Another bad night of sleep. I fell asleep after midnight -- hot, sweaty, tossing and turning all night long, and, miraculously, I could breathe at 6am. Firefly was getting ready to slack pack and, in disbelief, I figured I may actually go, too. I went to the bathroom and then did a little light calisthenics in the backyard (or like 30 seconds of bouncing) to see whether breathing was an anomaly. No, I really could breathe!
I quickly took everything out of my pack and got ready to hike. We grabbed breakfast at the grocery store -- apples and strawberries and blueberries (which were plump, but lacking the sweetness of the wild ones)! Fruit is a luxury out here.
Then the fun began. We walked about a mile to the ideal place to hitch a ride to our starting point today. We got a ride from Mogley, a thru-hiker two years ago. The problem was we ended the ride prematurely, believing we were at the trail. We added another mile walking on the interstate before resuming our hike. Unexplainable recovery and we've already added two extra miles on top of a 16 mile day. Uh oh. (Later, I found out we were actually nearly TWO miles from the trail on the interstate.)
Oh, and my feet are soaked from hiking through the dew. Great start. Hope the body holds up.
Then we blasted the first three miles in an hour. Felt good to have a light pack and legs! We stopped at our final Hut in the White Mountains and used our free coupons for baked goods which we got with our AMC membership when we camped at a shelter a few days prior. The spiced coffee cake was the bomb!
Then we continued up Kinsman Mountains. Unfortunately, the views at the top were in the clouds. We got some views on the STEEP descent though. We moved pretty efficiently the rest of the day. Lots of up-and-down, but nothing killer. We did the 16 miles, with breaks, in a little over eight hours. The highlight of the day was probably a view of Franconia Ridge which we walked yesterday (or where I thought I was going to die with every step, and not from falling off).
As we finished up, a family that had come up from Connecticut was finishing their day hike. They gave us a ride back to town and dropped us off at an ice cream place. I had my favorite, soft serve vanilla with rainbow sprinkles in a cone. And Firefly made fun of me. Why mess with perfection? Who cares if there are 24 other inferior flavors?
Arriving back at Chet's, Catfood was there after blue blazing (taking alternative trails) through large portions of the Whites (due to weather, he says). Hard portions... We chatted with Chet, got showered, and laundered our clothes.
While our clothes were finishing, we went to what will sadly be our final dinner together. After the next 10 miles, Firefly has already done the next section and will be hitching to Hanover to hike her next section south with a friend, although I'll likely catch her in Rutland, Vermont, if not sooner. Catfood is a day behind, but not surprisingly, is likely hiking out with us tomorrow and cutting off today's 16 miles. At this point, why not?
Lastly, some random thoughts while hiking today. It's amazing the recuperative abilities of the body. But, I also have the knowledge that the body will continue far after it's exhausted itself (or at least the mind has quit, several times). Even when I have nothing left, the legs continue to grind. I think that's a strength of experience, but I worry of that becoming a liability, particularly as I attack larger chunks of mileage over the coming days and weeks. It will be a learning experience to see how far and hard I can push myself over an extended period. And, honestly, I think that's the challenge I came to the trail to see. What are my limits?
Today was an atypical day on the trail. Firefly intended to hitch out of Glenclif (10 miles away) to Hanover to meet a friend and Catfood had decided to go with her as he had a friend there and with the acknowledgement that his hike is at an end and he's just playing around. He set a self-imposed September 1 deadline and, as he got married during a break on the trail at age 50, he has obligations in the real world he needs to return to.
Our goal for the day was Moosilauke, the last White Mountain, and then Glenclif. I hoped to go and further to set up tomorrow's goal. As we got poor views yesterday, Firefly wanted to start late to allow the clouds to pass over before summitting Moosilauke. The slow start really messed with us. We had breakfast at Dunkin Donuts and left our packs at Chet's as he took us up on our offer to get him food. After coming back, we finally grabbed our packs with some stalling (and I ordered a tarp -- 20 less ounces than my tent!!!). And then, we went back to Dunkin Donuts.
Then it was finally time to get to the trail. We got a hitch from Hamster, a girl that actually quit her thru-hiker after six-hundred miles in the south, and had intended a day-hike on Moosilauke. We squeezed into her little car and invited her to join us for the day. Ironically, she and Firefly knew each other from the south, too.
Going up Moosilauke was steep and gorgeous. We climbed up the mountain at a slow pace, but to our immediate right were just these gorgeous cascades going down the mountain. Absolutely beautiful.
