One night at a shelter in the White Mountains I met a hiker named Gandalf. The most important thing about through hiking, he said, was this: “First, start out slow. Then…slow down.” This is good advice. Athena and I had a slow day yesterday, and decided to spend the night at Black Bear Resort near Hampton, Tennessee. Sure, we could’ve pushed on, and sure, we could’ve walked out this morning, but instead I’m right here with a space heater next to me and a chance to do a little writing. We may or may not stay another night. The weather’s a-changin’. We’ve had some chilly nights, but nothing we couldn’t deal with, partially due to the amazing mittens Athena’s mom, Daphne, made for me.

We hiked for a while with Forager, a 24 year old with a knack for finding and identifying edibles on the trail. Over a couple of weeks he became one of my favorite hikers. Things happen when he’s around: climbing up cliffs, impromptu root beer floats, easy rides to places we need to go. Hiking with him made me feel like a hiker. We tented next to waterfalls I would’ve skipped otherwise. We met town folks out partying and got some free beers. Forager’s openness just attracts these situations.

Taking a random zero here will put him quite a bit ahead of us, and I’m guessing we won’t see him again, which sucks. But that’s how it goes. The trail teaches you how to say goodbye to people, at least in your mind.

This morning I wrote the beginning of a program for creating fantasy words in C++. I just used a text editor, but it’s solid code. I can see already that it’s going to become very complex, which is expected. For example, if I want the user to be able to specify a syllable count, I have to really define what a syllable is; this isn’t as straightforward as it might seem, but it’s a great exercise. Doubtless there are places where people have posted algorithms for that sort of thing already, but it feels good to think through and solve a problem like that.

Early on in my hike I said things like, “In a way I’m already ready to get off the trail.” By that I didn’t mean that I desire an end to the hike, but that I’m okay with the idea. After just a week of hiking I already felt like I’d accomplished much of what I came out here to do. That feeling is stronger now, almost overwhelming at times. I love the hiking, the culture, the friendships, the cold, the campfires, the bear encounters, the unexpected kindness, all the weird and wonderful stuff you see and do when you’re carrying all you need on your back. I love it all, and yet I’m content with the idea that soon it’ll be over for now.

Lots of people say, “You’re only going to do this once, so do it right.” That’s true in a general sense; your average through hiker will hike only once. It would surprise me if I hike the entire AT fewer than 3 times in my life, though. The PCT is more beautiful, according to most everyone…the CDT is more remote and peaceful…but these are folks I meet out here, people who have been everywhere else and still come back to Appalachia. They’re old timers with tens of thousands of hiking miles, young men barely old enough to shave, parents, scientists, criminals, and teachers. Something brings them back here again and again. It’s hard to imagine being long separated from this new world.

Still, there are things I need that I can’t easily get here. I need intellectual challenges. Staring at my code and finding an effective way to achieve results that actually sound like words was really fun. It surprised me. Athena sat here and watched for a while, and I explained what I was doing, stepping from line to line and telling what it all meant and did. My interest in programming is rubbing off on her a bit. I’m a miserable programming teacher, if only because I’m a total amateur, but I can at least introduce her to some of the concepts she’ll run into when she finishes the trail and tries a CS course, as she’s planning on doing. Actually, if she understands most of what I’ve told her, the first CS course is likely to hold no real surprises. You have a lot of time to talk while hiking. At this point we’ve definitely covered material outside the scope of my own first SC class.

Every day I’m more aware of the backlog of tasks that I need to accomplish when I finish. I try not to think about it. For a while I was keeping a spreadsheet that tracked our progress and estimated an end date, but I haven’t touched it in a couple of weeks. What’s the worry? 16 days or 20? We’re winding down. My other projects are winding up. Soon I’ll have a computer in front of me and my novel’s outline and a whole lot of free time. The book is still my first priority. If my “career” as a writer has taught me anything, it’s that that little voice that tells you it’s all right to think about stories and not write them down is full of horse shit. That first draft, that bold first step, is the most important moment of the entire thing. You’re not a writer unless you actually write.

