Flexibility comes into play a lot when I am hiking. I start out with a plan and take it from there. Constantly evaluating the conditions, Isis, and myself, how far can I go? I always shoot high and adjust if I need to. Since my Pemi got washed out, I had gone home after grabbing Flume and tried to find something to overnight on. I had started out with Hale, Zealand, and the Twins, figuring on a nice night to camp, I thought that the twins for s sun set and sun rise would be perfect. Considering I was only out for an overnight, I condensed the gear and was able to use my red Gregory Jade 38 pack. My EMS velocity 2 tent fit on the side and everything else fell into place. I had stopped over at EMS and picked up some Super Feet insoles (green) to alleviate some foot pain that I often experienced after getting off the trail too. I was all set to go and because I was determined, I didn’t follow the weather as closely as I usually do. Isis and I get up Saturday morning and get underway a little late except, since we have no set time to be down, I’m not feeling rushed to get there. We take our time and arrive at a little before 8am at the Halebrook Trail head.
We were followed closely by what seemed to be the entire state of Connecticut and after we are ready, we head up the trail. Having been here several time before, I am familiar with the terrain and the grade which starts out to be gradual. It’s raining still and I am sure that Isis is convinced (as am I) that the sun may never shine again. With my rain shell, pack cover, and pants on (rather than shorts), I am all set for the weather. The Hale Brook trail is in great shape with only a call to move a few branches out of the way. Otherwise, it’s easily navigated. As we are heading up in a particularly woods section, the Connecticut group is heading up behind us and we let them pass. Each one pats Isis and asks about her with happy thoughts except one older gentleman who only makes a reference to the current state of the world and how that name is no good anymore. I bit my tongue and let him go however, I hoped that we would move slow enough to not run into them again. I’m use to all kinds of people on the trails but this guy (with no filter) hit a sore spot and Isis is my life (right now). Insult her, you insult me too.
The water crossings on the Hale Brook trail are a little high from recent rains but still crossable without trouble and the rocks are easily navigated even though they are wet. My feet feel great and I chalk it up to the Super Feet insoles which makes me happy. The pack weight I have seems perfect and Isis and I continue up the trail taking pictures of flowers and “enjoying” the weather. I keep reassuring her that it will stop and the sun will come out. As we move through the switchbacks, and make our way to the summit, we head into the clouds and I also remind myself that it’s Hale. No view so this weather is actually perfect (if you are a duck). I take my traditional shot looking up the trail to the summit and it looks creepy in the clouds. Isis and I walk out to the huge Cairn and settle for a break. She gets food and water and I get a granola bar. We have the summit to ourselves which is fine with us and we enjoy the quiet in the cloud. I send out a quick message that we got this far with the intent of sending out more along the way. We head off down the Lend A Hand trail which is becoming one of my favorite ways to travel to the Zealand Hut.
Lend A hand is a couple of quick and rocky down sections which today are wet but still able to be navigated. It then evens out to some rocky sections as well as some bog bridges and watery sections. Isis has a hard time navigating these because she’s already soaked and I got the feeling that she was not interested in being that way anymore. I knew that we’d be one of only a few souls out here at this point because of the weather and figured I’d know we were close to the hut because we’d see a few more people. As promised, the sun did come out and the layers did come off. I rolled up my sleeves in hopes of evening out my arm tan from the farmers tan I still had from my presidential visit a few weeks back. The sunglasses also came on as did a smile. Isis perked up and played going down the trail so, I knew that she would be OK. Along the way, I began thinking of later today and the climb we had to Zeacliff. Depending on time and conditions, I thought that I may just camp there for the night and hit the rest tomorrow. I figured we would judge it at the hut. As predicted, Isis and I started running into others close to the hut and as we made our way there, I needed a break so, it was going to be a longer break than usual.
While sitting outside, people were coming and going and keeping to themselves. It seemed out of the ordinary given the usual friendly atmosphere of a hut. So, Isis and I sat and ate and kept to ourselves. No one even so much as reached a hand out to her. After feeling kind of funny for being there, we suited up and were on our way again. The climb up on the twin Way had 2 significant water crossings over the Zealand Falls and again, while they were high, they were still crossable. I jumped one with Isis in my arms so, some fancy footwork is needed. The climb to Zeacliff begins almost immediately with intermittent short flat sections of rock to hop. It’s not a bad climb however, after a long day for us, it’s slower than I would like. We are over taken by a group of three twentysomethings with one that appears to “know it all”. Not that I am an expert, I just keep to myself what I know and don’t know. I comment that this trail is so much easier in winter which is true of any trail. Isis and I get to the junction for Zeacliff to find it crowded with two of the three hikers that passed earlier. I ask them to not take a break in the middle of the trail so that people may pass and not lose momentum.
Isis and I make our way to Zeacliff which at this point due to energy level, will be our resting place for the night. We are greeted by an AMC group having a debriefing on the cliff and I feel a little let down by the over- crowding and as though I am intruding on them. We settle and wait for them to pass. Everyone seems friendly it was just that I was looking for quiet. Most are taken by Isis and I tell them of her accomplishments. Some don’t acknowledge her at all. Once they leave, the group from Connecticut re-appears to my surprise. The same guy that insulted Isis is now trying to be our best friend. I’m not really buying it and of course, everyone wants a cliff picture so I am given several iPhones. It seemed like it was a chore for one of them to take my picture… Something is wrong with that. There is small talk which may have been a little sarcastic on my end and as they leave, they are in disbelief that I am staying here for the night.
