Tuesday, September 10, 2013

9/8: Dunn Notch and Falls, 1928.2

Hi everybody! Well it was a great day for several reasons! The first and most important reason is because the New Orleans Saints defeated the Atlanta Falcons in their season opener! Sean Payton improved to 11-2 against the Dirty Birds while Drew Brees improved to 12-3! It's a great day to a Who DAT! Hilariously enough, my quest to watch the season opener led me to quite an adventure and an overwhelming amount of trail magic!

On the 7th I hiked into Grafton Notch mid afternoon to find one of my thru hiking friend's dad doing trail magic in the parking lot while waiting on his daughter. A previous thru hiker, he had all the goodies and snacks we wanted! While we were in the parking lot chowing down of snacks and drinking cold soda, local day hikers were wrapping up their weekend excursion, and like normal, sane people, were headed back home after a hard days climb. Some of them began to notice what had turned into a massive thru hiker gathering (trail magic can really bunch us up sometimes) and began bringing over food of their own to share with us. Before you knew it the generosity virus had spread through the entire parking lot and everyone was joining in on the fun! We got apples, grapes, bagels, chips, and all kinds of stuff before it was all said and done! Times like these remind me of throwing scrapes of bread to ducks on a pond.

"Look honey! Watch what happens when I throw food in the circle! Oh my God did you see that one bite the other one?? The one with the red just grabbed food out of the other one's mouth! Look how many have come over! Quick, here's a quarter! Go get some more feed! Man they're hungry!"

I struck up a coversation with a married couple that had just come off the mountain, and eventually worked in that I was a huge Saints fan that was just dying to watch the season opener. Call it yogi-ing or whatever you'd like, I don't have any shame anymore. Well my efforts paid off because this sweet couple invited me back to their house for dinner, a shower, laundry, and vowed to aid me in my attempt to find the game! Score! Unfortunately, even with our combined effort, we couldn't find the game anywhere :(. I definitely realized I am far from home on this one; football is definitely not king of this land. Nevertheless, I had a great time with Nancy and William. Both are extreme outdoor enthusiasts that go hiking, kayaking, or skiing all the time! William is actually a hunting and fishing guide for southern Maine! He taught me how to do a Moose call, so we'll see if I can call one in and get a picture! I had a great time hanging out with them and learned a lot about Maine, moose, and bear. Oh and Nancy brought out a bunch of pictures from their trip up Katahdin a few years ago! It's so beautiful, I can't wait to get there myself!

I headed on up the trail after not being able to find the game. But don't worry! My wonderful, football savvy mother texted me updated during the whole game so I felt like I watched it! She really knows her stuff! I couldn't be prouder :).

I hope everyone is doing well back in the other world! I'll be joining you all very soon.


9/10: Breaktime outside Andover, ME

What's up everyone, how's everyone doing? Good? Good! Glad to hear it! I'm doing pretty swell myself. Better than swell actually! I know, you're probably shocked about that one. Sorry, but I honestly can't remember the last time I was in a bad mood for over an hour. It's tough to complain too when good when you don't have a job, any stress, or any responsibilities. Am I rubbing it in? I kinda feel like I am :). We'll let me tell you why I am in such a cheerful disposition!

I spent last night in Andover, ME at Pine Ellis Hostel, which is run by a very sweet 75 year old lady named Irene and her Guatemalan son in law, David. I was hanging out on the front porch yesterday evening when two older ladies drove up (driving up to a thru hiker hostel is very unusual to say the least) and told everyone that they had thru hiked last year, and would like a place for the night. To my surprise and delight, one of the ladies in the party of two was none other than the 72 year old Mamaw B, the oldest lady to ever thru hike the Appalachian Trail! She was traveling with her hiking buddy, Rainbow. Rainbow is an accomplished thru hiker in her own right. At the age of 54, she began her thru hike not at the traditional beginning at Springer Mountain, but instead in the Everglades of southern Florida! She hiked all the way to Maine before cracking her pelvis on a fall just 45 miles short of Mt. Katahdin! Talk about a heart breaking injury. I can't imagine the emotional pain she must have gone through, so close to the holy grail of thru hikering and not being able to summit the last mountain. Rainbow had come to complete her quest this year, and Mamaw B had flown up from her home of Knoxville, TN to accompany her friend up her last climb.

