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From Mount Tom to Mount Willard

         Observation, Evaluations, re-evaluation, and ultimately flexibility all come into play when I hike. I intended on hiking Tom, Field, and Willey today for a nice loop and a good start to February. Weather first dictated that this be the choice over my remaining three winter peaks. I'm just not that crazy about high winds and bitter cold above tree line. So, after a whirlwind day in Maine on Thursday and two recovery days, I decided that Sunday I'd shoot up and hit this loop prior to the Super Bowl (making sure I had nacho's to make for after the hike). The alarm goes off and it's so tempting to roll over. With both Isis and Roxie cat on the bed and my flannel sheets, I am in a toasty cocoon BUT, I get up and get ready. After a fruitless search for my buff (to protect my face), Isis and I hit the road. Southern parts of the state are clear sailing to the mountains and then I hit Franconia Notch... Grey, spitting little ice pellets and snow, WINDY, and cold. I'm thinking that I might turn back and grab one of those expensive Dunkin' coffee's in Lincoln NH, that I sometimes drive all the way up North for. I press through and much like life on Franconia Ridge, as I pull into the Highland Center, blue skies are breaking out. I take a bathroom break at the main lodge and feel the bitter winds. I think, maybe just Tom and Field again for the day. I vow to evaluate as I go. I get myself and Isis ready for the cold temps and we head out to the trail behind the Crawford Depot. 

        It's shaping up to be a really pretty day as we make our way across the field through some pretty deep drifts. I am wondering about the trail and once we get to the start of the Avalon Trail, I am surprised by how well it is broken out. This seems to be a positive thing for us as I continue to evaluate. I've been tired lately so, I am feeling sluggish and as if I am constantly going up hill (the most difficult part of the hike for me). Isis is doing great and seems very happy to be back on the trails again. I can feel the cold on my face and as we climb, I think about the day. Maybe just Tom and Field? Maybe just Tom? Let's see how the junction is? The first water crossing is bridged nicely and you'd never know that you were walking on open water. My snowshoes are doing a great job of grabbing into the well packed Avalon Trail. Isis and I make it to my favorite water crossing in The Whites in about a half hour from the time we started. I again think that this might pan out. We stop for a quick bite and some water... My line is frozen so in the coat it goes. My pack feels full but not uncomfortable on my back. I think that we may at least make it to Tom. I'm looking forward to taking my pack off at the spur like I always do. I'm also looking forward to the Grey Jay's considering I have granola today. 

         As Isis and I continue, I first notice that she is lifting her right front paw up and not putting it down. This is not good. I stop and look for any signs of a cut. She's just cold so I keep her moving. She then starts kicking out her back left leg. It's quite a dance she is doing down the trail and I'm contemplating booties that I have in my pack. As we keep walking, she settles a little and I get lost in my thoughts (which is exactly why I wanted to be out here today to begin with). Isis and I hit the last incline to the junction and then stop to have another snack and to catch my breath. The trail up to this point has been good. I look up the Avalon trail and it's blown in. This could be an interesting descend, is all I am thinking. I suddenly realize that I am cold. If I am cold then Isis is cold too. We try and get moving. my mind freezes and I think about the Willey Range Trail. What if it's not broken out? I seem to be the only out today. I can't do this on my own. Isis is not a trail breaking dog. I start down the A to Z trail but I stop. I stand there and I think. Isis is lifting her paws and I start to head back. Wait, let's try and get to Tom. We begin heading back down the A to Z trail. No, I don't want to get stuck in a turn back situation up high. The wind is howling and it's cold. Isis and I head back the way we came. Out the 1.3 miles that we just walked in. 

           Back close to my favorite water crossing, Isis and I run into a group of 5 gentlemen on their way up. I gave them my observations as Isis got some love. I believe I may have persuaded them to go by way of Mt. Tom rather than up the Avalon Trail due to it's lack of being broken out. We wished each other well and safe travels. Once across my favorite water crossing, I decided that I was not ready to go home yet. I made the choice to head up Mt. Willard. It was also at this point that I discovered that I can run in my snowshoes. Isis is thrilled at the chance to open up and run down the trail with me and I laugh. Suddenly, I don't care about lists or redlines anymore. What I did care about was just having a good day on the trails. Given the heavy feeling I have had lately, I just want to be outside where I feel better. I had never been up Mount Willard and since I was not ready to go home yet, this was perfect for us. Provided both Isis and myself can remain warm enough, we were on our way. The Mt. Willard trail is also well broken out. Having never taken this trail before, I do not know what to expect. Knowing that it's a shorter peak, I was expecting an easier climb. It was to start with and then the incline did kick in again and I slowed down a bit as I usually do. I rested when I needed to and Isis seemed to want to keep moving. It's always a balance with me and her. I'm a fast hiker that takes a lot of little breaks to get to the top and she just wants to go. I'm enjoying this new trail for myself and once again getting lost in thoughts. 

               Isis and I quickly begin running into others that seem to have the same idea. One old timer who we stopped to chat with seemed to be trying to piece together where he's heard Isis' name before. I did my best to steer him from the popular choice by saying "Like the goddess... The EGYPTIAN Goddess Isis". He asked the spelling "I S I S like the goddess. Exactly like the GODESS". Thankfully, he didn't get to make that other connection I am not fond of hearing. My dog is not a terrorist. He gave up and let us pass and we caught up to the next group shortly after that. A big black dog came bounding down and then his owner called him back. It's Notch who is owned by Olivia. Another hiker that we've known about but never met until today. They hike ahead of us for a while and then let us pass as they break. Notch and Isis get to say hello and we continue up the trial. We then meet up with Cecilia from Vermont as we get closer to the summit. She lets us pass as well. The trail reminds me of the trail to Old Speck in Maine towards the top of the summit. I'm really enjoying my choice of substitutions. I see the opening to the summit ahead of me. 

      This trail opens up to a great view of the Notch with mountains all around us and the road below us. We are quickly joined by the other hikers who let us pass and Notch. I am determined to let Isis be herself and to in a sense fend for herself. She's got to learn to get along with other dogs if she's ever going to come to work with me and also become a therapy dog. So, she meets Notch and after some initial squabble, they... PLAY. I stand there and watch my little dog full on play with this big black lab and she has a great time. I'm blown away by how happy she is. Olivia, Notch's owner is nice enough to let it happen and I can only stand there and smile as well as almost cry. I have wanted this for her for so long. This was so worth the change in plans. The views go on for miles and the sun feels warm and cold at the same time. Everyone is laughing and having a great time on the summit. We are even joined by another black dog... Junior who has a great time with Notch. He's older and pays no mind to Isis. It does start to get very cold though and soon it's time to head back down. 

       Again, as we head down, it goes very quickly considering how short the peak is. On the flatter trails, I am able to run with Isis and my snowshoes which could mean a whole new twist for flat trails and myself. Isis and I are back to the car in no time at all it seems and I again postpone heading down south by taking the long way through North Conway. I change and we are on our way again. Another week of hiking is done and already thinking of the next weekend. Without a doubt, I am hoping to be back to the Presidents and back to my winter peaks. I'll be watching the weather too as another winter storm moves in for the over night and into Monday. My fingers are crossed that we settle into a calmer pattern and the trails get broken out by the time Saturday rolls around. Remaining flexible as I observe, evaluate, and re-evaluate my options will define my choices as I also wait and see what life has to throw in as well. 

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