We’re heading out this morning, I guess. We’re likely to get our first snow in a couple of days. I look forward to seeing just how effective this zero degree sleeping quilt I’ve been carrying really is…

I was going to post some new pictures, but this computer isn’t capable of doing that. This is one of my biggest peeves, and one of the things I want to do right when Athena and I look into having our own hostel in a year or three. When you look in your AT guide and there’s a little image of a computer next to a hostel, there’s a reasonable expectation there that you’ll be able to accomplish the tasks on the Web that you need to accomplish. I’m not talking about anything demanding or unusual. Just the basics.

But at the vast majority of the hostels on the trail the “computer” they have for your use was made in the early 2000s. Sometimes they wave their hands and explain that it was “upgraded” some years ago and should be fine. They never know what part of the computer was “upgraded” (it’s usually the RAM, as if plugging in another stick of 333 Mhz DDR1 will magically make the thing stop sucking). They never understand that for 300 bucks and 5 hours of research and construction time they could have a machine that’ll do everything hikers need reliably for years to come. They have no idea why running Windows 7 on a machine that barely ran XP when it was made 12 years ago is a shitty idea. So…no pictures. Inserting media into my blog is somehow beyond what this thing can do. There’s no excuse for that.

Ah, well. Back to the trail.

First, some notes on usage.

One does not go southbound. One merely is southbound.

If you say you’re southbound, that means you’re bound for the south. Okay. So would you say you’re going bound for the south? If you’re a fan of not sounding like English is your fourth language, you probably wouldn’t do that. You’d just say you’re going south, or say that you’re southbound. Choose one. Sassy, Chance, and Shadow were homeward bound. They did not go homeward bound. They merely went home.

Athena and I took a zero today in Free Union, VA. We hadn’t really planned it out that way, but I’m okay with it. We slept in, watched American Pickers, and stared at our gear until we found some junk to get rid of. I removed over 50 ounces from my pack, and acquired a wonderful new long sleeved wool shirt (thanks, Mom!), for a net loss of over 2 pounds!

For a week I’ve been watching our average speed with a little spreadsheet I put together. I think we’re looking good to be done – at the latest – around November 20th. We could cut 5 or more days off of that if the weather holds, but I’m adding a lot of cushioning here both for weather and the next random zero we’ll undoubtedly take in some nice place. Honestly, we could likely take 3 zeroes and still make that date.

When I told Athena that, she stared off into space for a second, then said, “That’s scary. I know what to do out here. I don’t know what to do when I get back.”

That’s not a problem I have.

From the first few days on the trail my mind has been creating a list of things to do. As a fantasy writer I’m dissatisfied with most web-based word/name generators, so I’m going to make a better one. Or several better ones. I told my buddy Jay a long time ago that I wanted to make him a new dog house, and while I worked on a few designs, I never finished any of them and it kind of fizzled when I decided to come out here. I’m going to build him a bad ass dog house. I have an idea – one others have had, apparently – for how I can create an ultralight shelter that doubles as highly effective rain protection, and I want to at least make a prototype. It should weigh in at a little less than my current tent, so that’s exciting.

There are too many things to get into here. Doing work on my dad’s house. Helping my grandmother with whatever she needs done at her new place. Drawing. Learning to use the tablet I bought earlier this year and translate my (very basic) pen-and-paper artistic ability into something digital. Working through everything that seems interesting on Khan Academy, which is to me pretty much everything.

Most importantly, I’m going to finish my book. Every day I work on my outline on my phone. Every day my fictional world gets deeper. It’s possible that I’m overdoing it, but that’s okay. It’ll be good editing practice to eliminate the extraneous.

There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk about: I night hiked up Greylock in Massachusetts and took a load of pictures at the top. I hadn’t slept at all that day, and had begun hiking some 13 hours after waking. At one point Moonshine and I heard something very large move near us to the left of the trail, and she called out, “Helloooooo, forest! We’re just passing throooooough!” Later my headlamp died. For some reason I had no extra batteries (or just couldn’t find them), but Rad gave me his extras, a favor I haven’t yet been able to repay.

