Sayin’ Uncle

White Mountains Lodge and Hostel, NH — When I arrived on the hostel’s doorstep, I knew I was near the end of my rope. I just didn’t know how close to the end I actually was. Not only were my knees screaming, but I also had a full blown head cold. I also couldn’t stand the taste of food and had not eaten anything significant in 24 hours. In short, I was a mess. I just didn’t realize it.

The first night and morning I consumed only water and cola in preparation for sleeping all day. On the second night I still could only sample my dinner. I theorized that my aversion to food might be the result of having encountered a dirty dish somewhere in the hut system.

In short, I need a space and time for respite and recuperation.

As I’ve noted before, it’s impossible to compare hostels one to another. There are too many independent variables. It is fair to say that this time, I was at the right place when I needed it.

There is a slight comparison. White Mountains Lodge is simIlar to Vermont’s Green Mountain House in so far as each is a converted house with similar amenities and a home style feel. Each host is a wonderful person.

I couldn’t have found a better place. White Mountains is a welcoming and accommodating home away from home. Marni, the owner, is a wonderfully attentive and cheerful host who understands long distance hikers and their unique predicament. She should know. Her son hiked the trail two years ago. She and her assistant Eric helped in every way.

In all it’s taken six days to recover. The trip down to see my friend Katie was also a significant part of that process. Tomorrow we head north again. I’m fit and looking forward to it.

About now I’m sure glad I was willing to say uncle.

The next set of blogs should come in a few days.

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Super friend to the rescue.

Shankhassick Farm, Durham, NH, Friday June 27, 2014 — The last time I was here, Katie’s house was just built. It was raw and new with the smells of fresh paint and varnish.

Today it’s an eclectically decorated, quiet and comfy retreat from the insanity of the outside world, a place where a body and mind can rest and recover. In a word, it’s “paradise” in New Hampshire!

I needed that. I also needed and appreciated the wonderful friend behind it all.

I’ve known my friend Katie Paine for a long time. I’ve been her client, colleague and collaborator almost from the day we met in New York where we were presenters at a Conference Board meeting. It didn’t take long for our friendship to form after that.

When my iPhone went on the fritz – the battery would hold only a 50 percent charge, then crash. It also turned itself on and off randomly – I needed to buy a replacement. The challenge: the nearest store was three hours away!

Calling all superheroes.

Like the Lone Ranger, it was Katie to the rescue. Cue the music Tonto!

Next think I know, a ride to Katie’s house was miraculously arranged with one of her former employees at a business she formerly owned in Gorham.

My ride had to first stop in Concord, my wife’s home town. Seems Granite State Candy needed an emergency delivery of New Hampshire maple syrup.

Whoa! That’s our favorite candy store in the whole world. What a treat! That did wonders for my morale.

We made it to Katie’s around three o’clock. Since Katie had to finish some conference calls we didn’t complete the phone replacement until after 8 pm.

Following a beautiful dinner, Katie squeezed me into a house full of other guests and I slept like the proverbial rock.

Katie is in the communications metrics business. In fact, it’s legitimate to say she invented it. That said, I don’t know how you measure a friendship like Katie’s. She went above and beyond and truly rescued me from a crisis that threatened to ruin my hike given that my phone not only is my camera, but my communications Swiss Army knife as well.

I can’t ever thank Katie enough. I will return the favor in every way I can whenever possible. Certainly, I owe her dearly.

She truly is a superhero and best of all, a super friend!

THANK YOU KATIE PAINE!!!

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Keepin’ on.

White Mountain Lodge and Hostel, Shelbourne, NH, Wednesday June 25, 2014 — Success. Motivation and commitment.

It’s a long way. Two thousand one hundred eighty five point three miles. It’s a long time too. Generally six months or more.

“Walksandscrambles” asked about what it takes to maintain one’s mental determination over the course of such a grueling endeavor. It just so happens that I’d been mulling that very same question.

However it’s put – motivation, focus, attitude, determination, fortitude, tenacity, commitment, or plain old sisu – half of the game is 60 percent mental as I remember Yogi putting it.

The first thing every successful thru hiker mentions is how hard the mental component of the trail is.

First, it’s tedious. Being head-down day in and day out takes a tole. Honestly, it can be profoundly boring at times. For the first time in my life I can imagine solitary confinement. The “Virginia blues” is only the beginning of the mental wrestling match for some.

Now that I am deep into this adventure, a more profound appreciation of mental toughness has emerged. In the vernacular, this sucker is hard.

How hard is it?

