Day 109: fractured edition


I woke up to the sound of heavy rain around 6:30. My thoughts went to Tater and Norsemen as the occasional roll of thunder sounded. I tried to consider this unplanned hotel stay as a welcome respite from a morning spent packing up a wet tent and trudging down a muddy trail, but the comfort of such thoughts had a very short shelf life. I flicked off the window A/C and began getting dressed, threading my left arm through my shirt and tugging it in place with care. Cotton stirred as I moved around the room. I felt guilty for waking her, but I also felt antsy about getting to breakfast so we could make it to the hospital for what I imagined to be an infernal emergency room wait. I packed my gear knowing that I stood in a hotel room while a shadow reel of making the same motions from my tent deep in the woods played through my mind.

By the time we were ready to leave, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. The windshield wipers thwacked slowly from side to side as we rode down the gray street towards the Looney Moose Cafe. I felt dismayed by the number of cars in the parking lot this early on a Friday morning, but we were met with several open tables as we entered the wood paneled restaurant filled with kitchsy signs such as “I don’t repeat gossip, so listen carefully.” Cotton and I took a table against the left wall and browsed our menus. Someone had gone to great lengths to detail a wildlife profile for the infamous (and fantastical) “looney moose” on the backside of the menu, which gave us a laugh as we made conversation from our respective dazes. Cotton is not a morning person, and I felt overwhelmed by the purpose of the day (so overwhelmed that I didn’t take any pictures of the cafe to share with you). I glanced out the window every so often and caught sight of the nearby woods, which made me wonder where Tater and Norsemen might be in that moment. Did they camp by the river? Had they waited out the rain or were they soaked?

My order, which had sounded reasonable on paper, turned out to be a gut-busting blueberry pancake the size of a frisbee, 4 triangles of french toast, a hefty serving of scrambled eggs and a side of potatoes. I stress ate my way through nearly the entire heap while Cotton worked on her modest plate of eggs, and we smirked to each other about the cadence of the locals behind us. Cotton stubbornly paid for our bill at the counter after a handful of construction workers picked up their breakfasts. Then we sat in the car while I forced myself to call my health insurance to verify that I had coverage at the hospital in Farmington. When the friendly rep learned of my location and injury, he shared stories of canoeing in Rangeley, a town I had just passed through a couple of days ago. After about 20 minutes of filtering through the paltry list of emergency health services in the area, we concluded that my original choice, Franklin Memorial Hospital, was the best (and closest) option.

Off we went down the two lane highways of Maine listening to one of KD Lang’s country albums (who knew she had more to offer than Constant Cravings?). My cell signal immediately dropped off, and I felt grateful for my decision to call my insurance company from the parking lot of the Looney Moose. Things you learn after hundreds of miles of strategizing phone service in the wilds of New England. During the silent stretches of our drive, I vacillated between optimism and devastation. I searched for yet another glimmer of silver lining by taking in the passing countryside of Maine that I would not have encountered had I continued on my northbound path. After about 50 minutes of driving, we came to the medium sized town of Farmington, ME:


I felt hopeful when I saw the sparsely populated hospital parking lot, as if somehow getting this over quickly would make the news more likely to be positive? Oh wishful thinking, how irrational you are. I grabbed my daypack out of the trunk and added my water bottle to the supply of snacks that I’d brought in the event that we were there through the lunch hour. The man working the admissions desk noted my New York license, and he shared his Long Island lineage with me. As we wandered back to the small waiting area, I laughed to myself about having met a New Yorker in central Maine. There were about a dozen chairs lining the walls of the waiting room and a television set blaring a cartoon that neither of the other two inhabitants seemed to be watching. I set my bag down and immediately located the remote to silence the nonsense. Then I thumbed through a country living magazine, periodically glancing at the young woman listing over the arms of her wheelchair. After about 10 minutes of waiting, a nurse called my name and led me down a corridor past a nurses’ station and into a three-sided exam room with a curtain “door.” She did the usual information gathering and left me to change into a hospital gown. Those things are awkward enough as is, but with one working arm, it was nearly impossible to secure the parachute-sized sack at my waist.


The doctor arrived in a reasonable amount of time and wheeled his stool over to the edge of the exam table. I recounted the story of my fall as he gingerly inspected my arm, noting the effusion (a fancy word for the unsightly amount of fluid collecting in both the area of impact and my tricep) and the scrape. Then he made the obvious proclamation that I would need an x-ray and left me to be ushered by a technician to the x-ray department. Throughout the moments I had to myself, I wandered through different outcomes in my head, attempting to forecast how it might feel to hear one over another.


My stomach started to roil as I waited for the doctor to return with the results of the films. I heard a knock on the door jam. The doctor pushed aside the privacy curtain and walked in holding an iPad. He sat down on the stool, looked me in the eye, and said, “Where do you live?” And with that, I knew. That’s a question you ask someone with a broken elbow who needs further medical attention. I said as much out loud, and he confirmed my suspicions by scooting forward and showing me the films (top picture) that clearly showed a fracture line running through the head of my ulnar bone and about a quarter of an inch into my elbow joint. Because of the joint involvement, he urged me to see an orthopedic surgeon to determine if more specialized treatment would be in order. For the time being, he fit me in a splint and supplied me with a supremely uncomfortable sling. I shared my desire to walk the remaining AT miles necessary to bring my total to 1,000. He said, “Sure, go ahead and hike 10 miles. You can do it this afternoon if you like; it’s not your leg that’s broken. Just don’t fall.

With the doctor’s blessing in my pocket and my arm hanging across my chest, I walked out to meet Cotton in the waiting room. Her eyes went wide when she saw my sling, and she gave me a sympathetic look. I couldn’t quite believe that I was standing in a hospital with a half-cast on my arm when I had been sweating my way up a mountain yesterday morning.


We left the ER and went downtown to a mediocre american restaurant where we ate tacos and formulated a plan for the rest of the day. We decided to drive to Caratunk, ME, and hike the relatively flat miles on either side of the Kennebec River while using the Caratunk House hiker bed and breakfast as a home base.

As we made our way through a small town on the highway between Farmington and Caratunk, we passed an ice cream stand that caught both our eyes. Cotton asked if she should turn around, and I said, “I’m always up for ice cream.” She took a quick left, and we headed back down the road for some food therapy. The picnic table in the parking area faced a river, which seemed like yet another good reason to stop. A woman from the house next door walked across the gravel parking lot and remarked on my cast. I think I said something about how we’d stopped to eat our pain because I’d just broken my elbow, but I can’t quite remember if that happened in my head or out loud. She made her way into the little hut and served us ice cream.



We sat at the picnic table and ate in silence. We had been there less than a minute when a man in his late fifties took a seat on the opposite side of the picnic table. He gave a warm greeting and began asking questions. Cotton and I gave each other a side eye “crap, what have we gotten into now” look as the man informed us that he had no short term memory and proceeded to ask me the same questions over and over. So much for our peaceful ice cream stop by the river. I gave in to the prospect of unwanted company and did my best to answer his questions about the trail while Cotton and I quickly ate our ice cream. After a solid 15 minutes, he finally bowed out of the conversation, leaving us with our empty containers and taxed patience.


We continued northeast to the Caratunk House and into what would be a complete cell phone dead zone. Not exactly ideal conditions under which to research and contact orthopedic surgeons in NYC or keep worried family members informed of my condition. The bed & breakfast was run by two older gay men who had impeccably decorated the rooms with antiques, many of which were direct or oblique references to gay culture. I’m sad I didn’t spend more time wandering around taking pictures of the place. We were shown to our private double room upstairs and then left to ourselves. I attempted to get a wifi signal downstairs where I looked up a few surgeon names and finally forced myself to make a couple of phone calls to doctors’ offices from the land line. I had procrastinated just long enough to receive automated messages telling me the offices were all closed for the week. I chastised myself for not being more proactive because now I would have to wait until Monday morning to get an appointment settled.

There were two other hikers there when we arrived, and it became immediately apparent that I had no interest in socializing with them. My injury put me in the strange position of being a gruesome representation of what could happen to them and completely out of touch with the conversations hikers usually have, which often revolve around the basic premise of “what’s next.” I also had no desire to participate in conversations that revolved around the environment that I had been so abruptly ejected from. Cotton and I kept to ourselves, choosing to eat camp dinners at the outdoor picnic table while the other hikers were driven to a nearby restaurant. I used dinner as a testing ground for the plan that I’d started formulating to hike the southern part of the trail one handed. Cooking turned out to be a relatively easy task to carry out with only one working arm.


After dinner, we confirmed our plans with the owners to get a morning shuttle ride back from the parking lot 6 miles north of the Caratunk House. Then we took a walk down to the Kennebec River about a third of a mile from the B&B. We stood by the river, deep in our own heads, occasionally plunking rocks into the water as the evening wore into dusk.


