Challenges, Miracles and Beauties (also featured: a trip to the ER)
Yesterday I climbed over Moosilauke, the last major peak of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The strangest thing is that I finally feel my thru hike is beginning. After a full month of hiking I have reached the 400 mile mark. Past this point I have almost no concrete plans or deadlines. I have finished the most difficult part of the Appalachian Trail and yet ahead of me lie the other 1800 miles of trail that are yet untouched. It is a truly very strange feeling. The reality of my life has begun to sink in. I am actually going to continue hiking for another four months – and I couldn’t be happier about it.
A lot has happened since I last checked in with this blog, and I hope I am able to adequately fill you all in. The last time I wrote I was in Andover, Maine. I was listening to Northbound thru hikers tell their horror stories from Southern Maine and Nothern New Hampshire and getting pretty nervous about the next 150 miles. And in the end they were just as hard as I thought they would be, the only difference is that I have now done them. Doing difficult things doesn’t feel as daunting to me now, even though those difficult things haven’t necessarily become easier. Climbing New England 4,000-footers over boulder scrambles and exposed slabs of granite has been my daily routine for the past two weeks. I have pushed myself to my limits, crawled through a rock maze in the bottom of a canyon, summited more major mountains than I can even remember, scaled near vertical mountain faces and picked my way through the most challenging terrain I have ever hiked in. And every day I do it again. The best part is that you just need to be a bit more stubborn than the mountain you are climbing. It doesn’t actually take a lot of experience and skill to just keep walking for days on end. And thankfully for me, I am incredibly stubborn.
Given how abundant the past few weeks have been, I have deceived to divide my experiences into three categories; challenges, miracles and beauties.
The hardest day of hiking I have done on trail so far was roughly a week ago. It was eleven miles of hiking, roughly 2.5 miles down off of baldpate mountain, then another threw up old speck, around four miles downhill (including two miles straight down the mahoosuc arm, a 1.5 miles stretch of slippery exposed granite with no dirt trails), a mile through Mahoosuc notch, a canyon full of boulders known as the three-hour mile, and then another 1.5 miles up and over the steepest climb I think I’ve seen so far over Fulling Mountain. Or maybe I was just really tired. In all it took me roughly 15 hours to complete – starting around 3 in the morning and ending at 6pm. I am certain there are people who have done it much faster, but I am a cautious rockhopper and so the unforgiving terrrain slowed made the hike extremely difficult. After a day grinding myself into the ground (quite literally) I just felt a huge sense of relief – if that was the toughest section of trail, then I could handle what I had coming.
If you aren’t familiar with Mahoosuc Notch, it is roughly a mile of the AT that scrambles over, under and through a series of crevices. And while the mental challenge of picking my way through this maze was actually quite fun, it was also very draining. And by the time I had to climb straight back up the other side of the canyon, I was exhausted.
This kind of terrain continued up until about two days ago. Most days consisted of precariously working my way down rock slides and scrambled and fighting against long, 3 or 4 mile uphills. On one of these mountains, the seemingly insignificant Mt Webster, I actually had quite a serious fall and injured myself about a week ago (I say about because time has very little meaning to me anymore and I usually cannot tell the days apart). While making my way down this mountain located on the north side of Crawford Notch and the southernmost peak of the presidential ridge, I tripped and fell, bashing my kneecap against a rock and slashing open the heel of my palm. As I fell I twisted my knee underneath me. My immediate concern was bandaging up my open wound, and I did not notice the pain in my knee until I tried to stand up and nearly fell back down again because I was in so much pain. I tried walking on my knee for a few paces to see if the pain would go away, but I had no luck. I had to set my pack down and retrace my steps all the way back up the mountain to get cell service and get a call out. Thankfully, a family friend lived not too far from where I was and I knew of a good hiker hostel nearby where I was able to stay and recuperate for a few days. I limped the 3 miles down to the nearest road and took a few days off.
I also had to visit the emergency room, which turned out to be a lot of fun. There was no one else there and the nurses were super nice and willing to help. It’s the first time I’ve ever been seriously injured and for my first visit to the ER it was remarkably unremarkable. They took an x-ray of my knee to make sure I had not broken my kneecap and gave me some strengthening exercises to do while I was healing. The attending physician was even an ex-thruhiker who hiked the trail the year I was born!
I have had a few other really difficult days on trail the past two weeks, days where I had to hike really long hours, set up camp before reaching my destination because I was so tired, or just stop hiking at 4pm and go to sleep. But I am grateful to have passed into a new state and for the small little miracles that have made life joyous.
The greatest miracle of the past two weeks has been being able to survive a serious injury and continue hiking. I am so grateful for the time I got to spend at the Old Colony Ski Club (which operates as a hiker hostel during the summer) with Ms. Jen, who just made my stay so marvelous and comfortable. She was such a wonderful character and I loved every minute of the time I spent lounging in her hammock and sitting around her nightly campfire with amazing folks. It was truly an unexpected plus side to getting injured, and I got to see a few hikers who had gotten ahead of me and meet some really amazing NOBOs. And I was even able to get a ride from a trail angel back to the spot where I had been picked up. The trail has really been able to provide for me and I am endlessly grateful for the community of caring individuals who have been helping me along the way and looking out for me from home.
And exactly one month into my hike and one day before my injury I had perhaps one of the best days of my life traversing the entirely above tree line presidential range, beginning with Mount Madison and continuing around the semi-circle ridge line to end atop Mount Washington. The hike was breathtaking, and there was never a moment without some new sight to soak in. In fact, as I was basking in the sun on the porch of a barn turned hostel here in rural New Hampshire when I spotted across the street a couple I met while hiking the presidentials. I ran over to say hi and we talked about the people we met that day and all the hikes they have been doing. They are retired and in their 70s and they have hiked all 48 of the New Hampshire 4,000-footers 42 times! They are pretty impressive, and very kind. They gave me some of their homegrown plums and this morning I was woken up by their rooster. The trail really does provide!
One of the interesting things about the White Mountains is that they are full of European-style alpine huts that offer bunks and meals. Unfortunately they are usually upwards of $150 a night so they hikers don’t really stay at them, but we can get a free meal and a place to sleep okedokey the floor in exchange for doing chores and washing dishes. The first time I did work for stay was at a hut above tree line. And in the middle of the night I woke up, walked outside and lay down on a boulder and stared at the stars for what felt like hours. I don’t get many stargazing opportunities in New York and the sight was overwhelming I almost cried. It felt as if I could see every inch of the universe from where I shivered in the wind. The second time I did Work for stay someone had been unable to make their reservation and instead of cancelling they requested that the spot be given to a thru-hiker. So by mere chance I was able to eat a fully cooked meal and sleep in a bed one of my nights on trail. I am incredibly grateful for the prodigious amount of sleep I got that night.
Due to my increasingly unorthodox sleeping schedule (often waking up before sunrise and sleeping in the afternoon) I have had the privilege to catch a lot of sunrises the past few weeks.
And because I am very slow coming down hills I often catch what other hikers miss; wild blueberries! I have stuffed my face many times on the top of a blueberry infested mountain and as a person who never really liked blueberries before, it is a lot of fun to eat them wild and pick them myself.
The views have been simply unbelievable! And it has been very eye-opening to realize that alpine landscapes don’t just exist in Colorado!
I saw a coyote a few days ago! I heard a loud rustling off to the side of the trail and waited for a moment for the animal to appear. The coyote walked right out on trail and stopped to stare at me for just a second before running away. I am still making friends with butterflies and stopping to marvel at every unusual blaze. I am grateful for so much and looking forward to a slightly less eventful few weeks ahead.
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