Lost Creek Wilderness, Colorado

lost-creek-wildernessColorado, like Tennessee, is a trip we tend to take every year.  Like Tennessee, although a little further, Colorado offers us the closest proximity to a mountain range with some elevation.

Because of our thru hike, and the prep work prior, almost 3 years have passed since we ventured west to the Rockies.  So, we were excited to be reunited with the 14,000 foot mountains that dominate the area (although my lost-wilderness-boulderbrain was dreadfully anticipating the hell it would do to my body).

A new area to us, we traveled south of Denver (our usual go-to was Grand Lake north of Denver) to Pike National Forest, north/west of Colorado Springs.

After stopping at Paradox Brewery in Divide (good beer, great logo), we winded our way up a gravel road to a camping-at-large area just outside Lost Creek Wilderness.  We car-camped that evening, prepping for a multi-day backpacking trip which we embarked on the next morning after a road-side breakfast of chorizo and eggs alongside Goose Creek.

We hiked into Lost Creek Wilderness via the Goose Creek Trail Head and immediately began ascending to Hankins Pass.  The trek was made especially difficult as the weight of alost-wilderness-boulders 1 lb breakfast burrito made its presence known in combination with the normal onset of altitude sickness having traveled from sea level to 8,000 feet and climbing beyond 10,000.  The discomforted was conveniently offset however, by the beauty of a rocky paradise.  Boulder gods stood guard among a rock fortress stretching towards the sky; it was brutally beautiful.

We linked Lake Park with the McCurdy Park trail, camping shortly after the trail intersection.  We had miraculously dodged the potential of afternoon showers and were equally lucky as we slept through dry skies that evening.  The next day we made acquaintances with GPS Ger, a hiker out for a trek along the Frontier Range who coincidentally dominated our conversation with trail directions and travel recommendations.  He was a talker from Toronto who’s “safety plan” included making conversation with everyone he encountered, ensuring that someone would always know his where-abouts as he adamantly shared them.

Our afternoon highlight was the headwaters of Lost Creek, which seemed to appear from lost-creeknowhere, as the terrain was predominantly comprised of various forms of rocks, boulders and stones.  At the headwaters, Lost Creek flows through a boulder jam that can best be described as a stone cathedral.  An archway marks the opening as the water rushes through the gateway into a slot canyon lined by stone soldiers.  We lost-wilderness-historic-siteregret not shedding our packs and wading through the canyon, under the rock archway, flowing with the water until it poured out the other side.  Perhaps another time.

The next day we explored the Lost Park Reservoir Site, the remains of a failed reservoir operation (1891 -1913). The only evidence remaining of a time long ago was the log houses used for employee lodging; simple log cabins, slowly returning to nature.  We reconnected with Goose Creek shortly after, enjoying the meander along the creek as it gained momentum, winding through narrow gulches and wide valley floors.  We were back at the car when the sky opened up; it was a welcomed shower as we headed out to make camp.

We spent the afternoon exploring red-dirt roads before picking a spot to spend the night.  We made our dinner and enjoyed our final evening under the omnipotent watch of Pike’s Peak, recently dusted with snow, perhaps a little more from the brief storm earlier.

It may have been a short trip but it was filled with wonderful weather, beautiful landscapes and the ever present sense of adventure whilst exploring something new.  It’s just a taste of what’s to come…

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Pisgah National Forest

After being cooped up in the classroom for 9 months, I was ready for some much needed rest and relaxation over the Memorial Day weekend.  Doing what we do best, stretching out our holiday weekends, we accommodated our extended weekend with 5 days off to constitute a mini vacation before hitting the summer school crowd, the only thing standing between me and our next vacation over 4th of July weekend.

The bad thing about leaving in such haste is that I’m apt to make careless mistakes, and in this case, we weren’t more than 20 minutes in when I began to notice the err of my ways.  Needing a blanket for our sleeping arrangements, I grabbed a quilted throw from the laundry room prior to leaving, feeling confident that it had passed the necessary sanitation requirements to make it on to the shelf in the first place.  Apparently, that wasn’t the case, as I sat in the passenger seat catching occasional whiffs of some foul smelling offender.  After an odiferous scavenger hunt, I correctly identified the culprit as the blanket I had scored off the laundry room shelf.  It was a putrid combination of animal musk (as if an opossum had laid low for a month or so, wrapped in the cottony confines) and the sour smell of laundry left in the washing machine too long before it’s transference to the dryer.  To make things worse, within the temperature regulated confines of our Toyota, 4-runner, it had no place to escape without passage into my nose first, and apparently, I was the only one sensitive to smell it.