I continued to feel guilty about having railroaded our hiking agenda for the weekend, but Cotton seemed satisfied enough to help me carry out my crazy plan to make it to 1,000 miles. I paid extra care on the return walk to avoid tripping on roots in the dim forest light. When we got back, we went about our separate phone zombie and bedtime routines. Texting proved to be easier said than done with the cranky wifi that only worked downstairs, if at all. I emailed my parents to warn them about my phone service. Neither sets of parents have the same phone carrier thus making it impossible to use wifi for texting. I crawled into bed with Cotton and set up a pillow for my now-bent arm to rest on throughout the night. The positioning of the splint made it supremely uncomfortable to sleep in any way other than flat on my back. I lay in the dark feeling dejected and exhausted by the recovery ahead of me. What is this parallel reality I’ve been thrust into?

Tomorrow: one more hike to complete.

Miles: 0

Total miles: 990.1

Creature feature: just the two-legged variety today…

Day 101: white knuckle edition 


**As those of you on my social media may already know, I’m off trail at the moment because I fractured my left elbow in central Maine. I’m going to post the preceding days of hiking as usual before I write about the incident that has me sitting in Brooklyn in front of my laptop with a half splint (for now) and a heavy heart.**
 

I woke up around 530 and put on my glasses to check out this view from the shelter:

 

The mosquitoes weren’t terrible last night, but I got a bite on my arm that made me wary of sticking my legs out of my sleeping bag. I tossed and turned for a lot of the night because of the heat. Did a little calf massage and changed my shorts before I hopped down from the loft and walked to the privy. By the time I got back, most people were stirring. I ate breakfast sitting on a rock at the edge of the shelter, filtering water in between bites. My appetite is still kind of wonky, so I had to force my way through breakfast.
I was packed up and walking towards the trail around 645. Took a quick duck down to the pond to see if the moose had returned, but no dice. The morning started with a steep climb that had me drenched in a matter of minutes. I came to a small stream about a mile after the shelter. The water stops are few and far between today, so I gave in and filtered an extra liter. As I stooped over my water bottle squeezing my sawyer bag, the rest of the crew from the shelter trickled in. Everyone stopped to fill up and collectively whined about the water situation. I left them griping and made my way up the next steep climb towards the summit of Mount Success. It seemed as if it would be a mile of boulder scrambling, but it flattened out to periodic bog boards and mildly rocky footing before the final boulder scramble to get to the summit. The trail was set a bit lower than the trees with an abundance of moss that reminded me of the whites and the higher peaks of MA and VT.

 

Halfway up the climb, I turned to see this view: 

The NOBO named first aid passed me, and we whined about the false summit a little ways back. I complained about the prospect of another mile of climbing, but first aid seemed to think we were nearly at the top. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was wrong because I’d just checked the mileage on my phone. I got to the summit and found first aid with Olive, another one of his NOBO friends. 

Hawaii showed up a few minutes later. They all sat around eating chips while I posted a few pictures from last night. I continued to be a phone zombie with a beautiful view in the background while they collected themselves and got moving.

 

The trail climbed a bit more then flattened out to bog boards with little white scraggly flowers popping out of thick clumps of grass. 


Then came the first of many steep descents, one of which consisted of jagged boulders the size of smart cars arranged in odd angles that were not conducive to my center of gravity. 


It was the first of many butt scooches for the day and felt like a prelude to the notch (aka mahoosuc notch, which is dubbed the longest mile on the AT because you have to traverse a crazy boulder field at glacial speeds).
As I went down one of many steep boulder faces, a knife-like pain shot through my right Achilles’ tendon and my foot gave out a little. It happened again on the next step. When I got to the bottom of the boulder, I stretched my calf and tried not to freak out because it felt hard to put all of my weight down. It happened again on the next boulder, so when I got to a flat spot, I decided to stop for lunch. I wasn’t really hungry, but it seemed wise to give my leg a few minutes of rest. I watched small sparrow-like birds chatter and jump from branch to branch as I ate my wrap (no need to specify; you likely know the contents by now). I’m sad that I didn’t pack out any chips, especially after watching the NOBOs sit around with their giant bags this morning. My Achilles’ tendon felt better after the rest, which is good because I had a long afternoon of scaling boulders in my future (not that I knew it at the time).

 

I ran into the cluster of NOBOs again at the Maine border where they asked me to take their boomerang dance video to commemorate crossing into their last state. I lingered after their departure and ate a snack to the sound of dragonflies popping around me. The trail was reasonable for a about five minutes until I popped out to this view that was followed by descending the giant boulders in the second picture. 


Then came the goose eyes, a series of peaks by the same name that are denoted by cardinal directions. The first goose eye (west) passed unremarkably. There were steep sections that definitely fell in the realm of rock climbing, but the whites have worn off the shock of looking up to find 20 foot boulders as the “trail.” As I made my way towards the peak of east goose eye, things got a little more interesting than I care for, but the views were incredible (hopefully the video works): 


It started raining right as I reached this boulder face with a rebar ladder.
 

I questioned the sanity of climbing up in the rain, but I didn’t have much choice, so I stashed my poles and inched up the side of the boulder. The climb continued around the bend without the help of rebar. I reached the peak and looked at what lay ahead: goose eye North with a long exposed section (top picture).
And then it started thundering. I was surrounded by two clusters of thunderstorms, one off to my right and one behind me. It was hard to tell which direction they were headed, and I hated the idea of standing around in the rain, so I kept moving. It was slow going down endless rock faces that had me emotionally white knuckling it the entire afternoon. As I inched my way down an exposed and especially tricky boulder, a deafening clap of thunder sounded off to my right at what felt like a very uncomfortable distance. I sat there with one leg jammed against the slick corner of a rock, my arms holding my weight, no clear step within reach, and the weight of my pack threatening to propel me forward. Not exactly a place I could pick up the pace. That was one of the moments where I could see myself tumbling down the rocks. I very nearly did, but somehow managed to slip and slide my way to having both feet solidly on the ground.

 

I wound my way down east goose eye, taking care not to slip on the wooden boards in place to theoretically make the descent easier. The rain slowed to a light drizzle, but the trail spit me out onto the bald just as the thunder intensified. The lack of lightning made me feel slightly less insane for crossing the bald in the storm. I made my way across the exposed section, dipping back into the trees only to be taken back out into the open repeatedly. Then came the climb up goose eye North, which also left me more exposed than I wanted as the rain picked up and the thunderstorm settled directly overhead. The descent from goose eye north was one slick boulder face after another. I wanted to sit down and give up a dozen times. I also considered the possibility of just skipping Maine altogether. I felt mentally exhausted from the constant fear of slipping down the side of rock faces like this:


Eventually, the terrain eased up to a normal version of hard with actual rocks instead of sheets of boulders. I reached the full goose shelter around 330 and found the entire NOBO crew from last night. They had their gear spread out and someone was sweeping the shelter floor. I had hoped to see other hikers so I could navigate the decision of whether to stay or go. I had assumed they would all continue through the notch, so I was surprised to find they had stopped short. Hawaii said they’d been there for about a half hour and had just made the decision to stay. I sat on the edge of the shelter and weighed my options. I really wanted to get the notch out of the way because it’s plaguing me in much the same way moosilauke did. However, the prospect of going through it alone on a day when the boulders were likely wet and it was potentially going to rain again seemed unwise. I ate a snack and continued to dither. The idea of getting stuck in the rain alone is finally what did me in. I stood up and reached down to unhook my gaiters. Hawaii exclaimed “you calling it??” I sheepishly said yes and continued taking off my shoes. Then I set up my bed and switched into dry shorts. I added a few things to the collection of soggy clothes hanging from the trees and proceeded to loaf about for the next two hours. It poured about 90 minutes after I made the decision to stay. 


The NOBOs watched avatar and ate snacks while I lay on my sleeping pad trying to have a text conversation with a schizophrenic cell phone signal. One minute I’d have a signal good enough to receive a picture, and the next minute, I had no service whatsoever. Around 530, I boiled water and made dinner. I had somehow managed to sit around for 3 hours without eating all of my snacks. There’s definitely something wrong with my appetite.

 

More hikers filtered in as the afternoon wore on, and the shelter quickly filled up. There are now about 10 people inside with another 7-8 tented out back. I’m finishing this to the sound of a mustachioed hiker named Action Jackson shuffling in his sleeping bag, leftover rain dripping from the shelter eaves, and the tap of my fingers on the screen. Today was frightening and emotionally exhausting. Tomorrow comes the notch and then mahoosuc arm, which is a notoriously steep climb.
Mile 1903.3 to mile 1912.9 (9.6)
Total miles: 909.7
Creature feature: I startled something in the woods that made a short growling screech, but I didn’t lay eyes on the source, a little brown rabbit (hare?) that I’ve never seen before, and the usual bird suspects.

Day 84: presidential thunder edition 


I did not brave the dark or the ledge last night. My alarm went off around 11. About two minutes later, I heard footsteps and saw the white beam of a headlamp coming down the backside of the ledge. The hiker blew past me. I listened to see if I had more company on the way, but all was quiet. I felt so confused and said “crazy bastard” out loud to the woods. I reasoned that if the person had been able to see the northern lights, they probably wouldn’t have kept walking. This was weak logic to feel betterabout my choice to stay in the safety of my tent. I woke up for good around 5am. I hobbled up the path to retrieve my foodbag and crawled towards a remote corner of the little tent site to take care of some things. It was a cool morning, so I had breakfast in my tent with my legs inside my sleeping bag. I slowly packed up and clumsily started walking around 630. 

