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Mt. Carrigain... All That and A Bag of Chips.

                “You’re running out of time.” This was the thought that was constantly being played in my head. Since hiking up the last of the Wildcat peaks back in July, I had not been hiking. I had let life get in my way and now I was trying to regain ground to finish what I had started. Or at least finish the first of what I had started because I already knew I didn’t want to stop. This one goal was important to me. I had set out wanting to finish the 48 peaks before I turned 40 in September. It was a personal goal I had set for myself as a way of affirming how far I had come in my life and yet, I was letting life dictate my actions and get in my way of achieving that goal. The arrival of my partner from his trip to find himself seemed uneventful and he was still distant and withdrawn. I went back and forth over hiking with him or hiking alone or even finding new people to hike with. I wanted number 48 to be a shared moment that was happy and not what my non-solo hikes had turned out to be lately.

                “You’re running out of time”. The voice I heard constantly in my head as I kept hiking through the tangles of my personal and professional life. I continued to try and find weekends that I could get this list done and repeatedly as I would settle on a date, it would quickly unsettle and I’d put it off or worse, drop it all together. Only on occasion did I postpone for rain because that day had to be nice weather. I’d then get angrier with myself for caving to this so called life and then panic as September would be here before I knew it. I was indeed running out of time. I was going to settle for the less than stellar finish of a solo hike up to Mt. Carrigain’s summit platform. I was planning this solemnly in my head and preparing for a quiet celebration.

                “What if we do another camp out for your 48th?”  Was what I was asked and rather surprisingly, I jumped at this. “We’ll stay up there the night before so, you find a place to stay and make the reservations.” Great… Something else to spend money on. Amongst the tangles of my personal life was this large resentment that I seemed to be footing all the bills. I was determined to do this again and that meant figuring it all out.

                The plans were set and we actually invited another couple to join us. This was going to be an interesting weekend of meeting new people and celebrating my accomplishment. We would stay at the 7 dwarf’s motel on route 3 in Twin Mountain, where I had grabbed the cheapest room that I could find that would hopefully be comfortable for both of us. I always seemed to flash back to past booking fails where the bed was as thin as a sofa bed and squeaked really loudly. Could not do much about it now, the weekend was fast approaching.

                Gear was gathered carefully again as I didn’t want a repeat of Owl’s Head and again, I made sure to let him know that he was responsible for his own gear. The Thursday before we left, I stopped at the store to pick up the rest of the food and I picked up 4 mini bottles of champagne. Everything was carefully packed in my backpack and I was ready to go. I only needed to get through the work day and we would be heading up north.

Lucky for me, the day was uneventful and no psychiatric emergencies delayed my heading for home. We would get a late start so I wondered if the mood would remain positive. I was nervous again as it didn’t seem like much had changed for “us”. We packed up the rest of the food and when it came time for the tortilla chips for Saturdays chicken taco dinner, we both stared at them and wondered how to get them up the mountain without crushing them. After a few moments, they were transferred to a Ziploc bag and he used a carabineer to attach them to the outside of his pack. I would be surprised if they stayed whole and crispy throughout the trip. The car was packed and we were off down the road.

As usual, he stopped at a fast food joint to grab something to eat. I would have to wait given my restrictions to my diet. Times like these I hated my heath and while I was in a good place, it was just a reminder to me of how much things had changed. I had a Ziploc back full of vitamin pills to take twice a day in my pack and specially ordered gluten free trail food. Not to mention all the unnecessary attention my shaking caused me. I kept quiet as we drove off and again refocused on my achievements rather than my shortcomings and challenges.

The ride was quiet between us and like most things in our life, we seem to silently want the other to say or do something. I did not want any arguing or heated discussions on this trip and so, I was choosing to be silent. There was small talk between us and an absence of the closeness we once shared. I put my hand out and it just seemed to lay there on the console so, I moved it back to my lap and fidgeted in my chair. I was not worried about the time as OI had arranged a late check in with the caretaker. When we got there we met up with the other two members of our outing and began moving things into our rooms which were all named. By some strange twist and a cruel joke, my partner and I got put in the Honeymoon Suite. The night was spent pretty much looking for something that I could eat in a small town and becoming frustrated as each place we pull into is closed. I was ready to fire up my stove and cook some trail food. We did manage to find the last place open and that was probably the best chef salad I ever had.  

