It’s now five months into my journey of epic proportions, and I am entering New Hampshire. My 13th state. The state whose motto is literally, “Live Free or Die.” I found it very appropriate considering the intensity and difficulty of what was to be found in the White Mountains.
To enter into New Hampshire, you first step out of the woods and into the city of Norwich, VT. From here you’ll walk through the ideal northern town along Main Street for a surprising length. I believe it was in the neighborhood of four miles, but who’s counting. Generally hikers don’t like to hike along roads. At least that’s what I found. It stems from the fact that you’ve literally come out of the woods and into the noisy world like a newborn, and all we want is to be swaddled and reassured that everything is ok. Yea, I took that metaphor much too far. Anyways, you walk along the roads for several miles, and all of a sudden you hit a bridge that crosses the Connecticut River, and says you’re at the Vermont and New Hampshire border. I was feeling quite a large adrenaline rush when I entered New Hampshire. I can’t explain it, other than the way I’ve explained entering other states in the past. It just feels good. It’s a huge accomplishment, and I loved being able to tell people that I’ve literally walked through entire states. I was antsy, because I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and yet I knew that the most difficult sections were yet to come and I still had another 400-something miles to go. When I entered into New Hampshire, I was with some of the people that I’d hiked with for so long. Cheeks and Atlas of course, and then Lobster and Chickadee. I’d found Lobster and Chickadee at a random water source right before entering Norwich, and I’d previously not seen them somewhere since the Pennsylvania neighborhood, several hundred miles ago. I’d hiked with them on and off since the very beginning, and it was always great running into old friends. All five of us hit the bridge and hung around a bit while we let it all soak in. On this bridge were these giant concrete balls that lined either side of the bridge. I’d been searching for months to find the rock that would allow me to take this surreal-looking picture.
The town you walk into once you cross this bridge into New Hampshire is Hanover, home of Dartmouth College. It was a beautiful day out, and there were throngs of people walking along the sidewalks, shoppers going in and out of stores, and people stuffing their faces at every single restaurant. We were tired, haggard, dirty, hungry, smelly homeless people that got stared at by all the people passing by. I literally saw a few people holding their noses as they walked past us. We’d kept hearing about what an incredible hiker town this was supposed to be, and I could see why. It had everything you could want, including free food. FREE FOOD. The magic words. In our guide books, it listed several places that you could visit for free food.
Our first stop since it was lunchtime, was Ramunto’s Pizza. which was way too nice of an establishment for us to be at, but we absolutely did not care. We left our gear outside and pulled up to the bar, already tasting the wonderful smells of the pizza with our imaginations. Someone came and told us that we get one free slice of pizza, he took our orders, and we asked for some beers. We were having a hard time believing what we were experiencing at the time. We found out the slices were like $4 a piece if we wanted more, and although we absolutely would have stayed there and eaten for several more hours, we didn’t want to exactly spend the money. The people there were friendly and we even got some free italian ices from the owner. We reluctantly payed out our tabs and went on to the post office to pick up some packages.
I had to unfortunately pick up my winter gear again. It was unfortunate because I was so used to carrying a lighter pack and dreaded carrying anything heavier, especially over rougher terrain. I was getting a long-sleeve shirt, my gigantic winter bag, and a ton of food and fuel. I took my box and parked myself outside on a bench while passerby stared at the task I was attempting to perform. There was simply too much stuff, and I was having a heck of a time fitting everything into my pack. While I was doing this, a random woman walked up and asked if we were hikers. I smiled and pointed to everything laid out on the bench and ground. She held out a box of homemade cookies, which she was apparently giving out to all the hikers she could find. No way! This town just keeps getting better and better. After probably an hour, I finally fit it all into my pack after making a few sacrifices and giving a lot of food away. As I was waiting for Cheeks and Atlas to finish packing their packs, I walked over to the outfitters who was apparently giving away free Snickers bars, free item #3.