After about 20 minutes of winding my way over short, steep rock faces, I reached the wildcat ski gondola, which I naively thought was the top of wildcat mountain. As I approached the lift, I saw a hiker packing his bag. I walked over to check out the view and I said “are you the person who passed me at 11 last night??” Without looking up, the young guy grunted yes and continued shoving things in his pack. He warmed a fraction when he expressed curiosity about where I’d camped. He didn’t recall seeing my tent at all, which isn’t surprising given his pace. I wandered back over to the edge of the hillside to check out this view (the extra pointy peak is madison): 


The trail immediately got steeper on the other side of the gondola. I gave a heavy sigh as I looked up at the rocks disappearing back into the trees. Nowhere to go but up. There were several false summits, which provided short relief in the form of flatter walking as eastern light streamed through the trees in front of me. I stopped at a wooded overlook to get a view of the mountains towards the east: 

 
There were little side paths scattered about the woods. I couldn’t figure out their purpose even after wandering down a couple of them. They all seemed to peter out within 20 yards, and they didn’t lead to tent sites that I could see. I had a clear view of Washington to my left through the tress for most of the morning. It really is a behemoth of a mountain. After over an hour of climbing, I finally reached the summit of wildcat. A short side trail led to this overlook where I ate a snack and dreaded the changes in elevation that I faced going through carter notch. In the first picture, you can just barely make out the hut on the forest floor. 


The late night NOBO named Maverick got to the overlook just as I finished my snack. He commented on the ridge we had to walk down into the notch and also didn’t seem all that enthused about what lay ahead. He left ahead of me as I lingered on my rocky perch. I imagined the descent to be like the climb: sheer rock faces and chin-thumping high steps, but it was actually quite manageable save a few jumbled sections. I made it down in about 40 minutes. The trail wound me around this pond where I paused to admire the lily pads and gawk at the fact that I had just been standing at the farther of the two rocky points: 

The hut was farther off the trail than I’d anticipated, but I needed water, so I made the .3 mile detour (one way). I felt grumbly because all of the other huts have been virtually on the trail. I passed a man sitting at the edge of another small pond wearing a bright orange shirt and playing a bright orange ukulele. I felt as if I’d just been dropped into a Wes Anderson movie. I dropped my pack outside the hut and walked inside with my water bottles. The young woman in the kitchen asked if I was a thru hiker, to which I replied yes, wondering what gave me away and hoping it wasn’t my smell. She offered me oatmeal leftovers, which I didn’t really need, but I ate some anyway because free food. Maverick came inside and we talked a bit about his time in the whites. Then I wandered off to find the bathroom and get started on the massive climb up to Carter Dome, mountain number 2 of the day. I felt anxious about how much time I’d spent at the hut, but there’s no way to really rush a 20% grade climb (that’s rise over run calculation, and I think the average idea of steep is around 10%, but I’m not certain of that). I heaved myself up the rocky trail feeling grateful for rocks instead of slabs of boulders. I expected maverick to pass me at any point, but I didn’t see him again until the next set of carter peaks. An anticlimactic pile of rocks sat at the top of the dome. I stood there staring at it while sweat clung to every surface of my skin. My phone had a weak signal, so I took a zombie break to rest my legs and post a few things. 
The trail then went through a strange flat area that almost seemed as if it was under construction with various piles of rocks and a wide sandy trail. Then it took a slight right down a narrow corridor that descended gradually until taking a sharper right to wind around towards Hight mountain. There was virtually no ascent required to reach Hight’s wide open peak with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains: 


Several day hikers lunched on the peak. I silently walked around taking pictures and immediately began the descent down to Zeta pass. The nearly hypothermic woman from Madison had cited this section as her hardest, but I couldn’t figure out why as I navigated my way down the steep but manageable mountainside. I reached Zeta pass far sooner than I expected. Well, I reached the spot my guthook app denoted as Zeta pass, but it felt unremarkable in person with the exception of mica sparkling everywhere:


The trail then took an upward turn towards south carter, mountain number 4 of the day. The climb was short and reasonable. Light streamed through the thin firs and blooming bunchberries and wood sorrel dotted the sides of the trail. I felt excited by how the day was progressing so far. Nothing felt too hard or had taken as long as I expected. When I reached the somewhat obstructed summit, I perched on a good rock and ate lunch. You’ll never guess what I ate. Okay, fine, you already know. A day hiker approached as I crunched away on my wrap. She stopped, pulled out a giant dSLR and stepped around me to take a picture of the summit marker. Peak bagger at work. She commented on how she’d been able to make up some time on the ridge between north and south carter, which made me happy because I had started brewing a crazy idea to hike all the way to gorham tonight instead of staying at the shelter 2 miles from the hostel. I still had several mountains to cross, so I wasn’t sure if I could manage it. I emailed the hostel to check about bed availability. Maverick passed me as I ate the last of my chocolate stash. Then I packed up and continued my presidential marathon. 

The ridge between the two mountains was indeed a pleasant walk with a few boulder scrambling speed bumps and a generous number of bog boards. I passed maverick on what we both thought was the summit of Middle carter. He was sprawled out on a sunny boulder eating iced ginger cookies out of a giant tub. I laughed at the size of the container and wondered aloud how he fit that thing in his pack. He said he went through a period of eating a pound of peanut butter a day. He would carry 5 pounds at a time, but he got sick of it. Go figure. I saw him later near North Carter, and he had a bloody leg and elbow from a fall he couldn’t recall. I nearly fell over a dozen times, but managed to make it out of the day without actually hitting the ground. 

North carter was another easy summit, checking peak number 6 off the list. As I checked my email to see if the hostel had responded (no), I received a text from Halfway letting me know he was in gorham. I’ve managed to close the gap between us just in time for banjo camp to widen it to a nearly insurmountable because I’m going to be off trail for about 13 days with all the traveling and my awkward stopping point. Maybe someday we can actually hike together for more than a day at a time. 
Halfway warned me that the North Carter descent was tricky at best and Mount Mariah should be taken seriously. He was also kind enough to check with the hostel owners to see if they had any space for tonight. I really wanted to make sure there would be a bed waiting if I committed to Operation Insanity. He eventually reported back that he’d reserved a bed for me and that I needed to arrive by 9p to claim it. 
As I crept my way down the laughably steep boulders of North Carter, a NOBO turned flip flop named Dr J passed me. He commented on the sketchy sections of our descent that involved rock climbing, spider man moves. We both remarked on how grateful we were for dry conditions. He kept moving, and I hiked on as carefully as I could, trying not to rush the technical sections. There was much butt scooching and pole tossing. 


The relentless descent from North Carter exhausted me both physically and emotionally. I did my best to return to speed mode (read: average hiker pace) as I made my way towards Mount Mariah. About a mile from the base of the mountain, I heard a low rumble of thunder. I cursed the weather and then pleaded with it to let me get over my last mountain before storming. There were places to camp along the way, but I felt anxious to be done with the whites even though they’re beautiful and like no other hiking I’ve ever done. There wasn’t much in way of water for about 4 more miles, and I hadn’t been drinking enough, so I took the turn off for imp campsite. It seemed doubly irresponsible to go up a mountain in a storm without enough water. The path to the campsite was a rocky mess that felt much longer than necessary. I nearly turned around, but I knew I would regret it, so I cursed and rushed onward. Dr. J passed me right near the water source. He whined about the distance from the trail and we discussed thunderstorm strategy. Neither of us had any intention of stopping at imp for the day, so we both shrugged and crossed our fingers. A common coping mechanism for uncertainty out here. I hurriedly filtered water and bolted past the shelter where a handful of hikers were standing around. 


The hike to the base of Mariah was aggravating and serpentine. Then came the mountain (number 7 of the day), which was a series of exposed rock slabs, some of which I literally had to jog in order to stay upright. There was little in the way of foot or handholds. I could feel tightness in my lower back from the twisting I’d had to do getting down North Carter. As I gained elevation, I got a better look at the impending storm (top picture). My pace was just short of a run for as much of the ascent as I could muster without making my legs seize up. The occasional clap of thunder sounded as I made my over the boulders. The trail doesn’t actually go to the summit, which I didn’t realize until I crossed a bog surrounded by bright green moss and began descending again. I checked my map to find that the summit would involve a side trail. Not a detour I had any desire to take on a day like today. 

I moved as quickly as I could, feeling grateful for tree cover and far fewer rock slabs on the descent. I came to an out of place bog board perched on top of a rock, which seemed like the perfect makeshift bench. I sat and ate a snack and forced myself to drink the water I had taken the time to retrieve. Two NOBOs came tearing down the trail clearly in hot pursuit of safety. They called out hellooo and were out of sight in seconds. My feet and knees were getting noticeably sore, but I continued at the semi pounding pace because I needed to get off that mountain before the sky decided to explode. 
About halfway down, I met a cranky woman filtering water with a bug net over her head. She simpered about the lack of camping options and the rain. I gave a generic but empathetic response and hurried out of the splash zone of her kvetching. A few minutes later, I passed another woman choosing her steps wisely along the rocky decline. She turned out to be safari, whom I had heard of at carter notch hut when I asked if anyone did work for stay last night. Right as I passed her, the thunder intensified, cracking loudly, but no lightning. I made a remark about how we were about to get some weather and hurried past her. A light drizzle began to fall. It quickly turned to fat drops with lightning flashes and chest rattling, sustained thunder that rolled for 5-7 seconds at a time. There were a few deafening cracks that sounded as if the lightning had found a solid home to strike.  The storm stayed overhead for about 45 minutes as I half-walked, half-jogged once the terrain eased up to a basic path. The rain seemed like it might let up for a few minutes, but then it poured even harder and the thunder continued. 

