I parked my car at the Smarts Mountain Trail head at about 8:30am Saturday morning. There were two other day hikers heading up Smarts. Isis and I, we had a different plan. We'll follow the AT SoBo to Moose Mountain Shelter. The very place we ended last week. This hike would close up the gap and leave just 20 miles to finish the state.
So, we got underway and the pack was not bad for carrying extra food meant for the Thru Hiker's I'd see at the shelter. I didn't want to over do it but also, I didn't want to under do it not knowing how many I'd see. So, we head out of the parking area and hit the trail across the street. Heading southbound we hike over decent trail (The AT is very well kept) with very few steep grades in it. Isis and I pass over one water source that is flowing strong but since I packed in water, I am OK. We pass the 1730 mile marker to Springer Mtn Georgia and I smiled. Although SoBo is not my preferred direction, I am happy to be out here. It takes no time to reach the road and we cross to begin ascending to Holt's Ledge.
There are a few day hiker's also heading out to the ledges. Isis and I, we mind our own business and hike on. Stopping first at the junction for Trapper John Shelter. It's .3 miles off the trail so, we opt to take a break at the signs instead. Altogether, .6 is a lot to add to a hike with a loaded pack. Once we've had some water and a snack, it's .5 somewhat steeply up to the area known as Holt's Ledge. I can feel the heat of the day already slowing me down but I also know that once we get up there, it will be flat for a while with a descending trail to follow. So, I press on and take breaks when I need to. The name of the game is getting there without stress today. It's a marathon and not a sprint. Once we get to the ledges, they are fenced off for revegetation and falcon nesting. But you can still get a good view. There are also little outlooks along the ledge as you walk south. If you are not careful, a fear of heights can kick in. Isis and I lingered up here, we were chatting with a few people and watching the comings and goings on the trail. The next section would be a breeze as it was descending to Goose Pond Rd. I'm way better at descending than ascending as the latter, I always seem to slow down and huff and puff and swear through it. It's getting hotter and I can feel the sweat on my back soaking into my pack but there is a breeze that feels so good too.
Heading down takes a little time dealing with the steepness and I briefly think of my return trip. We pass by a marshy area before a nice flat and wide stretch that I can just stretch out on and before we know it, we are sitting on a stoop a little ways back from Goose Pond Rd. The trail crosses here. It's about lunch time now so, I pour some water for Isis and crack open a tuna pouch for me/us. I have not had this stuff since the Long Trail and I am morally opposed to eating it off trail. So, I share it with Isis who is more than greedy. Surprisingly, it tastes good today. But then again, I have not been on trail for more than a week. There is an empty water bottle behind us and some plastic baggies. Empty trail magic is sad trail magic. Isis has also decided to pull out her toy from the side pouch. All I can hear is the squeak as she chomps down on it a few dozen times happily. We enjoyed a nice rest here. The trail has been pretty empty now so, we are left alone for the most part.
It's about a mile and a half to what I will call home tonight at Moose Mountain Shelter. First a quick little down and then a flat walk to a little up followed by another flat walk. Not bad but I am getting a little tired. Trail is kind at least and no scrambling. I was surprised when I got there to find people had already set up camp. I looped around the shelter and settled next to a woman who is a retired nurse from Michigan. She goes by Momentum. I begin setting up my tent and quickly realize that my stakes did not make it into the pack. I keep them separate for some reason and even though I looked right at them, it didn't register. So, I DIYed some stakes with sticks. Thankfully the ground is soft enough. I was pretty proud of the improvisation. Otherwise, it would have meant the shelter for me. Once camp was set up, it was dinner time. I headed up to the fire ring at the shelter and set up. Offered Momentum some of the fresh fruit I had brought. Pineapples and Watermelon that I had frozen and let thaw on the walk over. Dinner for me was early and also Curry Coconut and Beef with rice noodles. I inhaled it. along with some replenishing Nuun water.
