Broken Poles & Pop-tarts

Appalachian Trail – August 20, 2013

Yesterday in Gorham, NH was a fairly uneventful day.  I rented a tiny car and spent the day running errands.  Sandman had made it to town later on in the day, and I wheeled him around on a few errands also.  I’m not sure I would call it “restful,” but I was not marching up and down mountains, so it was physically less strenuous.  The only stressful part of the day was the actual driving.  Everything moved so fast!  Hiking provides a different perspective, forcing me to stop and observe life happening around me, instead of rushing past it at break neck speed.  That would last for about two weeks after I returned home, and was again racing past what really mattered.

The morning of my return to the trail started with the usual large breakfast.  Bruno made a great breakfast, and I ordered one of everything.   Returning to my room afterwards, I spent a half hour trying to get six days of food to fit in my poor little light weight Ohm pack.  I’d had my winter gear sent to Gorham for the whites (I may as well get used to carrying it), and also needed to fit in six days of food.  Well, not even close. I squeezed and prodded for ten minutes, listening for the pop of my sleeping pad as I tried to wedge it into an empty space big enough for a pad a quarter the size.  Grunting and cursing a little, I knew something had to give, so I begrudgingly began removing food.  I still had a few fat reserves to burn, so figured I would eat a little less, and try and bargain at the huts to purchase left overs.  I’m not very good at what some hikers referred to as yogiing, so would probably just go hungry.

Sandman was heading back out with me, so we returned the car and I talked the clerk into taking us out to the trailhead. He was an exceptionally nice kid that talked about the local economy.  Even in his 20 something, know no fear bliss, he was keenly aware of how ME and NH were struggling. Their middle class seemed to rapidly be loosing job opportunities, and finding work was becoming harder and harder in this region.

Mark dropped us off and we headed to the trail head, after I hoisted my hiking brick onto my back, that used to be a comfortable light weight backpack. We had only planned a low eight mile day to Imp campsite coming out of Gorham.  I would quickly be reminded that eight miles straight up a mountain with a brick equaled 20 miles on a piece of “normal” trail south of NH.

We moved quickly those first two miles, up Rattle River trail and then beginning the climb up Mt. Mariah.  Now THAT was a long steep climb!  Sandman hiked ahead of me, and about a half hour into the climb he sat down on a rock and requested we take a break.  I could not stop.  I had a steady rhythm on this massive staircase to the sky, and as I passed him, with my head down, focused on a steady, controlled pace, I told him between breaths that I would meet him at the top for lunch.

Once at the summit, I found a relatively flat rock, and proceeded to spread out my meager supply of food for lunch.   Conserving and rationing food was not a strength of mine, and I knew this was going to be a long section.   I watched as families out for the day, bounced past me chattering and flashing smiles of hello.  Up here, they go to the mountains and climb like we go to the beach and bask.  People here in NH & ME appeared to be much more active than down south.  They also appeared to be much slimmer.

After lunch, we headed back out and Sandman promptly broke his hiking pole.  That is about like me breaking a leg.  He was totally dependent on those poles, applying all of his weight on them both uphill and downhill.  I looked at his blood stained clothes, and could not imagine him hiking through the White Mountains without those tools.  He gazed down at his broken pole with a look of despair, and then looked up at me with a question on his face.  Being ever the one for few words, I just responded “Ouch” before stepping around him and heading on down the trail.  I did not respond because I knew what he was thinking.  He wanted to head back down the mountain and back to town, and back tracking was just not an option for me.  As usual though, as I walked, the guilt began to settle in and work it’s magic.

Our pace was immediately reduced by half, and as we walked, Sandman began to go through all his options, as he stumbled along behind me.  I just listened.  There were not that many options available, and I knew the chatter was intended to steer me towards the only possible conclusion.  I just walked and continued to listen, grunting on occasion, acknowledging I was still engaged in the one sided conversation.

We reached Imp Campsite around 3:00PM and stopped for the day.  Although we had discussed going further, we would not get much further at our current pace, and the White’s did not provide an abundance of places to camp.  This would also give Sandman an opportunity to MacGyver on his pole for a bit.

I headed out front of the shelter to set up my tarp in a relatively flat spot.  It was far enough away to avoid the snoring and night noises emanating from the three sided shelter, so I should get a relatively good nights sleep.  I always looked forward to leaving town and sleeping in my little shelter, as I just did not sleep well in soft beds, after the first couple of weeks on the trail.

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Sandman, seated at the front of the shelter, pounded and beat on his hiking pole, before deciding his repair job would get him through the White’s.  I stared at the two bent sections he had tried to wedge together, skeptically.   They looked  ready to pop loose at the slightest bit of pressure.  I told him that the pole did not look stable, but he just scoffed.  This section was very tough, and I watch him use those poles regularly with 100 percent of his weight leaning over them as he headed straight down the side of steep, boulder strewn mountains.  In these peaks, one fall could be your last.  He was insistent though, and it was his call, so I just shut up and continued to eat my cold pasta.

We hung out with some older NOBO’s near the shelter, exchanging information on the trail to come.  I never stopped this early, but it was nice to just relax and putter around camp for a bit.  I’d had very little down time in town, so I sat out at the overlook, and worked on my journal until dusk.  I listened to the deep voices echoing through the trees behind me, interspersed with laughter.  A sense of peace settled slowly over me.  There were no deadlines, spreadsheets, negotiations, or other humans needing my attention.  My only worries were when I would wake up, and what flavor Pop-tart I would choose.

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