Tuesday, September 7, 1999
Another friend Roc has left the trail, he said he had had his fill and was going home. The first day I met him was the day I got stung by all the swarm of yellow jackets. He was warm and friendly and I was in agony and had legs swollen to the size of elephant legs. He carried a fishing rod in a case, which he used as a hiking pole. And when he came to any body of water he would set his pack down, take his rod off, get himself set up, then wade into the water and start fly fishing. He said that he just couldn’t resist. He loved fishing more than hiking, he just used the trail to move him along from fishing hole to fishing hole to test his skill and luck. He was always warm and friendly, always with a smile on his face that warmed many hiker’s hearts.
At times I am envious of the people who get off because now they can rest and begin the next chapter of their lives. I’ve had over five months of continual pounding on the body. My feet are wider and my body has shrunk a little from the daily compressing. One or two days off to rest at a time does not heal the weariness that is setting into the core of my strength. I have thought a few times throughout my journey how I could get off with dignity. I was never able to figure out a graceful exit other than injury and I hate pain and will do anything to avoid it. I have wondered how I could hurt myself just enough to pull me off while not killing myself or doing any long-term damage. Its crazy the thoughts that preoccupy the mind as I’m drenched in sweat and my muscles are burning, my lungs on fire, and I’m only 100 feet up a 2,000 foot climb. But I don’t want to leave the beautiful Llama alone in the woods, she could get lost, fall into some poison oak, get swarmed by bees (wait, that one already happened), its best that I stay with her.
It has been wonderful to have the creative aunt Sue helping Llama and me. Today after we finished a hard hike she met us at a road crossing and was ready with a huge grin and drinks and snacks in her outstretched hands. We climbed into her warm car to carry us off and out of the rain for the night. She took us out to eat and shared all the local history she had been researching and about all the people she had met that day. She is one of the most interested people I know, she has a hunger to learn and no shame to ask questions and dig into people’s lives. I absolutely love being with her. She does the same things I enjoy and she does it with the most disarming smile and laughter.
Wednesday, September 8
Aunt Sue has done such an impressive amount of work to see that Llama and I are well fed, well rested, that we play and sightsee, and that we do not lose any miles in the process. After breakfast at the local diner we headed north to tour a maple syrup factory. I really wanted to see a sugar shack where the syrup is cooked down but that is a process that happens in the spring. We decided not to wait but to so we simply took the tour they offered. We did see how maple candy is made (sweeter than sugar) and also got to taste the different grades of syrup that are sold. There are four kinds starting with a mild maple, the color of amber up to a robust maple flavor, dark and used for baking primarily. We sat around taking shots of syrup getting hyper on the sugar rush which only cause us to laugh more and to make us chattier. There is nothing like true maple syrup.
We visited the farm of Robert Frost and breathed in the scenery that inspired many of his poems. His porch looked out upon Mt. Liberty, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Lafayette, mountains Llama and I will climb on Thursday. When he originally wrote in America his work was not received, so he moved to England where he lived several years as a celebrity. The reason he was so gifted is that he wrote in the language of the common man, but he wrote profoundly and openly, touching the hearts and minds of several generations.
For dinner we all met up with Craig and Donna who were traveling in the area getting ready to climb Mt. Washington. They were so excited to catch up with us and took all credit for Llama and I dating. They want us to name a child after them when we get married (that is still their prediction). They are a generous couple who lead a life of adventure. They have hearts full of joy and arms open wide to life. I can’t think of living any other way. Three hours passed by quickly with them and I was sad when we parted because it seemed we had just sat down. I don’t know when we will come across them again but I hope it will be once our journey is complete.