I sat in the living room of the hostel for hours while the two of them reminisced and recanted all their favorite stories from the previous year. They were two of the silliest old ladies you could ever imagine! They told one hilarious story after another until tears were running down both their faces from laughter. While their inside jokes and stories may not have been as funny to me as it was to them, it was just amazing to sit back and watch them relive all of their favorite memories on trail, to watch the nostalgia wash over them, wave after wave. You could tell how much it meant to them to just be in a trail town again. To simply be in a hiker hostel, surrounded by other thru hikers. To sit around a table and swap stories from the trail. To slip back into this alternate reality that I have called home for nearly 6 months now. I may not have been there for their thru hike, but all their stories made me think about all the awesome memories I have racked up over my journey.

I want to say thank those two young ladies. For a little while now I have still enjoyed my time and my hike, but I have also begun to feel a little burned out, and ready to go home. Seeing two people that are done hiking and would do anything for just one more night, one more minute in my world that they would drive to the middle of nowhere Maine, population 500, just to taste trail life one more time made me realize that I need to savor every last drop of this trip. I need to approach the last 200 miles of this trip with the same zeal and enthusiasm as the first 200. So thank you ladies, thank you so much. You have rejuvenated my thru hike and renergized my outlook. I am going to miss this trail when I'm done. Before I left the hostel, I wrote a note to the two ladies and put it by their stuff while they slept. Call it premature nostalgia, call it the rose colored glasses effect. Call it whatever you want but it's still there all the same. Little over 200 miles to go. And you'd best believe I will climb every last mountain on this trail with a bright big smile plastered all across my face.


Monday, September 9, 2013

9/6: Mohoosuc Notch Northern 1972.4

Greetings everyone! Man, the past few days have been so exciting! There have been three major milestones all at once: we are under 300 miles to go till Katahdin, we have walked over 1900 miles, and we are now in the 14th and final state of the Appalachian Trail! Can you believe all that, because I can't! Honestly these milestones aren't even making sense to be anymore. I can't compute the fact that I have really come this far. 1900 miles just seems like some made up number that you know exist but you can't quite wrap your head around, like the fact that the Earth is 92,960,000 miles away from the sun. I mean I hear what you're saying, and I know what you're saying is true, but that doesn't mean it makes sense. Y'all get me? Well, maybe not, but that's ok. The feeling of walking across the country is difficult to explain - probably because hardly anyone is stupid enough to do it! Well anyway, let me tell you about Maine and the Mohoosuc Notch.

Maine is a truly beautiful place. The views are huge, the mountains are massive, and the night sky is so clear that you can see damn near every star the universe has to offer. We seem to be in a very remote part of Maine too. I say that we "seem to" because I never really know where exactly I am. But I haven't seen hardly any houses, buildings, or towns from my mountain top vantage point. Unfortunately, a beautiful state does not equal a beautiful trail, and the AT in Maine so far has been, quite frankly, utter crap. If you aren't hiking through a mountain top bog, that's probably because you're currently traversing a huge rock face with no footholds, or perhaps slipping your way up a small creek bed, which to your surprise (and dismay) has a 2 inch by 6 inch white blaze posted along side it. Before this trip I didn't even know mountaintop swamps were a thing! That's probably not really what they're called, but if feels like an appropriate name. I never thought such a windblown section of earth at 4200 feet could be so wet! Maine has brought with it a new obstacle as well- bottomless mud pits of doom! There were a ton today! Some had boardwalks over them, some did not. And God help you if you happen to slip off the slick board that is partially buried in the mud itself, because there may not be any coming up for you! Well guess who slipped off on of the boards today! Yep, you got it, yours truly. I just slipped off the board, and before I knew it I was knee deep in black Maine mud. Once I felt myself slipping off the board, I tried to use my trekking pole to catch myself. I jammed it into the mud attempting to find something solid. Well I'll have you know that I pushed that hip high trekking pole into the ground until the cork handle met the muddy earth. It was unbelievable!

