Mountain Oasis

 

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View of Mt. Lafayette from the deck of the house

We’ve just come off a 12 day trip to New England, most of which was spent in the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire. I had been looking forward to the trip ever since we planned it in back in February. Not only were we to take up the challenge of a half-marathon in the heart of the Green Mountains, we were also reconnecting with our tribe-our children, sister, niece and closest friends.

Emily and I at the summit of Artist’s Bluff

I love the new life I am building with my husband. He makes me laugh every day; we are true partners in our relationship. I am grateful that I am in a situation where I don’t I have to prove myself with every breath I take. Also, I have really enjoyed exploring some parts of this new landscape in addition to re-establishing myself as an educator in a supportive and positive school community. But hiking and being in the mountains is one of the things I miss the most about living up north.

If you are neither a hiker nor a runner, it may be hard to understand the joy found in the challenge of a long hard run or a long hard climb. Or even the purpose of arising early in the morning to begin the trek! Although my half-marathon time was slow and the hills nearly impossible to run, the landscape raised me up and the weather cooperated by staying cool. I was so happy to be there! Rolling hills, farm houses, red barns, fields of green and friendly folk enveloped by misty mountains had a medicinal effect even during the hardest parts of the race.

One of the best cures for post-race muscle fatigue (besides yoga) is a good, solid, short hike. My husband and I chose the Sterling Pond Trail at the top of Smuggler’s Notch. At 3000′, it is Vermont’s highest trout pond. With a 1000′ elevation gain, it proved to be the perfect antidote to the previous day’s rolling roads. Slippery, wet rocks and muddy paths were rewarded by the view at the summit.

Sterling Pond, Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont

I knew this was only the beginning of finding my joy and, despite my aches and pains, I was ready for what the White Mountains had to offer us for the rest of the week.

Upon our arrival at the house in Franconia, we were greeted  by this view:

Mt. Lafayette on a sunny afternoon

My eyes welled up. I felt as if I was coming home. And indeed, home came to us in human form as well. My friends rented a place five minutes down the road and we shared many a meal and hiking paths together that week. My sons and stepdaughter arrived a few days later along with my sister-in-law and niece. We had girlfriends, boyfriends and other young adults added to the mix. At times, it felt like herding cats for hikes, but in a good way. Emily and my youngest  and his girlfriend (along with my sister-in-law) were always up and ready to go. And truly, everyone else was a good sport about heading out and attempting (and completing) the climbs.

We talked a lot about finding the joy in the challenge. For me, it isn’t only about reaching the summit, but in touching the earth along the way.

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Wildflowers across from Cannon Mountain

Being in the mountains makes it possible to be embraced by nature in ways that living here does not. The silence, the evergreen scents and sounds and the refreshing tingle of cool air are a reminder of how blessed we are to live on this planet and the need to preserve it.

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Arethusa Falls, Crawford Notch

 

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Gatherings, Gratitude, Guidance and Gumption

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Photo courtesy of D. Jacavanco (jacavancostudios.com/blog)

I’m writing this piece looking out at my new back forty; a verdant park is now my backyard instead of the long expanse of grass and thick woodlands. The journey to my new life is at once complete and just beginning. We were married in late June on the beach with the roar of the Atlantic and soft tunes of a love song in a circle of friends and family.

 The day was picture perfect-the bluest of skies, the warmest of suns and greenest of grasses. The party was held outside in the backyard, a culminating celebration and the best way to say goodbye to my house and land that survived loss and was revived by love.

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The boys had moved to a beautiful apartment on the other side of town earlier that month. We had time to adjust to being apart before my own big move a thousand miles away. Although I had been in the house alone before, it was never so empty. I had trouble sleeping, not out of fear but in the sense of knowing it was permanent. It was difficult to work with all the emotional upheaval that comes with making five life changes at once. I was saying good-bye to everything.

I went for one last big hike in the mountains with my youngest during that time- a necessary reprieve from the planning of the wedding and packing whatever I needed to bring.

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I said good-bye to my therapist- a woman who provided me with strength and courage  for a decade and helped me get back myself.

So, two days after the wedding, we hit the road with everything I had- and all that I needed- packed in the car. Books, clothes, photos, paintings and two cases of wine arrived safely  three and a half days later.

And, two weeks after the wedding, my house was sold. My husband and I are  at last making our own home together. At times, I feel like a stranger in a strange land. The climate is different-and I am not just talking about the humidity! I will leave the details of my observations for future posts; they are stories unto themselves.

Until then, stay tuned!

