Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Live Free (on big mountains while wearing Nike shorts) or Die

Live Free or Die is the state motto in New Hampshire.  That's right, one more state line down and less that 400 miles to Katahdin!  Sorry that I haven't updated in a while- I took a little time off for Day Tripper's brother's wedding.  His family is from Georgia, and ironically the wedding was held in Dahlonega, Georgia.  That is town near the start of the trail! We passed the hostel that people stay in before climbing Springer Mountain and went to the outfitter where people buy last minute gear.  It was very bizarre to be back there, mainly because my flight was two hours long.  That means it took me two hours to travel the distance that I walked in 4.5 months!   Walking was more fun, although on the flight I played a really fun trivia game on the plane's seatback touch screen.

Here's my account of Vermont/the beginning of New Hampshire.  It was SO beautiful and made me even more stoked for the White Mountains, albeit a little scared.  Remember how I said in my last post that Vermont has no pointless ups-and-downs? Well, I found them.  They are all in Northern Vermont.   I slowed my pace to be at a convenient spot to leave the trail for a wedding, but when I probably would have slowed down anyway.  Highlights included Killington Peak and an overnight stop in Rutland, Vermont for some great trail magic.  Also, I never saw a moose, but there will be more chances for that in Maine.

On one interesting day in Vermont I was walking the last few miles to the sheltershelter and saw an overweight old man with a walking stick lumbering up the trail (I do believe it is possible to lumber up something, not just down).  His shirt was unbuttoned, his gut was hanging out, and he looked like Santa Claus on a camping vacation.  My first thought was "I'm not so sure about this guy".  Lo and behold, he is Warren Doyle.  I thought he was kidding and psychotic at first but then remembered that Warren Doyle is leading a group of twelve on a "thru-hike" this year.  Basically, people pay him to facilitate their thru-hike.  They walk the whole trail but "slackpack" it, meaning they don't carry full packs and a van meets them every night with food, their tents, etc.   Warren Doyle is famous for founding the American Long Distance Hiking Association (ALDHA) and setting an early speed record on the trail, a thru-hike in 66 days.  SO he went about 3 times as fast as me.  This year Warren is completing hike number 16 of the AT.  16 x 2175? That's a lot of miles. It was a pleasure to meet him.

In all of his thru-hikes, Warren has never gone southbound (SOBO).  I hiked with him for a bit the days after meeting him and he explained why- to him it is more meaningful to have a mountain like Katahdin at the end.  It's huge, the hike is hard, it's remote, it's historic, and it has important religious value for native people.  It also has important spiritual value for thru-hikers as an iconic mountain at the end of a long journey.  Springer Mountain isn't nearly imposing enough to do that.

Recently we have been running into a lot of thru-hikers walking south.  They are a little over a month into their journeys so it is interesting to compare their hike with ours at that stage.  Generally, southbounders have bigger beards than northbounders and are just a little bit crazier. There is more solitude during a southbound hike than a northbound one so maybe you have to be a little crazy to want to do it that way?  But their is no other explanation for why they all look like they have been on the trail longer except they're weird.  A lot of them are also arrogant about the fact that they have gone through the hardest mountains and we haven't, but seriously- they have walked 25% as far as us and most of them will still quit.  In my opinion, they just haven't yet realized that the hardest part of the trail is mental, not physical, and a few more months of thinking all day will humble them a little.  Actually I think most of them are arrogant to hide how insecure they are about the fact they have only hiked a small section of the trail so far.

Anyway, I was anxious to get to Hanover, New Hampshire for my mail drop (and Ben and Jerry's).  I decided to have my winter gear sent to myself a little farther up the trail, so this mail drop was just care packages from friends and family.  The postmaster was glad to see me because all of my packages were taking up too much space!  Thanks everyone- on really rough days I am reminded of everyone at home cheering for me to finish and that makes a world of difference. 

Hanover is the home of Darthmouth College, and it is very similar to Lexington, VA, where I went to college.  Preppy undergrads, a beautiful campus, and a small town college feel.  The weirdest thing is that three different groups of people asked me for directions.  How did my uncleanliness indicate I was a local?  I didn't have my backpack on.  I honestly think they assumed I was a student because I was wearing Nike running shorts.  Every sorority girl in America has Nike running shorts in at least three different colors.  They are comfortable, dry, quickly, and are universally flattering, which is why I hike in them.

New Hampshire has already presented more challenging terrain than we have seen in a while, and I have only hiked 40 miles of it so far. Rebar steps in rocks and loooong climbs were rewarded with fire towers and AMAZING views.  I saw Mt Washington, Mt Moosilauke, and some of the other presidentials in the distance. 

Tomorrow we head back to New Hampshire.  I am ready and hope that my trail legs haven't gotten lost in one week.  I am very well-rested and well-fed, and tonight I am meeting up with a best friend from college and one from graduate school (St Lightining, you can read about her in one of my posts from April) for a last little bit of the real world before the test of mind, body, and spirit that is about to come.