Jefferson, my 44th peak of the 48 came about rather rushed and left me feeling a little confused. I was excited because this would mean I only had 4 peaks left to my goal and I was nervous because of the instability I had found residing in my life once again. Almost a month without a job and finding it hard some days to keep motivated, my “roommate” had decided to make an appearance back in my life from living in the spare room, upstairs in my home and moving back to my room and generally spending time with me as we did when we first met. He was still distant and not comfortable as a couple, he was welcomed back with somewhat hesitant open arms as I was unsure how long he would stay in my life. I was stuck trying to decide between my head and my heart as far as both my love and my professional life were concerned. We had some work to do between us to make thing right and changes would need to be made in both of us. I only hoped that we were up to the task and was wishing for a little trail magic. I made reservations for us at his request, at our favorite place to stay; The Mt. Madison Inn in Gorham NH. That was how he liked to hike the mountains by going up the night before instead of getting up at O Dark 30 to drive up to the trailhead. I wondered and worried about how he would feel about a room with only one bed (as that was what I could afford)? I would soon find out.
I set out to pack the gear and managed to get my own packed. It was easy for me as I knew what I liked to wear and eat on the trail and what safety gear I needed to carry. Once that was ready, I waited for him to come home from work so we could finish packing and leave for the White Mountains. Once he got home and after a rather stern discussion about getting both sets of gear together so we could have left quicker, we were finally on our way and I was still questioning my head and my heart. Although, my head was winning, my heart was fighting. The ride up was pretty quiet on my part as I didn’t want to ruffle feathers any more than I already did. I take things in deeply and that is true on and off the trail. Once checked in, we relaxed a little and the single full bed didn’t seem to faze him (or he didn’t let it show). We ate dinner and kept it light hearted (although in the back of my mind, my heart was still heavy). We even used the Inn’s outdoor hot tub and pool as a way to prep for the hike in the morning. Sleeping was awkward and distant or as distant as it could be in a full bed. I almost wanted to sleep on the floor and stuck it out as I wanted to be rested for my 44th peak.
From the moment I shut my eyes, I kept the number 44 in my mind so that I could focus on my goal and less on my nerves. The alarm went off a little later than it would have if we were starting from home and it was good for me to sleep in. Plus, we were hiking Caps Ridge and that started at an elevation of 3000 feet which also made it a quicker hike than most of the 4000 footers. The higher elevation start meant less we had to climb which was always welcome considering I was slower on the up of a mountain than I was on the down. We were able to have a good breakfast of eggs and bacon to give us fuel for the trip and then we were off to the trail head. Conversation was getting easier between us and I was feeling more a little positive about the direction we were heading and a lot more positive about getting another peak under me.
From the start of the trail to the summit of Jefferson, it was ONLY 2.4 miles and the elevation gain was ONLY 2700 feet. All that equaled to a pretty easy day for my number 44 and the last peak to complete the Presidential Range. I was energized to get this peak and to see what my last four peaks would bring on all levels. The Capps Ridge trail started out like any other trail with rocks and roots and some vertical sections that took the wind out of my sail. I lagged behind my hiking partner and tried to find my rhythm for the day. It was a little difficult for me considering my unfocused thoughts and the fact that I kept tripping over roots and my own two feet (my balance and coordination was poor today) . We kept the trail conversation to the subject of hiking and being outside as those seemed safer and less emotionally charged for us. I always had trouble talking while hiking up because I felt like I was losing my breath quicker which made it hard for me to keep moving forward. So, often times, I was the quiet one between us or in the group if I was with one. Most of the time this seemed OK however, when I was with him, I felt I needed to fill the void with words… The problem was, I had no words, just deep breathes.
It seemed that within a half hour we were peeking out of the tree line and had the rocky summit in sight. The moon was still high in the blue sky at only 8am. Other peaks were also visible to us and I smiled and felt the warmth of the sun on my face. I was feeling pretty confident again about hiking with my partner and more positive about this journey.
On a flat section of the trail, prior to starting to climb on the ledges, my partner began talking about the journey and the different reasons why we hike the trails that we’d been hiking. It occurred to me that he was not thrilled with my choice to rush through the 48 peaks and that he did not fully understand the personal journey I had been on (or at least that was the first impression I had of the conversation). The journey that had taken me from being robbed of energy and sick to a renewed sense of wellbeing, as well as the journey from complete humiliation and let down from failed relationships to therapy to self-realization. I so wanted him to understand all this in this very moment so that he could walk with me and support me rather than question and allow me to doubt myself as I walked behind him. What he could appreciate was what I had been doing on a very basic level: Hiking all the mountains in a short time which in life is not an easy thing to do. Again, I was left to question it all and I hung back to collect myself up off the trail to keep moving forward. He had this amazing talent for dropping statements such as the differences in our need for hiking and making me feel smaller than small and then turning around to make me laugh like nothing happened a moment ago. My reaction of course bewildered him as we walked and I became quiet. I just can’t turn around and laugh after having someone question why I was working so hard towards something. I also didn’t want a repeat of Adams where he seemed so upset at the choice of peaks and miserable from all the gears weight. We hit the ledges and his steps became lighter as he told me he’d waited years to complete this trail (while my steps were still cautious and heavy). I was happy that he was finally getting to realize something and it was with me that he was able to do it. Things like this made it easy to put aside feelings that were confusing.