Some of the images from that night stand out, but none more than the view of the memorial tower there, a CCC project that honors the fallen soldiers of World War I. I made it up there around 2 in the morning with Rad somewhere ahead and Moonshine just behind me. We’d just passed an emergency shelter intended for people seeking shelter from harsh winter conditions.

When I stumbled into the clearing and saw this thing rearing up into the sky I was shaken by its majesty. It was pale and arcane in the dark, reaching out to me. So sudden. I turned around a bend in the trail and there it was. I sat down and watched it, watched, not looked. That night the moon had smiled on us the whole way, bright enough for the trees to cast strong shadows when our lights were off as we stopped to rest. Later I learned that this was a “supermoon”, the largest full moon of the year – an interesting accident.

Moonshine came up behind me. Glad that she couldn’t see the tears in my eyes, I fumbled for my camera to give myself something to do. She stood and watched with me a moment. I don’t know if she saw what I did. Sitting there, I took several photos, and this one’s my favorite. We walked around the grounds and touched the stone of it. We had nothing to say about it; we just experienced it. Rad tried the door, but it was locked. I sat in the grass a while and dozed. Finally I stood up.

I’m going back to the cabin. I’ll see you guys later.

Haven’t seen them since. This was about 700 miles back. I think I’ll remember that night forever. It’s hard to say why, but it was special to me. Anyway, here’s that picture, along with some others. Time for bed. I’m excited to get back on the trail and get a day closer to the Priest!

 

 

 

A couple of weeks ago I left my camera in Athena’s parents’ car. Just got access to it again, and since I don’t plan on carrying it further, I thought I might as well post these clips.

This is the first time I’ve watched most of them. Thought they might be uninteresting, but they give a good idea of what Maine was like. So here we go!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

One of the many things I’ve gained from this experience is a heightened appreciation for technology, modern communications, and smart people.

Let me rephrase that: Austin is awesome. Seriously. You have no idea.

Austin glows with a progressive light that cannot help but extend to nearby areas. Free wifi is common. I can have a conversation about Node.JS with a stranger at the gym (neither of us being programmers). If I identify myself as a pastafarian I don’t have to explain what that means. That sort of thing.

Right now I’m in Duncannon, PA. I had big plans for this entry. I was going to show a lot of new pictures, summarize things, and start working on the next couple of entries. That was before I realized that the only computer available for use on a Sunday was made before George W. Bush took office. Understand that this is a simple statement of fact, devoid of exaggeration: Gmail is beyond this machine’s capabilities. It stalls at the little “loading” message.

Duncannon is the opposite of Austin. There’s nothing going on. The services you need are either not here or priced to insult. Everyone (and I’m sure I’m imagining this) seems to be overweight, slow-moving, and dull.

I’m getting the hell out of here. I’d much rather sleep in the woods than sit here and fight this machine anymore.

Things are good. Athena and I are making good time. Not worrying about when I’ll get back anymore…I’ll see family at Thanksgiving, and that’s the only part I’m concerned about. I look forward to the cold, though I’m also a little scared.

If I can I’ll throw some images into this entry with my phone after posting. Thank you to all who have helped me so much along the way. I’m just a bit under halfway done and flying now.

 

I’ve been talking to friends and family about what sorts of content I should be posting. One thing I haven’t talked much about is gear. Gear’s of interest mainly to other hikers, and I know that most of the (very few) people reading this are people I know, so I just figured I’d leave it out. On the other hand, maybe some hiker will one day read this and learn from my experiences the way I did with other hikers’ journals. It makes sense, then, to share a little about my stuff and what’s good or bad about it.

My first pack was a Gregory Z65. This is a fairly heavy (over 4 pound) pack capable of holding 40 pounds and more with relative comfort. It was the third pack I had tried on when deciding what to take.

Looking back, this seems incredibly foolish. A 65 liter pack? 40 pounds? Why? At the time I was completely inexperienced in backpacking, and my main concern was the 100 Mile Wilderness. I had to bring almost 20 pounds of food – or so I thought. There was no way for me to know then that I’d drop half of that food at shelters or hand it to other folks along the way. People who tell you to bring 10 days of food at 2 pounds per day have no idea what they’re talking about. Don’t listen to them. 8 or 9 pounds is really more like it.

