(not so) New England
To being with, it has been awhile. I have a complicated relationship with writing and I feel as though I treat her like very independent best friend. Sometimes I ignore her for months or a year, but when we reunite it is as if nothing ever changed. I definitely worry that I abuse her by only writing when I need time to reflect. That said, the following post is one that has been in the works for nearly two years. It consists of brief memories from the trail in New England, one memory per state. At least for now, I hope it will give this blog some sort of closure with regards to my 2012 through hike of the Appalachian Trail.
I was spending a day off in New Haven with one of my housemates from senior year of college. After an hour or so drive from the trail to his apartment, Ian and i collapsed on his couch. My phone rang. A frantic Olga was on the other end.
“You’re in New Haven? How long will you be there? You can stay at my apartment!” My college friends have a wonderful habit of being not only hospitable, but having the distinct misunderstanding that if you are within 2-3 hours from them, it is the same as walking a couple blocks across campus to see you. It’s really quite lovely.
“The problem is that I have to get back to the trail tomorrow. It’s not really near New Haven.” I love my friends from New York, but most of them are without cars.
“My roommate has a car! She’s really nice! I’m sure she could give you a ride. I’ll ask. Can I call you back?” Just as abruptly as it had begun, the conversation ended. I turned and looked at Ian.
“We might be having an Olga and Arielle invasion tomorrow.” He just smiled.
We started browsing dinner delivery options when my phone rang again. This time, Arielle.
“Olga says that she left a message with her roommate so we are on hold for now. Basically I called to let you know where we are.”
“We’ll keep you informed.”
“I’m sure you will.”
About four phone calls later, the plans were finalized. Olga and Arielle would be coming in on the 4 pm train the next day. You should watch these ladies in plan-making mode. I smiled and whirled around in Ian’s desk chair.
“While we wait for dinner, wanna take a shower and do laundry?” he asked. I smell. I know this.
“Yeah. Except ALL my clothes need washing. Any way I can borrow some for post-shower?” Within minutes I had a pair of soccer shorts and a comfy t-shirt in hand. College friends are the best kind.
Mount Greylock is the highest peak in the state. Our first 3,000 foot climb since Virginia. The best part? There’s a lodge that serves food at the top.
By my watch we were getting close. Then some girls walked past us on the trail with ice cream. I turned to Mamaw.
“You know we are getting close when the ice cream hasn’t melted yet,” I said. She smiled.
Around the corner was the top. A lodge sat next to the observation tower. We dropped our packs and filed into the lodge–the view could wait.
After ordering and devouring our food, we welcomed a few other thru-hikers to our table as they walked in; the Noodleheads, Rigatoni and Angel Hair, whom we had met a few days before and Frenchy, a reoccurring character in our thru-hikes, someone I’d been seeing since Tennessee.
Now Rigatoni and Angel Hair are experienced hikers. Having already earned their Triple Crowns (thru-hiking all three major long distance trails in the US: the AT, the PCT and the CDT), they decided to do the Appalachian Trail over again since they “couldn’t remember it.” So we were flabbergasted to find that the pair had somehow gotten behind us on the trail. The Noodleheads began to explain how it happened. The day before they had encountered a hiker on the trail, out for his first few days, who had fallen and hit his head. They ended up walking him to the road for help, Angel Hair carrying both her and Rigatoni’s packs and Rigatoni shouldering the hurt hiker’s large load. It had been quite the experience.
“It was interesting,” said Rigatoni after a pause. “The whole way he kept saying, ‘It’ll all be fine once my ankles calcify. I just have to keep taking Tums till my ankles calcify and then I’ll be set.'”
This late in the game, things rarely change. What you have known to be true all along stay true. Your routines become important, the other hikers become family. And then sometimes, you see a familiar face.
Stats was the only hiker I met on the trail who was both successful and toting an external frame backpack. A pack I believe from his early years as a hiker, it provided him with the ability to strap random gear and such to the outside of his pack. (For those unfamiliar with backpacking gear, most gear companies no longer make exterior frame packs for many reasons, including them being particularly heavy.) Not at all the ultra light hiker, Stats got a wonderful reputation for himself early on for packing out large amounts of food with the intention of sharing with those camping nearby.
