Day 142 Clarendon Gorge-Killington Peak // 11.2 miles. My birthday. Went to a diner down the road for breakfast, saw lots of hikers there. We met a new guy, I can’t remember his name, and he rubbed us all so wrong because he came up and immediately said and asked all the of the things that we are sick of hearing and talking about. Hard climb out. There was a washout with a detour that put us on some nice gravel roads in rural Vermont. I marveled at the size of everyone’s wood pile and imagined everything covered with snow. Meanwhile, it was really hot. We stopped for water at the base of our last long climb for the day, and the guy from the diner came up. This time he wanted to talk about his theory that our technology comes from aliens. Long, hard climb up Killington. Everyone else pulled ahead and I listened to a Radiolab episode about conflict between some scientists who wanted to save the whooping crane and a lady whose husband had Alzheimer’s and seemed to get a little better when he could sit and watch his bird feeder. They wanted her to take it down so the cranes wouldn’t use it and get used to humans. It was very absorbing and touching. Epic summit on Killington Peak with lots of friends there: Honeybun and SoCrates, Mad Max. It was super windy, a beautiful sunset, wonderful campsite. Tons of stars. A good birthday present.
Day 143, Killigton Peak to Killington, VT // 10.2 miles. Hot again. The trail took us in a big wide circle, ten miles to end up right below where we’d slept last night. I really wished I hadn’t known that was what was happening as we hiked. I felt grumpy, sweaty and gross. The place we’d planned to stay turned out to actually have no food, no AC, no TV, and no hot tub, and the owner seemed annoyed to have to talk to us even, so we walked down the road to a motel not listed in the book. It was owned by two very nice people who roast their own coffee and had a gas station with an awesome sandwich shop next door. It’s nice when things seem to be going downhill, then suddenly get better than expected.
Day 144, 0 in Killington. The usual: ate, slept, chores, HGTV. We watched Under the Dome some more on my phone. I really struggled with the whole thing today. I felt like I was rapidly falling apart, and that I was so close and yet I was still really far and I didn’t want to come all this way just to stop now, but I was beginning to wonder if I was being crazy and if it was worth it. I was just feeling so terrible. My mom suggested I take a bus up the road a bit and spend a day “hanging out in a coffee shop” while the boys caught up. I really mulled it over, but I knew the next day I’d just hurt again, and I still couldn’t bring myself to skip trail. Aunt Carol told me to just commit to one or two weeks at a time, so that’s what I did. I decided I would get to Hanover, New Hampshire. I’ve wanted to check this town out for so long, I’m not sure why really, but even way back in Georgia when I was first coming to terms with what we’d undertaken, I remember thinking, “Well, I can’t quit because I’ve got to see Hanover.”
Day 145 Killington, VT to Winturri Shelter // 16 miles. Another delicious breakfast, reluctant departure. We passed a lovely waterfall first thing. Wish we had time to stop and splash around in it a bit, but the dilly-dallying (as my mom would say) part of the trip is long gone. Then lots of short ups and downs. Trees starting to turn, just barely. I listened to lots of podcasts to keep myself distracted because I felt so tired and not into hiking. We were all sort of having a bad attitude day even though everything was beautiful around. Had a hot lunch by beautiful water, a creek with deep crystal clear pools. It was probably my first meal of ramen in my life, and it was so comforting. At the shelter an 80 year old man gave us advice: “The trail is like life. You just make a commitment and then grind it out.” Very grim. You hear a lot that why keep doing something voluntary that’s miserable, so it was kind of nice for this gruff old man to tell us, just finish it even if it sucks. He and his wife came around later with a pen and paper to write down the names of all our gear.
