Railways & Hut Children

Appalachian Trail – August 25th, 2013

I woke up to bright light streaming around the edges of the motel curtains.  I threw back the covers and hissed lightly through my teeth.  My wrist was still sore, but most importantly, it was usable.  I walked over to the door to the room, and slowly opened it, peeking through the crack, out into the parking lot.  At 5:30AM, the sky was already a crystal clear blue, without a cloud in the sky.  I could feel a slight crispness in the air, and my blood began to pump quickly in anticipation of what was going to be a beautiful hiking day.  I was supposed to relax today, icing and elevating, but the weather was amazing.  There were not many perfect days like this in the White Mountains.   I looked down at my wrist, and frowned slightly.   What difference was one day really going to make?  A slow grin replaced the frown, and I turned to begin packing.   I was going hiking!

I walked over to the motel diner for my typical double sized breakfast, and also let Bruno know I would need a shuttle over to the Auto Park.  He peered down at my soft cast and asked if that was a good idea.  I smiled and let him know that I would be careful.  He just shook his head and left to get my check.

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Once at the Auto Park, I booked a shuttle to the top of Mt. Washington.   It was a great ride up the twisting mountain curves, and I had the van to myself with the driver, Mark, having driven for 16 years.  There was not a question he could not answer, and I had many.  I am naturally inquisitive, and I could tell he enjoyed most of the questions. “How many fatalities have there been on the road?” “Have you ever had any close calls?” “Have you ever scared your passengers?”  These were probably not the typical questions from an adult crowd, but he patiently and graciously answered them.

He took me up the back service road and dropped me right at the door to the building at the top.   Tourists stared at me, wondering who I was that I got such service.  Mark clearly knew that step efficiency was important to thru-hikers.

I took my obligatory Cog train photo, but did not have enough patience for the summit sign.   There was a line to get a picture, and time was passing quickly.  I was anxious to get moving, as I knew my pace might not be as quick as usual if there was any sketchy foot placement required.  Patience is also not a strong quality of mine.

I headed for the Crawford (AT) trail, stopping and frowning as I looked down the 1.5 mile descent towards Lake of the Clouds.  I could see the Hut at the bottom of what appeared to be a solid boulder field.  I slowly stepped onto the first rock, carefully placing my weight down, and my mind kicked into paranoid over drive.

Mind:  That looks like an unstable rock!

Me: Walk!

Mind:  We are 5’11 inches off the ground, and that next rock looks precarious.

Me: Walk!

Mind:  Bones break much more easily in a late 40’s female.

Me:  Walk!

I had clearly lost confidence in my abilities since my fall, and developed some type of mental block.  It took me almost two hours to go what should have been 30-45 minutes.  Every single section hiker passed me going down, and at least 8 of them asked me how my knee was doing. By the 4th question, I had to restrain myself from stopping and screaming “NOTHING IS WRONG WITH MY KNEE!  Between my speed and preventative knee brace, everyone assumed I was injured.

I stopped in at Lake of the Clouds for cookies and Lemonade, but did not stay long….mostly because I ate all the cookies and finished the rest of the lemonade.   I was there maybe 15 minutes, and chatted with a couple of other thru-hikers that were headed north.  They were headed into Gorham, so we traded the typical traveler information – where to stay, eat, etc.

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I picked up a little speed over the course of the day, but not much.  I was gun shy about falling, and it was frustrating.  The views were stunning as I snaked around the mountains, and my mind was as lost in the scenery as it was in it’s paranoia.  Both of these things slowed my speed considerably, but I did not stress about my slow speed since the White Mountains were one of the highlights of the Appalachian Trail.   The clear views, and high alpine scenery were breath taking.

There were people everywhere.   This was a day for hiking, and the area around Lake of the Clouds Hut was one of the most crowded I had seen yet on the trail.  One girl asked me if I was a thru-hiker, and then offered me a pack of Oreos. She said she liked to hike and hand out trail magic. I gladly accepted them, and said “thank you” as I began unwrapping them.  Shocking to many, I never turn down food.

I had several people offer me rides from Crawford Notch.  I smiled pleasantly, and said no thank you, wondering where I would be taken if I accepted.  The amazing thing about hiking these long distance trails is the eagerness of random strangers to assist in the journey.  I have stayed in homes of families, on ranches in barns, tented in back yards, and been fed huge meals or purchased meals, while being peppered with questions about the hikes.  I’ve watched eyes light up, while wistful expressions passed across faces old and young.  I’ve always understood and been grateful, answering as many questions as asked.  I’ve always had those same dreams, and at times been fortunate enough to follow them, so I always share as much as I can.

I had hiked The White Mountains several times, but had never stayed in a hut.  This time though, I had planned to stay in one, and had decided it would be Mizpah Hut.  This allowed me to relax my pace, knowing I only needed to hike six more miles to reach my destination.  I stopped a few times to stretch out on large boulders and slabs of rock, enjoying the amazing views and warm sunshine.

I arrived at Mizpah around 4PM, hoping there would be space since I had not made a reservation.   I felt like I had arrived at summer camp.  It was nostalgic, with children running everywhere, laughing and excited about camping out in the mountains.  I love kids, but thankfully my bunk room only had one other adult couple in it.  I knew there would be a lot of evening chattering in some of the other rooms, and hiker midnight arrived early.

I placed my gear in my room, and settled at one of the picnic tables in the dining room, smiling as kids raced around the room, and families mingled and chatted.  I smiled to myself.   It was going to be a good evening.  Children had small stomachs.  There would probably be a lot of extra food I thought as I sighed and leaned back against the wall to wait for supper.

 

 

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