Damn these blogs are hard to keep up with but knowing my admiring fans need their fill, I will oblige.
Moving out of the great Massachusetts I had my first real interaction with beautiful Vermont. As mentioned, in a couple of previous blogs the further into New England the more this hike has returned to the true solitude of wilderness. In that aspect Vermont kept the trend moving forward.
The scenes changed daily. From spruces to oaks, flatland to mountain views and small farms to only untouched land as far as I could see, each day kept me on my toes and held my intense interest. This type of hiking keeps me from putting on blinders and counting miles and has me wide eyed and amazed with all see. The focus of fatigue and pain is gone and the presense of beauty and mystery returns.
Each day required a bit more work than the last. The climbs have worked their way back in and knowing that NH and Maine will be even more difficult, I made sure to remind myself that I better get use to "the burn" more and more. I knew that Killington would be my first real mountain challenge since Tennessee so I wanted to make sure I was mentally ready. With so many miles logged I was worried about my physical condition. Hell this is the best shape I've been in in years. Much like my running days I knew I just had to be mentally strong.
Waking up on the morning of my Killington, climb I felt much like I did on the morning of a race -nervous but giddy; ready for the challenge but pumped to take it on. This mountain did not provide a let down. A challenging climb but beautiful with large pines and green moss all around. I can't express enough how beauty takes my mind and soul to such a great place that I find the difficulty of the climb eased. Each step that takes you higher may take a lot out of you but the amazement of your surroundings takes your breath away. I may sound redundant expressing this but hey this is a thru hike and the beauty of it each day is exactly that, redundant.... in a special way.
I took my time on top of Killington with Yeti, Rigga, Little Bear and Atlas. We worked hard for months to return to a view like this. A few cokes and a snickers, enjoying the view and looking into the distance of what was to come continued to bring that particular thought to my mind. The thought that this was getting closer to the end and reaching Katahdin. Well let's make it last and enjoy what is left...
The day we hiked off of Killington we met with a crazy trail angel and his family who took us in for 2 days of well deserved rest. Jim, a former student of my dads 30 years ago learned of my journey through pawCody's Facebook page. After some brief convos we had on Facebook, he reached out when we hit Vermont and made it clear that I and hiker buddies should take him up on his offer to relax, eat, drink and join his wild family for a couple of days at his home in the mountains. Needless to say it didn't take much convincing. Jim, Noelle and their quirky daughter Juniper entertained us throughout our time spent with them. We couldn't be more grateful for their hospitality. Jim and I had a late night of drinking beers out around the fire but our conversation of how we grew up and what we learned in life was memorable. Hanging at the lake, eating pasta and burgers, outdoing each other with inappropriate jokes, and doing shots of vodka made for a great visit. The Duggans are truly friends for life. I look forward to my next visit knowing they can't wait to have me again. Right Jim?
Moving on and soon to be moving out, we knew Vermont certainly left its mark on all of us. I never knew much about Vermont before my hike but I learned that this is a state of beauty and good people. Their maple syrup ain't so bad either!
The last few days of hiking in Vermont I reminded myself that I would soon return. Seeing that the first 100 miles of the AT takes place on Vermonts long trail I vowed to return and finish it soon enough. Hiking is my passion and this state and trail is certainly a place I will see in the near future. Guess I'll just have to call Jim and book a bed.
Crossing into NH was a bit of a trip down memory lane. I crossed over the CT River into Hanover the home of Dartmouth College. Many years ago I ran my finest race on its track and it's always been a place I have thought highly of. As a hiker town my opinion has only grown bigger - free pizza slices and bagels for hikers and people all over asking if you needed anything or a place to stay. Man it was a great introduction to my second to last state!
After a night of good food and a shower we were back at it. It didn't take long to see that NH was gonna be all about climbing. This state was a true return to mountains.
Unlike the South where climbs were mostly up switchbacks (criss cross trails up mountains) the trails here were straight up. Each climb was a little steeper than the last and it was clear this was an introduction to the Whites. They were coming and we were preparing.
As I've mentioned before the group Im hiking with now is more focused. We take little time off and push forward to count down the miles. We rise early and hike til dusk always moving with great forward progress. As aggressive as we are, NH tamed us. No more 16 plus miles a day for us. What used to be 3 plus miles an hour at times turns into 1 mile an hour. When you're climbing straight up, it slows the progress down. It turns into a being smarter and safe process instead of a faster and more miles process. This is more than okay because the reward for the hard work is a magnificent reward. Views make you pinch yourself to make sure you are truly in the moment.
