Today was going to be a celebration and in my life, what better way to celebrate than with a twelve mile hike to get closer to my goal. My partner was off on a “vacation” to the extreme back country of Canada (I use the term vacation loosely as he seemed to be off trying to figure things out in his life for himself) so, I felt a certain amount of freedom in this hike. I was finally heading out for that solo hike I had wanted and craved for so long. Hiking with a group or even with just one other person is a great experience outwardly. You are lost in the conversation and less aware of aches and pains but also less aware of the surroundings and your internal process. A solo hike means that you are completely aware of what is going on both inside and outside of yourself. You can see the trail for what it is and you can feel what is going on within you to correspond with the trail. I cherished my solo hikes for the things I was able to experience that I could not put into words (but captured in pictures). I packed the smaller pack and given the high humidity predicted for the day, I packed mostly water (2 extra water bottles and my water bladder) and some food, safety equipment was of course included, and very little extra clothing. I was all set for the day and the celebration would be my return to work which was set for Monday. I was not nervous, I was confident and I was ready. It was time to get my life back and I was ecstatic about this because I was going to Mt. Isolation to confirm what I already knew…. I’m strong and I can get through just about anything thrown at me and no one can take my accomplishments away from me. Yes, today I was celebrating… ME.
This would be an interesting trip since I chose Glen Boulder to the Davis Path to get to the summit of Mt. Isolation. It was a 12 mile trip to get a mountain that was 4003ft and the elevation gain was…. 5050 ft. I needed to go up above 5000 feet in order to go down to 4003ft and to get back to the car; I needed to do the same thing in reverse. I was so happy about the undertaking and as I drove off to the trail head, worry was the last thing on my mind. The music was up and I was heading up 93 North. My favorite way to travel. Things seemed to fall into place and I felt no sense of dread or sense of anxiety. It was just me and the road and soon it would be me and the trail. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something black heading right for the side of my car. It was BIG too…
“BEAR!” I yelled out and laughed as I swerved to miss it running across the road. Caught my breath again and just kept driving.
This day was off to an interesting start already and all I could do was smile. All the way through Franconia Notch and around past Pinkham Notch, I found the parking area for the Glen Boulder trail. I was one of the first cars there at almost 8am. Given that it was a beautiful Saturday morning, I was surprised by this. I parked and began getting ready by making sure that there was a water bottle and some food waiting for me in the car, changing into my hiking boots, and finally hoisting my pack on my back. A park ranger had stopped me and thanked me for purchasing my parking sticker rather than paying as I went or in some cases for some others, not paying at all. I in turn thanked her for her service because without the park rangers, a lot of hikers might still be lost or hurt on the trails.
I stopped at the opening trail sign for the Glen Boulder trail and looked up. It didn’t look too bad. The trail was well covered with leaves and it seemed to have a gentile elevation gain to it. As I began walking, this was indeed the case. The forest felt cool as I left the parking area by the side of the road behind. Soon, I could no longer hear the cars zooming by and I was at peace again. I seemed to turn a corner on the trail and suddenly, I was faced with rocks to balance and hop over as the trail began a much steeper upward climb.
“Here we go.” I said out loud. “This is what it’s all about… Going up. At least it’s a covered trail still.”
I had to pause a few times in this section of the trail to keep myself going due to the humidity in the air and each time I stopped, I seemed to be greeted by a toad (of all things). Some were larger than others and still it was the most I had seen on the trail in a long time. The trail seemed to wind through switchbacks by a stream and as I climbed, the bugs were beginning to bite. I paused for some bug spray and was overcome by another hiker coming up behind me. He was from upstate New York and seemed to be huffing and puffing under some serious body weight. He told me that he was going to try and make it to Washington and I explained my journey. We wished each other well and were on our separate ways.
That was the thing about running into people on the trail. The meetings were short (usually enough time to catch our breathes) and the interchanges were always happy. Everything else could be miserable (trail conditions, weather) but it never matters because we were out doing what we loved to do. These are the things that I thought of as I continued up the trail. I was eager to get above tree line as the bugs were getting to me and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The views I was told would be breathe taking. Along the way though, I noted a lot of interesting rock formations and I wondered what else I would see. The trail crossed by the stream a few times prior to starting to peak out above tree line. I was thankful for the breaks by the water as the temperature seemed to be rising.