The trail crossed rattle river where I nearly fell in because of the slippery rocks. I saw a forest protection sign and felt relieved about nearing the shelter, but then I arrived at another crossing of rattle river. I couldn’t believe it. Always with the barriers right before the end the day. About halfway through the second river crossing, there was a white flash of lightning followed by a crack of thunder. It seemed unwise to be standing on wet rocks holding metal poles dipped in water. As I got to the other bank, safari showed up and yelled “we have to cross this fucking thing twice?!” My thoughts exactly. I shared her outrage and kept moving. I arrived to a very full shelter, the inhabitants of which included Boss and goddess from MA, some people who seemed pretty high with a very cute dog, Dr J, and maverick. Safari came in about 2 min after me. Apparently, the cranky woman is mrs joy. she seemed far from joyful. 
Everyone made motions to clear room for me in the shelter, but I told them I was heading for the road. Safari suggested I said out the rain, but I was already soaked and needed to keep moving before I got any colder. I pushed on through ankle deep puddles and yet another dicey stream crossing. I could feel a chill coming on, and I told myself that if I got any colder, I had to stop to put on my wool layer. That took all of 5 minutes to be necessary. I tossed my pack onto a rock and tugged my shirt over soggy arms. I forced myself to eat snack as I walked because I was too hungry and also thought it might somehow help with warmth. My knees were VERY unhappy with the near jogging pace, but I just needed to be done so I could shower and eat an actual meal. 

I covered the last two miles in record time, moving at nearly 4pmh. I finally got to the road where I took a left and slowed to a walk for the remaining tenth of a mile to the hostel. I was greeted into an open garage with a wall of packs on hooks, a changing room and a giant stockpile of loaner clothes. I felt overwhelmed, exhausted and starving. I hung my saturated pack on a hook and brushed the inches of bark and mud off my legs with a towel from the hostel. Then I went into the changing room and peeled out of my wet clothes. My room was upstairs in another building. I came close to losing it during the tour of the facilities, but I managed to pay attention long enough without exposing my inner meltdown. Halfway waited for me in the kitchen. I felt so grateful to see him in a house full of strangers after such a long day. We caught up as I went through the motions of making macaroni and cheese. because the idea of waiting for food delivery was too much for me. We eventually wandered away from each other, and I remembered that I had yet to shower. With that taken care of, I collapsed into my bed and went into full on zombie mode. My knees are actively throbbing with the occasional sharp stab across my knee caps. I don’t think I will be hiking tomorrow. Stockpiling 11 more miles seems far less important than the longevity of my knees. Only 22 miles to Maine! 
So this is where I would have left you for my music break, but it’s already come and gone, and I’ve taken today (8/8) off, so there should be more posts in your future as soon as I can unmangle my notes on this tiny, TINY keyboard that drives me batty. 
Mile 1872.7 to mile 1891.6 (18.9)

J

Total miles: 888.4 
Creature feature: nothing to report. had my head down when I wasn’t staring at mountains in the distance and the woods were pretty quiet. 

Day 83: out on a ledge edition 


I woke to the sound of Johnnie Utah and the Swiss guy packing their stuff at 5am. So much for sleeping in until 615. Between their rustling and two hut guests who sat at the tables and had a conversation at full volume, there was no going back to bed for me. After resigning myself to consciousness, I packed as much of my gear as I could in order to leave immediately after breakfast. Then I tucked myself into the corner of the self serve table and looked through an Audubon book. I discovered some wildflower names that I have now forgotten again. The book was an attempt to keep to myself because I wasn’t in mood for talking, but the woman who came in nearly hypothermic last night tried to engage me in conversation with the usual litany of I-don’t-know-you questions. I gave efficient answers that clearly gave the signal that I wanted to be left alone, which I felt bad about, but I just didn’t have the stamina for it at 730 before eating. 
The hut croo brought us a massive bowl of oatmeal and a handful of spoons before the breakfast was officially over. I tried to not eat too much because I had spied pancakes and had hoped of leftovers, but the oatmeal was just sitting there. Pretty boy talked non stop and tunneled his way through the oatmeal. Literally, he carved out a tunnel from one side of the bowl to the other. When official breakfast was over, he started strumming his ukulele, and I had to hold my eye rolls to myself. Earnest college boys. As he sang “house of the rising sun,” I second guessed my decision to stay for breakfast. It was hard to sit around with clear skies and mediocre company. 

The hut croo finally called us over for leftovers around 8. I ate three pancakes, some eggs and a strip of bacon (sorry, pig). The coffee at the huts is actually quite drinkable, which I find surprising (insert eye roll at my coffee snobbery). With a stomach full of sugary starch, I helped sweep the bunkrooms a bit after fielding questions in the bathroom. A few curious hut guests always ask us what we’re doing. I feel like a smelly unicorn when they gaze at me with shiny eyes and say how jealous or amazed they are that we’re thru hiking. It feels strange for something so unglamorous to be so revered, but I’ve done the same thing when I’ve seen thru hikers over the last few years. 

I hit the trail by about 845, and immediately came face to face with the wall of rocks known as mount Madison. It’s straight up and then straight down, and I was very grateful to have not continued on during or after yesterday’s rain shower. A lot of the rocks in NH have a bit of tooth to them, so they aren’t as slick as they could be, but falling on them would be bad news because there are jagged edges everywhere you look. 


Here’s the hut from about halfway up Madison. I ran into a few hut guests who had hiked up to the summit and were headed back to the hut. I’d spoken to one of them in the bathroom, and she gave me a warm greeting. She asked if I needed anything, which was thoughtful. I asked her how much longer she her trip would be. She lamented her return to FL tonight, and I replied “but it’s so flat!” to which she laughed and agreed. 

We said goodbye, and I returned to the task of not falling on my face as I climbed at a crazy angle. The summit of Madison is indeed pointy, as another hiker described it on his way down. I had a great view of Mount Washington, which made me sad for the fog I experienced yesterday, but also grateful to get a clear view. 


I texted a few people with my bit of cell service. I was about to leave when I decided I may as well book a bunk at the hostel since I pretty much know my timing for the next couple of days. I have an awkward amount of miles between roads after gorham, and I’m either ahead of schedule or behind schedule depending on how you look at it. I had hoped to get all the way to grafton notch by Wednesday. As it stands, I can get about 10’miles from there, but it involves hiking a 3.5 mile side trail both now and then when I get back on trail. In the end, I save money by not having to pay for a shuttle from grafton to gorham, but I’m worried about how far behind my projected timeline I am. I really hope the “easier” miles in VA can help me recover some time.
Anyway, I’m going to take my pause sometime Tuesday. Either early in the day or after a 14.5 mile day of hiking to squeeze in a few more miles. We will see how I feel after getting through the presidential traverse. If it’s anything like the first part of wildcat then I might not have any time for more miles. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 


As I spoke to the woman at rattle river hostel (formerly known as white mountain house), a thru hiker and an adorable pittie summited Madison. I held the phone away from my ear to take a picture of him while the woman looked up reservations in her system. Feeling accomplished, I scuffled my way down the long ridge line on the osgood trail. The AT in the white mountains is actually a combination of existing park trails with other names. Thankfully the signage is pretty good, and I have my phone app with gps as a backup for obscure intersections. 


The trip down Madison was not quite as steep as the ascent, but it was three times as long and a sea of rocks. Here’s a view about halfway to treeline after turning around to look behind me: wall ‘o rocks. 