And smell it I did.  For 9 hours.

When we reached our destination, Bryson City, North Carolina, there was a ceremonious eviction of the rank bedding and then a 5 minute cleansing period where I stood waving incense in and around the car and myself, likely resembling some form of séance in an effort to eliminate any remanence of funk from my presence.  To say the least, it made for a longer than usually drive.

Our first destination for this trip was Deep Creek Campground, just within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, where we were united with friends, to enjoy some leisurely recreation together.  Now, if you don’t know anything about Deep Creek, allow me to introduce you to some quite entertaining fun: white water tubing!  We spend the day taking turns running the creek and enjoying the comradery of friendship.

We parted ways the next day to hike individual paths.  Our friends took to a trail in the park, whereas we headed out the Blue Ridge Parkway to find a more shark-friendly trip.  Like most National Parks, pets are not allowed beyond the parking lot and/or a few paved trails, so we ventured out of the park to find something more fitting for us.  We enjoyed a beautiful sojourn along the Blue Ridge before finding a suitable trail.  We got ourselves packed up when it began to sprinkle and, before we hit the trail head, it had become a more persistent drizzle.  We weren’t in but a mile when the persistent drizzle turned into a substantial shower, and we decided to turn around.  We were drenched from head to toe by the time we got back to the car where we stood under the cover of the hatchback as we peeled clothes from our wet bodies.  It wasn’t until I was pouring the water out of my boots that I realized our second error of the trip:  getting every item we brought to hike in soaked the day prior to heading out for a two-night backpacking trip.  It’s one thing to get wet while hiking; it’s another thing entirely to start off wet.  We were going to have to improvise a way to get our clothes dry by the next morning, so we headed back to camp to string a line.  The silver-lining (or perhaps the irony): it had stopped raining no sooner than we had packed up the car with our saturated clothing and wet dog.

All had dried enough, but our boots, by the next morning when we headed out to our second destination of the trip: The Pisgah National Forest.  We utilized the Big East Fork parking area to access the trail which would lead us to Cold Mountain (yes, that Cold Mountain).  Eager to get out there, we ascended the 3.6 mile trail along the Old Butt Knob Trail.  Anticipating nothing more than a glorified meandering (I mean, we were thru-hikers not even a year prior), we were abruptly confronted with the reality that this particular trail showed no mercy and were quickly humbled, as often is the case, by the mountainous terrain.  It didn’t matter where we had come from, or what experience we may or may not have had a few months prior, it utterly and thoroughly kicked our ass.

After salvaging what pride we had left, we continue on to the Art Loeb trail, a much easier feat, to Cold Mountain where we had to turn away from our anticipated summit because of over-crowding.  It was surely a glorious view from up top, but I wasn’t about to fight to see it.  So, we continued on the Little East Fork trail where we found a great camp spot a long a cascading creek; it was a good day.

The next day, in drastic opposition to the day before, we hammered out 20 + miles re- connecting to the Art Loeb trail, traversing the open ridges of Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain.  The panoramas were plentiful and the over-cast made for cool breezes allowing us to stay awhile and enjoy.  We camped in the back country that night, close to the car, allowing for an impromptu run to the vehicle to retrieve 4 celebratory brews from our cooler to conclude our successful trip.

We left the next morning, leaving behind the green mountains, crystal streams and fresh air to return to a sweltering St. Louis to pass the time until our next trip.  We’ll keep you posted!

Check pics on our Facebook or Instagram!

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Westward Ho

How we evaded the weather still alludes us, but I guess it was well deserved after our Utah trip a few years back.  We hit pavement days before the bottom dropped out of the sky and our home was an island amidst all the flooding. Matter of fact, we were snoozing in Mojave when the first drops began to fall at home, and they never quite caught up with us.

We headed south then west, working our way from Missouri to Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.  We spent our first night at a rest stop just outside of Tumcumcari, New Mexico having left the St. Louis area a little after 2pm.  We embarked bright and chipper the next morning and found ourselves navigating the sand roads of the Mojave Desert National Preserve for a parking spot to sleep that evening.  We woke up Christmas morning to a vast expanse of desert flora that dotted the sandy landscape amid toppled mounds of rock, as an appropriate backdrop, before reaching into a blue horizon with a gusty bite; it was beautiful.

