This Open Road

A season walking southbound on the Appalachian Trail

The White Mountains, Part 2: Crawford Notch, NH – Mt. Moosilauke, NH

After my three-day stay at The Notch Hostel, my feet were healed and I felt strong and ready to return to Crawford Notch and continue the final stretch through the Whites. The AMC shuttle stopped at a visitors center just a few miles short of the trail, so I had to hitchhike that section up to the trail. A lady who had been hiking in the area and had seen me in the visitors center stopped to pick me up. Within minutes I was back on the trail walking south. I had been tempted to stay at the hostel for one more night because of the threat of rain, but decided it was pointless to try to avoid it. I’d been rained on before and I’d be rained on again, so I took my chances and hiked on. It seemed I was rewarded for this perseverance because I was not affected by the rain at all, even though it was raining in areas all around me.

I hiked for the rest of the afternoon and found a small camping area just north of Zealand Falls Hut. The next morning I stopped for a quick break, but the guests were having breakfast so I didn’t go inside.

Zealand Falls Hut.

Zealand Falls Hut.

 

The trail continued up the usual rocky ledges that are characteristic of the Whites. There were a couple sections where ladders and rebar had been installed to assist hikers over the rock slabs.

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The steep ascents continued throughout the day and the peaks and other huts started to slip by: Mt. Guyot, South Twin Mountain, Galehead Hut, Mt. Garfield. Now I was getting excited because one of my favorite sections of the trail, Franconia Ridge, was coming up. Even better, I was going to cross it in the evening.

Franconia Ridge is a two-mile stretch of the AT that is above treeline, with Mt. Lafayette at the north end. All the elements came together for a perfect trek across the ridge. The wind swept across the rock outcroppings, and the clouds, which looked threatening when I approached the top, shifted, allowing incredible sunset views which changed dramatically within a few minutes. I kept stopping, making 360-degree turns, trying to take it all in. I could not have asked for a better experience on one of the most beautiful parts of the AT.

Sunset view from Franconia.

Sunset view from Franconia.

 

View from Franconia Ridge.

View from Franconia Ridge.

 

Franconia Ridge.

Franconia Ridge looking south.

 

It was not lost on me that, for the second time in a week, I found myself above treeline as dusk was approaching and I didn’t know exactly where I was going to camp. And for the second time, I felt a little excited about the adventure of it. I was not worried, I just had to keep moving, be willing to settle for a small stealth site that might not be as comfortable as I’d like. The uncertainty was worth the time I spent on Franconia.

I ate a quick snack, tightened the straps on my pack, and focused on the task of getting down from the ridge. The wind started to pick up and darkness quickly settled around me as I entered the trees. The path was narrow, steep and rocky. Eventually it leveled off and I passed two other campers tucked away in a small site. I kept going hoping for a similar site. I intended to hike all the way to the next campsite, Liberty Springs, but realized that would require hiking in the dark for possibly another hour. I trip enough as it is and didn’t want to add another layer of opportunity for an unnecessary fall.

Again, it seemed my decision was confirmed, because just then I noticed a beautiful opening in the trees with fairly level ground. I made a beeline to the site, put on my headlamp and set up my tent.

The next morning, I boiled water (all that I had left) for coffee (because I’m civilized and have my priorities), packed up and hiked the rest of the way to Liberty Springs. There I filled up my water bottle, made breakfast and prepared for the long descent down to Franconia Ridge.

It wasn’t long before another happy reunion occurred. (The first being when my 2010 hiking buddy, Sly Jangles, met me in the Bigelows.) In 2010, I hiked for a time with a gentle, hiking machine named Eric the Red (now called Moonlover), who’s from New Jersey. In the years since we hiked together, Eric began dating a woman named Candra, who is now working on her own thru-hike. Eric was hiking a long section with her, but not doing the whole trail. I knew they would be on the northern part of the trail when I was, but didn’t know if we would actually cross paths. I left it up to the Trail.

As I was hiking down from Liberty Springs, I passed several northbounders coming up. We exchanged hellos and information. As I looked down the trail, I noticed a familiar form, topped with wild curls and a commanding hiker beard, working his hiking poles, focused on the path in front of him and moving assertively in my direction. Here was my dear friend Eric the Red! I stopped, watched and waited for him to look up. When he did, the recognition was immediate. He smiled his fantastic smile, called out “Deja-thru!” (the name I went by in 2010) and hustled up even faster, closing the gap in a big reunion hug. Another hiker walking by said, “Oh, I love trail reunions!” It was only fitting that Eric and I met again on a rocky slope in the middle of New Hampshire on the trail that forged our friendship five years earlier.