The night was uneventful and the room was not too bad to stay in. We all met the next morning and went to breakfast. Seeing as we were backpacking, we had no early start set to get to the trailhead. We all talked and got to know one anther over our plates of eggs and bacon. I was thrilled that everyone seemed to get a long and match each other in intensity over our outdoor activities. My partner seemed to be a little more present with the others who joined us. We all laughed and began planning the day. People were excited for me and I was excited that I was not going to do this last one solo. The tab was paid and we were officially off to grab number 48 and complete what would be the first leg of my journey.

Sawyer River Road had been closed for repairs since Hurricane Irene moved through the area last July. This meant that we had an additional 2 miles to walk on the road jus to get to the trail head. Walking along the road though, the mood was light hearted and to all of us, we could not see why the road was closed. It seemed like we could drive on it to get to the trail head. Walking along in the sun, I would drift between completion of my goal and being happy that the pressure seemed to be off my partner and myself. With additional people, he seemed less focused on me and more focused on everyone else. I was relaxing a little more because of this and the four of us continued to get to know one another as we walked up the road to the trail head. I could begin to feel the weight of my pack and a dared not say anything. I had done 47 mountains and to complain now seemed ridiculous. A photo opportunity at the Signal Ridge trail sign and we were off down the trail.

Heading up to the summit was pretty easy for us. Each hiked at their own pace and some were much faster than others. I seemed to pay no mind to my partner who was not even hiking with me although he would look back and he would wait on occasion to check in on me. Mostly he wanted to see if I was shaking so, he could remind me to eat something. His attention was touching as it is when anyone cares for another person. I just wished it would not call so much into attention or reminded me of how much life had changed. It had been 3 years now and in those 3 years, I had been able to turn things around and move forward. Occasionally, his caring set me back to before I had things under control and made me feel inadequate. I made sure to hold myself in such a way that there was no question. I was going to make it through the hike and complete the first leg on my journey. Where I went after this was completely up to me.

Before long, we began climbing in elevation and we were stepping over rocks and roots with greater care. The humidity was just hanging around us making the forest feel more like a jungle. As with all my ascends from the beginning, I was slow and took many breaks to get water or to catch my breath. As I looked ahead at my hiking party, I felt happily detached from them. I drank in the moments as everyone laughed and carried on up the trails. Only on occasion was this feeling broken by a voice or a look. I noticed perfect spider webs heading up the trail covered in humidity that looked like morning beads of dew. We made our way over rocky section helping one another so that we did not fall. Each one of us taking care to assure that the goal would be reached. And we all laughed as we took note that the chips on my partners pack were intact and crunchy still.  We were now beginning to leave the taller trees behind and I was beginning to focus on the end. What would the night be like for me? What would the summit be like for all of us? I pushed the anxiety out and just tried to remain in the moment.

We made it up to the ridge as a group and I was bringing up the rear like usual. My breath was labored and I prayed that my heart rate would go down (My neck veins were throbbing). I walked to the other three and was told…

“Go ahead and lead the way. This is your summit now.” One of our new companions told me. I paused and smiled at all three of them. Never before had I been asked to take the lead. People either kept me in the middle “for my own protection” or I was stuck bringing up the end for my slowness. I was honored and as I walked ahead, I began to cry. I didn’t want to get emotional and yet, it was inevitable. This was a big moment in my life even if to some, it seemed like just another hike. Not a word was spoken from my partner and not a touch was given. My heart sank just a little. He was behind me as our two other companions had lagged behind and we discussed the cloud cover and lack of a view on the ridge. I wanted a view in the worst way and I felt myself put all my energy into turning this around. The clouds did part and I got a view of the summit tower… It seemed so far away still and my pack was feeling heavy with not just gear but emotion as well. We continued to walk towards our destination.

Back into the trees for a little while from being on the ridge, we came to the last push… Rock steps to the summit tower. As I climbed them, I heard my partner from behind speaking about remembering all the mountains before this on. He called them the memory stairs and as I walked up them, I could not help but think of the doubts I had along the way and how I overcame them. I could not help but think of my doubters and how I left them behind. I could not help but think of my future and where I wanted to go. One thing was for sure, the future would contain more summits and more happiness. I was at peace with myself on the trail. Nothing else mattered to me as a lot of the negativity melted away each time I was on the trail. I wanted to feel that feeling at sea level.

