Stealthing north of Pinkham Notch [mile 1336.6; SOBO 318.2]
OK, now I’m just being silly with the low-mileage days. Except honestly, why would I want to rush through this? Perfect weather, the most beautiful place on earth… and the terrain’s a little slow-going anyway (and going to get steadily worse). As the band says, “I may not make it first, but you know I’m gonna make it last.” This—this place—is at the heart of why I’m on the trail this year (and I didn’t even realize it until I got here). I want to be thorough.
Miraculously, overnight the bitter wind subsided! It was cold when I woke up (and the drafts woke me repeatedly during the night), but as I was changing I realized it wasn’t Smokies-in-winter cold. Not by a long shot. And there are some things I can tweak to keep me warmer as I learn this new chunk of trail.
I hit the dirt at 6:15. As I looked up through the fir and spruce at the new blue sky, I saw the moon hanging like a fat pearl, almost full. (At least I think it’s almost full; right?) I’ll be climbing Mt. Washington under that sky the morning after tomorrow.
I started out in long sleeves and fleece, but by the time I got down to Carter Notch Hut, I was sweating. I wanted to fill my water bottles, but even more than that I wanted to see a hut and get some sort of handle on what kind of place they are.
As it turns out, they’re amazing! Well, that one was, anyway. 🙂 I went in and approached the guy at the grill and said I was on the AT, and would he mind if I filled my bottles? He said not at all, and showed me the sink. Then I dropped the bombshell: Might he have a cup of coffee he’d be willing to let go of?
He hooked me up! Coffee and breakfast. How awesome was that? I left a big tip in the tip jar.
I got out of there and the day had warmed to shorts weather already. Today was the Wildcat mountains, a roller coaster of peaks that a two-time NOBO told me a few days ago was the hardest thing in the Whites. So I was nervous.
See, here’s the thing. Words like ‘hard’ and ‘easy’ have no meaning at all anymore. My perception is skewed, and everybody’s experience is different and unique. When somebody asks me how the trail is up ahead, I hesitate even to answer. I don’t want to mislead them, especially dayhikers. It depends on what you ate, what you like, what you’re afraid of, what’s going on at home, how much sleep you got last night. When I think about it, my actual hardest mile on the trail wasn’t Katahdin—it was that innocuous mountain mile in North Carolina when I had to break down camp, climb a mountain, and set up again during the first 24 hours of my norovirus attack when I felt like I was going to collapse. That mile took all morning. And the more I hike, the more I realize that the AT experience is almost entirely intertwined with the quality of the weather. That hiker I mentioned was going NOBO and did the Wildcats in the rain. I was going SOBO with weather that couldn’t have been more perfect. I didn’t see any terrain that I haven’t been doing ad infinitum in Maine, and I thought the Wildcats were fun as hell. I stopped every darn time I felt like it—to eat a snack or watch the gondolas take people down the mountain or to watch the people themselves—nonhikers out for a day’s adventure.
I decided to stop a mile short of Pinkham Notch. Tomorrow I’l get up early and hit the visitor center for breakfast before I head up into the tough stuff: the Presidentials. And guess what? I’m nervous! 😉 Got my first look at them today, including many views of the observation platform on Mt. Washington. The grandeur took my breath away.
One reunion: Goose, from Bears Den hostel right before Harpers Ferry. He was there when I used their computer to grab the first available spot at Katahdin Stream Campground.
But here’s a funny hypothetical story. This never happened, nor would it ever happen, and I have an MFA so everything I say has to be fiction! Say, hypothetically, that I found a stealth site exactly where I wanted to camp but that it was right next to the trail. In the world of Hypothetica, the shadow me would have checked her memory of the wordage on the signage they post around here: ‘Do not camp within a quarter mile of roads, parking lots, huts, shelters, lakes, or ponds.’ And I would have camped right there, since it’s clearly been well used by other tenters! And maybe hypothetically, after I was set up I found a note in the book that says to camp 200 feet from a trail. So say my tent is right there, practically sitting on the trail, and a NOBO almost steps on it and says, “Hey, I didn’t see that tent until I was right next to it!” Now that would be some good stealth camping! Nearly on top of the trail, yet still invisible.
Of course, that never happened.
And that’s that. A long, good day. Tomorrow up into the wild blue upstairs. And on Monday? The big test.