Eric the Red!

Eric the Red!

A few minutes later another smiling face came up the trail, and I met Eric’s effervescent and charming fiance, Candra (trail name, Moonlight). She is having the time of her life on the trail and her enthusiasm for meeting others is another reason why I’m out here: to connect with people like Eric and Candra, who have found a purpose in sharing their love of the trail. As a southbounder, these kinds of relationships seem to be more rare than for northbounders. Nobo trail families are common, but for sobos, especially those at the end of the line, trail families are not as common and those that do form, might lack a strong sense of connectivity. Maybe sobos are more independent in general and adapt to a more solitary hike. These relationships (and likely many trail groups, regardless of direction) are more like taffy or a slinky, they separate and come back together. Visiting with Eric and Candra (sitting right on the trail for almost an hour) reminded me of the unique and special relationships nobos form. I had that in my past northbound hikes and many of those relationships are still very strong. They, like Eric and Candra, are my People of the Trail.

Eric the Red and Moonlight.

Eric the Red and Moonlight.

 

Life on the trail is about getting up and moving on. No thru-hiker can stay in one place very long. Eventually we said our goodbyes and headed in our respective directions, for them north and me south.

I continued down to Franconia Notch. I took an unintended detour at the visitors center which resulted in a three-hour delay before I righted my wrongs and got back on the trail. I hiked up out of the notch, past Lonesome Lake Hut and stopped for the night at a small site.

The next day I began the climb up North and South Kinsman. The wooden steps embedded in the wet rock made the ascent a little less dangerous and more interesting. (I’m fascinated by how the trail builders situated these steps into the rock. Can anyone offer ideas or answers?)

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Wooden steps embedded into the rock, going up.

 

Wooden steps embedded into the rock.

Going down.

As I approached the summit of North Kinsman, I ran into Forger who had been off the trail for a few days to attend a family event. It was great to have a friend to hike with on the last official day in the White Mountains. As all the days before, there was nothing easy about our exit. The descent into Kinsman Notch seemed to go on forever. Finally, amazingly, it ended abruptly at a road crossing. Officially, the Whites were behind us, but as an exclamation point to all of our hard work, we still had to get up and over Mt. Moosilauke. This is the last big mountain in the northeast for southbounders. Once hikers are past this point, it’s safe to breathe a little easier. There will still be some big climbs, but they will not be the relentless, hand-over-hand climbing that has been so common since Mt. Katahdin. For northbounders, Mt. Moosilauke is the beginning of the party. It will be hard work, but good work, almost every day until they summit Katahdin in Baxter State Park.

As tired as Forger and I were, we wanted to get to the next shelter half-way up the mountain. The trail paralleled Beaver Brook and it was a slippery, wet rock scramble all the way to the shelter. We were happy to see that Saint was there too. We could only guess where Soynuts was, but we guessed he wasn’t too far away. (He was actually ahead of us, but we didn’t know it at the time.)

Beaver Brook Falls, going up Mt. Moosilauke.

Beaver Brook Falls, going up Mt. Moosilauke.

The next day we all left the shelter at different times to begin the final push to the top of Mt. Moosilauke. It was foggy, windy and chilly, but I didn’t care. Reaching the summit meant that the hard work of the last five weeks was over. I knew the downhill route would be a tedious slog, but that didn’t bother me. I’d be going down to a road, then walking to a local hostel for an afternoon break and to prepare for the next section. The weather competed with the mountain in making the final miles as difficult as possible. On the way down it began to rain. Then it rained harder, and then it began to actually pour. Even with all my rain gear on, I was completely soaked by the time I arrived at the Hikers Welcome Hostel. I still didn’t care. I was done with Maine, with the White Mountains and the hardest part of New Hampshire.

No views from the top, but I was happy to know this was the end of the hardest section of the trail.

No views from the top, but I was happy to know this was the end of the hardest section of the trail.

The White Mountains, Part 1: Gorham, NH – Crawford Notch, NH

(I’m currently in Manchester Center, VT, having hiked over 500 miles. The following post was written from N. Woodstock, NH, two weeks ago. I’m getting caught up on my blog posts. Thanks for reading!)