Anyway, when I got on the trail I immediately understood how stupid it was to have a pack like that. I saw all these other people with tiny packs, some weighing just over a pound, and I was eaten up with hiker jealousy. Eventually my mom decided to help me with that, and I got an Osprey Exos 58. Its volume is only a little less than the Gregory, but I’m using an Enlightened Equipment 0 degree quilt, which takes up a disgusting amount of pack space. The 48 liter Exos would’ve been quite a stretch.

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This guy weighs around 38 ounces. There are way lighter packs out there, but I have reasons for what I do. The quilt isn’t the only thing in my gear set that takes up a lot of space, so having a tiny pack wasn’t really an option unless I intended to rebuild my whole kit. Also, Osprey is known for their stand-out customer service, especially as regards hikers. Many people I’ve met or known on the trail have had great experiences with replacing parts of their packs, or the entire pack in the event of a serious problem. These guys have your back. That’s probably the main reason why Osprey packs, and the Exos in particular, are ubiquitous on the trail. Once I test it on the trail I’ll give it more of a thorough review.

The shoes I came out here with were Salomon XA Comp 7 WPs. I didn’t realize I was buying a waterproof shoe at the time, and would not have bought them if I had. In a situation where water is unavoidable, waterproofing is a terrible liability, especially in the cold. You step in water, the water gets trapped in the shoe, and they’re wet for 3 days. If it freezes during the night, you have to put on frozen shoes. It’s a nightmare. Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t buy the Gore Tex hype. It’s only a good material for shoes if you’re going to encounter occasional water. Shoes like this are wholly inappropriate for the AT. Period.

They weren’t bad shoes, despite that. Except for one big problem I ran into (pictured below), they were very durable. They were extremely comfortable, as Salomons usually are for me. I did have an issue with them being slick, which I feel contributed to the several tens of falls and slips I had to endure, even when traveling on dry, textured surfaces.

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As you can tell from the image, the sides of that shoe are split wide open. The other one’s just the same. As a result they offered no protection against even small amounts of water.

Shoes wear out; it’s a normal thing, and I’m okay with that. I don’t expect miracles. My issue here was that this problem began 3 days into the 100 Mile Wilderness. The shoes were near-new at the time, and had under 100 easy (non-trail) miles on them. It just didn’t seem reasonable for them to start coming apart so quickly.

I called Salomon about it, and their response was fast and friendly. I sent in some pictures and provided some information on the shoes. Told them what I’d like to have if the shoes were replaced. In the email the warranty people sent me they said it’d be 3 or 4 weeks before anything came of it. That sat fine with me.

Then a few hours after I talked to them on the phone I got an email with a UPS tracking number informing me that a new pair of XA Pro 3D Ultra 2GTX USAs were on the way. Unbelievable! Hell, even if the shoes have the same sorts of issues that the XA Comps had, it’s still amazing service. If I could make it from Katahdin to here in those, I’m sure I’ll be fine! I’m impressed with how they handled this; the good things I’ve heard about their service seem to be totally deserved.

Running out of time on this computer! Time to type fast.

Got some new Keens to replace the old Salomons. No idea how they’ll work out! Will know soon.

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Spent a couple nights at Tom Levardi’s house and had a huge throng of NOBOs show up. Fun!

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Saw some rabbits.

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Got my first major trail magic from a guy named Bob and his wife Pat. I was trying to get a ride to an outfitter when he picked me up, let me shower at his place, did my laundry, made me lunch, and took me to get some new socks. The Arcadian Shop honored the Darn Tough guarantee without a word of complaint and hooked me up. Awesome place!

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Bob even stopped so I could take a quick picture at Herman Melville’s old place. Apparently Moby Dick was partially inspired by the nearby mountains, the tops of which reminded him of a whale’s outline.

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Met a crazy Catfox at a church in Cheshire.

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Spent a lot of time with Radagast and Moonshine.

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…..aaaaaaand walked around an art museum (Mass MoCA) in North Adams for an afternoon. I highly recommend it.

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That’s it. Phew! Just in time.

