The silence in my home seemed deafening and my anxiety kept blowing the roof off most of the day and night. I was going to the Bigelow’s with Isis in the early hours of Sunday morning and for the first time in doing the New England 67 peaks, I was scared. I felt unsure of myself again and trying to reach within and pull strength from somewhere deep inside to calm myself alone. The only thing certain was the uncertainty that was growing around me as I got the gear in my pack and tried to settle down and just be. The remaining peaks of the 67 were looking like solo hikes and I suddenly realized I was back at the beginning again… NFG? No, I had gathered too much experience for that title and yet I would always have it symbolically. I was back at the beginning and waiting for a different ending and waiting for a better outcome to emerge from the not knowing and the wondering. Time would tell and in the meantime, I had peaks to grab and hike my ass off on. The problem with that was that this was Maine and Maine was kicking my ass with its ruggedness and I was doing this alone. And in the silence I wished hard and the silence kept on getting louder and louder in return because all I could hear were my own thoughts which held no solution or solace and I craved the other half. I wandered around the house shouting things like “Biscuits!” so I would remember them for Isis and “Socks” because I was prone to forget them for some reason. I managed to get everything packed up and by the door. I was careful not to forget anything and that included food, I settled in for one final round of research. We were in for what looked like a wet and steep climb tomorrow with one significant water crossing that I knew Isis would not be able to rock hop. The Bigelow’s were going to join the other Maine peaks in an attempt to kick my ass… But I am a fighter and I believe in myself even when I make stupid mistakes. Two AM was going to come quickly. Especially if I could not get to sleep even with 5mg. Melatonin to help.
I rolled over at 2:30 and stared at the clock in disbelief. I was awake and wondering why it was late and why my alarm didn’t go off at 2am. I blinked and remembered that I had to drive and get to the mountains and that I was going to Maine. “Bigelow’s!” I said and threw my legs over the side of the bed. I stood up and attempted to get dresses. Fumbled around the house and got the gear in the car after packing the food. I let Isis out of her crate and she immediately went to the cellar door. She was ready to go and that made me smile. She knows what happens when I wake her up so early… We go hiking! And we were off down the road in no time. I had almost 5 hours to puzzle through everything and Isis just settled in and fell asleep in the passenger’s side. The only truth I could come to was that I had become a bull in a china shop who was running around with her foot in her mouth… And there seemed to be no way to make amends for walls had been built and unbreakable. Stopping at the first toll booth, rocked me back to hiking reality. The toll attendant at this early hour bestowed a blessing on me. “May the good Lord keep you safe”. I had not even mentioned the hike to her. I smiled and thanked her and drove off taking it as a sign. Next stop was Maine in the Carrabassett Valley after a few more tolls. The moon was a gorgeous sliver in the sky and the lighting accented it well. I worried about the weather and thought that it would a great day for my bucket hat. The drive was long and draining and as the sun came up, I felt a little more energy enter into me. I passed Caribou Valley Rd where I was back in July for 4 peaks and felt the tide begin to shift to hiking. Just past was Stratton Brook Pond Rd where I would park for the Bigelow’s. Tool welcomed us to the trailhead from the radio speakers. And I chuckled uneasily.
At first, I second guessed myself and drove back down the road but then listened to my gut and turned back around. Parked and got ready. “Biscuits!” I said loudly to remind myself to put them in my pocket instead of leaving them in the door of the car like last time. Isis was ready to go but the question was, which way? There were two entrances and the guidebook said to go down the old road and well one trail looked like a trail road so I chose the “road” looking entrance… Sure enough, I was right. I let out an audible “Huh! I was right” and smiled. Everything became even clearer as Isis and I got to the second trailhead by the water crossing. I looked at it and thought about Scott’s poles that I still had with me and luckily, it was rock hopable for both myself and Isis. The trail itself at this end was pretty wide and easily walked. The roots and rocks had not over taken as of yet. The humidity however was oppressive and felt a lot like when I finished my 48 on Carrigain. As we walked, the trail began to close in and look more like a trail and less like an over grown road.
My usual mental gymnastics were very mellow today and I was a little more focused on the trail but that is not to say I didn’t get caught in a few good mental wrestling matches with myself. There was no one else on the trail today so, the silence was disturbing and I filled it with a conversation with Chief for my comfort. Isis and I were working together and she seemed to be over her not listening phases and got more treats and praise than I had ever given her. She had a tough start to living in my family for not being too welcome by others and I was proud of her for all she had done so far in her young life. There were a couple of minor water crossings that she actually plowed through and some mud that literally put her mud socks on. We started up the steep sections of the Fire Warden’s Trail and she was listening perfectly. The vertical gain on the Fire Warden’s trail was unlike anything I had in a long time. Probably not since going from Madison to Clay back in April. There were several sections of rock stairs to help and even still they were uneven so I would end up hoisting and climbing over them. Isis was concentrating on the toads that were on the trail and how she could get them. I quickly put s stop to this and told her to “say no to toads”.
