Thursday, October 31, 2019

Happy All Hallows Eve!

Wishing a happy and safe Halloween to my family and friends.  Stay spooky my friends!!!

Happy All Hallows Eve to everyone!!!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Sixth (Second) Caminoversary

Today is the sixth anniversary of the end of my second Camino.  The Camino was talked about often on the Appalachian Trail.  Everyone seemed to either know about it, wanted to do it someday, or had already done it.  All I can say is the Appalachian Trail is a totally different animal from the Camino.

Fisterra sunset in the clouds.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Aches, Pains, And Promises

Not my hat but I agree
with the message.
Sixteen days have passed since I got off the Appalachian Trail (AT).  My body is still aching and suffering from various pains in odd places.  Both knees are sore when I bend them and my legs are shaky when I go up and down stairs.  My right calf still has a lump from when I dove head first off the bridge.  My left elbow still stings from hitting stone when I slipped and landed in the creek.  My left big toe, which became infected as a new toe nail was growing in, still hurts with a pain similar to an ingrown toenail.  Lastly, for some unknown reason, the muscles across the top of my back ache.

The strange thing is that many of these issues didn't bother me as I was hiking.  They all manifested full force once I'd quit.  It's like my body was saving up the aches and pains for when I was done.  Fortunately some of the discomfort is fading.  I am considering going to the doctor for the big toe and the lump on my calf since they are not getting much better.

The discomfort I am feeling just proves I made the right decision to quit.  Back in 2017 before my first AT attempt I listed reasons why I was doing it.  Those reasons were the same for this attempt as well.  The first reason - the physical challenge - turned out to be a bit beyond my capabilities as my continued aches and pains attest.  I'm sure I would have hurt myself more seriously if I'd pushed on.

The mental challenge of the AT was, in many ways, more difficult than the physical challenge.  I think my final decision came not when I physically couldn't do it but when I lost the mental struggle.  The isolation I felt in the last month and a half took a hard toll on my psyche and chipped away at my will to finish the thru-hike.  Being out of touch with the 'real world' has lead to some shock on returning home.  I've forgotten things that I did everyday for years.  I'm having to relearn my domestic life.  It's an odd feeling.

As for spiritual healing, the AT is not the Camino and the healing I sought eluded me.  I did work through some personal questions I've been struggling with but I didn't find all my answers.  I think some questions can never be answered to our satisfaction.

The last reason was to keep a promise I made to my friend GV.  I had her picture in my pocket the whole way and I am sure she would understand my decision to end my attempt.  I'm sure she would be impressed with the effort I put in this time and I have no reason to be ashamed as I was last time.

This AT thru-hike attempt ended quite differently for me.  I am not embarrassed.  I have few regrets.  I am not ashamed.  I am a bit disappointed but I am in a much better place than I was two years ago.

I'm ready for the next adventure, whatever that may be, as long as it's not a six month ordeal like the Appalachian Trail.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Photograph: "Sun-Clouds-Silhouette - From A Bus Window"

The view from my bus window as it pulled into Boston on my way home from the Appalachian Trail.

"Sun-Clouds-Silhouette - From a bus window"
by Bruce H.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Appalachian Trail: The End Of An Adventure ... (?)

My 1,893.7 mile path.
I called my first Appalachian Trail (AT) attempt in 2017 a failure.  I was embarrassed, ashamed, and full of regret.  This time I am disappointed but I'm proud of what I did accomplish and have few regrets.

The AT was not what I expected.  My body gave out.  I expected that I would get stronger and have greater stamina the more I hiked.  This seems to be far from what happened.  It seems I peaked physically after the first couple of months then plateaued before declining after Pennsylvania.  Some of the decline was due to trail conditions (i. e. rocks) but I saw little improvement after the trail conditions improved. It was a bit demoralizing not to be able to do longer days like I could earlier on the AT.  The result was my plan, which assumed me getting stronger, was too aggressive.

Next I was also surprised by my interactions with other thru-hikers.  I was hoping for a more social experience with a group of new friendships that would last for years.  That is what I got out of my first Camino.   Why would the AT be any different?  It was different.  I met many people and formed fleeting friendships but they were always a bit superficial and never ended with any long term friendship.  Sometimes it was my fault for not trying harder to participate in social situations but when I'm exhausted I often become quiet and self-isolating. This often made my hike a lonely one especially after the midpoint when the number of thru-hikers thinned out.  This can drag on a person's mental state.