 

 

When I came down off of Moosilauke I knew it was the end of an era. Immediately the terrain smoothed out. The ground began to transition from a malevolent mix of boulders and roots to soft forest duff. I did a 19 mile day without any particular strain. It keeps getting better.

First some images taken in the Whites in New Hampshire. Didn’t get to post these before. Better late than never! They’re not really in order.

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Franconia Ridge.

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Trapper John Shelter. I stopped to do laundry.

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This is a hut. I described these a couple entries back, but had no access to photos.

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Rome here gave me a ride to the trail from Lincoln, NH. She through hiked last year. Thank you, Rome! You’re awesome! Sorry it took so long to post this!

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Mount Washington.

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Doc and Mapmaker. Ran into these guys in Rangeley originally, then again in the Whites.

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Norwich.

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Vermont’s a wonderland.

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Even in rain it’s a pleasure.

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The people leave trail magic.

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Even the fungi are interesting.

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A lot of these are halfway new to me…I took them weeks ago and haven’t looked at the camera since. Some of them look almost doctored to my eye.

The ones taken on mountains unnerve me a bit. They’re pretty, but you weren’t there when I took them. It was cold and wet, with relentless wind. Day after day…it was one narrowly averted catastrophe after another. That’s how it felt, anyway. I slipped on rocks all day, every day. I fell and rolled over and over. That I never got badly hurt seems vastly improbable.

By the way, someone remind me to never ever buy Salomon shoes again. I’ve been sliding around the whole way because of those terrible slippery soles. Seriously. These things have put me in real danger. No other hiker falls as much as I do. Maybe not all Salomons are bad…but my XAComp 7s are garbage and have been garbage since the day I bought them new. I cannot wait until I can somehow afford some new shoes. These are self-destructing faster and faster. I’m curious how many miles I can get out of them, though.

Things are great overall. I’m getting quicker. The land is a dreamscape around me. I’ve made some friends, but for the most part I like to hike alone.

I’m calling this thing done, for the most part. I’m in southern Vermont, and tomorrow or the next day I’ll pass into Massachusetts. Denise Boyd is sending me an AMAAAAAZING gift: a new pack that weighs a bit over half what my current one weighs. I’m incredibly excited. Losing two pounds by replacing one piece of gear is a major achievement. That means a much more fun hike for me…and a slightly better chance at succeeding in an incredibly stupid thing I’m going to attempt in about 100 miles.

I promise that in the future I won’t go so long without an update again, if I can avoid it.

I met Quiet a few weeks ago, came up behind him on the trail. His beard and hair were savage, flying around in the wind. He nervously pushed the matted locks away from his face as I introduced myself. He was skinny—too skinny. Used up skinny. He spoke like he thought he might accidentally provoke someone with a temper: not just with politeness, but with slow caution.

I’m Quiet, he joked. Didn’t see him again for a while.

Four nights ago I ran into a pack on the trail, blue, with red poles. Figured someone had some business to attend to. Thought nothing of it.

Later that night I was sitting at a shelter with five or six NOBOs when Quiet walked up holding his shoes. He pushed the hair back from his face, eyes wild.

Has…has anyone seen a pack? I lost my pack.

I stood up. Blue? Red poles? He nodded. I told him where his stuff was.

I really appreciate it. I got a little too fucked up. Spent a couple days walking around in the woods.

Every head turned. Someone behind me whispered something about a spirit journey. Someone else asked Quiet if he was okay. He said he was.

Is there anything we can do to help you? Food or water? I said.

No. Thank you. He turned and walked off. Later that night he came to the shelter to sleep, but left without explanation in the middle of the night, taking his sleeping bag.

In the morning he showed up, seeming lucid. I asked how far he intended to go that day.

Judging by my recent pace, I should end up back here or…back the way I came a few miles.

At least he has a sense of humor about it.

That evening I was with First Gear, Cozy, and some NOBOs at a different shelter. Quiet walked up to the shelter barefoot as I cooked dinner.

Has anyone seen a sleeping bag? His left hand moved to his forehead. I got confused. I think I left it in the woods somewhere off the trail.

I studiously avoided asking him why we’d be wandering around in the forest away from the trail.

Haven’t seen it, Quiet. Sorry.