The miles continue to come slowly, or so it seems. As a southbound hiker, familiar with the terrain in Maine and New Hampshire from my previous hikes, I expected this. But it wears on the body and mind. I know I’m doing the hardest and best states first. This was something I looked forward to when I considered my hike. These states are rocky and relentless. I pass northbounders every day and it’s all I can do not to say, “Oh, have you got a lot of work to do.” They will discover that on their own and I don’t want to diminish their elation as they get closer to the end of their journey, one step at a time. But wow, have they got a lot of work to do.

And so do I. I’ve walked 345 hard miles. I’m midway through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This section of the AT through the Whites covers nearly 100 miles of intense peaks and valleys, the reward being beautiful and expansive views from the tops of those peaks. Many of the mountains in this range are named after U.S. presidents and are thus called the Presidential Range.

The hike out of Gorham was a six-mile ascent that culminated at Imp Campsite. I felt strong and ready to return to the trail after my two-day rest at the White Mountains Hostel. Imp is part of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s series of campsites and employs an onsite caretaker. There is an $8 fee to stay there. Soynuts had also been in Gorham (but stayed at another place), and was headed to the same site. We shared a tent platform and talked about our time off in Gorham and what was in store for us in the Whites. I left before Soynuts the next morning and proceeded to make Pinkham Notch my goal for the day.

There is another series of huts in the Whites sponsored by the AMC where hikers can take a break and buy snacks and drinks for a small price. It’s very expensive to stay overnight in the bunks at these huts, but they offer a “work-for-stay” option to thru-hikers. If a hiker arrives at a hut at the right time in the afternoon, they may be accepted by the staff to do some easy chores for a couple of hours in exchange for a place to sleep in the dining hall (not a bunk) and leftover food. I’ve done this in the past, and have found it to be an inefficient way to get through the mountains. Most hikers really enjoy the WFS experience and try to time their arrival at the huts in order to get to stay there.

After leaving Imp, I mentally prepared myself for one of the most difficult days in this section. It’s really hard to rank difficult days. There are several sections that are as intense as another, but I remembered the ascent up to Wildcat Ridge on my northbound hike, and knew this would be just as challenging to go down. And it was. I reached Carter Hut midday and stopped for some chili made by a “croo” member (the AMC hut staff) and lemonade. Feeling energized and fueled up, I began the steep ascent out of Carter and up to the Wildcat peaks. This led to the top of the ski area where the gondola was running for tourists. I was on a mission to get down to Pinkham Notch and still had the steep descent off the ridge ahead of me.

It was tedious and slow-going. As most of the descents of the last month, every step required careful attention. At one point my feet lost traction and I slid down the rock slab on my backside several feet. I was surprised that my shorts survived the slide.

Step-by-careful-step, I finally made it down to level ground. A mile later I crossed a road and entered the AMC’s touristy Pinkham Notch center. I still needed to hike a bit more past the center in order to find a campsite, but I needed to take a break so I bought an ice cream sandwich and watched the hordes of weekend campers milling about for a few minutes. I couldn’t decide if I felt sorry for their temporary outdoors existence or envious that they were headed to showers and real beds. I finished my ice cream, hefted my pack and walked on to a small site just down the trail.

The next day I steeled myself for the next big challenge: the three-mile steep incline up to Madison Peak. Again, the relentless upward haul. Again, the acceptance that the miles will come slowly. This was not the time to expect anything more than one mile per hour. My mindset in these situation is to just keep moving forward. It’s a pretty good mindset for life, also. Don’t stop and risk getting bogged down. Keep moving forward, one step at a time and do not think about speed. It has no meaning. Face forward and move. After an hour and a half, I emerged above treeline. Then I began the rock-hop, following large cairns over false summits to the top of Madison. I was fortunate to have had good weather. In bad weather, this section could be especially risky.

The top provided a brief reprieve. I still needed to get down the other side, take a break at Madison hut (a half-mile below the peak), and begin the next bigger challenge: Mount Washington.

Madison Hut and Peak

Madison Peak and Hut.

 

Mount Washington is the premier peak in this range and the second highest on the AT (Clingman’s Dome in Smoky Mountain National Park is the highest). The ascent from Madison Hut continued to be a sharp, rock-filled path and my feet began to feel inflamed and raw. I still had to hike several miles up and over Washington and down to a campsite below treeline. It was going to be a long afternoon.

Presidentials from Mt. W

The peaks surrounding Madison and Washington.