Finally everyone was finished, and all five of us walked through town to the community center, where there were showers and laundry available for only $5. We stuck around there for a few hours as we cleaned up, watched some Charlie Chaplin movie, and decided on our next move. We had originally intended on coming into town, resupplying as needed, picking up our packages from the post office, and attempting to hike out. As the day wore on though, we found it increasingly tough to leave this wonderful city. We’d heard of another place where we could get a free bagel, and another restaurant that had a cheap pizza buffet. Well, you’re only in Hanover, New Hampshire once. We decided on hitting up the pizza buffet. Pizza for two out of three meals in one day isn’t that big of a deal, right? We were full, and that’s all that matters, which is a difficult thing to accomplish for a hiker.
There was a list floating around that gave the numbers to locals who were offering to take in hikers for the night. We called a few numbers, and there was such a huge amount of hikers in town that these people were getting several calls a minute. We were impressed that this was something even offered in the first place, but decided we could just hike maybe a mile in and camp there. Shortly after, we’d heard a rumor that camping was allowed behind the softball field at Dartmouth. You’re kidding, right? That sounds so sketchy. Even more so than when we camped in a park in the middle of town. Or the time we camped on the steep incline of a beach on a river outside of Delaware Water Gap. Well, there’s another option at least, even if it is just a rumor. It was apparently near the trail anyways, and so as we were leaving town we kept an eye open for any camping opportunities. The sun was going down quickly and we were in a hurry to not have to set up camp in the dark. We turned off the road towards the trailhead, passed by Dartmouth, and… no way. The softball field. Ok, an executive decision has been made. We are entirely too full of pizza to hike any further, we shall camp here, says I. Within a few minutes we were all set up, on some grass between the trailhead and the fence of the Dartmouth softball field. We’d heard stories about what this town used to be like several years ago. Apparently it was one of the most anti-hiking towns located anywhere near the trail, and it had gotten so bad that most hikers completely avoided going into this town at all and simply skirted past it. Luckily for us, that had changed and this town got its mind right. Pretty unbelievable considering all of the kindness we’d experienced that day.
After the sun had gone down, we sat around in the dark on a bench by the outfield talking, swatting at mosquitos attempting to suck every drop of blood from us. All of a sudden we see a light coming from the woods. Who would be hiking out of the woods at night? It walked past us, apparently not able to see us. Then it stops, looks right at us, and starts walking towards us. Should I draw my knife or something? This isn’t a hillbilly that has followed us from North Carolina or something, is it? He walked right up, asked if we were hikers, and after we nervously confirmed he introduced himself as Groundhog. “I hiked up to the next shelter to offer some trail magic, and nobody was there!” We found out that he’d actually completed the trail just two months ago. This meant that he did it in like four months, which is a length of time I can’t comprehend doing the trail in. We were still about a month out from the finish, and were already five months in. He took off his day pack, and took out homemade brownies, plastic cups, and cold milk. Awesome! We talked for a good hour about things he’d experienced on his trip, how it felt to be finished, how he re-entered society, and all sorts of other random hiking topics. It was so cool meeting another hiker who had just finished it, because we got such a fresh perspective. We said our goodbyes, thanked him for his trail magic and went to bed, excited for what was to come as our journeys slowly began to come to an end.
At this point, I think it’s importan to note that I was taken back by the sudden increase in difficult of the terrain once leaving Hanover. I mean, you’re climbing up some steep stuff. It is not going to get easier before it gets harder, that’s for sure. Welcome to New Hampshire, I suppose.
A few days later, I hiked up Smarts Mountain, where there was supposed to be a fire tower. You’ve probably read in my earlier posts about my love for fire towers, and I made sure to make this one a destination. I made the 4 mile, 2100 foot climb, heaving every step of the way, and finally reached the top. There were some spectacular views of the countryside for miles and miles, and as I sat up there I tried pointing out the things I was about to walk to. Is that monstrosity in the distance…Moosilauke? Dear God, save me. One piece of advice I have if you’re planning on hiking the Appalachian Trail, is to never point at something and say, “Holy crap, I hope we don’t have to hike that thing!” Guess what, you do. It never ceased to amaze me that when I saw a massive mountain in the distance, I would almost certainly be going over it. You can’t let yourself say things like that, because in the end you’ll just be disappointed. You just have to accept the fact that you will definitely be climbing it. Moosilauke, however, was a different story for me. Early on when I first received my guide book, I was going through the pages and looking at the elevation profiles, mesmerized by the things I would be climbing in the future months. Then I flipped the page to New Hampshire, and saw my first 3500+ foot climb. And it’s not steady, gradual, or fun looking whatsoever. It’s steep, it’s long, and it’s massive. And it’s just the beginning of the White Mountains. As I’m sitting in this beautiful old fire tower by myself, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll actually be able to make it through the Whites, and how awful it would be to come 1700 miles and not be able to finish.