The other highlight of the day was the Mahoosuc Notch. I have been hearing the words "Mahoosuc Notch" literally since I was in Georgia. Some had terror in their voice, while others had glee. Well I had the time of my life in that boulder filled ravine! I never touched actual earth for the entire 1.1 mile section of trail. I jumped, dipped, crawled, and maneuvered my way through the labyrinth of boulders. It was like an adult sized rock jungle gym! The old folks I met that day didn't seem to have a good time with it though, that's for sure! One poor section hiker was thanking God almighty that she had made it through alive. Spider, Foolhardy, and I were really worried about Sriracha making it through the notch. She is really slow on the rocks! Well we decided to take her pack and split the burden 3 ways. She was very, very grateful, and we actually had a lot of fun working as a team getting her pack through the rock maze. It was a lot of, "OK, grab it. Alright, I'm coming around the back. OK, you got it? Pass it up". It was great.

Well, that just about does it for me!


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

9/2: Carter Notch Hut, 1872.7

Hey everyone! Sorry I haven't put up a post in a while. There isn't much service in the White Mountains, and I've been so tired at night that I don't have the energy to type a post up! Past thru hikers told me that by the time I get to the White Mountains, I will have done 80% of the trail but only have put in 20% of the effort. And honest to God, they were not kidding. These mountains are steep, rocky, and difficult. Fortunately when the weather is nice all that work is completely worth it, because the scenery up here is spectacular! Below are a few pictures from our day on Franconia Ridge, one of the most epic parts of the whole trail. Doesn't it look straight out of The Lord Of The Ring movies? Unfortunately, the weather has not been on our side lately. As a matter of fact, we have missed some awesome views because of extreme fog for the past week :(. We didn't see anything but straight white views and extreme wind the whole day that we climbed Mt. Washington. The wind was blowing so hard at the summit that you could actually lean against it and it would keep you from falling. I don't feel too bad about missing Washington though. The mountain is famous for literally having the worst weather in the world, and they are very proud of that fact. A statistic at their small mountain top museum (yeah...they have a museum up there! And a huge dining room and post office and all kinds of stuff! I got a chili bread bowl which was amazing after climbing all day in the disgusting weather) that the summit is fogged in over 60% of the year. Mt. Washington is also famous for the Earth's hifgest wind speed, a wooping 231 MPH! Insane! But anyway, let me tell you about my awesome day today! First I need to give you some background info though. Sorry guys, guess this will be a long post.

So the White Mountains are a little different than the rest of the trail. This is because the whole area is controlled by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). The Appalachian trail borrows trail from the AMC through this area, which isn't good for a poor thru hiker such as myself due to the fact that all the AMC campsites have a fee. Because of this I have renamed them the Appalachian Money Collectors. I mean seriously...you're going to give thru hikers free places to tent for 1850 miles and then all of a sudden expect us to be cool with a fee? I don't think so. So thru hikers stealth camp through the Whites. In addition to the camp sites the AMC also runs these things called huts. The word hut is really a bit misleading though. They're better described as giant backcountry Ritz Carltons that serve their paying customers (100 bucks a bunk for one night in these huts!) a really yummy dinner and breakfast the next morning. They honestly are just massive mountain hotels and are extremely nice and big inside. The AMC offers a peace offering to thru hikers by allowing us to do work in exchange for a place to stay in the dining room and also leftover dinner. There are 7 huts in the Whites and each has a different attitude on thru hikers, depending on which college kid is working the hut at the time. Some have been really nice and some have been straight awful. I'm going to tell you a story about my best hut experience yet which just happened tonight.

I walk in to the last hut of the Whites and immediately notice that it is much older and smaller than the other 6 huts. I also notice that there are no customers at the hut, which is extremely unusual this close to dinner. The crew, made up of all college kids, didn't seem too worried about anything; they were all in the crew room taking naps. I immediately knew that this was going to be a good Work for Stay. After a little while one of them gets up and informs us that they only have 2 reservations for the night, and that they doubted they were going to show up since the weather was so bad today. I doubted they would show up too - the weather really was awful. Around dinner time the Hut Master, Luke of all names, starts breaking out of ton of leftovers and bringing them over to our table! They really like feeding leftovers to thru hikers; if no one eats it, they have to pack it out back down the mountain. Luke brought out a giant loaf of bread, salad, chicken and potato soup, and stuffed shells! We got to eat with forks and knives and plates and got to sit at a table like real people and literally eat until we couldn't eat anymore. You have no idea how human it makes you feel to drink out of an actual cup instead of a Powerade bottle or Nalgene. At one point Luke looks at us with a smirk on his face and says, "If I keep bringing out food, will you guys eat it?" He's smirking because he is eyeing the damage we have done to the stuffed shells in a very short amount of time. We all nod our heads with guilty grins across our faces. Chatting with the hut crew was a lot of fun. All of the guys working at this particular hut are all seasoned vets that have been working in the White Mountains for years. You can tell it too because they know the area like he back of their hand. In their downtime they do a ton of exploring and adventuring. For instance, Luke and Anthony were telling us about this huge labyrinth of caves that they discovered about 200 yards from the hut! They've been doing down there for several weeks now exploring a little more everyday and mapping out the caves. Now what a cool freaking summer job for a college kid! Hang out in the Whites and go exploring and caving all the time? Sounds like a dream come true! They went on to say that they usually take thru hikers down caving with them, but the rain was too bad today for us to go :(. Going caving in the Whites would be so awesome! Maybe the rain will met up by morning.

