I can remember thinking “Number 47… How did I get here?”, as I was packing for my next peak. It was a Sunday hike due to weather the previous day and it would be another solo journey. I found myself having these more and more and while I was thankful for the time of self-reflection, even though I was with someone, I was craving company on the trails and elsewhere. As my partner had set off to find himself, I found myself getting more lost. Getting lonely. It seemed like I was going to the mountains to feel less lonely and more alive. My route was a simple one… The Lost Pond trail and The Wildcat Ridge Trail up and back again to Pinkham Notch. The thing is, nothing in the mountains is ever that simple.
It was an uneventful ride to Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. I was quiet and I was tired. Not tired because I was in the final push. I was just tired of being in constant mental motion. Knowing that it would be quiet on the trail, I looked forward to the break and I looked forward to my partner being home. I had myself convinced that maybe, things would be different when he got home. In the front of my mind was a grand finish on Carrigan with a bunch of people to celebrate at the top. And at the back of my mind was a less than desirable solo trip. Pinkham Notch was already busy with tourists and hikers alike. I hoisted the pack on my back and set off after a quick trip to the bathroom. Crossed the road and set out down the trail.
It began with the Lost Pond Trail, a nice flat trail, give or take a few rocky sections. I was enjoying the walk and being present in the moment and forgetting the events of the past few months. I was just happy to be out on the trail. The sunshine on my back felt good and I realized that it was going to be another hot day. There were sections of the trail that were cooler due to tree cover and while I reveled in the sunlight, I equally appreciated the shade. I knew that soon, I would be exposed on the side of the mountain and of course, loving everything about it. Prior to starting the climb, I came upon some trees that had an exposed root system that lifted them well above the soil. They looked ominous and almost angry to me and echoed my current situation. I stood and admired them for their perseverance and being able to thrive around obstacles and still survive. I identified with the trees in that way and I took a deep breath and walked on.
Weaving through boulders and roots, I walked past The Lost Pond. It was probably the most fun I’d had on a flat trail. A sly smile crept across my face and I reflected again on the fact that this was my 47th of 48 mountains. I think I was finally considering myself a little bit of an expert hiker. I hit the Wildcat Ridge trail and from here the fun really began. Here is where the up began. I at first began moving over rocks and roots. The rocks became bigger soon and the trees were definitely getting a little shorter. I had hit the ledges and began my climb on to the summit.
Amazingly, at my highest point of concentration needed to reach my goal, my mind would wander to the life I live at sea level. I had a lot to be thankful for and on this second to last peak, the emotions seemed to seep out of me. I was thankful for the support while reaching for this goal. My family and friends especially strong influences in my journey and I always carried them with me. The problem today was that the one that I wanted to be with me on this journey was nowhere to be found. This was becoming a common theme and one that made me uneasy. As I climbed, the most beautiful views would distract me from the thoughts in my head. I would wander through the rock formations as thoughts wandered through my mind. Had I lost sight of the goal for someone who seemed to just drift in and out of my life? Had I missed my opportunity with him because I chose to complete my goal? I worried about what would happen when he got back from his trip. Would he be completely distant and move back up to the spare room or worse, would I lose him completely? I stood on a ledge overlooking the highway and saw and eagle take flight. I watched it in amazement and felt the anxiety leave my body.
“Wow!” I said. “That’s a gift.” I looked to the sky as if to thank Chief. My grandfather whom I like to believe was following me through this journey.
I continued to pass over ledges on the Wildcat Ridge and seemed to handle them with ease. Remembering that prior to and at the very start of this quest, I was timid and unsure of the terrain. Now, I was perfectly at home. All the while I was walking through the past 10 month and accounting for all the changes both externally and within. I was stronger than I ever had been and yet in certain situations, I would cave to my own insecurities.
“I’m not going to let anyone stop me from doing this.” I repeated to myself. “I’ve overcome illness and even though I continue to deal with some pains, I am still capable. I’ve overcome anxiety and depression on my own without medication. And let’s not forget the heartaches. Those are tough but, I’m doing it. And I’ll do it again if he goes back to her.”
While this conversation was going on, I continued to move over rocks and into the woods and then over rocks again and back into the woods. I came across a straight trail and could see the sun at the end of it (sort of like a tunnel). My pace picked up as I moved over the roots and things and when I popped out of the trees, I was greeted with the old ski house and the new gondola ride for Wildcat ski area… And it was letting off the tourists. They all looked so fresh and so clean. Me, I still had a huge gash on my leg from last week on Isolation, I was covered in sweat and dirt from the trail and the ledges. Unlike my hike up Cannon, I wore my dirt proudly. They were the ones that were out of place for not working to get their peak. I wandered around the building and made my way to the trail over to the observation tower. I passed a few people that had no business setting foot on the trails for fear that they would break an ankle for their choice of footwear. I smiled at them though and kept walking. At the observation tower, I settled down as I was the only one there for the time being. I sat and pulled out a packet of tuna fish and my camp fork. I smiled as I sat there and ate. I had made it to number 47 and next was my goal: Carrigain. Number 48.
People were starting to file onto the platform. Most were hikers and we shared stories of our travels. I felt privileged to be speaking with such a group and as I was talking, one of the hikers, a woman who was slightly older than I was said something.
“Wait a minute. I know you. You’re cake girl from the Osceola’s on Flags on 48 last year. You had some kind of cake because it was your birthday and I had cookies.” She smiled.
“Oh my god!” I said both out of surprise that she remembered and I also remembered. “Cookie lady! You took my summit picture.” It was moments like this that I was in awe of this community. I was again privileged to be a part of it.
We all talked for a while and I enjoyed the sunshine on the deck. We laughed at the tourists who never seemed to make it up to the platform from down below and discussed the other tourist peaks. Cookie ladies group was hiking on down the ski trails and needed to get going as they were spending time over at Tuckerman’s Ravine. I had all the time in the world. So, I hung out for a little while. A father and his teenage son had joined me and we had a conversation about Mt. Washington. This gave me a chance to show off a little as they had never done it (they were tourists). The father in particular seemed more interested in the fact that I was hiking a lot by myself than the fact that I had actually summited Mt. Washington twice. I did my best to explain what it was like to hike in the higher summits and I knew full well that unless you actually did this, I would never be able to do it justice. It was just something that you needed to experience. I bid them farewell and happy trails as I lifted my pack on my back and made my way down from the tower.
Hardly anyone was by the gondola and I headed back down the Wildcat Ridge. I did run into one mother and her young son who were heading for the ledges. I turned them around knowing that they had no business heading that way. With no equipment and being so young, that was just asking for disaster. I made my way back in reverse. It always seemed bittersweet to head back to the car. The time passed by quickly and I navigated the ledges in reverse just fine. I laughed all the way down about Cookie Lady and the father and his son I had talked too. Furthest from my mind was heading back to work in the morning and my distant partner. I made it back to the lost pond trail where some final gifts awaited me. The first was a red squirrel so focused on peeling and acorn (I had no clue you could do that), that it didn’t see me walk right up to it. I was able to take a picture without zooming in and I watched it for about a minute and a half before it finally looked up and calmly walked away. I could not help but smile. As I came back around to the waterways that were at the beginning, I happed on a great blue heron and I was reminded of someone from the distant past. I smiled and told the bird that it was out of place in my life now but look how far I had come. Walking back across the road to Pinkham Notch, nobody paid me any mind and I slipped back into my car and headed for home. I headed back to an uncertain sea level reality while dreaming of the number 48.