. Washington the weather was nice, but it was raining hard by the time Dad caught up . We wound up having to hike in rain and hail for the mile and a half to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut.
July 20 ~ Garfield Ridge Shelter, New Hampshire ... in New Hampshire-Vermont - map at milepoint 361.4 south, 38 days since start of hike, averaging 9.5 miles per day
Day 38 - The weather today was extraordinary: sunny, warm, with a mild breeze. It was perfect weather for hiking, and according to one of the shelter caretakers we met, the first decent weather in New Hampshire this July. One of hikers described the overnight lows (in the 40ís) as good sleeping weather, but thatís a mite chilly for me if Iím sleeping outdoors. However, the chill wore off as we hiked 5 easy miles along a low ridge to Zealand Falls Hut.
With the sun beating down, I laid out my damp clothes on some shrubs at the Hut and went inside. Jake and I knew the crew member from the party at Madison Hut, and we talked with her a bit while we ate ice cream (!) that was left over from a recent AMC event there. Ice cream is hard to pack in from the highway in July, but someone had carried 25 gallons, and the hut was selling the surplus by the bowl to grateful hikers.
We saw more than a dozen day hikers at the hut. Some were basking in the sun at the Falls, where the water runs across a huge rock slab. One of the day hikers - a fellow in his 60ís with a NYC accent - told me that his hiking adventures were nearly over. He had fallen last year from a rock climb and broken his wrist; now his knees were failing. "But Iíd rather die," he said, "at the end of a rope than at the end of a tube." I asked him if he would be willing to mail a couple of letters to my home because our next town stop was several days away. He said he was happy to do it, and he said he would call my wife just to let her know I was alive. (A nice bit of Trail magic!)
I talked with the leader of a small group of hikers - he was middle-aged, rugged looking and African-American, although his group of teenagers and adults was all white. He said to me in a candid moment that the folks in his group were so rich "they have Jacuzzis in their Jacuzzis."
Being at Zealand brought back memories of my first hiking experience in the White Mountains - a hike to Zealand in October 1991 with Lily (then age 4) and Jake (then age 10). I had badly underestimated the time it would take to get from our car to the Hut. The trail was only 2.6 miles. But it was getting dark, and cold. Lily was bundled in a parka with a tiny backpack containing one item: her teddy bear. About 100 yards up the gentle path to the Hut, she told me how heavy her pack felt. Soon I was carrying it, along with my own pack. A few hundred yards more and her legs were very tried. Soon I was carrying Lily too. (Jake took the teddy bear.) It was muddy, and I was jumping from rock to rock with my pack and Lily and feeling lucky that we had not fallen in. Then at the base of a very steep hill - the last tenth of a mile before the Hut - we reached a fork in the path. It was too dark to see where we were going without a flashlight. While I poked around, I left Lily with Jake, and thought how distraught Beth would be if she could see us right now - our young kids left at a crossroad in the dark woods. It was only for a minute or so but I felt like I deserved a "Bad Dad" award. When I figured out which path to take, we climbed the rocks to the Hut, where gas lights glowed. When we opened the door, people seemed a little surprised at our late arrival, and I must have been a sight: carrying Lily and my pack, I was about as sweaty as Iíve ever been in my life. What I didnít know about hiking at that point in my life would have filled volumes. So it felt good to return to Zealand and feel at least somewhat more competent.
It was hard leaving Zealand today but we had to press on. Our goal was Galehead Hut or beyond. We crossed Zealand Ridge, Mt. Guyot (4,560 feet), and then South Twin Mountain (4,902 feet). The last of these commands the most extraordinary views. To the south, east, and west, itís all green rolling hills and mountains - virtually no sign of civilization - an area known as the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Even to the north, where a few towns dot the landscape, the views were beautiful.
About half way down the mountain Jake was waiting for me with a proposal: hike back up the mountain (he would even carry my pack) and sleep at the top. The weather was perfect: weíd see the sunset and the sunrise with a 360 degree view. The downside: weíd be giving up a long mileage day (and weíre a little behind schedule), weíd have to backtrack (a painful process), and itís illegal (no camping allowed above tree line). We also had very little water. It was a difficult choice, but the thought of being rousted from our tents in the middle of the night by an irate Forest Service ranger was unappealing.
We made it to Galehead at 7 p.m. and watched 50 or so paying guests eating dinner. I was exhausted, but they had no room for us. We had no choice but to press on. It was 2.6 miles to this shelter. The first two miles would have been easy on fresh legs, but mine were anything but. The last half mile was almost straight up - the type of cruel, verticle rock climbing that I thought we had left behind in Maine. Doing it at 9 p.m., when there was barely any light, left me muttering dark curses every time I slipped down the rocks.
When my night vision finally failed me, I dug through my pack and found my headlamp. I stumbled into camp for a second night in a row well after dark. This time there was no camp fire, but we still had the stars and Liptonís Noodle Parmesan with a touch of TVP (texturized vegetable protein), some olive oil, and a bit of garlic powder - bon apetit!
P.S. One of the more remarkable sights of the day was the wheel-chair accessible ramp on the front porch of Galehead Hut. The building is brand new and the ramp, I am told, was required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. I was tying to imagine how someone in a wheel chair would get to the Hut, which is about 5 miles from the nearest road and 4,700 feet up some of the rockiest terrain in New Hampshire. I am glad they have the ramp, though. My legs were aching, and I used it.
July 21 ~ Liberty Spring Tent Site - New Hampshire ... in New Hampshire-Vermont - map at milepoint 369.1 south, 39 days since start of hike, averaging 9.5 miles per day
Day 39- Today was a short mileage day for me but not for Jake. After doing more than 14 miles per day for the last two days - covering some very rugged terrain - my legs rebelled.
The first challenge of the day was waking up. I could have slept until noon. But when other folks at the shelter were up and making breakfast around 7:00 a.m., itís hard to sleep in. I was out of camp and on the Trail by 8:45, and Jake left a little later. (He decided to do "work-stay" instead of paying the $6 fee charged by the AMC for use of shelter.)
Jake and I met at the top of Mt. Garfield, about half a mile from the camp. It was a good spot for photos, because the mountain has a bald cap where a fire tower used to sit. We could see Mt. Lafayette and the entire ridge of peaks we were going to cross today. Very picturesque, very intimidating.
Jake and I had crossed this ridge about 4 or 5 years ago, coming in the other direction, on a 4-day hiking trip from hut to hut. We never really saw the ridge, though, because it was in the clouds. But I remember the trail well. It was the hardest hiking we had ever done. Now I could see why.
This time our packs were heavier, and my legs felt weary from our day-in, day-out hiking. As we descended Mt. Garfield, I was thinking about a conversation I had this morning with Tater, a thru-hiker at the shelter. Taker is a northbounder and said that all he could manage was about one mile per hour over this ridge. He said that he has to be careful because, at age 48, he already broke his ankle once. That was in 1999 when he first tried to hike the AT. He had done 500 miles and the fracture ended his trip. So he started again this year - at the beginning - and heís going for distance not for speed. A tall, handsome man with a thick gray beard and neatly trimmed gray hair, Tater told me in a rich Southern account that the greatest joy in his life these days - besides hiking - is his granddaughter, and heís going to hike enough miles each day to get home for her first birthday - come hell or high water. But he has to be careful in order to make it.
So I was reminded to watch my ankles and watch my footing. This hike could end for me with one false step. I also was trying to find Taterís determination. Jake and I have a goal: home by Thanksgiving. But the more important goal is to enjoy the hike. Jake has been having no problems with that goal; he still bounds along like an antelope.
As I climbed the Franconia ridge to Mt. Lafayette, I tried everything I could think of to get my legs moving. I stopped and rested; I took more frequent breaks for water; I sat and meditated for a few minutes. When all else failed I tried food. When I reached a sunny rock ledge I stretched out and took a 10-minute nap. Nothing was working. I checked my motivation meter; in my gut I was still feeling just as determined as ever to get to Georgia. The message, however, was not getting to my legs. They felt like lead weights. Maybe I am pushing them too hard.
I wanted to talk to Jake about all this, but he was long gone. I was getting reports from the northbounders that he was about an hour ahead of me. I trudged on.
If any place could take your mind off your troubles, however, itís this Franconia ridge. The views in every direction were stunning, even before reaching Mt. Lafayette, the highest peak here. The "Thru-Hikers Companion" says the ridge will leave you "awestruck" - it did.) I could see every craggy sinuous twist and turn of the rock trail as it worked its way up and down the peaks - all above tree line. These mountains attracted a big crowd today. I saw about 50-60 hikers from one end of the ridge to the other, most of them up for a day or two.
I found that talking to a few of the day hikers helped put a little spring back in my step. Many of them were surprised - even a little impressed - to hear that Jake and I are headed for Georgia. I asked them abut their destination - many were going to nearby Greenleaf Hut. One family applauded me, and tipped their caps. It felt great. We each left the conversation with a little something. They met someone who is doing something unusual, and I got my motivation meter kicked up a few notches. I could tell I was having a rough day, though, by the number of these conversations I needed in order to get across the ridge.
I also had to remind myself to watch my feet. The scenery is so mesmerizing up here, I almost stepped off a ledge a couple of times. For much of the day, I could see all the way to the bottom of Franconia Notch, where I-93 winds its way between the mountains. At 5,249 feet, Lafayette gives you a view thatís the equivalent of a 500-story building - more like the view from an airplane. I watched hawks soaring below me.
Finally, a little after 4 p.m., I reached my rendez-vous point with Jake, at this tent site. Rain was starting to fall. I told him that I wanted to stop for the day, even though we had planned to hike another 5-7 miles. I explained about my legs. He was disappointed but OK about it. He wanted to keep hiking, and he has a friend on the crew at Lonesome Lake hut - about 5 miles from here. So we reorganized our gear a bit. And he continued hiking. Iíll catch up with him tomorrow. For tonight my focus will be stretching out in my tent, giving my legs the rest they deserve, and hope that they will heal a bit overnight.
July 22 ~ Kinsman Notch - New Hampshire at milepoint 388 south, 40 days since start of hike, averaging 9.7 miles per day
Day 40 felt like a milestone because weíre approximately one quarter of the way through our hike. We are estimating 165 days altogether. Of course, nothing goes exactly according to plan on the Trail. But I am not concerned about our pace. We are moving along faster than many of the southbounders weíve met, and the northbounders tell us weíll be banging out 20-mile days once we get down south.
Arduous was definitely the word for Kinsman Mountain, with its twin peaks above 4,000 feet, which we crossed this afternoon. On the way up, some of the rock surfaces were so steep, the trail maintainers had installed wooden "steps" - blocks of wood hanging on iron pins in the rock. On the path down, however, there were no such devices. Mid-afternoon rain left me wet and a little cranky (no dry clothes), and left the rocks slippery. On some of the rock faces, I knew I was going to wind up on my bottom, so I might as well get it over with - I sat and inched my way down. Other slopes were more complicated - they required hanging from roots or nearby tree branches and lowering myself down backwards. I took it all slowly, and, with the help of my two hiking poles, made it through the worst stretches unscathed.
But, as Jacob often says, "itís the easy ones that will get you." And they did. On some of the easier parts of the climb down Kinsman - just while I was thinking how carefully, even gracefully at times, I had conquered some impossible slope - bam! I was tumbling head-first, or elbow-first, or knees-first into some god-forsaken rock wall just below the sneakiest little moss-covered rock that you ever saw. I must have done that six times today. As I try to find a comfortable position in my sleeping bag this evening, I am reminded of each fall because the bruises are limiting my options.
Even so, the climb up Kinsman had its rewards. From the summit, I could see Mt. Lafayette and the whole Franconia ridge we crossed yesterday. At South Kinsman, the rain stopped, the sun emerged briefly, and a rainbow appeared over the ridge Ė a gorgeous sight! Piles of fluffy clouds, with their tops illuminated by orange afternoon sunlight, drifted by - below me - through the valley.
