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Winter on Owl's Head

                I went to bed last night knowing that morning would come early again… In the final winter push, the blinders have come on and I am hiking, A LOT and thinking about trails A LOT. The mountain therapy would continue with Owl’s Head to end the weekend. It was time to get this one out of the way and today was a perfect day to do it. To my surprise, I got myself out of bed and on my way. I may have pushed every snooze I could and in the end, Isis and I were on our way to Lincoln Woods. Today, we’d be meeting up with Heather and Kali, her friend Dan, and someone I had not seen for a few months, Gumby Hiker. Not wanting this to be a total hike of awkwardness, I focused on the excitement of my 40th winter peak. Time was growing short and the fire within me was growing stronger. I could actually do this, complete my winter peaks in my best winter season yet.
After quick introductions and greetings, we were all on our way down the Lincoln Woods trail. Kali and Isis played and then then settled into a rhythm and allowed everyone to walk in remote peace. Heather and I got a chance to catch up with our many changes in our lives, as it’s really easy to walk and talk on this wide trail and we can hang back from the guys a bit. It’s well packed out and we started with bare boots and an agreement that the shoes would go on at the Brutus Bushwhack. At different points, I lagged behind to allow Isis to do her thing. Keeping her on a leash, I wait with her as well and often have to catch up to a group if I am hiking with others. This does not bother me one bit. I’m just happy to be out with Isis once again this weekend. We make the turn onto Black Pond Trail and things even out into single file. Isis and I bring up the end and we are again happy to do this. Isis just does better in this position and seems comfortable.

The trail is in great shape and continues to be well packed out so, there are no issues and the walking is at a good pace. Lucky for us, this beginning is an easy elevation gain and you do not start out climbing (that comes later). The conversation spins around us and Isis and I are content to listen and just be in the woods. Hiking solo usually means that you spend a lot of time in quiet and Isis and I got use to that. To have people around is a treat and still sometimes we forget that we need to socialize. As we began the Black Pond Bushwhack, a rhythm set in and I was content again to just be. It was a big help that the trails were in great shape so, there was little more to do than enjoy being outdoors. Snow was falling and we all enjoyed the atmosphere. It was a great day to do Owl’s Head. We’d break from time to time for food and drinks or clothing changes and the hike continued to be comfortable.
Isis and I continued to bring up the end of the group and she continued to do fine on her leash for her second day in a row hiking.  Back on the Lincoln Brook trail, we fell silent and gladly kept to ourselves for the majority of the trail. It’s hard for me to connect with new people and especially the first time hiking with someone who is not use to me and I’m not use to them (it's a protection thing for myself). Hanging back to observe and feel things out, I made the choice to just keep moving forward to see what would develop as well as just enjoy the trails and my good friends. Turning around is not an option for me anymore until winter is done and in the books.  Isis and I have a system that works for us and no one else should really matter and those that hike with us know the system and are accepting of it. Isis is perfectly happy to hike with me and we stop at the start of the Brutus Bushwhack to the summit to put on snowshoes and have something to eat. Isis and Kali squabble and while I feel bad for this, I know it’s just dogs being dogs. They would be separated again soon enough and we made our way up the Brutus.

Here is where the elevation gain kicks in and can kick your ass. There is no way around it and you just have to put your head down and get it done. Again, this trail is well broken out and easy to follow. Isis does great listening to me and we keep moving forward. I use the nearby trees to steady myself. The comment is made that I’m at an advantage with Isis pulling me up by the leash and I took the opportunity to agree that there actually is a good reason to have her on her leash. The group moved forward at a slow pace which was fine with me so that my system does not get stressed and I’m able to continue. There are breaks here and there on the Brutus and some are at awkward angles for my legs depending on where the group stopped. It would seem that the trail was different from the one that we took back in October. It’s still the same elevation gain, the scenery just seems different and it’s not because of the snow.  It feels like we are going in the opposite direction from the slide and we never come to the rock that marks the entrance to the slide. We find ourselves on the ridge and finally on our way to the summit with a flatter trail, running into different groups that stayed the night. The trees have that classic winter on the summit look of drifts and snow coating the bows. I’m smiling all the way to the cairn, looking at my favorite scenes.
We stop for a celebration and something to eat. Again, the dogs squabble around food and again, I feel bad and almost responsible. Isis and I are our only company during the week and she has no competition for food (the cat does not go near Isis’ dish). So, I take responsibility for how she acts and wish that she had a few more “friends” (do dogs have friends?). Life gets crazy and there is not always time to get her to the dog park or whatever…. We socialize by hiking on the weekends. It’s getting cold so, after a quick picture, we are on our way back down the Brutus.

It was already in great shape on the way up and Heather, Gumby, and I butt slide the majority of the downs so, it’s even more packed out and it took us no time to get back to the Lincoln Brook trail. Hands down, we all agree that this is the way to get down a trail. The debate to keep the shoes on or take them off is short lived as we all decide to leave them on for the time being. Everyone is in good spirits as we continue to make our way back to the car. The four of us talk about different things from bikes to food to of course hiking and laughing about some of our memorable trips from last year. This is what I love about hiking with a familiar group. We’ve built memories and it’s always fun to laugh about trips we have taken together. There is history in this group. Making our way back to the car, we discover that we are making great time and it looks to be an 8 hour trip and possibly the best time for me on Owl’s Head.

We all seem to go our own ways from the parking lot, after some chatting and well wishes. I’m last out as I change and take care of Isis. She remains my constant and my best hiking partner. We are bonded in such a way that we may be inseparable now (I describe it as my inappropriate relationship with my dog). I will go out of my way to defend her and she’d probably do the same for me. We head back to our life below 4000 feet to wait for the next weekend. Where will we go? With only 8 to choose from, the field is getting thin and what is left seem to be the ‘Big kids’ of the mountains. I’m excited and a little sad to be heading home. Even though I do love my solo hikes, to hike with some good friends today, was just the connection that I needed to look forward to the next hike together. Being so close to the end of winter, we each have our own goals to fulfill and that means being a little selfish with where you go on the weekend so, we understand that that next hike might not be right away. Will I be in the Presi’s next weekend or Zealand and West Bond? Time and the weather will tell.  

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