As I began to hike above tree line, I noticed that the trail was becoming increasingly vertical and was more rock face than dirt trail. I became anxious as I looked up ahead of the trail to see it turn straight up and be nothing but rock. I quickly began quieting myself and encouraging myself to keep going. I reminded myself that this was number 46 and turning back was no longer an option. I reached the alpine zone and my mind soared. I loved being up there and feeling on top of it all. As I came to the first section of rocks, I looked… Up to find a blaze on the rock above my head. I put my poles away and began climbing. The difference was that this was actual climbing. Hand over hand and watch where you put your feet kind of climbing. I hoisted myself up and over the rocks, over joyed at the feeling of using my whole self in a celebration hike. This moment proved to me that it was going to be a good day.
There were two more rock ledges to climb over and on the third one, I was able to turn myself and sit for a minute. I was literally on the side of the mountain, sitting there. I looked out into the haze of humidity and saw the road below me. I took in my surroundings as I drank some water and caught my breath. I just needed to get up over this last section and then I would be back on a dirt trail. Standing up once again, I looked up the trail to see…. A huge rock that just seemed to be hanging there supported by very little…
“What do you know…? Glen Boulder.” I kept my eye on the huge rock and started heading for it. The trail itself looked as though it was evening out and going flat for a little while (at least until Glen Boulder was reached). But, I was wrong….
“Man, this trail just keeps going up. “ I stood looking up at yet another section of rocky trail to ascend. “This is what I get for wanting an adventure… Well, thanks!” I of course had a big smile on my face. “This is officially going to be a long day.”
Glen boulder was indeed a giant boulder (Glacier Erratic) that seemed to just hang on the side of the mountain. It was once of those boulders that looked as though you could just tap it and it would just start rolling and surely crush anything in its way. I made sure to linger here a little and take in some water. The sun was beginning to get high and the humidity was beginning to get oppressive. I battled with my mind to continue on or bag it. I battle with my mind over my present partner… I was just battling with my mind due to too many changes happening all at once.
“Take a deep breath and get a grip.” I heard myself say. “You’ve done a lot worse hikes. And you’ve made it through a lot worse situations… You can do this.” I took in another swallow of water. The water itself was disgustingly warm due to being in my pack against my back which was radiating heat but it still kept me hydrated. How I missed the freezing cold water of a winter hike.
I hit the trail again and to my non-surprise, it kept going up still. I followed the cairns through the low bushes of the alpine zone. Some seemed to overtake the trail and scratched up my legs pretty good. Every once in a while I would pause and look at the highway stretching out in the distance. My thoughts would stray back to sea level… The job I was starting. The hope I was hanging on to. The wonder I was feeling. It would all wash over me continuously like an ocean. All I could do was ride the waves like a surfer and hope I didn’t crash. With some luck on my side, I headed back into the trees. Back into the shade. I was still climbing but at least I was cool. I walked in a kind of silent meditation and came out of the trees and was face to face with a summit… I first thought that I had reached Boott Spur but quickly realized I had more to go on the trail. I looked at the map and saw that it was Slide Peak and I was at 4807 Feet. I needed to go to 4003 feet… It made perfect sense considering Boott Spur is above 5000 feet. Part of me, if I let myself stop long enough would rationalize it out as being crazy. And with that, I kept moving.
The trail was doing that cool thing where I could see it go on for miles. The cairns visible as they dotted the way. I was again back on the Bonds where I saw this the first time. Almost a half hour later, I was at the junction of the Davis Path. There was a group of hikers sitting on the rocks which was on the way to the Boott Spur trail. They did not seem very friendly which was a rarity on these trails. Another quick water break and this time it was to add more water to the bladder in my pack. I swore that I was going to get myself a 3 liter bladder over this 2 liter I was using. I looked down the Davis path and started my descent to 4003ft. Crazy… Never. Crazy would be the climb up to get back down again.
