Expectations-Hiking Trip-Chapter 3

100_3387

View from Mount Avalon (AMC Highland Center down in the valley)

“If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

-Mark Twain

The cloudy skies had deceived me. From the lodge’s window, their appearance had led me to believe the outside temperature was cool so I had dressed in layers. But after fifteen minutes of hiking it became clear I had overdressed and the temperature was not what I had expected. It was perfect. Not too warm, not too cool but I was hot, sticky and sweaty in my long-sleeve, layered shirt. The sweaty clothes were an added nuisance to my heightened awareness of the weight on my back. I questioned whether or not I should take off my pack and remove a layer but in the end decided against it. This began a constant struggle and debate I had with myself during the whole hiking trip. To add or remove a layer-that was the big question.

The Avalon Trail was pretty, well maintained and well marked. On the way to the summit we laughed and talked as we marched in a single line, one behind the other. Joyfully we stepped over slippery stones as we crossed over streams and waterways.

100_3375

Beecher Cascade

I cannot remember at what point the trail turned on us. Some time early in the day, while we were very joyful and happy, the trail went from something like this*:

 

hiking trail 2

and turned into this:

(Please note, these pictures not do the trails justice. The depth and the grade are lost in these shots. These are challenging trails to conquer. They are filled with rocks, roots and many hidden places to trip and lose your footing.)

While scrambling up over the rocks and gracefully executing pas de bourrees over the slippery roots, I realized that I had expectations of this trip. Even though I had said over and over again how I did not want to know anything about what to expect or where we were going, I had unknowingly made my own conclusions. Conclusions that included a what a trail should look like, what the weather should be like and how much effort I would exert.

I laughed to myself at my own realizations. What had I expected? A mild, gentle graded trail? A waltz in the woods? We were hiking in the Granite State. The White Mountains! Hello! GRANITE. ROCKS. MOUNTAINS. There’s a specific reason why things are named the way they are. I had figured this would be a challenging hike but did not know just how challenging it would be. Oh, but to have this challenge made me happy and feel blessed to be alive. No guts, no glory. Right?

At the top of a rock pile, we made a steep climb, and final scramble over the boulders to the summit of Mount Avalon (elevation: 3,442 ft.) The view from Mt. Avalon is gorgeous. Some people say it is one of the best views of the Presidential Range from all the mountains at Crawford Notch. We paused for a few moments to take it all in. Our very first peak bagged.

100_3391

It’s funny how sometimes you can see things more clearly when you look back at them. When I look at this picture now, I can clearly see something I missed then. Dark, streaky rain clouds at the horizon. A turn of weather, earlier than we expected.

rain

Minutes after we left the summit small drops of rain began to fall. Just a few spits of raindrops at first but soon the rain became steady. There would be no chances of drying out now and it was getting cold too. We stopped to put on our rain gear and cover our packs with rain covers and ponchos. I still felt sweaty-cold from the morning and my hands were the starting to feel numb. I put on my winter hat and gloves trying to get as warm as possible. We had about five more hours of hiking ahead of us.

As we hiked, clouds continued to pour buckets and buckets of rain over our heads. The woods offered us no protection from the showers. The rain added an extra challenge to an already challenging trail. Mossy rocks became hazards and roots were sneaky and slick. Small streams started to form in between the rocks of the steep paths we walked. We tried to avoid stepping in puddles and mud but our efforts were in vain. Extra concentration was needed as we contemplated each step and where to hold our footing.

As wet and cold as were nobody complained. We cheered each other on. The rain did not snuff out our joy or extinguish our movement. We were women on a mission and bagged two more peaks. Two 4,000 footers. Mt. Tom (elevation: 4051 ft) and Mt. Field (elevation: 4340 ft) Here I realized that not all summits have beautiful views as (as I had expected.) Mt. Tom and Mt.Field had trees and cairns. I concluded that the view was not as important as the accomplishment and I was content in knowing we had safely reached each summit.

 

Some time toward the end of the day, the rain stopped (thank you, Jesus.) A trail sign with the hut’s name was a very happy, welcomed sight. I felt as if I was about to cross the finish line of a marathon. One last push and I would be done. I dreamed of a hot cup of coffee, dry warm clothes and regaining feeling in my fingers. I felt like I had been baptized by water and fire. My strength had been tested and I had persevered. It was a great feeling, a mixture of exhaustion, hard work and accomplishment. One last steep, rocky incline and I was about to find out that a night spent at the huts is the cherry on top of a day’s long hike…

PS-For those wondering about the practical side of things, using outdoor facilities is extra “fun” in the rain. Lots of stuff (rain gear) can get in the way and a bare bottom in the cold is a jolting experience. If you want to feel at one with nature, try going the bathroom on the side of the trail, in the freezing cold rain. I guarantee you will get the full experience Mother Nature has to offer.

*This is not a picture of a trail in the White Mountains but an accurate depiction of what I thought the trails might look like before I left for the trip.


Last Chance-Hiking Trip-Chapter 2

DSCN5128

The window was left open all night and a cool mountain breeze flowed across my bed and over my face. I snuggled down into the cozy flannel sheets that lined the cot and allowed my eyes to get accustomed to the light that filled the room. Our room was quiet but busy.

One by one, we popped out of our beds and got dressed. We checked and rechecked our packs, tightened straps and made adjustments. We texted our goodbyes and final instructions to our families, then turned off our phones and rolled up our phone chargers. We wouldn’t need them where we were going. No electricity on the trail and no electrical outlets in the huts.

DSCN5126

It was our last chance to add or take away from the weight and supplies we were going to carry on our backs over the next three days. For me, there was nothing to add or take away. I had gone over all my supplies about fifty times and carefully packed clothes in Ziplock bags labeled for specific days. Normally, I am not this organized but for this trip I felt it a necessity. Maybe it was my way of trying to control the unknown.