 

Mount Washington is famous for having the worst weather in the world. Wind velocity can reach well over 200 miles per hour, and reached a record of 231 mph in 1934. However, on the day I summited the winds were calm and the sky was clear. But daylight was fading fast.

After an arduous six-mile hike from Madison Hut, I finally reached the cutoff sign for the top of the peak. It was quite the touristy scene, as there is a road and a cog railway that leads to the summit. There is an observatory, a cafe, and other buildings. I was exhausted and out of water. I stashed my pack behind some boulders, grabbed my empty water bottles and quickly walked the .2 miles to the top. I got to the cafe just as they were closing but the staff let me buy something to drink. I filled my water bottles, ran to the sign for a quick photo and ran back down the trail to retrieve my pack. I still had to get below treeline and find a place to camp.

View of Mt. W from below

Mount Washington.

 

As I began the descent off the peak, I realized I would never make it to an adequate campsite before dark. The next hut (Lake of the Clouds) was only 1.5 miles away, but I knew that other hikers would have already arrived and been selected for the work-for-stay spots. I would have to hike a few miles beyond the hut to find a suitable site. My feet continued to burn and every step was painful. I began to evaluate my options, and there was only one. I would have to find a stealth spot on the mountain and continue my descent the next day.

There are many other side trails on the mountain and I hiked down one of these paths, then down another side spur. Finally, I found a somewhat flat, but lumpy spot and set up my tent. If a ranger came by, I was prepared to plead my case, show the raw condition of my feet and ask for suggestions. As it was, I was alone on the mountain and experienced the most amazing evening of my trip so far.

Stealth spot below Mt. W

For a mountain that is famous for extremely bad weather in all seasons, I was very lucky to have such a pristine night. There was a light wind and the sunset was one of the most brilliant I’ve ever seen.

Sunset from stealth camp

The next morning, I packed up and continued down to Lake of the Clouds Hut. I had a snack and enjoyed the amazing views from the huge windows. I also called the AMC and made arrangements to take the shuttle the next morning from Crawford Notch (the next road crossing, 11 miles down the trail) into Lincoln, NH. I needed to take an extra day off so my feet could recover and I wanted to check out a new hostel, the Notch Hostel.

Lake of the Clouds Hut

Lake of the Clouds Hut.

 

11 miles downhill seemed like an easy day when I looked at the profile on my map. But I knew better. This is the AT in New Hampshire. Nothing is easy here. But still, I wanted to believe. So with the memories of my stealth night on Mount Washington, I began my hike down to Crawford Notch.

Mizpah Hut.

Mizpah Hut.

 

A few miles into the hike, I came to Mizpah Hut. I stopped here for lunch and more snacks and lemonade. There were other hikers there, most of them staying for the night. Revived and excited to get to the road, I resumed my descent. I had six miles to go. A chart on the wall at Mizpah stated that the six miles to Crawford Notch would take five hours. I knew that I would be going down Webster Cliffs, a series of ledges that require attentive rock scrambling. I expected it to take four hours. It actually took me four hours and forty-five minutes. It was a hot afternoon and I ran out of water again.

View from Webster Cliffs

The view from Webster Cliffs looking down to Crawford Notch.

 

Finally, I was down. I came across a stream, filled my water bottles and walked to a campsite close to the road. The next day, I would board the AMC shuttle which would take me to the twin towns of North Woodstock and Lincoln and the much-anticipated, Notch Hostel.

Notch Hostel

After arriving in Lincoln, I made a beeline to a local pizzeria that I’d been to on my last hike through the area. I devoured a whole pizza, retrieved my bump box at the post office (I mail my computer ahead to my next town stop so I can conduct my lessons online), picked up a few supplies and headed to the local McDonald’s to wait for my prearranged ride to the hostel. On my way to the McDonald’s, a woman who happened to be staying at the hostel offered to take me there. Within minutes we drove onto the beautiful property.

Common area at the Notch Hostel.

The common area on the second floor.

 

The hostel as three floors with rooms filled with bunk beds and two private rooms. There is also an extensive yard for tenting. I sleep better in my own tent or in a private room, so I tented two nights and stayed in one of the private rooms for one night. After my difficult day going over Madison and Washington, I needed an extra day to recover. I also needed to conduct my online lessons so the Notch Hostel was the perfect place to stay.

And now I’m about to begin the second half of the Whites. There are still big mountains in this section, but the constant intensity of multiple climbs every day is about to end. I’ve pushed hard for four weeks and I’m looking forward to the terrain easing up.

