9 miles, 1859 overall (Stealth camp)
As I was getting ready for bed last night a Canadian sobo caught me and chatted with me about my hiker talk. I figured out pretty quickly that he wasn’t so interested in hearing my thoughts as explaining his, so I let him talk hoping that he would finish quickly so I could go to sleep. During our hiker talk he had asked whether we considered our time on the trail to be time off. I answered by explaining that while it can be an enjoyable experience that I still approach hiking like it is my job, getting up every day and going to work. While he has me caught listening to him the hiker explains that he asked the question because he considers his hike to be “time on” while his life back home with family, work, etc is “time off” because the “real” life is out here. It is a common sentiment on the trail and he seems pleased with himself about the time off/on piece. He tells me that he knows more about me from my hiker talk than he knows about his coworkers. Although I simply nod and give a lot of “Mmhmm’s” while he is talking I have to say I don’t agree with his point. First, I wonder what his wife and kids would think about not being included in his “real” life. Second, if he doesn’t know anything about his coworkers then I wonder why he doesn’t ask them. But my biggest problem with this whole perspective is that it separates one piece of a hiker’s life from the rest. I don’t view my hike as being separate from the rest of my life but rather part of it. Perhaps it helps that I have things I’m going back to and, perhaps more importantly, things I’m looking forward to after my hike. Many hikers come out here because they don’t have a clear idea what they want to do next in their life, or they want to escape jobs they don’t like or choices they need to make. I don’t have any of these problems so while I appreciate the idea that it is nice to get away from the hustle and bustle, I can’t say that I agree with his time on/off dichotomy.
Unfortunately I chose perhaps the worst spot to sleep last night. Thru-hikers are allowed to stay on the dining room floor in the huts. I chose a spot directly next to the walkway from the guest rooms to the restrooms. All night long people with weak bladders walk by, shaking the floor and slamming doors. I don’t sleep well, and at 6:00 I have to get up and get packed before guests come out for breakfast.
I decide to wait for breakfast leftovers. I’m still a little worried about how much food I have left for what should be 3 more days in the Whites, plus the breakfast should be far better than a bagel and peanut butter. Gumpy, Peeper, et al leave early to try to get to Pinkham Notch where they plan to get picked up to stay somewhere.
Leftovers are great and I wolf them down so I can get moving. I don’t leave far behind Five Pair who arrived late last night. She is nervous about the forecast of rain today as well as the rocky trail, neither of which are things she enjoys. I hike with her to the summit of Mt Washington an easy thousand feet above the hut. We pose for pictures with the sign at the top, check out the Tip Top House, a hotel-turned-museum, and then head into the visitor center to check out the snack bar. I find all kinds of resupply options there and end up grabbing a bagel, Clif bar, sandwich for lunch, a piece of carrot cake, and a soda. I sit and eat the cake and soda before leaving. I soon regret the decision.
When I leave I find that Five Pair has already left. As I start hiking I can feel the sugar rush and together with the hiking it makes me feel sick. I hike slowly as my body processes the sugary torture. Still I soon catch Five Pair who had thought I left ahead of her. I feel bad leaving her when she is so worried about the rocks and the weather so I slow down and decide to hike with her for the day. While the pace is slow I appreciate the opportunity to take my time and enjoy my last day in the Presidentials. The trail is still above treeline and, not trying to make miles, I’m able to soak up the views.
Five Pair is moving slower than I thought she would. I soon realize we are only covering about a mile an hour. I had planned to get to Pinkham Notch today but at this rate it won’t happen. I set my sights on a campsite a bit closer, which would be a 10 mile day instead of a 15. As we hike I watch the weather around us. To the west I can see it raining in a valley but that system is moving north parallel to us and doesn’t pose a threat. However fog keeps rolling in from the east and it seems like something might be brewing.
Around 3:30 we reach Madison Hut. On the way down Indiana passes us and gets there first. We chat with him while grabbing a snack. On the way in it started to sprinkle so he plans to ask about work-for-stay. Five Pair and I have to decide whether to do the same or to hike on. Chances are if we wanted to stay they would let us because of the weather, but both of us want to get more miles in. If we stopped here it would only make 7 miles for the day. Five Pair wants to get to Pinkham Notch where a friend is going to pick her up. I know that is out of the question but we could at least get closer for tomorrow.
We decide to chance the weather and hike on. It is sunny again when we leave and I start to think we made the right choice. We climb Mt Madison and then begin the long descent to Pinkham. As we are descending it starts getting foggy again. I hope it is just fog and not a storm moving in, but my hopes dwindle when it begins to sprinkle. Over the next hour the rain gets steadily heavier and we begin to hear thunder in the distance. It is still far away but it is not comforting since we are still on a ridge above treeline. I try to get Five Pair to hike faster so we can make it to the campsite but the combination of rocks and water conspire to slow us down even more.
The rain becomes heavy enough that I have to put on my poncho. Now I am mentally berating myself for deciding to hike on and for staying back with Five Pair. If I had hiked at my own pace today I could probably be at Pinkham Notch by now eating dinner at the visitor center. If we hadn’t hiked on from the hut we would be dry and eating a hot dinner. I apologize to Five Pair for making a bad decision but she is convinced that she is the one who made the decision to keep hiking and takes the blame on herself.
Either way, we are now wet and will be setting up camp in the rain. I am anxious to get below treeline and finally, around 5:30, we reach the forest. Just as we leave the alpine zone, where trees are shorter than 8 feet and camping isn’t allowed, I see a stealth spot off the trail. Even better I see another right across from it. We consider these spots briefly before hiking on, hoping for some better spots soon and knowing that worst case the campsite is only another mile. Not 5 minutes later I look to the left and see a trail through the trees to a small clearing. After we inspect it we decide to go ahead and make camp.
Just as we start setting up our tents the rain really lets loose on us. Unfortunately we don’t think before starting to set up and we each start setting up our own tents. I quickly notice the error, realizing that it would be easier if we each helped set up the other’s tent. I take a break from setting up mine to help Five Pair with hers. Once hers is done though I don’t bother asking for help with mine. She is already soaked and I’m worried about her morale so I let her get in and get dry. It doesn’t take long for me to finish setting mine up and to get in.
Almost everything is wet but fortunately the important things remained dry. I peel off the wet clothes and clump them in one end of the tent. I immediately feel warmer. My thermometer reads 60 but since we’re wet I’m still worried about hypothermia. I eat some food, opting for a no-cook dinner tonight consisting of the sandwich I bought on Mt Washington and never ate, a Clif bar, a Snickers, and some gorp. By the time I’ve eaten my skin is somewhat dry so I pull on some dry clothes, take out the sleeping bag, and get in. Pretty soon I am toasty warm inside. It was a long day so we opt to go to sleep early. We are still high on the mountain so there weren’t really any options for hanging a quick bear line. I sleep with the food in my vestibule for what I believe is the first time this trip. As a deterrent I plan to clear my throat or make some other distinctly human noise whenever I wake up during the night just in case a curious mammal happens to be nearby. My bigger worry is how to dry out tomorrow on the Appalachian Trail.