I made it to the shelter by 7:30 and found a crowd of hikers. Seven tents and 5 or 6 people in the tiny shelter - and plenty of folks gathered around preparing noodle dinners of one kind or another. Three weekend hikers from Boston were loud and a little obnoxious (I really donít need to hear about all the gory details of Howard Sternís show while Iím out in the woods.) The rest of us were trying to sleep.
However, I like most of the hikers weíve encountered. I met several hikers today who are older than me: a retired couple from Indiana, and a former YMCA director ("Woodchip") from New Hampshire who wore her 67 years as gracefully as anyone Iíve ever met. These folks were not complaining about their aches and pains or talking about Howard Stern - they were busy enjoying the hike. I thought of them often today as I stumbled along. Even though this hike is hard and often uncomfortable, I have a lot to be thankful for. One of my mediation clients, back in my work world, told me before I left, that she would give anything to be able to do what Iím doing. (She has multiple health problems that impair her mobility.) I think of her often as well.
Jake deserves a big thanks today for helping me make the miles a little easier on my legs. He "slacked" me for three miles this morning - from Fanconia Notch to Lonesome Lake Hut. (A word of explanation: "slacking" or "slack-packing" means hiking with no pack, or only a day pack; purists believe thru-hikers must carry their full pack past every blaze.) Jake had spent the night at the Hut and told me last night that he might meet me in the Notch. So, heís definitely my hero of the day and my legs are a lot happier this evening because of the break they got this morning. It was a little alarming, however, that even when he was carrying my pack, and I was carrying nothing but a water bottle, I could not keep up with him.
P.S. Quote of the day, from a brash, young thruhiker who arrived at the Shelter after a 24-mile day through the White Mountains, discussing a book about trees that he just acquired: "I learned to identify four trees today! Of course, this hike isnít about trees and plants - itís about being able to brag that you did it when you get back." (I later learned, that after his hike, heís planning to return to college and - notwithstanding his comment - change his major to environmental studies and wilderness management.)
Got behind again, catching up: Thursday morning we swept the floors and wiped the tables at Lakes of the Clouds and set off to a foggy windy day. The fog eventually cleared and not much else happened that day except I got lost and Dad got ahead of me. I wound up having to backtrack a while and go quite fast to make up a lead of about two hours he had on me. I finally caught up to him close to evening, and we went to Ethan Pond Shelter, where we met Footprints and the Tennessee Boys again. The caretaker was gone so we didnít have to pay or work.
July 23 ~ Kinsman Notch - New Hampshire at milepoint 388 south, 41 days since start of hike, averaging 9.5 miles per day
Day 41 - I punked out today after 7.5 miles that Jake said were very easy and I thought were hard.
Jake and I left camp together and then met at the Lost River Gorge, half a mile from where the Trail crosses Route 112. The attraction here for us is not the Gorge but the snack bar with its pizza and hiker discount of 40%(!). Jake and I each demolished a large pizza.
The manager, Chad, is planning to start a northbound thru-hike on the AT this coming March. He said the discount is his way of building up good karma for the hike. He built up some extra good karma with me, because he gave me a ride at the end of the day to "Hikers Welcome," a hostel in nearby Glencliff.
The hostel is a little primitive. The shower is outdoors. The sleeping quarters consist of an open loft over the garage. But itís dry, and inexpensive ($6/ night, plus another $2 if you use the shower).
Tomorrow I will leave my pack here and hitch-hike back to Kinsman Notch. With my day pack only, I will hike the next 10 miles over Mt. Moosilauke. This is intended as a kindness to my knees. The slope up Moosilauke is considered by thru-hikers to be the steepest ascent of any mountain on the AT.
Meanwhile Jacob started the climb this afternoon. Boy, does he have stamina! Tomorrow night weíll both be at Hikers Welcome. Maybe weíll wash our clothes - only $4 extra - for the first time in a week and a half, and take a shower if itís warm enough outside.
As I think about the grungy conditions I am living in these days, I cannot help but be struck by the contrast with the conditions I am currently reading about in Frank McCourtís "Angelaís Ashes." McCourt grew up in dire straits in Depression-era Ireland. Of course, hiking the AT is nothing like the deadly crushing poverty McCourt lived through. McCourt did not choose the poverty in which he lived. But when I read about his outdoor lavatories, filthy clothes, and sparse rations, I feel a powerful connection. I also realize how lucky I am that I can take a break from those conditions whenever the Trail crosses a road near a pizza stand. But when I am in the mountains, between the highways, sometimes for a week at a time, I think about how resilient the human spirit can be when the going is tough. If McCourt can endure - as he did - many years of such conditions, surely I can endure a few days of it at a time.
Mid-afternoon - Lost River Gorge On Friday, we intended to hike to Galehead Hut, but when we got there Gecko and Moss were already there and the crew was strict about limiting workstays to two per night, so we went on to Garfield Ridge campsite. In the middle of the day, we had lunch at Zealand Falls Hut. They had ice cream there for $2 a bowl, which was a rare treat. There was a neat device out back - a pump run by hydro-power. There was a pipe which brought water from half a mile upstream to turn a small waterwheel. That wheel was attached to a series of gears that drove a piston pumping water up and out of a well, which then flowed down another pipe to the hut. Anyways, when we got to Garfield Ridge Campsite, we met a couple NoBos named Sailor and Tater. They were both very friendly and addressed me as "brother" or "bro," a trend Iíve noticed increasingly among Northbounders lately. I guess in the Whites thereís more of a feeling of kinsmanship between thru-hikers because you see so many weekenders.
The caretaker at the shelter, Mikey was very friendly - he came by and talked a little. In the morning, I did workstay shovellig compost from the privy from one bin to another. Fortunately, it was in an advanced state of decay, so it smelled only vaguely like poop. I wound up working only about half an hour before Mike came by to let me know I could go. Anyways, Dad had taken off earlier, having opted to pay the $6 fee rather than work, but I soon caught up with him. We crossed Lafayette in great weather or at least I did, and there were tons of tourists. I estimated 35. Dad estimated 60, and I think he may have been closer to the mark.
We had planned to go to Lonesome Lake Hut that night, but when Dad finally arrived at Liberty Spring Tentsite, he declared his knees would take him no further, so I left him with dinner supplies and went on to Lonesome Lake to do workstay. I moved pretty quickly on the way because I was anxious to arrive in time for dinner. It was also relatively easy terrain, which helped. I arrived shortly after the guests had eaten, but before the crew and workstays had. I was glad I had decided to go on, because dinner was delicious: vegetarian chili, cheese, rice, mixed veggies, bread, and a salad. I ate myself silly. The crew was very cool, and stayed up for a while chatting with us thru-hikers. "Batteries Included" found a deck of cards and showed them some card tricks. Later, we went out to sit by the lake. The air was absolutely still and clear, so we got a tremendous view of the stars, not only in the sky, but also by reflections in the lake. We sat for a while watching the stars and some heat lightning on the horizon, and slowly the moon rose above the trees. It came out steady from behind a low-lying cloud, so we saw it first as a silver glow illuminating the cloud from behind, then it broke through the clouds and we saw the whole moon all of a sudden. It was very beautiful.
July 24 ~ Glencliff - NewHampshire at milepoint 397.5 south, 42 days since start of hike, averaging 9.5 miles per day
Day 42 - I climbed Mt. Moosilauke today - the last big mountain on the Trail in New Hampshire. In fact, for us southbounders, itís the only mountain much higher than 4,000 feet until we get way down south. There are at least two theories among the local folks about the unusual name of the mountain. Some say an early settler saw two bull moose fighting on the mountain and their horns locked and thus was able to kill both of them - evidently a big enough event to be worth naming a mountain for it. Another theory is that the "Mossi" part of the name means "bald" in an Indian language, and the "auke" means "Place."
Either way, the top of the mountain does have a broad rock bald place, and the views were excellent. I sat and ate my lunch on a ragged stone wall that is all that remains of a hotel that was built in 1860 but later burned to the ground. Getting guests up to the hotel must have been a project. They probably didnít come the way I came - on foot from the north, where the Trail is steeper than any other place on the AT. The guests apparently used the gentler south side of the mountain, where a carriage trail is still wide enough for a small SUV, and then a bridal trail to the top. Thatís the path that the AT takes heading down to Glencliff.
I had been dreading this climb over Moosilauke. One thru-hiker who looked at it from a distance but had not yet climbed it, said to me "Are we supposed to go over that thing? That is one big-a-- mountain!" But I got up at 6 a.m., hitched a series of rides to Kinsman Notch, and braced myself for the worst. Yes, it was steep. But there is a beautiful series of waterfalls alongside the Trail. Also, the Dartmouth Outdoor Club, which maintains this part of the AT, has installed wooden blocks in strategic places, taking a lot of the guesswork out of the footing on the ascent. Most importantly, however, I took only a day pack, with lunch, first aid supplies, water bottles, and a rain jacket. I left my big pack at the hostel in Glencliff, and it felt liberating to be climbing this "big-a-- mountain" with almost no weight on my back. And because I was expecting the worst, it wasnít really so bad. I had given myself lots of time. I was actually enjoying the climb.
Of course, the Dartmouth Club does not want hikers to be too casual about hiking this part of the Trail. They posted a sign near the bottom: "This trail is extremely rough. If you lack experience, please use another trail. Take special care at the cascades to avoid tragic results." I was trying not to think of the events that inspired the last sentence of the warning. I was also trying to figure out if it was OK for me to be on this part of the Trail; I have plenty of "experience" - itís skill that I lack.
So, I avoided the cascades beside the Trail, and inched my way up. I met two day-hikers, a very nice married couple, and tried to keep up with them. The wife hiked the AT last year with her daughter from Georgia to Maine, and the husband runs marathons and plays tennis. Our conversation was a little strained because I was huffing and puffing and wheezing while I tried to match their pace, and they were kind enough not to say anything about the fact that I sounded like I was about to expire.
At the top there were about ten hikers taking in the big view. There were also some white-throated sparrows dancing around, hoping weíd leave them a few crumbs. They evidently know that when they see hikers itís an easy dinner for them.
I left the mountain top with a mixture of relief and regret. The hardest part of NH is now over. With luck, my body can recover a bit. But the soul-soaring views of the world from as high as you can get on land in this part of the country - that experience wonít be replicated on this trip.
As I crossed the zone that separates the alpine, tree-less top from the tunnel of trees that leads back down the mountain, I saw two young northbounders storming up the Trail. They had the biggest grins on their faces. "Weíre above the tree-line! Weíare above the tree line!" one of them exclaimed. I wanted to talk with them, but they were ecstatic, and anyway they just bounded right past me while I stood there with my mouth slightly open. If theyíre so happy, should I be sad? The "Thru-hikers Companion" says: "For northbounders this is the first mountain above tree line. For southbounders, the pasture at the base of the southern side is the first pasture land. Who should be more excited?"
It was, in fact, exciting to be descending a mountain on an easy pasture-land, carriage path trail for a change. The Trail crosses a stone wall - that was a first. The Trail is bounded at a couple of spots by barbed wire fences - another first. I saw a tractor raking hay! There was a meadow full of wildflowers, and the path was flat. I could get used to this.
Back in Glencliff Jake had already reached the Post Office and picked up our regular mail drop box and also a box from a friend (Cheryle Wray) - at my office. Cheryleís box was a "Care package" with all sorts of goodies, including a large batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies (first rate!) Half of those disappeared quickly. We spread out the other items on the lawn outside the Post Office: Cliff Bars; (delicious) a spaghetti marinara hikerís dinner (just add water); peach cobbler (ditto); an ultra light hikers mirror (useful, even though I didnít like what I saw); a light weight but vexingly difficult puzzle; Gatorade bars (a novelty), etc, etc. It felt like Christmas. Thank you Cheryle!
