Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The White Mountains of New Hampshire

So it turns out that the same reasons Gonzo and I began to hike together are also what makes us unable to hike apart. When you leave a town at the same time, from the same place as a person you hike at the same pace as, it's hard to loose each other.

We left town on a grey morning and seemed to not be able to shake each other on the trail because we move at the same speed. By the time we were just about to reach the first hut, we decided to tackle the new beast together. The thing about the White Mountains is that it breaks up all you know as a thru hiker. You move slower over the rough terrain and almost all other hikers seem to disappear. For this reason, we naturally stuck together out of lack of other hikers to be with. To hike alone, particularly at such a rough part of the trail, is reserved for sociopaths, in my mind at least.

Besides the shorter distance days due to hard terrain, the Whites also introduced us to their own Hut System. There are seven huts throughout the 90 or so mile stretch from Lincoln to Gorham. They are essentially made for day hikers to be able to hike and stay over night in the Whites. They have bunk rooms and provide you with breakfast and dinner made by a crew of college aged kids who pack in all the food and pack out all the trash. The huts are located relatively close together so that even families with young kids can hop from one hut to another to make up a rather expensive outdoor vacation. There is also the option of paying $8 per person to stay in the same three walled wooden shelters we have been saying in for free since Georgia. All of this is ran by the AMC, the Appalachian Mountain Club, or the Appalachian Money Club, as thru hikers refer to it.

The one good that comes out of this overly touristy section of the trail is that every night each hut will take a few lucky hikers in for a 'work for stay'. In exchange for a few chores they allow you to eat the left overs of dinner and breakfast and let you sleep on the dining hall floor. It sounds very much like a type of caste system, and it really is, but when you're on the bottom of the chain it is well worth the pitiful and/or disgusted looks from day hikers and their inquisitive children to receive a few hot meals.

This also lessens the food load you have to carry over rough terrain. And by rough terrain I mean you are always either high stepping up make shift rock stairs and scrambling up nearly vertical rock faces or treacherously lowering yourself and your huge pack down these sort of "trails". The less you have to carry the better, so I ended up dumping a lot of tiny things in Hanover with my brother to make the trek easier. I hate to think what it would have been like if I had not done this.

The reason the Whites are so treasured (besides being the sole economic value of all of Northern New Hampshire) is because they are rather neat and different. The "presidential range" is all above tree line and Mt. Washington, a 6000+ft high peak with a road up to it and a rail line, is the biggest tourist trap I've seen since the last time I was at Six Flags. It is a virtual ant hill of little lines of people snaking here and there at half the speed of a thru hiker, who at this point is fully capable of stair stepping up an 1000 foot climb without taking a breather. When you get to the top you have to make the tough decision between running down the other side away from the madness as quickly as you can or paying an exorbitant amount of money for a regular portion of food from the snack bar that is even more infested with tourist than the actual mountain is. Naturally a thru hiker chooses the food. At least it comes with good people watching.

In all we stayed at 3 of the 7 huts, which got us through 6 days of hiking with only carrying 3 days of food. It worked out pretty perfectly for us. The nights we didn't stay in a hut we chose to stealth camp instead of pay to stay in a shelter. Stealth camping is supposed to be just what it sounds like, but more often than not we were simply on a flat barren area right next to the trail instead of 200 ft away from any trail or water source.

Though the views were beautiful and we had overall great weather (only got caught in one thunderstorm but we were on a peak and had to pitch tent after running to the safety of trees) I would still never wish a continuous hike through the entirety of the White Mountains upon my worst enemy. After only a week I have things wrong with my body that are either new or haven't been an issue for many states worth of hiking. I believe they were intended for brutal day hikes to give those with a sedentary lifestyle a major sense of accomplishment and I hope to never tackle them again in the way I just did.

That being said, a zero day in Gorham, NH is wildly deserved and appreciated. The week we spent traversing the Whites was the longest and most rugged span of time we have had out in the woods. But now we are less than 20 miles from the state line of Maine and though I can't say I am super excited to get back out and start the last state, I am happy to only be about 3 weeks out from Katahdin.

At this point there is little holding us back besides an unplanned injury. I have allowed myself to start dreaming of home, or civilization rather, and have a growing list of foods I want to eat. I am excited for a hair cut and maybe even a pedicure (so unlike me and I really feel for the poor soul who has to do it). I am dreaming of what real clothes I will buy and of visiting friends while up north. I am possibly dreaming the most about my brother and sister in laws extremely comfortable house that I will be staying in for the first few weeks after the trail. I know their comfy, suede coach in front of their obscenely large tv will be waiting for me. I know their cutely decorated bathroom is very clean and has large, plush towels.

As much of a sense of adventure it takes to set out and hike the Appalachian Trail and as much insanity it takes to stick with it, I feel as if in some ways I have been normalized by the experience, maybe even if it is only temporary. I find myself strongly desiring a slothful evening watching a Jennifer Aniston romcom, the name of one I can't even recall because it is so opposing to my usual interests. I surmise that after I have made myself sick one too many times on take out and sitcom re-runs, that I will come around again into feeling dissatisfied with a stationary life without much forward motion. After all, things have been rolling so fast for a long time with graduation, then the trail, that I am sure it won't be too long until I feel like a "knot on a log" as my mom used to say.

And as slothful as I want to be right now, tomorrow we set out again and finish up New Hampshire. Next post will be from Maine!

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