The paying guests did eventually arrive about an hour late, but since there were only 2 of them, Luke let us pick out of our own bunk room with mattresses and pillows and blankets and everything! I am living the high life tonight sitting under a roof listening to the rain come down. Yep, today was a pretty awesome day. :)


Monday, August 26, 2013

8/25: Stealth site, 1813.0

There's really no other way to say it: New Hampshire is my new favorite state of the whole trail, and I'm less than a 100 miles into it with all the best stuff left to go! That's just how amazing the past couple of days have been. The weather has been spectacular and the views simply brilliant. This is one absolutely gorgeous state. Anyways, let me tell y'all a story, ok? The problem is that I've got so much I want to share, it's hard sometimes to decide what to include and what to omit. And let me just say this: these mountains are tough. I mean real tough. I'm going straight up these things and straight back down too. This is definitely the hardest stuff any of us have seen yet, and word is it only gets harder from here. We're climbing a 1,000 feet a mile, sometimes steeper, for 3 or 4 thousand feet. It's tough work, no doubt about that, but man if it isn't worth it when you get to the top! It sounds so cliché to say that too because I've been hearing that phrase for weeks and weeks. Every time I would pass a southbound thru hiker I'd ask about New Hampshire and Maine, and every single one of them would almost verbatim say the same thing: "Dude," they would say, as they raised their eyebrows and gave me a smirk, "they're tough...but they're worth it." The key to climbing these monsters is to not look at the elevation profile and to climb the mountain with the mindset that the mountain will never end. That way, when you reach a false summit and round the corner just to see another 1,000 feet you have to [rock]climb, you aren't so disappointed (read heartbroken). And we're borderline rock climbing this stuff too. I put my trekking pole away for the climb today; it became more of a hindrance than anything on this type of terrain. Oh yeah I was suppose to be telling a story wasn't I? Let's get to that!

So the usual gang and I come off Mt. Moosilauke, which is our first official White Mountain, and head in to Lincoln, NH. We need to resupply at the grocery store, but we really want to go into Lincoln so that we can stay at a very famous thru-hiker hostel called Chet's Place. Chet is a really awesome guy with a really sad story. Back maybe 10 years ago, Chet was involved in a horrible campstove accident. An avid hiker, his single burner canister stove, much like the type of stove nearly every thru hiker uses on trail today, blew up while he was using it and burned 45% of his body. As if this weren't bad enough, during the explosion Chet inhaled some of the flame, completely burning his lungs. The injuries Chet suffered that day should have killed him, and he spent the majority of the next year in a drug induced coma. But Chet pulled through, and the local newspaper named him the "miracle man". His injured lungs now prevent him from walking very far so he gets around mostly by wheelchair. Chet always had a dream of thruhiking the Appalachian Trail. Sadly that dream can never be fulfilled. However, since Chet cannot hike the AT, he decided to bring the AT to him by opening up a donation based hiker hostel right out of his house in Lincoln. The hostel has become a hiker haven and is a must stop for any doing the trail. Thru-hikers only though. Sorry, Chet's rules, not mine :).