I kept passing people heading up the mountain and whenever they asked how I was, I said, “tired of these rocks” because I didn’t feel like being fake cheerful. One guy commented on how nice the weather was, and I agreed remembering that I should be grateful to not do this section in the rain. What a death trap that would be. It took over an hour to get down to tree line. Barely a mile from the summit. Then another hour and a half to get to osgood tent site. I never would have made the trip yesterday. My soul would have been crushed around the 90 minute mark. About a half mile south of osgood, I met a thru hiker named wizard who looked so much like my recently late uncle that I felt like I already knew the guy. He smiled and it was like a time warp to my grandmother’s house with my uncle giggling on the couch. Wizard was sweating bullets and gasping for air, and he hadn’t even made it to the steep part of the climb. We exchanged timelines and discussed destinations for the day. Another nice thing about SOBOs: they can tell me how long it takes to get somewhere (and then I add in my slow buffer to get a real estimate). He said it took him about three hours to get there from Pinkham notch visitor center. That’s definitely longer than I had hoped, but still doable for my evening goal of work for stay at carter notch hut. 
Wizard and I parted ways, and the trail finally flattened out to a gradual descent rather than a knees up to my eyebrows four foot steps kind of descent. I sat at the intersection for osgood and ate my lunch. No chance I would make it to Pinkham for a sandwich, and I honestly didn’t feel like eating “out” again. Too many pancakes this morning. I rushed through the next mile and a half, but I was sorely disappointed when I checked my pace. I estimated forward and knew I should give up on making it to carter notch hut. I had distant visions of doing another work for stay, but I started too late, and Madison slowed me down too much. It also exhausted me. I felt like I was dragging, and I’m sure the pancakes didn’t help. I have a backup plan to stealth camp a third of the way up wildcat mountain, but I stubbornly clung to the idea of getting all the way to carter. I made sure to drink more water in case my sluggishness was due to dehydration. I passed who I assume is the caretaker for osgood or maybe just a parks employee at a stream crossing, and he remarked “pretty humid today,” which felt like a subtle directive to drink more water. I reluctantly stopped to filter water and made sure to drink a bunch, which I usually don’t do when I rush through the miles.


The trail went through a bunch of intersections. I ran into cosmo and his daughter near this suspension bridge. They’re hiking south towards Washington. I warned them of all the rocks and the slow going. I wonder if they made it all the way to lakes of the clouds. When I saw them they were hours out, and it was already 130. The trail transitioned to a wetter zone with stream crossing after stream crossing. This meant roots and rocks and a lot of little dips in elevation, all of which slowed me down even more. I started to settle on the idea of getting to a stealth camping spot near one of the wildcat ledges. It’s not ideal because it’s uncertain, but it gets me a few more miles, and there’s not really anywhere else to stay around Pinkham notch. 

The trail finally eased up to very comfortable walking. My knees were stiff and sore. Everyone’s knees are bothering them, and it’s a regular topic of conversation. The last mile to the visitor center felt endless. I arrived to a complex of buildings near a loud, two lane road with a bustling parking lot. I scoped out the situation and found a hiker room in the basement where I camped out with my phone plugged into an outlet. I considered taking a shower, but it felt so futile with the climb ahead of me. I tried to figure out how to move my train ticket and when to do it. It would be nice to see an old friend in Boston and leave the train ticket for Thursday, but maybe earlier in the day so I can get to Brooklyn sooner and get more stuff done. I didn’t have enough time to get it straightened out because I really needed to start on the wildcat climb. Judging by the elevation profile and what everyone keeps saying about it, it’s going to be slow going. Even the woman from the hostel warned me not to take too much weight up the wildcats. A lot of people slackpack it. With that in mind, I ate a bunch of snacks before I left to lighten my bag, and I put a bar I’d gotten from another hiker in the hiker box because I have enough food. 

Then I left the strange, shiny visitor center and crossed the busy road. A guy on a bike took a spill from a standstill because he couldn’t get his foot unclipped. He hopped up and jokingly blamed the fall on me, which I didn’t find too funny, but I let it go. He mentioned wanting to see the northern lights, which piqued my interest since my campsite will be somewhat high in elevation. Then I walked across the highway and nearly pushed over a teenager who wouldn’t give way on some bog boards. He tried to pass me and there’s just not enough room for two people. My right foot ended up in the mud, but thankfully it didn’t get wet. I was cranky for a bit after that, but the trail required enough concentration to occupy my mind. Even circling the edge of a pond can be tricky in NH. Here’s lost pond, which was hard to navigate in terms of roots and boulders: 


Then the trail for wildcat took a left and immediately went upward. I can see why everyone said to lighten my load. Good grief, was it steep and it just.kept.going. I felt more like a rock climber than a hiker. A tattooed older guy I saw at the visitor center passed me on an especially tricky section that made me feel like spider man. 


He intended to go all he way to carter notch. When I said I didn’t think I’d make it that far (see how I can’t commit to stopping short?), he said, but there’s so much daylight left. I said, yeah, but my legs only have so much daylight left in them. I knew I couldn’t handle another long descent to the notch. It wouldn’t be safe with my wobbly legs and sore knees. 

I wound my way up the side of the mountain. There were blocks bolted into the rock at points. I came to a series of ledges spaced out about 3 tenths of a mile, and then a longer stretch with a trickle of a water source. I passed on the stagnant water, but then I came to a slight flow of water of down the side of the trail and decided it would be irresponsible to pass it up. There’s no other water up here until the hut and these miles are hard. I’m doing a lot of sweating, and I should be drinking more. Regretting the extra weight, I filled my sawyer bag with a liter of water to get me through the morning. 


Then came another stretch of steps and yet another crazy set of boulders, which led me to the ledge where the stealth site should be. The ledge looks westward with quite a view of mount Washington and the surrounding mountains. Sunset! And a phone signal! Jackpot. The tent site was just off the trail to the left after a short climb down from the ledge. I dropped my pack and wandered around looking for where in the world to hang my food amongst the tightly packed fir trees. I settled on a leaning tree trunk that was about the right height and had a slight patch of open area around it. Not perfect, but better than dealing with throwing a line along the teeny tiny limbs. I set up my line and then pitched my tent in the lumpy, small spot.


It’s just big enough, and I hope it doesn’t rain because it’s not the best pitch ever. Then I grabbed my food bag, making sure to grab the snacks from my hip pocket, and I climbed back up to the ledge to eat a cold hodgepodge dinner. It’s less effort and will do more to lighten my weight than cooking would do. I also need to conserve water. I ate and stared at the mountains feeling exhausted, satisfied, and incredibly small. I had hoped to get farther today, but this is a good spot. I’m a little creeped out to be alone, but I’m comforted by the insane climb it takes to get up here. A slight deterrent for scary people. Hopefully? 


I brushed my teeth on the ledge and watched sunset (also see top picture) while overloading my social media with pictures I haven’t been able to post. Sorry for the giant drop of pictures. Someone on Instagram told me how and when to check for the northern lights, so that’s two people who’ve mentioned it. I might brave the darkness and return to the ledge to see if I can catch a glimpse of them. I don’t know that I have enough of a northern view. I also don’t know if I have the guts to get out of my tent in the dark alone. 

After killing my phone battery with the posts and sending texts, I went back to my tent. I’m finishing this to a strangely still night with just the sound of my fingers tapping the screen, a slight rustle of limbs, and the occasional pop of bugs against my tent. Many mountains to climb tomorrow. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain. 

Mile 1862.6 to mile 1872.7 (10.1)

Total miles: 869.5 

Creature feature: just a few cute dogs today and the usual bird suspects 

Day 82: foggy Washington edition 


I slept much better last night. Woke up around 545 to the sound of rustling in the kitchen and hikers shifting around on their pads. My feet are swollen today, probably because of the running and general rushing of yesterday afternoon. At first, the push  was just to see if I could get to LOC in time to secure work for stay. Then it became a race to get out of the pelting rain and wind on the exposed trail. I creaked out of my sleeping bag and packed up my bedding. Then we all retreated to our section of the hallway for the long wait until breakfast. We were recruited to be trash orcs as part of the croo’s lord of the rings themed educational skit. At the proper time (“as the sun rises in the east, the trash orcs…something something”) we all ran forward and threw bits of recycling down on the floor. Then back to our spots. I had to eat a few bites of granola because I can’t handle not eating for two hours after I wake up. When we were finally called to breakfast, still no pancakes. My consolation came in the form of eggs, and way too much pumpkin chocolate chip bread. Toooo much sugar. 

After breakfast, I sat at the back table where I had decent service and uploaded some pictures from the last few days to social media. I also answered a few texts to let people know that I’m okay because I haven’t had service in nearly two days. I was going to pitch in for morning chores even though it’s not required, but I didn’t really feel like it, so I just tended to social media like a good phone zombie. Then I finally forced myself to put on wet shorts, shoes, and socks and get ready to leave. 


I made my around the edge of the lake and onto the very rocky trail around 945. The rocks started about 20 yards from the hut and didn’t let up THE ENTIRE DAY. The whole trail was one big rock pile of varying degrees of torture. The trip up Mt. Washington actually wasn’t that bad minus the difficulty I had breathing from having eaten too much. The rocks were gnarly, but dry, and I do well when I’m climbing up. I can get into a rhythm where I feel nimble and goat-like. On the rocky downs, I turn into a teetering, cranky mess. I hate them. Having said that, I’ve noticed that they hurt my feet less than they used to. They’ve either gotten stronger or I’ve caused enough nerve damage to make it more bearable. Maybe both! 


A thick fog blanketed the trail the entire way up to Washington. Every now and then the sun would burn through as a white glowing orb, not making a dent in the fog, but lightening the sky in a strange way. 


I ran into one of the hut croo carrying his wood framed pack down the mountain with a folded mattress lashed on with rope. He said his center of gravity was out of whack, and I made a comment that he must feel like a sail in the wind because the gusts grabbed even my well balanced pack. 

As I got closer to the summit of Washington, I happened to look up and see a strange structure taking shape in the fog. I imagine it was weather recording gear. I rounded the corner and came to the summit and the welcome center. It’s odd to summit a mountain and be met with a commercial operation and motorized vehicles. Usually it’s just me and a bunch of trees. Maybe a sign and maybe a pile of rocks.