I expect to cross into Vermont in the next week or so and hopefully increase my mileage a bit each day. It excites me to move deeper into the heart of the Appalachians and to be in places that bring up feelings of connection to past hikes. This is why I’m out here and why I was called back to the trail. Despite the difficulty of the trail, there is a pull that is hard to resist. I’m where I belong and thrive, and I cannot wait for what lies further south.

Twighlight from stealth camp

The First 300 Miles

Now I’m into it, deeply and thoroughly. The milestones are beginning to click by already. The first 100, 200 and 300 miles. The first state line crossing. My first, second and third resupply stops. My trail name (Deja) sounds more natural to me and is used more often than my real name. I’ve hitched to towns. I’ve been part of a bubble (a group of hikers that stays together) and already lost my bubble. The routines have been established and the weekly shower is just one part of it. The trail is hard. I’ve fallen countless times, been on the verge of hypothermia, and had an afternoon of serious doubt about being out here. All of this is just par for the course on the AT. Nothing new under the sun.

 * * * * *

Mileage, Trail names, and Lingo

Every so often the length of the Appalachian Trail increases due to relocations. When the trail was completed in 1937, the trail was 2,058 miles. When I first hiked it in 1998, it was 2,168 miles. This year it is 2,189 miles.

After 24 days on the trail, I’ve taken three full days off (for rest and for teaching online). My highest mileage day was 21.5 miles on day 4. My lowest was seven miles on day 8. Everything else has been in the ‘teens.

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Taking on a trail name has been a longstanding tradition on the AT, as well as on other trails. They’re simply nicknames hikers adopt, or are given, during their hike. In 1998, my trail name was Critter (short for Coffee Critter and a play on my last name, Crispe, as in Crispy Critter). When I returned to the trail in 2010, some hiker friends from ’98, suggested a new name, Deja-thru. Since I didn’t complete a thru-hike in 2010, but finished the trail in two sections (2010/2011), I just went with Deja. Most friends from my ’98 hike still refer to me as Critter.

Other hikers I’ve met so far include Float, Little Bird, Tank, Loon, Hands, Forger, Soynuts, Seaweed Sally, Metric, Bad Dinner, Brandon and Davis. (The last two are foregoing trail names, but get honorable mention because they’re great guys and part of the group I’ve hiked with recently.)

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There’s a lot of lingo on the trail:

Sobo – Southbound

Nobo – Northbound

Flip Flop – To hike from one point to another (e.g. Georgia to New Jersey), then get a ride north and hike back to the last point (e.g. Katahdin to New Jersey).

Zero – No miles hiked.

Nero (a “near zero”) – To hike just a few miles into town or out of town.

Thru-hiker – Someone who completes the whole trail in one season.

Section hiker – Someone who hikes a section of the trail.

Trail angel – Someone who helps a hiker in some way.

Trail magic – Spontaneous acts of kindness and helpfulness directed toward hikers.

The 100-Mile Wilderness

After leaving Katahdin, I was in Baxter State Park for about nine more miles, then entered the 100-Mile Wilderness. Although not entirely isolated, the Wilderness includes some of the most remote part of the trail. There are a few logging roads, but access to the trail takes more time and effort than access to other sections. It took me a week to hike through the Wilderness. The trail in the southern part was particularly difficult and although I’ve experienced mostly good days, day 6 was frustrating and slow. That was my lowest point so far. It had been raining most of the day. The trail was muddy, the ascents were steep and rocky and the descents were slick and dangerous. As soon as I could find a suitable camping spot, I set up my tent and went to sleep. I don’t remember if I ate dinner. I couldn’t think about the option of quitting so soon, but I was tempted.

The beautiful trail.

The trail on a better day.

 

A Sobo Bubble Comes Together

The next day, the sun filtered through the trees and everything seemed fresh and new, but still muddy and boggy. After packing up my wet tent and everything else, I began walking, eventually reaching the top of the next peak, Barren Mountain, which rose above the clouds. I took out most of my wet gear and laid it out to dry in the morning sun. After a while, another hiker walked up and I had the happy occasion of meeting my first fellow southbound thru-hiker, Forger. We chatted for a bit and admired the view around us. Forger continued on and soon another southbound thru-hiker, Soynuts, came through. Suddenly I was in a sobo bubble! Later that evening we all met at a campsite near a river, and camped together. It was great to make connections with these guys and share the excitement of our journey.

