A year ago today I announced publically on Facebook that I wouldn't be joining 10,000 other folks and heading to Pennsic (a large medieval event that takes place in PA in July) as I had for about 8 years. Instead:
"...I am thru hiking the Appalachian Trail starting at the end of April in Harper's Ferry (heading north to Maine and then coming back (by the way of a lift, bus, train or ??) to Harper's Ferry and hiking south to Georgia).
Originally I had thought of breaking the trail to come to Pennsic but the logistics (of going from a backpack to a Pennsic encampment and then back to the trail), the fact I can't come up with a good reason to do so (-beyond loving my friends) and in truth, basically the fact I want to devote myself to completing the 2200 miles with some sanity intact I am going to focus on it."
A year later I am back home in Nova Scotia, where I spend my Christmases, realizing that I did not accomplish that plan.
I did hike 960 miles of the Appalachian Trail. I did head north to Maine and make it there. As I told others I accomplished the majority of the 'flip' of my planned flip flop thru hike.
More importantly, I listened to me.
Maybe for the first time in my life I learned over the miles of the Trail how to listen to my body and live in and through my body rather than just my brain.
To understand this accomplishment you would have to know a bit more about me. I am 5 foot 6 inches tall and heavy set. By the time I was 14 I knew a number of local paths but generally I walked them to find a place to read undisturbed. I first read about the Appalachian Trail around that time - was amazed at the geography and history of it and the realization that it was the same mountain chain that ran through my home province. I had read the entire hardcover fiction collection of the children's library by that summer. I was not a sporty kid. I was the one in the back field daydreaming sometimes about the Trail.
But life happens - high school, university, grad school none of it changed the perspective that I did much better residing in my brain rather than my body. I occupied my body like a foreign invader, using it but not caring for it. I rode my bike everywhere (didn't actually learn to drive until I was 36), travelled around the world, broke my leg, moved across provinces, got married. Woke up one day and realized I was having problems walking up a set of stairs. I hated having to deliver the mail or faxes to folks at the office since it meant needing to climb stairs. I was over 325lbs and people around me were concerned I wasn't going to make it past the next few years.
That was 10 years ago.
September 1st, 2015 I came off the Trail at south of Stratton injured, weary, truthfully bone tired with a weird combination of sadness, resignation and happiness to be 'done.' I am going to take accomplishing almost half my original goal as 'not bad.'
I am still just 5 foot 6 inches but now I am about 100 lbs lighter than I once was. I have miles to go and you know, I am okay with that.
The Mountains will still be there next year and I will climb them.
The wiki article on the notch states:
The boulders on this mile-long section of trail present obstacles that must be climbed over and sometimes under, creating a unique hiking experience. There are occasional 10-foot (3.0 m) drops, and places where packs must be removed to squeeze beneath a boulder.
Many hikers call this stretch one of the slowest on the 2,179-mile (3,507 km) trail. This so-called "killer mile" or the "Toughest Mile" is a very tough section that can cause even the most experienced hikers to slow down. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahoosuc_Notch)
The space it took up in my brain as we approached it was much greater than the length of mile. I had heard stories of boulder fields and chaos, of injuries and of accomplishments. I met hikers who loved it and in truth did it more than once just because they loved it and others who dreaded it and tried to figure out ways to slack pack it. I was warned to not even attempt it on a wet day and definitely not alone so when our morning dawned clear at the shelter I was glad. And we set off.
The is nothing like anticipation to make the approach trail from the shelter seem even longer. And green tunnels of rocks and trees do not let you get a glimpse of what is coming which is 'fine' because your brain is filling in details for you. In a way no matter what is said it became the "here be dragons" part of my virtual map of the trail.
Greyhound had hiked it 20 years ago but she just remembered climbing down and up and trying to figure out paths where there seemed no clear markers. We weren't putting much pressure on ourselves in one way, we had decided getting through was the only aim for the day and if that meant we just got to the stream at the other end before dark that would be fine. From Full Goose Shelter to the start of the Notch was only a mile and half so we waited a little longer than usual not heading out until about 8:30 in hopes that the rocks would be dry from yesterday's rain by the time we got there.