Most of my pack was filled with clothes because I was very serious about not being cold. I packed layers and layers of items for every situation I could think of. Yes, even if it started snowing, I was prepared to be warm. A few second thoughts and nervous feelings about overpacking ran through my mind but I could not bring myself to remove one single item from my pack. I decided to call it done.

Once everyone was ready, we headed down to the lodge’s kitchen. I stuffed myself full with a hearty, warm breakfast of oatmeal, eggs and fruit. Loving Leader had suggested we have a big breakfast and a big dinner, and eat snacks and bars (things easy to pack) for our lunches on the trail. We had an important task to do before leaving the dining room area, we needed to fill our hydration bladders. My water reservoir was much larger than the one I have used in the past for running. It was awkward to fill but I pretended to look like I knew what I was doing even as the water sloshed in the sink and over my bag. Screwing the cover closed, I felt accomplished and I carried the water upstairs to put into my pack. I was surprised at how much 3 liters of water weighed and somewhat dreading the extra weight to my pack but I knew that this was a non-negotiable item.

After Loving Leader led us in devotions and prayers, I felt full in almost every way. Full of food, full pack, full hydration bladder, full heart, full of energy, full of anticipation. One more comfortable, indoor bathroom facilities use and then we checked with the front desk about the day’s weather forecast. The forecast called for cloudy skies with rain in the afternoon. The expected rain would be the “heaviest” around 1pm-2pm. Not perfect weather but not terrible weather either. (At least, this was my thinking.)

On Wednesday, 9:20 AM, under cloudy skies, we headed out of the lodge’s doors and stepped onto the Avalon Trail ready to “bag” our first peak. Three expectations were about to be tested.

DSCN5130

 

 

 


WONDER-FULL WEDNESDAY- WONDERMENT- PART 1

hiking adventure

It has been days since I have returned from my hiking trip and I am still trying to process my time in the mountains. In the four days we were there, so much happened physically, emotionally and spiritually. It was a step back in time, a place away from the busyness of the world, a time filled with extreme gratitude and wonderment.

Wonderment is the best way I can describe the trip. The feeling or emotion sparked by curiosity, awe and surprising things. I hiked in wonderment as the strength of my mind and soul overtook the physical strength of my body, pushing it to new limits, building new confidence and holding tight to Jesus. I felt wonderment gazing at valleys and mountains and thinking about God and His Creation. I listened in wonderment to new hiker friends share their stories of mountainous accomplishments. Challenging, peaceful, life-changing, and fun are other words but really none of them best describes the time as wonderment.

The only thing I hated about this trip was my last step from the sanctuary of the shadowed woods into the bright, blinding sunlight of the trail head’s parking lot. A place where two worlds collide. As my eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight, I wished I could turn around and run back into the woods. I wanted to keep exploring, keep pushing my body, keep discovering new things and seeing what was around the next bend or over the next boulder. I think this might have been the exact moment of when my new hiking addiction started.

Before I get too carried away, I guess I should start at the beginning, at the trailhead. If you have been reading along, you know this was my very first hike longer than a day’s trip. Four days and three nights backpacking with a 20-25 lb pack through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. There were five women on this trip. Five women who are now bonded together by sweat, tears and great respect for each other and this shared experience. I will lovingly refer to them as Loving Leader, Hot Mama, Sweaty-Sweet Diva, and Courageous Jade.

Those are not their official trail names (more about that later.) I was the only one blessed to received an official trail name on this hike, complete with a ceremony and pledge. “Melon Ball” was given to me because of my bright melon-colored rain gear and my sweet, joyful, refreshing personality (or at least that’s what my friends told me.)

melonball

 

 

Loving Leader was very smart to start our trip off on the right foot. We arrived at Crawford Notch’s AMC Highland Center Lodge in the early evening. A good meal and good night’s sleep was in order before we hit the trail in the morning. The lodge’s accommodations were warm and comfortable and the atmosphere was joyful and peaceful. Hikers coming and going, some fresh from new adventures and some anticipating great ones to come. These were luxury accommodations compared to the hut’s lodging complete with warm running water, towels, comfortable beds and bedding. The food was plenty, delicious and filling!

CAM05755

Lupine

At sunset, the five of us walked around the lodge admiring the mountains and pretty wildflowers. In the serene setting, I found myself evaluating my current state. I was running on empty, high on adrenaline. A few hours earlier, I had left my house filled with visiting relatives. It had been about a month since our home was inhabited by only our family of five. It had been good to see everyone and I was glad everyone was able to come. But it had been tiring and emotional. I hate saying goodbyes and as much as I try not to think about it while my family is here, I always think of our time together as a countdown before I have to say goodbye again.

Besides all the company, various loved ones and life circumstances were weighing heavily on my heart and mind. I stood there facing the setting sun and started to breath. Deep breaths of fresh mountain air were met with exhales, releases of stress and control over unknown circumstances. The air and the views started to cleanse and prepare my heart for something bigger. I could feel God replace the heaviness with the lightness of joy, peace and new discovery. I felt myself leaning in to hear His voice on the wind and watch the majesty of trees and a mountains bow down at His feet. Standing there, I felt very small and it felt so good. So good to know the Almighty God, mighty and powerful enough to create the great mountains on His command, is the same Almighty God who is loving and kind enough to be gentle with the current state of my tired heart and soul.

In the depths of my heart, I felt his calling to take His hand. The Great Shepherd ready to lead me besides quiet waters and refresh my soul. (Psalm 23) The Creator calling me to “come and see” for He was about to guide me on a heart’s journey to see and experience greater things. When I lay my tired head down and closed my eyes on the first night, I knew this adventure would be much more than I could have ever imagined and I was right.

CAM05767

Crawford Notch