I woke up on the floor under a table in the dining area of the Lakes Of The Clouds Hut. Blinking away sleep, I could hear my fellow hikers crawling out from under tabless and slowly shuffling around. As I stared up at the bottom of the table above me, butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Today was the day I would summit Mt. Washington and mark another state high point off of my list.
During breakfast, some of the guys sat around chit chatting and playing cards. We had all formed a comradery and it was blatantly apparent to me in this moment. I watched people I had seen on and off for several months treat eachother like family. Everyone was kind. Considerate. Thoughtful. Helpful. Caring. We were a team full of independent people. None of us needed eachother, but we cared for one another. It might be a common misconception that there is a stereotypical thru-hiker. But, from my experience, most of us had little in common except for the physical, mental and emotional challenges of our daily hiking. Nobody on a hiking journey gets a free pass. There’s no easy way. You hike or you don’t. We had bonded through struggles and victories. Honestly, I had never felt so completely accepted for who I am by any group of people in my entire life. As my gaze drifted from face to face, I realized the feeling that was being exuded could be described in one single word: respect. With a grin on my face and a new found feeling of strength, I pulled my trail runners tight and prepared to conquer New Hampshire’s highest point, Mount Washington.
Mount Washington, peaking at an elevation of 6,288 ft, is the highest mountain in the Northeastern United States. The mountain is known for its extremely unstable weather, and wind speeds of over 200 mph have been recorded at the peak. This mountain has also claimed the lives of 150 people since 1849. Needless to say, it can be an extremely dangerous climb. Luckily, the day I happened to climb the 6,000 footer the weather was absolutely beautiful. It was rather unnerving, though, to see warning signs on my way up the mountain. It was not an easy climb, but because I was so thankful for beautiful weather, I hardly noticed the strenuosity of the trail. Upon summiting the mountain, I was excited to learn about the weather station, and of course, smile for my obligatory summit photo.
Mt. Washington is quite different from other summit points along the AT in a couple ways. First, you can actually drive (or even ride a train) to the top! However, the feeling of accomplishment one receives by hiking could never be replaced from behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Another interesting aspect of Mt. Washington is the availability of food and drinks! There is a visitors center located at the summit, complete with a full cafeteria. It was truly like hiker heaven. Rebel Yell and I summited together and decided to further investigate the cafeteria. We loaded up a couple trays of food and prepared to feast. While in the checkout line, Rebel Yell handed me some money. In response to my confused look, he informed me that a fella we had met at one of the huts had given him some money to pay for our lunch.
We had met Dave, Dan and Joe while doing a work-for-stay at Zealand Falls Hut a few days before. Die Free, Rebel Yell and I had spoken to a group of paying guests about our thru-hike of the trail. It was basically and open Q&A session. We continued to see these three fellas on and off for several days. The last time we saw them was the morning we left to climb Mt. Washington. Joe slipped Rebel Yell some money before we left, just because he wanted to be nice. I can’t even begin to express my gratitude. Here’s to people like the three of these men who offered us more support and encouragement along the way than they may ever know! While eating lunch that day, I was on cloud nine. I noticed a man sitting at the end of the table, and I decided to strike up a conversation with him. To be fair, I’ve never really met a stranger in my life. But, ‘Christophe’ replied to my 21 questions like a trooper! Rebel Yell and I kept him engaged in conversation for quite some time about life, family and hiking the AT. He couldn’t believe we were thru-hikers. A couple other guys at nearby tables heard our conversation and asked if they could join us for lunch. We happily obliged and before I knew it we had another full blown Q&A session. All three of the men we spoke with expressed interest in hiking the trail, but never really felt like they could whether it be age, skill, lack of time, etc. However, I feel the three of them walked away with a seed planted in their minds. Those seeds may not blossom into an AT thru-hike, but maybe it jarred them out of the fog that so often encompasses our minds in everyday life. Could it have possibly been the conversation needed to renew the passion they once had for their dreams? Who knows.
Although my trek over the White Mountains were tedious, strenuous, exhausting and painful…it showed me what I was made of. My mileage through the White’s was significantly lower than ever before. I topped out at about 10-11 miles per day, but most days were closer to 5-8 miles. After all of the wonderful experiences towards the end, however, I finished the White’s strong with an 18-19 mile day! I stepped onto a paved road feeling extremely accomplished, although my legs wanted to collapse. I had just completed the most rigorous section of trail yet and I was partially in disbelief. In a daze I walked the .1 mile trek to the White Mountains Lodge & Hostel. After a hot shower, I pulled up my email on my phone and was surprised to see the following email from Christophe:
Looks like one of those seeds has already begun to sprout! ???? Make sure the seeds you plant are from the fruits of love, encouragement and kindness–if that’s what you wish to grow.
I suppose that’s enough for now. But, stay tuned for what happens next. (Spoiler alert: Maine is right around the corner!) Below are some additional moments I was fortunate to capture during this stretch of trail: