Old Friends, Free Crullers, and Voicemails from Gram
Whatever we are waiting for – peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance – it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart. – Sarah Ban Breathnach
Greetings from New Hampshire, state 13 on this journey. OneFoot was feeling accomplished as he made his way through Vermont in good time and with relative ease. Then came the realization that there are still 400 miles to go. So many have said “he’s so close now,” and while this is true, these 400 miles can be some of the most challenging on the trail.
Pushing to Hanover
With Hanover, NH, in sight, OneFoot knew an extended visit with family was soon coming. He arrived in town hours earlier than expected but Team OneFoot was ready for him. Off we went to spend a couple of days off trail with Ray’s family in New Hampshire. On the morning he was scheduled to return to the trail, he wasn’t feeling well. A rough night sleep, bad headache, and wonky tummy led him to make the decision to take another zero. He returned to the trail the next day, still not feeling quite right. He struggled through the day and night. He was set to climb Smarts Mountain in the morning when he felt like he just couldn’t move forward. His body felt like lead and for the first time on this trek, he looked at a mountain and thought, “I just can’t do it.” The call was made and his mom and I coordinated the effort to get him from the trailhead to a clinic. Tests were done, precautionary antibiotics were prescribed, and rest and fluids were ordered. After four days of family care, Netflix, and no pack on his back, he was feeling ready to resume the walk north. I think there was a brief time when each of us worried that this trip would end near Lyme, NH. We didn’t say the words but we both felt it.
Oh, yes, remember early on when OneFoot experienced the unseasonably cold conditions in Georgia and Tennessee? During his first two days back on trail in New Hampshire, he may have actually missed those colder days. With the heat index up over 100 degrees, it was tough weather to resume the hike. Our local Connecticut news reported that this is the second hottest August on record since 1905, which is as far back as the records go. Well played, Mother Nature. Still, he walked slow and steady and found that his appetite had returned as did his strength. This journey wasn’t over yet.
Free Crullers and Pizza
Whoa! Nothing like a hiker friendly town. Hanover is a welcoming and wonderful town. Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery offers a free cruller to thru-hikers. OneFoot’s review? Ten out of ten and would eat again. Ramunto’s Brick & Brew Pizzeria is serving up a free slice to hikers and I hear their tap brews are damn tasty, too. This thru-hiking is growing more enticing with each passing calorie.
Saying Farewell to Friends
Time and again, this trail reminds us of what is truly important in life. It’s about the people. From OneFoot’s trail journal: “It’s impossible to be out on this trail and not open your heart to others.” OneFoot has renewed friendships both on and off the trail as he has moved north. There doesn’t seem to be goodbyes on the trail, only farewells for now. Still, it is heartbreaking to watch ones that you’ve come to know leave the trail for illness, injury, or by choice. That’s happened too often over these last few hundred miles.
I wrote the first draft of this post a couple of days ago. Today we learned that Flex and Curly Turtle have made the decision to leave the trail at mile 1,863. This was a tough one for both for Ray and me to accept. I had the pleasure of getting to know them in Massachusetts and Vermont; Ray for much longer in trail miles. For many weeks I heard about Flex and Curly Turtle through OneFoot. Then I met them and I totally understood his enthusiasm for this husband and wife hiking team. I envied, respected, and admired Curly for her quiet determination. She hiked at a slower pace, much like me. She had a goal each day and walked to reach it. I’ve always felt that I hold Ray back when we hike together because of our vastly different paces. Curly freed me of my fears about who I am and how I hike. And then there’s Flex. It’s not often that my husband connects with another so instantly and so deeply. There’s just something about Flex. His strength, gentleness, wisdom, and deep faith contributed so much to OneFoot’s journey. They are very much at peace with their decision to end their journey at mile 1,863. What an amazing adventure they had.