From Mojave we headed to Sequoia National Park.  We were excited that we made it there with plenty of light but were immediately discouraged once we found out that a park alert mandated snow chains for all vehicles entering the park after the 11th mile.  Even more then bummed, we were frustrated as this was an item that we had both debated acquiring prior to the departure of this trip; however, for whatever reason or rationale, we didn’t—which did us no good now.  We decided that we weren’t going to turn away from the world’s largest trees when we were camping literally in their backyard, so we headed into town to see about getting ripped-off.

The towns that approach the park are littered with useful or forgotten stuff for tourists, and although I don’t like to consider us tourists, we were in need of what they were selling none-the-less.  Lucky for us we didn’t have to drive far, barely 5 miles outside of the park, to find what we were looking for.  We fell asleep that evening with the grandest gift all: a means to make an acquaintance with Sentinel and General Sherman!

We were up before the dawn the next morning to score a more intimate moment with our trees.  We did our usual morning routine: pull ourselves out of our backseat bed, get the coffee going in the percolator and scramble up some bacon and eggs to wrap in a tortilla or two.  This is all easily done from the back of the 4runner, pulling a drawer from the platform for support and resting the two-burner camp stove on top.

We didn’t make it too far before hitting some pretty sketchy ice, prompting us to ere on the side of safety and put the chains on.  Fighting an obnoxious crowd the day earlier, we were about to have our first experience putting them on when we quickly realized some detrimental issues: 1. They were too big, requiring us to max them out to their tightest adjustment, still leaving them loosely draped on the tire.  2.  They were broken, inhibiting us from tucking the excess cord (which was plentiful) where it wouldn’t create an issue and 3.  They were for the same side tire, requiring us to put one on backwards.  But did this stop us? Hell, no.

We got our intimate experience in abundance: we hiked the Big Trees Trail with the morning light basking the mammoth trunks a golden red hue as their canopy towered in the sky.  We said hello to General Sherman and then paid respects to the Sentinel as we headed out, our intentions to drive through Yosemite on our way to the evening’s post just prior to returning the medal iron medians fastened to our tires that had rubbed marks on them in symmetric intervals.  Nicely, the accommodating shop returned our money even when their policy usually prohibits it.

All the haste to get a glimpse of Yosemite was in vein.  Previous snow had rendered only one entrance accessible and after traveling almost 2 hours to gain access to the park we found ourselves waiting in a 2 mile line to access the fee station to get in!  We went no where for 15 minutes before accepting defeat and turning around; we consequently sulked our way to a rest stop outside of Fresno before putting ourselves to bed.

We had our first, and only, dreary day (although the wind never quite evaded us) as we drove through Humbolt State Park, squeezing inbetween monuments of nature, trees that literally kissed the sky.  The rain started as a light trickle as we entered Redwood National Park and turned to a fine mist before settling on a persistent drizzle as we set up camp under Giants.  The 4runner was nestled nicely within the bounty of 3 towering Redwoods.  What protection they offered from the elements, our canopy nicely accented as we sat under the canvas cover listening to the patter of rain and looking at the trunks of the world’s tallest tree.

From Redwoods we hit the coast and inhaled a nice breath of sun, salt and shore.  Having traveled the coast from Astoria to Newport prior, we were astonished at the superior beauty this stretch had to offer—mainly because this stretched lacked the constant nagging towns that hindered an otherwise unaltered stretch of shoreline that boasted craggy rock outcroppings and towering stone islands just beyond where the tide retreats after stretching it’s fingers out in the sand.

We spent a few days with family, enjoying a homesteading experience worth learning from.  From there we traveled to Kalama, Washington, just 3 hours away, to bring in the New Year with additional family.  On our way to Washington we took a walk in Portland’s Forest Park, an impressive expanse of public accessible trail that allowed us to stretch our legs and remembered how to walk.

We headed out at the end of the week, traveling south and east from Washington to Oregon through the Columbia Gorge, then through Idaho, Utah and Nebraska.  It was a surprisingly quick trip home, leaving at 9am on a Friday and arriving at noon on Sunday, considering time changes and never having to drive through the night.