Peeps was waiting at a shelter about halfway up the mountain so we met him there and stalled for about another hour and a half, cold and freezing for a good portion of it. Still, having fun. Camel, a friend of Peeps and another SOBO who had actually zeroed in a shelter yesterday due to an unexpected knee injury, came up the mountain and met us at the shelter, too. He had already done nine miles. We were close to two!
Finally, we moved on. Continuing up, we ran into a group of NOBOs that Firefly knew. Then we finally reached treeline and it got cold and super windy. At the top of the mountain, we all clustered behind a wind break and threw on jackets and head gear. Or in Catfood's case, his poncho as he had no jacket... More loitering. Once we finally decided to get out of the cold, Hamster went back down to her car while Firefly went running ahead with the rest of us chasing behind trying to get out of the cold.
Because we hadn't wasted enough time, we ran into Sasha (aka Fruit Salad aka Pagan), another SOBO on the south side of the mountain, and stopped for another 30 minutes. Firefly and Camel exchanged books. After a while, Camel and I decided we just needed to grab our packs and start this train back into motion!
I managed to pick up a good pace and got a good jaunt down the southside of the mountain. Then it happened; we found some beautiful, wide-open trail like I expected of the AT! It was a glorious mile or two to the Hikers Welcome Hostel in Glenclif where most of us decided to stay for the night. (Oh yeah, Firefly and Catfood each ran into separate NOBO groups that they knew after getting off of the mountain -- more stalling.) At the hostel, the bunks are divided between two buildings, the first being the caretakers residence with television and DVDs and power. The other just two stories of bunks, but it's a nice building. The shower, laundry, and toilet are in the backyard under a large, permanent canopy. There's also a porta potty. Luxury.
Probably the most inefficient day on the trail yet, but we had fun. The Whites are done, and, sadly, tomorrow the band breaks up as I lose both Firefly and Catfood. Bummer, but the trail will go on.
|Atop Moosilauke with (from left to right, top to bottom) Camel, Firefly, myself, Peeps, Hamster, and Catfood.|
As normal, I awoke and prepared for the day. I packed up my bag and went to breakfast. After eating, I started saying my good-byes.
However, the day was filled with rain that exaggerated the changes and departures for my trail family (tramily?). Everyone was been discussing a day of heavy rain ahead, and once it started I decided to sit in the common area and chat. The next couple miles were easy and I had shortened my goal based on the weather.
Before I knew it, it was eight, then nine, then ten...still, I had plenty of time to meet my goal even with such a late start. But, every time the rain would pause, it would resume with an even greater fury. Being reminded yesterday that it had been a lot longer since I had a day off than I realized, I decided to call it early and spend the day relaxing.
The day was a good lesson in the community of the trail. I learned about some different trail communities whose members are dedicated to helping other hikers along the trail. Really, the commitment of others off the trail to help hikers and that desire, not an obligation, but a willingness to help is really astounding. Tricks, a member of Billville, seems to live along the trail traveling up-and-down helping hikers and has been helping running the hostel the two days that I've been here. 2Chairs, a NOBO nearing the end of his hike is a member of Riff Raff, another hiker community, and told me to call him when I get anywhere near Asheville/Hot Springs, NC, if there's anything that I need.
Two days ago, I had another ultrarunner and former thru-hiker offer me a place to stay after just mentioning I was on the trail on Facebook. He maintains a cooler near his home on the trail that empties about 24 cans in about a day. There's no reward or often even thanks for any of this altruism, except that all of these people have similarly benefited from the kindness of others along their own journeys.
So, while we were sitting around we watched a movie on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) which was created by one of my coworker's cousins, Shane O'Donnell aka Jester. This is the second time I've watched a trail movie on the trail; but there's definitely plenty of worthy material on the trail, even if the films can only provide the barest glimmer of life on a long trail.
Early in the afternoon, my family departed. Firefly, Catfood, and even Peeps all hitched a ride to Hanover. I expect to catch Firefly in Rutland, Vermont, although I don't expect it will be more than a brief visit as she catches up with friends. Catfood is likely done on the trail, although he may do a few miles in Vermont. And then Peeps left a bag full of important goodies behind and may be eagerly awaiting my arrival in Hanover.
As for the rest of the day, we watched Super Troopers, Forrest Gump, Point Break, Joe Dirt, and others. Interesting movie day with dreary weather outside that drew in a large crowd of hikers looking to escape the wetness. I think last count was in the mid 30s here -- crazy!
Personally, I'm ready to move on. I will be alone, but hopefully quick. And dry.
Today was my first day starting alone in more than 200 miles. It was also the first day out of the White Mountains. Just like a teaching strategy, or life, I felt as if I had just finished the crawl phase of my hike and started into the walk phase.