Thursday, September 9th
It has been fun to have Aunt Sue play with us but even more fun for me has been to watch her bond with Llama. As we drive around the back country roads the two of them squeak, “ooh”and “ahh”,and coo over the same sights and scenery causing me to laugh at them from the back seat. And that’s where I’ve been relegated to, the back seat. “Hey, she’s my aunt.”They have become two peas in a pod both of them enjoying a new friendship. She’s having so much fun with aunt Sue she said she’s excited to meet the rest of my family. Well Sue might have oversold the quality and warmth of my family. The rest will sadly be more indifferent or critical. I love my family and we are a family with many hidden landmines and walls up just like all families. I’m glad she had a good experience to hold onto should she ever meet more.
We may have the support system of the encouraging Sue but Llama and I are still working the miles and climbing the muddy rocky trail through the White painful Mountains. The physical work here lives up to the warnings, they are much more challenging but what we never heard and are experiencing is the greatest views we’ve ever had on this journey. We climbed above the tree line walking the exposed vertebrae of the rugged Appalachians. We watched the dark blue and grey clouds quickly rush towards us from the distance and felt them cover us with a mist kissed our faces. The night is coming sooner every day, a dramatic closure as we race to get down the jagged trail. But then a ray of sunshine is waiting for us with warm blankets and cups of hot chocolate with marshmallows in her hands.
Friday, September10, 1999
We said our farewells to the generous aunt Sue yesterday. She is off to her next adventure so she and released us back into the mountains better refreshed and well fed. I think the real reason she flew out from Oregon is that she wanted to meet this fantastic girl more than come to support me on this hike. I gathered that from one small quiet statement she whispered to me as she hugged me goodbye,“I like Llama. Don’t let go of her.”
The White Mountains have been hiding places for outlaws, runaway slaves, and hermits. Near Crawford Notch is the “Devils Den.”It’s a dark cave that requires a person to be lowered down by rope over a thousand feet. The local legend claims that this was one of the homes of Satan himself. For years nobody would visit the cave out of fear for their soul, leaving the mysteries of the cave a secret. Then an early explorer who was either bold or an idiot by the name of Ethan Allen Crawford climbed up to the cave and found the inside littered with skulls and bones of humans and other animals with no clues to explain their presence.
Llama and I ended up stealth camping by Garfield Pond and had the craziest intruder to our site. A very strong rabbit, possibly a super rabbit. This rabbit was jumping around or tent and campsite trying to understand our presence there. It was bold, swift, agile, aggressive, bloodthirsty and fearless as it stood guard of his home. We were impressed but did not think of him again until about 3:30 a.m. when we were awakened by the sound of a deep thumping, what we thought were bird noises. No, it was the super rabbit! This unpredictable bunny may look cute and cuddly on the outside but on the inside it’s got a cauldron of vengeance against any and all intruders into his domain. Our friends Sky and Raven were tenting next to us and were also woken up. Raven stuck his head out of his tent and came face to face with the fearless rabbit. It was staring at him as he thudded the ground without pause. It startled Raven so he ducked quickly back into his tent unsure of what his response should be towards a rabbit taunting him. All through the night we could hear him bound throughout the forest but were relieved to see him gone in the morning because we had no Holy Hand Grenade to protect ourselves with.
It didn’t rain a little on us in the morning, it rained a lot. The heavens opened the floodgate and it dumped elephants of water on us all day. There was absolutely no way to stay dry if you were outside. I’m not sure you could have found a place inside and stayed dry. I had wrongly thought that all of my waterproof clothing was to keep me dry, but I realized that even my equipment could roll over and just give up, not even worth the try. I became a prune boy with my sidekick prune Llama faithfully behind. The trails were overwhelmed by the water and became the channels of flood waters cascading down the mountains. Small ponds formed on the trails at times up to my calves as we slogged through. We had to move carefully because under the muddy waters hid slippery rocks that wanted to trip us up and catch us up in the flood. Both of us fell several painful times startling us. We would quickly grab each other as we fell to make sure that we weren’t carried off by the streams down the mountain. It was a very cold, soggy, sloshy day.