I camped that night on the awesome Cube Mountain, and the next day began my walk to the base of Moosilauke. We would be passing three roads, all leading into different tiny towns. I was cruising along that morning, loving the beautiful weather and probably whistling with the birds or something, when all of a sudden I felt this massive, jarring sting attack my right calf right above the sock. There was about a half second of time that elapsed in between the time I felt the pain and I was brought down to the ground. I was brought all the way down to my butt, pack still on, and I looked at my calf. A wasp was plunged into my calf just going crazy, making sure I never did whatever it is I did ever again. I frantically swatted at it, but the wasp made a clean escape. Cussing like a sailor, I hobbled up to the first road only a hundred yards away, crossed the road, and sat down at a log on the other side to take stock of what had just happened. You’ve got to be kidding me! I was prancing along the trail, minding my own business, and had literally not done a thing to disturb this aggressive wasp that I could think of. The pain was tortuous, and my calf swelled up. It stung with intense pain any time I tried to walk on it. I hobbled along the trail, now paranoid that anything that touched me was a wasp attempting to end my life. I think I was more mad that it was a wasp rather than a bee that had stung me, because if it was a bee it would have at least died afterwards.
Later that afternoon, my calf still burning from the wasp sting I’d experienced earlier that morning, I pulled up to a stream to grab some water and rest a bit. As I sat there, I heard a person hiking towards me coming from the north. A section- or day-hiker appeared, and we greeted each other.
“Are you a thru-hiker?” he asked me. “Yep, sure am…” I said, unsure of why he was asking. He mentioned that he’d thru-hiked it several years ago, and now enjoyed doing small sections or day hikes to give out trail magic. Sweet, gotta love some trail magic! He took off his day pack, unzipped it, and handed me an item wrapped in aluminum foil. “Ever heard of a magic bar?” he asked. No…? Sounds fishy, like there’s drugs in it or something. He talked about the ingredients, and as he did so I got extremely excited.
“…peanut butter chips, condensed milk, graham cracker, a few other items…for if you need a burst of energy,” he concluded. I thanked him and went on my way. A few minutes later, I decided I could use that energy. I unwrapped the bar, inspected it for rat poison for a second, and took a big bite. Dear God, this is the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. I’m completely serious when I say this. Like, if this had existed in Egypt when the Pharaohs still ruled the land, they would have requested to be buried in their pyramids with them, they’re that good. I might have run the last few miles.
Later that afternoon I came upon a note left in the trail. It read something to the effect of, “Wasp nest in trail, 100 yds ahead.” Oh jeez. If I got another wasp sting today, I don’t know if I could go on today. I’d probably curl up into a ball and wimper like a child. I slowly tread along, nervous. I got to where I felt 100 yards was, and literally ran for another good 100 yards before slowing down. I think I avoided what could have been a tragedy. I reached a similar note intended for people going the other way, just as a group of four southbounders approached. I told them I didn’t even see the wasp nest, I just ran the whole way. As I walked off, I heard one of them say to another hiker, “well thanks for stirring them up…” You’re welcome. I happend to look down because I felt something tugging at my right sock. Low and behold, another wasp trying to saw off my leg! Luckily for me, it couldn’t sting through my thick Thorlos hiking sock, and I murdered that insect before it could do anymore harm. Man, these things are aggressive!
