AT Day 90 – Tough Decision, Zero Miles, Many Cookies

Zero Day along US Route 302
AT miles:
Total miles: still 1856.8
Elevation change: none

To zero or not to zero, that was the question. With as tired as I was after the first section through The Whites, the answer almost seemed obvious. Even with the low mileage totals of the past few days, my body was ready for a rest. The strange new aches caused by the strange new terrain and consistent snow travel would benefit from a recovery day. My brain would benefit from a rest day as well. The logistical challenges created by restricted camping and uncertain weather was a lot to juggle. And yes, there was also the weather to consider. A cold front, bringing snow showers along with it was going to pass over the high peaks in the evening. Why would I want to be in the mountains for that?

So why was this question, with a seemingly obvious solution, so difficult to answer? Because hiking is my default, it’s what I do. Because hiking more has been my solution to almost every problem for the past three months. Because it’s hard to sit still after so many days spent in motion. Because it’s agonizing to slow down so close to the finish line. Because I like hiking and pushing my body. Even with all of the strong arguments in favor of hiking on, the voice of reason and the one in my heart kept me planted on my butt, with my feet up. Fortunately, in addition to hiking, I also really enjoy sitting and eating all day in the warm company of SpiceRack and Tango. So that’s what I did, and I do not regret it.

One thing was certain in the morning as it dawned bright and clear, I was going to sleep-in to my heart’s content. I was going to give snoozing my best effort after so many early mornings, no matter what. I woke up at 5am. Snooze. 7am. Snooze. 8am. Snooze. It wasn’t until SpiceRack slid me a plate of freshly baked crescent rolls and mug of chai tea that I finally sat up and woke up. Even then, it was almost 11am by the time I left bed without the intention of returning.

The green beech leaves glowed and blustered outside in the gusting breeze, and the day was warm. Day hikers flocked to the trailhead and disappeared up the trail, including Spice and Tango, while I sat with my tea and phone, refusing to feel rushed. After she returned, Spice and I shared a humongous bowl of fruity pebbles, then prepared Blackbird for a drive.

The fastest miles of New Hampshire.

Four miles up the road, we pulled into the AMC Higland Center, a lodge and staging ground for excursions into The Whites. However, we were there for different resources, bathrooms and WiFi. I needed a good weather forecast before making the zero/no zero decision, and a flush toilet is always a treat these days.

Hmmm, what to do with this information?

The updated weather only served to confuse me. I would definitely dodge the worst of the freezing weather by spending another night in the van with Spice. However, it would also put me on the high peaks of the Presidential Range during the gloomy day after tomorrow, rather than with clear skies if I were to hike out today. Much to ponder, with no obvious answer.

Feet up, no hiking today.

Spice helped me get to the bottom of it as I sat agonizing over the decision, my gaze locked on the building clouds outside. My body needed a rest. She could see it better than I could, prideful and stubborn as I am. The full day of recovery would do me an important amount of good regardless of the mountain weather. The conditions would be what they would be, and I had a better chance of enjoying myself if I felt recuperated and strong. So it was settled. No hiking today.

Tango knows what’s up.

That choice paid dividends just a couple of hours later, when it began to rain. These showers were not in the forecast, but they still would have soaked me through if I had decided to hike on. Instead, I sat inside, grateful to be dry and warm, eating the burrito and tofu scramble that Spice cooked up. After a few hours of internet chores, and with the rain still falling, we splashed through the parking lot puddles and made our way back to the trailhead for the night.

What would happen if I just put that whole bowl in the oven?

With our work done for the day, we moved onto the fun stuff, cookies, dinner, and a movie. The chocolate chip cookies turned out gloriously underbaked, and the tempeh spaghetti deeply satisfying. The van was warm with delicious smells and laughter. It was way better than being alone in my cold and wet tent on a windy ridge somewhere. Normally, I dream of being in the mountains whenever I am not, but that wasn’t the case tonight. I was exactly where I wanted to be, and that felt good.

Well after dark, with the rain tapering off, we moved to bed so that our drooping eyelids wouldn’t leave us stranded on the couch. With my full belly gurgling and my full gut already punishing Spice for refusing to hear my call to the omit onions from dinner, I pulled the covers up past my shoulders, feeling perfectly content. The Presidentials were waiting for me, and I for them. The questions about the snow and weather were still out there too, but with the decision made, the zero day complete, there was nothing left to do but hike. It always came back to hiking, and that’s what I was going to do.

This post was originally published on my blog Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including the CDT and Sierra High Route.

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Comments 8

  • TIM : May 24th

    Great shot of Tango catching some ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZs. Pick your days wisely to the end you’ve already proved how tuff a hiker you are better to enjoy the fruits of your labor than put yourself thru hell at the end. Just my 2cents to the “Flying Burrito”

  • Avalanche : May 25th

    Follow someone who finds shelter on the trail and not in a van. This is coming from a past successful thru hiker. Years ago I got to that road crossing on a cold rainy day and it was a hard hitch to get up to the Highland Center. One guy in his 30s in a camper with his wife flatly told me he didn’t pickup hitch hikers. A young couple in a small beat up car finally did pick me up after walking nearly 1/2 way up to the Highland Center. It was full ate some food and got a ride with another hiker back down into the notch. Tented out with him. It rained hard all night in the notch. More than half the experience of LDH is experiencing life on the trail not holed up in a panel van.

    • Kelli : May 25th

      I feel like if you had followed Owen’s blog all the
      way from GA, as many of us have, you would realize that he has spent way more days in tent than in hostels or their van.
      Kudos for a man who has shared it all daily for 3 months. And he is 90% thru in those 3 months. Not a challenge? Not an adventure? Please go back and read the story.

  • Dorothy and Toto : May 25th

    Great pics of your cozy van. Tango, feet and cookie dough – too perfect! Really enjoy reading your posts.

  • Reindeer : May 25th

    Owen, I love your posts, read them every few days. Keep it up, you seem to be able to accomplish anything and everything YOU want.

    Suggestion, think about taking all your posts, diary, if I do say and format them into a book for those people who have not kept up with you journey/adventure … exciting, great story, good read, good photos, best seller.

    As for “Avalanches” comments, “hike your own hike” is not that the trail motto. I along with a 70 some year old friend will be in the “Whites” in 2 weeks, hiking 5 days..hut to hut ? We’ve both hiked numerous times and tented through all kinds of weather and now that we’re older, retired and can afford it. What’s wrong with a bit of comfort … jealous ?

    Happy hiking

  • stacey marie : May 25th

    Hey I think I just met you in Gorham last week. So glad I can follow. Lmk when you’re back in town. I’ll cook you guys some dinner.

  • Chris aka Han Slolo : May 25th

    My two cents, with Spice and Tango so close. Slack pack the White’s and don’t get hurt.
    I pulled out in the White’s in 2018 because I didn’t feel safe hiking alone, plus I’m twice your age.
    Be safe and enjoy the journey.

  • Kelli : May 25th

    Lovely post


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