Bemis and Old Blue

Pine Ellis Hostel, Andover, 13 mile slack pack, NH Monday July 7, 2014 —
We opened up this morning with a river ford , except we cheated. We didn’t even get our feet wet. Fallen tree trunks make fine bridges.

Early in the day I stumbled into a British couple with whom I’ve been corresponding since planning for this hike began. I walked over a rock dome and who should appear but Nigel Berry and his wife Christine. They have a wonderful blog that’s well worth the read.

Once again the hiking was backward (southbound). The direction accounted for a long ride to the trailhead in the morning capped by a short skip back to the hostel at the end of the day.

Today’s scenery featured more rebar than anything else. It’s indicative that the AT in Maine’s reputation isn’t entirely deserved. General people describe trail conditions with several adjectives including unimproved, rough, eroded, rocky, rooty, challenging, and even dangerous. Let’s just say for now that it’s more complicated than that.

All-in-all, another great day is in the books.

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Just in case the perspective fools you. This is near vertical.

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Baldpate

Pine Ellis Hostel, Andover, ME, 10 mile slack pack, Sunday July 6, 2014 — A certain successful 2013 thru hiker whose blog I’ve recommended suggested by email recently that the hike over the two Baldpate peaks would be “fun.”

Her wry wit and acute sense of irony and sarcasm tickled my caution meter. She could mean fun per se, or she could upgrade the sensation to a form of hard rock terrorism. Was she messing with my mind? Mind you, I’ve been an easy mark for head games lately.

Well, it turns out she meant what she said. Today’s hike was a joy.

The Baldpate peaks are a couple of granite domes separated by a gentle saddle. The slope angles are walkable wet or dry without fear. The wind, on the other hand, might up the pucker factor on occasion, but not today.

The photos tell the story. The scenery and hiking we’re amazing.

Two more slack days remain. Each is challenging. More on that later. Once they’re done I have to disappear for a few days for a wedding in Atlanta I wouldn’t miss on a bet. (I don’t plan these things.) Then it’s on to Katahdin.

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Nice trail work.

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Baldpate west peak – where we’re going.

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Baldpate east peak – where we’ve been.

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Foggy glasses

Speck Pond Shelter, ME, AT NOBO mile 1,914.6, Wednesday July 2, 2014 — Mahoosuc Notch was so cool it fogged my glasses!

In fact, the fog shrouded valley looked far kinder and gentler than it actually was. Long ago glaciers scooped out Mahoosuc Notch from a great block of metamorphic rock. Over time house-size and larger boulders tumbled from the steep canyon walls to the narrow valley floor and formed either the world’s best obstacle to tank traffic or a jungle gym for hikers.

To anyone with moderate rock climbing experience, the great boulder field is a welcome diversion. For others, it could be a bit of a challenge.

With that in mind, the whole shelter awoke hoping for an early start. As we packed up, an ominous rumbling punctuated the atmosphere. No, nobody had lentils for dinner. Thunder has an unmistakable sound all its own at six-thirty in the morning.

Swayed and I were about a quarter mile from the shelter when the pelting rain sent us back under cover, not for fear of rain, but out of respect. We know how dangerous rain-slickened rock can be. Fortunately the sky cleared in 20 minutes and we launched our adventure.

The ice in the crevasses worked like a Roman frigidairium and cooled the air in the boulder field at least 20 degrees. The effort required to navigate the boulders, canyons and tunnels should have generated copious amounts of sweat. Instead I was dry as a bone and cool as a cucumber. The cool temperature was exhilarating. Unfortunately my glasses fogged every time they came in contact with the day’s hot and humid air.

We made it through the boulders in about three hours. That’s far slower than some and a bit ahead of the average time of three and a half hours.

Simply put, I had a blast, even when I had to push my pack through a rock tunnel. I have video when I can post it. Mahoosuc is on the list of places I’d like to revisit in the future. Mark it down.

After Mahoosuc Notch is a gentle little slope (not) called Mahoosuc Arm. Not a nice place. I was ever so happy to be climbing. I can’t imagine descending in good weather or bad. Let’s just describe the Arm as a black diamond ski slope made of hard-hearted stone.

Tomorrow we’ll be at the Pine Ellis Hostel from which we’ll be doing some slack packing and avoiding Hurricane Arthur. Slacking has got to be easier on the knees than what we have been doing.

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It’s summertime!

Gentian Pond Shelter, NH, AT NOBO mile 1898.8, Monday June 30, 2014 — It was hot today and sweat became the word of the day. Lots of sweat.

Water was relatively scarce too, especially during the first half of the day. Fortunately there was plenty to be found this afternoon.

The water source for this shelter is a pond. Most of the pond water up here is brown with leaf tannin. It doesn’t affect the taste much, but it does look like strong tea. Consequently some folks don’t like to drink it.

After drawing drinking water, I rinsed out my shirt and cleaned up a bit. I needed it. The alternative is gross.

SOBOs (southbounders) were the theme of the day. We saw eight within 45 minutes. Seems the bubble of SOBOs who jump on the trail right after college graduation is about to reach us. That means extra competition for shelters, hostels and transportation as we go forward.

Tomorrow we finally leave the long shadow of Mt. Washington. In return we get to cross the Maine border and tackle what is reputed to be the toughest mile on the trail. Time will tell. Stay tuned.

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Maine! The final exam.

Full Goose Shelter, ME, AT NOBO mile 1,908.4, Tuesday July 1, 2014 — This is the beginning of the end. Each mountain top witnessed the ever fading shadow of Mt. Washington shrinking in the haze of my rearview mirror. By day’s end it was gone – history in the books.

What lies ahead is less romance than hard work. The trail in Maine is rough. Everyone at the shelter is complaining about the steep slab rocks on the downhills. They’re slicker than snot when dry. We can’t even contemplate them wet. We’ve all fallen enough that we’re gun shy on wet rock.

Lots of fancy trail structures in evidence today.

Tomorrow is Mahoosuc Notch and arm, reputed to be either the most fun or most challenging couple of miles on the trail. In anticipation, I’m working on my war stories early. My mind is open. Let the end games begin.

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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.

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