The next day we hiked a rough, muddy and relentless seven miles to the end of the 100-Mile Wilderness, reaching the road that led to our first resupply town, Monson. It only took a few minutes of hitchhiking before a young man in a truck stopped for us. He was on his lunch break and said he often picked up hikers on his way to town. Forger, Soynuts and I were more than ready to get to Shaw’s Hostel, get cleaned up and eat some restaurant food. Here, we met another hiker, Saint, who is a “flip-flopper”. He started in Georgia, hiked to Waynesboro, VA, then, after working a few weeks, returned to the trail, summited Katahdin and is hiking south back to Waynesboro.

So our little sobo bubble grew to four! We celebrated our arrival in Monson by going to dinner at the Lakeshore House and indulging in “pachos” – a huge plate of French fries covered in cheese and bacon. It was the perfect hiker feast.

Our temporary sobo bubble: Deja, Soynuts, Saint and Forger.

Our temporary sobo bubble: Deja, Soynuts, Saint and Forger.

 

A Visit From Sly Jangles

During my hike, I had been in touch with my hiking buddy, Sly Jangles, from my 2010 section hike (Georgia to New York). Sly lives in Montreal and wanted to come hike with me for a while. I kept him updated on my progress and left the details of how he would meet me up to him. And then, one day, he magically appeared in the Bigelow Mountains. He met me on the trail, hiked up Little Bigelow with me, then, after a few hours of great conversation and lunch at the top, he simply walked back down the mountain and to his car. I was so touched that he would drive so far (three hours), just to spend a few good hiking hours with me.

Sly and me on Little Bigelow.

Sly and me on Little Bigelow.

 

Rangeley, Maine

My second town stop, after hiking 220 miles, was Rangeley. It was such a beautiful, neat little town. It’s a shame I had a trail to hike or I might still be there. I stayed at the 1950s-era Town and Lake Motel. My backdoor faced Rangeley Lake, where kayaks and boats were docked, loons called and occasionally a float plane landed. It was there that I met the intrepid, two-time (nobo and sobo) AT thru-hiker, Seaweed Sally, who was my next-door neighbor at the motel. Oh, and she also hiked the PCT back when everybody wasn’t hiking it. And she’s hiked a bunch of other stuff too, but you wouldn’t know it unless you turned the conversation in just that certain way so as to glean this critical information out of her. We sat in our chairs, watched the sky turn beautiful shades of night-blue and talked.

Rangeley Lake from my motel backdoor.

Rangeley Lake from my motel backdoor.

 

The next day, Sally left town before I did and made tracks down the trail. I thought I’d never see her again. But the next day, I took a break at a shelter where I was immediately befriended by two other hikers who had camped with Sally the night she left town. Apparently my name came up in conversation and Bad Dinner and Metric knew who I was when I introduced myself. Sally had just left the shelter before I arrived and the three of us booked it out of there to try and catch up to her. Soon, I was lagging behind and thought I’d lost all of my new friends for good. As evening came on and I was looking for a spot to set up my tent, I passed a small opening in the woods and there they were! All hunkered down in a cute little stealth site, eating and chatting. The new band was already back together again.

Seaweed Sally and me.

Seaweed Sally and me.

Metric, Bad Dinner and Seaweed Sally. Getting ready to hike down to Andover.

Metric, Bad Dinner and Seaweed Sally. Getting ready to hike down to Andover.

 

Breakfast in Andover

An evening, a hike and a mission. Sometimes it seems that’s all it takes for a group to bond on the trail. Seaweed Sally, Bad Dinner, Metric and I spent the evening around a small fire, telling stories about our hiking escapades and laughing until fatigue overruled. Morning came, a quick chat about second breakfast in Andover ensued, and we were off, hiking hard down the trail to a gravel road hoping for an easy hitch to town.

Bad Dinner forged ahead and as we got close to the road, we heard a vehicle, a holler from BD and down we ran to the road, to a waiting vehicle. Second breakfast was on at the Red Hen in Andover! We ate until we couldn’t move. Then Metric surprised us and paid the bill for our breakfast. Trail magic and a trail angel all in one go! Thank you, again, Metric!

Our reunion was short-lived as Bad Dinner and Metric were ending their section hike in Andover. Sally was skipping ahead to another section and I had to return to the road where we got picked up. The local hostel in town, Pine Ellis, offered shuttles back to the trail for a small fee, and soon I was back to my task alone.