Under the summit tower, there was a congratulations and a high five. I smirked and craved a hug or some other sign of closeness. He took my picture over the summit marker and the last step of the New Hampshire 48. They would prove to be touching mementos of the trip. We climbed the summit tower and even though it was encased in clouds, I still smiled and imagined the view spread out before me. I was alone in my thoughts when we were joined by our other two companions. The men went down below the summit to set up camp. My partner had toted up a ridiculously large tarp that I originally thought was a ridiculous amount of weight.  I would later be proved wrong as the rain came down. The women were left at the tower and I was able to get my summit picture. Seated and thoughtfully holding my number 48, I smiled a weak smile. I would rather have had my photo dine by my partner rather than someone I had just gotten to know.

We talked about my partner and how special he was. How we both wished him happiness and how she wished us happiness. The conversation was kept light but I did make mention of troubles and how I wished he would find what truly made him happy. I did not let on about recent troubles or the anxiety I had been feeling on a daily basis. Thankfully no one noticed the bags under my eyes from lack of sleep. We left the conversation before it became too heavy and rejoined the men down below.

They had gotten the tarp up and the tents were next. Since I had ours on my pack, he seemed slightly impatient. I did what I could to help him although it never seemed good enough. The tent was set and we moved our gear inside. Once set up, a fire was attempted in a small pit. Unfortunately, the rain came and put it out. We all settled under the tarp and talked and laughed. I tried to get a few stories in from my time on the trails but they seemed to be overshadowed by my partner’s tales. I grew quiet. Dinner was made and I brought out the champagne. Everyone had a little and I drank all of mine. I deserved this was all I could think of. I earned this. The night was full of laughs and to no one’s surprise, when the sun went down, we each retired to our tents. Early nights were normal on these trips.

My partner and I remained at what I felt was an uncomfortable distance. Separated by sleeping bags that might as well have been miles between us, even the conversation seemed forced. He had pulled out his phone and began playing a bowling game. He invited me to play and I did kick his butt. Both of us went to bed with only a flat “goodnight” spoken between us. I went to bed proud but craving a do over.

The next morning, we seemed rushed to get our gear broken down and in the packs. I made coffee and tried to have something to eat. My partner had wandered up to the summit tower and I followed a few minutes later. Once up there, I was treated to an under cast reminiscent of my time on Mt. Washington this past winter. I tried to share it with him however, it felt more like I was intruding so, and I retreated to the camp. We all placed up and managed to get the tarp compacted for travel.  We began our decent with a stop at the well for a refill of water bottles and bladders. The water was cold and clear but we still sent it through a filter. It turned out to be the best water I had on the trail with me this far in. We again laughed and joked all the way down and as we traveled, I was finally able to tell a few stories from my set of the 48. We had all agreed to rejoin for the next completion which would be on Moriah. We ran into someone else that as it turned out was a friend of one of our companions who was also completing his 48. I was able to smile for the shared accomplishment. I finally knew what it would feel like and it was unlike anything I had experienced. I truly felt accomplished.

We stopped periodically and yet for the most part, the trip back was quick. It seemed too quick as I wanted to stay in the woods for a lot longer these days. However, we made it back to the trail sign and the last photo op of my 48 took place. I had officially made it back down from the summit. I was complete as far as the mountains went. Of course, then came the road walk back to the car and we all began to drag just a little bite. The conversation was minimal between us. Once back at the car, we loaded our gear and began changing into cleaner cloths. A celebration dinner at the Woodstock Inn was in the plans. Beers and burgers for those that could eat them and I had a salmon salad. We toasted and laughed as people looked on unaware of what we were celebrating and I had the biggest smile of them all. A goal completed and thoughts of moving on to the next set of 19 more mountains… The New England 67. Of course, before I started that list, I wanted my winter peaks. My mind was racing through lists and peaks and more trails. I was excited which did not match the mood of my partner. As I thought of my next move, a rainbow appeared over me on the highway. I took this as a sign that the only way for me to go was… Up.

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