And there was other Trail magic today. This morning, one of the rides I got was with a wilderness program leader. He was on his way to a meeting with a canoe on the roof of his 1975 VW minibus. He was having trouble getting his minibus up the hills; the gearbox worked primarily on the downhills (a bit like me). Anyway, when he dropped me off in Lincoln, NH, we were at a bagel shop and he insisted on buying me breakfast, while he picked up some bagels for the meeting. I tried to explain that I could afford to buy breakfast, but looking at me, I donít think he believed it. So, waving my protests aside, he paid the man at the counter and we said good bye, while my breakfast was being cooked.
At the end of the day, trail magic appeared in the form of oranges - a whole bag of them - left by some kind soul where the Trail meets the road in Glencliff. I took one, wishing I knew whom to thank. (Citrus is one my main cravings these days.)
Then thereís Roger Brickner, a Glencliff resident, who provides housing meals, a shower, the use of his swimming pool, laundry facilities, cold drinks and a ride to and from the Trail - for free! Roger is retired and enjoys helping out thru-hikers. He accommodates up to four per night on a first come first-served basis, but he is out of town this week.
And last but not least there is Glencliffís Mother Hen, whose husband did a thru-hike a few years ago. She saw our journal on Trailplace and offered to take us under her wing when we reached Glencliff, but she too was out of town this week. Even so, we felt cared for, and the accommodations at the hostel were just fine.
The spirit of the Trail is evidently very strong here. Thank you Glencliff, for taking good care of us.
The next morning we helped out with miscellaneous breakfast stuff and I cleaned the fridge with Dan while Batteries and Banjo Bill cleaned the store. After, hanging around a little while I hiked back and met Dad near the road to carry his pack the three miles back to Lonesome Lake. We then hiked to Eliza Brook shelter, which was crowded with weekenders but a pleasant place to stay. We met a cool NoBo named "Funk Ďní Wagnalls" and talked with him for a while. The rest of the day was rather uneventful. We hiked 7 miles to New Hampshire 112, where we had gotten a tip there was a good place to eat. Sure enough, Lost River Gorge was .3 miles to our left and had a snackbar that gave a 40% discount and free fountain drinks to thru-hikers. We each had a pizza and chatted for a while with the food service manager, who is planning a thru-hike. Dad decided his legs hurt too much to hike any more that day so he got a ride to Glencliff and spent the night, intending to slackpack over Mt. Moosilanke today. I went 1.5 miles to Beaver Brook Shelter and stayed there with Gecko and Moss and two Northbounders. The NoBos were complaining how al the SoBos they were meeting were saying "Oh geez, this is way too easy, Iím getting bored. Boy are you in for it in the Whites." A little worriesome.
July 25 ~ Hexacuba Shelter - N ew Hampshire at milepoint 412.2 south, 43 days since start of hike, averaging 9.6 miles per day
Day 42 - We said goodbye to Glencliff this morning and, with our backs to Mt. Moosilauke, headed into the long green tunnel that leads to Georgia. The folks at Hikers Welcome took good care of us - particularly 13-year-old Christian, who is the son of one of the proprietors.
Our 15 miles of hiking today were mostly pretty easy. I felt sad to leave the challenging terrain behind, even though I like flat terrain as much as the next person - maybe even more.
Actually, it wasnít all flat. There was a climb of about 1,000 feet to the top of Mt. Mist. But when I got there, it was just a little wooded clearing with a sign: "Mt. Mist, Elev. 2,230 feet." It seemed almost silly to put a sign there. Later in the day we climbed Mt. Cube which felt like a real mountain. Itís about 3,000 feet and mostly bald on the top and it afforded a stunning view but only to the west. When I got there, it was almost 7 p.m., and I decided to stick around for the sunset because the shelter was only 1.8 miles from the summit. This turned out to be a pretty bad idea. I did not take into account how quickly it would get dark - I was still thinking in terms of June in Maine Ė back then you could see where you were going Ďtil at lest 9:30 p.m. Here in New Hampshire in late July, the sun drops below the blue-gray ridges of distant mountains (Vermont? the Adirondacks?) at 8:20 and by 9 p.m. I needed my headlamp. And the terrain was almost all rocks and boulders - i.e., not conducive to speedy passage in the dark. (I did get to the shelter eventually.)
Of course the sunset was worth it. There you are, alone on the rock ledges with the sky, wispy clouds lit up in pastel colors, and a few birds chirping merrily about the sunset and getting themselves organized for the evening.
Among the interesting sights of the day were the privies at this shelter and at the Ore Hill Shelter. Ore Hillís privy had a fold-down door that looked (and worked) like a drawbridge. At the shelter here (Hexacuba) the privy is pentagonal with a strange throne-like arrangement for seating. The shelter itself is hexagonal - very unusual! The Dartmouth Outing Club maintains this area, and the students evidently had some fun with these facilities.
I saw some red raspberries today - and ate a few. Hopefully weíll see more as we move south. I also saw evidence of bears. Their droppings are quite different from those of moose. With the bearsí droppings you can see their undigested food - they apparently like raspberries too.
Our friends Gecko and Moss saw wild horses today - a mare and a colt. Other hikers including Jake, have seen ruffled grouse, which are quite aggressive. Ií ve been seeing mostly frogs and snakes - lots of them.
There are definitely fewer mammals evident in these New Hampshire woods than in Maine, unless you count the hikers. They seem to be the most prevalent life form on these hills, especially on weekends.
I wish I had more time to talk with them. The hikers - especially the thru-hikers and section hikers have wonderful stories. As much as I enjoy the wild critters out here, the human critters are at least as interesting and, for the most part, less dangerous.
July 26 ~ Lyme Dorchester Road - New Hampshire ... in New Hampshire-Vermont - map at milepoint 421.3 south, 44 days since start of hike, averaging 9.6 miles per day
Day 44- Today was the most eventful day of the hike so far. I woke up in a shelter (Hexacuba), and Jake and I prepared for a regular day of hiking. At 2 p.m. he and I were at the top of Smarts Mountain, in a fire tower with a great 360 degrees view of the scenery. Then 12 hours later, I was at home in Acton.
All of this came about because of a phone conversation with Beth when I was up in the fire tower. I try to check in by cell phone once a day, and when I called, Beth she told me she was on her way to the hospital. Our daughter Lily was dehydrated from 6 days of fever, and her blood pressure was low - all as a result of a virus - and the doctor wanted her to go on an IV for a while.
I couldnít stand the idea of being on the Trail while 13-year old Lily was in a hospital bed. So I looked at the trail map and devised a plan for getting back to the Boston area. Jake was no longer in the fire tower when I reached Beth, so I had to send a note ahead to him with our southbound friends, Gecko and Moss, who were headed for the Trapper John Shelter where Jake and I were planning to stay.
I hiked the next four miles down to the road quickly and was lucky with my thumb. The first car that came by on the gravel road stopped for me. They took me to a country store that had a phone, but before I could even use it, they offered to drive me to their house and then several miles out of their way to a bus station. I was feeling overwhelmed by their kindness. In our conversations I learned that they were "trail adopters" for about 4 miles of the AT near their home in Lyme, New Hampshire - i.e., they clear downed trees, keep the brush from obliterating the Trail, maintain the blazes, etc.
The bus ride to Boston from White River Junction felt novel. I had not been on an Interstate highway for a while. Neon signs and billboards flashed by me at 60 mph. Then, even stranger was the walk from South Station in Boston to North Station, where the commuter rail goes to Acton. The route is almost exactly one mile, and it passes the building where I work (when Iím not on sabbatical).
I looked up at my office to see if the light was on. It was 11:30 p.m., and I was glad to see it dark; a summer associate has been assigned to my office, and it looked like she was (thankfully) gone for the evening. I looked at my reflection in the plate-glass windows at street level and did a double take - I ím usually wearing a suit when I look there. Hikers, wearing rain parkas and full packs, almost never pass my office building. The cabbies waiting at the corner didnít even try to entice me into their taxis - they probably assumed I was an eccentric homeless person - too demented or too broke to be interested in a ride.
It felt oddly dangerous walking the streets of Boston. I had just been hiking in the New Hampshire woods in the dark and felt safe. I think there are more potential predators in Boston. Before I got to North Station I passed a homeless woman, huddled in a doorway with her belongings in a plastic bag. She was trying to stay out of the rain. We live in worlds apart, notwithstanding the jokes about homeless people and their similarities to thru-hikers.
Beth met me at the commuter rail station in Concord, and after stopping in at Lilyís room in the hospital(she was sound asleep), I headed home.
Talk about culture shock! There I stood in our kitchen, in my study, in our bedroom, with our cats meowing for attention surrounded by all the artifacts of my life at home. I did not expect to see all this until November. But it felt good to be home. If only it had been for happier reasons.
Today was rough. I slept in the hammock all night and had a very good nightís sleep, but this morning I was lying in it again when it came unhooked and I came crashing down. I bruised my butt and back painfully. For some reason the hiking after that was very difficult. All day I just felt exhausted. The terrain was pretty easy but I moved at a snailís pace. I waited for Dad at the fire tower and we had an ad hoc lunch; we didnít get our normal lunch supplies in Glencliff so we had some granola from the hikers box and some protein bars. I took off before Dad and headed to Trapper John Shelter. I had decided not to get water at the fire tower because the source was too far off the trail, but the next source was 4 miles away and I wound up pretty dehydrated. When Gecko and Moss caught up with me at Trapper John, they gave me a note from Dad saying Lilyís fever had gotten worse and he had gone back to be with her. He said heíd meet me in Hanover. Iím really worried about Lily.
July 27 ~ Lyme - Dorchester Road - New Hampshire ... in New Hampshire-Vermont - map at milepoint 426.3 south, 45 days since start of hike, averaging 9.5 miles per day
Day 45 - Iíve listed my location in this entry as Lyme - Dorcheser Road because thatís where I hopped off the Trail. But I spent the whole day at home and at the hospital in the suburbs of Boston.
Lily made a speedy recovery. The IV clearly worked. Beth says it helped that I came home - who knows? But it felt like the right place for me to be.
After we got Lily home, I went out for a doctorís appointment myself. I wanted to have my knees examined because of the daily pain there. Also, I had bruised a rib during one of my many falls on the Trail, and I wanted to make sure it was not broken. The physicianís assistant cleared me on both counts but renewed by Rx for some anti-inflammatory medication (Indocin) and recommended Glucosamine, knee braces, and some exercises as well. I picked up some heel cushions for my boots.
Next stop was at Hiltonís Tent City - a discount outftter in downtown Boston - where I got some lighter equipment. With a few purchases (smaller pack, lighter sleeping bag) I was able to drop 5 pounds. This will reduce the load on my knees.
I got home and made dinner for Beth, Lily, and me. (With Bethís basil from the garden and her guidance, I made pesto for the first time!) We all noticed how strange it felt for the three of us to be suddenly sitting down to a meal together at our dining room table. It was simultaneously normal and weird.
Beth had been handling everything at home by herself for six weeks: all of her own chores, plus all of my chores, plus 100% of the child care. And this is a * very* busy time: the garden needs attention, as does the lawn. And with Lily sick, Beth has had to juggle her patientís appointments. All of a sudden I enter the picture and take on just a little bit of this responsibility. Does it seem strange to think that, by doing so, I have almost made matters worse by creating a temporary disequilibrium? Perhaps itís a bit like disturbing the surface tension on an overflowing cup of water. In any event Beth and Lily were very pleased I came, but also rattled a bit.
I slept in my own bed for the first time in 6 weeks. Beth and I need more interludes like this. It felt great, except when I rolled onto my left side, where my ribs are still tender.
Morning - Trapper John Shelter
When I got up this morning it was raining. And I have to do 17 miles today. Blah.