Lastly there was a lack of physical contact.  During the almost six months on the trail the only physical contact I had with another human being were fist bumps (the traditional thru-hiker greeting), the occasional hand shake, a massage I paid for in Waynesboro, VA, and a hug I got from George.  This can also drag on a person's mental state.

Not everything was bad.  The parts of America I saw along the way were beautiful and varied.  While parts of the trail are the proverbial green tunnel, where there were views they almost always made me pause to take it all in.

The people I met, even if for a ephemeral moment, were always wonderful.  You rediscover that there are incredibly nice people out there looking after you.  Your faith in humanity is bolstered with every encounter.

So, why did I quit when I was so close?  It was the unexpected aspects of the AT that forced me to quit.  Me not getting stronger meant I had to add more days to my plan which pushed my arrival at Katahdin to after the mountain would close for the winter.  This was exacerbated by the shortening of the days reducing the time I had to hike.  The lack of social interaction started to push me towards depression (they say hiking helps depression ... not necessarily for me, I guess).  Spiritually ... well at times my spirit was curled in a ball rocking back and forth in the corner.  All these things were often balanced out by meeting milestones that boosted my spirit but they all reached a critical mass near the end that overcame any high I got from reaching another milestone.

Now that I'm home, I have decision to make.  Do I return and do the last three hundred miles?  Obviously the thru-hiker title is out of the question now.  If I did come back and finish it I would be a LASH (Long Ass Section Hiker) which is not a bad thing.  The problem is I know what is waiting for me in southwest Maine and I have to decide how much of a masochist I am.  The mountains of Maine are said to be similar to the Whites in difficulty.  I guess my decision will hinge on how fast bad memories fade.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Another Year For The Wife, Another Happy Birthday!

I want to wish my wonderful wife a very Happy Birthday.  Her support while I was on the Appalachian Trail made my achievement possible.  The last six months were hard on her but she never wavered in her encouragement.  For that, and so much more, I Love her deeply.

Happy Birthday!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Pinkham Notch To US 2 (Gorham, NH)

🐻 x 6
🦌 x 1
I've been wrestling with a decision for weeks.  I bet you know what that decision was.  The final decision clicked into place during this section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) and a choice became clear.

The fall colors in the White Mountains.
Day 175 - I was dropped off at Pinkham Notch and I started up the Wildcat Mountains.  I'd woken up a bit bummed this morning and I felt a bit emotional as I climbed the steep rocky trail.  I think it was running into George that did it.  I realized that everyone I met in the south and cared about were either forever ahead of me, had flip flopped and I'd met them going south (like Sista', Tarzan, and George), or had already quit the AT (George told me that Salamander had quit at one thousand four hundred miles and Ruckus had cracked some ribs wrestling and had left).  This made the trail feel incredibly lonely for me.  Combining this with the fact my body simply wasn't recovering every night like it did down south and I missed home, the pieces clicked into place and the choice was clear.  I was going to quit my AT thru-hike attempt.

I arrived at the Carter Notch Hut.  The Hut was transitioning from summer full service to winter self service.  They let me and a couple other thru-hikers sleep in the bunk room.

In better weather the colors would
have reflected in the pond.
Day 176 - I crossed the Carters - Carter Dome, Middle Carter, and North Carter mountains. Despite having over ten hours of sleep I had little energy. Every rock, every labored step reinforced my decision to quit.

There were few views today due to low clouds and fog but occasionally I got glimpses of the fall colors.  The reds, oranges, and yellows always made me smile despite how tired I felt.

I reached the Imp Shelter.  My goal was five or six miles farther ahead but I couldn't do it.  I stopped at Imp for the night.

Day 177 - I slipped three times on my last day on the trail.  After I crossed my last mountain, Mt Moriah, I was heading mostly down hill.  The trail went from rocky to not so bad dirt/rock/root mix.  It's these nicer trails that get me.  I lower my defenses as I push myself to move faster.

The early morning light on my last day on the AT.
The first two slips were minor.  A banged knee here.  An overextended knee there.  A few bruises.  The third was a bit more ironic.  I was rushing the last two miles because I wanted to beat the coming rain and be dry when I got to the hostel.  I reached a stream.  The bank was a broad smooth granite shelf.  I approached the edge intending to step down when my feet went out from under me.  I ended up sitting in six inches of cold water.  The only casualty was a smacked funny bone that numbed my left arm.   My pants sort of dried by the time I got to the hostel.

The slips and falls I've been having lately just reinforced to me that it was time to come home.

