When I started out to hike the Carter’s, a number of difficult situations were happening all at once. Things were becoming confusing in my life on both a personal and professional level. Mistakes were being made and there seemed like no way to correct things. I was riding a wave and hoping that I didn’t crash on the shore. I was feeling as though the remainder of the 48 would be solo and while not wanting them to be, I was preparing myself for that fact. I waited for signs and hoped that I did no more damage.
The actual day I decided to hike the Carter range (Dome, Middle, and South), after a number of postponements, was a Thursday. I was not on vacation. Nor was I granted time off from my job. Well, not in the traditional sense. Two days prior, I had been let go from my position as an outreach therapist for at risk kids. The full extent of the blow (or blows), had not been felt yet. I was both excited and scared for all that lay ahead of me. It felt very strange for me to be heading north during the week when everyone else was heading to work south. I crept around the house even though my partner was no there. I had grown accustom to the uncertainty but I was not use to putting things on hold and wondering what the outcome would be. And that included my finishing the 48.
Regardless of my situation, I needed this hike. I needed to make sense of my thoughts and see if I could not calm my mind. I drove up to the trailhead in almost complete silence. This was a drastic difference from any other trip up north with talking, singing, and laughing. I found myself missing the laughter the most. I had forgotten how far the trail head was and miss judged the time. I was late by my standards for a hike as long as this one. This would set the tone for the day.
As I headed up the 19 mile brook trail, I really wanted to text him. I wanted to let him know that I was starting and that I would let him know when I was done too. I stopped myself. I didn’t want to be more of a pest than I had already become. I promised myself that I would not and that this would be a true solo hike taking me back to the start when all I did was solo hiking. It was times like these that I felt as though I was 12 years old and not on the good side of being 12. In that awkward, I don’t know what to do stage of being 12.
“I feel like a dam idiot.” Was all I could say heading up the trail. I was late and not happy about it. I was confused and uncomfortable. Thank goodness no one else was around because I had a lot to say again and didn’t need to be heard by anyone but the trees
I continued up the trail sputtering and muttering to myself and all the while the trail wound its way by the brook. There were some pretty great sections that over looked the water and after a little while, I stopped sputtering and muttering and actually began to pay attention to my surroundings. There were old trees that looked as though you could sit under them and take shelter from a storm. A cement dam on the brook provided me with an opportunity to test my limits. I walked out on to it as the water spilled over the top. I thought of him and hoped that he’d be smiling on me. The pool it created was deep and green but still crystal clear. I got myself back on the trail and realized that all the spring flowers were in bloom. I was in awe of the colors… The dark trillium was my favorite. I spent a good deal of time just finally soaking in the surroundings and for a brief moment, I forgot my busy mind. I had finally made it to the first trail junction.
I was remembering all the tips and tricks we had talked about leading up to this trip. I pulled out my map. The very map he had given me when I hiked up Mt. Washington this past winter. I looked at it and remembered how thrilled he was for me when I did that hike up Washington and how much it thrilled me because someone was rooting for me. I was still getting use to people being interested in this journey and at the same time getting use to the trail being my lead. I quickly went back to my map in the present day and tried to figure out which way to go. Either way was long. If I hiked up Carter Dome first, I might have traded some distance for elevation gain. This in turn might stress me physically and I was not up for any delays in this journey. So, I of course opted to go out to the farthest peak and work my way back. Knowing already that if I needed to, I could leave off Cater Dome. I set off again after a quick granola bar. All the while, my mind focused elsewhere as I tried to make my way to get three peaks in one trip.
As I continued, I felt how warm it was becoming and began to smile. Knowing that Spring was here and soon, the pack would be lighter and I would not have to wear so many layers. Walking the trail was beginning to wear on me as I was gaining elevation. It seemed long and my mind was not in the hike. It was every place else. I was beginning to think that I had no business hiking any more.