Let me digress a bit and invite you to read one of last year’s blogs that is not only well written, but spins a grand tale of personal conquest against the odds. Best of all. it’s coated with a rye sense of humor. Linda Daly’s “Karma on the Trail” at https://thumperwalk.wordpress.com is a great read. You’ll enjoy it.

So, here I sit with aching knees and more, and only 319 miles remaining on the clock. Honestly, I’ve achieved most of my primary goals, so what’s the motivation?

Not a day goes by that I don’t remember why I’m out here. Zack Davis wrote an excellent book about mental preparedness and I took his advice.

First I prepared a list of reasons why I am hiking the AT with specific personal objectives, most of which are disclosed in this blog. Some are not.

This process ensured that I developed a deeper understanding of why I am here and what I hope to achieve. I review it daily in my head.

A second list delineates the costs and consequences if I do not complete my mission. This list also is on my mental checklist whenever I need a reminder.

Most importantly, I set my mental attitude before I ever took the first step. Short of debilitating injury or personal emergency, quitting is not an option. I dragged out my old military mindset and gave myself a mission to complete the AT within 12 consecutive months. Period. Do or die.

I’ve always loved Teddy Roosevelt’s answer to the question about why he gave the task of building the Panama Canal to the Army. His answer: “Because they can’t quit.” There you have it in a nutshell.

The daily motivation is relatively easy. You wake up and follow the white blazes.

They say never quit on a bad day. In that sense, everything depends on how a bad day is defined. The word disaster comes to mind.

I’ve had many hard days, but never a bad one. Mostly they’ve been very good. Sometimes I’ve rolled into town (Erwin, Tenn. and Damascus, Va. for example) soaked to the skin and just short of disaster.

Those towns were in exactly the right places at the optimal times. I got lucky. Then again, it also pays to be lucky sometimes. Just don’t learn to depend on luck.

Everything else we try to plan such as logistics or in the cases of weather or trail conditions, take In stride. “It is what it is.” comes out of every hikers mouth several times a day or so it seems. Being properly equipped and prepared tends to take care of that. Unfortunately experience and gear cost money that some folks don’t have.

Last, I try to maintain perspective and remember some if the great ordeals of history as I did with the Civil War force marches through the Shenandoah region. Compared to Shackleton, or Louis Zaparini, the Bataan Death March, the Russian winter campaigns suffered by the French and German soldiers, an AT hike is truly a walk in the woods.

It’s ways helpful to maintain perspective. The rest is will power.

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Some shelter caretakers are mindful of hiker boredom.

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Spectacular scenery and an occasional gray jay help.

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Finding new friends along the trail is a pure delight.

The long down

Ethan Pond Campsite, NH, AT NOBO mile 1,837.0, Friday June 20, 2014 — The diabolical trail gods have a cruel sense of humor.

What goes up must go down. From the summit of Lafayette the descent to Crawford Notch (1,277 ft.) is sure and steady.

Why? Who would want the climb to the 6,288 ft. summit of Mt. Washington to be less interesting? But that’s yet to come. No sense dwelling on it.

Today the look back over the past three days was spectacular. Lincoln, Lafayette and Garfield all in a single panorama.

The journey included a talus field reminiscent of several places in the Rockies. My bootsteps crunching on scree chomped up nostalgic memories of hikes long gone by, my brother Jack and other friends and me out for the kind of adventures 20-somethings enjoy. Those were good days.

We still have four miles of descent before the trail profile starts looking like a hockey stick with the long end up.

We plan to stay at Mispah Hut. If we can’t get work for stay, we’ll pay. There’s a fundraiser at Mt. Washington’s Lake of the Clouds Hut tomorrow, so my preferred destination is out of the question. Maybe we can score some left over caviar and drain the dregs of the Champaign bottles when we pass through?

Apologies to those having difficulty viewing the page. Since the app update, WordPress has had issues, so I can’t say for sure it’s browser compatibility. Unfortunately I am at WordPress’s mercy until I can get out of the woods and lay my hands on a real computer. 😦

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Willey’s store at the bottom of Webster Cliffs.

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Reverse angle two hours later.

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First view of Mt. Washington.

Over the top

Madison Hut, NH, AT NOBO mile 1,858.1, Sunday June 22, 2014 — I hate rocks, but we’ll come back to that.

The cusp of the morning in tent city found me sipping coffee with a Dane who is working for IBM in Freeport, ME. Our conversation ranged from corporate leadership techniques to camping gear.