Day 146, Winturri Shelter to stealth camp at mile 1731 // 14 miles. We had our eye on a market we could reach around lunchtime. The forest was beautiful, open, carpeted with leaves. Despite sleeping well and long I felt tired and had to talk myself out of just curling up on the soft, leafy forest floor and going to sleep. I kept daydreaming about putting my head on a pillow. When the trail got any sort of incline, no matter how tiny, I felt like I was walking through water. We came down to the road to the market around one. They didn’t have much there, but we cooked our ramen and drank sodas and ate coleslaw they had leftover from last night’s BBQ. And then ice cream, tho I am tolerating sugar so little these days I could only stomach a few bites. We lay around in the sun for much longer than our usual lunch break, then got up to hike on. Not too long after we left the market I was listening to podcasts when two people suddenly passed me and scared me because I hadn’t known they were there. After the adrenaline surge died down I was a little irritated at them for sneaking up on me (even tho I’m the one with headphones in!) and I didn’t look at their faces as they passed. When I caught up to Eric and Animal and Jay I found out it had been Teton and Moose, a couple we had last seen way, way back in Franklin, NC, back when Eric was just Eric–they didn’t even know his trail name. Crazy! Lots of little ups and downs these past few days. They’re hard on my knees. I was so thankful to get to camp before six because that meant we were able to do all chores and be in the tent by seven. Hopefully I’ll be asleep before eight!
Day 147, stealth camp to Hanover, NH // 12.3 miles. We got up with one goal in mind: Indian buffet. On the way there we discussed what we would do in Hanover. I’d been having a hard time hiking for several days and felt utterly depleted. But we’d just recently taken a zero, we didn’t want to lose Animal and Jay, and Hanover is a pricey place to stay. We decided we’d just spend one night and hike on. We showered at trail angel Short and Sweet’s house at the edge of town before walking a couple more miles in to eat at the buffet. Worth the hike. We resupplied at a glorious co-op that reminded me of the one I where I used to shop in Corvallis, before we left to do the trail. I got all kinds of delicious food. We were going to stay in SandS’s basement, but so were a lot of other people, and I really felt like I needed some space. So we splurged for a room in Hanover in by far the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in.
Days 148 and 149, double zero in Hanover. Neither of these days were planned. Both mornings we woke up and made motions to go, then looked at each other and said, let’s stay another day. Very, very good decision. It was unusually hot both days, in the upper 90s, and it was hard just walking down the street to get food. I was so glad not to be hiking, even though suddenly we knew we probably wouldn’t be finishing with Animal (which I guess at some point I’d assumed we would do). He and Jay had hiked on, and with a two day lead and my weakness, it looks really unlikely we’ll catch up to them. So, that sucks, but it’s almost a miracle that we’ve managed to hike together for so long anyway, so we’ll just be grateful for that. Eric’s college friend Karen lives nearby and came to visit. She had done the Long Trail, so she understood what we were going through. It felt good to talk to someone who really got it.
Day 150, Hanover to Holt’s Ledge // 16 miles. It was hard to leave our adopted town, but it was definitely time to go. We stopped at a bagel shop for our breakfast sandwich rations, and the owner must have sensed our struggle because he started giving us this philosophical lecture about not backing down in the face of fear. Eventually we got out of town. It was hard hiking too. I just had no power, no strength, and struggled with the slightest hills. My good friend from Seattle was starting the first day of school running her own classroom, and I thought about her all day when it was hard, and that was encouraging. I walked slow, slow all day, my knees and feet hurting.
Day 151, Holt’s Ledge to stealth camp Mt Cube // 13.8 miles. We passed by the Ice Cream Man in the morning but didn’t stop. I don’t have much of an appetite lately, and ice cream at 9:30 sounded horrible. I was slow again, beginning to suspect my new shoes weren’t working out. Everything felt weak. We knew you could often get overnight shipping on Zappos, and that we would come across a hostel tomorrow that took mail drops, so we checked cell signal and found we had enough to order a new pair of shoes right there. I went back to the Altras that had been working for me since Waynesboro, VA, except I got a beefier version with a ridiculous amount of cushion on the bottom. We walked until we found a partially cleared spot by the trail and just collapsed there.