Mahoosuc Notch and Crossing into New Hampshire

Two days later I began the only section of the trail I had been dreading: Mahoosuc Notch. This is a one-mile section that is traditionally considered either the most difficult or most fun mile on the AT. I find it mostly difficult and annoying, a little fun, and fairly dangerous, especially if it’s been raining. Fortunately, on this day the weather was great. The notch is a ravine that is filled with huge boulders that have fallen from the high cliffs above. A hiker is forced to climb over, around, under and through awkwardly-angled boulders jammed together. Most of it is okay if one goes slowly and carefully. But it takes a long time of careful maneuvering to not fall. Brandon is very comfortable with rock climbing and bouldering and he zipped through the notch in one hour. That is fast. It takes most people 1 1/2 hours, which is what it took me the last two times I went through. This time it took me two hours. There were a lot of people going both directions, and we all had to wait for each other at certain points. Most people I talked with really enjoyed it. I was just glad to get out in one piece and know I don’t have to do it again.

The reward for making it through Mahoosuc Notch was getting to cross into New Hampshire seven miles later! State line crossings are exciting. After hiking 281.4 miles through Maine, a simple sign welcomes southbound hikers to New Hampshire.

Crossing into New Hampshire.

Crossing into New Hampshire.

 

Gorham, New Hampshire

17 miles later, the trail leads the hiker straight to the doorstep of the White Mountain Lodge and Hostel. Marnie and her staff run a relaxed and cozy hostel which includes a wonderful breakfast and lots of room outside to organize and hang out. I’ve been here for two days and after a few errands will depart this comfortable place and enter the next big challenge – the White Mountains.

White Mountains Lodge and Hostel.

White Mountains Lodge and Hostel.

 

More photos on my Instagram link.

Pre-Hike and Mount Katahdin

As I write this, I’m sitting in my room at the White Mountains Lodge and Hostel near Gorham, New Hampshire. It’s a popular stopover for hikers located right on the Appalachian Trail. I’ve already hiked almost 300 miles since July 21 and have completed Maine. Lack of time and an adequate internet connection have kept me from updating my blog since I began. So I’m going to catch you up with two posts back-to-back.

Portland, Maine

Jamie's porch.

Jamie’s porch.

 

This adventure began several weeks ago when I informed my good friend, Jamie, who lives in Portland, Maine, what I was planning – a possible southbound hike on the AT. I invited Jamie to accompany me to Baxter State Park and on my climb up Katahdin. Although she opted not to climb the peak, she earned her Trail Angel Wings multiple times over by helping me prepare for, and get to the start of my hike.

Getting to BSP in not an easy process and involves a series of buses and shuttles, if one does not have assistance getting there on their own. (BSP is in north-central Maine, and Mount Katahdin is in the park. Baxter Peak is the highest point on the mountain and the official northern terminus of the AT.)

On July 17th, I flew to Boston then took a bus to Portland where I was met by Jamie and taken to her lovely home. It was the perfect place to regroup and finalize my plans for my hike. She cooked amazing meals and provided a wonderful, cozy room for me to rest and organize. She and her boyfriend, Greg, invited me to go with them to a friend’s birthday party in the mid-coast area where I met some great people and enjoyed listening to live music.

Baxter State Park

The next day, Jamie and I began the four-hour drive to Baxter in her car. We stayed in a wonderful, rustic cabin on the edge of Kidney Pond. We canoed, went for a hike, played cards, ate great meals and listened to the loons. It was a perfect way to mentally prepare for what I was about to begin.

Our cabin at Kidney Pond.

Our cabin at Kidney Pond.

Canoes

View of Kidney Pond from the cabin.

View of Kidney Pond from the cabin.

Stir-fry for dinner.

Stir-fry for dinner.

 

Mount Katahdin

After two nights at the cabin, it was time to begin my hike. Jamie drove me to the trailhead at Katahdin Stream Campground. We said our goodbyes, she began the long drive back to Portland, and I was on my own. I left my fully-loaded backpack at the ranger station, borrowed a day pack for the hike to the summit and began my trek.

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Thank you, Jamie, for all of your great help and being part of the adventure! You are a certified Trail Angel!

