Sometimes coordinating hiking times during the holidays can be a little tricky. Earlier in the week, I had said that my 2015 hiking year was over but then, as I was having coffee this morning, I thought about Mount Monadnock. It's only 10 minutes from home to the trail head. It's a very short trip of 2.1 miles from where I like to start. Everything else I needed to do today could wait. I arrived at the Old Toll Road trail head around 8:30am. My pack was decidedly light and instead of a 3L bladder, I had one Nalgene bottle. I had some snacks as well but I knew that I'd probably not eat anything. It's a mile up the old Toll road to the start of the White Arrow trail which passes quickly. Grades on this road are easy with a few steep sections. It's chilly this morning so, my coat is on as well as a few layers. I have my hat on but no gloves (in my pocket for the summit). Passing the house, I reach the clearing where the trail actually starts. There is no snow and it's a beautiful day with blue skies and low winds. Mount Monadnock state park does not allow dogs so, Isis is spending the morning playing with all her new toys at home.
This next section of the White Arrow trail is characteristic of a granite summit above tree line. The boulders are big and you sometimes have to navigate a few scrambles. Again, this typically would be covered in snow at this time of year and I'd probably have spikes on but this has been anything but a typical start to the season. I just take my time through this as I know that I have an entire day if I really want it. I stop at the different view points and either get a few shots, adjust my gear, or catch my breath. It's a beautiful December day.
The breeze added a bite to the air. Continuing to curl around the peak and make my way to the summit, the granite flattens out and I'm able to just walk up without any effort. The 360 degree views do not disappoint today and the crowd has not arrived... Yet. There are a few other hikers up there as I take in the views all the way to Vermont, Boston, and North to the Whites. I pull my buff up over my nose to help with the chill. I strike up a conversation with Jeff and his friend from Rhode Island and ask them to take my picture. Such nice people out today. I continue to take in the summit and have a small snack a long with two swigs of water. The only food and water I've had all hike and would have all day. Today is just beautiful and very peaceful.
It was not long after this that I began to head back to the car the way I came. Doing the White Arrow trail backwards is pretty simple. I just stepped carefully going down the scrambles. I entered the trees and began greeting the hikers coming up as well as stripped off a layer (it's December!). Making my way back to the water on the trail where the ice flow should be, I meet Jocelyn and Matt who actually met me a few years ago on Mount Adams. I was touched that she remembered me and that she had been reading along. This showed me what a small world we actually live in. Getting back to the car was really easy and took no time at all. The road walk back was actually enjoyable even though I could've taken a trail back, I opted to hike the road down. Everyone was coming up and we greeted each other with smiles, Merry Christmas, and happy new year. The once almost empty parking areas was now full to almost over flowing. What a good day for a hike in my back yard and what a great way to end my 2015 hiking season.
2015 In Review
This was my first completely solo year of hiking. With the exception of running into hikers that I know on the trails, I pretty much stuck to just hiking with Isis. Trying really hard to finally finish my Winter 48 at the start of the year, this past winter was intense with big snow totals and while I made a great effort, there are still two that are now waiting to be hiked this year. Winter was also characterized by great views on blue bird days and not so blue bird days.
As I moved into Spring hiking, something else was moving into full swing for me. That was my prep for hiking the Long Trail in Vermont (Which I had announced my intensions of doing in Winter). I had made plans to do this in two sections and this year would be the section from North Adams to Lincoln Gap and to get there I knew I had to condition myself. My spring started off with a hike of Mount Monadnock and continued through the White Mountains. I gradually increased my pack weight as well as the length of my trips. With Isis coming with me, this was good for her as well. Knowing what we'd be facing in August, I set that as my goal for the year. Spring was of course a transition and given the long winter, it was great to watch the snow receded and the green to appear.
Summer time came and I almost lost my Long Trail trip. I had to make a move that might have put my trip in jeopardy. I was really unhappy in a situation and decided to change my life for the better and thankfully, I was able to retain my goal. Even though I had started in a new position 2 months prior to my trip, I was able to keep it and continue to train. I began to feel that I was in the right place and going in the right direction (finally!). Isis and I made many trips up north and many over nights on the weekends. I split a Pemi Loop over two long weeekends. The first half (Flume to Galehead) was on Memorial Day weekend. Isis and I really started to become a solid backpacking team. I worked out food (both mine and Isis') and pack weight as well as putting up and tearing down camp. The second was the weekend of Fourth of July where we went from the Bonds over the Twins and out 13 falls. We had hiked out 13 falls at the previous half too. The sunset on West Bond was fantastic and I was hungry for everything that I would see on the long trail the following month.
I can remember when it was time to hit the Long Trail, the nerves I felt as my parents drove me to North Adams. I looked down at Isis and out the window and wondered... What the hell am I doing??? I had 16 days to walk to Lincoln Gap with about 50lbs on my back. Knowing that the pack weight would go down was a small comfort. It was the toughest hike I have done to date and I have never felt more alive by doing it. I hiked through rain and sun. I hiked in probably the warmest and humid part of the summer. If I was not swimming up the trail in the rain, I was swimming in the humidity and my own sweat. I met so many great Thru Hikers before I split from the AT and so many great LTer's too. The conversations were always upbeat and fun as we all shared a common goal. I learned to appreciate the things that I have (on my back) to live and found that I did not need much more. When it came time for a resupply, I found the food tasted so much better and OMG, root beer was like my crack as my parents had taken me out to eat off trail in Manchester VT. Even with the heavy pack again, I pushed on and got to the top of Bromley for the night. I saw so many great sun sets and sun rises that I never wanted it to end and still wanted to be home too. I felt how good a fire felt on tired, aching, blistered, and wet feet. Most important, I realized just what I am capable of in terms of hiking for a long distance. I surprised myself and Isis also surprised me by both her companionship and her strength. I go back to these two weeks very often as they have defined me as a hiker. I cannot wait to get to Canada in 2016!
Finally in the Fall of 2015, I found myself taking things at a slower pace. I would pick and choose my hikes depending on how I felt. I was not dependent on a list or on anything that I needed for a month. I just hiked and I just enjoyed myself. If I made a summit, that was fantastic. If I didn't then that was equally fantastic too. I was no longer going to hike through rain or miserable conditions just to say that I got a summit. I wanted to savor the hikes and I wanted to continue to grow as a hiker. I let the GRID and a lot of other former goals fade to the background. If I make it to 576, that would be great. I'm giving myself until I'm 50 (7 years) or possibly beyond as life is funny sometimes. But in the mean time, I want to do more exploring outside of New Hampshire and out side of peak bagging. I have my eye on a few higher peaks and a few trails that are a little longer than the LT. The possibilities are endless at this point and it just depends on where I want to go. I think that the most important thing about spending a year solo hiking is the fact that I really learned what I am capable of. I have learned to appreciate the changes in my body and to hike with them rather than pushing myself over the limit and harming myself. This goes double for my dog Isis too. Not once have I hike her beyond her limit and I never will. I am so grateful with this life and the views I get to see.
Isis and I will see you out there in 2016!