Having said all this, in reflection, here are a few things that this trip has taught us:

  • We need snow chains
  • We need a means to more effectively carry water
  • A shower would be nice
  • Family is the best
  • There’s never enough time

Check out pics on our Facebook and/or Instagram.

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Living a New Kind of Normal

This school year has been a blur of policies, practices and a try on my patience as I try to acclimate to the world of education again.  My focus this year has been on the implementation and development of a curriculum I’ve poured my heart into.  I piloted wellness programsome of these ideas with sixteen adventurous students last semester when we were on the trial, and this shell of a structure has grown into two classes of over 40 students.  I take this very seriously; maybe too seriously; sometimes students give me that bewildered, questioning stare: “Is she crazy?”  and perhaps, to some, I’m a little over zealous in aspects of interest, of utter passion, whereas often I may seem to have an attitude of dire apathy in others.

Regardless, I have no shame, and since the year has begun, I’ve had the kids making connections between Thoreau and Buddah, thru-hiking and wellness, and service learning and citizenship.  The students have astonished me in their ability to adapt, create and remain curious.  I am looking forward to a year full of adventure and learning!

Check out how awesome these kids are!

  • Here’s a YouTube video of my Eco Lit kids learning how to breath and stretch as part of our first unit that focused on personal wellness- mind, body and spirit!wellness program too
  • The culminating project for the first unit was a wellness program. Students had to develop a wellness program modeled off a long-distance trail of their choice.  Check this one out; it’s pretty amazing!
  • One final highlight, presently the students and teachers are on a virtual race along the Appalachian Trail as each group logs their steps/miles and collectively competes for distance NOBO! Can you guess who’s the tortoise and who’s the hare?!
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The End is Just the Beginning

It took us 6 months to walk from Georgia to Maine but less than 24 hours to get from Maine back home.

We spent our final night in Millinocket gorging on string cheese, ice cream Twix and an obscene amount of McDonalds.  We caught a shuttle into Bangor the next day to pick up a rental and heading south, back home.

We came home on a Sunday and Mike returned to work on that Monday.  It was nice having the security of a paycheck again, but it was an abrupt return to reality.

We’ve been back for a month and so far have had to replace a transmission in one car and an overflow tank in the other, leaving one or both of us car-less for three weeks.  Come to find out that for at least a month, we’ve had no insurance because the Marketplace failed to communicate audit information to Anthem, so they dropped us and didn’t tell us.  And, somewhat expected, we just got word from the vet that Landshark has Anaplasmosis, a tick-born disease that, although treatable, has the poor Shark down for the count.  Needless to say, we miss trail life.

Time has accelerated even more as I enter my eleventh year of teaching, yet I’m excited to share some trail knowledge with my students.  It’s been a journey filled with aspirations, struggles and learning, and I hope to see it begin to fall in place this school year.

9 years ago I started a service-oriented program in the inner city alternative program I taught at that focused on community involvement and urban recreation.  This idea was the foundation of what two years later became TREC (Teaching Recreational Education and Coexistence), a club that, like it’s acronym implied, focused on the relationship between self and nature and the responsible participation in recreational opportunities.

Last year, I created a curriculum for TREC that fostered the 21st century skills already inherent in the program and combined it with a curriculum that focused on eco-relevant literature and aligned it with national learning standards.  I was able to virtually facilitate my first class while on a 2,185 mile journey from Georgia to Maine.

This year I’m excited to continue developing an idea that I’m passionate about; I’ll have the opportunity to fully pilot the course and begin to incorporate authentic learning experiences.

The class objective is to combine Language Arts learning objectives and technical composition skills with eco-based literature and assessment.  The course analyzes various texts and their influence and/or relation to the reader and the natural world.  Students will engage in various authentic learning opportunities that prepare the student for essential 21st century skills.  Discussions will focus on the individual (self-awareness), the environment (awareness, preservation, consumption, conservation, advocacy, etc.) and the coexistence of the two.

I invite everyone to check it out and watch it grow!  Let me know how I can help incorporate it into your school’s curriculum!

studtsclass.weebly.com

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Stratton, ME to Baxter State Park: The End of the Line

Maine’s topography is comprised of three things: rocks, roots and mud. And in the last three days, we’ve seen little more than that.

After leaving Stratton, we traversed the Bigelows, and although the rain had settled, a cloud still hovered on its peaks. We stayed the night at Little Bigelow Lean-to.

