The 800th mile of this journey has brought with it many bruises, a heavier pack to carry full of cold weather gear and mountains more brutally grueling and more richly rewarding than any other on the Appalachian Trail! Gone are the twenty mile days of hiking solid speeds of three miles per hour. Miles in the White Mountains of New Hampshire become impossibly long with speeds as slow as one mile an hour at times. The trail ranges from mud bogs that behave like quicksand where one misstep sends you into mud up to your knees; ceaseless, slippery, entangling tree roots grabbing ahold of your foot at every opportunity; the steepest ups and downs of endless rock climbs, hands replacing trekking poles as the most useful navigation tool. Exhilarating yet utterly exhausting ascents and terrifying “scoot down on your butt, slide and hope” descents are abundant up here. The trail has also provided delightful days of walking through numerous fields of wildflowers and snacking on wild apples and blackberries along the stroll. Days have included climbing up waterfalls and fording creeks whose footbridges have washed out (kind of scary!). At times there are breathtakingly epic views and other times of cold, thick, disappointing fog blanketing the view from the summit. There have been days of sunny heat where a 30-foot bridge jump into the river below is a delight and days with a 100% chance of heavy rain which resulted in a “zero day” spent with a pretty cool friend. 🙂 There have been nights around a campfire enjoying a reunion with friends from early in my hike; nights in a beautiful cabin feasting like a queen with my 85-year old date, a lively couple, and a fellow hiker; nights spent stargazing while camping in an open field.
As with all the miles that have come before, the people a hiker encounters along the trail enrich the journey to a whole new level. For example, was trail angel Daniel who allows hikers to pitch a tent in his gorgeous mountain streamside lawn. The evening included a ride to the local Woodstock farmers market! My last night in Vermont was spent in a garage hostel with a fun group of hikers at the “pancake house”, a place known to hikers only by word of mouth where good Samaritans provide food, drink, shelter, and a 30 foot bridge jumpt to hikers passing through. Walking into New Hampshire, Elm Street, the street of trail magic, immediately welcomes us with coolers of goodies at the end of the residents’ driveways. The town of Hanover offers hikers free treasures including pizza, donuts, and fancy bagels. There was roadside hot dog trail magic and the “Ice Cream Man”, or Mr. Bill. He owns a house right on the AT and invites hikers to come over for ice cream and croquet lessons! I had the honor of accompanying him to his neighbor’s house for the best meal I’ve had on trail! Lively conversation ensued with this uniquely diverse group. My first day in New Hampshire brought me the gift of a perfectly timed reunion with hiker friends I have known since before my walk began…excited to have found in them a trail family. Enjoyed sharing the initiation to the Whites with Guardian who drove down to hike with me a few days. Abundant laughter, conversation, and sharing of experiences end nearly every exhausting day out here.
This section of trail brought punishment to the body and awe to the soul. This 800 began the biggest challenge on which I have ever embarked. Loving every day!
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