Walken’

Powder River’s Appalachian Trail Journey from Georgia to Maine 2008

Archive for New Hampshire

Smarts Mountain

august-26

Day 147

Location: Smarts Mountain Firewarden’s Cabin, NH

Miles hiked today: 18.9

Miles from Springer: 1,757.7

Miles to Katahdin: 418.5

Elevation: 3,220’

I planned for some good miles today, so that I can make it to Glencliff in two days. I have to be careful with my time now, and I would like to time it so I am staying the night in Glencliff at the hostel run by Phat Chap, whom I had met at trail days. So it is either get there in two days, or in three. It’s about 40 miles away.

What is nice about this plan is it puts me on top of Smarts Mountain tonight, which has a fire tower. I love fire towers! My plan is to sleep up there, where I can catch both the sunset over Vermont, and the sunrise over the Whites. I understand this will be the last fire tower on the trail, and I don’t want to miss out. That means I should probably get there before sunset.

I am not in the Whites yet, which is the shorthand commonly used to refer to the White Mountains. The White Mountains are meaner, taller, rockier and more mountainous than anything we have seen yet on the AT. Their reputation intimidates even seasoned thru-hikers, and are the subject of much conversation from Springer Mountain on. You are not supposed to go into the Whites without winter camping gear, and people are killed every year in the Whites. It can snow any month of the year, and you should be prepared to turn around if the weather is not favorable. In other words, a lot of us have been looking forward to them for quite a long time. But not just yet. First, there is the 40 miles to Glencliff. First come the practice mountains.

At Moose Mountain Shelter, a hiker named Bilge Rat had perhaps his finest moment of genius. I have never met Bilge Rat because he has always been ahead of me, but he is a prankster who loves to leave very humorous practical jokes for the rest of us to find. They are always ironic, dry jokes that are best appreciated by those of us suffering through the various trials of hiking 2200 miles in cold, wet, hot, dry, snowy, steep, muddy, slippery and various other conditions. There was the fake electrified wire he put on one of the turnstiles back in Virginia, as some had actually been shocked by live electric fences when the trail makes you climb them. There was the water spigot he had bought at a hardware store, carried up the trail and actually bolted to a tree stump in the middle of the dryest section of Pennsylvania. There have been many more, but then there was what I found in the shelter. There, on the back wall was posted a four foot tall poster of a Big Mac. It had McDonald’s latest ad, “Two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun.” Of course the extremely detailed photograph showed the cheese glistening, the lettuce looked crispy and every sesame seed was in place. The nearest McDonalds is 140 miles away.

Near the base of Smarts Mountain is a gentleman who hands out free ice cream to hikers. You simply follow the very visible sign posted on the trail, which has a picture of a ice cream fudge bar. You come to the blue house which is about 50 yards off the trail, knock on the door and a guy comes out and gives you water and ice cream. Brilliant!! He says he does it just to meet interesting people. Indeed, I can imagine he does. He also lets you hang out on his porch for as long as you need.

On this particular day, I had a sunset to catch so I got moving. Smarts Mountain seemed taller than anything I had climbed in a while, and it was definitely steeper. I got to the top just in time for a brilliant sunset from the fire tower. There were already two southbounders planning to sleep up there, but that was ok because it was going to be a cold, windy night up there. There is a fire warden’s cabin, but because there wasn’t much space inside I pitched my tent outside with a view to the south. A guy in the cabin had a radio so we listened to Hillary Clinton’s speech at the Democratic Convention, the speech where she had to swallow her pride and throw in her weight with Obama.  That, I thought, was an enjoyable speech.

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Ray Ray’s Cabin

august-25

Day 146

Location: Near Trescott Road, NH

Miles hiked today: 4.5

Miles from Springer: 1,738.8

Miles to Katahdin: 437.4

Elevation: 490’

Well this weekend really turned into a nice little vacation. Tailgate and I connected with Keychain, Zen, The Thinker, Cookie Monster, Spidey, No Amp and the famous Ray Ray. Famous because its her cabin, and she is the most fabulous host and cook that a hiker could ask for. She’s not a hiker, but a school friend of Spidey and No Amp. Did I mention she loves to cook? The cabin was back in Vermont somewhere, on a pond in the woods. It was quite a beautiful place!

I should also mention that Cookie Monster is actually a chef in a former life, and cooked up some mean stuffed peppers. There was much eating, sleeping, laughing, fooseball, pinball and even a heated discussion on prenuptual agreements. Ray Ray cooked and cleaned tirelessly, making a strong case for best trail angel status. We were there all of Sunday and most of today, as nobody really got up that early and there was much cleaning up to do. As there was just one car, we piled as many hikers and packs in as we could and Thinker droves us back to town in Ray Ray’s car. Instead of taking one zero, it was now almost two zeroes. Tailgate caught a ride down to Boston to visit his girlfriend, and I would not see him again on the trail. I learned later he was maybe just a day or two behind me at times, but I was starting to get worried about finishing the trail before my cut off date.