Cranking It Up a Notch

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Credit: www.its-not-about-the-hike.com

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”

                                                       ~Jack Kerouac

Is there such a thing as a hiker’s hangover? Possible proof of this phenomenon revealed itself this morning-the day after a grueling, not quite miserable climb on Sunday morning. Physical exhaustion and its accompanying aches tempered my usual enthusiasm for greeting a brand new day this work day Monday!

The window for hiking before the snow flies in the mountains is closing fast. Having reached our goal of  climbing Mt. Lafayette, the plan for the remainder of the season was to enjoy smaller elevations that afforded good views and the fundamental satisfaction of playing in the great outdoors.

Welch and Dickey Mountains (elevations ~2600′ and 2700′ respectively) in the Waterville Valley is a loop hike that seemed to meet the criteria for my son and I. We headed up for a half-day adventure with his closest friend, Wilson (not his real name), my pal Emily and her beautiful lab, Blaze. The forecast was for cool temps (50 degrees F) and a possible shower around noon.

As much as I was anticipating the day ahead, I was also functioning on very little sleep. I had gone to bed well after midnight and woke up at 5 am to get ready. (The night before was another adventure story which I will share in my next post!).  I was not going to let a little sleep deprivation get in the way of an “easy” family hike. But my hubris would definitely be a factor in the little known challenges this hike would bring to bear.

The drive off the highway brings us to remote country roads fairly quickly.  This hike is off the beaten path with houses separated by vast acres of green. The smell of heat burning in wood stoves is in the air- a bit damp after some days of rain the previous week. The sky is clouded over, lending itself to a day of low energy. Not many hikers are seen in the lot as we approach the trailhead.  Evidence of late autumn and windy storms is present on the path. Leaves cover the trail’s tree roots and rocks. The pungent odor of their last breaths fills our noses. We arrive at the first of Welch’s ledges quickly.

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Views here were pretty decent despite the partial cloudiness.  The mass of rock was well worn but served as a foreshadowing of what lay ahead.  This mountain and its sibling would prove to be a test for all of us.

Much of the climb involved wide open expanses of granite that sloped to varying degrees depending on the path’s direction. This was fine for a little while and would have been a blast on a sunny day. The previous week’s rain left much of the slab slick and slippery. It didn’t take me too long to start losing my confidence as I attempted to scale the moss covered sections.  I went from 0-8 on the panic scale at one point and just sat down and cried. I was genuinely afraid of falling back and then down the mountain! Blaze came over and licked my face and Emily and Wilson gently talked me out of my anxious state. My son took my hand and walked me further along to a safer point on the trail. He said to me: “This climb is going to be a test of your Strong Woman Syndrome!”  Exactly what I needed to hear!

Credit: nhdfl.org

When we reached what we thought was the summit, it started to rain (no showers as the forecast had stated). We donned our rain gear and plodded further along. My boy said he was glad for the conditions as they served as a test. He was right. We had been spoiled by near perfect weather conditions on all our earlier excursions; I was glad to be prepared but dreading the rest of the hike.  We encountered more moss and lichen covered stones before the final ascent of mountain #1.

I have to say that this became a climb of pure strategy. One or two of the boys would go ahead to check out the best possible way on the route and there were times that bushwacking was the best option.  Other times, I just held my son’s hand as I repeated: “Just keep walking”. Or as Wilson sang: “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…” He provided the comic relief for our troupe and gave himself a chance to celebrate the boy that still lives inside him. He was a joy to hike with as we watched him traipse and tramp his way up and down and over and even under obstacles.

Credit: alltrails.com (picture this rain-soaked!)

Now and then we would get a break as the trail traveled through groves of trees.  Rocks still ruled but I was never more grateful for the sight of mud!  I cannot recall reaching the top of Dickey. By then the weather was so poor it was hard to enjoy any sort of celebration. Emily did snap a photo of us somewhere. Our faces a witness of wetness and weariness.

It is important when facing a challenge not to lose one’s sense of humor or inner mental toughness. You’re doomed if you don’t. Plus, you wish away time well spent with others who have your back.

One big surprise came upon us as we were making our way:

Credit:www.flickr.com

This is the saddle between Welch and Dickey on a good day (the dog’s name is Salty). Climbing through this was a load of fun!

We just kept coming upon one big slab surprise after another with each step needing to be purposeful and planned. As one hiker said to me as we were making our way down, “There are no heroes on mountains.”  He is right. Better to be cautious and careful and keep the risks to a minimum!

I guess the hardest part for me was the final set of ledges. Straight on traverse with a clear drop-off.

Credit: Google.com ( I think this is the right one!)

Lots of talking through this one. Emily was right with me; she is an assuring presence on the mountain and in my life.