A few times we thought we saw the huge rabbit following us with his mean beady black eyes (It truly was a scary rabbit). At first the cold rain depressed us, Llama almost to tears many times. But by the time we were soaked through and we grew numb to the cold, our moods turned to outrageous silliness because it just couldn’t get any worse. We embraced the misery and craziness of the day. We made it to Zealand Falls Hut and they were kind enough to give us a warm place to lay our heads for the evening and to dry out all of our equipment.
Saturday, September 11, 1999
After another sloggy day sliding in the mud and squishing water around in our shoes we made it to the Lake of the Clouds Hut at the last stop before Mt. Washington. We climbed all day, 4,000 feet over Mt. Jackson, Eisenhower, Franklin, Monroe and Mt. Clinton. I finally feel like I am in the true mountains. These have a different feel to them. They feel rugged and mighty like the ones I grew up with in the Pacific Northwest. As we walked along the spine of the mountains the wind came up forcefully trying to push us off. Both Llama and I would have failed a sobriety test, we were all over the trail unable to walk a straight line. Several times it knocked Llama over as a gust would hit her backpack and like a sail it would force it forward.
The base of these mountains are hardwood forests predominately birch and maple trees. Above 3,500 feet I broke into the conifers, (white pine, hemlock, and red spruce) mixed in with the hardwoods. The higher I climbed the thinner the hardwoods became. Spruce and balsam fir are the highest and grew smaller and smaller as they crouched down against the rocks trying to hide from the wind. The very last trees I saw looked like little gnarled shrubs trying to hide in the rocks, refusing to grow upwards. The mountains have been scrubbed by glaciers with only lichens and grass clinging to the rocks.
Mt. Washington is the jewel of the White Mountain crown and the highest peak in the Northeast United States. The average wind velocity is 35 mph with an average temperature of 27 degrees. I feel very lucky to have walked up on such a sunny clear day while yesterday there was hail and 55 mph winds that pelted the mountain. There has been snowfall every month of the year as well as gusts of wind over 100 mph. In 1934 the wind averaged 129 mph, and one gust hit 231, the highest wind velocity ever recorded on land. The weather on the mountain is said to be the worst in America with changes catching many hikers off their guard. Over 30 people have died due to hypothermia. The wind alone can drop the temperature over 30 degrees.
Many of our friends seem to have all gathered here, many we haven’t seen in months. Everyone was just looking out at the sights and amazed at how beautiful it was. There is a road that can be taken to the top and the Mount Washington Cog Railway, so hikers were in the minority of visitors. There is also a weather station and a museum in the visitor center, all chained down so they don’t get blown off.
Sunday, September 12, 1999 (Day 161)
We woke up to a perfect day to hike, low winds and scattered cotton ball clouds. Llama and I hiked hard on the exposed mountains and loved every minute of the amazing views and challenge.
L.J. and Daisy are two friends we have made. L.J. always had a fun hopeful smile and Daisy was always calm and genuine. As more and more hikers leave the trail we find we are gravitating more closer to them. We weren’t immediately drawn to each other, but over time I have grown to value and trust them. Time and travel has bonded us.
I find it progressively more difficult to summon up the energy and motivation to continue on every day. I know it is a struggle many other hikers face or they wouldn’t continue to quit, but no hikers talk about it. I’ve brought it up with a few and they acted as if they had no idea what I was talking about. They still bound over these sharp mountains with goat-like legs undaunted physically and emotionally. I and feeling my body struggle to heal. My body is tired of this long distance physical taxation. I feel like it’s all I can do to motivate myself in the mornings to put my shoes on my bone sore feet, strap my pack onto my chaffed shoulders, tighten the waist strap onto my protruding hip bones, and move forward into the cold without the body fat I began with. I get cold easier. I feel like my emotions are close to the surface of my life. I get more emotional over things that I shouldn’t get emotional over. If you were to put a Hallmark Card commercial in front of me I’m certain I would be weeping within the first 5 seconds. What is going on?