I got nervous. Last night I felt like I was in danger. I had to leave the shelter. Took the bag with me. I was confused. Now I don’t want to be alone.

Again everyone was looking at him.

Of course you’re welcome to come stay in the shelter, Quiet. If you feel like you’re in danger, nothing’s going to bother you in here. If you’re cold you can use my jacket and gloves. I was thinking about him trying to sleep without a bag. Vermont’s not cold cold in the summer, but it gets chilly at night.

No, he said. It’s…it’s…

He trailed off. I felt Cozy’s eyes on me. I looked at her and shook my head just slightly. Quiet was still right there. First Gear said something. For a moment we pretended to have a normal bit of conversation as he stood like a statue in front of the shelter. He melted away.

Cozy’s eyes were huge. What the hell’s wrong with him? I made a dismissive gesture. She wouldn’t let it go. I’m a SOBO too. I should know. I explained to her what had happened the night before.

Quiet’s always been perfectly harmless. I talked with some other SOBOs about him. The consensus is that he’s on shrooms. I really think he’s fine. No one has had the slightest problem with him.

She looked spooked. I’m not sure I want to be around someone like that. We don’t know what he could do. Where are you staying tomorrow night?

I don’t blame her. I think he’s innocuous, but I don’t know that for sure. I’m also not a fifty something year old woman living out in the woods around a bunch of men I don’t know.

To be safe I told a caretaker about Quiet.

He could get wet and get cold, he said. Make sure word gets back to me if he looks like he’s really in danger.

Haven’t seen him since, but I’m sure he’ll show up shirtless one of these days and tell me he’s been living in a bear den for the last week.

The trail’s a weird place.

Edit: well, nevermind. He just walked into the library.
Did you find that sleeping bag?

No, but someone gave me a blanket.

Oh, right. I heard that NOBO girl gave you her blanket.

Yeah. Guess I’m ultralight now.

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The small silnylon bag that (I think) contains my camera’s charger doesn’t appear to be anywhere in my pack, so once again I’m posting only images taken with my phone. I’ll see if I left it somewhere else in the pack or maybe just order a new one.

I spent 3 consecutive nights in Gorham, NH, at the White Mountain Lodge. Marni, the owner, does a beautiful job of taking care of her hikers. You walk into the garage and hang up your pack and they have a curtained changing area right there. Within a couple minutes of arriving you have clean loaner clothes and you’re on your way to get a shower. She serves a great breakfast in the morning. Also they have a bunk room dedicated to David Hasselhoff. No kidding. Stop there if you get a chance. You’ll be glad you did.

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I’m in Lincoln, NH now. Spent the night before last on a bench outside a visitor center. Long story. I was so tired after that that I decided to make yesterday a zero and wound up at a secretive local hostel. If you’re hiker you probably know exactly the one. There I met Opie, a member of my original group, who hitched down the trail to do a section with his girlfriend. Thought I’d never see this guy again!

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Everyone I passed toward the southern end of Maine warned me about the Whites. Serious business! they said. Bring friends. Don’t go alone. The bears are more inquisitive; the trail is hard to see. 

The majority of my traverse of the Whites has shown, so far, nothing truly new except the abundance of tourists. The peaks are a bit higher; water’s a bit scarcer. You have to shell out a few bucks to the AMC at the shelters, which I don’t begrudge at all, considering the role that organization plays in maintaining this high-traffic area. Really, though, considering all I’ve been through so far, the area is nice but unsurprising. At times it’s a lot less than nice. I don’t think I even took a single picture from the top of Mt. Washington. It’s not really much of a view (though there are some views lower down that are entirely worth it).

The peak itself is kind of a slap in the face. You go into the building there and it’s just a crowd of overweight people eating pizza and snapping pictures. Children everywhere. Honestly, the whole thing was quite a let down. Someone asked me how it was the next day. Commercial and windy is all I said. That’s all it is. Going up Washington was a lot better, and I spent some time writing about that experience in my paper journal. If I went out there for a day hike I’d climb most of the mountain and turn back before reaching the top. That’s how tiresome the summit is.

I enjoy the fact that the huts keep their old registers. I spent a couple of hours reading over them at the Mizpah hut. You can sit there and read what was on hikers’ minds way back then.

