Beard Length: Tom Hanks in Castaway
Showers Taken: 37
Beers Drank: ??
Bears Spotted: 16
Zero Days: 13
Growing up, New Hampshire was always special to me but I never really appreciated how special it was until I became an adult. Until I explored the mountains and ledges, looking down onto the paths and roads of which previously I had only gazed up from. Having taken the leap into hiking at the beginning of college under the guidance of my colleagues at Speare Hospital and my good friends has changed my life. And it has certainly given me the advantage of having home court advantage on the most difficult section of the Appalachian Trail.
As I stated in the previous post, arriving in New Hampshire was almost as significant to me as reaching the coveted gates of Baxter State Park. The build up of excitement towards hiking my favorite mountains and seeing my friends and family reached its peak (hiking pun) as soon as I crossed the Connecticut River.
After Hanover I got to visit with a physician whom had mentored me early in my career when I was a paramedic student. I had been following the blog and was insistent that I come to stay with him and his wife Kristi at their home in Piermont. Alex Medlicott is probably the kindest human being on this planet, ask any of our friends or coworkers and they will undoubtedly echo this sentiment. As I descended from Ore Hill to the road crossing, I found Alex sotting on a rock reading a book. When he noticed I was approaching he quickly closed it and brought me into a tight embrace undeterred from my incurable thru-hiker odor. He had cold drinks, fresh vegetables, and hand-picked fruit waiting for me for the short ride back to their farm.
A warm shower awaited me along with hours of wonderful conversation and some of the best food I’ve had on trail. Inside their quaint and rustic farmhouse we feasted upon homemade pesto, salad, and hamburgers from their own stock that were accompanied by buns baked by Kristi. If Alex were to ever open a hiker hostel, I’m certain he could best any other on the trail. If that weren’t enough, Alex even picked up a few pints of my favorite ice cream, cookie dough, to have for dessert.
Alex is one of those people that you only meet one of over the course of your life. And the best possible way I could think of to describe him and my visit was that my time spent around Alex inspires me to do all I can to become a better person. The amount of people he has influenced, knowingly or unknowingly, throughout his personal and professional life is uncountable. He truly sets an example through his altruistic and humble life that we should all strive to follow.
The party through New Hampshire continued into a series of shorter hiking days and lots of fun on the boat with my friends and coworkers around the lake. None of which would have been possible without the insane amount of driving my parents did to get my to and from the trail. I truly do not think that I can emphasize enough how lucky I am that my parents are not only supportive of my journey along the AT, but that they are also excited to become involved in it. I’ve met so many hikers who’s parents of detested them for setting out on the trail and want nothing to do with it. Bummer that they don’t have a super cool mom and dad like me.
Throughout the week I had multiple people join me for hikes. Katee Foley and Drew Seefeld on Moosilaukee.
Pat Laforge and his wife Becky were trail heroes again bringing fantastic beer, company, and their camper up to Lincoln to house me and have Pat also hike the Kinsmans with me (sorry Pat!)
And then towards the end of New Hampshire, Kendra Bonczar fulfilled a months long promise to meet me at the top of Moriah with beer and Watermelon. I am so grateful to all of these people both in New Hampshire for sacrificing their time, energy, money, and effort to spend their day with a smelly homeless guy. Sometimes I worry that I could never possibly give back to equate for all I have received over these past several months, but I sure can try.
I could write an entire blog series on the kindness people showed to me, and all the fun I had in New Hampshire, but there’s something else I need to address. The night of August 9th was undisputedly the most important moment of my Appalachian Trail thru hike.
The Laforges brought me to the trailhead under Route I-93 that morning and I looked up at the foggy mist that obscured Franconia Ridge from any view. After a steep 3000 foot climb, I would stand atop that ridge and walk one of my favorite stretches of trail in all of New Hampshire. Although thunderstorms and heavy rain threatened in the near future, as always, there is only one way to walk: North.
As I expected there were no views from the ridge. Breaching the tree-line and pushing on to the summit of Little Haystack, I was transported into another world.
Not out of caution, but rather pure awe and amazement, I slowly traversed the ridge and spent the next two hours of my life walking amongst the clouds. Finally, summiting the northern most and highest peak of Franconia Ridge, Mt. Lafayette, I sat down for a lunch break. It immediately began to pour rain.
I scurried down the north face of the mountain as quickly as I could given the sudden surge of inclement weather. Wind pushed the rain so violently that it stung my cheeks, and for the first time since North Carolina my hands went numb from the cold. And almost unbelievably so, after an hour when I descended 2000 feet into the shelter of the trees, the sun came out and it was beautiful again. So much so, that it was delightful to climb up the next mountain.
When I reached the summit of Mt. Garfield I took my pack off and sat with my back against the remaining foundation of the now nonexistent tower. The last time I sat on this peak was the day we scattered Rachel’s ashes on the summit on a cold September day. Garfield was one of her favorite mountains in the Whites. On the Western border of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, it yields unimpeded views of Franconia Ridge to the south, the Twins to the north, the Bonds northeast, and Owl’s Head to the east. You can see everything, and it is beautiful, it’s easy to imagine why Rach loved it so much.