The day before we started the Whites it felt like a preparation for battle. We were packing up quietly obviously all thinking about what was ahead of us. Every peak we would hit was over 4000 feet with Washington being our biggest at 6288 feet. From the get go we would hit high and climb higher everyday. The difference between the high mountains of the south and these of the north are in the south you climb high and stay high whereas in the north you climb high, come down and climb again over the next mountain. It is a grueling process.
All and all we would peak over 15 mountain tops while we hiked the White Mountains. From Moosilauke to Kinsman, Liberty Spring to Franconia Ridge, South Twin to Webter Cliffs, the Presidentials to the great Mount Washington and the the Wildcats I had never put myself through such a difficult physical and mentally tough stretch. This took me to my limit and though I never broke I certainly felt all of what it dished out. I've heard that folks have quit this trail because of the Whites which was hard to believe but after going through them I can now understand why. It is by far the most difficult stretch thus far of the AT.
I can go on about how hard the climbs were which they certainly were but the day that will stick with me forever is the day we went over Washington and Madison. We had enjoyed a night doing work for stay (you work for the hut in order to stay the night) at the Lakes of the Clouds hut 1000 feet from Washington's peak. I was asked to participate in a Q&A for the day/weekend hikers staying for the night! I thoroughly enjoyed this and got a great night sleep in the warm hut. When we rose early in the morning I couldn't see outside the windows due to the clouds, and the windows were rattling from the wind blowing.
The conditions were dicey but we were hiking. With an early start we made our way up Washington. The higher we got the windier it became. By the time I hit Washingtons peak not only could I not see more than 50 feet in front of me but I needed to keep myself leaning as forward as possible to keep myself from blowing back on my backside. It felt great to summit but we were just as happy getting into their visitors center to take a break from the winds and chilly temps.
After warming a bit we knew we had to push on. There's nothing quite like throwing on winter clothes in August to hike over mountains. Ah the craziness of a thru hiker. The push had to continue and boy did it ever. The winds rarely let up and by the time we got close to the peak of Madison I started to wonder if we made a mistake by leaving the visitors center. Somehow we all made it over the last peak of Madison and and slowly made our way down out of harms way. We found out the next day that winds were topping out at 87 mph and that it was being recommended to hikers behind us to not push on. We took a risk, a foolish one perhaps, but one at times you make to reach the goal of thru hiking the AT.
With all the difficulties and hard days, I was able to find my way through the Whites. As I said earlier the rewards outweighed the hardship of this section. The beauty I got to experience bettered any I've had thus far on the AT. Hopefully you can feel a fraction of what I've felt from the photos I've taken. I'm proud of this hike as a whole but completing the Whites is something I will always be most proud of. If you ever consider hiking the AT try the Whites on for size. This will truly give you a sense of whether or not this hike is for you.
The backside of NH continued with difficult climbs. Each day had tired me more and more. It's late in the game. My body is tired and my mind is holding me together. I'm fighting. It's certainly a fight going the distance.
Yesterday after several more difficult climbs I found myself crossing into Maine. I was battered and beaten. I just wanted to sleep but the emotion of hitting my final state took a hold of me. I had reached my 14th and final state. I had hikes close to 1950 miles with less than 270 miles to go. I had reached a place many who have started this hike have not. I'm tired but I'm still moving forward.
My reward along with some of my hiking buds was Paw Cody yet again coming through as a true trail angel. We found him waiting for us at the bottom of Old Speck Mountain to take us to my family log cabin - a huge treat for all of us. We had worked hard for so long over this difficult stretch and now we got to relax at the cabin with good food, cold beers and a sauna. Heaven....
Tomorrow we will have a good breakfast being made by old family friends Tom and Elizabeth Gallagher and soon after head back on to trail. This is my last day off before I finish. I will take just over two weeks to get to the top of Mama K and finsh this amazing hike.
I may get one more entry in before I climb my last mountain but if not then there will certainly be one or two reflection pieces to follow. Right now I'm just gonna focus on this last push. My good hike of the AT is soon coming to an end; certainly my good hike of life is not. Man what a hike it's been.
I'll get some Facebook posts up for sure and the photos will keep coming so don't you worry, you'll know how this is all wrapping up. It's crazy isn't it? What started over 5 months ago is finally meeting its end. I shake my head and wonder where the time has gone. I have so many questions and wonders. Time to let it play out and see where it takes me....
Love you all and hike that good hike
Jesse AKA the Boston Mule