The AT gave me a parting gift though.  I heard a noise ahead and a large moose came out on the trail ahead of me.  It moved away from me before turning off trail.  It paused to look at me before it went deeper into the woods.  Sadly, no pictures.  Also sadly there is no moose emoji so I had to use a deer head in the counter at the top of the post.

More about my leaving the AT in my next post.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 1,893.7 Miles (3,047.6 km)
Section Distance: 20.2 Miles (32.5 km)
Section Elevation Up: 7,311 ft (2,228 m)
Section Elevation Down: 8,164 ft (2,488 m)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Lincoln, NH To Pinkham Notch

The words of the week are Vortex and Brutal.
  • A Vortex is a trail town that sucks you in and won't let you go.  Lincoln, NH was a vortex for me.  
  • Everyone I talked with in the Whites used the same word to describe the trails: Brutal.  I can't come up with a better word.  The trails were truly sadistic.
The difficulty of the trail during the last five or six days was several orders of magnitude greater than what I've experienced on the Appalachian Trail (AT) or any trail I've hiked.  Parts of the descents were potentially life threatening where a trip or slip could lead to a serious or lethal head injury.  I questioned and still question if this was worth the risk.  But ... for some reason I hike on.

On my way to Mt Lafayette.
Day 167 - To reduce the amount of food I was going to have to carry I decided to slack pack the Kinsman Notch to Franconia Notch segment of the AT.  This would be my first slack pack.  Slack packing is hiking without a pack.  You carry only water, water treatment, and snacks.  You still walk the distance but you are carrying a lot less weight.  Since this was my first time I would be doing a relatively short day to feel out how much easier it actually is.

It turns out that it really doesn't make it that much easier.  At the start I felt less stress on the joints which was welcome.  What it didn't do was allow me to hike faster.  Half way through I realized I was going to get to Franconia Notch at or shortly after sunset.  The rest of the hike was a forced march down a rocky trail in a race against the fading sun.  Needless to say my first slack packing experience was not very fun and stressful.

On the way down from North Kinsman Mountain my left knee began to hurt.  Eighteen hundred miles and now my knee starts to hurt.  At this point I started to ask why I was doing this.  Had my body reached its physical limits?  Was it time to go home?

I arrived at a parking lot just as the last light of the sun was fading.  As I pulled out my phone to call a shuttle a car pulled up and asked if I needed a ride to Lincoln.  I said sure and they took me back to my hotel.  Trail magic.

I called the Wife to talk about my thoughts.  She encouraged me to keep going.  I was not totally convinced that keeping going is the right option but continue I will ... for now.

The mountains go on forever.
Day 168 - I was supposed to continue hiking today but decided to risk not making it to Katahdin in time and took another zero day to let my knee rest.  Lincoln turned out to be my vortex, sucking me in and not letting me go without a struggle.

Even panoramas can not capture the sweeping views.
Day 169 - I made it out of town.  My shuttle dropped me off at Franconia Notch and I headed up Franconia Ridge.  It was a beautiful day and the views once you got up to the top of the ridge were awesome.

The climb up Little Haystack Mountain, Mt Lincoln, and Mt Lafayette went well. The difficulty started when you descended Lafayette.  The rocky descent slowed me to a crawl and the knee pain returned.

After one last climb and decent of Mt Garfield I arrived at Garfield Ridge Shelter.  It was a ten mile day and I got there just before dark.  It was a cold night with a frost advisory.  I stayed warm in the shelter.

Yes, fall colors are making an appearance.
Day 170 - My goal was the Ethan Pond Shelter around fifteen miles ahead but I knew I wouldn't make it.  There was only one climb. But I learned that in the Whites the descents were the hard part that slowed me to a crawl.  Sure enough, the descent from South Twin Mountain sucked the life out of me.

I stopped after less than  ten miles at the Zealand Falls Hut.  The huts are run by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC).  They are beautiful cabins/lodges with running water, some solar electricity, and food.  They are also expensive.  Fortunately the AMC offers a few spots for thru-hikers to work for stay.  I washed dishes and was allowed to eat cold leftovers and to sleep on the floor once the paying guests went to bed.   The food was excellent.

That night the stars were out in force.  I slept well once the class of middle schoolers finally quieted down.

How many colors do you want?
Day 171 - I was told that the Ethan Pond Trail, which the AT follows, was going to be an easy hike.  I've learned to take these comments with a grain of salt.  Nevertheless I planned for a longer day.