It took us under 4 hours to transverse this 1 1/4 mile. (And though how long it takes was never the point of my hike some how it made me happy to discover others had been slower as well as many who had been much faster. Few do that mile in under a mile unless they know the trek well since some of the time is spent not only climbing but wondering where the next blaze is.) We did find a mossy boulder to stop and have lunch and congratulate each other on not dying yet at about the midway point. And at the end of the Notch we thought we could keep going.
Well, that was until we took off our packs to climb down to the stream for water. We sat for a moment and then discovered our legs had hit 'enough' point for the day. We set up camp. (We were thinking we would avoid the Harvard kids (since there wasn't enough space in the stealth camping area for a group of 16 (and there wasn't until they knocked down trees and trampled areas) ) & the heavy snorers of the shelter the night before (instead they both arrived and set up camp right next door 4 hours later). Oh well, we had made it and we tried to sleep with the Notch safely behind us.
It didn't actually stay behind me. I had managed to scraped skin off patch of localized scleroderma on my right leg. If it hadn't been my other leg it would have bruised but that doesn't happen on my lower right leg. Over the last four months ( almost to the day since it happened) I have been on oral antibiotics, topical and numerous painkillers as somehow the nerves became inflamed in the healing process. Slowly the skin is healing and it will, if I can find the patience to wait. The only hard deadline for its healing is August 25th, 2016 when I plan to be back on the trail heading south.
It certainly isn't the only physical marker I have from the Trail but it is the first one I think about each morning as I change the bandage on it.
Are there any points on the Trail/Life that had/have "There be Dragons" concerns for you?
As noted through the last post series of photos there weren't many days on the Presidential Range that I got a sense of the amazing landscape we were traversing. My body let me know that it was a work out but the majesty of it did not become clear until climbing the Wildcats.
Recorded in facebook after making it to Pinkham Notch: "Today was hard and I hurt. My knees hurt from climbs up and down mountains, my ankles hurt from rolling them on wet rocks and heck my elbows hurt but those are mostly from bruising when I fall.
I know to some folk I am living the life of adventure but after two and half days of finding my way cairn to cairn in the fog and getting wet from rain or walking through clouds and then having the clouds break only as we start to make our way back down in to the green tunnel. Today was just hard." After sleep in a bed at the lodge and breakfast Greyhound and I headed off to Carter Hut.
I was still sore and on the approach to the mountain managed to jar my knee but no one but me saw the tears or heard the intake of breath.
I knew it wasn't going to be a fast day of hiking for me. But I was determined it was going to be enjoyable. Greyhound and I kept close for the ascent on Wildcat E which is a steep climb but then on mutual agreement she took off covering the miles to Carter. We would send messages by other hikers to let them know each was fine. Well, I would ask if south bound folk had seen her - thin, determined woman in pink ... and one said " would she have asked me if she was still on the AT?" Looking about at the lack of blazes and rough terrain, I smiled and said "yes, that would be her."
The ski lift operates in the summer so those who don't want to do the hike up can still see the views. The operator and I had a great conversation as I asked if he had any water. ( I had been hoping for a pop machine since - cold caffeinated sugar would have been wonderful.) He did have a gallon container left over from a mountain bike rally the weekend before so let me drink two glasses. I passed that important water source to hikers who passed me as the day was sunny and the terrain hard. At times I would take a breather trying to figure out the wall of rock ahead of me as try 'Open Sesame' just in case it would work. Made me smile if nothing else.
Got down to the Hut just as supper was being served and night was falling.
Glimpses of beauty through fog, rain, hail, 70 mph winds. Every bit of blue sky and sun beam was to be cherished whether we found it along a blue or white blazed trail.
I will return to this to add captions but if you have a specific question feel free to leave me a comment.
Day started at Eliza Brook Shelter and ended up at Lonesome Lake Hut. It wasn't where I had expected to end up since though Greyhound and I had talked about staying in some of the AMC huts this time we were aiming for a hostel down in the notch.
The morning dawned with beautiful weather . The climbs of South and North Kinsman were challenging, in my opinion more challenging than Moosilauke. The hike brought with it some of the first areas where I found myself looking up the inclines wondering exactly how I was suppose to accomplish climbing that. It was the beginning of a new component to my hikes "the study " moment which hopefully lead to the "this is 'a' path'" moment.