Day 152, Mt Cube to Jeffer’s Brook Shelter // 14.5 miles. After a few peaceful days, today we started to see lots of people. Other hikers, and Dartmouth students out on orientation adventures. I was hurting still. It’s amazing how everything else falls apart when your feet do. I was trying to get my hips and legs working right but I just felt so incapable. I was really discouraged. But then at lunchtime we heard some familiar voices around the bend. Phoenix and Johnny Appleseed!!! These, if you’ve forgotten, are our dear friends we met in a freezing rainstorm back in North Carolina, whom we hiked with all through the Smokies, and then lost when they got off trail for a wedding and dealt with a lot of injury. They’d flipped up to Maine and were hiking south. We sat down right there in the trail for a long lunch and lots of catching up. They gave us their take on the looming Whites and lifted our spirits a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. It was hard to hike on knowing we wouldn’t see them again for awhile, but I felt a lot better all afternoon. We stopped at a hostel for a ride into town (I don’t even know which one!) to resupply and pick up my new new shoes, then hiked another mile to camp with several others at the base of Moosilauke. I could tell already these shoes were going to be so much better. The lesson is: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Day 153: Jeffer’s Brook Shelter to site around mile 1797.6 // 10.1 miles. We started climbing Moosilauke right off. I struggled with how long and steep the climb was mentally (too much looking at the elevation profile will do that to you), and I felt like I’d be climbing forever. But my feet felt so much better and it was over eventually. It was humid and we were drenched, but the wind on the exposed summit cooled us off. We descended along Beaver Brook. Because the mountain is so steep, the trail down plunges alongside the “brook”, which is really a long waterfall. It was amazingly steep and painful on worn out joints, but very beautiful. In many places the way to get down was to step on narrow “steps” of slick wood attached to vertical rock faces, spaced way apart. As we were climbing out of Kinsman Notch it started to rain. We were stopped at the base of a sheer rock face that looked too dangerous to climb in the driving rain. We huddled there getting soaked and colder for awhile before deciding to press on and find a place to camp. I’m not even sure how we got up that rock, I just remember thinking if I was going to get soaked I was going to at least get somewhere at the same time, not just stand there. Eventually we found a passable spot for the tent (though at this point we have almost no standards for campsites at all) and got dry-ish.
Day 154: stealth site to site at mile 1808.6 // 11 miles. The climb today was the double-peaked Kinsman Mountain. It was really cold and wet all morning. Steep again, but shorter than Moosilauke. As we went down the first summit, a glider flew overhead. It was eerily quiet and swooped very low to the mountain. It looked really fun but terrifying to fly. It was another long descent and slow going. Found another stealth site when the daylight ran out. Our strategy right now is just hike all day, at whatever pace I can sustain, and stop when it starts to get dark. We haven’t been planning to get to specific mile points or marked campsites. We just do as much as we can.
Day 155: site to Lincoln, NH // 3.6 miles. We got going early so we could get into town. We made good time but had trouble understanding where the guidebook wanted us to go. There was time-wasting confusion about where we were with the shuttle we called. Eventually we made it into town. We showered at Chet’s, a hostel garage setup in a local guy’s house. Then we resupplied and ate lunch. The restaurant where we ate had a train track mounted on the ceiling that would make a lap when you pushed a button. They were playing music really loudly too, and it was crowded. It turned into a difficult meal as the noise of the train constantly going and everyone talking and the blaring music got to be too much for both of us. It was late and I’d been concerned about leaving town right away to do five days in the Whites. We’d already been out five days and I felt the need for a night in a bed and the chance to wash clothes before another push. So we decided to stay, and ended up in this adorable cabin from the 30s with a screened porch overhanging the river. And a shower and TV. I told Eric I was tired of looking at his scraggly beard and that I would keep hiking as long as he shaved. I didn’t truly intend to hijack the trip, but he did shave.
Day 156: Lincoln to site near Galehead Hut // 12 miles. We got back on the trail early and started the climb up to Franconia Ridge. Once up there, we were above tree line for several miles as we went over three summits. The weather was perfect. We passed a large group of French people, and it seemed like they were a choir or something? They were all singing up there on the mountain. Surreal. After a long push we went back down below tree line. We went up and over Garfield next, then wearily found another stealth site on the other side.
