Appalachian Trail Mile 1927.1

Saturday, September 23, 2017 (Day 144)

Again, I rose with my sleeping mat askew. I did not want to rise, but rise I must.

Focus, focus.

The weather was amazing, the trail picturesque.

I came to a pond. I sat beside it. The breeze felt cool off its waters. I sipped hot coffee and reflected. I did not want it to end.

It was time to climb Old Speck, Maine’s 3rd highest mountain.

The climb was steep and challenging. I turned and gazed. The mountains rolled off in to the distance.

Soon another hiker came up behind me. I stopped to let them pass. “I’m moving at full speed”, they replied. I laughed. We started chatting. The conversation was interesting and heart-felt. We got on well.

We reached ME 26 at Grafton Notch. Another hiker was sitting in the parking lot enjoying a beer. A young man offered us each one as well. “Thanks”. The can was cold and perspiring. I sat on a patch of dirt and sipped and chatted. Buzzing from the IPA, the three of us continued along the trail in unison. The two of them stopped at the Baldpate Lean-to, I continued on.

I crossed over Baldpate West Peak and down through an alpine bog. Then I ascended once more to Baldpate East Peak, a large and open summit comprised of large stone slabs. In its vastness, it was slightly challenging to navigate in the dark. I relied on the stone cairns to guide my way. The night sky was deep and dark and clear, the stars vibrant and radiating. If it were not for the bone-chilling wind, I would have considered sleeping beneath the starlight.

I continued on, descending down the north side of the Baldpate’s East Peak. After about half a mile, I came to a nice tentsite just before Little Baldpate.

I settled in comfortably, reasoning that a nice shielded camping spot may lend itself to an early rise. Within the cover of trees, I should be left no need to hide in my sleeping bag from the early morning mountain chill.


Appalachian Trail Mile 1916.0

Friday, September 22, 2017 (Day 143)

I rose to an amazing view, an amazing breeze, an amazing world.

I stretched. I sang. I meditated. I gazed in utter appreciation.

I set off.

I was not moving quickly, nor did I care to. For me, the trail was not a place to feel rushed. So when I noticed a group of three men waiting behind me as I was adjusting my trekking poles…I decided to hide off trail to let them pass.  I chose a campsite just south of Mahoosuc Notch. There, I tucked myself behind some trees atop a bed of dry leaves. This hiding somehow turned in to nap time. I rose just after 5pm.

It was time to face Mahoosuc Notch. For .8 miles the AT winds through a jumble of boulders in a cleft between Fulling Mill Mountain and Mahoosuc Mountain. It is well known as the most challenging stretch of the entire trail.

I could now see why.

It was most certainly challenging.

Without any clear cut trail, it is up to ones own judgement to chose the most suitable path to the next white blaze. At one point, I worked my way up and over a moss covered boulder only to realize that the drop on the other side was far too steep for me to lower myself safely. I tried to crawl backwards, back to where I had begun the climb. The moss was slippery, however. I could not gain traction. Every time I tried to move backward, I slid forward. The weight of my pack kept me nearly immobile, yet I did not have the space or the balance to remove it. Additionally, I did not have my chest strap buckled, causing my pack to shift and its weight to fall to one side of my back, creating an even more unstable situation. I tried to back up again. I nearly fell forward. I panicked. I am stuck.  Oh my goodness, I am stuck. Then, I grasped for a distant root and successfully –and most awkwardly–scooched back down the boulder and lowered myself to safety. Thank goodness.

As I continued at a crawl (often quite literally), the sky grew dark.

At one point, after a slight divergence from the trail, I felt lost. I seemed to have gone over, rather than under a cluster of boulders. I became disoriented. Was I moving in the right direction? I followed my instinct and continued, and fortunately, over 3 hours after starting, found my way out of the notch.

My entire body ached.

A hiker I knew had set up camp just north of  the boulder clusters. I stopped for a break and chatted with them for a bit. They suggested I stay, but I had to keep going.

