On September 14th, I woke up from a restlessness night of sleep to another frigid day in the White Mountains. After finally talking myself into crawling out of my sleeping bag, I stumbled around and slowly packed up my minimal belongings. It appeared as if the sun was trying to come out. But not long after I began hiking, any efforts to shine were dulled by a blanket of grey clouds.
The rocky terrain was just as arduous as the day before, and for a couple miles I hiked in what I refer to as the ‘Appalachian River.’
I reached the Galehead Hut around lunch. I decided to try my hand at visiting another hut and hoped this experience would be different. It started off about the same, as there was no soup available for purchase, The Croo was not exceptionally friendly, etc. Despite the odd vibe, again, I drank my fill of hot chocolate and enjoyed a quick break from the chilly, soggy day. I was just about ready to depart when I saw a familiar face–it was Cap!
Cap and I had not seen eachother since trail days in Damascus, VA around mid-May. Now by a twist of fate, our paths had crossed again. He was the first thru-hiker I had seen ‘from the other side’. You know, like the post-Katahdin side. I met Cap, Goose and Spice my second day on the AT. We quickly became friends and hiked on and off together for a couple weeks. The trio had even given me my trail name, “Dixie”. Not long after Trail Days, they decided to hike ahead so they could summit Katahdin in enough time to work at the AMC Huts for the fall season. Cap and Goose summited in August, but unfortunately, Spice was injured in the White’s and went home from Gorham, NH.
Seeing Cap was just what I needed at a time like this. It had been cold and rainy, the terrain difficult and my mood low. But, seeing an old friend who had accomplished the goal I so badly longed to complete stood there before me alive, happy and healthy. Simply put, I suddenly felt a renewed hope and belief in myself. I CAN do this.
Cap and I said our goodbyes and I hiked on. I was praying that the next hut, Zealand Falls Hut, would allow me to do a work for stay. While hiking the last few miles in the brutal wind and chilling rain, that’s all I thought about, honestly. I just needed one night of warmth. If I could only be warm and dry for a few hours, I knew it would help in lifting my spirits.
Rebel Yell and I arrived at the hut together. We walked in, awkwardly, through a room full of guests who were about to be served dinner. Approaching The Croo, I had never felt so helpless before. They were about to decide whether I would continue hiking, potentially in the dark, into the cold stormy night…or whether I was done for the day and could find shelter in a warm structure. Rebel Yell explained to the head Croo member that we were hoping for a work for stay opportunity. We were willing to do chores that night and in the morning if we could just stay on the floor in the dining room tonight. I was thrilled when I heard they said we could stay! They told us to go outside and sit on the porch until the guests were done eating.
Die Free, Rebel Yell and I sat out on the porch shivering as the wind whipled by while listening to the cheerful sounds of the guests merrily socializing over dinner. It made me miss home. But, just having a porch to sit on and a guaranteed dry place to sleep for the night couldn’t have made me happier. After the guests finished their dinner, we were invited inside to have leftovers. The food was FANTASTIC! Leftovers have never been so good.
Our chores that night consisted of washing dishes and speaking with the Hut guests. I thoroughly enjoyed our Q&A session and I hope we planted a seed in someone to take an adventure of a lifetime in the future. After the guests went to bed, we were allowed to set up our sleeping pads under the tables. Hearing the wind howl outside, I thanked my lucky stars for being inside!
The next morning we swept the bunkrooms and dining area before hiking out into the most beautiful sunny day I had seen in the Whites yet!
For a few days we were regularly visited by Gray jays. These birds are essentially the begging dogs (but birds) of the Appalachian Trail. If they hear the crinkling of a wrapper, a hiker better be prepared to share your his or her snack! We all enjoyed feeding them from off our hands, heads, etc. Needless to say, it doesn’t take much to entertain a thru-hiker.
I was able to take advantage of another work for stay at Lakes of the Clouds Hut at the base of Mt. Washington. To my surprise I was able to hang out with Goose! Another one of the three fellas that named me “Dixie.” He During my stay at the hut, Goose offered some inspirational words to keep me trucking. Basically, he told me he believed in me. It’s amazing how such simple words can bring strong winds to one’s sails. Thanks for the encouragement, Goose! I needed it more during that time than you could ever know.
The terrain surrounding Lakes of the Clouds Hut reminded me of being in Colorado–surrounded by open, rocky country with sparse vegetation. It was rugged, yet beautiful. Like leather and lace. The sunset from above treeline was stunning that evening. The silent moment in which the sun finally sinks below the horizon never ever ceases to take my breath away.
After dinner and chores, I laid out on the open ground and gazed at the stars. Staring at the sky always makes me feel so small. Typically, I recall the lyrics to “Dust In the Wind” and begin contemplating life and the purpose of it all. I wonder about the perception in which others see the stars. Do they see one flat plane with white dots? Or do they experience the depth perception when looking up, realizing at once that the stars are indeed various distances away? Also, does anyone ever think of the stars’ presence during the day? Or have we truly convinced ourselves that they “come out at night?” Regardless of the silly thoughts that flutter through my mind, I always rise up from the ground feeling thankful for the opportunity to be a tiny speck of dust in such a vast space.
Below are some of the other pictures I captured along this stretch of trail: