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. :)