Next was Mahoosuc Arm, a 1500 ft climb over the span of one mile. I had intentions of completing the climb that evening.

As I began the ascent I could hear animals running, shuffling, weaving quickly alongside the trail. I could not see them, but their presence seemed different, the woods seemed more wild, full of kinetic energy, alive in the night.

I soon came to a nice stream.

I sat beside it. Then reclined beside it. Then, far below the top of the Arm, fell asleep.

Appalachian Trail Mile 1910.3

Thursday, September 21, 2017 (Day 142)

I rose, finding my body to be perpendicular to my sleeping mat. I may not have chosen the most level of spots.

Two Southbounders pass.

I collected water from the pond outlet. It is off-color. It smells and taste funny. I add two strawberry kiwi Propel packets to mask the taste, figuring I should be finished with the trail before any water borne consequence takes its toll.

Today’s theme: determination and reclamation of momentum!

I cross in to Maine. The final state. I can do this.

Water sources were infrequent. I decided to stop in at the next shelter for collection. It is .3 awkward, rock laden miles off trail. I grumble to myself about the .6 mile detour.

The water source at the shelter was suitable. It was running and clear and tasted nice. I walked over to where hikers had gathered. I chatted with one that I knew, while boiling water for coffee. I spoke of the missing o-ring for my filter. Another hiker, who I had just met, offered me a spare that they had picked up off of the trail. It fit. Brilliant!

The sun was setting. I set off, chasing the sunset. I was rewarded. The sun cast an intense orange glow behind a purple silhouette of mountain range, a spectacular show of departure.

The trail continued, rocky and steep and full of hand over foot climbing. At one point I turned to discover that my filter had somehow unscrewed itself from the Smartwater bottle that sat in the side pouch of my pack. Well, there goes that, I thought. I was not about to turn back again.

It grew dark and the stars grew bright. I had only travelled a mile or so when I reached a side trail that led to Goose Eye West Peak, the highest of Goose Eye Mountain’s three peaks.

I decided to take the spur trail to the summit and cowboy camp beneath the stars.

The wind blew, cool and crisp. I bundled up and burrowed in to my down bag. I gazed up at the millions of fiery globes of light.

Oh, starry night sky! How you entrance and enchant and enthrall me so!

I could not think of much that made me happier than falling asleep beneath a galaxy of stars on a clear night atop an exposed mountain top.

With that sentiment, and a smile on my lips, I drifted off to sleep.

Appalachian Trail Mile 1901.1

Wednesday, September 20, 2017 (Day 141)

Exhausted from such a late night, I did not rise until the afternoon. I curled up in a blatant refusal to rise, using the hood of my sleeping bag to feign darkness.
I wiped the sleep from my eyes. At least I had reclaimed my things.

It was not until 5pm that I had reached the top of the climb. The point I had reached the night before.

I hiked on.

The water sources were all less than appealing. I collected from a brook.  Its yellowish waters changed the color of my nalgene. And the foam…what was that foam? Maybe, as another hiker had suggested, the off-color is due to the fallen leaves that gather in its pools. Like a tea of sorts. Yes. I liked that thought.

The night was clear and beautiful.

I came to a campsite by an outlet of Dream Lake. I recalled my hopes of getting here the night before.  I sighed.

I sat in the tentsite and did some math. I reviewed miles and days and time. I will still be alright. I said it aloud, in self reassurance “I will still be alright”.

…and hey, I’m nearly to Maine.

Appalachian Trail Mile 1892.3

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 (Day 140)

I had a late start, only rising after hearing a hiker quickly pass from behind.

Though yesterday I found myself on the verge of tears, today I find myself laughing as I move through the trees in the magical fog, exclaiming aloud “oh, I’m so happy!”. What a beautiful, fantastical roller-coaster ride.