 

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Huts are these little almost-hotels that the AMC runs in the Whites. The prices are pretty steep, but you get a night in a warm, clean bunk room and some good meals. The crew (or “croo”) of the hut puts on little miniature shows during meals. Through-hikers can sometimes work for stay, which gets them leftovers and a spot on the floor. Not a bad deal at all. The huts, being up in the mountains like that, aren’t on the normal power grid. They use alternative energy sources for their power. There’s no easy way to get things up there, so the workers have to pack things in and out.

I found the crews to be made up of extremely loud and fairly uninteresting people. No one seemed to have anything to say about anything at all except work and other people in the crew. Another AMC employee I ran into (not a crew member) seemed to suggest to me that the crews see hikers as almost less than human.

You’re not you, he explained. You’re just the hundredth hiker they’ve seen today. There’s no time for empathy.

Sounds pretty creepy. It’s cool that the AMC bothers to offer work for stay, but I think I’d rather pitch or find a shelter in the future.

I’m nearly out of the Whites. A few more days will see me past Moosilauke, the last big mountain in the area. Every NOBO I pass tells me I have a cakewalk ahead of me: nearly two thousand miles of flatter, less stressful terrain in parts of the country where hikers are more appreciated and food/hostel prices are lower. That sounds perfect. Can’t wait for some actual summer weather…haven’t been swimming a single time yet.

I leave you with the view from Gentian Shelter, right before going into Gorham. A storm was building over the valley. No matter how many times I see scenes like this I never tire of the fairytale beauty you find up in the mountains.

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Around 2:30 yesterday afternoon I arrived in Gorham, NH. I asked a northbounder where to stay, and he immediately suggested the White Mountains Lodge and Hostel, which is right there on the trail when you get into town. The people are friendly and the house is nice. I’ll probably stay another night before hitting the Whites.

This last section has been a good challenge. Going down Old Blue Mountain was a chore; near the bottom I saw this sign. Guess I’m not the only one with mixed feelings about that particular mountain.

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At the end of the day I went up Hall Mountain. I was running out of snack foods and my blood sugar was low. I steeled myself and swallowed the last of my Skittles before heading up. After a while I stopped to grab a liter of water and rest for five minutes. I continued on. I passed a sign indicating that a side-trail led to a privy, but it didn’t hit me until I saw the shelter that I was on the top. A tough looking older couple was there drinking tea.

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Didn’t realize I all the way up! I said. The woman laughed.

Yeah, ’cause you’re broken in! she said.

And I guess it’s true. Finally. That was an ascent of…I don’t know, 1600 feet maybe. Even tired and hungry it wasn’t much of a mountain. To put that into perspective, Nesuntabunt (the first mountain in the 100 Mile Wilderness) has a prominence of a third of that. It seemed like quite a difficult climb at the time. I’m gasping for air less; my legs hold up very well. Haven’t had any sort of foot problem for a while, which is great because for two weeks I had severe pain from something I’d done to my right foot. Everything seems to be working well now.

Rita and Ron are 76 and 79 years old, respectively. Many years ago they took their 5 children camping in New Hampshire. They passed a shelter, and a through-hiker started talking about the trail. They had heard of the AT, but knew little about it. The through-hiker told them they needed to hike the whole thing, but they had careers and young kids; it wasn’t an option. Twenty-odd years later, in 1992, they were camping near the same spot, this time without their kids. Again a through-hiker struck up a conversation about the AT.

On the way home that night, Ron brought it up. We should do that one day he said. A few days later Rita was washing dishes and thinking about it. She began to like the idea. When were you thinking about doing the trail? she asked Ron. The following March they began their northbound through-hike, just in time to experience the Great Blizzard of 1993 in Georgia. They braved snow nearly as deep as Rita is tall, but made it through. This year they’re doing section hikes, and they hike in the White Mountains nearly every week. I believe them both completely capable of doing another through-hike, and to be honest they seem to be in better shape than a lot of us who’ve been out for a month, both mentally and physically. We talked for a while, then they packed up and continued on. Really interesting folks.