I soon scarfed some free leftover oatmeal, a thru hiker privilege, at Mizpah Hut before setting course for Lake of the Clouds Hut nestled upon Mt. Washington’s ample shoulders.

Bright sun lit the easy climb. The trail bed again was scree reminding me of Colorado above treeline, only in the Whites you’re not gasping for breath at 13,000 ft. It’s like a skip in the park I reasoned.

The gentle trail was appreciated. My knees have been taking a pounding on the rocks, especially on the 30 – 40 inch stepdowns. The pack weight really stretches the tendons. The up hills are a nonproblem until after a punishing down hill. Then everything hurts all the time. It goes with the territory, but it’s unpleasant nevertheless.

All that was about to change after Lake of the Clouds. The trail between Clouds and Madison was, in a word, ugly. Lots of rock hopping and big steps. Everything knees hate. I made it to Madison by dinner time, six o’clock, but I don’t know how.

While the trail conditions may have marred the afternoon, the scenery did not disappoint. Dramatic clouds draped the vast horizon with possible afternoon rain in the forecast.

The cog railway even made a special appearance. There’s an old hiker tradition of mooning the train. As a young couple made preparations for the act, they noticed me and reassessed. Damn! It would have made a great photo. They both smiled demurely as we passed.

Tomorrow the White Mountain Hostel in Gorham will pick us up when we reach Pinkham Notch. From there we’ll plot the 21-mile slack pack over the Wildcats. More to come.

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Mt. Washington with a tiny bit of snow remaining.

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Food!

Galehead Hut, NH, AT NOBO mile 1,825.2, Thursday June 19, 2014 — What’s on the menu?

So most all thru hikers “hate” the Appelachian ‘Money’ Club. Until we hit AMC territory trail shelters and campgrounds are free. Most hostels are in the $20 – $50 range and offer showers, laundry, resupply, phone recharging and access to real food. All that ends in NH.

Like the troll who hid under the bridge, the AMC charges to camp in tents, stay in ordinary shelters and or bunk at the huts. Nothing has a value add that a thru hiker would recognize. But, there is a hidden treasure.

In addition to the work for stay we’re doing for a second night, thru hikers can eat leftovers all day. You can actually eat your way through the Whites. That’s what we’re doing.

This is better than the New Jersey deli per day plan! Today we reached Galehead early , around three o’clock and negotiated work for stay, but also got to clean up a ton of scrumptious leftovers – pulled pork BBQ, lasagna, homemade bread and turkey soup. What a life!

It’s time to note that the climb out of Greenleaf was a no-strainer of less than 45 minutes. No buyer’s remorse here. The pic shows the hut after the weather cleared.

Trail conditions, not the climbing per se, make for slow progress. We met a guest who section hiked the AT beginning in 1956, ending in 1995. His description of changing trail conditions and culture were fascinating. The most profound difference, he said, was the extent of the erosion. It’s like hiking over broken and scrambled Jersey barriers.

So here I am, feeling like a stuffed turkey as I type. I can only hope this fare is equally filling. 🙂

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It’s about getting high

Greenleaf Hut, NH, AT NOBO mile 1,818.6, Wednesday June 18, 2014 — Heretofore miles measured progress. No longer. Now it’s all about elevation. How high is high?

This morning we punched out of the Kinsman Pond shelter, elevation 3,763 ft., passed through Franconia Notch at 1,443 ft. and closed the day’s forward progress atop 5,291 ft. Mt. Lafayette.

Not a bad day’s work for only 12 miles. Now you see why miles aren’t the coin of the realm in the White Mountains. It’s all about up.

Today we also decided to investigate the Appalachian Mountain Club’s hut system. The huts, strategically located throughout the Whites, offer a bunk, breakfast and dinner to paying guests.

Hikers can stop by during the day for leftovers, soup, cake and coffee for a reasonable fee. Each hut allows two thru hikers work for stay meaning free dinner and breakfast in exchange for a small amount of menial work. Not a bad deal considering that paying guests shell out $125 nightly.

We hit Lonesome Lake Hut in time for a late breakfast. The “croo” there suggested we stay at Greenleaf tonight in part because Greenleaf doesn’t see many thru hikers.

There’s a reason why thru hikers pass over Greenleaf. It is 1.1 miles and 1,000 feet below the Lafayette summit! Oh how we’re going to hate ourselves in the morning!!!

The day was long, but the climbing was much easier than yesterday’s hand over hand rock scrambles. The winds were howling up top on the socked in Franconia Ridge Trail as we staggered like wind blown drunks toward Lafayette.