We stayed our second night at Pierce Pond where we heard our first loon- an elusive water fowl that makes a beautiful coo that can best be related to the calls of an owl; it’s hard to describe but amazing to listen to.

That night more rain set in and, other than a brief dry-spell first thing in the morning, the majority of the day we walked in rain. We were so saturated by the end of the day we forded a water crossing without taking off our boots- what’s the point?!

After a 19 soggy mile day we got to Bald Mt Shelter to find a packed lean-to full of SOBOS who didn’t want to get their feet wet. Pissed, we pitched our tent just off trail.

We woke up to a super swamp the next morning, the mounting rain flooding the already saturated terrain. There was no trail, just water; water occupied the trail, coated the rocks and filled in the mud pits in the spaces in-between. One could not hop, skip or jump in leiu of slipping, sloshing or splashing.

Because the of the abundant rain, the streams and brooks had swelled, making crossings sketchy at best, dangerous at worst. We bipassed two particularly daunting fords and headed into Monson, ME.

Monson, although a small town, offers more than a hiker could ask for. We stayed at the Lakeshore House and filled our faces with food and beer at the adjoining pub before passing out at 5:30.

The next morning we were packed and ready to go, loading our stuff into the shuttle when a sudden wave to retreat hit both of us. We liked Monson, let’s stay a day (or two) more.

From Monson we entered the home stretch: the 100 Mile Wilderness! Neither a 100 miles, nor a wilderness, this last section of trail is comprised of miles of pine, alpine lakes, bogs and wildlife. No public roads run through, no cell service reaches, no industrious distractions- pure peace. It was the only remaining obstacle between us and Katahdin.

We got our final southernly views from Barren and Chairback Mountains before summiting Whitecap, giving us our first view of Mother K. Like a tease we’ve been chasing for months, at our first opportunity for a glimpse, she slid behind a curtain of haze, keeping us guessing.

At the end of this (literal) wild ride, we were spit back out into the world as it has been now recognized, mere feet from Abol Bridge, the boundary that separates 100 mile and Baxter State Park, the sanctuary encompassing Mt Katahdin.

We paused midway on the bridge, suspended just above the Penobscot River, and there, front and center, was the craggy face of Katahdin, the allusive ghost we’ve been chasing for over 2000 miles!

We stopped for snacks and food at Abol Camp before heading into the park and registering for our final night at The Birches, a long-distance hiker only shelter.

We got a good night’s sleep and were up early the next morning. With only 5.2 miles to the summit, the ascent is considered one of the most treacherous on the trail because of the elevation gain (4162 ft) in relation to the distance traveled (5 miles) and the rugged terrain (massive boulders that require climbing, crawling and other negotiating).

We passed the tumbling water of Katahdin Stream Falls before reaching tree line and beginning the rocky climb. We passed through The Gateway, mistaking it as a false summit before crossing The Tableland and ascending the final mile to the Katahdin Summit- Baxter Peak.

It’s hard to describe the emotions felt as we reached out and touched the summit marker that officiated the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. 6 months. 2185 miles. A lifetime of memories. We had reached the end.

Although it was the literal end of our journey, it was the beginning of a new perception on life.

Here are some things I learned along the way:

– I am stronger than I think

– The hardest days are never the worst

– The most valuable things on this earth are free

– Approach the obstacles in life much like those on the trail: one step at a time, one foot in front of the other

– On the trail, eat to live, off the trail, live to eat.

– people are generally nice, but it can’t go without saying that some people are just assholes; they are insignificant compared to all those selflessly willing to help; don’t undermine all the good by getting caught up on the few bad

– Everyone writes his or her own story and therefor has a story to tell: listen

– Pay it forward

– We all have the opportunity to impact the world surrounding us. What type of legacy will you leave?

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Franconia, NH to Stratton, ME

After a brief layover in Franconia Notch for laundry and resupply we headed over Franconia Ridge the next day in the rain. Franconia Ridge is a 2 mile, exposed ridge walk that, on a good day, offers extensive White Mountain views. This was not a good day. The only view was the moving mist of the cloud we were walking in, and it was throwing everything it had at us. The light rain pelted us at an angle and felt like needles piercing our face. The wind came across the ridge in such strong gusts that we had to physically maintain a strait line to keep on the trail. We stopped only briefly to snap a few pictures and a pack cover was ripped off one of our packs. Luckily it was tied on!

