So it has been too long since I sent a column home. I have walked a lot since the last one. I am now in Maine and have roughly a bit under a month to go to finish my hike.
My daughter Amelia flew from San Francisco to hike with me for almost a week and we had a better time than I had ever hoped we could have. I lost sleep for quite a while prior to her visit trying to figure out how and where she would meet me. We have very little cell service in the mountains, and you never know what kind of terrain will be involved in the hike. So coordinating is just really hard -- approaching nearly impossible at times.
Did I mention that you never ever know if there will be a road anywhere near where you need to meet someone?
So anyway, about a month ago I told my wife Christina that we should meet at the top of Mt. Washington, the tallest summit on the trail. Well, we were only like two hours off as I was at the summit waiting at noon, but Christina's calculations of the drive from Ohio to New Hampshire were fractionally off (two hours) -- through no fault of her own.
We were stuck deciding whether or not to hike off the mountain -- which is known for some of the worst weather in the world literally -- in the late afternoon, with rain on the radar and the wind blowing at times well over 60 miles per hour, or move to plan "B," which did not exist at the time.
So Amelia -- first time hiker Amelia -- visited and hiked with her dad in "The Whites" in New Hampshire, generally known as the most difficult part of the entire trail. She hiked all four peaks of the brutally hard Wildcat Mountain, Carter Dome (elevation 4,832 feet), Mt. Hight and Mt. Moriah -- most of the peaks between 4,000 and 4,800 feet high. The "ups" were as hard as any on the trail and the downs were as "white knuckle" as any or all the others. She never missed a beat.
We camped one night; stayed in a shelter one night; were in a hostel a night; and "worked for stay" in Carter Notch Hut - the latter stay the most interesting of all. The following morning at Carter Notch, the lead attendant of the Hut updated everyone on projected weather for the day: "Overcast, with a chance of rain around 40 percent and winds projected to be 40-55 mph with gusts of up to, yep, 90 mph."
We were going up the Wildcats that day, which, more than anything, are a lot of slick granite slabs approaching vertical in slope. While we swept the guest bunk house of the Hut for the work part of our "work for stay" that morning, my brain kept harrassing me about even considering the possibility of going out into that weather on that mountain with my only daughter.
It was very hard, difficult, and at times a fun day. No slips or miss-grabs were allowed. I won't tell you what the penalty would have been. Concentration was simple and very focused on the exact location, condition and tractability of only our very next step. And since Amelia was so focused on the ground immediately in front of her, she naturally found over five pounds of pretty stones that she proceeded to put into her already overweight pack so she could gift them to her friends back in San Francisco.
Every time she spotted one she let out a faint squeal, and every time I started to admonish her for not concentrating on her net step or for slowing down the hike, I bit my lip and slapped myself for even considering spoiling her hike. My lip will probably never recover.
On her last day, we took day-packs out and got dropped off about 14 miles down the trail to the north and then hiked south back to where we were staying (called slack packing). We covered a lot of ground, and the hike was more like a normal hike with a fair amount of level ground and some simple painful "ups," but none of the white-knuckle, dangerous, father-stressing ones. And for that I was so grateful.
Amelia spent about half her annual vacation and a significant amount of money hiking with her dad -- as did her younger brother Carl- - and for that I am so grateful, proud and, as always, inspired. Their older brother Hans would have done the same, except he works for a real grouch (me) and doesn’t' have enough vacation to spend it putzing up and down mountains with the old man. I know he would if he could.
I could write about this hike and never stop. There is so much material and so many people I could share with you. Maybe I will. But at the end of the day I am simply thankful for my family, for our safety, for my amazing wife, and for things that don't always really make a lot of sense -- like an old guy like me hiking this Appalachian Trail.