 I asked a stranger to take my picture and went into the visitor center. I’d only hiked 1.6 miles, but it was nearly lunch time, and I had plans to charge my phone for a little while. I bought a hot dog and 2 bags of Doritos (most of one for now and the rest for later). I also nabbed some smuckers peanut butter packets to add to my dwindling peanut butter stash. I found a mediocre seat by the snack bar and plugged in my phone and my charging brick even though it’s pretty pointless because that thing takes forever to charge. Then I watched the crowds and talked with various people who ended up sitting at my table. A couple of women from Woodstock, NH who idealized the trail and were very encouraging. An older couple who just said hello and kept to themselves until I offered them a bandaidafter hearing the wife say she was out. First aid karma in progress. 
I also bought a few post cards from the gift shop and mailed them at the little post office in the corner of the visitor center. By that point, it was getting late (130ish), so I packed up with a nearly fully charged phone. Then I headed down the mountain in thick fog over a jumble of rocks. 

I stopped on the railroad tracks as I crossed over them, but I felt a rumble and decided it would be wise to move on. Sure enough, a train emerged from the fog about 3 minutes later. 


I hoped the rocks would let up sooner than later. I asked someone who appeared to be a thru hiker how long they would last. She said “until treeline.” I didn’t quite realize that meant MILES AWAY because the trail doesn’t go back below treeline until just before the osgood campsite, which is 8 miles north. 
I cursed and slopped my way down the mountain. My ankles were tired and sore from the mad dash of the day before. The light continued to shift in dramatic ways. Breaks in the fog revealed massive mountains all around me. It felt strange to see the landscape emerge and give depth after walking through the flatness of fog. It also meant I got distracted by taking dozens of pictures in the shifting visibility. Not that I could get any sort of rhythm or momentum for more than a few steps because of the uneven terrain. 

I felt frustrated and mentally exhausted by the tedium. On the climbs, I was able to pick up a modicum of speed only to be dejected by the glacial downs. On one particularly long down, I took a break because I kept stumbling and was worried that I would fall as it got even steeper. I ate a snack and stared at the mountains around me trying to breathe through the frustration. The whites are making me stronger. I can hike just as many miles out here as in other terrain, which is how I can tell I’m stronger because they say you have to cut your mileage nearly in half to make it through these mountains. But they’re also beating the shit out of me today. 

As I crept onward through an especially aggravating stretch, I ran into some guys who asked how long it would take to get to Washington. The one in front said that if I was headed to Madison, it would be flat soon. I felt so relieved, but the “flat” he spoke of never materialized. Shocking. I passed a father and son on one of the middling climbs. Then I passed a trio of women on another hill. As I went by the lead in the group, I said “this isn’t fun anymore.” she agreed. The trail did get mildly easier when the boulders were flat and large, but the miles crept by at a maddening pace. I was on track to hit Madison hut around 5. My intended destination was osgood campsite about 2.5 miles past the hut with a big ole mountain in between and another 1.5 miles of hiking above treeline. 

I finally reached the last .3 mile descent into Madison. I think it might have been worse to see the hut and feel like I would never get there. The boulders made my knees ache, and I wasn’t sure how I would climb the mountain looming behind the hut. When I went inside, I only intended to ask about the terrain on the other side of Madison. I needed to steel myself for what was to come. The information concierge pulled out a map to show me what was above tree line and commented on the rockiness. As we talked, she asked if I wanted to just stay at the hut and do work for stay. I said I hadn’t planned on it. She pointed out the window and said, well there’s some weather coming. In the time I’d been inside, a cloud of fine rain had consumed the hut. Decision made: work for stay it is. The assistant hut master asked if I was alone or in a group. When I said I was alone, she agreed to take me. I had originally talked myself out of stopping at Madison because I wanted to set myself up for a shorter day tomorrow. The weather had seemed fine, and it seemed silly to sleep inside on a nice night when I had plenty of food to keep going. But walking over an exposed mountain in the wind and rain was pretty low on my list of things to do today. And then it poured. 
I stood around talking with other work for stays while the croo finished dinner preparations. Lindsay, the assistant hut master, brought us all Moroccan lentil soup as we waited for the guests to finish eating, which was a surprise. A really tasty surprise. The croo went kind of nuts with their after dinner cheering, which is standard protocol, but they were so loud that some of the guests raised their eyebrows at each other. After the main dinner, a handful of the guests setup a settlers of Catan board, which I eyed with envy. I was invited to play, but it seemed like too much to manage with eating and having to do work so I declined. 

Somewhere along the way, an older, small framed SOBO came in drenched and shivering, possibly in the first stage of hypothermia. Lindsay brought her a plate of food, and I encouraged her to drink hot water. She had just come over Madison in the rain. Other soaked hikers had also trickled in over the last few minutes, all of which made me happy with my choice. The older hiker, whose name I didn’t catch, finally stopped chattering her teeth after about 45 minutes. I tried not to judge her, knowing full well that the same thing could have happened to me. 

Dinner consisted of roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, salad, the largest vat of mashed potatoes I’ve ever seen, and green peas. There were tons of salad leftovers, so I had a giant salad with a bit of turkey. I also mixed together mashed potatoes and peas, which felt like 10 years old all over again. Lindsay baked “cookie surprise” for dessert, otherwise known as a thin layer of graham crackers, butter, condensed milk and chocolate chips baked on a cookie sheet. Terrible. And by terrible I mean irresistible. We stood in the kitchen and talked to the crew while we ate. Lindsay, a NOBO named Johnnie Utah, and I got into a discussion about staff camaraderie, power dynamics between hikers and croo, and the hut croo’s experience of sexism in both directions. (Who wants to guess the gender of johnnie utah?)

We finally got to work around 8:45. I opted for the mountain of dishes, which seemed safer than cleaning the oven or the gas range. The croo put on music during our work time. Their may have been singing. It all took me back to the good days at my coffee shop job laughing and feeling like a part of something larger. After kitchen duty, we swept the areas where we intended to set up our beds. I caught the tail end of what was likely an incredible sunset that I had missed while washing dishes: 


Then I rushed through cleaning my foot while the lights were still on. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it yet, but all of the huts do lights out at 9:30p to conserve energy. After that, everyone has to use headlamps. Now I’m laying on the floor in the dining room with 5 other hikers in various spots as people filter in and out of the bathroom. The settlers game just ended (10:15p). I’m hoping for good weather tomorrow because there are a ton of mountains to climb. The presidential traverse is underway (I think?). I definitely hoped to hike more miles today, but this was the best choice. 
Mile 1855.4 to mile 1862.6 (7.2)

Total miles: 859.4 

Creature feature: a crow and a couple of song sparrows, otherwise not much happening above treeline 

Day 79: Franconia Ridge edition 


**forgive the unannounced silence. I’ve been away at an old time music camp. expect a backlog of posts. I will eventually catch up with myself as I head back to the land of bouldering and poor cell service**
I woke up around 545 and wiggled the toes on my left foot. The skin around the wound felt stiff and sore. As I walked to the privy, I noticed that the stabbing sensation from the night before had not dissipated in the slightest. Hiking felt like an improbable task. I went back to my tent and switched into my hiking shorts. Then I cleaned the wound again and attempted a bandaid/medical tape covering to prevent debris from getting into the area. I packed up my sleeping bag and hobbled over to the cooking area feeling anxious and upset. This came out of nowhere. I kept reminding myself that it’s just a cut and it will heal and it doesn’t have to mean the end, but it could if it gets infected. It felt unsafe to hike with a foot that might not be able to withstand the sure steps I need to navigate steep boulder hopping, but I felt too stubborn to rest another day. Today’s goal is 10 hard miles away to galehead hut from the liberty springs campsite up Little Haystack mountain and across Franconia Ridge, which includes Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette. I felt concerned about the dwindling amount of food in my bag, but I decided that I can resort to buying cliff bars and snickers at the huts if I have to. I also had an unexpected chaffing sensation around the left side of my rib cage when I woke up. It felt like everything was falling apart at once as I ate breakfast in silence. I hobbled back to my tent and packed my gear. Walden met me at the trail intersection and waited while I filtered water for the day. There aren’t any reliable sources from here to Garfield Ridge campsite with the exception of a pond, which I try my best to avoid (beaver fever). The caretaker arrived to put a handwritten weather report for the day on the post leading towards the tent sites. With her letter safely tucked in my hip pocket, I bid her farewell and started the climb up to the ridge. 

My foot felt mostly okay walking up rocks, but the searing pain returned as we turned onto the flatter ridge trail. Thankfully it got steep relatively quickly after passing through a stand of firs. Walden fell behind as the trail turned upward. I made no effort to wait for her because the pain in my foot consumed whatever energy I might have for talking. She caught up with me after awhile, and I told her I was hanging out in my pain bubble. She gave me space, which I felt grateful for, and I pulled ahead as the trail continued to steepen. I came to a tricky bouldering section that required some assessment. As I strategized, a SOBO hiker came around the corner. I let him scramble down because I had no desire for him to witness the grunting that was about to occur. 

