Gorham to Washington: the Whites Part I
I’m not sure if I’ve ever entered a restaurant with more malice in my heart than when I strode into Dynasty Buffet in Gorham, NH. I’d come for one thing and one thing only – to ruin some profit margins.
I’d first spied the buffet while perusing a map of Gorham included in AWOL some 100 miles prior. It served as the spark that kept my fire burning through wind and rain as I traversed the strenuous bit of trail that constitutes the AT through Southern Maine. I had dreamed of saddling up to a table there and eating them out of business, sitting for hours giving the chef the workout of a lifetime trying to keep up with the demand. His kids would come to me and beg, “Please mister, Mom says there won’t be any money for our school books if you don’t stop eating!” But on I’d eat, hellfire bursting forth consuming the restaurant, leaving only my table and a path to the buffet, my stacks of plates growing ever higher, dwarfing even the tallest of the surrounding mountains.
In reality, I ate a gross amount of mediocre Chinese food, paid and thanked the waitress, and left the establishment feeling a strange mix of stomachache and pride as I waddled down the street to the local hiker hostel.
When I arrived, the owner, Paul, had yet to return from taking some other hikers to Walmart but I was quite content to lie in the fetal position at his doorstep until he returned. When Paul did arrive he seemed unfazed by my catatonic state; he used a snow shovel to scrape me off the stoop and checked me in. I spent the rest of the evening chatting idly with other hikers and, almost unbelievably, snacking.
The next day I took a zero and lounged around, visited the local bookstore, the library, and resupplied at Walmart. I was convinced by some of the NOBOs to hike the 21 miles between Pinkham Notch and US Route 2 northbound as doing this section southbound was essentially asking for a painful death, and while this turned out to be complete hyperbole it was nice to spend time in the company of the same people for more than a day or so.
After completing this section I was shuttled back to the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, knowing this time things would be heading south for me this time (but in a good way). As I sat outside to snack – if you haven’t picked up on it yet, hiker hunger is a real and powerful thing – a family walked past.
“That’s an awful big daypack ya got there, bud,” the dad said, eyeing my pack “What all have you got in there? Not just the kitchen sink but the rest of the kitchen too by the looks of it.”
“Well, actually,” I started.
“Yeah, I’ve got everything for the whole family right here in my 40L Osprey; man Osprey’s just the best! You should really look into them. The mesh on the back actually makes the whole thing lighter.”
Clearly this guy was a plant sent by someone who knows me; Osprey praising and trying to out ultralight brouhaha me? I looked around for the hidden cameras but failed to find any. I turned back to the family but before I could get all my snarky comments in order the family had moved on and I was left to stew in my ire.
Several Snickers bars later and I’d forgotten the whole thing and was busy breezing through the trail leading to the start of the climb up Mount Madison. The climb was long but not overly strenuous until I broke treeline at which point the trail all but disappeared. In its place I found a pile of rocks of various shapes, sizes, and tastes. Rock hopping was slow going but not unenjoyable as my efforts were rewarded with views over the entire Presidential Range.
After Madison, the views continued as I traversed the Presidentials on my way to the big daddy, Mount Washington. It looked otherworldly and I kept expecting hobbits to pop out from somewhere. At the base of Washington I spied a familiar 40L Osprey daypack and threw it into a lower gear to race up and pass the family from earlier. As I passed them, I felt my calf muscles twist into twin fists, middle fingers extended, flipping off Mr. Know-it-all. Either that or I was cramping from overdoing it. Either way, I think I made my point.
The summit of Washington was overwhelming, filled with tons of non-hikers clad in cotton who had driven up to the top. It was cool to see people who would not otherwise be outdoors spending their Labor Day Weekend outside as families; however, it was less cool the way they all stood in the way taking selfies. I gave up on trying to circumnavigate them after a little while and walked through instead, figuring I was sort of part of the scenery anyway – the same way an elephant is on a safari.
I made my way down Washington in a little bit of a rush as the only real place to stay that night was at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut and the weather was starting to look nasty. I ended up doing work for stay there with three other hikers; in exchange for an hour’s worth of work we would be given all the leftovers we could eat and would be allowed to sleep indoors on the floor of the hut. After the guests had finished and retired to their bunks we got to eat with the hut’s croo. The food was tasty, warm, and most importantly not the tuna pouches I’d been subsisting on. After dinner, croo member Mac gave us our assignment: we were to “ream” the bathrooms in preparation of the hut’s closing in a few weeks.
Now I had no idea what “reaming” consisted of but didn’t want to look like an idiot as I followed Thumper, the other male hiker, into the men’s room with a bucket of bleach water and sponges. I figured I’d follow Thumper’s lead, so when he took off his jacket – a move I’d realize later that was intended to the prevent getting bleach on his sleeves – I got naked. This put Thumper in the “don’t want to look like I don’t know what I’m doing” boat and so, to make a long story short, it wasn’t long before we were standing around wearing bandannas as loincloths trying to bathe the guests of the huts with coarse sponges and bleach water. Some were more resistant than others but we powered through, committed to earning our keep.
Mac returned rather quickly and told us that actually the bathrooms looked plenty clean and we should stop whatever it was we were doing. An hour’s worth of work done in five minutes? Talk about efficiency! Hashtag Ream Team!
That night I slept like a king, warm and full of carbs, sleeping on the floor of the hut knowing I had put in a good day’s work and excited for what else the Whites held in store.
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