July 28 ~ Lyme Dorchester Road - New Hampshire ... in New Hampshire-Vermont - map at milepoint 421.3 south, 46 days since start of hike, averaging 9.2 miles per day
Day 46 - This morning (still at home in Acton, MA) I took Lily to the doctor at 8:45. The doctor asked us to go to the hospital for a blood test for Lily. By 12 noon, she called us with the results - Lily is all better and can go back to camp. Lily was thrilled, and we gathered up some lunch for her, borrowed a car, and headed for her camp.
Then, I had to figure out how to get back to the AT. One of my close friends (Michael) offered to drive me to the bus in Manchester, New Hampshire. Then, some other close friends (Jim and Dana) called to say they were looking for a New Hampshire adventure: they offered to drive me all the way to the place where I had left the Trail. This was an offer I could not refuse.
So I had a pizza for dinner with Michael, said a long round of goodbyes with Beth and Lily, and then drove with Jim and Dana to Hanover. We searched for Jacob, who has been enjoying the pleasures of this first-rate hikerís town. Hanover has a Ben & Jerryís shop, two pizza parlors, Chinese, Indian, and Thai restaurants, an outfitter, etc.
We did not find him, but we learned where he was staying - one of the three Dartmouth fraternity houses that offer hikers free accommodations. It was a lot of fun for me to introduce Dana and Jim to my hiker friends at the frat houses, and give them a taste of Trail culture. They met Blue Light, Martha Stewart, Gecko, Moss, Cruise Control, John the Baptist, and two or three other hikers.
Dana and Jim dropped me off at the Trail at about 11:30 p.m., and I tented in a corner of the trailhead parking lot. I drifted off to sleep thinking about how lucky I am. Lily is better. I got to see her and Beth. Jake was willing to wait for me and take another zero day while I hiked the 20 miles from the Trailhead to Hanover. And my friends were willing to drop what they were doing and give me rides wherever I needed to go. Trail magic - once again - abounds.
2:40 a.m. - DOC Building, Dartmouth, New Hampshire
The hike today stunk. I walked through dense, wet undergrowth, getting my boots severely wet, twisted my ankle 3 times on what should have been an easy terrain. Oh well. My first stop was the Ben & Jerryís because it was one of the first shops I passed and I figured theyíd know where the Panarchy House was. Of course, I happened to be in there I had some ice cream. Then I went to dump my stuff at Panarchy and went to find a pay phone and call home. I got the answering service and left a message. Then I had some pizza and headed over to Tabard, where all the other thru-hikers were hanging out, and spent a while hanging out with Blue Light, Martha, Footprints, and the Tennessee Boys. Later we all went out for pizza. Martha gave me a hard time because I couldnít finish my half of the pizza that Rob and I ordered - never mind that I had just finished a whole pizza a couple of hours previously at the other pizza joint. Then we all went back to Tabard to hang around a while longer. Some folks went to try and find a party theyíd heard about, but there turned out not to be anyone there. I just hung out on the porch and chatted with the other hikers. The conversation turned frequently to two subjects: women and music. Surprisingly, one of the things many thru-hikers miss most is music. Many of the Northbounders weíve met have gotten Walkmans so they can listen to tapes or the radio on the Trail. As I write this Iím listening to mp3ís on a public access computer in the DOC building. Itís a lot of fun.
I called home later in the evening and heard that Lilyís fever was down and she was back home, which made me very happy. Dad is planning to come back here tomorrow evening. I guess thatís the evening for tonight.
Noonish - Panarchy House
I was surprised to wake up at 8:30 this morning. I felt completely refreshed, too. I headed to Tabard to do laundry but it was full so I hung around for a while. Blue Light, Martha, a Northbounder, and I all went for a delicious late breakfast at Louís Bakery. I had a spicy black bear burger. It was divine.
July 29 ~ Hanover - New Hampshire at milepoint 440.9 south, 47 days since start of hike, averaging 9.4 miles per day
Day 47 - Iím back on the Trail after a two-day hiatus. I enjoyed being at home with my family - a lot. But I also felt the strong pull of the Trail. Home did not feel like a vortex, pulling me in, weakening my attachment to the hike, as I feared it might.
I woke up at 6:30 a.m. when morning light poured into my tent. I thought about the 20 miles of hiking that lay ahead, and scurried around trying to get organized. With a new pack, I had to figure out some new arrangements for stowing my gear.
A weary-looking group of multi-racial Outward Bound campers lumbered into the parking area as I packed up the last of my gear. They wished me well, and I was off a little before 7:30.
The longest I had hiked in one day Ďtil now was 17.5 miles, so I had to step lively if I was going to make it to Hanover I had four things going for me. First, my pack was smaller and lighter. Second, I had added foam inserts in my shoes, giving me a little more bounce. Third, my legs had two days of rest and were ready for some work. And finally, I added some music to my gear: my trusty old Walkman and a few cassettes.
With this combination in place, and some fairly easy terrain, I was able to cruise along at a pace of about 2 miles per hour. Thatís a very strong pace for me. Of course, when I got to the uphills, my speed dropped. But my music kept me going (Ry Cooder, Grateful Dead, et al.). I was in a groove.
After all the miles Jake and I have hiked in the mountains and remote woods, it felt odd to be hiking through several meadows and fields, past an ancient-looking stone foundation now surrounded by trees, and emerge on a Dartmouth athletic field with a jogger doing laps around a well-manicured track.
At the end of my hike, the white blazes of the Trail led me for half a mile down the main street of Hanover! Jake was slightly astonished to see me there so early; I arrived before 6 p.m. even after stopping at a store in the center of town.
This gave us time for a leisurely dinner at an Indian restaurant and a visit to Ben & Jerryís. (Did I really need that hot fudge sundae?) One hiker, named Spur, was asked whey he was doing a second thru-hike. "Because I like to eat ice cream," he responded.
I returned to the fraternity house where Saturday night partying was under way. The hikers and the students occupy separate worlds here. Thereís not much interaction. We hikers sleep in the basement, but we can hang out on the upper floors if we want.
Jakeís out on the town, and I sit. My feet took a 20-mile pounding today. Theyí re grateful that my plans for the rest of the evening involve nothing more strenuous than writing a few letters.
P.S. Mid-way through my hike today I got to do something unusual. I had stopped at the Moose Mountain Shelter for water and to have some lunch. I looked at the Shelter register (a spiral notebook) and there was only enough room for one final entry: mine. The custom on the Trail, if you make the final entry, is to send the Register back to the person who originally placed it there. S/he will almost invariably write his/her name on the inside cover. And - this is the fun part - I got to leave a fresh notebook at the Shelter with my own name inside the cover. Sometime in the next year, or two, or three, I will in all likelihood get a large envelope in the mail with my Register. It will probably come at a time when memories of this hike will have faded a bit. And it will feel like a bit of magic from the Trail has popped back into my life.
I sat around for a while after breakfast and basically wasted time. After a while I went to the AYCE salad bar at EBAís and ate a lot, then dropped by Brick & Brew again to have a slice of pizza and some garlic knots to have something warm in my stomach. After that I dropped by the Dartmouth bookstore to get a book of Poe. This morning Jim and Dana came to see me - they had dropped off Dad on the trail - and we had breakfast together, which was very nice.
July 30 ~ Happy Hill Shelter - Vermont at milepoint 446.7 south, 48 days since start of hike, averaging 9.3 miles per day
Day 48 - This afternoon we crossed the Connecticut River, the boundary between New Hampshire and Vermont. It took Jake and me all day to leave Hanover. We now understand why some hikers refer to Hanover as a vortex - itís hard to leave. For me the main attractions were the buffet brunch at a local restaurant and the computer at the Dartmouth Outdoor Club, where I was able to look at our pictures from the hike for the first time. (If anyone reading this journal would like to see the pictures, you can access them at www.newview.org/ JacobAndDavid.) I also stopped at the outfitter (the Dartmouth Coop) for a new pack cover for my smaller backpack. The scale at the outfitterís shop told me my pack weight is down from 38 to 32 pounds, and I was pleased to see that Iíve lost a pound or two myself.
Then, of course, there were phone calls to make, letters to write, and a box of mail drop provisions to organize into our packs. One top of that it was raining so neither Jake nor I was hurrying to get out the door. The forecast calls for thunderstorms for the next three days.
We originally had planned to hike to a shelter 14 miles from Hanover. But with the rain and late start, we set our sites on a shelter 6 miles from town. It was a strange experience following blazes painted on telephone poles and street signs in a town. We hiked at least a mile or two on sidewalks and paved roads, as we made our way across the river on a four-lane bridge to Norwich, Vermont, then under I-91, and through a residential neighborhood, until the trail finally entered the woods.
The terrain in the woods was easy - only a few uphills here and there. By contrast, the road-walking on Elm Street in Norwich leading up to the woods was difficult. In fact, hiking up the steep paved road was actually harder than the same degree of slope in the woods. Why? I think itís because the rocks and roots provide a foothold and also some variety; the asphalt seemed unrelenting.
The easy terrain in the woods gave me a chance to ponder some of the conversations in Hanover between the northbounders (NoBoís) and the southbounders (SoBoís). The NoBoís and SoBoís mostly keep to themselves. After all, the intra-group ties among the people in each group are sometimes very strong.
Some of my SoBo friends have detected a little bit of arrogance in the NoBos. Not all of them, but some of them. Theyíve hiked 1,700 miles. Theyíre accustomed to a 20-mile days. Theyíve conquered fatigue, boredom, and a lot of foot pain. Of course, we SoBoís feel like weíve been through quite an ordeal as well: the White Mountains, the Mahoosucs, the 100-mile wilderness in Maine. The NoBoís may look at us as neophytes, but we know better. In fact, we suspect they have no idea of what theyíre in for. I want to tell them. But then I realize my ordeal in Maine and New Hampshire was difficult precisely because I was a neophyte. My legs werenít ready for it. Theirs are. These NoBoís may have to trim their pace a bit, but theyíll do fine. (I remember one NoBo at Madison Hut a few weeks ago who said he was planning a twenty-mile day; when someone said youíve got some serious mountains to cross, he replied: "Look, thereís 10 hours of daylight left and Iím a thru-hiker - the 20 miles are a done deal." Sounds a little arrogant, but Iíll bet he made it.)
So the NoBoís and SoBoís donít meet on equal ground in Hanover, in spite of the thru-hiker saying that, when the NoBoís get here, theyíve done 80% of the miles but only 50% of the work. In my opiniion, that 80% of the miles counts for a lot.
All of the NoBo-SoBo tension (which almost no one talks about) masks an underlying connection that we thru-hikers have no matter which direction weíre going. One SoBo likened it to the situation in Dr. Seussís "Butter Battle Book" in which the creatures get into a war over whether bread should be buttered on the top or the bottom. We SoBoís rely on the NoBoís for information about the Trail, water sources, etc., and they sometimes rely on us as well. We actually like each other for the most part, we just donít know each other, whereas we know the people in our own group pretty well. We SoBoís have shared food and gear, and helped each other out; weíre endured each otherís snoring. And weíve learned that, after a week between showers, we all smell about the same, which is to say quite awful. All of this is true for the NoBoís as well.
A sociologist would probably have a good time with these group dynamics. There are even small groups within groups. For example, three SoBoís we know hike together and call themselves the "Three Mooseketeers."
At the shelter this evening, Jake and I were the last to arrive. Itís an unusual structure - a small three-sided stone building with a peaked roof and a loft. Was it a coincidence that the four NoBoís were all up top in the loft and all three SoBoís (our friends Gecko, Moss and John the Baptist) were below? No matter - the shelter felt cozy. We were among friends. We congratulated ourselves on having escaped the vortex of Hanover, and we made plans for tomorrow.