I made it to the top of the boulder and turned around to this view: 

I decided to wait for Walden to get her picture coming up the path. As I waited, a middle aged hiker I’d seen at the campsite arrived. He made a bigger mess out of the climb than I did, getting his bag caught on a fir tree. I tried to help, but he insisted that I sit and rest while he unhooked himself. He finally made it onto the boulder and sat down with a great sigh. 


Walden arrived shortly thereafter and made quick work of the boulder. We sat together for a few minutes taking in the view of mount liberty where we watched the sunset last night. 

The trail climbed a bit more to reach the summit of Little Haystack. I made a joke about not wanting to see Big Haystack after the short but steep climb to the summit. Then the trail flattened out into a more gradual climb towards the exposed section of Franconia Ridge. I could feel my chest expand as the trees receded and the full breadth of the ridge and the surrounding mountains came into view. I’ve seen so many pictures of Franconia Ridge in the years that I’ve followed thru hikers on Instagram, but I still felt in awe of what lay before me.


Walden and I took pictures of the first section of the ridge and made our way down the rocky path. I pulled ahead and didn’t see much of her until the top of Mt Lafayette over an hour later. Somewhere between Lincoln and Lafayette, I ran into the excessively talkative guy who I had wanted to kick on my way down Mt. Killington. I didn’t recognize him at first, but when he said that I looked familiar I finally put it together. I said, weren’t you the one looking for the bar? To which he replied, I’m often looking for bars. He then proceeded to talk at me for the next 15 minutes. I finally sat down in a nonsensical spot on the side of the trail under the guise of taking a break, assuming he would keep walking. No such luck. He stood above me and blathered for another five minutes while I swatted flies and stared off into the distance. He finally said, oh well I talk too much. I should go! I agreed with his assessment and told him I planned to sit in silence for a few minutes. No sense in pretending that he was wrong. 
I met a group of SOBOs (southbounders, in case I haven’t defined that term yet) at the summit of Mt. Lafayette. They were in the midst of receiving trail magic from an Israeli couple who managed to spend most of the conversation plugging their new hiking book and hostel in Israel. They were tiresome, but they did give me a peanut butter sandwich, so I shouldn’t complain. I loitered in the sun on a wide flat rock waiting for Walden while drizzling honey onto my gifted sandwich (who makes plain peanut butter sandwiches?). When she arrived, she promptly laid on the ground with her feet up. She seemed worse for the wear with low energy and an aching back. I decided to hang out a bit longer so we could leave the summit together.  A friendly middle aged guy out for a few days struck up a conversation about pack weight, which led to me being gifted a bag of granola, almost an entire pepperoni sausage (vegetarian guilt continues, but I am still on the sauce), and a hefty quantity of salted nuts. This barely put a dent in the amount of food he had left for his 4 day trip. He then subjected himself to a pack shakedown care of 6 thru hikers. I was about to leave just as they swarmed around him. Geeking out over what to carry was too hard to resist, so I put my pack down and provided support as we examined his choices. All the while, this cute pitbull somehow restrained herself from running full tilt at a giant crow that taunted her from a distance. 


Walden and I left the summit and made our way down the ridge as a thick patch of fog rolled through. Here are a few more pictures of the views from Lafayette and Lincoln along with a few of the plants burrowed into the rocks of the exposed ridges: 


I thanked the sky for remaining dry as I shuffled across sloping boulders with little in the way of toe holds. Walden fell behind almost immediately, and I wouldn’t see her again for the rest of the day. The trail finally flattened out and the rocks dissipated to a reasonable amount as I moved between Franconia Ridge and Mt. Garfield. I passed pathfinder eating lunch on a bed of pine needles a few yards from the trail. I didn’t feel like talking so I kept moving and had lunch alone on a rock at the foot of a steep boulder scramble. Pathfinder came huffing around the corner as I crunched away on my peanut butter frito wrap. He crumpled onto a nearby rock and we commiserated over the intensity of the whites thus far. He told me that Walden had stopped at his lunch spot to rest and hopefully let a headache a pass. I worried about what to do with my goal to get to galehead hut. Walden’s slowing pace did not lend itself to arriving in time for a work for stay slot, if she were even to make it that far. I gave pathfinder Walden’s phone number so that we could share the responsibility of checking in with her. I texted her to ask how she was doing. She remained silent, as I continued the steep, half mile climb over Mount Garfield, which was followed by an equally steep three tenths of a mile descent to Garfield Ridge campsite. 
The hour approached 3 as I wound my way up the steep side trail to the campsite. I hadn’t made the decision to stay at the campsite, but I still cursed myself for not getting water at the stream by the trail intersection. It would be a tedious walk back down/up should I stop here for the night. The caretaker was out of the office, so I passed her tent and wandered to the shelter. Three hikers milled about, setting up their sleeping arrangements and filtering water. I felt conflicted about what to do and had no one to help me decide. Wait for Walden and likely get stuck at Garfield Ridge for the night? Move on and likely get separated from an under the weather friend who might be upset about my compulsion to get to galehead? Given my impending absence for music camp, I felt pressure to get as many miles in as I could. I attempted to recruit the people around me in the decision, but I received apathetic mutterings. I decided to text halfway, who had been in contact earlier in the day from the AMC center. He assured me that I wouldn’t be a horrible person should I decide to keep hiking. He also warned me that the descent from Garfield ridge campsite involved navigating a waterfall that runs through the steep, rocky trail. As I sat with that information, I finally got a response from Walden. She had set up camp way back at the pond on the other side of Mt Garfield. She had been so out of it that it hadn’t occurred to her to check her phone, hence the silence. She wished me well and told me to move on if I wanted to. With that, I donned my pack and headed to deliver the caretaker’s letter. I happened to run into her on the way out of the campsite. Presenting her with her letter brought me great joy and she had a laugh over my apologies for feeling creepy that I already knew her name. I asked her if she thought I had a chance at work for stay if I arrived at galehead as late as 530. She expressed doubt, but said that if I hiked quickly, I might be able make it. I ignored the voice in my head that scoffed at any thought of me moving faster than average and decided to go for it. I rushed back down to the trail, stopping just long enough to fill my sawyer bag with water should I need to stealth camp. Then I picked my way down the mountain feeling glad to not make the trip in the rain forecasted for tomorrow. It felt as treacherous as moosilauke with pitched rockpiles and a steady trickle of water flowing down the hillside. 

Over the next 2.8 miles, I hiked as fast as I could, slowing for the trickier bouldering descents and returning to a half jog on the flatter sections. I nearly fell a couple of times and vowed to slow down only to succumb to the sense of urgency and return to my manic pace. As I got closer, the terrain became more difficult as the boulders and the grade increased. I nearly gave up several times, but forced myself to keep a steady pace as I searched for a break in the trees that might lead to the hut. At 540, I finally reached the intersection with the side trail to the hut. 


I felt the stare of other hikers as I put my pack down at the edge of the porch trying to ignore the swaths of sweat stains across my midsection. I wiped streams of sweat from my face in a vain attempt to hide the fact that I was drenched and went inside to grovel for a place to sleep. The assistant hut manager turned out to be an affable philosophy major (hut croo are nearly exclusively college students or very recent grads) who gladly said I could stay the night, but meals would depend on whether theyhad enough leftovers because they’d already reached their maximum work for stay spots. Here’s one of the views from the hut: 


With my accommodations guaranteed, I settled onto the edge of the porch to wait for dinner. A small child unabashedly stared at me for nearly the entire 20 minute lecture on the hut’s sustainability practices. At some point, I went inside to fill my water bottle and peruse the snack selection. A woman saw me eyeing the tupperware of food for sale and said, do you need candy?? I expressed interest and she returned from her room with several mini candy bars that I happily took off her hands. The paying hut goers finally went in for their dinner, which left me with the 3 other thru hikers (1 NOBO and 2 SOBOs). We stayed on common ground and had an enjoyable conversation about the trail. The NOBO was a soft spoken, polite kid from North Carolina named Waves. His close-mouthed delivery and faint southern accent made me feel at home, and I found myself directing most of my attention towards him. 