Isis is settled on a rock and I am able to leave her unattended and not latched to anything with her leash. I set up the tent cliff adjacent so I do not disturb anyone else that may come up before it gets dark. Who knows what the sun set will look like at this point but I am settled in. Isis and I try and walk around looking for reception so I can get the word out but to no avail. We settle back down and I cook my dinner of Pad Thai and bring out my small bottle of wine. It was probably the best meal I had had all week given the view. I had intended on finding a place to watch the sun set however, clouds and lack of view spots on the twin way brought us back to the cliff. We were joined by a family with two adorable children who were just smitten with a very tired Isis. The four of is sat together and they would pet her and talk to her. I was so taken by this that I thought I was going to cry. The parents were equally nice and all were staying at the hut. They did not last long as their dinner was being cooked and they needed to head back down. So, we bid each other safe travels and they were gone. Isis and I were alone watching the clouds roll in and out and as we did this, she crawled close and curled up. Let out a deep sigh and then climbed in my lap burying her face in my arm. She was cold and I sat there with her and had a little more wine (not even a glass was drank that night). I watched the clouds and after a very long moment, let out my own sigh because for the first time in a very long time, my mind thought of nothing. There were no memories, no future thoughts, not even a present acknowledgement. I was sitting there, with my dog, empty in the moment and I relished this experience as one I would not soon forget.
Even though the sun was far from setting, weather was moving in and out and Isis was cold. We went to the tent and got ready to bed down for the night. I was in my long johns, long sleeve shirt, socks, hat, and later I would add gloves. Isis crawled right in the sleeping bag with me and curled up. I closed up my mummy bag to keep the heat in for her and also buried my head a little to keep myself warm. It was going to be a long night and I hoped that everything would be ok. The least of my worries were critters. Weather was on my mind. The wind blew and I was up and down all night as Isis slept. I don’t traditionally sleep well any way and camp outs added to it. I dozed off only to be awoken by the rain at 230am. I was not pleased by this sound. I fitfully slept in-between thoughts of our destination for the morning.
At about 5am, I could not wait for the rain to stop, I needed to use the bathroom. So, I got my boots on and hurried a little ways away from the tent and then hurried back. Isis again crawled into the sleeping bag with me after leaving at some point in the night. I was happy that she stayed in the tent so well and we waited a little while to see if the rain would clear. Once it was clear that it was not, I got up and got dressed and began packing up. I took the tent down in the rain everything was soaked. My pack had a little protection with the pack cover but not much. I was cold and kept my hat, gloves, and added my arm warmers under my rain shell. The pack was hoisted on my back and a very wet and sad looking Isis accompanied me back to the Twin Way. We started to head to Zealand instead of going down. I promised her that we would only go this far (the twins can be attained in other ways) but it would be silly to leave Zealand hanging. She protested and I gave her a sausage treat which got her going again. I had not even had coffee because of the weather. I had decided to keep moving over stopping for freeze dried eggs and coffee.
We made our way over the wet and windy Twin Way. I was enjoying the journey as even though it was wet, I really liked this trail. It has a good combination of rocks, wet boggy areas, flat sections, and rocks to climb. Plus, there is a ladder too. Isis was moving along and after a long time, we ran into two girls coming from Guyot who like us, tagged Zealand (we were on our way) and were going down with amended plans for the day. Shortly after this, we made it to the spur for Zealand. .1 to the summit and we were on our way home. At the summit, Isis refused to eat and I had a granola bar. We did not stay and we took no summit picture beyond a picture of the sign. We headed back the way we came which usually feels like it is flying by. Except today, the trail was creeping, due to the weather and it seemed to take forever to get back to the crossroads by Zeacliff. Once there, I knew we were on our way down for sure.
We teetered and tottered down the Twin Way and back to the hut. I had not even turned my phone on this morning. As we walked, the care taker for Guyot shelter came up behind us and nearly startled me. We spoke briefly about the weather and he moved ahead knowing we’d see one another at the hut. Isis and I took it slow due to energy and conditions and my sloppy feet. We made it to the Hut and was greeted by some happy hikers and the care taker drinking tea. It was a much different scene than the other night. It felt warm and inviting and like home again. The volunteers were milling about and all stopped to see Isis. One hiker made another reference to current events in relation to her name and I simply explained that Isis was born well before the organization he was referring to and much like my birthday was mine well before it was taken by the darkest day in current US history, I assured him that we are not evil. Just a little unlucky. And quietly how I wished it was not like this. This tactic also seems to quiet people too.
Isis and I enjoyed our stay at the hut and got back on the Zealand trail down, knowing that we’d run into a lot of Newbies heading up and that we had a road walk back to the Hale brook trail where the car was. So, we enjoyed the walk and all the lady slippers that lined the trail. Zealand trail is also a favorite because it’s very flat once you descend the hut. The bridges are fun and the water crossings are never hard. Most people were friendly and quite a few just passed on by without even blinking at my greetings. I was relishing the moments that I had accomplished over the last 24 hours and thinking of the next ever night. No solid plans as of yet. Just knowing that I can do this is good enough. We arrived back at the Zealand trail head by 11:30am. The car was reached by noon. Isis laid down and I got changed out of my wet cloths.
Life to me is about moments. Moments that can make you soar or can absolutely kill you. How you handle those moments is your choice. Challenging myself in those moments to rise above, keep going, go further, and to simply be in the moment far out weight any goal. The goal seems to now be secondary to how far I can take myself and how much I can challenge myself. I’ve camped out alone before but this was the first camp out where I was truly on my own with just Isis. And this being her first camp out, I was very proud of both of us for caring for one another. The other moment that I can recall is her waking me up my licking my face, something that has not happened since I got her (if at all). We are bonded and a solid hiking partnership between human and animal. Life continues to throw curve balls at me and all I need to do is sit on a cliff and feel that feeling of empty peace to know that everything will be alright. As I head back to work, I will carry that with me.