On the descent the prop department displayed its finest work as the sun worked its magic and the landscape underneath transformed to an entirely new reality as dramatic cloud strings wisped along the ridge lines. It was a perfect ending.

One mile an hour!

Kinsman Pond Shelter, NH, AT NOBO mile 1,807.4, Tuesday June 17, 2014 — Expect to make about one mile an hour. Everybody said it. I believed it, sort of, but not really.

Well, it’s true. We hiked 11.5 miles today in eleven hours. Bingo.

If Moosilauke is where Momma Nature set her first line of defense, we’re getting beyond the screen now. We made 1.6 mph until about noon, then an endless rockfall earned our total attention. The poles got stowed and hand over hand climbing ruled the day.

At one point I slipped on a rock and tweaked some tendons in my right foot. In response I doubled down on the vitamin I (ibuprofen) and laced my boot as tightly as possible.

We’re camped at a pond, so the water near shore isn’t cold enough to help decrease the swelling. I’m using my compression sock instead. We’ll have a verdict in the morning.

The Appalachian Mountain Club operates a series of huts throughout the White Mountains. Our goal today was to reach Lonesome Lake hut, 1.9 miles from here. We realized we couldn’t do it before dark, so we called it a day.

Normally the huts cost $125 per night for a bunk, dinner and breakfast. Thru hikers can to work for stay, or as we were told tonight, stay (as AMC members) for a highly reduced rate. We also can buy meals during the day. The huts could be a real bonus if everything works out.

Rain is forecast overnight. Rocky trails are dangerous. We’ll see in the morning.

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Cooking dinner at Kinsman Pond

Can’t wait for Monday

Mizpah Hut Campground, NH, AT NOBO mile 1,846.3, Saturday June 21, 2014 — It’s like rush hour out here!

Good weather and low humidity are no friend of the thru hiker. Today the trail was traffic-jammed with weekenders. Tonight there’s almost nowhere to camp. Worse yet, I’m nearly in the shadow of Mt. Washington, the hiker magnet of the Whites.

Never thought these words would ever cross my lips , “Can’t wait for Monday!” That’s when the weekenders go away and the trail is ours alone for a few blessed days.

We took a bypass trail to Willey’s Store in Crawford Notch. There we had breakfast washed down with an ice cream sundae. We also stocked up on some protein bars and a chunk of fudge. Gotta have high octane energy when you need it.

The climb out of Crawford was strenuous, but not as challenging as it might have been compared to others we’ve done. Still, I averaged just under one MPH thanks to several hand-over-hand chunks of trail.

The view from the Webster Cliffs was, well check it out for yourself. The pics can do the talking.

Mizpah Hut was fully booked and the thru hiker work for stays taken. Consequently I’m in my tent in the adjoining campground. Swayed scored a work for stay.

I actually like the privacy and flexibility to curl up prior to hut lights out at ten. I’m lucky. Not many huts have nearby campgrounds.

One dismal discovery. The shock chords in my tent poles broke. That retards quick set up in the rain. 😦

Tomorrow’s itinerary is up and over Mt. Washington to Madison Hut with clear weather and big views in the forecast.

Apologies. Due to WIFI issues. This blog was posted out of sequence.

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Wrong Turn

Hikers Welcome Hostel, Glencliff, NH, Monday June 16, 2014 — Today was a special gift. I can only hope it is the first of many.

If only every day could be like today. A group of hikers slack packed this morning. I signed up for the later group just so I could slurp more coffee ;-).

We started at Kinsman Notch around 9:30 am looking straight up at a chunk of trail that followed a waterfall to its source.

Let’s cut to the chase with the good news. The trail was well designed and maintained with rebar hand rails where needed and plenty of steps to eliminate the threat from slick rock.

Though not a place for someone with vertigo or a rank rookie, this is the safest stretch of trail I’ve seen in awhile. I still would NOT want come down it in the rain under any circumstances.

The experience was exhilarating. The summit reminded me a bit of Pikes Peak, especially the crowds. Since the south side is a walk up, that’s to be expected.

Tomorrow we launch northward from Kinsman Notch hoping for twelve miles. We’re told our planning number should decrease from two miles an hour to one.

Now for the wrong turn. We missed the AT. It seems someone stole the sign. We ended up on the Hurricane Trail which added six empty miles to the day’s outing.

I’m not feeling bad. Nectar, a successful SOBO last year and Spider Man missed it too. I’m told it’s almost a right of passage around here. 😦

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Mt. Washington in the center.

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