It was not long before I reached Route 2. The trail follows the road for a short while. Conveniently located on trail, was a hostel. I thought to stop in and charge my things and maybe catch a ride to Wal-Mart. I was not allowed inside the hostel (nor were any of the hiker guests, without first changing their clothing and cleaning up in the garage), but I was comfortable enough sitting cross-legged on the driveway. I joined the group to Wal-Mart, ate a dinner of tofu, accepted and drank the offered IPA. In short: I lost focus. It was very late before I hiked out, but I hiked out.

After about four miles, I reached the top of a climb. I was satisfied. I began to unpack for bed.

Then, a horrible feeling…I did not have my bag containing my external power banks. Oh no. What should I do? I needed to keep my phone charged, not just for maps, but to record the adventure. I had to turn back. I had to engage in one of my least favorite activities of all time. I had to back-track.

It was after 2am. Off I went, back the way I came. I had taken a break on trail earlier in the night. Maybe I had left it there? Nope.

Finally, at around 4am, I made it back to the hostel. Fortunately the back door that led to the garage was still open. I found my bag buried beneath a pack, glanced at the hiker box, and headed back to the trail.

Oh my.

I was growing tired at this point. The sun would rise soon. At least I recovered my bag, I thought. I travelled about a mile before pulling off in to the woods that lined a gravel road. I weaved far enough in to the woods not to be seen by any passerby. I positioned myself behind a tree and slept.

Nine miles of hiking for one mile of progress.

Oh momentum! Dear, dear momentum! Please, come back to me soon

Appalachian Trail Mile 1884.5

Monday, September 18, 2017 (Day 139)

I rose early, without motivation to ambulate. At all. Whatsoever.

Then I consider the sunrise. I go in search of its presentation to the world.

I return to my bag.

I look at my water. It is less than appealing. Off color with many sediments and floating particles of unknown origin. Without the recently misplaced rubber o-ring, my Sawyer Mini water filter was, well, useless. I transfer the water from one bottle to the other. I am unsure what I think that will accomplish.

Suddenly, a loud crisp chime and the sound of industrial locomotion. Men working on the gondola. I smile. They smile back. I pack up to go.

I came across a leaf on trail that was directing a small flow from a tiny spring. I emptied my bottles and fill them with the cold, clear liquid.  Already feeling dehydrated, I drank a liter before I moved on.

The day grew gray as the sun moved through the sky behind a cover of clouds. When night came, the forest grew heavy, thick, and damp. The giant slanted slabs of smooth stone that comprised the trail became slick as tiny droplets of rain fell from the sky.

I fell. Twice.

The second tumble scared me. It was sudden and out of control. I landed contorted, legs splayed. Items fell from within my pack. I wanted to cry.

I stood and continued.

It was very foggy, but I could still see. I continued passed the shelter, determined to find an alternate place to camp. Spurts of rain continued to come and go. There was no where to camp in sight. The trail continued to climb. Soon I would be atop another mountain, cold and exposed to the elements.

Finally I came to a proper tentsite. I cowboy camped just beyond it, to facilitate quick set up of my tent, should it decide to rain with fervor.

I had moved so slowly. Only 11 miles. My body aches.

Not good enough.

Appalachian Trail Mile 1873.4

Sunday, September 17, 2017 (Day 138)

I woke around 4 am on the hard pack room floor. Someone walked through quickly, as though on a mission. I had dimmed the lights and was laying in what I felt to be the most inconspicuous part of the room, behind a table. I quietly watched them move. I don’t think they saw me. I stayed reclined for a little while longer, but packed up my sleeping bag.

I went to the dining hall and sat with coffee and fruit and wrote.

As employees packed up the breakfast buffet, I transitioned to the pack room once more. They are starting to recognize me, I thought.

I sat on a bench in the pack-room and continued my writing. Some other hikers came through. Hikers were catching up, hikers were passing me, I had to move.

That afternoon, I set out for the trail.