“I’ll be damned if I let all this stop me from reaching ANOTHER goal. I need to push through it.” I spoke as I climbed. “Maybe this is all supposed to happen this way. It doesn’t feel good. But maybe this is all supposed to be this way.” I thought out loud. “I just know that this sucks and I don’t know what to do… So, I’ll keep walking… "
The trail started climbing in elevation and was pretty rocky. I felt that I was in a little better place and I resigned to resting in my thoughts as I walked in quiet. I soaked in the area and tried desperately to loose myself in the hike. Out here on the trail, I was good enough and strong. After all, it takes a lot for a person to hike sometimes 20 miles. Finally that confident feeling was coming back to me.
The next trail junction seemed to take forever to get to and I wondered if I was getting in over my head again. I pushed the doubt out to push on. Deciding to continue out to south and middle Carter over going up to Carter Dome, I came to a section of boardwalk and I sighed….
“Maybe I’ll leave counseling too… Who knows? Maybe I was not meant to do this anymore.” I could not seem to share off these thoughts no matter what. So, I just kept going and kept talking. The trails were empty anyway. “Maybe I should go back to therapy… Oh wait…. No insurance… Awesome. Guess I better not get hurt out here either. I am so screwed. “
I kept walking for a stretch and came to a clearing with amazing views… I hardly noticed them as I kept moving. I seemed to automatically take pictures as if I was on autopilot. Another section of boardwalk and I about stopped in my tracks
“There he is… Again.” the boardwalk reminded me of him and I took a picture. Then I took a picture with the iPhone and sent it to him. “You’re everywhere… All the time… Up here. “And I kept walking without expecting a reply.
Another 10 minutes and I come to a trail sign… I cannot believe my eyes. It’s a trail sign for the Imp Shelter.
“FUCK! Really? can I not do anything right? I overshot my peaks.” I was more than a little upset at this point as I stood looking at the sign. “I have no business being here. And now I have to back track and get my peaks…”
I dug out the map and did some quick calculations between my GPS program and the map mileage. I noted exactly where the peaks should be and I set out back the way I came.
I noted moose tracks in the mud and the fact that I have yet to see a Moose. Then, at the mileage point I had noted, I looked down at a very obvious cairn.
“I’m not even going to mention how stupid I feel. And how I can hear them all laughing.” I put my pack down and began to dig out my numbers and my tripod. I hated to use that thing because it meant that I was solo hiking. As I was trying to set up the shot though, I was met by another hiker.
“Wow, finally, someone else is up here.” We spoke for a little while. He was a thru hiker heading to the Imp Shelter for the night. On his way to Maine. To Katahdin. A place I so desperately wanted to get to. He snapped my picture and asked about the number.
“37 of 48 New Hampshire peaks climbed. The majority have been solo.” He congratulated me and was off down the trail. “And I hope to make it to 48.” I whispered as he walked away. He didn’t seem very social.
I got my next set of mileage and set out to find the next peak… Sure enough at the next point, I looked down at a very obvious cairn.
“My stupidity would be justified if this was winter. Those things would have been covered.” No sign of anyone, I set up the tripod and for some reason whipped my hair out of its ponytail. The picture snapped and I headed back to the car.
Walking back down the trail, I was disappointed that this hike didn’t seem to clear my head. It didn’t seem to boost my spirit. I just wanted to get home and curl up. I wanted to forget it and at the same time, I wanted to learn something from this day. My thoughts broke by some intense sunshine. I stopped at a grassy section of the trail and pulled up a white techwick tank top that I had bought back at the hike up Adam’s. I smiled as I changed right there on the trail.
“No one’s here anyway….” I smiled.
Past the trail junction for Carter Dome, I kept hiking out.
“Another day.” I said to myself. “I’ll just tack it onto the Wildcats.”
The walk out went quickly and the ride home was quiet. Almost quieter than the ride up. Considering all that I had learned on the trail, it was a good day. A hard day. And a day that would hopefully not be repeated. I needed a win. And I needed to complete the 48. No matter how much I wanted to actually give up.