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Saddleback and the Horn....A Beautiful Challenge Full of Hope.


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Time… Seems like I’ve had too much and yet not enough all at the same… Time. I’ve learned a lot can happen in two weeks and it seemed like someone grabbed all my balls and threw them up in the air to watch me try and catch them all. All the while, my mind is on one thing… Get me to the mountains. I can find myself there and make sense of things easily. At 2am, the alarm went off… Time to hike my ass off. Hopeful words sent to me prior to my adventure beginning. Time to grab some peaks.
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It was a 5 hour trip to Rangely Maine and they were not going to get any shorter any time soon. I zoned out for a change and just drove. Isis slept next to me in the passenger’s seat. The sun was not even up as I drove through Franconia Notch. I always loved the mountains silhouetted in dawn colors. I knew that I’d find time to hike the ridge soon and as I moved through, my focus became Saddleback and The Horn.
I was sticking to the AT and knew that it would be pretty straight forward. As the road took me past the entrance to the ski area, I began looking for the AT crossing and parking. Once there, I got my boots on. I remembered a recommendation by Scott to wear two pairs of socks. Today, I put it to the test. I had hopes that my hot spots would go away. The dog was ready and raring to go as I got my pack on. I swear, she was constantly looking for them on the trail and I’d just reassure her that they’d be back soon and knees take time to heal.
We stopped at the head of the trail and noticed the fliers for the missing AT hiker. She was now over a month overdue. I was there when the search began and now, in this area only the faint drone of the search plane was all you heard. At 7:30am, there was no one on the trail. I was able to warm up my legs on a pretty flat section and I was thankful for that. Shortly after, I was greeted by dozens of foot bridges and most were in good shape. The mud was plentiful and Isis had a hard time not wearing mud socks. The trail varied between bridges, rocks, roots, and flat trail. The vertical gain was pretty easy at this point and my lungs were thankful.
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I took a detour to see Piazza Rock by the tent sites. This huge outcropping looked something like a dinosaur jutting out over the trail. Isis and I attempted to climb up but the steepness proved to be too much for the both of us. Had we more people in our party, we might have made it. I told her that we’d come back. The rock was massive and could shelter a pretty decent size hiking party. We headed back to the AT and made our way through the tent site. Stopped and chatted with two girls from Cape Cod which was nice because I am originally from Plymouth MA. They loved seeing Isis and gave her some love. I was happy because they were smiling at her and I liked how happy she made a lot of hikers and campers. We parted and I said I would see them at the top.
The sun was in my eyes for a lot of the hike up. The rocks and roots were becoming more prevalent and the vertical gain was starting to increase. I had started the hike in long pants and my light shell. Now, I was in my T shirt and shorts. This is what it’s all about. Starting the day all bundled up and stripping layers. It meant fall was coming and winter could not be far behind. Isis and I kept moving through trail. My thoughts turned back to my life below 4000 feet. I had little control over what was happening and knowing that I could only control what I was doing (or not doing) was a comfort. I had given up a lot of control in favor of just being and while it felt like a coat that didn’t fit, I knew that I was going to be OK. Isis and I would run into a few groups along the way. One group of students seemed to overwhelm the poor little dog and so, I tried to keep her moving.
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We began an earnest climb not too long after crossing the last access road. Greeted with ladders built into the rocks, it made it easier to get up the steep faces. Isis just leapt up them. We made the climb for about a mile. Popping out of the trees and then ducking back in. Isis was having difficulty staying on the trail and was in bad need of some retraining. I was determined to keep going and just kept correcting her on the spot. We were finally above tree line and I smiled. Greeted with ledges and rock faces that reminded me of our great trip to the Baldface’s my thoughts turned to happy memories and hope. Isis and I wound our way through the cairn trail and the summit came into view. It looked so far away at this point and as I turned to look at where we started, I was hit with perspective. It was not that far at all.
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We arrived at the first summit before noon. Sat and had something to eat and drink. Sent out a text to Scott with a few pictures to show him what was waiting for him when he was ready to hike the Maine Peaks. There was one other couple up there who didn’t seem very social. They seemed to scoff at the dog so, I let them be. Another family arrived shortly after the first couple left. We got our summit picture and settled again. That was until George the dog came over and helped himself to Isis’ food and water. I gave a stern “that’s not yours” to the dog and the owner didn’t appreciate it. Isis and I packed up and headed for the Horn.
I knew that it was a pretty deep Col. So, why was I surprised when I came to the edge and looked almost straight down. I looked at Isis as if to say, are you ready. She would need to control her speed and listen to my commands or this was not going to work. To my surprise, she did OK. It was slow and tough going in the full sun and as the trail flattened out, Isis and I made up some time crossing the ridge. Back up to The Horn, it was the same thing as on Saddleback. Ledges and more memories of the Baldfaces. What a great trip that was.
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At noon, Isis and I sat on the summit. We were satisfied with our accomplishment and settled in looking around and taking in the surrounding peaks. I thought of my accomplishments and all that I had put in to get here. I was happy and knew that I would keep going. And then there were seven I thought… No way I was stopping now. I could balance my life below 4000 feet and incorporate the two. There were things playing out and I only needed to remain centered to get through it. A little positive energy went a long way and I could feel things turning back around for me.
Isis and I had our summit picture taken and we began the long trip back over het exact way we came. This meant that all the downs became ups and all the ups became downs. As we crossed past the summit of Saddleback, we stopped to talk with Thru Hiker Heavyweight. He was a top hatted, bearded, and scruffy hiker who started in Georgia and his trip was coming to an end. I for the first time introduced myself as Pintsize. He smiled and shook my hand. He gave Isis some love and thanked me for bringing her along. As we crossed the ridge for the last time, following the cairns became a powerful symbol to me. Strong and waling with determination, I watched my sight overtake each marker as we passed them. As we went down and came to more packs of hikers, seems Isis really had the power to make thru hikers smile. And this theory would prove true as all of these bearded, sweaty, and scruff looking hikers, grown men, would smile and thank me for stopping and basically turn to a puddle of ‘Awwww’. Some would exclaim how beautiful she was. This made me happy. Not because they were talking about a part of me. But because that part of me could make them happy.
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We made it back to the car at 4:30pm. I changed completely from my hiking cloths and got comfortable for the ride home. Isis took her passenger’s seat and made her bed to lie down. We headed for home after having hiked my ass off and feeling it too. On the way home, we were greeted by a momma deer in the road who just stared at us for 15 seconds and then bounded into the woods. There was a juvenile black bear trying desperately to get into a house. Isis and I laughed at that (I swear she at least lifted her head and smiled). It was a good and fulfilling day for us. Two pairs of socks did help the hot spots and I was pleased. I got cell service and sent Scott a text to say I was down. No expectation. Just closing the day by letting people know I was safe. Arriving home, I posted the pictures to share with everyone… Crawled into bed after a huge plate of tater tots and waited for morning to come.
Soon it would be time to prepare for what was to come next… And Katahdin would bring the count to 62 by close of Labor Day.
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