We scrambled off the ridge as quickly as possible, escaping with only soggy clothes and burning cheeks. From there we trudged up Garfield, once again to a viewless summit.

The next day we traveled on tamer topography and spent the night just off trail at Carter Notch State Park to pick up a drop my parents had sent. The two miles to our off trail destination was entirely motivated by the knowledge of fresh baked cookies in the drop. As the rain settled in once again, and as our pace quickened, the thought of chocolate chip goodness kept us warm even though there wasn’t an inch on us dry.

We waited out the rain in the park office, a small shack serving as a satelite location for camp check in. There was no attendant there, and we later found out that there rarely was; we took advantage of the shelter and met a variety of campers as they checked in, confusing us for someone in charge.

It was in this way that we met a retired camper/rv transporter out on a similar AT adventure: unable to endure the physical strains of a long distance hike, he was auto touring a route that took him to all the best spots along the trail. Not only did he give us a ride into a general store for some necessities: soda and chips, but he later asked if he could give me a gift: a bottle of wine. I’d be stupid to say no to that!

The weather cleared that night and we had sunny skies scaling Webster Cliffs the next day. Having been suffocated by clouds for the past few days, we were delighted to get a clear view of the Presidential Range. We stayed that evening at Naumen Tentsite, moving us into position for Mt. Washington the next morning.

The tentsite was positioned right next to Mitzpah Hut, one of 8 AMC high sky accommodations. These huts allow hikers to experience the Whites with the luxury of bed and meals at the end of the day. Thru-hikers are often allowed work-for-stay at these locations: free lodging and leftovers in exchange for 2 hours of work. We unfortunately didn’t get this option during our New Hampshire stay because the facilities aren’t shark friendly. However, because the camp area was so close to the hut,  we were able to camp for free and scored a 1/2 dozen fresh cookies from the camp/hut croo. For a little amount of work, we were generously compensated!

The next morning we were up with the sunrise, heading for Mt. Washington. We broke treeline within the first few miles and there began our epic day. Our journey across the Presidential Range began with Mt Webster  (was he a president?), followed by Jackson (both prior to Mizpah), then Pierce, Eisenhower, Franklin and Monroe before summiting the 6288 ft Mt Washington. The trail, although rocky, was well graded. The care and effort put into the  trail on this assent was evident. We had some hot cocoa and donut holes at the summit (yes, because there’s a snack bar on top), before snapping a summit pic and heading on. It was here that our day turned into a quite literal rocky horror.

The White Mountains are rocky but the remaining trail scaling Mt Clay, Jefferson and Madison was nothing short of a rock scramble. It was as if at one point the range had erupted like a volcano, spewing jagged boulders everywhere. There wasn’t an inch of dirt to be found, nothing but a sea of stones stood before us. It took us 12 hours to hike 14.5 miles; the climbs up offered a little more relief then the crawls down. The only thing that kept me from crying that day was the sun and miles of panoramic views; had it started to rain while we were exposed, stranded on that brutal, rock nightmare, I would have surely lost my mind. It was the most horribly beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.

We made it to Osgood Camp minutes before the drizzle began. We were able to eat dinner before the rain turned to a steady pour. We shared our camp with a momma moose that was not in the least amused with us (even with the Landshark’s incessant badgering). We also met our first Sobo- Thirst- an eager hiker hoping to set a time record for fastest unsupported hike. This hiking season seems to be a year for record- breaking as an ultra marathoner is currently on que for setting the time for fastest supported hike. Additionally, there is a Nobo anticipating a record unsupported northbound hike who plans to start in July.

I often wonder if people just hike the trail anymore… Just the old one-foot-in-front-of-the-other strategy; the non competitive approach?! I worry that the magic of the trail is lost in this seek and conquer mentality.

We headed out Pinkham Notch the next day and made an unplanned stop at White Birches Hiker Hostel. We took care of our resupply and decided to take it easy the following day by slack packing the Wildcats and Carters (both mountains boast multiple peaks).

It was a beautiful day for mountain climbing as we treaded lightly over Wildcat and Carter Dome. One of the best views in the Whites was seen from Mt Height, offering 360° views including the entire presidential Range on one side and the mountains of not-so-far-away Maine on the other.