Some of the ledges were steeper than others and we worked together to get up and over them. He would reach out his hand to me on occasion or I would ask for it to help me. He’d also try to tell me where I needed to put my feet and hands and the only problem was that my mind could not coordinate with what he was telling me which made me frustrated and unable to take his word and follow it. It’s hard to explain really, it feels like you know what to do but your feet and hands don’t seem to follow no matter how much your mind commands. This mind confusion was a sad part of my malfunctioning thyroid. Occasionally, I would talk to my grandfather as I always did in tricky sections. It gave me a boost of confidence to get myself up and over.
I’d say “OK Chief, you gotta help me out. Let’s get over this thing.” Or something like that.
My partner didn’t seem to understand this either and appeared to question me yet again and at explanation, appeared to scoff at my discussion with my guardian. I quickly stifled my talking as that seemed more appropriate for a solo hike. I desperately wanted a picture of me scaling a particularly steep section as these were the things I wanted to remember and asking him to take a picture took a little motivation on my part. I didn’t know how he would react and I really didn’t want to rock the boat yet again. My desire to capture the moment over road my anxiety. He seemed benign to the idea and I passed up my camera. Two shots taken and we were on our way again. I was feeling like we were overcoming our differences from the past month or so and we were on our way back to the way we were when we first met.
We happened to catch the Cog Railway on its way up to the summit of nearby Mt. Washington. At least he caught the plumb of smoke coming from the railroad and then I saw it. He was always good at pointing those things out. We took pictures on one of the last ledges to show our strength and my partner was still carrying on about how much he’s wanted to do this trail and how happy he was to be hiking it today. It was these moments that I held on to as we walked the rest of the way to the summit. It was after all, a beautiful day on the rocks and I was soaking in the suns warmth as we came up to the summit. Just before 10am, I claimed my last peak of the Presidential Range and my 44th peak of my first set of the 48. I was so happy and proud of myself. We came upon a plaque for a fallen hiker and I smiled that his friends had cared enough to place a memorial so high up in his honor. People were starting to mill about on the summit and oddly enough so were these giant flying bugs. I could not tell if they were bugs that might sting but I didn’t really want to find out.
We rested between the two high points of the summit and we seemed to separate after some time and a few more awkward moments between us. My partner was some distance away and seemed to be admiring the view as well as looking at something on his phone. He had taken his shirt off to enjoy the warmth of the sun. I watched him intently as I was both curious as to what was going on in his mind and anxious to just be with him and to get to know him again. When he did rejoin me, we ate our lunch and joked that it should have been breakfast instead of lunch. We talked with a few other hikers about our experiences and he seemed to talk about my accomplishments more than I did. When it came to get our picture taken together, I felt awkward sitting next to him and at the same time, happy that we were here on the mountain together. It was a strange mixture of emotions between us.
As we began our decent to the car, he found a rock wall and took it upon himself to climb into the walled off area as if he was taking shelter. We laughed about some of the different uses for this little area and kept moving on after of course, I got it on film. The tone seemed to change as we got further away from the other hikers and it seemed as if we were slipping back into tension and anxiety. I began to hang back a little more and started to enjoy the scenery going down the mountain. At points, I was lost in my own thoughts and making my own plans for the remaining 4 peaks and beyond. I wanted to complete my winter list and move on to the New England 67, with or without him. I was beginning to wonder if the remainder of the 48 should be solo. I was heartbroken at this thought as I really wanted a group to be there for my 48th peak. I began to settle for the same old scenario of me hiking alone and posting the pictures for all to see and celebrating my achievements online.
The wind had picked up as we came to the start of the ledges again. Going back down would prove to be interesting given the mood and the terrain. My partner had paused on a rocky section and began to get something out of his pack. I looked for a place to sit not directly next to him but a few feet away (figuring that distance would be good). He was getting out his kite that he always flew on high summits with good wind. I began hoping that he would find some peace as he flew his kite.
“Are you going to sit next to me?” Came his voice and I stammered something about how I was just trying to make my way over to him.
In relative quiet, he flew his kite high over the Presidential Range. Hikers would pass by as we sat there and comment on how far away they were when they saw it or if they were at the summit, they’d mention that they saw it from up there. Everyone had such great stories to tell and I knew that I was in good company as my story was a good one as well. People admired me for all that I had done and I was humbled by this. Part of me had difficulty grasping how I became such and inspiration and another part knew and understood and still felt humbled. It was also amusing how the very people I inspired on this journey seemed to inspire me to keep going.
The wind had died down and the kite had fallen some distance away and my partner had to go and retrieve it. I took an opportunity to continue reflecting on my journey as he went to retrieve it. Sitting there in the sun, I felt at peace with myself once again and rested in the decision of whatever direction I was heading was the direction that I was meant to be heading. I had choices that I could make to influence the direction. For now though I was content to let fate play a hand. It took my partner a little time and a trek off trail to retrieve the kite. He was a little scratched up but otherwise OK. The kite string had been cut though so a repair would have to be made.
We continued back down to the car in intermittent conversation and quiet between us. The entire hike took just over 5 hours to complete and my #44 was in the bag. We set out the camp chairs we had in the jeep to just rest for a while and change our foot ware as well as have something else to eat from our packs. Things seemed peaceful between us and for me. My heart felt a little less heavy as I thought about the journey and where it was taking me. It was not so much about the mountains anymore as it was the thoughts in my head and the experiences on the trails. I was eager for more.