The trail quickly moved back into the scrub. I ran into a few hikers along the way and we all agreed that it was just very hot out today and that we all needed encouragement to go on. Everyone asked if I had enough water and I did the same. There was not natural spring or stream to gather water from up here. The scrub quickly became trees and I think I soared in energy to be in the coolness of the shade. I was sure that if I had a sense of smell at all (another lovely gift of my disease), I’d be offended by myself. I kept on walking and realized that I had not had anything to eat so; I fished out a granola bar. Amazing the shot of energy a hiker can get from just a little bar. Even better my Vitamin B blocks rejuvenated me all the more. Moving through the patches of shade and sun, I continued to dodge my own thoughts. Concluding that whatever was going to happen between my partner and myself was going to happen and as fate would have it happen at that. He had an idea of what he wanted and where he was going. If it included me, great. If not, I would figure out how to make it all work without him. I was reminded of some words an old flame once wrote to me.
“When you jump a buck, you sit and wait. You do not chase it. Maybe it will come back your way a second time or maybe it won’t.” These words continued to echo with each separation. I wondered which time he would not come back my way.
“And if he doesn’t come back, you just have to move on. He’s going to do what he’s going to do. You can’t stop him.” I was talking out loud to myself. “If he’s going to go back to her, so be it.” I left things at that and I tried to leave it on the trail. I began taking in the sights around me and noticed how deteriorated the trail had become. This was one of the trails they had barely gotten to repair since Hurricane Irene. I balanced on deteriorating wood boardwalks and finally made it to the spur trail to the summit.
I paused and took a deep breath. “Number 46, here we go…” I trailed off and walked up the spur as proud of myself as I had ever been. I was another step closer to finally completing something I had set out to do. In 46 mountains, I had not abandoned my journey. I had not abandoned something since Softball back in Middle and High School. I was almost to the end of the 48 and I had grown so much. The spur opened up to a flat and open summit. I let out a loud exhale and stretched my arms to the sky. I took it all in and the view was amazing. All the mountains were just surrounding me. I felt at home.
At the summit Cairn, I had my picture taken and at the summit, I sat and had lunch. There were other hikers starting to filter through and we shared the usual stories of our journeys. Everything at that very moment had melted away and I gained that sense of peace I craved. Maybe the mountains was my way of escaping for just a short time. I liked to view them as my way of healing and growing. Knowing the journey I had to get back, I needed to set out. I was already feeling the heaviness as if I was back at the car and the day was done.
I made my way back through the trees and happened upon a mother grouse and her chicks. It was the most precious find to date and she let me get only so close before she would step between me and them and they’d be ushered off the trail. I of course snapped some pictures and thanked the momma grouse for allowing me as close as I got. I continued to walk except this time; the down didn’t seem to go as quick. The down was actually beginning to go up again. “Here we go.” I said as I made my way back to Boott Spur. There was a lot of silence on the way back. I was concentrating on the trail, the sun, and my water intake. Parts of me wanted to be done and parts of me wanted to stay here forever. I remained conflicted through the ascend before the descend. It took me forever to get to the junction and I needed to take plenty of breaks. My legs were getting shaky and I worried for the first time about actually making it back. I was never happier to see the junction. I knew then that it was truly all downhill from there.
I got cell service just before Glen Boulder and to my surprise, my partner was texting me. I sat for a minute just looking at the screen on my iPhone. I let him know that the hike was going well and that I was looking forward to having him home. I prayed that he would not go into detail about his trip and about her and he didn’t. He only texted to check in and I was happy with that except my worry and my fret came rushing back. I had some blisters to tend to which made me laugh given his issues on Owl’s Head. Connect that to the fact that he texted me at that moment and I about fell over… Everything is connected in some way. There is a reason for everything. Where would this take me?
After repairing my foot, I was able to fly down the trail. Sometimes on the descent, you just move. You move because you’re tired. You move because you are losing daylight. You move to get to that drink and a burger. I was moving because I wanted to be home. To share this hike with all the people connected to me in my life. I made it back to the car 10 hours after I started. It had been a long day. My final gift was a thought on my way home.
“I have walked in the high places where few have dared to climb and touched graces that have also touched my soul. These feeling, I carry with me when I dwell in the low places and keep me centered. Keep me focused. Keep me at peace.” I was ready to face whatever life had in store for me. I was ready to head back to the workforce. Monday, things were about the change… Again.