Reuniting with Others
One of the most amazing moments of this journey happened on the trail near Killington, VT. I was parked at the trailhead waiting for OneFoot. I had just backed Molly the Roadtrek into a spot when a guy on a motorcycle pulled up right next to my driver’s window. “What’s up with this?” I thought for a brief moment. Then the driver, with helmet still on said, “Well, hi Cher!” Huh? Off comes the helmet to reveal our friend Bill from college. It had been 30 years since we had seen him. We’d been in contact through Facebook and he’s followed OneFoot’s AT Adventure page. He came out hoping to catch up with Ray on the trail and recognized Molly the Roadtrek at the trailhead. After our brief catchup, Bill headed out onto the trail to surprise OneFoot and surprise him he did! Bill was at a stream when he heard Ray’s voice. He smiled the biggest smile and just stared at Ray. Ray greeted this stranger, smiled back, and then realized this was no stranger. “Is that really you?” OneFoot yelled (I edited this to provide the G-rated version here). They walked together to the trailhead where we all continued to catch up on, well, the last 30 years. We live just hours away from Bill but Ray walked 1,700 miles for this reunion. What a moment it was and what an impressive and deeply appreciated effort Bill made to make this reunion happen. Lesson learned? Take the time to connect, or reconnect, with friends and family. Do it now. Do it today.
Too Many Zeros
Is there such a thing? I would have argued no to this suggestion just a month or so ago. But recent events demonstrated the challenges of extended time off the trail. As I noted, we had planned for some time off the trail with OneFoot’s family in New Hampshire. That three days turned into five when OneFoot wasn’t feeling well. A brief day or so back on the trail was followed by another almost five off when he became ill. Although this many zero days weren’t part of our plan, they were necessary. The downside was how difficult it was to break away from the routine we had quickly established together off trail and for OneFoot to find his way back to trail life. I can clearly see why some hikers opt not to return to the trail after visits home or extended visits from family and friends. For this reason, OneFoot and I agreed to hold off on visits, even to slackpack him, for now. Best to stay focused on the trail and on reaching Katahdin.
Voicemails from Gram
Another missed call. Another voicemail. “Raymond, it’s Gram. Well, I saw that it’s going to rain tonight and I was worried about you. I hope you don’t get wet out there. I’m going to call Cher and see if she knows where you are. You’re on my mind all the time. I love you, my grandson.” We introduced you to OneFoot’s 91 year-old Gram in our post about Mount Greylock. The love this woman has for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren is beyond measure. Early on in the hike, we found ourselves frustrated that she didn’t understand why Ray doesn’t have his phone on to always answer her frequent calls. How ridiculous and selfish of us was that? Now, we find ourselves saving the messages. Time is precious and so is Gram. I called today to update her on the trek and when she calls me tomorrow, I’ll be grateful for the opportunity to do it again.
At Home in the White Mountains
OneFoot is well into the Whites now. He has hiked these mountains many times before but he’s excited to be there without worry of having a tight timeline or deadline to return to work. His strategy, as it always is along this challenging terrain, is to take it slow and steady. He always practices safety first and keeps a keen eye on the weather and his surroundings. Case in point: October 2017 when our plan was to summit Mount Washington. We hiked into Tuckerman Ravine and enjoyed a night to ourselves there. We planned to head out early the next morning to summit Washington as the weather reports indicated potential rain and a drop in temperatures for late afternoon. As we made our way up the headwall, the weather began to turn. The light rain turned colder. We continued on for a bit as the rain intensified and the rocks grew slippery. We were about a mile or so from the summit when Ray called it and insisted that we turn back. I was frustrated and disappointed and briefly argued with him. But I knew better. My hiking skills and limited experience with such climbs made it the safest option so I reluctantly agreed. It is my confidence in OneFoot’s practical judgment that gives me peace on this journey.
So Much to Look Forward To
The White Mountains, the Maine border, the 100-Mile Wilderness, and Mount Katahdin. There is still so much to look forward to. But, in all honesty, at this point I most look forward to the morning I wake up in our bed with my Raymond sleeping next to me. It’s been a long (almost) six months. As we get down to the last few weeks, I find myself sad that the end is near but also relieved that it will be over soon. Our lives apart from each other are starting to feel like the norm and neither of us likes that. So far, the journey has been all that we hoped it would be and the separation has been as difficult as we feared.
So What’s Next
The question is coming more frequently now from those who’ve followed OneFoot’s adventure. What’s the plan for after the AT? Quite simply, we don’t know. Short term, he will return home and I will learn to sleep on my side of the bed again instead of in the middle. Longer term, we are making plans for an extended road trip in Molly the Roadtrek that will happen next summer. Of course, you are all invited to follow along! Midterm? Hmmm, we’re not really sure but our plans will include taking the lessons we’ve learn from the AT and incorporating them into our daily lives off the trail. A simpler life filled with gratitude, meaningful experiences, and friendships rather than stuff. That’s our plan.
Until the Next White Blaze,
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