Friday, September 25, 2009

Into Vermont!

Continuing New hampshire stories...

I enjoyed the Granite State, I suppose. The White Mountains are supposed to be some of the grandest on the trail. And they were. Majestic, truly. But they were also cold, metaphorically and otherwise. Rocky peaks rising into the sky, gray, hard, dry, treeless. Not my cup of tea. The highlight for me was a night hike and dawn viewing from Franconia Ridge. Several of us had made plans to hike the ridge under the full moon, but sleep set in, and it turns out half of us were lost anyway. So a few days later, J and I went back to complete the missed section, cowboy-napping by the highway, and I finally got myself to wake and rise in the dark, around 2 a.m. It was my first night hike, and there were no hitches really, except that by the time I got above treeline, where the moonlight could actually illuminate the trail, the dawn had begun with rusty colors. Still, I turned off my headlamp and made my way to the nearest large peak, Lincoln, with the almost-full moon over my left shoulder and the growing colors over my right. The stars dimmed behind me, the black sky turned purple, and by the time I got to Lincoln the dawn was casting harder shadows than the moon was. I waited on that peak for 25 minutes while the colors became maroon, rose, coral, peach, yellow, and the bright orb rose to warm my shivering body and running nose. I watched the line of light crawl down the peaks to the west. I was all alone, and it was totally worth the early rise. I've seen dawns before, but nothing as wonderful as dawn from a mountaintop. I'm sure I haven't conveyed any idea of how wonderful it was. A few hours later the ridgeline was mobbed with hundreds of dayhikers for the holiday weekend.

I cannot fail to mention someone else's dayhiker-free Mount Washington story. From Madison hut, six of us southbounders set out towards Washington in terrible rain and wind and cold, a seven mile journey to the next hut, all above treeline. About five minutes out, I decided to turn back to the hut and zero (J was disappointed). But J and four other hikers continued. Sadly, the group was one short when they made it to the next hut, for the one had fallen on a rock and busted his face. It's so terrible, but I'm glad it wasn't me. I hiked by myself the next day, in great weather, and caught up shortly.

Chet's hostel in Lincoln was great fun, what with an adult trike and a tandem bike. hanover, home of Dartmouth, was not exactly the college town most of us expected. We were already hating the Outing Club, which conducted freshman orientation backpacking trips without tents for the students, meaning large groups took over every shelter, a major faux pas in the woods. J and I were loving Pittsfield, VT. We stayed at a farm, pulling weeds for our stay and for sandwiches in the general store. The farmers are two hikers we met down south, and Danny Boy (Snipe) from Georgia was there as well, so it was a fabulous reunion! We never expected to see Dan again, and there he was with full beard and his picture on the front of the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 21) in an article about work-for-benefit on the trail.

We stayed at Amee farm two nights, and the next morning J set the record at the general store for eating a breakfast challenge--huge plate of food in 14 min 28 sec--thereby earning himself a free meal. Then we hitched to Burlington, VT, to visit my friend from my work at howell Farm. And here we are, devouring Becky's library and watching all her movies. In another coincidence, we met her friend Sam, aka Samwise, who just finished a northbound thru-hike. he recognized me from a shelter in Maine, and we talked about being vegan on the trail, and about his new vegan backpacking blog. What a coincidence!

But potluck tonight, and then hitching back to the trail tomorrow. Just a few days short of 1000 trail miles. Not even halfway, but still going with the flow, still having a great time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Over NH, almost into VT

Sitting in the Hanover, NH library right now, racking my brain to think of everything to say.

First things first, Jeramiah caught up to me finally and we're hiking together again.

He caught up the evening after I finished Mahoosuc Notch, which has a reputation as being the "hardest mile on the trail." I like the way someone else put it: It's like an adult jungle gym. That is, it's a mile-point-one of huge rocks and boulders that are resting in a pile at the bottom of a notch, with some water running underneath. It requires a good deal of scrambling over and under and around, and a little strategizing, but nothing intense or dangerous. I went through alone, taking about an hour and forty minutes to finish. It was nothing like people built it up to be, not challenging at all, just different. I highly recommend that section.

Pretty soon after, we crossed into New Hampshire, kissed the ground, laid our final good-riddances in the Maine soil, and rejoiced. Deliver us out of these bogs and mosquitoes, New Hampshire. Time out for some visitation with my family, however. They all three drove to Pinkham Notch to meet J and I, and while the visit wasn't exactly restful, it was fun. And delicious. We drove around a lot, up the Mt. Washington Auto Road on the second day. I believe Washington (he'll kick you apart) is the tallest peak in the northeast? At any rate, it has the "worst weather in the world," with snow every month of the year and a planetary record windspeed of 231 mph many decades ago. It has a long history of tourism and research, and there is a weather observatory and little museum up there now, and a historical recreation of one of the early summit houses. We chilled there, contemplating pretending to be tourists to thru-hikers we did not know, showering them with the same old questions. But I would have laughed after the first few words and given it away. Later that day we went to a shopping town, where I got maple candy and some kid's secondhand keychain Ugly Doll, which I have named Guggers and now carry with me.

After that visit, several zero and near-o mileage days conspired against our hiking through the White Mountains very quickly. I got my first taste of mountain hospitality at Madison Springs Hut (Carter Notch had sent me out in the cold rain just before dark with a cry of "no room"). The Appalachian Mountain Club, which maintains many trails and the AT through New Hampshire, has run these "huts" in the forest by special permission for over a hundred years, I think. There's much criticism. They're very expensive, being situated on mountaintops in a popular location, and hikers and helicopters must bring in all the supplies, and bring out the waste. They charge thru-hikers for a mere spot on the dining room floor at night. But they also feed their leftovers, and sometimes make special food, for the thru-hikers. Work-for-stay is also possible. I lucked out at Madison my second night, for a group of old college buddies and some of their sons "adopted" me into one of their vacant reservations. I got to sleep in a bunk, and had special vegan food prepared for me. At Mizpah, I got to cook stir-fry for myself and sleep in the library, in exchange for washing dishes. At Lonesome Lake Hut, there was a spaghetti and salad feast, again in exchange for dishwashing. I felt I was for the most part, though with some exception, treated well. But then it was nice to hit some actual free shelters again, and escape the crowds.

Darn! Library closing! More later.