Day mileage: 29
AT total mileage: 1,788
Time: 10.5 hours
Believe it or not, I have officially been on the Appalachian Trail for 3 months. This thought is mind boggling to me. To put it in perspective: on my one month anniversary of starting I was in Damascus, VA, mile 468. On my two month anniversary of starting I was in Rausch Creek, PA, mile 1,177. Here, on month three, I'm standing in New Hampshire at mile 1,789 with less than 400 miles remaining in my Appalachian Trail journey.
I woke up this morning somewhat disoriented to where I was. You would too if you were sleeping on the carpeted floor of a guy you met in a grocery store parking lot some 15 hours earlier. What I hadn't fully grasped the night before, likely due to my tiredness and general lack of regard given my state of soaked clothing & soul, was that The Ice Cream Man was simultaneously hosting a 4th of July weekend for his family. Not only did this man gave 8 hikers and a dog sleeping in his home, but also nearly a dozen family members staying there as well. There are very few people in this world who would do such a thing, and for that reason Bill Atkinson will forever be a memorable part of my thru-hike. He and I unsurprisingly got along flawlessly, a retired psychiatrist from Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA, we shared a good sense of sarcasm and enjoyed a few quick witted talks throughout the morning. He even went so far as to invite me to sit down with his family for some pancake breakfast as other hikers packed up. We snapped a few photos with Bill, ultimately hugging goodbye, and hiked on into an overcast day that didn't appear to have much promise in its future.
The first few miles of trail passed quickly, an easy meandering bit of trail through the woods. Santa and I hiked together, again with less pack weight due to the generosity of Bangarang to slackpack us for the day. As Santa and I have hiked a lot together lately, the conversations have ranged from school to family, work, career paths, and most notably today, plans of action during a potential zombie apocalypse. With Legs setting an insanely quick pace up front, carrying only a fanny pack with minimal gear, we flew up the mountain together for a while before she took off into the distance. Climbing Smarts Mountain would include nearly 6 miles of trail, putting us at just under 3,500 feet of elevation. We reconvened as a group at an old fire warden cabin atop the mountain. With a cold breeze blowing and heavy fog blanketing the summit, it was chilly enough to warrant a fleece jacket as we ate lunch. Each leaving the cabin at different times, I put in my headphones and turned up the music, flying down the mountain at over 4 miles an hour. I'm not sure why this was my approach to the descent, but I was practically jogging down, sliding in mud and having a grand old time. I passed everyone that started before me, and arrived at the base of the mountain, 4.2 miles from the summit, an hour later.
Upon reaching the bottom, Legs caught up to me and we began the next ascent, another 5 mile climb of just under 2,000 feet. We climbed at a quick and steady rate, summiting a rocky face peak overlooking stunning views of the mountain ranges below. Lingering only long enough to soak in the vista, we carried on the 3.3 miles to the base of the mountain where we were to meet Bangarang and get our gear back. As we descended, the skies began getting darker and the wind picked up a bit. Stopping only to get water once, we made it to the road crossing at NH 25C where we waited under some trees alongside the road for Bangarang to return from delivering a hiker to town. Twenty or so minutes later Santa arrived, soon after followed by the Volkswagen loaded up with our gear. After quick conversation with Bangarang, we realized we were both headed for the same shelter tonight, meaning he would be able to drive our slackpacked gear all the way to our final destination. At this point in the trail Rocket and Dorothy ended their day, getting in the car with Bangarang and heading for the shelter while Santa, Legs, and myself hiked on. With 11 miles to go and ominous clouds appearing in the sky above us, it was a real concern that a storm system would move in and wash us out for the second night in a row. Luckily we hiked quickly, fighting a losing battle against insane amounts of muddy water that occupied the space that once resembled the trail. There was one point where I stepped in omud so deep that my legs disappeared to halfway up my calf muscle. While this scenario sucked as it was, it got slightly worse when I attempted to pull my left foot out of the murky brown-watered sinkhole, and my heel began lifting out of a shoe that was still most certainly stuck in the depths of the mud. I caught myself by grabbing at the only available branch of an exceptionally weak pine tree, a decision which netted me an aroma reminiscent of Christmas on my hands for the rest of the evening. Hiking over one final summit for the day, we descended to the road crossing of Route 25, beginning one more mile of climbing up to the Jeffers Brook shelter where we would spend the night. After crossing the road the three of us encountered an issue we haven't yet come across... a rushing river with no bridge. Debating for quite a while in the foggy darkness of dusk, Santa and I eventually followed Legs' lead of forging her way across the high volume river. With water well past my knees, it was a frigid body of water undoubtedly in a condition amplified by the volumes of water that have fallen from the sky in recent days. It was somewhere around this point in my day that we crossed officially into the White Mountain National Park.
Arriving at the shelter I met up with my dad who came up to the Whites for the weekend to do some hiking with us. Despite the varied hours of arrival, we all (Rocket, Dorothy, Legs, Santa, my dad, Bangarang, Radio Man, and two other hikers) fit into the large single level shelter. Eating some boiled hot dogs and cracking open a can of beer in honor of the 4th of July, we talked for a while in the shelter before each turning off our headlamps and moving towards bedtime. Tomorrow will be the first climb of the Whites, Mt. Moosilauke, a grand 4,800 foot mountain that officially marks the southern entrance to the famed White Mountain range.
Off to bed now after a wonderfully long day of hiking, an enjoyable reminder of the hiking days from earlier in my adventure. I can't believe that in 3 months on the Appalachian Trail I've officially entered the White Mountains, with less than 400 miles to go before my terminus at the peak of Mt. Katahdin.
Onward, without a doubt.