Then we got a case of the lazies. We didn’t hit the trail the next day until noon and made it to Trident Col Tentsite, merely 6 miles of the 12 we had anticipated. It poured that night and the tent almost set sail on a sea of drainage. The next morning was another slow start, and we fell short of our anticipated stay again with little more excuse other the we didn’t want to go further. We crossed our final border, entering into Maine, and perhaps our recent apathy is related to the very near and apparent end of our long journey.

Now is NOT the time to be slowing down. For the first time on this trip we have a timeline. Scruffs was able to regain employment at his former job, and we’ll be heading back to reality on July 12th. It is because of this that we need to finish by July 10th. Again, I reiterate, not the time to be getting lazy. The shelter was fuller than usual that night. We were accompanied with a retiree, dedicating a life to service work and ensuring the security of some of our most important assets; Lifeguard was out on his final section of his end-to-end section hike of the AT. We were also accompanied by a mother, about to turn 40, and her 15 year old son out to complete the AT section from Franconia Ridge, NH to Katadin, Maine. And then, pulling in late was Bowie, a Nobo who started with Good Knight, using the most of his day, strolling in just before sunset.

The next morning, for the first time on this entire trip, everyone was up at 5 am. Actually, I think that the majority was up at 4 b/c we had a snorer in the shelter, but regardless, it was a bustling shelter by 6 am. We were all aware of the impeding rain and I think that we all intended to jump to the next shelter and then see what happened.

We made a run for it up Mt Carlo and the Goose Eye peaks being stung by a steady sheet of rain. We moved fast and often carelessly over slick slab rock. I bit it more times in the past two weeks then in the entire trip. We found shelter before the floor dropped out of the impregnated cloud that was following us. We laid over at Full Goose Shelter where we met another south-bounder- one of too many we’d be soon to encounter.

After the rain passed we decided to gain some ground, and headed on for Mahoosuc Notch. Mahoosuc Notch is a 1 mile boulder jumble that has the reputation of being the most difficult or most fun mile of the trail. Having survived the experience, I would categorize it as neither the hardest nor most fun. It was tedious but not difficult; it was remarkable but not fun. I would qualify it as the LONGEST mile of the trail.

It wasn’t the climbs and crawls over the boulders that got us, it was the long, hard climb up Mahoosuc Arm that was the literal slap in the face. The 1600 foot vertical climb was reminiscent of Mt Kinsmen, and we were near faint by the time we made it to Speck Pond.

 We spent the night with Bowie again that night and although thunderstorms were promised, we got little more than strong winds. The next morning we headed down Speck Mountain, feeling the repercussions  from the difficulties of the day before. By the time we hit bottom, my stomach was cramped from hunger and, although there was a cooler of trail magic at the parking lot, I hesitated for a brief second to grab a coke before I b-lined it to a picnic table to make lunch.

As we sat scarfing our food, an older gentleman pulled up and started to walk over. At first we thought it was yet another unsuspecting victim lured in by the Landshark, just before the attack. He came over to us and told us that he’d really like if we stayed with them for the night. We realized he was the owner of a local cabin/hostel. Not convinced, we told him we were headed to Rangeley and not expecting to stay in Andover. He pointed out that he’d get us right back to where we wanted to be; yet still unconvinced he continued, ” What do you want for dinner?” He began to sound quite appealing. He lured us in with the tasty sounds of spaghetti and garlic bread, eggs and sausage for breakfast. We told him we’d call him at the next trail head when he suggested: “well, then I’ll take your bags.” What?! Sold! We’ll be staying at “The Cabin!”

Earl and Margie, better known as Honey and Bear, took us in for two days. They fed us more food than we could eat, shared stories and information that proved to be very helpful and took the load off (literally) by slack packing us over Mt. Moody and Old Blue.

After our stay in Andover, we headed into Rangeley for a resupply before heading up Saddleback Mountain, enjoying 3 miles of alpine exposed views on an absolutely gorgeous day. The beauty continued over Mt Spaulding the next day before losing our weather window.

A trail angel picked us off the trail to bring us into Stratton to avoid the rain. All the locals kept warning us about a complete wash out so we decided to take the next day off to stay dry. We spent the next day waiting out the rain that never came. It was frustrating wasting a perfectly hike-able day but it was nice sitting in bed and watching countless episodes of Roseanne and Saved By the Bell. Back at it tomorrow with only 12 days to go; we’ll keep you posted!

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