While we are at the hostel we caught wind of an awesome swimming hole called Franconia Falls that locals frequent a few miles away from the AT. After a little deliberating with the group, we spontaneously decide to take a zero day and go check this place out. You've probably picked up on this, but I love spontaneous plans! And what an amazing plan this one turned out to be! Nearly all the thru hikers at the hostel decide to enjoy the gorgeous weather by coming along too! We went to the grocery store and got a ton of picnic food including an entire rotisserie chicken and massive loaves of bread and set out on our adventure. Franconia Falls was picturesque and included wade pools, cliff jumps, and even natural rock slides! We had a ball sliding and jumping in the water, and then going to relax and picnic on the warm, sunbaked rocks. One of the rock slides had an awesome 6 foot drop off at the end, so it shot you straight into the air and down into a deep pool below. We took tons of pictures and videos of everyone sliding and cliff jumping too, and I'm proud to say that everyone in my group jumped off the cliff (even though Sriracha's cliff jump video is well over 5 minutes of her standing on the edge screaming lol...so funny!).

As you can tell, I'm having the time of my life out here. This truly is the adventure of a lifetime. Hope everyone is doing well back home!


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

8/15-8/16: Killington, VT, 1701

What's up everyone! I've been so busy doing crazy things lately that I haven't had any time to document any of it! I suppose I will tell you all a story from one of the more fun and interesting nights on the trail.

On the 15th of August, Spider, Sriracha, Foolhardy, Ten Year, and I pull a 23 mile day in order to get to Killington on time for Ten Year to get back to work. Killington marked the end of his 9th and second to last planned section hike of the AT; he plans to summit Katahdin next summer! It was a lot of fun having Ten Year hike with us for a few weeks and I think he enjoyed himself as well, hanging out with our tight knit group in the mountains of Vermont. Once in Killington he treated all of us to a free night at the Mountain Meadows Inn. Mountain Meadows is a very nice wedding resort located right on the Appalachian Trail. In fact, the trail passes right through the backyard! Believe it or not, the Inn is also located on beautiful Kent Pond, and the wedding ceremony is held right on the water. It's a truly beautiful place. Lucky for us, the owner of the resort is extremely hiker friendly, and during the week when weddings aren't going on he allows us hiker trash to invade his lovely facilities and even feed us dinner! The Inn was complete with a HOT TUB, SAUNA, and even a theatre room with a whole library of old VHS movies. After we lounged around the hot tub and talked about how awesome are lives are, we grabbed a round of Long Trail Ales at the bar and settled down to watch Caddyshack! Man I forgot just how funny that movie was. It was the well deserved perfect ending to a very tough 23 mile day. Now the next day is where things get really interesting.....

On the 16th we decided to give ourselves a day of rest and take a zero day. We had heard rumors of an awesome (and extremely interesting) hostel/restaurant in the neighboring town of Rutland, VT. The restaurant/hostel is called the Yellow Deli, and the reason it is interesting is because it is run by a religious "community" called the Twelve Tribes of Vermont. While I haven't done the leg work to get an idea of their belief system, they were extremely nice, very accommodating folks that really went out of their way to ensure that our stay at the Yellow Deli was one of the most memorable experiences on trail. The Deli and hostel was decorated extremely uniquely. Huge murals could be found on every wall displaying long quotes surrounded by tons of tie-dye and color. The tables and chairs were very rustic and inviting and reminded me of an old hunting lodge. The contrast of the hippie themed art and the wood/leather furniture created an interesting contrast that one could not help but notice from the moment you walk through door. The members of the community were dressed very plain and modestly, with the women wearing skirts of dresses down to their ankles. To our delight, on Friday nights the community celebrates the Sabbath which occurs on Saturday, so there was no charge for anything! Around 6 pm the group invited all the thru hikers to join in on the festivities. As we walked in their was a community member at the door handing out glasses of Green Tea for everyone, that eerily reminded us of Kool-Aid....but we drank it anyway - and it was delicious. They then began playing old Israeli folk songs and taught us a few traditional Israeli folk dances that were pretty fun to do and hilarious to watch. After that night I became fully aware that hikers do not make good dancers! Poor Foolhardy....saying he has two left feet would be putting it mildy. At least he was able to make it off the dance floor without injuring himself or others. Once the dancing concluded, they put on a massive feast for us all, including locally grown squash and zucchini straight from their garden, and blue fish from Alaska, all over a bed of rice. And they kept bringing you food until you literally had to insist that you were full! However cultish these guys may be, they can certainly cook some food! All the food at the Yellow Deli was some of the best food I've had on trail. Just delicious! Once dinner they of course served us dessert, and once I went back to the bunkroom I found a gift basket awaiting me on my bed! These people were so incredibly nice to thru hikers it was insane and a bit overwhelming. Meeting the Yellow Deli people was a very interesting experience, and while I don't claim to fully understand their religious practices or way of life, they were extremely nice and accommodating to me and my fellow thru hikers. But don't worry everyone, no cults for m :) (although they have sucked a few thru hikers in over the years). I just not sure a commune is really my thing. Nor are Hebrew names. Or skirts that go down to the floor.