July 31 ~ South Pomfret Road - Vermont at milepoint 459.6 south, 49 days since start of hike, averaging 9.4 miles per day
Day 49 - Rain pounded on the tin roof of the Shelter through the morning. The NoBoís were all packed and gone by 8 a.m. Two left much earlier. Meanwhile, the SoBoís snoozed on the lower level of the shelter. I climbed into the loft and tried to sleep a little more. One of the thoughts drifting though my mind as I drifted in and out of sleep was that, having crossed the NH/VT line, I am beginning to feel like a real hiker and not an imposter/wanna-be. Making it this far, even though itís only 20% of the distance, required overcoming a number of fears that I had when I started this hike.
My biggest fear was that I would injure myself and have to leave the Trail, and that could still happen. Iím clumsy; I have to be vigilant. But my ankle braces have worked well - they have saved me at least 25 or 30 times when my foot slipped sideways off a rock. I now wear knee braces too - those help a bit with my aching knees. With luck and continued vigilance, I might survive this hike in one piece.
My next biggest fear was that I would miss my family so much that I would head back. It could still happen. But I have now visited with Beth and Lily twice, and more visits - maybe 2 or 3 more - are planned. Weíve probably run up a pretty hefty phone bill, but my homesickness is under control.
I was afraid of bears. I still am. But I now believe I could handle seeing one. Jake saw one recently. John the Baptist saw two cubs near here. I think I may have seen a cub scurrying along in the woods in Maine, so low that I could only see the top of its back. I have my emergency whistle around my neck - they hate loud noises - and Iíve practiced banging my metal hiking poles together. Iím less scared now.
Iím still quite afraid of snakes. But all the ones weíve seen have been in the 1í-2í range, and they slither away as fast as they can go, when they see you.
And then thereís the grunge factor. I was afraid that I would get sick of being dirty and smelly all the time. Well, itís not so bad after all, so long as youí re surrounded by other hikers. The more difficult time is when you come into town and have not yet showered. Itís especially bad when you get in someoneís car, when hitchhiking into town. I apologize profusely for the aroma. I donít think it helps much, but I recently bought a tiny travel-size stick of deodorant, and I plan to use it at least before we get to town.
I thought the lack of plumbing - well, more specifically, toilets - would get to me after a while. Even thatís been ok. When you stop to think that a huge percentage of the worldís population (perhaps a majority?) manage to get though their entire lives without flush toilets, a few months without them is not so bad.
I was also afraid of hiking in the rain - a necessity on a thru-hike - would be so demoralizing that I would quit. I still donít like to hike in the rain. But there are worse things.
Such as mice. I still cringe at the thought of them climbing over me while I sleep in a shelter. But, after vowing to set up my tent every night, Iím back to sleeping in shelters much of the time. If I have another run-in with a mouse, as I did a few weeks ago, Iíll probably resume tenting.
And last, but not least, I was afraid of the hike itself. I was afraid it would be too hard or too boring. So far, at least, itís neither. The two toughest states are behind us. There are, to be sure, some tedious sections of the Trail. I think I can cope with it. I have my Walkman now, and the music is a comfort.
So there you have it - my fears in a nutshell. At least the major ones.
Many of my friends have asked if I was afraid that I would miss work. They know me well, and I am, at times, a workaholic. Thatís one of the reasons I am out here in the first place - to experience life without the deadlines and ringing telephones that keep a workaholic going. I donít miss work. When I came out here, I was ready for a break. By the same token, I donít dread going back to it. I think it will be ok going back, even though it may feel strange at first.
After mulling over these thoughts and writing a couple of letters, I curled up for a morning nap. The rain was still going full blast on the tin roof. The next thing I knew it was 11 a.m., an embarrassingly late hour for someone to be snoozing who calls himself a hiker. Gecko and Moss were suiting up in raingear and preparing to go. I searched for some motivation and found very little. Getting caught in the rain while hiking is one thing: it happens all the time - no big deal. But leaving a dry, warm sleeping bag for a day in the rain is something else altogether. What got me going was realizing that I would have to endure a good razzing from my fellow SoBoís if I didnít. By 12:30 p.m., we were on the Trail.
The rain fogged my glasses to the point where I could barely see. I needed a defroster. My bandana was buried deep in my pack and there was no dry spot to stop and dig for it. My clothes were all wet and useless as de-foggers. (Even with good raingear, hikers get wet anyway because Gortex doesnít "breathe" when its exterior is sopping wet.) I tried hiking with my glasses pushed up onto my forehead, which probably looked ridiculous and left me in an unfocused world without sharp edges.
My limited vision made the stream crossings even more of a challenge. All of the rain (two days of it, so far) raised the water levels in the streams. Many of the stepping stones strategically placed by Trail maintainers were now under water. New paths across the roaring brooks had to be found. I could barely see to the other side.
One of the pleasant surprises today was the views we were getting from the fields we crossed. Although we spent most of the day in the woods, several times the Trail broke into a meadow or hay field - often at the top of a hill, where thereís enough flat land to permit farming. Even with my rain-impaired vision, I could see across valleys and watch the clouds drift across distant hills.
The most pleasant aspect of the day, however, was our destination. A friend, Bob OíDonnell lives in a beautiful 18th century house near here. With darkness closing in we stopped at a cross-road two miles shy of his house, stuck out our thumbs, and the first vehicle - a pickup truck - stopped and we climbed in back. (No embarrassment about how we smelled!) The driver took us out of his way to Bobís house, where we got royal treatment: showers, laundry, and dinner. We also got a tour of Bobís fascinating pegged-together plank-and-beam home (the 3rd oldest in the area), with its antique fireplaces and quaint nooks and crannies.
The rain did finally let up this evening, but everything outside is damp. It feels luxurious to climb into a dry, warm bed when itís monsoon season outside. Thank you, Bob, for some well-timed Trail magic.
P.S. Hereís a nice quote from a poster in Bobís kitchen: "Your life is a sacred journey . . . you are on the path." - Caroline Joy Adams
After breakfast yesterday I went to the post office to get our mail. I could hardly carry it all out. I went back to Panarchy with the three packages and a 2-liter of Coke Iíd picked up. I needed to do some shopping and organize the maildrop, but I couldnít motivate myself to do anything but sit and read and write and drink Coke. Dad showed up early- around 5:30 - after I had convinced myself to get off my butt and do a little cleaning around the house as a thank you for letting me stay. Heíd started at 7:30, and heíd done some fast hiking. We moved our stuff to Tabard because the five slots at Panarchy were full. Then we went to the India Queen restaurant for dinner. It was delicious. Afterwards, Dad went back to Tabard and I went looking for insoles and batteries. I failed to find them, but dropped by Panarchy to say hi to some of the people Iíd met. I wound up hanging around for quite a while, playing some pool and chatting with the residents and the other hikers. Iím starting to drift off as I write so itís time to sleep.
August 1 ~ The Lookout - Vermont at milepoint 469.7 south, 50 days since start of hike, averaging 9.4 miles per day
Day 50 - it feels like a milestone to have survived 50 days on the Trail. Bob O íDonnell made us a wonderful breakfast this morning and then drove us around Woodstock, Vermont, where we did some errands (Post Office, hardware store for batteries and bulbs. Woodstock has shifted during the 30 years Bob has lived in this area, from a quaint country town to an upscale tourist town. It doesnít sell Coleman fuel by the ounce.
Bob gave us a ride back to the Trail and wished us well. We had tried our best not to contaminate his car with our muddy boots - to no avail. There was rain yesterday and the day before, and the weather forecast calls for several more days of it. The rain was intermittent today, but enough to keep the Trail thoroughly soaked. We were hiking through wet spots that had become small ponds, and muddy bogs that threatened to suck us in.
We had a nice surprise at lunch time - Iíll let Jake describe it except to say that it involved food and Jakeís friend Chris. Nice to see a face from home.
Our hike today took us through rolling hills, a few fields, but no mountains. I think this is a first. There was Dana Hill, Breakneck Hill, and a high spot called The Pinnacle. The high point of the day topped out at 2,500 feet. Tomorrow and the day after weíll be back to a few mountains, but for today it was just hills.
And, even on the hills, the Trail maintainers have made extensive use of "switchbacks" - paths that zig-zag across the face of the hill to make the ascent easier. This too is a big change from New Hampshire and Maine, where the trails often go straight up.
One other feature of the terrain is worth noting. The foot paths themselves make for easier walking. There are fewer boulders to climb over, fewer exposed roots. To be sure itís quite rocky in places. But there are also spots where the pine needles have paved a way so smooth that you could jog along the path. Sometimes, Jake and I do exactly that on the downhills because itís easier on the legs to let gravity pull you along than try to resist it. This is a dangerous maneuver, however, if the hill is too steep because our packs give us a lot of inertia and no brakes.
We passed a very interesting group of 14 thru-hikers today. They come from all over the U.S., and they use a supply van that follows them, day by day from Georgia to Maine. This enables the hikers to "slack-pack" (perhaps "day-pack" would be a kinder term) pretty much the whole way. They do have big packs in the van, because the van canít reach them in a few spots along the way. (For example, thereís an eight-day stretch in the Smokey Mountains when theyíre on their own.) But 95% of the time, they just need to carry water, lunch, and some rain gear.
Their expedition was organized by Warren Doyle, a teacher who has hiked the AT twelve times. He is hiking with the group, so this will be his 13th thru-hike. Each of the hikers pays $700 for the cost of the van; the driver is a volunteer, and Warren participates for the joy of it. This is a great way to hike the Trail for someone who canít carry a lot of weight, and everyone in the group seemed like a very happy camper.
I talked with Warrenís son, Forest, who is 14 years old, and completing his first hike of the AT. He hiked the first half last summer, and heíll finish it this summer on the day before school resumes. He was modest about his accomplishment, but I asked to shake his hand. He is the youngest hiker in the group. Jake and I also met the oldest, Spring Fever, who is 63. There are also two Asian-Americans in the group, and I met one of them. Anonymous Badger is the trail name he picked for himself Ė he plans to be a writer Ė and this is his second thru-hike. So, finally, Iíve met a thru-hiker who is not white. After we chatted, I kicked myself for not asking him the question that was really on my mind - why is there virtually no racial diversity among thru-hikers Ė but it seemed like a somewhat rude question to ask the one minority hiker Iíve met. After all, why should I assume that he is an expert on such matters just because his skin color is a little different from mine?
One final stop for the day was the cabin where we are spending the night. It sits on high ground and, when it is not in the clouds, offers magnificent views of Vermont and New Hampshire. How do we know? Numerous comments in the Trail registers sing the praises of this place. But today there are no views - visibility is about 50 feet. On the other hand, the cabin has four walls, and so it is a little warmer and drier than the lean-to shelters on the Trail. We shared the cabin with Gecko, Moss, and Trudge (a lanky, thoughtful northbounder) and hung our wet clothes on every available nail, ledge, window sill, and rafter. The cabin is large - big enough to sleep 15 people if they knew each other pretty well. Thereís no furniture. But with our clothes and gear festooned all over the place, it felt quite full.
We only did 10 miles today - weíll have to pick up the pace a little bit tomorrow. But the rain seems to slow our metabolism. And it does dampen our spirits when it seems to be unending - nothing dries out. But this, too, is one of the challenges of the Trail: to remember that some time soon - a few days, a week perhaps - the sun will be out, our boots will be dry, and we will be bounding along with big views and undampened spirits.
Anyways, on my way back to Tabard I dropped by the DOC building to check our web page and our pictures were up. For those who donít know it already, we have a web page at http//newview.org/JacobAndDavid.
There are links there to our pictures as well as our journal there and our most up-to-date schedule. Many thanks to Scott for doing the picture page, they look great! I stayed up for quite a while looking at the pictures and went to sleep in the wee hours of the morning.
We had a bunch of last-minute stuff to do the next day and didn't leave town until around 4. The Happy Hill Shelter was a nice place to stop at 6 miles.