 

It’s 5.2-miles to the top of Katahdin, 10.4 miles round-trip. It’s also a dramatic start (or end) to the Appalachian Trail. This was the fourth time I’d hiked Katahdin, but the first time that I’d done it alone. I was surprised how much I’d forgotten about the exposure and intensity of this climb. The middle sections require careful footing and lots of hand-over-hand climbing. There is rebar in a few places to help climbers get up and over the vertical slab. I’ve read in some hikers’ blogs that they had to turn back at these sections because the effort and exposure were too much for them. Since I’d done this a few times in the past, I couldn’t understand how they could turn back when they were so far along, and relatively close to the top. But this time I completely understood. At one point I had to back down, steady my nerves and try again. I knew if I delayed too long I would psyche myself out. I had to keep going. I contained my adrenaline, regained my focus and pushed on.

Step-by-step, I slowly made my way to the top of the sharp, rocky precipices. Eventually, the terrain leveled out on the “tablelands”. From there it was an easy, one-mile walk to the summit. The weather was beautiful and it was a perfect day for beginning the hike.

When I was almost to the top I passed a group of young, energetic guys coming down the trail. By their thin bodies, and bearded, smiling faces, I knew they had just completed their thru-hike. “Just finished your hike?” I said as we passed each other. “Yeah!” “Congratulations! It’s day one for me!” “Yay! Good luck on your trip!” And we continued on in opposite directions.

I’m teary as I think about this exchange. In that moment, we shared each others’ excitement for the end of a journey and the beginning of another. These guys had just finished their epic hike, walking 2,189 hard miles through 14 states from Georgia to Maine, over the course of several months. They had endured bad weather, created new friendships and made memories they will have forever. As I continued on to the summit, I wondered how this trip would change their lives, what new goals they would set for themselves with the new-found confidence they had earned.

I also felt a giddy kind of exhilaration as I walked closer to that old, weathered sign that marks the beginning and end of the AT. I’d been here before. I’d experienced the end of a northbound trek, but this was the start of something different for me. I was blessed to have a chance for a new kind of hike: a southbound trip. I wasn’t ending a journey, I was just beginning.

July 21, 2015. Southbound Day 1.

July 21, 2015. Southbound Day 1.

Appalachian Trail 2015: Southbound

 “I was wondering if you’d been to the Mountain, to look at the valley below?

Did you see all the roads tangled down in the valley?

Did you know which way to go?

The mountain stream runs pure and clear, and I wish to my soul I could always be here.

But there’s a reason to live way down in the valley that only the Mountain knows. “

– Noel Paul Stookey

* * *

I’ve been preparing for this moment, in my mind at least, since I last left Maine. I’m about to begin a southbound hike on the Appalachian Trail.

I’ve been organizing, packing and making lists for weeks. For months. This routine is familiar to me. But instead of preparing to live in Japan for several months, this time I’m getting ready for another hike on the AT. Soon, I’ll be in Baxter State Park, at the base of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. 5.2 miles up the Hunt Trail, at the top of Katahdin is the simple wooden sign designating the northern terminus of the AT. I know this sign. I’ve been there three different times: at the end of my northbound 1998 thru-hike; five years later with friends for a “trailversary” hike; and in 2011, at the end of my two-part section hike.

This week, I plan to once again touch that weathered, simple, beautiful sign, only this time it will be the beginning of a different kind of trek. This time I will be walking south.

* * *

I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of going southbound. Northbound is the more popular direction to walk. Most hikers start in March or April and “walk with spring,” usually finishing on Mt. Katahdin in the fall. Baxter State Park closes in mid-October, so thru-hikers need to time their summit accordingly. Southbound hikers can start as early as mid-May (when the trails in BSP open), although black flies and high-water fords can be challenging. I will be starting the third week in July. There is no time limit for finishing at Springer Mountain, the southern end of the trail. This year the length of the trail is 2,189 miles.

My schedule has more to do with my teaching commitments. I just finished a 10-week, e-learning tutoring program for Westgate, and I’m also taking a break from tutoring for the Russian company I’ve been working with. I plan to hike for two weeks in order to get through the most remote part of Maine. After that, I’ll resume tutoring online on a weekly basis when I’m in town to resupply.

I was so fortunate to spend the last few months with my parents at their house. I taught online, spent time with my grandma and explored permanent work options. As I fine-tuned my online routine, I realized that with creative planning, everything I was doing at home I could do while hiking, and in a place that is incredibly meaningful to me. I’m attempting to do it all: backpack the AT, continue to work online and prepare for a full-time job.

My pictures will now be posted on Instagram, instead of embedded in the blog posts. (See the widget on the right side of the page).

I will be journaling as I hike, and will update the blog when I’m in town. I’m so excited to begin this southbound walk and to share it with you! Let’s hike!