I left the hut and soon joined the Ethan Pond Trail.  Wow.  The trail was smooth and rock free.  It climbed slowly over seven miles or so.  I blazed through this section averaging over two miles per hour for the first time in a long time.  I was bummed when the trail returned to its rocky ways.

The extra speed gave me time to climb Mt Webster and Mt Jackson in time to arrive at Mizpah Springs Hut.  I decided to shell out the fee and get a bunk and hot meal here.  After eating a great meal I went to bed early.  My bunk room in this three story hut was empty.  It was nice to have a quiet and warm place to sleep.

The sun is struggling to get through the clouds.
Day 172 - This was going to be a big day.  I was going to knock off most of the Presidentials today.  I was getting ready to leave before breakfast when the cook (the hut cook rotates through the hut's four "croo" members and is also the person in charge that day) asked if I wanted some pancakes to go.  She bagged up four pancakes and I put them in my pack for later.

The day started foggy and cloudy. There were hardly a view for the first five miles.  I stopped at the Lake of the Clouds Hut to use the privy and to refill my water.

I'm heading for those mountains.
As I climbed up My Washington, the highest of the Presidentials, the clouds cleared out and the sweeping views returned.  At the top it was crowded.  You can drive or ride a short two car train up to the top.  The line in the restaurant was too long for me to get anything so I bought a magnet and started back down the other side of Mt Washington.

The next six miles were a slow, rocky slog up, down, and around mountains.  I snapped off a trekking pole and smacked my right knee on a rock in the process.  I was able to repair my pole somewhat but my knee bruised and would hurt the next few days.

The Madison Springs Hut at the base of Mt Madison.
I arrived at the Madison Springs Hut.  I ended up paying a small price for cold leftovers and a space on the floor.    The food here, like all of the huts, was excellent.  This hut was also full of kids.

I shared the floor with two non-AT hikers.  One girl was doing the forty-eight mountain challenge doing the forty-eight tallest mountains in New Hampshire.  She was curious about the AT and we discussed our hiking experiences.

The view from Mt Madison.  That is fog in the valleys.
Day 173 - I got out early and headed up Mt Madison.  The climb up was rocky and slow but relatively short.  The views this day were gorgeous.  The forty-eight mountain challenge girl joined me here briefly.  We said our goodbyes as she headed back the way she came and I took the AT down the other side.

The way down was brutal.  I felt like I was constantly starting to fall.  I'm not sure if my sense of balance was working properly.  I averaged a half a mile an hour down this rocky, sadistic trail.

Part ways down I ran into Tarzan and Sista' who had flip flopped (jumped north to Katahdin and then hiked south).  We chatted a while before my struggle to get down the hill continued.

Despite the yellow arrow, the Appalachian Trail is not the Camino de Santiago.
The trail finally calmed down and I started to make up some time.  I was maybe a quarter mile from Pinkham Notch when I approached a bridge over a creek.  The bridge was wide, flat, and had no railing.  My thoughts were elsewhere when my foot caught on a rock.  I was going down hard.  I thought I would land on the bridge but then realized I was going over the side. At some point while I was diving head first off the bridge my leg hit the edge of the bridge which caused me to flip.  I landed flat on my back in the rocky creek bed.  My backpack cushioned the fall - it felt like I was landing on a marshmallow.  I ended with a nasty bruise just under my right knee and abrasions on the back of my right hand and right shoulder where I probably hit a rock.   I was lucky.

I got to the Pinkham Notch visitors center and called a hostel for a pick up.  At the hostel I found George who I hadn't seen since Harper's Ferry.  She'd been stuck in the hostel vortex for twelve days.  We hugged and smiled our way through our reunion.  She had flipped at Kent, CT and would be heading south ... eventually.  She was not only completing her AT but also hiking home to North Carolina.

Day 174 - I expected to be sore from my fall when I woke up but the swelling near the bruised calf had gone down and, while stiff, I was not as achy as I thought I would be.

I took the hostel's free shuttle to Walmart for resupply.  I changed my plan slightly adding a day.  I'm not sure how easy or hard it will be.  I'm hoping it will be a little easier than what I just went through.  Southwest Maine is not supposed to be easy but I can't imagine anything harder than the Whites.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 1,872.6 Miles (3,013.6 km)
Section Distance: 69.1 Miles (111.2 km)
Section Elevation Up: 22,961 ft (6,998 m)
Section Elevation Down: 23,098 ft (7,040 m)

Note: The extra blue line pointing to Lincoln was due to me
forgetting to turn off my GPS.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Happy First Day Of Autumn!!!

