Almost Quitting in New Hampshire
I woke up at 4:00 to dress down my tent and gear. I was to meet Celia and Meg at 5:00. Knowing that they camped 1/4 mile behind me, I thought I’d start down the trail before them— I knew they’d catch up with me. The climb up Moose Mountain began with my headlamp on. It was a gradual grade but it was still an arduous climb. Negotiating rocks and roots were still necessary, and I knew New Hampshire was going to be a lot more of this (and even more extreme). The summit of Moose Mountain was spectacular. The sun was rising, and I looked down onto the surrounding valley with clouds elevating right above the trees. It reminded me of early mornings in the South, particularly my last day in the Great Smoky Mountains. On the descent, I took a step off trail to use the bathroom. When I emerged from the bushes, Meg and Celia were coming down the mountain. We hiked with each other until we got to the road where Warren was waiting for us. It was here I got the report of what was in store for the day.
Total Ascent: 9,768
Mountains to ascend: Mt. Cube, Mt. Mist, Smarts Mountain, Moose Mountain (already completed)
I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do this. Fortunately for me I had the two ladies who had my back. Celia and Meg were adamant that I would be able to complete this. Additionally Warren said that this would be the final opportunity for a statement day until I leave the Whites (A statement day is essentially a big mile day). I was still nervous however. New Hampshire was a daunting state. The horror stories of people ending their hikes, less than 400 miles away from the finish line lingered in my thoughts. The question throughout this whole trip still persisted: Do I have what it takes? I had confidence in myself, but I still didn’t know the answer to this question.
I started the climb up Smarts Mountain by myself. Meg is an extremely fast hiker, so she zoomed on ahead in front of Celia and I. The climb was looking to be about 3.5 miles up starting at the Lyme-Dorchester road with roughly 2200 feet in elevation gain. Warren told us that today would give us a good taste of what the White Mountains would look like. For about 3/4 of the climb I didn’t really notice anything to different than the climbs I had been doing recently. It was a lot tougher than anything south of New England, but the steep grades have been something I’ve been used to now. Where Smarts got tough was in the last 1/4 mile up. It probably took me a little less than hour to get through that steep section. I didn’t spend much time at the summit because it was a blue blaze.
I descended down to a small dirt road where I thought I would see Warren’s van. I was running low on water, and I didn’t really want to take the time filter water from a brook. Alas, he wasn’t there, and I figured he would be at the road after Mt. Cube waiting for Celia who was trailing behind me. Mt. Cube proved to be another worthy mountain to climb. When I got to the final stretch to the summit, the sun was beating down on the slab of rock that made for the trail. At times I put my hand on the rock to provide additional support on my scale up and was met with an unpleasant burning sensation from the heat. Lots of day hikers at the summit of Mt. Cube.
At the road following Mt. Cube, I found Warren and Meg. We lounged around his van and helped ourselves to a few sodas and water. After a while waiting for Celia, Meg and I decided to hike on to the next meetup point which was only a few miles ahead. This stretch of trail was significantly less strenuous than the previous 15 miles or so. We met Warren at the next stop in no time. We didn’t stop for long because we had one more mountain to climb. Meg and I climbed Mist together. I was pleasantly surprise to see that this reminded me more of a Virginia mountain with a nice rolling hill that takes you to the top, opposed to the sharp, steep grades that I had grown accustomed with in New England.
When Meg and I got to NH Route 25, Warren was waiting for us. We had successfully done the 36 miles for the day, and they were planning on camping up at the next road 0.5 miles away. The Jeffers Brook Shelter was right next to where they wanted to camp, so I told them I’d meet them there. I was running low on food, so I needed to resupply. Fortunately for me, Hikers Welcome Hostel was just down the road and had a decent resupply according to FarOut.
There had to be close to 30 people at the hostel. It was absolutely packed when I walked through the door. Hikers were scattered all out in the backyard eating and socializing. I immediately tracked down the fridge holding the sodas and treated myself to three coca-colas. They were even selling some microwave pizzas, so I decided I would have 1st dinner here at the hostel. After some time at the hostel, I realized it was time to head back on trail. I put on my freshly loaded pack and headed towards the shelter. I met some great people at the shelter who informed me that the weather was to take a turn tomorrow. Thunder and rain storm due tomorrow afternoon. Perfect timing. I enter the Whites tomorrow.
