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North Brother, Nujmber 67, the End and the Beginning.

                It’s all too quiet in my world these days which of course means it’s time for me to shake things up a little. The week prior to this hike saw my world above 4000 Feet take point. Nothing was going to prevent me from completing this leg of the journey. I had worked hard for it. My approach to the New England 67 seemed to mirror my approach to life, when I really want something, I focus and I work hard to attain it. And I never forget the people that got me there. Another marathon to Baxter State Park was under way. Six hours to drive and think about the past 10 months and really the past 2 months that I really focused on the Maine Peaks. Driving down 101, I asked for a little trail magic… I got a beautiful moon to guide me to my destination. The first tollbooth lady bestowed her final weekly blessing on me and I thanked her.  Under the cover of darkness, I kept driving through doubt with only music to keep me company, to Baxter, and to The Brothers. My destination, North Brother. My number 67. My finish and my beginning again.

                I actually got to the park early and a line of cars was already forming. It was going to be a busy day in the high places. As I waited, I focused on my life for the past month. All the changes and all incredible experiences I have had. The views I had seen flashed in my mind as I quietly sang ‘I won’t give up’ and smiled looking down at my radio, I whispered a quiet ‘thanks’. At the gate, I gave them all my information and was set for the day. It was 13 miles to my trail head and as I drove, the sun came up to reveal a sea of reds, yellows, and oranges the trees were on fire with the seasons colors. I was in awe of my world around me. I gathered my gear and got ready to head out on the trails for the day. It was cold to begin with at 7:15am so I chose my hat, gloves, and warm shell.

                The gradual gain of the trail was felt and as I got my feet under me, I was faced with my first obstacle. A water crossing with a log to bridge it. So, I pulled out Scott's poles and extended them for balance. One had been stuck for a while and I had made it a point to fix it which turned out to be a wise choice given the depth of the water facing me today. I got across the log balancing and using the poles to provide extra support. The trail then continued over several sections of gain with rock stairs and flat sections in-between. The trail seemed to remind me of Hale, Garfield, and a little bit of the Fishin’ Jimmy trails in the Whites as I hoped over rocks and roots and water. At the first junction, on everyone’s advice I decided to go counter clockwise in my route. I would be thankful for this. The trail was pretty flat and followed a stream with a few more crossings. I was able to move freely on the trail and marveled at the mossy green that flanked it. This was pleasant compared to what lay ahead for me. The trail then became sandy and loose.

                I had entered the beginning of the Coe Slide, which somehow triggered me to think of the Arrow slide back in The Whites. A trail I have yet to experience. It seemed easy enough to navigate and as I crossed the stream a few more times, I was beginning to like this slide trail. Recent rains had packed down the loose sand making it easy to travel on. I rounded a corner and was then faced with slabs of rock. Wet and mossy slabs of rock to go up. I stood there and examined my options and heard whistling behind me. That would be “Unprepared John” from New York. We talked for a bit and he had no headlamp, minimal food, and was in sneakers. I laughed an uneasy laugh as I began my ascent of the slide. John, he kept talking to me, breaking my concentration and sending me sliding down. I stopped again and explained my day and how important it was. I explained that since he was unprepared and hiking with me for the time being, I felt responsible and a little miffed at the ranger that told him this hike would be OK for him. He in turn told me he was inspired and a little scared (for being unprepared). We stayed together for the beginning of the slide and then seemed to separate as he told me, he might find himself taking the Marston trail back down at the junction past South Brother. I continued up the slide and held a conversation with Maine in general. “Maine really needs to stop kicking my ass now”. Was one comment as I stopped to rest on some rocks while still ascending the slide (It was massive). The slabs were slick and I was thankful I was going up rather than down this trail. It was a wise choice to go counter clockwise. Thankfully, I ducked back into the trees after one final cross of the slide.

                It was a short trip to the top of Mt. Coe. A little 3K peak that was also my 100th total summit.  Cresting the top, the most unusual song came out of my mouth… ‘On Saturday, I took a walk to zipperhead...’ I am unsure where this came from given the song is not played on the radio a lot. But I laughed at it and smiled for the memories. I stood on Mt Coe and was in awe of the view. A sea of color surrounded me and  I tapped the sign with my fist. I sat and had a few Kiwi that I had packed which reminded me of old friends I had once hiked with. Kiwi was awesome energy food and since that hike, I had made it a point to carry some. I snapped pictures of the summit and the scenery and made my way to South Brother. Going down, the trail was about as wide as a step with scrub on one side and a serious drop on the other. I loved this and felt perfectly at home and as I dipped down, ‘Punk rock girl let's go slamdance. We'll dress like Minnie Pearl. Just you and me punk rock girl’. How the Dead Milkmen became my earworm of the day, I’ll never know.  I had not heard that song for months.

