Days 167 - 171
Here it is, y'all! The first of the weekly roundup trail journals. If you miss the single day posts, pester me to write my book!!
Day 167: Mile 1705.1 | Gifford Woods State Park (Lean - To)
Day 168: Mile 1725.6 | The Harrington's House
On day 168 we got up early! Sunrise early! Miles and I hiked as fast as we could all day so that we could meet up with my cousin, Sam, in Woodstock (and make some progress because we had been 'chillin'). It was a big day for us, a full 21 miles over some big hills. Out first trailside attraction was a beautiful waterfall with a lovely board walk to accompany it.
It was a chilly morning but it was beautiful. We powered through the day and I didn't really get tired until almost 14 miles in. We stopped for breaks, of course, and late in the day we came across a rock garden where we took our longest break. We pushed through the butt, knee, and calf pain to make it up to Woodstock. We crested the hill before the place where we agreed to meet her and the rolling green hay fields brought me back to childhood memories.
My sister and I stayed with their family during so many of our childhood summers. We would swim, ride horses, go to York Beach in Maine, and dress in matching outfits for all photos. The smell of the hay field in the warm afternoon sun and the green mountains that surrounded them reminded me of the hay fort days and riding horses through the woods. In the winters sometimes we would visit them, too, and Uncle Bob would take us to gather maple sugar and go sledding.
Somehow, I realized, I had lost a lot of these memories. Only now, the smell of the hay strong in the humid summer air, did I remember them more vividly. All along on trail I'd been remembering things I'd forgotten or blurred out. It seemed like, as the depression lifted, my memories began to return. A slow trickling stream of memories triggered by smells or sounds or feelings.
Like pine needles baking in the air by a stream reminded me of the picnics I used to take my dolls on. Or the crisp air one February morning by a rhododendron bush felt like the forts we used to make out of the suburban rhododendron bushes in Massachusetts. Listening to Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me! brought back Saturday morning road trips. Friendships I'd forgotten, cousins who had practically been my siblings, and silly memories with my sister would flow back randomly and slowly.
The fog of depression blew away and the SSRI's stopped numbing me as they left my blood stream. At this point in my journey the medications I had been taking before I left were finally out of my system. For the first two months on trail some of my medications still affected me, but as more of a half life dose. I noticed the more time I spent alone with my thoughts in the woods (no podcasts, no music, no Miles), the more memories I began to recover that I hadn't even realized I'd lost.
We made it to Woodstock, VT by 2pm and Sam picked us up at the trailhead. While she was looking for the trailhead to pick us up at she had found a couple of other AT hikers nearby and she'd offered them a ride back to the trail. We ended up bringing them home with us. Its funny how the trail community seems so small but we were always meeting new people. Ring and KStar came back to the Harrington house with us. We swam in the pool, Sam made us dinner, and KStar and Ringo decided to sleep outside in their tent. Sam set up Miles and I in one of the guest rooms upstairs.
I stayed up and caught up with my cousin for a few hours. We stood out on the porch and talked about the past and the future and growing up. How much we'd missed in each other's lives when we all got busy after middle school. In the living room we sat in the reclining chairs and talked about her new path: Norwich University, a military school. I headed to bed around midnight and said goodnight to my not so long lost cousin.
Day 169: Mile 1740.5 | Podunk Brook
It was 91F out the next day. Deadly heat. Thankfully, Vermont had more water sources than most of the previous three states had. We took many breaks and ended up camping right near KStar and Ringo that night!
Day 170: Mile 1750.6 | Velvet Rocks Shelter
We made it to New Hampshire on day 170! We crossed into Hanover, New Hampshire, home of Dartmouth, on the longest, paved road walk yet on another hot day. I got a terrible sunburn on my way. Miles made it far ahead of me but I went slow. My knees were bothering me terribly. The trail lead right through town right past the college. I met Miles at the Starbucks, right on trail. Together, we went to the post office where our Mom's had both sent us packages and Miles' sister, Robin, had sent us a trail magic surprise from Washington. I got new shoes in my box, knee braces, and lots of food.
We got Indian food for lunch and, back at Starbucks, I blogged for most of the afternoon in the air conditioned building. We hiked out to the first New Hampshire shelter after that. Honestly, I thought I would feel relief and excitement when I got to New Hampshire. I thought I'd cry tears of joy when I saw those two silly letters on the bridge into Hanover. I imagined I'd sit there and think about how far I'd come for a while. But in the hot sun, I was exhausted. I snapped a quick photo with my phone on 1% battery and I trudged on over the hard pavement. I don't think my brain could really comprehend that I'd walked here.
Day 171: Mile 1780.7 | Bracket Brook
Our second day in New Hampshire I ran into an old friend. Do you all remember Turbo? From my first couple of weeks on trail? I hiked with him up to Franklin, North Carolina along with Hott Dogg and Pioneer. Well, he found me in New Hampshire! On my way up to the Mt. Smarts fire tower Miles and I had split up. I wanted to take my time and he wanted to go fast. So we agreed on a place where we might camp if I could make it that far and he went on ahead. Anyway, Turbo let me pass him on an uphill, and he looked very familiar. I said, "Turbo!? Is that you?" "Life Aler?!" He responded. I nodded. We stopped.
"Holy Smokes!" He said, "I thought you'd gone home! I'm so glad you're still out here!" Turbo and I had started on the same day, we realized, and we were some of the last February start northbound hikers still out on the trail. We compared our plans for Katahdin and, at the time, our summit date was the same. How crazy would it be if we finished on the same day!? We marveled at our encounter. On the uphill I kept his pace, we talked about all the things that had happened since we'd last seen each other. The people that got off trail, the friends we made, the crazy weather. Eventually, he needed to stop for a break but I kept going. I promised I'd see him again and we took one last photo together.
On top of Smarts I saw some incredible views. I took them in by myself and meditated in the fire tower. After that, I made myself lunch. For once, I wasn't concerned about whether or not I would catch up to Miles. I wasn't worried about camping alone. I was proud of myself and I felt strong. I didn't stop once climbing up Smarts and I had proved everyone wrong. I stayed out here, I got stronger, I shook my depression, I'd made it so much farther than 1700 miles. I'd made it somewhere mentally and that was what really mattered.
I climbed Mt. Cube after Mt. Smarts. Cube was one of the coolest climbs. In the sunset light, the golden hour, the pink and white quartzite glowed. The biggest pink chunks of rock I'd ever seen. At the time, I was listening to a story read by Levar Burton on his podcast called The Flyers of Gy. A fantastical story with vivid descriptions of winged creatures and beautiful landscapes. The almost fantastical landscape that appeared before me as I climbed up the open ledges were only enhanced by the beautiful sci fi story.
I did make it to where Miles had camped that night. I was a few hours behind him, but I didn't care. I had the best day that day and I made it to that campsite before dark. I thought I could never make it there before dark and that maybe I'd need to stop and camp early because I was so tired but I had made it. I felt stronger than ever. Miles and I caught up on our days. He told me about this amazing woman who was running a long stretch of the AT that day who had started at 2 in the morning! He had kept up with her all the way up Smarts!
I spoke to my parents the next day and made arrangements with them to meet me near Mt. Moosilauke to pick me up and take me home for a night! They even offered to slack pack us! They'd first proposed the idea when we were in Massachusetts. We told them we'd think about it.