That just about does it for me! I got to get out of Hanover! Towns are such vortexs, they really will suck you in! Also, Hanover is right on the north side of the New Hampshire border! I start climbing the epically challenging and beautiful white mountains within the week! I'll be sure to take lots of pictures so you guys can join in on the adventure!


p.s. I now have a Mohawk. A pink Mohawk. Spider and Foolhardy got one too. It's pretty awesome. :) lol

Saturday, August 17, 2013

8/12: Bromley Mountain, 1650.8

Greetings everyone! As I have hiked this trail, I have come to realize that the absolute best plans out here are the spontaneous ones. Spider, Sriracha, Fool Hardy, and Sriracha's dad, Ten Year, hiked into Manchester Center, VT, so that we could resupply and then knock out another 7 miles that afternoon. While in a local pizza place, a past thru hiker and native of Vermont, Johnny Thunder, informed us that there is an unmarked, unofficial shelter on top of Bromley Mountain 3 miles from town that the ski resort allows thru hikers to use. He went on to add that the view from Bromley is absolutely stunning and that we should definitely consider staying at the summit for the sunset and sunrise. Well my whole group jumped all over this idea! For one, that only meant we had to do 3 additional miles, not 7. For two, that night was also the peak of the month long meteor shower! We decide to make this special occasion into a big event and pack out a few special items that we don't typically pack out into the woods. Spider for instance packed out a huge container of yogurt, Oreo cookies, and strawberries so we could all have delicious parfaits. Sriracha and Ten Year packed out hotdogs, Fool Hardy packed out Blue Moon's seasonal beer, and I packed out the night's feature item: 5 liters of Franzia's finest White Zinfandel. As we are gathering our party supplies, more and more thru hikers began to take notice to our odd resupply items and start to ask questions. Once they find out what we have planned, they all begin to change their plans too until we have over 20 thru hikers coming up with us to the top of Bromley! Hiking 5 liters of wine up a 3 mile, 1000 foot climb was not a whole lot of fun. As a matter of fact, in down right sucked. But, once I made it to the top, I was welcomed as a hero and had several toasts in my name. I even got extra parfait and 2 hotdogs for dinner :)! The night turned out to be a smashing success. Once we reached the top everyone was giddy with excitement just thinking about our epic night to come. We played on both of the mountain's ski lifts and even got to go inside the cold weather ski lift's motor room that oddly resembled a space craft. We then all gathered around at the top of the mountain to watch a beautiful Vermont sunset. It was honest to God one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. Just gorgeous and truly special. Once the sun went down, we built a campfire right under the "No Fires" sign and cooked hotdogs, told trail stories, and sang songs along with Avacado's guitar.

Side Bar: That night I decided that thru hikers are illiterate. It's really the only explanation for our blatant and total disregard for signs displaying rules and regulations. If any of us can read, they sure don't tell anyone! Signs such as "No Fires", "No Camping", "No Loitering", "No Alcohol", and "Shoes and Shirts Required" are our absolute favorite to ignore, and quite frankly encourage whatever act they are attempting to deter. Besides, rules don't apply to thru hikers anyway. We pretty much do what we want. It's pretty great.

After our camp fire we all grabbed our sleeping bags and laid out on the summit for hours watching all the meteors shoot across the sky. Wow where there some amazing ones, with huge, long tails that glowed red and left huge streaks in the sky. The star gazing alone was worth it enough to lay out there for hours. And the wine made it all the more fun :). That day was one of the most amazing days I've had on trail to date. I'm so glad I got to share it all with my amazing friends. A sunset, meteor shower, impromptu hiker party, and a sunsrise?? All in one night? Talk about epic! Life is good out here my friends.