We got to the top of South Kinsman in somewhat good time with the aim of heading to Lonesome Lake Hut for a bit of a late lunch before climbing down. Food is always a good motivator -especially food that you haven't needed to carry in your pack. The Huts have a reputation for good cheap food and so often over the coming days would be our hoped for mid or end point of the day's hike.
As I continued along coming up against walls of stone which required climbing up or figuring out ways of getting safely down we ran into crews doing work on the Trail. Since they were in the middle of changing a few things it meant you came across 15 ft high boulders that might have an old rung or two somewhere near the center of them and indications that there were once wooden steps attached. No longer was there a way to get to those rungs but you would look at them as you made your way trying to find crevices to jam your boots into while hopefully maintaining a grasp of something solid.
As we got closer to the Hut, we came across the new log ladders/stair case built by the crew we had seen earlier. Two freshly cut logs with the bark still attaches and damp rungs of logs with a 'step' hewed relatively straight across. Most often I turned around and slowly climbed down backwards, this time after watching others just walk merrily down them, I with my new found confidence decided I could do that too.
Moments later, quicker than it takes to write, I was falling and throwing my legs up in the air since getting them trapped by the ladder could end up in breaks rather than bruises. There is nothing like contact martial arts & stage combat to teach you how to fall. As Greyhound said it could have been much much worse. As it was I threw myself down the rock face rolling from the now bruised hip to slide down on my backpack the only true casualty being a hiking pole and my self confidence.
After reassuring herself that I was okay, Greyhound went ahead to check and see if perhaps we could find space at the Hut as I couldn't walk much further that day. I slowly made my way, trying to figure out how to favour one leg and use only one pole across the rest of the rough hewn log bridges and steps. But we did get bunks and we made it in before the thunder storms hailed their way across the mountains.
The next morning dawned with the promise of brighter days ahead and that is sometimes the best you can get.
Looking back is good. The Whites were hard in many ways for me so somehow I had tarnished all of New Hampshire with the same impression of fog and frustration.
I had forgotten some of this beauty.
Trapper John Shelter - I never made the pilgrimage to since it didn't fit into our schedule and .3 of a mile becomes .6 if you are merely going to visit and snap a picture of a shelter named for an imaginary graduate of Dartmouth College.
Mr Bill, though is mere steps from the Trail and his generosity would be worth a much longer hike. He opens his yard (and electricity) to say nothing of his generous heart and freezer full of icecream to all who come by. A Trail Angel well worth the time to visit. For days after when the trek became hard Greyhound and I would joke about turning around and going back to his beautiful house to visit.
But we continued on through and made our way to Happy Hiker Hostel. Loved the folk but it was more chaotic than my other hostel experiences and somehow not as restful. Might have been the fact I was allergic to the laundry soap, which I only discovered while hiking the next day or just the noise (including the hubbub of a very family style breakfast) which I really should have been used to. We did two days of slack packing including south bounding across Mount Moosilauke and then headed out with felt even heavier than usual packs on our way to Eliza Brooks Shelter.
Met a pair of wonderful women at Eliza Brooks - the woman pictured ( who I have much to my chagrin forgotten the actual name of) will always be referred to as the maker of coffee. We had infront of us a hard day of hiking*, but we couldn't agree to make coffee before we headed out. We had sadly come to the conclusion that it would take too much time. She decided she would see us off in good style - happily caffeinated.
*Harder than even she knew as I took my worse fall of the hike - more about that later.
There are books about how to environmentally deal with your own waste in the woods, there are blog posts, and then there are frustrations as you come across places where people haven't buried their waste or left tp everywhere (by the way tp does not break down quickly in the woods - bury it or take it with you.)
Due to these frustrations and a number of other reasons I actually like outhouses. (Many of the folks I hiked with didn't and would avoid them.) Then again, I grew up with one at the cottage where we spent our summers (and every other weekend we could). I aimed to stay at shelters in part because of privies. (I also hate carrying a wet tent). By the way not all the shelters have them. On my walk to Maine I found a few in PA that didn't have them - rather disappointing - especially since trying to dig down deep enough to properly bury waste is difficult when everything is rocks.