The next morning we had a late start again, this time because it was raining and we were reluctant to leave the nice dry shelter. All the NoBos had left early in the morning, looking forwad to Hanover. The five of us SoBos had nothing to look forward to but a week of wet boots, so we lounged around for a long time before moving out. We had a very soggy hike to Pomfret-South Pomfret Road, where we hitched to the house of one of Dad's friends who had generously offered to let us stay at his house. It was very nice to dry out our clothes and Dad's friend was a very nice guy. He drove us into town this morning to do some shopping we needed to do, and we got yet another late start.
I thought as we started walking how nice it was to have dry boots, but that didn't last long.
It turned out to be good. We got off to a late start, because we managed to meet up with my friend Chris! He had written me a letter saying he'd like to come hike with me for a day, so I left a message on his machine saying where we would be for the next few days, and he had driven up and hiked north to meet us. It was really cool to see him. When we got to the place where he had parked his car, we had a big lunch - that he brought all sorts of great food. We hiked together for the rest of the day until he had to turn around and go back to his car. It was a lot of fun hiking with him. Tonight, we stayed at a place called "the lookout," a cabin that the owners make available to hikers. It's a very nice place.
August 2 ~ Inn at Long Trail - Sherburne, Vermont ... in New Hampshire-Vermont - map at milepoint 484.0 south, 51 days since start of hike, averaging 9.5 miles per day
Day 51 - I got an early start from the Lookout Cabin this morning. Although there is an observation platform perched high on the roof, clouds enveloped the cabin, so there were no views to slow me down. The only thing that gave me pause was a side trip into the nearby woods to wash last nightís dinner dishes. I had to avoid a spot that some previous visitors had used in lieu of a privy. I was more than a little shocked because I am accustomed to hikers being diligent about digging "cat holes" and observing the other principles of "leave no trace" camping. The Lookout Cabin is privately owned - itís not part of the AT, and therefore itís not maintained by the AMC or any of the Trail clubs. The owners of Lookout Farm make the cabin available to hikers - at no cost - as a courtesy. It has no water and no privy, but that is no excuse for grotesquely rude behavior by visitors to the cabin. My hunch is that it was not thru-hikers but perhaps weekend visitors or folks who came for some overnight partying.
I somehow managed to stay ahead of Jake for most of the day Ė that was a first. Of course, I left the cabin about an hour before he did. My hope was that by getting a head start, I could increase our collective mileage for the day. But Jake caught up and then we leap-frogged each other a couple of times. Each of us had to stop to change our socks because the terrain was wet, wet, wet all day. Our boots havenít been dry for several days now. The constant mud and wet boots are turning our feet permanently "pruny." Today it didnít rain until the end of the day, but the sun made only two brief appearances and the rest of the day was damp and overcast.
Jake and I met two northbounders, and we asked about the depressingly pervasive mud. "Is it this bad all the way back to Massachusetts," I asked, assuming that the answer would have to be no. "Oh yeah," they replied, "only the mud wonít bother you in Massachusetts because the mosquitoes are so bad that youíll forget all about the mud." Small solace.
Around 6 p.m., thunder was rumbling across the Green Mountains and it started to rain. Jake and I had been trying to decide all day whether to take the half-mile side trail to the Inn at Long Trail. This has been a popular stop for thur-hikers and trail maintainers for many years. (Built in 1939, the Inn was, according, to the guidebooks, the first skiing lodge in Vermont.) With the thunder rolling in it was an easy decision.
In the pub at the Inn Jake and I got some dinner and connected with six of the southbounders who have been our hiking buddies (Gecko, Moss, Mother Goose, Rabbit, Ripshin, and John the Baptist). We decided to share a room with John to cut down on the cost (Jake and I are both trying to be economical). Itís a little awkward sharing a room with someone we have known only a short time but sharing the room reduced the cost to the point where John could afford to stay here.
I stuffed newspaper into my boots to dry them out - this is a trick I learned from Jake, and it does help a bit. Our clothes are in the dryer and weíve had a chance to shower and call family, in that order. It does feel a little decadent to be here, but the economy rooms for thru-hikers are quite spartan, to make us feel at home.
Tomorrow we climb Killington, probably in the rain according to weather forecasts, so we donít feel too guilty about sleeping here drying out with our fellow thru-hikers.
No Entry Today.
August 3 ~ Cooper Lodge - Vermont at milepoint 492.4 south, 52 days since start of hike, averaging 9.5 miles per day
Day 52 - The Inn at Long Trail served us a good breakfast, but the best part was chatting with fellow hikers. One of the northbounders, Moses, is 72 - a retired brick layer from Ohio. He describes every day on the Trail as a gift and he writes in the Trail registers "God loves you." We were all excited about the fact that Moses would be meeting our friend John the Baptist. At breakfast we also met Mosesí friend Grits, a retired iron worker from Georgia who is just a little younger that Moses and doing his second thru-hike. I asked Grits why he decided to do it again, and he said "mid-life crisis." His first thru-hike, he said was a personal test, to see if he could do it. The lesson of Trail for him this time, he said, is that all he needs in life is food and shelter Ė everything else is extraneous. "When youíre young and raising a family you think you need all kinds of things, but you really donít," he said. Itís one thing to say "all I need is food and shelter," but itís another thing, said Grits, to really know it.
There was also talk around the breakfast table about encounters with non-thruhikers. I was surprised to hear people complaining about the litany of familiar questions:
When did you start? Are you really going all the way to Georgia? How much does your pack weigh? How do you get food on the Trail? Where do you sleep at night?
Maybe itís just a normal part of creating a group identity to belly-ache about people that arenít in the group. But I welcome those questions. I asked those same questions myself when Jake and I met our first thru-hikers. Talking to people about the Trail is one way of sharing what is magical about it with others.
Of course, not all thru-hikers love the Trail. I remember a northbound thru-hiker I met recently, a 40-ish construction contractor - who answered the question "howya doing?" with a grunt: "Same sh --, different day." Now there was a guy who had lost sight of the magic. A close friend of mine once said that if youríre not having a loverís quarrel with your work at least some of the time, youíre not taking it seriously enough. And I suppose the same could be said for the Trail. But whether I am feeling quarrelsome or not, I enjoy talking with people about the Trail, and the experience of hiking it.
One of the subjects that wasnít discussed over breakfast was the big fork in the Trail that lies about .5 mile north of the Inn. There southbounders are presented with a choice because a portion of the AT has been relocated and now makes a big circle around the Inn. The purpose of the "relo," as it is called, was not to hurt the Inn but rather to make way for some additional ski trails on nearby Pico Mountain. The "relo" adds 2.2 miles to the Trail, and the "old AT" now has blue blazes (signifying a side trail). Many thru-hikers are taking the old, shorter, blue-blazed trail. Some of them are doing it to protest the expansion of the ski trails. Others are doing it because it is shorter. But many hikers, like Jake and I, want to walk past every white blaze. We donít mind hiking the modest extra distance, but we have to be careful not to sound haughty or judgmental about fellow hikers who choose the other route. A fundamental tenet of life on the Trail is "hike your own hike." That means: no criticism of hikers who are "blue-blazing" (taking side trails), "slack-packing" (using only a day pack and sending the rest of their gear just ahead of them), or "yellow blazing" (getting a ride to avoid a portion of the Trail).
After breakfast, Jake gave me his journal entries and I mailed them. He now lets me read them because theyíre going on line anyway, and Iíve been reading them when weíve had computer access. I guess he knows by now that he doesnít have to worry about our influencing each otherís style of journal-writing - this was his initial concern. I enjoyed reading his entries. I wish I could boil things down to their essence as Jake does.
Today (and yesterday) we were back into the mountains: Mt. Quimby yesterday, Pico and Killington today. The terrain is rockier in places - more like Maine. But as we got higher, my radio reception improved and I found an NPR station: Vermont Public Radio. "Fresh Air" and a Hayden cello concerto got me up the last big climb of the day.
We had another wet day of hiking to the Inn of the Long Trail yesterday, and decided to stay there since we were wet and wanted to dry off.
Got off to another late start today - close to 11 again. It was so much easier to hike in dry boots. It was awesome. I met a trail maintenance crew doing work on the relocated trail. Thereís been some impressive work done on the new trail. We decided to stay at Cooper Lodge (an enclosed shelter) because it was really nice and the next shelter was reported to be a major pit. Itís too bad were taking a short day because we caught up with Ö.
August 4 ~ Greenwall Shelter - Vermont at milepoint 511.7 south, 53 days since start of hike, averaging 9.7 miles per day
Day 53 - I had quite a scare this evening. Jake had been ahead of me on the Trail for a couple of hours, and we planned to meet at the Greenwall Shelter. The shelter is .4 mile off the "new AT," on a well-established side trail (the "old AT"). It was getting dark. At 8:30 I started down the side trail and turned on my headlamp, which threw a weak spot of light on the path. When I reached the shelter, it was quite dark. To my surprise, no one was here. No backpack, no hiking pole. No sign of Jake.
The only way I could be sure that I was alone was to shine my headlamp into every corner of the shelter, and around the camp. My first thought was: I should leave my pack and go looking for him; he might be hurt, he might be in trouble. I thought about the tiny photon LED flashlight Jake carries. It may be the latest thing - a technological wonder at only Ĺ ounce - but itís not very bright. Could he really hike with it? Did we mis-communicate somehow about our destination? (I was pretty sure that wasnít the problem because it was the last thing we talked about when he breezed past me.)
I concluded that it would be much easier for him to find the shelter than for me to find him. (After all, the shelter is on the map, and he isnít). So I started gathering twigs and branches to build a fire, which would make it easier for Jake to spot the shelter in the dark. There was a well-used ring of stones in front of the shelter, and as a result, not much dead wood anywhere nearby. I crashed around in the brush near the camp, trying to avoid getting myself lost. I returned to the shelter feeling quite proud of the arm-load of twigs and branches I found - until I realized Jake has our butane lighter, and our back-up butane lighter. I looked around the shelter for a stray match that someone might have dropped - I found nothing. I looked for a moment for a couple of rocks and quickly decided that I didnít have the right kind to create a spark. I thought about the rubbing--two-sticks-together method and concluded that summer would probably be over before I got a fire started that way.
It was now 9:30 and my panic level was rising. I started hearing animal noises - some critter was thumping its way around the perimeter of the camp. "Jake!" I yelled. No response. Later I heard crunching noises at the back of the shelter - probably a porcupine (they like to chew on things, including shelters). "Jake?" No response.
As it got closer to 10 p.m., I decided to keep busy and save more serious panicking for later. I set up my tent inside the shelter, to keep the mosquitoes at bay. I surveyed my food situation: a cup of GORP (good old raisins and peanuts), 1Ĺ protein bars, and a Kudo bar. Jake has the cooking gear and dinners. Well, I wasnít going to starve, but I ought to save some of this for tomorrow. I ate a little and worried a lot.
At 10 p.m. Jake arrived! He had taken a side trail to talk with some hikers and, when he got back to the main Trail, he didnít know that I had passed him. He had been waiting for me to catch up - and finally decided after dark, that I must be ahead of him. We were both enormously relieved to see each other. We were also too tired at that point to make dinner or eat it. Knowing that Jake was ok made it very easy to fall asleep.
The rest of the day had been relatively uneventful. We crossed the 500-mile point - that felt good. We came upon a brook where we found cold cans of soda; there was a sign on a tree nearby inviting us to help ourselves, signed by the "Hiking Grome." Bags for the empty soda cans were hanging near the sign.