                The ridge between Coe and South brother was nice and shaded. It was also flat and easy to walk so, I was able to keep good time. I came around a bend in the trail and was greeted by a guy who inquired about my 67th. I tossed my arms up and exclaimed “Yes, that would be me!”. We talked there on the trail about our future plans. He was gong to do the AT next year and I was heading back to the Whites to focus on my grid, my winters, and my pup (who I really missed today!). He shook my hand and congratulated me and I was on my way again. In no time, I came to the junction for the spur to South Brother. The sun was in my face the entire time which made getting up and over the rock scrambles a bit of a challenge not being able to see where my feet were safe. I came up to the summit though and of course, tapped the sign. It was really a nothing peak for me. A stop on my way to the final destination. The view was of course spectacular and after pictures, I settled in for the rest of my Kiwi and a gaze at Katahdin. I was overcome though when North Brother caught my eye. That was it. That was where I was going. That was the end and the beginning. I cried a mixture of relief and sadness for the past few months had been tough on me in many ways. I was up and moving again after a few deep breaths. And as I exited the summit… The birds triggered ‘This little bluebird came looking for you… Ba b aba baaa’. This music of the mountains was good today.

                The trail to North Brother continued to be flat and pleasant for me. No one else seemed to be on the trail so, I was able to walk and talk with whoever would listen. Which of course meant that I was talking with my grandfather. With chief. I told him how amazing my life had become and how I appreciated and missed him so much. I told him that I was at peace here in the high places and that if only I could harness that peace and keep it with me in the dark times below 4K, I’d be a lot better off. I told him that my life was richer because of this journey and that I had met a lot of great people along the way. The trail brought me back as it got wetter and wetter. Taking the spur up to the summit, I was walking through standing and running water. I was joined by a few others as well. Strangers that were on their way to the summit. They would be pulled into my celebration. I explained how special today was and they were happy for me. Although, I don’t think they quite got it. I was choked up while speaking about it already. As they deemed themselves much slower, I was allowed to go ahead. I powered up the scrambles and maneuvered over some tricky rock combinations. I stood at the base of the talus field and looked up to see the sign. My destination was in view and I promptly lost it all over the trail. I was crying and sucking a lot of wind as I walked towards my finish. I let the memories of all those that had joined me pass through my mind. Some were still with me and some were long gone and moved on to other aspects of their lives and still others were waiting for me to come home to the White Mountains to resume my hiking there. All were very special to me and missed on this leg of the journey. I taped my last few steps up to the sign and as I stood there, shaking, I punched the sign with my fist. “I got you.” I said “I GOT You.” A gentleman from the group I passed had made it up to witness what had happed. He looked puzzled at my reaction. I explained the journey and where I was heading next and he kind of understood it all. Although, I got the feeling he was just going along with it. There seemed to be very few people in my life that truly ‘Got it’. He took my summit picture and separated from me. The two ladies that were coming up joined in the congratulations. They were shocked at my choice of Ice cream (freeze dried) and wine for my summit meal. I earned it. 67 peaks and I earned every last drop.

                I took in the summit and all that was around me. I spoke with my summit company intermittently as I wanted to savor my victory within as I let the memories and the feelings wash over me. I posted that I was enjoying the summit and that I was really emotional but happy. I truly was. This journey has made all the difference in my life. Jumping in with both feet has become my style and giving my all to the people I am with as well as the situations I am in can seem overwhelming and lead to misunderstandings to both me and those around me. When I come to the mountains, I am in turn overwhelmed by the things that I see and experience in a different way. In a more positive way, I am taken by the scenery and the mental aspect of my hikes. In the mountains, I am better able to focus on just one thing and that one thing is the trail instead of the millions of tiny things that seem to eat at my mind daily below 4000ft. The mountains bring me peace in a world where my brain will not stop and my words and actions betray me and push the limits of relations. I have a better understanding of myself and I am better able to be understood while navigating to a summit.

                Maine was a wonderful experience and to complete it solo offered up some mixed emotions. I wished that some could have joined me and in so many ways, there were with me all along if not physically, mentally in my memory. So many people helped me along the way. I am forever grateful to each for teaching me some important lessons (some I was aware of and some I was not at the time). I carried you all to the summit with me and missed you all terribly. I felt your presence in so many ways as I was comforted and pushed along the trails and homeward to finally rest. I look forward to Coming Home to the White Mountains where my Grid, my winter list, and my pup’s list will need to be completed. We’ve got a lot of work to do and it’s been far too long since we inhaled the rarified air of the high places, so let’s get hiking again and I will share with you my experiences and teach you all I have learned in my heart.

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