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- Keep Your Feet on The Ground

Keep Your Feet on the Stars and your feet on the ground- Theodore Roosevelt

I reached for the ice axe handles and held the door open as my three children joyfully stepped inside the “store of grand-adventures-waiting-to-happen.” Wide-eyed, the kids and I stopped to stare at the hanging bicycles, the colorful walls of packs, and the people buzzing in and out of racks of clothing and equipment. The store smelled of hope and wonder. I felt out of place, like an awkward preteen on her first day of junior high school. I did not know where to go or who to ask or even what questions to ask but I had three kids with me and I was their leader in this escapade.

We had come to buy new hiking boots. Over the weekend, I thought it would be a good idea to try on my old hiking boots just to make sure that they still fit. I would be wearing these boots for hours and hours, over many miles, for several days, they needed to be comfortable and fit correctly.

I wasn’t surprised to find the boots were tight and uncomfortable. I had purchased them back when my feet were a size and half smaller (my feet have grown 1/2 inch with each of my pregnancies.) My poor, old boots had been neglected for many years. The closest they had come to gracing my feet was their placement besides my well-worn, favorite pair of sneakers. Part of me was glad and excited at the prospect of purchasing new boots but another part of me knew that buying hiking boots was not as easy as buying a pair of flip-flops. There were many different brands, different styles for different terrains, and an added expense to consider.

old hiking boots

The Poor, Old Boots

The kids and I found the shoe section and met a very nice saleswoman named, Helen. A soft-spoken woman in her early sixties, Helen became my BSF (best store friend.)  I confessed that I had no clue what I was doing or what I needed. Helen chuckled and smiled confidently. She gave me hope that everything was going to work out and she was going to lead me to the right boot. At the shoe display, she talked about styles, terrains, leather verses fabric, toe-boxes and ankle support. All this information seemed foreign and overwhelming to me and I found myself paying attention to only two things-the two things I could understand- the cost and the look of the boot.

After some consultation, Helen went off to find some boots for me to try on. She soon returned carrying three boxes and a pair of socks.  She put the boxes down and handed me the “clean” pair of socks. This was going to stretch me. Everyone has their issues. I had some doubts about the cleanliness of those socks. They did not seem like the disposable Peds that come in the unmarked, white box found in most shoe departments. No wrappers to indicate that they were new. No “SAMPLE” stamped on the sock.  I could not help but wonder whose feet had been in them or if they had been washed. I looked at the socks and I looked over at my kids who were getting more restless by the minute. This needed to get done and we needed to get out of here. I pushed aside my hesitation and slipped the socks on my feet. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

DSC_0390

“Clean” Socks

Helen schooled me on the criteria of a good fitting boot: 1.) No cramped toes. You have to be able to wiggle and move them. 2.) Tap the front of your boot to the floor. Your index finger should fit behind your heel. 3.) Walk on the “mountain.”  Your foot should not slip and toes should not touch the front of the boot.

The very first pair of boots I tried on met all three criteria. They were in the right price range, not as bright as I would have liked, but still pretty. I tried on two other pairs just to be sure but I still liked the first ones the best. There was no time for doubts or second guesses.  I looked at Helen and told her I would take them.  Helen was happy to have a sale! I was happy to have come to a decision! The kids were happy to be heading to the door! It was a win for everyone!

mountain

The “Mountain”

With the hiking shoes purchased, we walked past the ice axe handles and into the fresh air. The first major item checked off my hiking list. The shopping trip had stretched me out of my comfort zone and I had learned something new in the process. I was one step closer to the mountains and happy to know that my new boots would keep my feet comfortable, dry and firmly on the ground.

new boots

The New Boots