Stack and Thor are holding up well. Thor believes he’s lost 40 pounds or more, and aside from the salt and pepper beard Stack’s showing his 57 years less and less. Here he is looking lean and mean as we cross a road. We keep getting separated, but every time it happens I’m back with them a day or two later.

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I’ve also spent a lot of time with a guy named Carl and his kids. Carl retired from the army a couple of years back, and now he’s spending time with Zachary (11, left) and Sebastian (9, right) by through-hiking the trail with them. I apologize for this picture; it seemed to look fine on my camera. There’s no editing software on this computer. I’d download GIMP and work on it, but don’t really want to hog the machine any more than I have to.

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They’re great company. The kids’ packs weigh quite a bit – somewhere around 20 pounds, I’m told. It’s disgusting how much energy kids have. These little guys hike all day with no complaints, and when they get to wherever they’re camping they’re always running around gathering firewood and playing. I first ran into them a day or so after leaving Monson, but I’d been hearing about them for the whole way. Right now they’re somewhere behind me, as Sebastian apparently got sick. Hopefully we’ll run into each other again.

Spent my first night at a shelter run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. It’s 8 bucks to stay, but that’s pretty reasonable in my opinion. They often have caretakers (like Kate here) on site, and have metal boxes for keeping food away from bears at night. Kate gave me a piece of mail to take to another caretaker at a site further into New Hampshire. Guess I have that mailman look about me.

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Please ignore the hiker gear explosion in the background.

Okay. Stack just informed me that I’m “being weird” because I’m blogging instead of doing other things. I’ll try to do another short entry before I head into the Whites.

I leave you with a cartoon I saw on a wall in Andover. It’s amazingly accurate. I spend a lot of time being the trail…

 

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Many people have helped me get here, and are helping me along the way. I keep hoping to find a convenient way to work a big list of names into a post, but really, there’s no reason not to have a post dedicated to just this.

My mom, Denise Boyd has been tirelessly supportive from the day I first mentioned to her that I wanted to do the trail. Long before then, when I talked about wanting to travel as a kid, she encouraged that desire. She helped me organize all sorts of details, helped plan my food and food drops, and continues to help in many ways.

Elton Boyd, my dad, has done the same exact thing. When I called him up to talk to him about this (I remember very well – I was sitting in a Taco Cabana in San Marcos, TX) I thought there was a decent chance that he’d admonish me a tiny bit and suggest that I finish my bachelor’s degree first. He didn’t. He said that if I wanted to do it he would do whatever he could to help, and he has.

Jeremy Boyd, my brother, reacted the same way.

My aunt Connie Price Smith showed an enthusiasm I absolutely did not expect when she learned about this trip. She’s been very encouraging, and has sent some incredible food drops with all sorts of interesting things in them. Eating the same thing over and over drives you nuts, but I don’t have to worry about that. Sweets, sesame sticks, asian soups…the variety’s great. I’ve gotten comments from other hikers about the stuff she sends. I can’t express what a huge difference this makes.

My cousin Sarah Mack and her husband Casey Mack hosted the party my family had for me right before I left. It was great to have it at her beautiful house. Loads of people showed up. Just a wonderful experience.

Jay Guerra, prooooobably the best friend I’m ever likely to have, tolerated my endless talk of the trail from the beginning of our friendship. He set up the donation site to help fund the journey. He’s taking car of my car (the one Jeremy Boyd gave me last year) and doing work on it so it’s in better condition when I get it back. He showed up (along with my dad) to help me move, and let me use his storage unit.

Sage and Matthew Talavera supported this from the start. They helped with gear advice, helped me figure out my medical kit (what was needed and what wasn’t), and are babysitting my motorcycle for me. Matt has already done some work on the bike, fixing an electrical issue I was too lazy (what? I’m an honest person) to ferret out.

I haven’t eaten all day and I’m about to go grab some lunch…will likely amend this post, and it won’t be the last time I gush about the people who made this whole endeavor possible. The generosity you guys show amazes me. This is not all the people who’ve helped me, and I’m sure once I leave the library I’ll immediately stop and slap myself for forgetting someone who did major things for me.

Thank you all.