There are a variety of styles on the AT each operated by a local crew. Some would like you to pee in the woods and in others where liquid is wanted. Some where you should check that there is leaf debris in the outhouse before grabbing your tp and heading to 'go,' and a few where they didn't smell and tp was provided. It didn't matter to me. I planned my days with the hope of starting near one just made the start to my day simpler.
Below are few pictures of the variety available as you hike. Including the Moose Mountain Shelter in New Hampshire which surprised me with being rather 'airy' and a lovely view of the tents. (It was the only privy I came across written up many times in the shelter log.)
Whatever you do, take care of your poo.
Welcome to New Hampshire! The Trail goes through Hanover and the town is well adjusted to welcoming hungry stinky hikers who are usually looking for a place to charge their devices. The Trail goes right past a Starbucks where the barista decided I needed more calories so when I said make me anything she made me the largest full cream Frappuccino I have ever see. I sat and sipped it as I wrote letters home and waited for Greyhound to arrive.
I had met up with Greyhound for a day in Pennsylvania right before I had had to get off the Trail to heal up broken skin on my shoulders & feet. When she heard I was still going she got in contact to see if I wanted company to tackle New Hampshire & Southern Maine to Rangeley. She had thru hiked the AT 20 years ago but had also started a section hike of it about 23 years ago. New Hampshire & Maine to Rangeley was the last section she need to tie together all those section hikes she had done over the years. She just never wanted to do it alone.
I wasn't quite certain how I was going to do it. My plans were not as detailed as I had hoped to be covering more miles by then and still the elevations just left me worried that I wouldn't be able to accomplish it. Making myself responsible to support someone else achieving their dreams made it more possible for me to make it happen. So off we headed. We didn't make it that far our first day out, but then again we didn't leave town (seductive town) until 3 or so.
Velvet Rock Shelter is the second picture - it has a clear roof which was interesting to be under as the storm clouds rolled in. There was a younger hiker who didn't understand why it was called Velvet Rocks as all the moss was green not red. Tried to explain that velvet doesn't have to be red but in an age where red velvet is used to describe cake & carpets rather than fabric, he couldn't grasp it.
Vermont is known for many things beyond mud. The turning point in part was Mount Killington. My first 4000 on the trail, strangest occurrence of trail magic with the appearance of the 'Gatorade Fairy' and just finding the most positive souls as I hiked.
Merlin (not pictured) and Dayglow were doing the Long Trail on their way to Quebec. We didn't often hike together during the day since I lollygag too much for Merlin but we met up at the shelters and chatted hours away. Dayglow tackled so much on this hike that was outside of her comfort zone she was just inspirational. (Moosehead is in the kilt, he was thru hiking the trail and a great guy to share a run down mouse laden shelter with.)
I was sad to lose Merlin & Dayglow when the Long Trail and the AT divided. They continued north straight up Vermont to Quebec and I turned towards New Hampshire. (Back when I was planning this looking at the maps of New Hampshire was enough to scare me but there were miles of Vermont left before that.) I had the luck to run in to a group of women hiking together. I hadn't seen many groups hiking, sharing food and duties when it came to camp. In the beginning I thought they were a group of friends who came together every year to hike part of it. Wasn't until later that I discovered they had come together through an ad and for some it was their first time in a group hike. It was like being back in the ebb and flow of hiking with Charlie & Irish since they took set breaks, actual lunches and often just enjoyed the rush of a cold stream or the warmth of the sun in a field.
Lucky 70 and I spent an entire day slowly hiking along and discussing almost everything under the sun from shared Danish heritage to her experiences of hiking Maine. She had decided a few years prior to celebrate her 70th birthday by hiking the AT in Maine. Until then she hadn't done many over night hikes at all. To learn that it is never too late to start your passion was rather reassuring.
Tomorrow I will introduce you to New Hampshire & Greyhound who tackled it with me.
(In case you want to support mine of heading to Georgia next year there is a button below this image of Eagle which will take you to the calendar.)