The greatest magic of the day though, was the weather. For the first time in a week, there was no rain. For the first time in a month, the sun shone all day. The Trail was still quite sloppy with mud bogs here and there. But we spent most of the day walking on dry ground. The beautiful weather made it worth climbing a steep side trail this morning to reach the top of Killington (4,235 feet). A northbounder warned me that the side trail is "brutally steep," but he hasnít been to Maine yet. The view from the top was 360 degrees of Vermont, New Hampshire, upstate New York and Massachusetts. The only obstacles were some antennas, a large weather station, and a rusty building housing equipment for the microwave toner. I wrinkled my nose at the way technology had impacted the view, until I realized what a hypocrite I am. I was listening to the weather forecast on my Walkman as I climbed the mountain, and I was about to use my cell phone to make my daily check of an emergency phone number, since this might be the only point high enough to get reception today. Technology giveth and technology taketh away.
Jake and I logged a very respectable 19.3 miles of hiking today, and weíre going to try for another big day tomorrow because fair weather is predicted. We íre still about 5.5 days behind our projected schedule but today we caught up a little. Iím trying to develop a patience and confidence that 19-mile days will eventually get us to the point where we are back on schedule. Small steps add up over time. It reminds me of the view I had early one morning recently when I could see the fire tower at Smarts Mountain off in the distance. It looked so far and so small I could barely tell that it was a fire tower. But I knew that was our destination for lunch. I looked at the expanse of the rolling forest below and was astonished to think - actually, to know - that by taking small steps, one after the other, I would reach that tower.
Ahem. I meant to finish that last entry "because we caught up with a lot of friends at the "Inn." Guess I got distracted. Todayís been really fantastic in general. I finished Fellowship of the Ring last night, so I was able to give it to a guy named Beorn who was also at Cooper Lodge. He was excited. I met a bunch of cool NoBos last night. This morning we started hiking around 8:30, and between dry boots and a semi-dry trail, I was completely stoked. The miles have just been flying by. Itís helped that those miles have been downhill, too. I met a mother-son team doing their first backpacking trip, and really enjoying it. They were very friendly, and gave me some butterscotch candy. Soon after that I came across some sodas left in a stream by "the Trail Gnome." That was also cool. Now Iím at Clarendon Shelter, the sun is shining, itís early afternoon, and I finally get to start reading A Clockwork Orange.
Ĺ hour past sunset - White Rocks. Stopped to wait for Dad and maybe camp. Mosquitoes are bad so Iím aborting this entry and devoting my full attention to shooing them.
August 5 ~ Bromley Mountain - Vermont at milepoint 532.9 south, 54 days since start of hike, averaging 9.9 miles per day
Day 54 - Jake and I hiked 21.2 miles today - our longest mileage so far. I had previously done a 20-mile day but the terrain was easy. Today we crossed three mountains and then climbed a fourth at the end of the day. These were not huge mountains. But three of them were in the 3,000 - 3,500 foot range.
One of the things that kept us going was the vision of Manchester Center, just a few miles from here, where we pick up our next mail drop. More importantly, Manchester has an excellent breakfast spot and a Ben & Jerryís shop, where, according to the hiking guidebooks, there is a special flavor available only to thru-hikers, called "Blue Blaze."
Another motivator was Jakeís desire to get to the top of Bromley Mountain. We both have been wanting to see the sunset or sunrise (or both) from the top of a mountain. So when we reached the foot of Bromley at 8 p.m. this evening, Jake persuaded me that we should keep going even though it would be dark by 8:30 and the summit was a 2.5 mile climb. "Thatís why we have flashlights," said Jake.
So we pressed on, with Jake promising to slow his pace to mine. Even though I was feeling a little grumpy about our decision and about the rocks and mud we scrambled through, I am glad Jake talked me into it. Climbing in the dark was an interesting challenge, and the view from the top of Bromley - even at night - was striking: a bright moon and shadows of rolling hills and mountains in every direction under a cloudless sky.
The owners of the Bromley skiing area allow hikers to sleep in their carektaker ís spacious cabin. But only a few of the dozen or so thru-hikers opted for the cabin. Most were sleeping on top of the 40-foot high wooden observation platform, where they watched a dazzling star show, complete with meteors. Jake is sleeping up there tonight; Iím staying in the cabin until 4 or 5, when Iíll go up to see the sun rise.
Among the interesting events of the day for me was meeting my first African-American thru-hiker - a northbounder - who goes by the trail name "Harriet Tubman." (She was the first out of approximately 400-500 thru-hikers that Iíve seen on the Trail.) She beamed with exuberance about her experience thus far on the Trail.
Later I came upon three stone foundations - or rather whatís left of them - in the middle of the woods along the trail. A sign identified the ruins as a former village, Aldrichville, and showed the locations of a mill, blacksmith shop, log cabins, and a school: "These mill ruins were the hub of a bustling village at the end of the 19th century. Forest vegetation reclaimed the landscape after its abandonment." The foundations were an eerie reminder of how time-bound our stay on the planet is.
In the early afternoon, the Trail crossed a road where a couple of fisherman were sitting in their SUV trying to figure out where they were. I helped them with my trail map and in exchange they gave me a can of Budweiser. I asked them if they had any soda instead, but all they had was beer - on ice in their cooler. I was thirsty and I took the beer. Common sense would have told me to save it and put it in a cool stream at a camp site for evening consumption. But I was thirsty. Drinking that can of beer along the Trail as I hiked felt odd, almost sacrilegious. Am I violating some federal ordinance? Pretty soon I felt the effects of the beer and vowed never to drink and hike again. My tolerance for alcohol is pretty low (Iím basically a one-beer-a-week drinker), but I managed to trudge along and the effects wore off soon enough. Lesson learned.
I found a few minutes today to read some of the Trail registers at the shelter along the way. One of them had a Mary Oliver poem, "Black Oaks," which tells of her love of the woods and says: "I wonít sell my life for money." Elsewhere in one of the registers a hiker wrote: "My soul returns where Wal-mart had sucked it out." A weekend hiker left the following questions: "Is the AT the spiritual experience of a lifetime Non-thruhikers want to know. . . What great thoughts do thru-hikers have during those long hiking days?" I didnít offer any answer in the register but I gave the questions some thought.
Friends of mine have told me that this hike will probably change me in profound ways, and Iím not yet sure whether that will happen. Of course, Jake and I are only about 1/3 of the way through our planned 165 days of hiking. Much could happen before we finish. But at age 53, I donít anticipate dramatic changes. William James said that human character sets like plaster at the age of 30 and if thatís right, my plaster is pretty well set. For Jake and other hikers his age, however, I can see how an experience like this could have a tremendous impact.
Is the AT a spiritual experience? Yes, if you already are moving in that direction in your life. I have the impression from talking with many thru-hikers that the spiritual dimension of the experience is more present for some hikers than others.
Great thoughts? Most of my thoughts on the Trail are pretty mundane: "Howís that big toe doing? Am I going to have to stop to re-bandage it? I should stop for water? Am I still on the Trail? I havenít been paying attention to the blazes! What was I thinking about anyway? Oh, I remember, I was thinking about food! And I was thinking: how come I donít have any great spiritual thoughts out here?"
One of the surprises or me is how hard it has been recently to put thinking and hiking aside and just sit and enjoy the splendor of the woods. Hiking, sleeping and eating are the primary - sometimes only - activities we engage in most days. I made more time for sitting and mediating at the beginning of the hike because I had to stop and rest frequently. The mountains were steeper and my legs were weaker. Now Jake and I are trying to make up for the lost time and banging out the miles. But weíll catch up and when we do, there will be more time for great thoughts - or not thinking at all.
1 hour before sunset - Peru Shelter
Anyways, yesterday I stopped by the Whistle Stop Diner in the middle of the day, and went for a swim in Clarendon Gorge. Both were fun, although Whistle Stop was pricey - but at .3 miles off the trail, the location was hard to beat.
I caught up with Dad and passed him but took a short blue-blaze to investigate some voices I heard, thinking there might be a shelter there (it turned out to be a group of nudist thru-hikers who had camped there to watch the sunset). Anyways Dad wound up passing me whike I was on the blue-blaze, but neither of us realized it. After a while I stopped to wait for him near a potential campsite because I thought he might not want to hike all the way to the shelter. Finally, I caught on that he wasnít behind me and hiked with my half-dead LED flashlight the rest of the way to the shelter. The whole thing was a big pain, but it was worthwhile because I found a very neat thing while I was hiking in the dark; there was a root that had been broken off and was lying on the trail, and at the place where it was broken, it glowed in the dark! I took it with me and plan to poke & prod it more tonight to figure out whatís going on.
Today has been rather boring, and can be summed up as "I hiked." So far, at least.
August 6 ~ Manchester Center - Vermont at milepoint 535.7 south, 55 days since start of hike, averaging 9.7 miles per day
Day 55 - Jake and I took a short day today - only 2.8 miles - so that we could resupply in Manchester Center. Because it was a Sunday, we were very lucky to find a Post Office employee who was willing to give us our mail drop package. I was told that someone would be at the Post Office at 12 noon, and that if we asked very politely, we might be able to get our mail.
The day began quite early for me. At 4 a.m., I woke up and climbed to the top of the observation tower at Bromley Mt. to watch the sunrise. Eleven hikers were curled up asleep inside sleeping bags, lined up neatly along the edges of the platform. It almost looked like a display at a camping supply store. A thick band of dark red glowed between the ragged horizon of mountains and a starry sky. I found an unoccupied corner of the platform, laid out my sleeping bag, and stretched out to watch the Milky Way. By 4:30, the sky was beginning to glow (in the East.) Thin pastel bands of clouds hovered over the horizon. Birds came to life in the wooded hills below the platform. The dim light reflected off pools of fog and mist that had settled into the valleys during the night. The gondola building near the top of the mountain - a modern structure that looks like the mother ship in a Star Trek movie - emerged incongruously from the dark woods.
Jake, who was sleeping on the platform, woke up in time to see the gorgeous show the sun was putting on. So did the other hikers - Iíve never seen so many people gathered for a 5 a.m. event.
Later in the morning Jake and I made short work of the downhill to the highway. We had just enough time for breakfast before our rendezvous at the Post Office, and we were hungry. We went to a cafe called "Up for Breakfast," on the second floor of an antique building in the town center. I felt more than a little self-conscious because we had not yet showered. Nobody complained but I was expecting the proprietor of the restaurant to approach Jake and me and say something like: "Our customers have noticed the strong odor coming from your table so we have changed your order to take-out." Somehow we got through our meal without being evicted.
We hiked half a mile or so across town to the Post Office, where a very obliging staffer brought out our mail. I was disappointed that a book I ordered - "Blind Courage," by Bill Irwin - had not arrived. Irwin hiked the AT a few years ago with the help of a seeing-eye dog, and I want to read about how he did it. But our food was there, and a few other pieces of mail. The best thing in our mail drop (for me) was the three cassette tapes: Peter Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Vivaldi.
Next stop was the laundromat, then the grocery store, and other errands. The friendly folks at the bookstore let me use their computer to access the Internet for a few minutes - the library has no public-access computer. This was the first town weíve encountered with no public-access computer, and weíve been through some very small towns. Manchester, however, is bustling and prosperous Ė perhaps the librarians assume everyone has their own computer. Manchester has the most amazing array of outlets: Armani, Versace, Movado, Ralph Lauren, Coach Bags, Brooks Brothers, etc. These stores have taken over the colonial-era homes that line the main streets, to the point where disgruntled locals are calling their town "Mallchester."
Mallchester used to have a hikers hostel at a local church, but some rowdy hikers trashed the place last year, and the hostel is now closed. So we stayed at the new hikers hostel - a few miles up the road where two college students provide a bunk bed and breakfast for $15/night. Good deal.
One of the proprietors (Vanessa) is studying Native American medicine and wrote out for me the following text, associated with my birth date, from a book called "Earth Medicine." Although I donít believe in astrology or that sort of thing, the passage was a nice gift and resonated with my feelings about the Trail and also my work as a mediator:
The Circle of Life, the Great Medicine Wheel, has no beginning and no end. Every part of Creation exists as a part of this Circle, and each has a purpose. Every Person who sits in the Circle has a voice, needed talents, and the right to make the world a better place for all living things. The Earthwalk, or Life, of each human being will reflect that personís commitment to the whole of Creation.