When I got back into Hanover, I went for another round of pizza at the place that gives free slices to hikers, and ran into my favorite crew; Freckles, Sprite and Papa Sarge. It really has been awesome to get to know these three, and it seems that every time I meet I am busy zipping ahead of them, never sure if I would ever see them again. They have really been amazing to get to know though, and I wish just once I could have the luxury of hiking with them for a good amount of time. It was not to be, however. They were looking to get transportation to the other side of New Hampshire where they had use of a condo, and planned on doing some slack packing. I was headed out of town on foot, so it wasn’t to be this time. Sprite did take down my plans for the next few days, and asked me what my absolute favorite trail magic was. I told her the thing I had dreamed about since Georgia was finding a whole bag of McDonald’s double cheese burgers with my name on it. It sure does pay to have good friends!!!

I eventually pryed myself out of the vortex that was Hanover, and headed for the outskirts of town. Just before the trail goes into the woods again is the grocery store, where I stopped to resupply. When I walked past the soccer field and towards the edge of the field, I once again ran into Freckles, Sprite and Sarge!!  They were setting up camp.  After a nice visit, we once again we bade farewell, and this time I would never see them again.

On my hike up the mountain I once again was struck with how truly different each state is on the AT. This definitely felt different than Vermont. There were a lot more firs, the mountains seemed somehow more alpine, and if I wasn’t just imagining it, I could have sworn the air was less humid, and more like out west.  Maybe that’s because this state has some real mountains?? Maybe it was just the weather.  At any rate, I am so glad to finally be in New Hampshire.  I could live here!

On the way up the first climb I met a hiker named Lee, who can’t weigh more than 115 pounds.  He is from Korea, and speaks no english.  He has come all the way from Springer carrying a pack that looks to be about 115 pounds too.  I love this trail.

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New Hampstah!

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Day 144

Location: Hanover, NH

Miles hiked today: 10.2

Miles from Springer: 1,734.3

Miles to Katahdin: 441.9

Elevation: 520’

At last, I feel like I have come home. New Hampshire is kind of like a third home state to me, and my heart has long been attached to this place. I have done a lot of hiking in the White Mountains before, and it is one of my favorite places on earth. “Live Free or Die” is one of the most beautiful mottos of American history. To have walked here from Georgia is an incredible feeling, and now with just two states left it is indeed starting to feel like the end game. The mountains ahead are big, steep and exciting. The terrain is about to get more difficult, and the views more rewarding. To me, there is no better reward for hiking all this way.

But first, Tailgate and I needed to get to the post office. We woke up in a soup of wet fog, with tents drenched and lots of gear getting damp. We were in the White River valley, which we could see yesterday sunrise from the Lookout because the fog covered the entire valleys of both rivers. We packed up quickly; breakfast was calling.

The West Hartford general store did not disappoint. As I put down the big ‘everything’ breakfast, it occurred to me that my food bag was still mostly full, which I had carried all the way from Rutland. Oh well, nobody told me I wouldn’t need it!

10 miles is not that far to go in one day, but it is if you need to do it before noon. We were off by 8:30. There was nothing especially hard to climb, just some rolling hills between here and there, and as it turns out, an extensive road walk coming into Hanover. We passed over Podunk Road and Podunk Brook, and stopped for about 20 minutes to talk to a woman who was hiking southbound. We started to realize that we were out of time. Missing the post office would strand us in Hanover until Monday, which is never a good feeling. We started to walk faster.

The trail dumps out on Elm Street of Norwich, Vermont a full 3 miles before reaching Hanover. It turns out this was the hardest part of the hike, since it was hard, unforgiving sidewalk and blacktop. We stopped for a quick picture at the state line on the Connecticut River Bridge, and then started the double-time. We saw lots of hikers we knew at a pedestrian crossing downtown, only to wave and blow past them on a run to get to the P.O. We were now down to minutes. Falling behind, I let Tailgate run ahead and get a foot in the door. By the time I got there, the guy locked the door behind me. We were the last customers.

It was like Christmas. I had ordered a new tent and sleeping pad and had it sent here, so I opened it right on the sidewalk out front and unrolled it. I got a whole box of cold weather stuff, including my down jacket and cold weather sleeping bag. My pack instantly put on about 4 or 5 additional pounds. We set out in search of food, the outfitter and a computer. Laden with gear and wet tents, we decided to group up and get a hotel. Tailgate and I got a room with a hiker named Zero Zero, a name which also describes his vision. He is legally blind, carries a white stick, and has hiked here from Georgia.

Hanover is home to Dartmouth College, one of the Ivy League schools. This makes for a pretty interesting contrast of hikers and students in town. We hit up a pizza place that gave a free slice of cheese pizza to all thru-hikers, so it still seems to be a pretty hiker friendly place. At some point I picked up that the name of the state was actually New Hampstah, which I thought fit pretty well. It made me think of a giant hamster. While walking around afterwards, we ran into some friends, NoAmp and Spidey, who invited us to come out to a cabin where there was a huge hiker feed and general relaxation going on. Since they were going to be there all weekend, the decision was made to take a zero tomorrow. It is rare for me to actually know I am about to take a zero the next day, so this was a great sensation.

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