We finally found camp at Jeffers Brook, the last place to camp before climbing Mt. Moosilauke. It rained hard that night, and we dreaded having to do a climb like the one we faced during a rain. We decided we would take all day to do it, and so starting as early in the morning as possible, we started up. It was about a 5.5 mile long climb, and although steep, for some reason it wasn’t as bad as I had been expecting for five months. Maybe it’s because I was so excited to reach the top? Maybe it was because I was excited to finally enter into the Whites? Whatever the case, we made it to the top in a much faster time than we had anticipated. It was somewhat wet on the climb, but luckily there was no chance for rain during the day, and once we reached the top we were rewarded with spectacular views. I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing. What I was seeing was so… vast. We were literally standing at eye-level with the clouds. At one point, some clouds flowed up the mountainside, and we could see them glide past us as if the mountain we were standing on was racing through the sky. It was a magnificent start to the Whites, and we could not believe our eyes.
We hung around up top for awhile with about fifty other day hikers, section hikers and thru-hikers before heading down the backside of the mountain. We had heard some horror stories about the steepness of the climb down, and to be honest could not have begun to prepare ourselves for the way down. Although beautiful, by the time we neared the bottom it had become a totally miserable climb down. It’s so steep, that your knees are on fire. By this point in the trip, I’d hated going downhill much more than going uphill. As you strengthen your legs, you simply don’t mind the uphills. However, after hiking for such a length of time, you feel like your knees are as arthritic as an 80 year olds. To top it off, it was mostly wet, sheer rock on the way down. What the maintaining club had done to make it climbable, was to install wooden, rebar-enforced steps into them to make it somewhat safer. It was a pretty dangerous descent regardless, and there were hundreds of times that I could have imagined someone slipping and falling to a serious injury or worse. Most of the descent is next to a beautiful waterfall and cascade system though, which at least made it very pretty. This also might have been the starting point where I began to get some severe heel blisters, that would haunt me for the rest of my trip. I’ll have much more to say on that later though.
When I finally got to the bottom of Moosilauke, my knees on fire and my legs shaking from exhaustion, things got weird. Atlas and Cheeks had gone ahead of me, and when I saw them at the bottom near the parking lot at Kinsman Notch, Atlas ran up to me. “Hey dude, Krista’s here,” he said with a grin. “Krista…?” No way. “Yea, I walked down into the parking lot, and she said ‘You must be Atlas!'” Krista was a person who had contacted me on my website, and offered to help me out with shuttling and whatnot if needed when I got into the Whites. She knew Atlas from the previous posts I’d made here on my blog. I’d gotten in touch with her, knowing that we would more than likely need the help, and loving the fact that I actually had followers who I got to see face-to-face. The strange part was, I had contacted her and told her we’d be in the area on Monday. Today was a Saturday.
I pulled up into the parking lot, and to my surprise there was a man doing trail magic, and was prepping for his thru-hike the following year. He was hanging out with current hikers, hearing stories and getting advice by offering us drinks and foods, which is a brilliant idea. Krista was sitting there too enjoying the other hikers as well, and I introduced myself. “What are you doing here! I thought we were meeting Monday!” I laughed. She went on to explain that she had nothing going on this weekend, and wanted to see if she could catch us coming off of Moosilauke early. We chatted, hung out at the trail magic and I got to experience my first delicious whoopie pie (a northern dessert).
At this point, we’d only done about 8.4 miles up and over the mountain, and had planned to do another five or so. We were surprised at how completely exhausted we were. We’d kept hearing that you could do 7 or 8 miles in one day, and be totally fine with that because of how difficult the terrain gets. Now I understood why. There were some stealth spots located back along the trail where we’d come from not far, and were debating on just staying there. That’s when Krista offered to take all five of us to her house for the night if we’d like. Are you serious? It’s like a 45 minute drive one way for her to get to Kinsman Notch. You don’t mind? Are you sure? Sweet, let’s do it! We couldn’t believe our luck, and although it seemed to get off to a weird start it really turned out great. Apparently Krista was planning on doing a thru-hike herself, was following several blogs at the time, and enjoyed taking in hikers whenever given the chance. We decided to stop at a grocery store on the way to get some real food for dinner that night. I might have purchased a DiGiornio pepperoni pizza and a half pint of ice cream, all for myself. I don’t remember. Ok yea, that happened.
On the drive to her house, she pointed out all of the mountains that we’d be climbing through the Whites. They looked absolutely terrifying. There’s no way we’re actually climbing that. Remember though what I said earlier about looking at a mountain and saying that you hope you don’t climb it. These were some real mountains. We pulled up to Krista’s house, walked inside, and just lounged on the couch and recliner. Just got as lazy as you could imagine. I was so lazy I didn’t even want to cook my pizza. We turned on the television, told story after story to Krista, and just melted into the furniture. We finally cooked our dinners (in an actual oven, too!), and since I had control of the remote I jokingly turned on the Power Rangers: Time Force. We thought it was funny at first, but after the first episode finished there was another one on afterwards. Without hesitation we started watching that one too. And the third, and the fourth. I looked at the channel guide and to our delight there was a marathon going on. I don’t know what it was about this show, because believe me, it was a completely childish and cheesy television show, but there was just something about it. We watched episode, after episode, after episode. Maybe it was the fact that we’d just come out of the deep woods, and would probably have watched the Weather Channel for as long as we did, but all I know is that five hours later we finally, and reluctantly, turned off the television to actually get some sleep. Yea you heard that correctly, five hours of Power Rangers. Don’t judge me. I’m not ashamed. Nadira turned good and sympathetic towards humans, after all.
We woke up to Krista making us breakfast in the kitchen. You’re kidding me right? Eggs and toast, couldn’t be better. The television was on again, and I found that the Power Rangers marathon was still going on, so we watched another couple of episodes before heading to the grocery store for a resupply. Finally at one o’clock we made it back on the trail. A little bit later than we’d wanted, but when you’re having such a great time it’s hard to make yourself get back into the woods sometimes. We parted ways, so thankful for Krista’s hospitality, and thanked her over and over. I think she’d be glad to know that she is officially a trail angel now.
We had intended on doing just 11 miles to a shelter, but because of our late start we cut it short at 7 miles. It was good that it worked out the way it did, because I don’t think I could have done much more than 7 miles, especially ending the day on Kinsman (monster). So our day ended at the beautiful Eliza Brook Shelter, which just so happened to be the last free shelter in the Whites. This is where I’m going to launch into my little soapbox about the Whites and the club that maintains it, the AMC. For almost the entire White Mountains section, the AMC charges hikers to stay in “huts” and even at campsites. First off, the trail is arranged in such a way that you are forced to camp at either a hut or a campsite. The campsites are $8, and the huts are right around $80-$100.
I realize that’s not terribly expensive for a campsite, but when you’ve camped for free anywhere you wanted for the last five months, you almost feel angry at the AMC for imposing something like this on you. They’re not anything special either, they are the same things you’ve camped at the entire length of the trail thus far. They don’t call the AMC the Appalachian Money Club for nothing.
The huts are pretty cool systems, and have some things that they offer for thru-hikers, but again when you’re almost forced to stay at something like that it just really rubs you the wrong way. Huts offer free water for hikers, will occasionally give you free leftover food if you time it right, and will offer a work-for-stay option if you’d like to do some work to be able to stay the night there. Since each hut is run by a different group, you can get totally different experiences by visiting each hut, which I learned the hard way.
One solution for thru-hikers is to stealth camp. Although not technically legal within the park, there was just no way I was going to pay money to camp. There was an electronic list floating around that gave thru-hikers almost all of the stealth sites located within the park, and so I got my hands on it right before entering the park. You had to be careful though, because I’d heard a few stories about park rangers on power trips who will give you a very expensive ticket for doing this.
Up to this point in my trip, I’ve only stayed in free shelters, campsites and at Krista’s house, so my fun with stealth camping would be happening very soon. In other news, I’ve hit 1800+ miles, which means that I now have sub-400 remaining! Praise God for being able to make it this far!
My next post covers most of the White Mountains, which is arguably the most beautiful section of the entire trail, and is also where I captured the most epic pictures I’ve ever taken!
-Walk and Eat
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” -1 Corinthians 10:13