At the bottom of a hill along the Long Trail section in Vermont was a gorgeous lake. When I first arrived, an older man, day hiker, got out of the lake in his underwear and after drying off from a swim, offered me some fresh fruit. As we sat and talked, many more came and joined us. A SOBO (southbound thru-hiker) joined us with tails from down the trail and then, from around the corner came a familiar face.
“STATS!” I was thrilled to see him. A high school math teacher, he lived in numbers. He had a trail blog on which he recorded statistics for every part of his day: how many liters of water he drank, how many miles he traveled. How many calories he ate and how many hikers he ran into. We had met his brother once down the trail waiting for him at a road crossing. He had suggested that many hikers would probably look back at Stat’s blog to remember their own journey.
After a good hour or so of story telling and catching up, I gave Stats one last hug. He wanted to know about Rainbow and Mamaw, with whom I had just parted ways a few days prior. As we parted ways, I watched him take a notebook out of his pocket to record his latest encounter. Some trail names speak volumes.
It was the end of a 22 mile slackpack. I was so close to the road by the hostel. I knew because the trail was flat. And because the hikers at the last shelter said so. It was dusk and I was losing light so I kept my head down and took quick strong steps. I was finally out of the White Mountains. Finally. Then something big rustled in the vegetation up ahead.
I had very few personal goals for the trail beyond milage and putting states behind me in a timely fashion. But I considered seeing a moose to be a rite of passage. In fact, I was so hoping to see one that I almost didn’t recognize her when we first locked eyes. She was huge. I doubt if my head five feet and six inches above the ground would have even met her shoulder had we been standing side by side. She was up ahead on the left side of the trail. She was scared of me from first sight. The amazing creature began crashing through the brush away from me.
Before I knew what was happening, however, she had turned around and was crashing right back at me. She stopped again, feeling my eyes on her lumbering figure and her look seemed frantic. She turned with her back to me finally and dove off deep into the woods. I discovered what had distressed her almost immediately as coming towards me on the trail was a couple, day hikers. With me walking towards them and they walking towards me, she must have felt trapped. The moose sighting had rendered me giddy and I began to gush at the couple, all of the pieces of the puzzle fitting together nicely in my head.
“You saw her? That was incredible! She must have seen me first and then saw you when she was running from me–wasn’t she HUGE?!” The couple smiled politely and nodded. The few feeble words of acknowledgement told me what I needed to know: they did not speak English. But we had all seen the cow and our smiles acknowledged the shared experience.
We had done it. Tim and I had reached the finish line together. After meeting within our first week on the trail back in Georgia, leap-frogging each other throughout the south and parting ways in Harper’s Ferry, I had lost track of him for 1,000 miles. 5 days earlier I caught up with him in the last trail town before the 100 mile wilderness and we swore we would finish together.
And so we did. Pushing two 25 mile days back to back to get out of the 100 miles and into Baxter state park. The weather report for our summit day had seemed grim, full of showers and thunderstorms, but we knocked out a Katadhin finish with a true early morning Alpine start. Hiking and scrambling our way to the top, we made it up in sunshine with some fast moving but dry skies at the summit. There 2% Tim scattered the last of his uncle’s ashes and we tried to soak it all in.
Four more miles to hike after you’re done, though. Four more miles to make it back down to the road. We shared our story one last time on the trail with some day hikers, got rained on just a bit and then the trees opened up and we were back at the trail head. Tim was planning on surprising his family because they didn’t know he had finished already but my parents were waiting for us with warm welcomes and congratulations.
We sat at a picnic table and my dad popped a bottle of champagne for the occasion. We had fruit, cheese, crackers and Nutella–a good hiker feast. My parents watched and talked while we tried, unsuccessfully, to eat the food at a polite pace. My mother sensed that we were trying to slow ourselves down and encouraged us to eat more.
“I hope we have enough…I think I might have a granola bar in my purse leftover from kayaking yesterday.” Tim and I locked eyes for a moment, visions of the hundreds of granola bars we had consumed over the past five months passing through our minds.
“I think I’m good on those for a while, thanks…” Tim replied.
Avery Peak, Maine– covered in wild blueberries