*I got less than two hours of sleep because of all the caffeine from the sodas I had at the hostel!
Jeffers Brook Shelter
After getting some of the worst sleep on trail, I trudged out of the campsite to meet Meg and Celia. It was 5:00, and we started towards the infamous Mt. Moosilauke ascent. Warren wished us luck and told us he would be just on the other side of the mountain waiting for us. We decided we would stay together on this ascent. I had been warned that this climb would be tough, so I guess my expectation was much greater than the reality. Very steep, yes. But it wasn’t scrambling as I had thought it was going to be. It was about a 4 mile gradual climb that existed for a long time. Once we got above tree line the climb got a lot easier.
We separated on the descent and went our own pace. As I descended to Beaver Brook I saw everyone from the hostel last night going up Moosiluake from the South. They were slackpacking. I think I saw at least 12 people coming up the mountain from the South. When I got to Kinsman Notch, Warren was there. I saw Meg start up the trail with another hiker, but I opted to check in with Warren. I asked him if I should be worried about the weather climbing the Kinsmans. He said you are only exposed for a mile or so up there—so no. I climbed that miserable ascent up from Kinsman notch and over Mt. Wolf. I was getting worried that the weather was going to turn for the worst. Darker skies started to replace the once clear, blue ones, and I could start to feel that rain was imminent. When I got to the Eliza Brook Shelter I was genuinely surprised to see Meg there filling up water with three other hikers. I called out her name, and we greeted each other again for the day. She and the other three hikers started up the Kinsmans, and I told them I would catch up once I filled up my water. One of the hikers that Meg was with fell behind to fill up water as well. His name was Peach Fuzz— a name given due to the fact that he was quite young (younger than me). PeachFuzz and I hiked together up the Kinsmans and were faced with a literal climb. To make matters worse, the rain began to fall and made for the hand holds on the rocks difficult to get a good grip. Peach Fuzz and I watched as a hiker in front of us fall trying to get over the small rock walls that represented the trail. Luckily the fall wasn’t too high up, and the hiker seemed to recover after giving himself a few minutes to recuperate. It was about a mile and some change of this. I found myself grabbing onto tree trunks and branches and swinging myself up over the rock structures for most of it. I was surprised no one had warned me about the Kinsmans.
The summit of South and North Kinsman were blank— the fog and rain clouds had covered any majestic view that there was. But as with any difficult ascent, there is always an equal or greater descent that awaits. And with the rain, this descent loomed even greater. The difficulty of walking up slick rock slabs and gripping wet hand holds paled to the prospect of doing this downhill. On the descent I met the other two hikers that were with Meg— Jackrabbit and Margaritaville.
Margaritville was someone I had heard about since mile 550. I remember resting on a hill at around 3:00 in the afternoon. The hot Virginia sun had just introduced itself to me and the other hikers in the area. An Irish girl and an Australian guy were resting on the same hill and I, and we struck up a conversation. After learning about how many miles I had already done that day (about 22 at that point), they had told me about a girl named Margaritaville who was a few days ahead of me pulling similar miles. From that point on, I heard about Margaritaville in almost every state. People asked if I knew her, or if I had hiked with her. She was definitely a trail legend in her own right for the AT Class of 2022. Those fortunate enough to cross paths with her only had positive things to say about her, and they would always update me on how close or far away she was from me. Sometimes I was two days behind her, at times three or four. I have to admit that the competitive spirit inside of me wanted to catch up with her, but I really didn’t believe I was actually going to. It turned out that she had some tough days and slowed down significantly to produce a little more enjoyment from the trail. The big miles seemed to have taken a toll on her (and it would soon catch up to me too).
I told Margaritaville that I had been “chasing” her since mile 550. I am not quite sure if she found this to be flattering, a little creepy, or upsetting that I finally caught up with her. We talked briefly, but the rain forced us to continue down this difficult descent. It was Margaritaville, Peach Fuzz, Jackrabbit, and myself hiking together. I was without a doubt the slowest between all four of us, and I quickly lost them. My shoes had absolutely no tread (maybe I shouldn’t hike with shoes with 700 miles in them), and I was going very slow downhill. I soon lost them, and I assumed I’d probably see them at the liberty springs trailhead.