The crawl phase could be characterized as slow and painful. There was a great deal of muscle adaption going on as my body adjusted to the constantly shifting elevation and terrain. I received a crash course on camping and backpacking, learning all the skills I need to survive daily on the trail or even just navigating through town and resupplying.
I see the walk phase as being a period of continuing small adjustments, but largely learning to run. As I started this morning, I started using the interval timer on my watch to walk for three minutes and run for one. Granted, terrain affected some of that, too. After a month of crawling, I need to reacclimate my legs to running as the terrain finally shows signs of easing up. I will slowly let my body adjusted to longer and longer running periods until I'm moving at a comfortable shuffle for large periods of the day.
Starting with the intervals, my morning went quickly. I started later than intended as I got caught in a book, but quickly knocked out nine miles to the Omelette Guy. Similar to the other trail angels, this man provides food and juice to hikers without any gain for himself. He's never thru-hiked, but he did joke he section hikes every day between his truck and the area he's set up. Starting last year, the gentleman spends nearly every day during the hiking season, Apr-Sep, providing food to hikers and is gaining quite a bit of legend among the hikers.
The record for eggs in an omelette was set earlier this week at 30. Now, if that doesn't sound completely overwhelming, he loads the omelette with large pieces of ham, fresh peppers and onions, and cheese. I had an eight egg omelette. It was the size of a standard plate and at least three inches high. I intentionally had a simple breakfast and no snacks for the first eight or nine miles, but I'm still not sure how I finished the omelette. Oh, and, yes, it was among one of the best I'd ever eaten. I think the average omelette is probably six eggs, but the man said he goes through about 25 dozen eggs a day. Out of pure generosity and without recompense.
After trying to digest that omelette, I tried to figure out how many miles I had for the day. Math totally failed me today. I wanted to get up Smart Mountain to watch the sunset from a fire tower. I thought it was like 18 miles; it was just over 20.
Again, I somehow managed to get up the mountain 20 minutes before sunset. Not sure how. And, it was amazing. Now, I'm going to spend the night in an enclosed rangers cabin atop the mountain -- nice and warm!
Productive 20 mile start to the walk phase; how close can I get to Hanover tomorrow? It's 24 miles away.
I slept in past sunrise this morning...or, as I seem to I wake all night long, I chose to stay in my warm sleeping bag.
Once I started moving, I started knocking out miles fairly quickly. Rather than using a timer today, I was just letting my legs choose the (down hills) and I shuffle quite a bit today.
I went over two mountains that were more tedious than challenging and passed a minimum of 20 NOBOs. A day-hiker went out of their way to recommend a view of Smart Mountain off of Moose Mountain. I started there this morning; I just didn't care. I've become view-fatigued; I don't feel like going out of my way for them. Granted, I'll take a look if it's on the route, and depending on breaks, that's the ideal spot I'll take them.
Now, I dealt with a little bit of anger today. Texted Peeps to say I was going to be in Hanover either tonight or tomorrow to find out they are now in Rutland, another 46 miles from Hanover. Dude, I don't want your crap in my bag. I guess some good trail karma will come of it.
Which leads to my next highlight. I took a long break at the 18 mile mark to decide on plans. Being a Sunday night, I opted to wait until tomorrow morning to hit Hanover rather than tonight and having to rush. While sitting along the side of the road, Marshmallow and Trip pulled up to find a tenting spot for the night. I met them initially in Andover and, using a vehicle, they drop one person off on the north side of the trail while the other drives and starts on the south. They swap keys when they cross paths and it allows them to virtually slack-pack everyday. Oh, and the best part? They can go get dinner. I had the good fortune to join them and we want to get some pizza.
Pizza did great things for my mood. I contemplated setting up camp in the cemetery near the road when we got back, but decided to try for the shelter four miles ahead. Fortunately, I filled one bottle of water after returning to the trail (two would've been better).
So, I finally saw my first deer. Big deer, too. And then going over a routine bog bridge, I fell in with everything happening in slow motion. My balance went and my pole got caught. Then I was scrambling to get my right side out of the mud. Doing the best I could with my bottle of water and snot filled bandana, I cleaned myself up. My clothes did not get much better. Oh, and immediately after falling, the deer went back the way it came. Thanks, bud.
I trudged on another mile or two until I decided I was tired of walking in the dark. Another 20 mile day done. Too lazy to set up my tent, I am cowboy camping in the darkness. All goes well, I have about four miles to town with an opportunity for a shower and laundry at 9am. Good thing, because I need it. I stink.