The forecast calls for rain on and off all week and we are therefore steeling ourselves for a tough trek from here to Great Barrington. These town stops help us keep our spirits up, and Iím psyched about having some new tunes.
Yesterday evening I waited for Dad in Mad Tom Notch as planned, and when he got there he was a real sport about heading on to Bromley Mountain although we had 2.5 miles to go and it would get dark soon. When we go to the top it was unquestionably worth hiking at night. The summit was bare as we had a great view of the sky and the surrounding country. The sky was cloudless so I slept on the observation tower and saw a tremendous panorama of stars and satellites, and shooting stars, and a gorgeous crescent moon. It was fabulous. In the morning we all woke up to watch the sun rise (there were a lot of other thru-hikers up there that night.)
Now, in case you have any illusions about thru-hikers waking at dawn and hiking all day, you should know that nearly everyone on that tower, having seen the spectacle of the morning, went right back to sleep to catch a couple of more hours of sleep.
This morning we hiked down to the road pretty quickly with visions of breakfast in our heads. It took a long time to get a hitch, so we split up to try and get hitches individually. Within minutes, a car stopped to pick me up. I asked the driver if heíd mind picking up Dad, too, as he was just down the road. He had no problem with that, but when we passed Dad he was getting into the back of a pickup, so we just kept going. My ride could only take me to the center of town, and the place we were going for breakfast was a little further. Well ,just as heís dropping me off at a gas station, a pickup drives by with Dad in the back. Within 100 feet it stopped at a traffic light, so I started running with my pack half-on to catch it before the light changed. A thru-hiker trying to run with a pack on is an interesting sight. Here I was, trying my best to move forwards as quickly as possible, while my pack was doing its darndest to move from side to side with much awkwardness, I got to the truck before the light changed and jumped in the back, certain it was about to drive away at any moment. Then I waited and waited. And so on. It turned out to be a good long while before the light changed, and I probably didnít need to run. Oh well. It was fun. The line at this breakfast place is very long.
Later - Laundromat
Breakfast was good. The post office was far away but we got there in time to meet the guy who gave us our packages. Now weíre doing laundry. Thereís not much else to do in this town. I bought a 2-liter of soda and some chips at the Price Chopper, along with our normal lunch supplies. Life is good. Still not sure whether weíll stay tonight. Iíve been trying to get in touch with some friends about potentially meeting in Lenox and Iím hoping theyíll get back to me before I go, as it may be a while before I have access to a phone again.
August 8 ~ Story Spring Shelter - Vermont at milepoint 556.8 south, 57 days since start of hike, averaging 9.8 miles per day
Day 57 - When I woke up this morning, clouds still covered the top of Stratton Mountain, where we stayed last night. The cloud cover was so thick last night I nearly got lost trying to find the rest rooms less than 100 feet from the cabin. We were hoping the sun would burn off the clouds so that we could check out the view from the summit. One of the legends of the AT is that Stratton Mountain is where the concept of the Trail was born. Benton MacKaye, a forester and planner, allegedly climbed into a tree at the top of Stratton one hundred years ago and hatched the idea. "I felt as if atop the world," he later wrote, "with a sort of planetary feeling." Nowadays you donít have to climb a tree, because thereís a 50-foot tower at the summit, and for someone who is afraid of heights (like me) the tower is all you need to feel quite "planetary." When the clouds had blown off a bit, I climbed the tower. The higher I went, the stronger the wind got because I was above the treesí protection. My hat went sailing off my head, but a child below retrieved it. The view was wonderful from the top. It felt peaceful up there, in spite of the wind. I was reminded of a short poem that I found in a book called "Wherever You Go There You are," by Jon Kabat-Zinn. The poem is by Li Po -
The birds have vanished into the sky, And now the last cloud drains way. We sit together, the mountain and me Until only the mountain remains.
I wanted to stay on the mountain, but Jake and I needed to press on. I did find time, however, for a quick ride on the ski areasís gondola. Itís free for thru-hikers, and it was my first time riding in an enclosed ski lift. In seven minutes I was at the bottom of the mountain, where coffee is available. I mentioned that I was a thru-hiker, and so the coffee was free.
Back at the top of the mountain, I was packing up my gear to start hiking and Jake was examining his big toe, which seems to have developed an in-grown toe-nail. It was red and swollen. I suggested that Jake visit the health center at the bottom of the mountain. We made arrangements to meet later, and I left. It was hard to go. I wanted to help Jake with his painful toe, but something told me I needed to leave it to him to decide what to do. He did, in fact, go to the clinic, where he was told to try soaking it in warm water each night. Easier said that done, out here on the Trail. But Jake and I arranged a small cup of warm water for his toe, after he got to camp this evening. We also ended our hiking for the day early because of his sore foot.
Along the Trail today the mud continued to be the biggest obstacle. The heavy rains washed out a bridge over a swollen stream but I was able to cross - miraculously - on a wobbly 4 x 4 beam that someone laid across the rocks.
In order to stay out of the mud, I was forced onto the shoulders of the Trail. I felt guilty trampling the ferns, clover, clintonia plants, hobble bush, and striped maple saplings that line the Trail, but all of them are hardy species that grow like crazy out here. When the alternatives are to step into a mud hole of indeterminate depth or the vegetation next to the Trail, I find the choice easy, even if it makes me feel like an eco-criminal. Jacob, on the other hand, is a much more conscientious environmentalist than me. By the look of his boots and legs, I would say that Jacob is probably sticking to the Trail, and much of it is sticking to him.
P.S. Some readers of the AT journals at Trailplace may have noticed a journalist named Vernal Soule. Known as "Grandma Soule" on the Trail; she is 75 years old and has hiked the AT twice before. Today I met two of her friends, who are driving a support van for her. (Some folks call their vehicle the Soule Train.) Unfortunately, "Grandma Soule" is now off the Trail because of illness - probably Lyme Disease. We wish her a speedy recovery.
No Entry Today.
August 9 ~ Melville Nauheim Shelter - Vermont ... in New Hampshire-Vermont - map at milepoint 574.2 south, 58 days since start of hike, averaging 9.9 miles per day
Day 58 - All the northbounders left the shelter early this morning, while Jake and another southbounder (EZE) and I lay in our sleeping bags hoping to outlast the morning rain. I havenít done the calculation, but I think weíve had rain on 10 of the last 12 days. One northbounder said his boots are so densely caked with mud that theyíre become impervious to rain. He carries a water bottle with a small bumper sticker that reads: "No pain, no rain, no Maine."
The weather has an obvious effect on mood, and that in turn affects how people experience the Trail For example, the northbounders we are currently meeting have slogged through wet/and mosquito-ridden Massachusetts and they hate the state. Earlier we met northbounders who loved Massachusetts because the weather was beautiful. Jake and I are experiencing a damp and dismal Vermont, but weíve been on this part of the Trail in prior years when it was wonderful.
The rain ended about 9 a.m,, and Jake and I were on the Trail by 9:30 or so. We logged 17.4 miles today - a good day of hiking, especially with Jakeís big toe still bothering him. The Trail took us across the top of Glastenbury Mountain (elev. 3,748 feet), where a fire tower gave us a hazy view of the surrounding mountains. The tower is about 50 feet tall and a bit delapidated. Climbing was scary with the 40 mph wind because portions of the fencing material surrounding the staircase were missing. I pulled my hat tightly onto my head, gritted my teeth, and inched my way up. At the top I discovered there was no roof - the wind had carried it away, along with all the windows. That was enough adventure for the day.
The most enjoyable part of the day was talking with a few northbound thruhikers that I met on the Trail. The first was Godfather, an African-American in his forties, husky but tall, doing his second thru-hike. His eyes were kind, perhaps a little sad, but very perceptive. He hiked the AT in 1981 and he was the first African-American to complete a thru-hike. I asked him why so few blacks hike the AT, and he gave me two reasons. "First of all," he said, "there are parts of the Trail where black people donít feel safe." Although itís better now than in 1981, he said, "there are still places where I donít feel safe at night." Second, he said, the deprivations of the Trail are too much like what some people in the African-American community grew up with. "When thereís more of a black upper-middle-class," he said, "youíll see more black hikers." Godfather is a journeyman carpenter, Scout Leader, and outdoor camping trainer, and he got his trailname because he frequently stops hiking to help people on the Trail. I asked him why heís hiking the AT again, and he said "To get in shape." Heís already hiked the PCT (the Pacific Crest Trail) - he was the first African-American to do it. And now heís getting ready for the CDT (the Continental Divide Trail). To do all three is known in hiking circles as the Triple Crown. He gave me a lot of advice about places to stay along the Trail, the best places to eat, etc. But the best advice he gave me - or at least the advice I needed most - was "Make sure to have fun - donít turn the hike into a job."
Godfather told me I would probably meet two interesting northbounders - Leprechaun and Baltimore Jack - before the day was over, and I did. Leprechaun is well known on the Trail because he hikes without shoes. He is thin - almost waif-like, with no beard and a shy manner, probably in his twenties. He has a pair of sandals for particularly rough spots, but he hasnít worn them since Connecticut. He carries a very light pack, and wears only a pair of shorts to hike. When I asked him the obvious question (why do you hike without shoes?), I got the obvious answer (because it feels good). The bottom of his feet must be like leather by now.
A few minutes later I met Baltimore Jack, age 37, who grew up in Cambridge and Brookline. Baltimore Jack is well known among thru-hikers for doing 5 thru-hikes in the past 6 years, though he says this one may be his last. He has curly brown hair ad an animated face. His height and build are about average but he carries a large pack in which, according to Trail legend, he usually carries a carton of cigarettes, a fifth of liquor, and such unusual camp food as steak or rotisserie chicken. He has been known to carry hikers with injuries off mountains, and I could tell from our conversation how much he loves the Trail and the people on it. He now lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, when heís not hiking. I had to ask him about Bill Bryson, who also lives there and whose book, "A Walk in the Woods," is still on the NYT best seller list. "It contains more than 100 mistakes," he said, "and does a real disservice to the Trail and to thru-hiking." He described the book as sensationalistic and was disappointed that Brysonís book is the way millions of people will learn about the Trail. "It may be humorous," he said, "but there arenít three words in it about the beauty of the Trail."
Baltimore Jack and I had a good time talking politics, of all things, for about 45 minutes standing in the middle of the Trail with our packs on. No one passed us or interrupted us. He had just seen the Sunday Times for the first time in 4 months and was intrigued by Joe Lieberman's VP candidacy. I had heard about it on my Walkman and was both pleased and concerned. Because Iím Jewish, Iím glad to see a barrier coming down, but I also fear the negative impact on the Democratic ticket. Baltimore Jack agreed: "Thereís a lot more anti-Semitism out there than people are willing to acknowledge." I hope both of us are wrong.
Havenít felt like writing in a while. The day leaving Manchester was craptacular. To sum up: I lost my correspondence bag and pack cover. I discovered this before I left, so I went to EMS to get a new pack cover. I forgot my walking stick though, so I had to go back to the hostel to get it. Finally, when I got to the trailhead, my pack broke - not more than an hour after I was at EMS, where they might have fixed it. Then I walked half a mile down a busy road, thinking the trail went that way. It didnít, so I had to backtrack and search a long time for the real trail. Then I discovered there was a big hole in my new pack cover. Then that night I discovered I had an ingrown toenail. It was very painful.
Note: Anyone who is interested in transcribing David and Jacob Hoffmanís journals may contact me at jmcgilvery@hillbarlow (or telephone me at 617-428-3184.
Last modified Thursday July 25, 2002