We were stopped just before the Col by two Canadian Gentlemen who had just finished their 115. I always thought it was nice when people on the trail share accomplishments. I spoke about my want to get to the Adirondacks and in my heart of hearts knew I was kidding. I was having enough trouble getting the 67 and even today, considered turning back at least 4 times already. Some days, it was a constant battle to get up to the peaks and it was getting tougher recently. I was tired and wondering how long history would have to repeat itself and even still, I was hoping for a little trail magic to turn things around. Isis and I made it to the Col and there was no turning back. The Fire Wardens trail blended into the AT. I reminded myself of the healing that was happening and to just let it all be.
We decided to go to West Peak first and the trail had a gradual rise to it. Not very rocky to start and even opened up above tree line. The clouds were covering the summit so, the views were not there. I told myself that I’d have to come back and hoped I would come back with others. We crested the trail and saw the summit post. Once we got there, I gave it a firm Slap and shouted “61! NFG… Huh”! We settled in to have something to eat and drink. The caretaker was coming up over the ridge and I managed to stop him long enough to snap a picture. He moved on quickly and Isis and I were left to the cloudy summit. I sat in the quiet and tried to calm my thoughts and focused on the trails. Maine was much more rugged than I had even experiences and I wondered what the remaining peaks would be like for me and the pup. It was getting colder so, Isis and I made our way back down to head over to Avery Peak.
Back the way we came, we ran into a family hiking with their dog as well. Isis tried to play with the big boy but got a little overwhelmed but his massive paws. They told me that the Avery Summit was in the clear and hoped that I would make it to see the view. Back at the junction, Isis and I began our ascent. The trail was one big scramble over rocks and Isis loved it. She was getting a little ahead of herself and began pulling me up the rock sections. I did my best to get her to calm down however, I was also getting tired. Having not slept well for a while now, I wondered how long I could keep this up. We broke through tree line on Avery and were presented with a view of the lakes around the peak and the surrounding mountains. I was speechless once again as I took in the views and the summit terrain. We attempted to get a picture at the summit with the tripod and timer but Isis was too hard to control. I left my pack and went to the far end of the summit to check out a structure. It reminded me of the same structure on the summit of Garfield which brought back a lot of memories for me. There was another hiker there that took my picture and we chatted about our day. He and his wife had canoed the lake and decided to climb the peaks from there. I was amazed by that.
Once back at the actual summit, I was standing over my pack and paused for something had caught my attention. “Forgive”… I heard it loud and clear in my head. It was my voice. Forgive. I smiled. On that summit, I finally forgave myself for events that had happened. For being that bull in a china shop with her hove in her mouth. I forgave myself over reacting and acting like a crazed person. It was a comfort that I needed and hoped that it would swing things in a positive direction. As the moment passed, I sat and unwrapped my ice cream and ate it while Isis napped next to my pack. The ice cream tasted even better than any other time I had eaten it on a summit. I savored it and watched the clouds move in and out. I texted Scott who was home recovering from his TKR and silent. I didn’t do it to be a pain or to instigate anything. I didn’t do it to elicit a response. I did it because I know how much he loves the mountains and how much he would love the very scene in front of me. I did it because hopefully it would boost his recovery rather than make him jealous that I was up here. And in the silence, I secretly hoped for trail magic.
A young woman had joined us and we talked Katahdin and how I could sneak Isis in by packing her in my pack and explaining to the rangers that she was just extra food and gear. She and I laughed for a while before I decided that it was time to head down and my heart was becoming heavy again. We took in the view one last time. Heading back the way we came, over the scrambles, I spoke with a hiker who had his great dane on the trail but he was stopped at a tent site with his son who was tired. I would have loved to have seen him next to Isis. Walking aback down the fire warden’s trail was a challenge as Isis was being disobedient. As if she had had enough and wanted to play around. I did my best to control her and control myself. The rock steps were slick and I slipped several times for Isis’ pulling. And even with these fits and stops, we seemed to fly down the trails and before we knew it, we were back at the car.
I changed into some comfortable and dry clothes for driving all the way home and figured that a good way to let people know I was safe was to post my GPS track of the trip (I utilized social media for safety when hiking solo). All food and drinks were brought up front and as I drove away I ate and I was determined to figure out how to finish the 67 by the end of the month. The rest of my thoughts would have to be resolved in silence and maybe with a little trail magic. I was still positive that Scott's recovery from his TKR would go well and that he would be back on the trails before long. Distance provides healing and space to understand. I had to rest in that space and hope. As we pulled into Peterborough, a nice police man pulled us over because I had blown a headlight on the way home… He still went through the stop and when he retuned with my liscense, Isis became the topic of conversation as she had all day at the toll booths and on the trails…
“ She’s done over 20 4000 footer at 1 year old."
“ No way, really. What a great dog.” The police man said. “That is amazing.”
“Nope, just a typical weekend for us. Have a great night officer.” I smiled.
As I drive way, I was reminded just then that it’s sometimes about bragging rights… What have you done and what do you want to do? It's OK to talk about these things. My pup has just as much bragging rights as I have and yet we are still humbled by how we spend our time together on weekends. We are gentile and generally just keep to ourselves. No one can say now what the future holds. Sometimes, you just have to let it play out and hope for a little trail magic.
And then there were… Five.
And then there were… Five.