I want to wish everyone a very happy first day of Autumn.  The fall is one of my favorite as the leaves change and the air turns crisp.

It's kind of hard to see but many of these leaves are bright red and orange.
The turning of the leaves is becoming more apparent here in New Hampshire.  While it is hard to see in many of my Appalachian Trail photos there is more and more color decorating the mountains.  I can't wait to see what's to come.

Happy fall equinox everyone!!! 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Hanover, NH To Lincoln, NH

I'm approaching the White Mountains.  This is possibly the most difficult part of the Appalachian Trail (AT).  High elevations, rocky climbs, and few opportunities to resupply.  The first of the Whites, Mt. Moosilauke, was a positive preview that I hope carries through the rest of the Whites.

A view of the mountains to come.
Day 160 - I slept in a bit and had breakfast before checking out and going to the post office next door.  I picked up the replacement segment for my broken trekking pole and I was ready to go.

Since I was leaving late I planned a short day to Moose Mountain Shelter.  I was later joined by thru-hikers Luna and Early Bird.

You want me to climb that?!?
Day 161 - My next target was the Fire Warden's Cabin on the top of Smarts Mountain.  This would be another short day.  Despite the shortness of the day it was still difficult due to all the climbing involved.

I arrived at the cabin and settled in.  I was tired.  I didn't feel the extra calories I'd been eating after leaving town.  I was just as pooped as before.

The sun started to go down and I was alone in the cabin.  I'd expected not be alone but I was wrong.  I set up my sleeping pad in a corner and went to bed early.  I woke up when I heard the rain and was happy to be in a dry and fairly warm place.

Mushrooms?  Eggs?  Easter Bunny poop?
Day 162 - My lack of planning caught up with me.  Mt. Moosilauke, the first of the White Mountains, was approaching and the short days I'd just done hadn't put me in a good position to tackle the climb.  I had to go as far as I could to get close to the base of the mountain.

I ran out of steam at the base of Mist Mountain.  I'd hoped that I would at least reach the top of this shorter mountain.  I stealth camped near a creek at the bottom.  While I was eating dinner I stepped on a ground bee's nest.  In the mild chaos I was stung on my neck.

The trail leads to Mt. Moosilauke straight ahead.
Day 163 - I climbed up and over Mist Mountain and reached the base of Mt Moosilauke.  I filled my water bottle and added some caffeine.  I'd been off caffeine for a couple weeks but I figured the 3,800 ft (1158 m) climb needed an extra boost.

The climb up the south side of the mountain was surprisingly gentle.  It went straight up the mountain for a while before becoming a rock climb.  The rock climb ends at a narrow ridge the leads you to the last four hundred foot climb to the summit.

Follow the cairns.
Rock cairns lead you above the tree line to the summit.  The drizzle that I walked through in the morning was gone and a cold wind blew at the top.  The views from Moosilauke were pretty awesome and were a preview of the views coming in the rest of the Whites.  More surprising was the fact that I felt really good.  I am guessing that the caffeine with the higher calorie intake worked together to power me up the mountain.

I talked to a couple day hikers before heading down the North side.  The trail started out muddy before turning steeply down a rocky trail.  This really slowed me down.  Part way down, just past the 1,800 mile mark, I turned off the trail and stopped at the Beaver Brook Shelter.  I was only a mile and a half away from the road where I could catch a shuttle but it was still a 1,800 ft climb down a very rocky trail.  Stopping at the shelter was the wise choice I think.

I was joined by Early Bird in the shelter for a very chilly evening,

Days 164, 165 & 166 - I slept in a bit - it's hard to get out of your sleeping bag when it's cold.  It took me nearly two hours to climb down to the parking lot and Kinsman Notch.  I called a shuttle and headed into Lincoln, NH.

I took two zero days after the nearo into town.  I wanted to give my body a really good rest prior to tackling the Whites.  I also resupplied and got a haircut.

I'm off to the Whites. My original plan had three days to get to Gorham, NH.  Since I expect the Whites to be more difficult I am adding a day and, in a way, winging it.  It will be challenging and interesting ... and a bit scary too.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 1,802.6 Miles (2,901.0 km)
Section Distance: 53.4 Miles (85.9 km)
Section Elevation Up: 15,894 ft (4,845 m)
Section Elevation Down: 14,193 ft (4,326 m)