This would be the last section of the White Mountains: The Wildcats; extreme ups and downs and rugged terrain. I was certainly ready. Pack on, poles in hand, I marveled at the awkwardness of my stride. How is my body even more sore than before!?

After a strenuous climb and a short visit with a fellow hiker–as we both sat perched on a rock atop the mountain, gazing out at the magic of the clouds, of the peaks–I pressed on.

I had continued just a short while before I came to the gondola. I was enamored, entranced, in awe of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains that stood clearly in the distance. I stood, watching the sun set, the clouds hover and swirl, the silhouette of pines fringing the base of the range.

I felt as though I could not move. I felt a gravitational pull. I felt emotional. Is this the last time I would see the beloved mountains? The night was clear. I stayed. I stayed beneath a blanket of beautiful starlight, gazing all the while at the enchanting mountains that rose in the distance.

I was saying goodbye…for now.

The Barn and the Pinkham Notch Pack Room

Friday, September 15 to Saturday September 16 2017 (Day 136 and 137)

The Barn Hostel was full of comfortable full sized beds. Beds with sheets and comforters and no top bunks. My body was exhausted. The only catch was the 9am check out rule. So in the end…I stayed. I could feel my muscles vibrating, contracting, relaxing. I did not move. I stayed horizontally extended until mid-afternoon. Then, stiffer than ever before, I hobbled down the wooden steps to face the day and to socialize with other hikers and to write. I did face the day somewhat, this time from a couch instead of a bed. I socialized plenty while eating my fill of sweet potato. I maybe wrote a single line. Then, before I knew it, the sun had fallen and it was time to sleep again.

I rose early to catch the hostel provided shuttle to Pinkham Notch at 7:30 AM. They have wi-fi, I thought. I will just catch up on writing there.

I sat and sipped coffee in the dining hall at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Hikers came and went. I chatted with some as I wrote. One kind hiker treated me to lunch. I wrote and wrote and time quickly slipped away. Soon, they were cleaning the dining area and preparing for the dinner buffet. It was time to make my exit. I headed downstairs to the pack room.

The pack room had tables and a bathroom with showers and vending machines and outlets and was open 24 hours. As I continued to write the day grew older. In the end, I slightly dimmed the lights and curled up on my sleeping mat beneath a counter, behind a table, at an angle of low visibility, and slept.

Appalachian Trail Mile 1870.4

Thursday, September 14, 2017 (Day 135)

Woken by the sun, I rolled over on my side to face the east; to watch its golden glow wash the White Mountains in warmth and light and life.

I take note of the heavy clouds that lace their dark hands above me, collecting moisture in their pourous palms until it falls, drip, drip, dripping from between their swollen fingers. It is just a matter of time.

I have 11.6 miles to Pinkham Notch. There I plan to hitch to Gorham, to stay the night in a bed at The Barn hostel. It has been 13 days since my last shower.

Even though it was under 12 miles to the road, I had to move quickly. I have been averaging 1 mile per hour in the Whites. The sun sets so early. I needed plenty of daylight to secure a hitch.

I drank a hot cup of coffee, staring out in to the mountains and the light and the sun.

At 8 am I continued on my way along the Presidential Range towards Madison.

I watched as Madison rose in the distance. I stopped in at the hut at its base to fill up my water and eat leftover oatmeal.

It was beautiful.

The descent down from the Presidential Range was exhausting. My knees ached as the trail dropped thousands of feet within a span of a couple of miles. After finally reaching the bottom, I rested on the north side of a stream crossing and continued on.

I came to a spring. I crouched down in its puddle, pack still on, collected the cool liquid with my nalgene, and drank furiously, water dripping down my face. I felt wild, untamed, feral.

Soon I came to the road. I crossed and stuck out my thumb. I got a ride quickly. The driver was a kind man who admitted that he was sometimes hesitant about picking up hitchhikers. He dropped me at the curb in front of the hostel. I gathered my things and thanked him and headed inside.