Day 157: site to Ripley Falls site // 15.2 miles. Once again, started off with a long steep climb. We had a joke with Animal, poking fun at people who had been saying, since Georgia, “This is what the Whites are like!” about anything slightly difficult. So every now and then one or the other of us will shout back, “This is what the Whites are like!” We stopped in at Galehead Hut to buy some baked goods. The huts are these large solar-powered bunkhouses run by college students where people pay to stay on little trips into the Whites. Thru-hikers don’t stay there as guests because you have to make reservations way in advance, and we can’t plan like that. But sometimes they let hikers trade some labor for a spot on the dining room floor. Eric is interested in doing a work for stay while we are here, but I know that at the end of a day of hiking, the last thing I want to do is any “work”, especially at the mercy of some power-crazy college kids (no offense, this is just how I imagine them). So I am resisting this idea as much as possible. We left there and went up again. The descent was gentler down to Zealand Falls Hut, where we ate lunch and bought more baked goods. After the hut came several glorious miles of clear, even trail on an old railroad bed. Nothing to haul myself up or down, so nice. We made some good time for the first time in a long time and camped by a beautiful waterfall.
Day 158: Ripley Falls to Crawford Notch Campground // .5 miles. The plan was to hike to the road, get a ride to resupply at a campground store, then come back and hike. But it was hard getting a hitch there, and then while we were trying to get back it rained harder and harder. I started to think it might be a good idea to just stay at the campground, rather than go way up in elevation where the storm was certain to be worse. Eric talked a guy into giving us a ride back to the trail before I got a chance to suggest that. While we were driving I said, “I’m wondering if this is a bad idea.” After awhile, Eric said, “Yeah, maybe you’re right.” It was starting to rain harder and harder. The guy giving us the ride said he wouldn’t want to hike in that either and it was no problem to drive us back. So we took him up on that! We spent the day in one of their primitive cabins, and I took a $4 shower. It’s just four walls and a roof, but we are warm and dry and spent the day napping and listening to Game of Thrones. We lost a day of hiking, but I think it’s worth it.
Day 159: Crawford Notch to Lakes of the Clouds Hut // 11.2 miles. I slept terribly in the cabin on the creaky old mattress and it was at first a relief to get out of there and back on the trail. Then it was hard and tiring. I had a bad attitude, and every time I saw the highway down below I wanted to be on it going home. It was windy and cloudy and cold all day, a chill down to the bones that we could only get rid of inside the huts. We got soup for lunch at Mizpah Hut with Dancing Feather and Grizzelle. It was hard to leave the hot bowl of soup and the warmth of the hut and go back out for a long afternoon of exposed ridge line hiking in the wind. Plus, I knew we were going to have to try to do work-for-stay at Lakes of the Clouds Hut. “What?” you are (perhaps) asking, “I thought you were opposed to doing work-for-stay?” Yes, but too many miles of exposed ridge line, plus the summit of Mt. Washington, stood between the hut and the next camping, and it was too late in the day for us to tackle all that. There is a place at the hut for hikers called “The Dungeon” where you can stay without work, but I was so cold that sleeping inside the hut seemed work whatever work we had to do. We got to Lakes of the Clouds around three thirty, and they tried to make us hike on, but Eric told them I was injured and there was no way we could make it over Washington and several more peaks before dark. So they let us stay. More and more hikers showed up until there was a big group. They sat us on a bench on one wall for hours and hours and hours while we waited for all the guests to arrive and eat. Our “stay” included any leftovers from the guests’ meal, but there were a lot of us there and I was worried there wouldn’t be enough. When the sun went down there was an inversion, so we all went outside to watch. We were above the clouds watching it set, and even caught a faint glow of the northern lights. Around 8:30 they finally let us go back and get food. Turned out there was plenty, so we stuffed ourselves with leftover food, then went back to work. They first task they offered was to clean out the mesh catch basin were all the food scraps from the dishwater are caught. Everyone hesitated to volunteer because we weren’t sure whether this was the worst job they had or if it would get worse from there. Eric valiantly accepted it. Dandelion got “organizing the library” and was the envy of everyone else. I ended up scrubbing baking sheets with steel wool. I was supposed to be getting off that cooked on black stuff that everyone knows doesn’t come off. I spent an hour scrubbing and accomplished pretty much nothing, but finally finally finally we got to go to bed. We were sleeping in the dining room and I didn’t want the sticky crumby floor, so I was wedged on a bench near the bathroom. There was basically a never ending flow of people to and from the bathroom all night, and every single one of them went, “Oh what’s that on the bench?” and shined their headlamp directly into my face, then realized it was a person trying to sleep and turned away. So, not a good night’s sleep. Work-for-stay turned out to be everything I imagined it would be. Glad it’s behind me. But, check out our sunset: