Day 173: 5,320 feet climb, 10.4 miles (plus 3 miles walking)
It was Sunday. After spending four days inside sick with Covid, I was ready to hike again. I knew it would be difficult because I was still weak, but it was time to go.
My father was in the middle of a 100-mile wilderness. My brother Tucker planned to meet him on Tuesday to hike with him in the Katahdin area. Since I knew he was on our way from his home in Connecticut, I asked him if he wanted to join us (for his birthday) on a hike on Franconia Ridge. He agreed to meet us at the top of the first peak, taking a different route up so he could get back to his car and campsite at a campsite.
Eric and I set off from our hut around 7am and headed towards the trail. We had about a 2 mile hike, then another mile on a paved road back to the AT. We were really lucky when we tried delivery earlier, so we put our thumbs up with a lot of hope that it wouldn't take long to get a delivery. We were wrong, of course. No one was out early Sunday morning.
We finally reached the main road and started climbing. You were right, my energy was nonexistent. I knew I had to go slow and steady if I was going to reach our destination for the day, the Garfield campsite. I kept my heart rate low and most of the climb was skipped by enthusiastic day hikers. We eventually reached alpine terrain, finally above the tree line.
The days we spent up Mount Mooseloc and the Kinsmans afforded us some views between the clouds, but they were by no means clear days. We got a clear day for Franconia Ridge, and it was worth it. I kept stopping And I look around, unable to take in everything I can see. We quickly reached the meeting place with Tucker, and he was there jumping off the rocks. He has been in the midst of a marathon and loves rock climbing and exploring. He ran down the road to meet us. Yes you read that right, he ran up the mountain. He was in his element.
We made our way along the road, and I quickly decided that it was all we had come so far to get to this point. This is why you raise AT. Forget the South and Mid-Atlantic. New Hampshire was like nothing else we had seen or experienced.
It was a Sunday, and the difficulty of the road to the ridge did not prevent many weekend warriors from making the trek to the summit. We saw two different proposals as we made our way through the crowds of people. It was difficult to stop to take any photos without being in the road or having other people in the background. This was frustrating, but it didn't ruin the day in any way. I was happy that so many people were experiencing the trail that day. It's a special place.
It was fun hiking with Tucker for a few hours. It was nice to have different conversations than usual. I was having issues with my energy levels as the day went on, but there are a very limited number of campsites through the White Mountains, so we had to push on.
We said goodbye to Tucker a few hours later and kept walking. I was exhausted, but we had a few more steps to climb. We reached the top of the final climb just at sunset. I had a beautiful view of Franconia Ridge in the golden hour light. It was a special moment.
We arrived at camp at nightfall. This was the first paid Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) site we were staying at, so we had to stop at the caretaker's tent to purchase AMC tickets for the hike. These passes will entitle us to discounted campsites through the White Mountains, discounts on food and beverages at various area lodges, and treatment as AMC members for discounts on purchases at AMC sites.
We pitched our tent under the stars on a platform next to some other tents. I still wanted to sleep under the stars one night, but the rain forecast the next morning meant tonight wouldn't be the night. I enjoyed the views of the day but I was exhausted. I was worried about having the stamina to get over the rugged White Mountains while recovering from Covid. It was also difficult to continue to find the motivation to hike knowing that we wouldn't be able to finish the entire trail by the suggested date of October 15th. I went to sleep uneasy about what the next day would hold.
Day 174: Ascent 2,520 feet, 10.2 miles
It started raining when we left camp that morning. Eric and I knew we were in for a rainy day. I hate hiking in the rain.
As we left the campsite, we were greeted by a steep downhill trail. The path was routed in the middle of the natural drainage. I'm sure it would have been annoying but it is possible in good circumstances. In the rain I was terrified. One slip and I would fall down the mountain much farther than I wanted to. Every step was on a rock. I quickly had to give up keeping my feet dry for safety's sake, and had to get inches deep into the water just to do the next step.
We slowly made our way down the mountain and then reached the base of the next mountain. We took a small detour off the road to visit a hut. This was the first place we entered. We were wet and cold, so the short break inside was a relief.
We had an early lunch and then set off down the road. Maybe I should say that, because we were on the white team, so you're always either going up or down. The rain was coming down hard as we climbed and the wind was starting to blow around us.
My grief over my COVID delay likely ruining our chances of finishing the trip became overwhelming. Why was I still hiking? what is the point? This was miserable, and for what purpose?
In the pouring rain and howling winds, I brought these ideas to Eric. It turns out he had similar thoughts. The more we talked, the more we thought it made sense for us to end it on top of Mount Washington. It was discussed as the original ending of the track, right?
We can go home and have a good five weeks to relax before I go back to my job. Eric can start looking for a job. We can go to the beach. I was dreaming of sitting on the beach the entire trip. It seemed like the logical decision as we walked along the flooded road.
We had to pitch our tent in the rain that evening. By the time we were inside the tent, the outside was in a mud pit and everything inside was wet. We were so miserable. I looked up any options we had for bailing and drying.
I saw we could hike for a half day tomorrow and drive a few miles to the AMC front country lodge called Highland Center. It would cost $80 each to get a warm bed in the bunk room the next night. This was more than we paid for a night anywhere else on the trail, but it included two hot, all-you-can-eat meals, so we decided to do it. We put on our dry clothes, the only dry things we had, and tried to get some sleep.
Day 175: 640 feet (1,880 feet) ascent, 7.6 miles
The rain didn't stop in the morning. We tried to wait until a break from the rain to pack up the tent. I put on my wet socks from the day before. I had several pairs of clean socks, but it wasn't worth getting another pair of socks wet when you knew what the trail was going to look like once we got going.
The morning trail was supposed to be quick and easy. It was very flat with minimal roots and rocks. It wasn't quick and easy for us. It took us about 6 hours to cover the 7.6 miles because the trail was a river. There were some places where there were boards we could walk on to get up and out of the water, but even in those places we had to walk slowly so we wouldn't slip. Most mornings our feet were inches deep in the water.
We finally reached the next main road. We stuck out our thumbs and were taken by the second car that passed. We quickly checked in and found the 16-bed house empty except for us. The house was divided into two rooms of beds: 4 in one room and 12 in the other. We spread out our stuff in the 4-bedroom bunk room, hoping we'd get lucky and have the room to ourselves.
Eric took the tent outside and cleaned off all the mud on it. I distributed all our equipment in the room in front of the fans and heaters. We didn't have access to laundry facilities, but we dried everything. Only two other people joined us in the shelter that night, and as we had hoped, they took up the bunk beds in the other room.
It's amazing how dry clothes can change your outlook. I looked at our remaining time and remaining miles. I knew Katahdin closed late last year, so we could have finished if we got there after the October 15th that we were shooting. In fact, I predicted we were only 4 days behind our self-imposed/recommended end date.
My mindset about finishing the match went from impossible to improbable. Improbable means there is a chance. I wasn't ready to give up the road yet. I knew I had the ability to keep hiking. I also knew that I would always feel like I had unfinished business if we didn't at least try to keep going.
I showed Eric the expected timeline and estimated completion date. After a hot dinner that night, he was with me on my continued walk up Mount Washington. We both know we still might not be finished. We knew it might get cold. We knew we might hike through more rain. But as far as the forecast goes, the weather was supposed to be perfect for hiking and there was no stopping us today. We were ready to move forward until something other than ourselves told us it was time to withdraw or to reach Katahin.
Author's Note: I finished my Appalachian Trail hike on October 18th. Life back home keeps me busy, but I still have stories to share. I plan to continue writing it when I find the time.