For awhile I sat in silence and was grateful to have the summit to myself. As I’ve previously voiced I have difficulty telling people on trail my reasoning for hiking the AT and how Rachel had influenced that. Through my writing it is easy because it is an outlet for me and I do not have to experience the uncomfortable faces that mirror back at me when I tell such a depressing story in a mountain playground. And while I sat atop of Garfield I hoped with 364 miles of trail left, something would finally click for me.
The descent from Garfield is steep and slippery with a miniature waterfall cascading down the precipitous rock face. By the time I reached Galehead Hut where I had hoped to do work for stay that night, it was nearly dinner time. Sheepishly, I entered the hut into the crowd of guests eating their deliciously prepared dinner which was included in the handsome price of their stay. As what happens to most thru-hikers when they enter such a scene, some people stopped and stared, others pointed and whispered to their children. Ignoring the gazes that followed me I walked straight through the dining area to inquire with the crew about doing a work for stay tonight. And almost before the words were out of my mouth, the young girl who spoke while stirring a barley stew told me they were full up.
I ate my dinner on the edge of the porch and wondered what to do next. Without too much daylight left, I needed to find a stealth spot fairly close by. And then it came to me; I looked North down the trail and saw the summit of South Twin towering 1000 feet above me. Having hiked that mountain many times, I knew of just the spot between a few boulders on the summit where I could squeeze my one-person tent. So I pushed onward and upward.
The ascent up South Twin is usually one that frustrates the hell out of me because of it’s incredibly steep grade, but in the twilight hour, it was rather beautiful. Hues of pink and yellow glistened off of the wet rock as I climbed and climbed and climbed. This journey up the 8th highest mountain in New Hampshire was different because I knew I’d be staying the night. Once I reached the top, every muscle ache and drop of sweat that rolled down my brow and stung my eyes would be worth the stunning sunset I would surely behold.
Cresting the summit I turned around to see the purple and orange tinted sky that almost appeared as a painting above the dark outline of Franconia Ridge. Gazing south, I saw the entirety of todays hike tracing the mountaintops all the way around to where I was now. No matter how many times I look out at the White Mountains, the majestic views will never fail to amaze me.
The tiny spot between the boulders was exactly how I remembered. Thankfully the wind was a gentle 10-12 mph so my tent did not transform into a make shift parachute causing me to careen off of the summit of the mountain. I changed into my long underwear, winter hat, and down jacket and sat on a rock with my dinner and a Heady Topper from my good buddy Chris Couturier.
South Twin was the last mountain that Rachel and I had ever hiked together. It was part of an overnight that we did with Katee Foley and Jim Gagne in late-August the year she passed. During that hike I could have never imagined that it would be the last summit we would share together. And as the swirls of purple and orange grew ever darker while the day faded to night, I had a conversation with her. More importantly, I got mad at her. On the trail I’ve found that I’ve been able to become more in tune with my emotions. So I finally allowed myself to be angry with her. And I relived the pain and the hurt and all the days and nights of wondering why, and let it all in. But then I stopped and I forgave her. In that moment I felt a peace that I had never before experienced. A beautiful sense of calm tranquility, something that I had longed for since the beginning of this hike. Now everything made sense, everything was worth it. The past four months on the trail mattered. Although I had finally found what I had sought from the trail in one specific instance, everything about my journey since April was a vessel to lead me there.
I don’t necessarily believe in miracles, but I do believe in chance, and the concept that certain things happen to you in life when and only when they were supposed to. For me to have this transcendent encounter atop a mountain at sunset, I had to take all the other steps in my life to be put in that position first. So often in a world of instant gratification we rush, hurry, take shortcuts, and become frustrated when the next step in our path is not clearly placed in front of us. We are all guilty of it. That’s just the way our society is structured. So that cliché about the journey being more important than the destination, well, there’s something to that. All you can do each and everyday is make strides to become the best you that you can be, and everything else will follow.
Do to some impending thunderstorms, I had myself a “Jim Gagne Day” and did the entire Presidential Traverse in one shot. Per usual, there were no stunning views from the peaks, but there is something soulful about being on that ridge regardless. And at the end of my longest day on the trail, my dad spotted my headlight bobbing through the woods into the Pinkham Notch visitor center where he had a root beer float waiting for me.
It’s safe to say that my thru-hiker experience in New Hampshire was everything I wanted it to be and more. I got to see my friends, spend time with my family, hike my favorite mountains in the world, and lastly take away exactly what I had hoped for by hiking the AT.
Over the last four months I’ve taken millions of steps, but some of those steps mean more than others. That one step, crossing the border into Maine, the last state of the Appalachian Trail, that one meant something. The start of Maine was brutal with the “Mahoosuc Mile”, the hardest mile on the Appalachian Trail spanning through a dilapidated boulder field. In some sections you even take your pack off because you would not be able to fit through the crevices otherwise. But that’s behind me now. All that matters, is I’m in Maine.
My next post will hopefully come to you after my journey is complete. I sit here now with 246 miles to go with only excitement in my heart and a mental clarity I have never had before. Until then, thank you all for your continued support through this adventure. Being able to share it has been just as important to me as the hike itself.
August 17, 2018