Welcome to New Hampshire
Day 162: 4,480 ft ascent, 16.1 miles
After racing through Vermont without taking a day off, I was counting down the days before we could get to the next town and take a zero day. Erik and I knew we wanted to play the weather when we got to the White Mountains. Our push through Vermont and the beginning of New Hampshire was intentional; we wanted as much ‘extra’ time as possible to try to hike through the White Mountains with a good weather window. The White Mountains seemed to be a highlight for almost all of the former through hikers we had met along the way on the trail. After doing all of the work to get there, it was important for us to reward ourselves for our hard work by getting the views when we got there. This meant even though we were tired, we were pushing on a few more days into New Hampshire before giving our bodies a break.
I thought our deli-blazing days were behind us, but as we left Hanover and I scanned my FarOur app I saw some comments about another convenience store/deli up ahead. Even with packs full of food I didn’t want to let the opportunity for a sandwich pass us by. We took the first road we got to that morning and walked into a small town. I got a sandwich and Erik got some snacks, then we were on our way continuing down the road to meet back up with the trail.
Before the hike, I thought I would be a purist wanting to pass every white blaze. After five months on trail, I was less a purist and more of a “continuous footpath to Maine” kind of person. Taking these walking detours created more memories than we would’ve had if we had touched every trail mile, and in most cases added miles to our overall trek.
Back on the trail, I was on the lookout for moose. I wanted to see a moose (from a distance). I thought climbing Moose Mountain that afternoon would give us a good chance to see one. Sadly, no moose were spotted on Moose Mountain.
Day 163: 4,310 ft ascent, 13.3 miles
We had two big climbs planned for the day: Smarts Mountain and Mt. Cube. Erik had some computer work to do on his phone, so he hiked ahead and we made plans to meet at the fire tower at the top of the climb. It was a tough climb and felt never-ending. The trail builders were nice enough to give you a break about halfway up the climb with an overlook showing you the top of the mountain where you were headed. I’m not sure if seeing the destination makes it more imposing or less. Either way the trail went up so I did too.
It was right around lunchtime when my Courtney pace finally got me to the top of the climb. It was a beautiful day, and the views at the top of the fire tower went on for miles. It was odd that we could see Mt. Cube where we would be heading next. I know I hike for miles every day, but walking in the green tunnel of trees you don’t often get a sense of how far you’re really walking. Mt. Cube seemed too far away to walk to in a day, and yet there we stood planning to get there that evening. Weird.
As we headed down Smarts Mountain, I could feel my knees starting to hurt. I knew we had been pushing hard to get through Vermont to the Whites. We still had a few days before our next planned zero day. I hoped they would hold out for the next few days as well as the rest of the trail. I hadn’t taken much Advil or Ibuprofen on the trail for ongoing pain so far and I hoped I could continue not to.
We continued on and soon came to the climb up Mt. Cube. As we neared the top, we came out onto some exposed granite that allowed views back towards where we had just hiked from. We could see the Smarts Mountain fire tower in the distance. The views in the setting sun seemed to go on forever. The skies were clear (remember that). We took a few minutes to take them in before hurrying up the trail to a stealth spot a little before the summit.
After a long day, I went to sleep tired but knowing I had two more days of hiking before earning my day off. I normally sleep through the night, but around 10pm Erik woke me up. Here we go again, another strong thunderstorm was headed right towards us with 60mph winds! That wasn’t in the forecast when we went to sleep. We had flashbacks to Duncannon when a surprise thunderstorm caught us stealth camping in a gas line easement on top of the ridge. That storm had terrified us, and it was looking like we were in for a repeat of that experience.
Erik quickly jumped out of the tent and tied down the extra stakes. It didn’t take long before the rain started and we could hear the wind in the trees above us. We kept waiting for the wind to start whipping our tent like it had during our last nighttime storm. Waiting and waiting… the intense part of the storm never seemed to hit us. Although we were up on the mountain where the weather is usually worse, we think we were shielded from the worst of the wind because we were camped beside a rock face. The storm soon died down and I went back to sleep feeling like we had been in the right place at the right time.
Day 164: 2,690 ft ascent, 13.4 miles
We had quite a few packages waiting for us in town that afternoon, including a warranty replacement tent for our broken one (yes, our stick and tape fix was still holding up!) as well as new shoes for me. Erik decided to go ahead again to make sure we could catch the post office before they closed. It would be the longest stretch we had not hiked together. Although I had hiked almost every step of the AT with Erik, I had done mostly solo hiking in the past few years leading up to this trip. Alone with my thoughts, I set off down the mountain and Erik quickly disappeared out of view.
Everything was fine until I got to the bottom of the climb. That’s when the mosquitos took aim and started their attack. Suddenly I regretted trying to reduce our pack weights by carrying only one bottle of mosquito repellant between the two of us, which Erik carried. I did the ‘walk and swat’ maneuver for about five minutes before I came to a road crossing.
The trail followed the road for a few minutes and passed a parking lot. Up ahead I noticed another hiker who had just left their car and was heading along the trail in the same direction I was. I normally don’t like asking people for anything, but I was feeling desperate for some potential relief from the mosquitos. I started power walking down the road and quickly narrowed the gap between us as the other hiker ducked into the woods following the trail.
It only took me a few minutes to catch up with her. I sheepishly asked if she had any spare repellant as I stared down the obvious bottle she had in the side pocket of her backpack. She quickly offered it to me and told me to use whatever she had left in the bottle. Nothing on the trail is free, so I knew I would need to hike with this lady for a few minutes and share my story in exchange for the favor. We quickly realized we wanted to hike around the same speed as we started chatting.
She shared details about why she was out hiking in the middle of the week. Her friend wanted to hike the AT but didn’t want to carry a pack. This lady would drive her to the trailhead and drop her off, then drive around to the other side and start walking the opposite direction on the trail. When they met up near the middle, she would turn around and hike back the way she came with her friend. By the end of the trip she will have hiked half of the trail twice.
As she kept talking something started nagging at me. Eventually it came to me; my dad had told me about them. I made the connection with her and she remembered him. She started sharing details about his story that she could only know from remembering his afternoon hiking with them. Our conversation had a new energy to it as we kept hiking and talking. We ended up hiking about five miles together before I stopped to fill up water and she kept hiking. It didn’t take long before it was time for her to double back and we passed. I was introduced to her friend and then we were all quickly on our way. Even though I wasn’t hiking the trail with my dad, it was really fun to get these small connections to him through the trail.
Erik was able to get cell phone service and check in with me soon after that. He wasn’t far ahead, so he decided to wait for me and let me catch up before we finished out the day. The post office had terrible hours and would be closed by the time we got there. We made plans to ship out what we needed at 7am the next morning when they opened. We got to a stealth site at the road crossing where the post office was located and set up for the evening with Mt. Moosilauke looming over us.
Author’s Note: We finished our thru-hike in mid-October! I had gotten behind on writing and uploading my trail updates, so enjoy these out-of-season updates as I finish up the tale of my journey.
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