The trail at this point was completely flooded. I had left my umbrella in Warren’s van thinking that I wouldn’t need it for the day, opting for my frogg toggs jacket for minimal protection. My pants were soaked from the hip ankle, and I was chaffing in strange places. Water seemed to be pooling inside my shoes, and I could feel the weight of my socks from the water.
Warren warned me that there was a confusing turn once I passed the Lonesome Lake Hut. When I tried to check on FarOut to ensure I was on the right trail, the phone wasn’t working. My fingers were so wet that I wasn’t able to type or open my phone at all for that matter. I ducked inside what looked like a basement of the Hut and tried to dry my hands. Eventually I was able dry my hands enough to open the phone and access the app. I quickly scanned the trail map and tried to memorize when I needed to make the tricky turn that Warren told me about.
The trail became considerably gentler after I made that turn. It was still flooded, but the rocks and logs were less common. Furthermore, the descent was a graded gradually opposed to anything steep like before. I tried to check my GPS when I crossed what I thought was Whitehouse Brook. I once again could not open my phone to confirm this. Luckily a southbound hiker was making their way up the trail, so I stopped them and asked where the parking lot was, or if I was even close to it. It was still pouring down rain, so I honestly couldn’t hear what he said that clearly. I remember parts where he said it was easy to find, but he rambled on for so long that all the instructions he uttered went out the other end of my head. All I grasped was I was to cross a highway at some point and there was a marked blue blaze. So I kept on hiking hoping the trail would be pretty self explanatory. I stopped at a trail junction that connected the AT with another trail called the Pemi Trail. It was blue blazed, so was this the blue blaze I was to take? I wasn’t quite sure, so I kept following the AT. After 1/4 mile I got to another “junction.” It appeared that the trail was leading me up to the highway. I remember the SOBO telling me about crossing a highway, maybe I was to cross over the highway? I followed the trail up. I emerged from the brush and was met by a busy interstate with cars far exceeding the speed limit on this rainy New Hampshire day. To put it lightly, I was confused. I couldn’t see a trail at all. I once again pulled out my phone and tried to open my phone. Nothing. I was now on a busy interstate, tired, confused, and lost. My instincts were to hike North, so I walked along the narrow shoulder of Interstate 93 in the direction I thought was North (it was actually South). I stuck out my thumb hoping someone would pull over to pick me up. I would tell them that I wanted a ride to the nearest hotel. No one pulled over (I was instead continually splashed by the output of the rain and car reaction) and after walking on my perceived North, I turned around and went “South.” There wasn’t much thought in this decision, or from what I can remember at least. I just felt that if North wasn’t working, maybe doing the opposite would do something. I soon gave up on this very flawed strategy and came to the conclusion that the Pemi Trail must have been the blue blaze trail that would lead me to the parking lot.
So I backtracked to the trail junction where the Pemi Trail started. After going 1/4 mile down this trail, I started to sense that this wasn’t going to a parking lot. I made the decision to turn around and go back to the interstate. When I got back to the “junction” that took me to the interstate, I realized that the trail actually made a sharp left turn. A downed tree with a white blaze indicated this, and I made my way underneath a highway bridge. I was relieved to see white blazes after going a while on the interstate without seeing any. After going underneath one bridge, the trail brought me to a second bridge. At this point, the white blazes disappeared and, instead, two blue blazes were marked on the side of the bridge indicating that a turn was needed. I still don’t understand how I came to this conclusion, but I decided to take a right and to get on the interstate a second time. I was so adamant that the trail would continue above the highway, not underneath it. So I went up on the interstate again and made my way North on the narrow shoulder again. I hiked North for a while until realizing that this couldn’t be it. I retreated down from the interstate and rested underneath that second bridge. I was finally protected by the rain. I thought I’d give opening my phone a second chance. I took dry rocks nearby and rubbed my fingers on them hoping that would dry them. Still nothing. My fingers and phone was just too wet for me to open it and access my GPS. The idea of continuing straight underneath that second bridge never crossed my mind.