Around 7:30, the hut manager poked his head out and called us inside. There was enough food to cover my meal, so I joined the ranks of work for stay. We ate shredded pork, which I mistakenly thought was beef and then felt guilty for consuming it, rice, salad (!), and chocolate cake squares covered in caramel coffee icing. Waves ate three giant servings of meat and then went back for yet another as we all mocked him for his hollow leg. The woman who gave me candy bars offered us a host of other snack foods that she had overpacked. We divvied up our wares, most of them going to waves and me. I felt triumphant about the amount of food I had acquired throughout the day. 
After dinner, Waves and I set about doing dishes in the kitchen. He scrubbed and I rinsed, trying my best not to say something about the glacial pace at which he approached his task. Then we waited for lights out at 930, at which time we were allowed to set up our beds on the floor in the dining area. I’m finishing this while standing in the hut kitchen so I don’t disturb the guys on the floor with my phone light. It’s been a hard day, but a really good one. My feet felt sore, but very durable today, which makes me happy.  They did what I asked them too and got me here in record time despite the periodic pains from the wound on my left foot.
Mile 1819.4 to mile 1829.7 (10.3) 
Total miles: 826.5 
Creature feature: song sparrows and red squirrels 

Day 78: rocking chair edition 


I heard rain plinking on my tent in the middle of the night. That combined with general exhaustion resulted in not getting up for sunrise. I got up around 630 to eat breakfast because I was too hungry to sleep any later. Several hikers and small clusters of kids were already at the cooking area when I hobbled over. I sat on a comfortable, flat rock along the low wall surrounding the bear boxes and put together the cold version of my granola/muesli breakfast. The weather seemed better than I had expected, and I started to feel guilty about my plan to zero while also feeling like it would probably be good for my body. I lingered for floater and the guys to show up, but I got tired of having to socialize. I retreated to my tent and laid on my sleeping bag feeling conflicted. Not long after crawling inside my tent, I saw floater’s legs heading towards the cook area. I decided to pause my moping to hang out with her while she ate. She and the guys were still planning to cross franconia ridge despite the chance of showers. Their persistence tapped my weakness button. I said goodbye to them at the trail intersection and went back to my tent to wallow. I texted my mom, who assured me I wasn’t a lazy poop, which helped a bit. I tried breathing to calm down and settle into my decision. As you can guess if you’ve read many other posts, this made me cry. I eventually fell asleep and woke up around 11 to the sound of my neighbor packing up her tent. I wondered what she was up to that she could afford such a late start, but I didn’t have the energy to ask. 

As I lay in my tent in broad daylight, with no apparent sign of rain in the sky, I tried to figure out how to feel differently. I decided to ask the caretaker if she had any projects around the campsite that I could help with. I walked down the hill to her platform, on which sat a large semi-permanent tent (think vendor-sized tent) with a cot and a kitchen setup off to the right underneath a separate tarp. She greeted me warmly and said she had a campsite task for me and then offered the additional job of assisting with her project for the midsummer retreat with the other AMC employees. Hut staff and caretakers get trained together at the beginning of the season and then rarely see each other depending on geography of their assignments and days off. So each summer they meet to share a personal project and spend a bit of time together. 

The caretaker showed me how to rake the drying mulch from the composting privy. After several processes that I can’t explain, the privy output consists of bark mulch that is spread on raised mesh drying beds that require rotation to help the bark dry out and break down to dirt that eventually gets used as compost. My job was to rake the material, which would facilitate drying and help push the finished “dirt” through the metal screens onto the ground below. That product is then bagged up and distributed around the woods. (I think? Can’t quite remember exactly where it ends up). It felt good to have something to focus on, especially something that required physical effort. I took my time raking the mulch, taking care to pick out the petrified trash that doesn’t break down (primary offendors: baby wipes and tampons). Shortly after I got started, the caretaker came up with her hands behind her back and asked me if I liked bananas. I said YES and she presented with me a banana and half of a KitKat. I thanked her profusely and felt so grateful for the surprise. Little did she know she’d gifted me with two things I love (although I can’t even remember the last time I ate a KitKat). 

It took about 40 minutes of raking to finish both beds. Then I went to the eating area and made a peanut butter frito wrap. The caretaker had mentioned helping with her personal project after her lunch, so I stayed up the hill and ate alone in silence. I wandered back to my tent and killed a few minutes checking the internet with my anemic phone signal. Eventually, I heard hammering coming from the caretaker’s site, so I went down the hill to see what kind of project she had in the works. She presented me with her partially built rocking chair and we discussed her plans. I promised not to sue anyone should I saw my arm off in the process of helping her. She assigned me to trim the edges from the chair supports that attach to the rocker bottom and to saw the seat out of a large piece of pressed wood. We listened to barely audible music and talked on and off as we worked. I felt kind of anxious to be in charge of my half of the conversation, but we settled into a good rhythm. We talked about her wilderness therapy experience, her wishlist for upgrading the tent/tarp setup at her platform, and her penchant for letter writing. She sends letters off with hikers to deliver to her friends at other sites, which I loved. She mentioned the possibility of sending me off with a letter for the caretaker at the Garfield Ridge campsite. I happily agreed to play pony express. 
Campers arrived periodically throughout the afternoon. The caretaker felt guilty for making man made noises that might disturb their wilderness experience, but everyone she asked responded with kindness to the racket we made. We went through a few design decisions and she showed me her plans for the backrest. The execution of making the various elements of the chair was tricky with the tools at hand, which included a hand saw, a hammer, and nails. At one point, I stood on the porch with my feet on a support piece we were trying to trim while the caretaker stood on the ground and had her arm wrapped around my calf in order to help stabilize one side of the wood while sawing the other end. We both laughed at the jumble of limbs and wood. Whenever she let go to grab the saw with two hands, she would call out “power stance!” which I found hilarious. 

We worked until a little after 4, when the steady stream of campers became the caretaker’s priority. I wandered back up to my campsite and managed to have a short phone conversation with my steady despite getting cut off several times because of an unreliable phone signal. My legs felt less achy than they had last night, and having such an enjoyable time with the caretaker made me feel better about my decision to stay put. 

Sometime in the afternoon, I got a text from Walden who had decided to head up to liberty springs instead of staying at a hostel for the night. She apparently stayed at lonesome lake hut last night to do a work for stay and got a hitch into town this morning to buy food. A little context for the white mountain hut system: it’s a reservation-based series of freestanding 4-walled structures scattered throughout the range. They’re basically lodges with fancy bunk beds, a communal eating area, a kitchen, and barebones running water and electricity. Each hut is allowed to take a limited number of thru hikers to do work for stays each day. The work involves anything from washing to dishes, to sweeping, to deep cleaning fridges. In return, the hikers sleep on the dining hall floor and have access to whatever food is leftover after the paying hut guests and the hut staff eat dinner and breakfast. These meals are part of my strategy for not resupplying, so I hope to get at least 1-2 nights in a hut. The advantages are a roof over your head in the event of bad weather (highly probable in the Whites) and free food. The downsides are having your schedule monkeyed with because thru hiker dinner isn’t until after 8p and we can’t set up our beds until lights out at 930p. The breakfast routine is similar, with our meal time around 815am and morning chores ending around 9am. I usually hike anywhere between 3-6 miles by that time. 

Walden arrived sometime after I’d eaten my dinner. I shared my plan to hike up to the top of mount liberty (.5 mile one way) to catch the sunset. To my surprise, she agreed to come even though she’d just griped about being exhausted. We made a plan to meet at the trail intersection to head up together. As I went to the spring to get water before we left, I felt a sharp stabbing sensation on the bottom of my left foot. I went back to my tent to investigate and found that a piece of skin at the fold between my fourth toe and the ball of my foot had ripped to expose an area of raw flesh about the size of a tic tac. I have no memory of doing anything specific to my foot, so it’s most likely the consequence of having to walk with wet shoes/socks and having my feet slosh around as I navigate boulders. I panicked at the prospect of having to deal with an open wound on the trail where nothing stays clean or dry for any length of time. I heard the caretaker talking to someone near the privy, which made me realize that I should ask her for extra bandaids to augment my minimal supply. She dug through her giant first aid kit and gave me a few bandaids, a couple of iodine wipes, and some medical tape. 

I sat at the trail intersection waiting for Walden and trying not to freak out about my foot. It seemed like a bad idea to do any extra walking, but I really wanted to get an unobstructed view of the sunset, so I did it anyway. The walk up was a continuation of the moderately steep rocky terrain of the previous mile before camp. My daypack with water and my puffy coat felt like carrying a bag full of air. At the ridge, we took a right and continued the slightly steeper climb to the summit of mount liberty. The views and the light were astounding. We both gawked like little kids at the parade of mountains around us. A passing cloud made for moody pictures and a brief rainbow that you can sort of see in this shot: 


Here are a few more pictures from the time we spent at the summit (including the top picture for today). 

The colors were sadly not as intense as the night before, but it was still incredible. A college kid named Andrew who is out for about a week joined us at the summit. He arrived sweating and cursing because he’d run the whole way for fear of missing the show. I felt a little bad that we were talking so much as he sat in silence to our right, but it also felt good to laugh with Walden. We all left after it was clear that the low wall of clouds on the horizon had staunched any possibility of brighter colors. 

We made the trip down to camp in twilight, both groaning occasionally because of the strain on our overworked knees. Walden made a joke about how we might see another moose because we were once again walking after 830p. I dubbed it moose o’clock, which made us both laugh. I shared my foot concerns with her. She suggested I clean the wound with hand sanitizer, which sounded effective but terrible. When I got back to my tent, I pulled out my headlamp and regretfully spritzed the wound with my spray hand sanitizer (thanks Mary Ann, who knew I’d be using it for this). Then I cleaned the area of debris as best as I could with a qtip and applied a generous blob of neosporin. I hoped the knife-like pain I’d felt on the walk down from liberty would be gone in the morning. I’m finishing this to the sound of someone rattling around in their tent on a different platform and the ping of bugs trying their best to get inside my little home. 

Miles: 0 (bonus mile up to liberty)

Total miles: 816.2 

Creature feature: pesky red squirrels and a white throated sparrow at the top of liberty mountain.