A night around the shelter consisted of lots of trail chatter and I gave everyone tips and tricks of the Whites. We discussed our need to visit the Omelet guy (A guy who cooks omelets for thru hikers in the middle of the woods). Although truthfully, I probably will not eat as I feel that being a section hiker doesn't really qualify, when your sections are so small. The need for the Thru hiker is greater. I just want to meet him. We devolved into trail magic talk and I was thanked for the fruit. Then we discussed different experiences we've had hiking long distances and I related my LT experience. Everyone seems to want to take that trail and I highly recommend the physical and mental challenge. For getting into camp early, 7:30pm rolled in quick. It was time for the tent after a visit to the open air privy (I saw my tent as I was sitting there). Some more hikers rolled in at around 8:30pm and one dog set Isis off because I had the flaps closed. She could only smell him but not see him. I would hope she'd do the same for a bear. I was in bed by 9pm but sleep was going to be delayed. It's hard when you are only out for a night and the adrenaline is still going. I'd eventually fall asleep but not before my tent was stalked by a raccoon. How do I know? He put his unmistakable hand on the side of it by my face. Eventually he moved on. Woke up to a new day full of positive vibes and beauty.
Today, after breakfast and packing up, it was about heading back NoBo to my car. I was interested to see if after a day of rest, would my time be faster or slower or the same? As we got underway, once Isis stopped eating all the grass she could, the trail was surprisingly fast under foot. It took us under an hour to get back to Goose Pond Rd. And we basically flew up the trail to the ascent of Holt's Ledge. This is where time stopped for a little while. We took our time and even broke for some water and jerky. Call it second breakfast as it was still early. Momentum eventually caught up to us and passed us. She has a short day to meet a friend in Lyme so, she is in no hurry but still moved quicker. Again, the trail kinda levels off and does a gradual meander which fools you into thinking you are at the ledges. But once you hit that first outlook, you know. It probably took us a good hour to get up top. That's fine since we are going to the car anyway. Eventually we catch up to Momentum again as she stopped to have her lunch with a view. A quick chat and a wish of safe journey and Isis and I are off to make it to the car where our lunch awaits.
Heading back down to the road we again skip Trapper John and just pour it out. The day hikers are filing up to the ledges as we come down. Many think we are Thru Hikers and I'm not willing to break my stride to correct them. I've got home on the mind again but in a more peaceful way. At the road, it's probably another hour before we hit the car and we hike it, but it's pretty choppy with breaks for water. The muggy weather is returning and I can feel it. We make one stop at the hiker box and I unload my drink packets and pumpkin seeds last. Trail magic done for the weekend. Shortly after that, the car comes into view. Mission accomplished and gap closed. 8.6 miles done in 5 hours, shaving 2 hours off my time from yesterday. Nice to know but not too important to me. I change and get the cold water and lunch out of the cooler. and we head out. Ready to plan the final 20 mile adventure to finish my second state on the AT.
There's something truly incredible happening. A change to a more basic was of life. Off trail downsizing has begun because on trail, I just realize that I don't need a lot of STUFF. I need a lot more experiences. What a truly simple way of life backpacking is. You carry everything you need and that's all you need. You have your thoughts and your memories and that's all you need. It's taken me so long to get to this point but I am glad that I am here now. I stopped focusing on the can't and I silenced the critics, taking away their power. This journey is truly my own. Everything I learned I taught myself through research and trial. What worked I kept and what didn't I made a change. Hiking is suppose to be fun. It's not rocket science and you can hike however works for you. What ever speed you walk at is great. No need to be super fast and if you are slow, that's fine too. I just feel like there's and energy put other there that a person needs to be faster than most and to cover either a ridiculous amount of miles or hike a ridiculous amount of peaks and, don't forget to put on a really cool filter to misrepresent the view while you strike that ridiculous yoga pose. Come one! It's all crap to me really. Show it accurately, show the look of working hard for the peak and show the view accurately. Build up to those high miles and find what works for you. I max out at 15 miles right now and I'm cool with that. I am truly content to hike my own hike no matter what gets said to me. My gear works optimally for me and I feel strong for figuring it all out on my own. After all, what works for one, may not work for another. Trial and error of trying things on and knowing when the fit is not good and researching to find another. That's the fun part... The research. Planning routs that you think are interesting to you and executing them. None of this asking for opinion. What one person thinks is exciting might not work for you. So, stretch your mind as well as your legs and hike your own hike for you.
19.9 miles left in New Hampshire... OK, let's just say and even 20. I'll probably finish that in two weekends from now when have a long weekend from work. Looking forward to Massachusetts which I am already planning.
Get on out there and hike inspired!