Soaked to the bone and scared out of my mind I deduced that the Pemi Trail must have been the blue blaze to the parking lot— I was losing my mind. I once again backtracked to the Pemi Trail junction and walked down it. This time I went further. For a little bit I thought I was actually going to be seeing a parking lot. But after 1/2 mile I started to realize I was just walking along the interstate. The trail slowly started to devolve into a place that had clearly not been traveled on for a while. I sank into mud that reached my knees, and I found myself wading through puddles that went up to my ankles. I started to cry. And for the first time on this whole trail I uttered the words I want to go home. I was done. I wanted to quit. I had had enough of this trail. These thoughts had been festering in my head for some time now, but I needed to let it all out now. I turned around on the Pemi Trail with tears running down my face and cursing myself for not being able to find the trail. I walked back towards that junction scanning for suitable stealth sites. I had given up and was electing to set up my tent on the side of the trail. I would be soaked, but at least I wouldn’t be hiking anymore. I think what was hardest in this moment was grasping with the fact that I was scared. I don’t remember crying like this in a long time, and the fear and sense of embarrassment and confusion stuck to me like some scarlet letter. I thought I was tougher than this.
I could not believe what I saw. As I walked back towards the junction from the Pemi Trail, all teary eyed and looking defeated, I heard the sound of hikers walking down from the AT trail. It was Margaritaville, Jackrabbit, and Peach Fuzz. It was a miracle. As they approached me, I stared at them with blank, shell shocked eyes— I was still in disbelief. When they were close enough I simply said, I’m lost. I was met warmly by them and Margaritaville pulled out her phone, smartly secured in a plastic bag, and checked her GPS to see if they were on the right trail. We all were. I followed them as they made their way to the parking lot, this time I stayed really close to them to make sure I didn’t lose them like earlier. We made our way underneath the first bridge, but we stopped at the second bridge when we saw the double blaze. This validated my confusion just slightly. Jackrabbit thought that we were to go up on to the highway, but Margaritaville insisted that the trail just went underneath the second bridge. We walked straight underneath and indeed she was right. White blazes, clearly marked, greeted us on the other side of the bridge. I was that close to the trail, and I didn’t even know it. We then took a 0.5 blue blaze trail that lead to the liberty springs parking lot where the Old Colony Ski Club was picking them up. I wanted to go with them, but I needed to find Warren and Meg to let them know that I was going to go. In the parking lot, I found Warren’s signature white van and ran over to tell him what had happened. Meg was in the van as well, she had been there for hours. No sign of Celia though. She had to be still on the mountain coming down. I was still shaken up, and I think both Warren and Meg could tell. I informed them that I was going to be going with the other three hikers and maybe I’ll be able to catch up with them tomorrow as they tackle Franconia Ridge. My goodbye was more open ended than anything, as I sort of expected to still see them. Unfortunately I never did see Warren, Meg, and Celia again, and I never got to thank them and give a proper goodbye in person. I was with them for a little less than three days and their openness to me joining them is something I won’t forget (they said I could have followed them all the way to the very end if I wanted). They took care of me, and I got to experience what it might feel like to have a trail family. Waking up early in the morning had a different feeling when I knew I was meeting Meg and Celia. And not to mention that I got to spend some time with Warren Doyle. He would offer me sodas and give me the same trail information as the ladies. I asked a lot of questions, and he answered all of them. I would like to see them again, but realistically I don’t see that ever happening. You can find Meg and Celia’s adventure blogged here.
I arrived at the Old Colony Ski Club all ragged and cold. Upon entering this old school ski lodge, I was greeted by one of the most charismatic hostel owners I’ve met on trail. With her stylist 80s tracksuits, Jen commands attention to all who enter the lodge. She describes her role in the lodge as a mom and all the hikers are her kids having a sleep over. Apparently the lodge had just opened to thru hikers this year, but the well run, clean rooms, and charming people who run the place has created a hostel that is for sure going to be a hiker favorite for years to come. I took a hot shower and immediately ran to the gas station market across the street to resupply and appease my starving stomach. $120 dollars later I found myself sitting at a table exchanging stories of the trail with other hikers who had taken refuge from the cold rain. I had a particularly long conversation with a man named Long Story, who in fact gave long, but engaging, stories. I ate and drank well past nourishment, and I started to feel better. I started to forget about the two hours of suffering I had just endured, and I was getting excited for Franconia Ridge the next day. Furthermore, I was planning on hiking with Margaritaville, Peach Fuzz, and Jack Rabbit. I slowly forgot that I wanted to quit.
Old Colony Ski Club
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