I have no regrets about the choice of climb this round. Hiking experiences are inherently unpredictable; one has to prepare for the worst and always hope for the best.  And be ready for a challenge regardless of the elevation! For me it is always about the company you keep and the memories you make. That’s what makes the mountains matter.

 

Special thanks to Emily for inspiring the title for this post!

Up in the Clouds

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One of the many views taken from my phone

4 AM Sunday arrived quietly. I stepped out of the mudroom to feel the air and check the sky for stars and the waning moon. The day held promise – it was one we have been preparing for since my youngest son set it as a goal that long day in August  (Trails, Tales and Tails ).

I had been obsessively checking the forecast for Mount Lafayette all week. If the weather looked too dismal, the hike would need to be postponed. Any mountain above treeline becomes treacherous in bad weather. Caution and common sense must prevail. Lucky for us, it would be a decent day, albeit colder than the other hikes. No shorts nor short sleeves for this one!

Emily would join us once again and, after a quick stop for more coffee, we picked her up. Her first words after “Good morning” were  “I have some  Oktober Fest beers-do you want me to get them?” HA!  Great minds think alike.We had already put three Shiner Bocks in the cooler, a welcome reward awaiting us after a rigorous day!

It is hard to believe that in less than two hours we arrived in the notch. Hat and gloves and a third top layer were added to the ensemble before commencing the trail. Already the parking lot was crowded; we were lucky to find a spot. The summit was not yet visible; shrouded in clouds and a fog that we hoped would burn off by the time we neared the top.

Within minutes of walking, we shed the layers that we donned in the parking lot; the woods offering an insulating protection from the cold. Like our last excursion, we had plenty of company. Families, couples and many Canadians from Quebec out for a Thanksgiving challenge!

When you hike long enough with others you know, a natural pace and rhythm evolves. And as one hikes in this region, you come to expect tree roots and boulders to mark the path.You relax into one another and the pursuit before you. Time is suspended and you become wholly present. (I had been up this mountain long ago with my parents, brother and others. But the time and my age escape me.More than a lifetime ago – so much so that it feels like the first time today.)

There are three ways to climb this beast; all the trails offering their own special gifts and challenges. I decided on Old Bridle path as it was the shortest route (7.6 or so in all) with 3490 feet in vertical. The summit rests at 5220 feet.

The views were stunning as well as spectacular along the way, causing us to naturally pause and soak it all in:

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( This photo from my phone does not do it justice of course but you get the idea!)

Per usual, we encountered the unexpected. As we were rounding a turn in the path, we paused to let two hikers descend. As we resumed, I mouthed to my son: “That looks like so and so.” Then from around the bend came Sue! Sue and her son are old neighbors of ours who moved a couple of years back. Her son and mine were inseparable playmates for years but personal circumstances affected their relationship. We stopped for a long few minutes, attempting to catch up (they had spent the night with her brother, the first hiker,  in the hut after hiking over the ridge the previous day). Such a bittersweet encounter. My son was thrilled that he finally ran into someone he knew. But later on the drive home, he  would remark of how shocked he was to see his old friend, how he forgot to ask after him and how it really sucked that their relationship changed.

Onward we marched, remarking of how much easier the hike was before we saw the layers upon layers of granite stones before us.  The heart takes on a different beat while hiking these spots. Fervent and strong rat-a-tat-tats, reminders of being alive!

We reached Greenleaf Hut-an alpine respite for many.

 Credit: www.wunderground.com  

(This is not what it looked like yesterday at the time we were there!)

The weather changed  here in a significant way.Crowded and noisy with preparation for what lay ahead. A summit that was socked in and strong winds of frigid air. We stopped to capture some of nature’s new sights and then continued forward.

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Hoar frost at Greenleaf Hut

 

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View of Eagle Lake from the northeast side of the hut

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A field of stones leading away from the hut towards the rocky and clouded switchbacks of the summit’s route

Lafayette is a tricky mountain. Besides the weather, the summit seems just out of reach with just a mile or so to go.  But in fact it is the part beyond Greenleaf that it truly the longest and roughest stretch. They say this hike requires stamina and I would agree with that description! You may be physically fit and fueled, but the mental fatigue can get the best of you if you let it. Or you can take a page out of my son’s book and literally dance in celebration of the experience. What a sight! 6’4″+ of fully body exuberance! Joyful and thrilled at the fact that he had never experienced this before. A view of the summit was impossible but we could see lines of hikers making their descent. A human path. The cairns became towers and my son added his own piece to one, marking his climbing territory. As if to say “I AM HERE.”

We forced ourselves to stop for water. Arctic sips necessary for the remainder of the ascent even though we did not feel one bit thirsty. We stopped to strike a pose for my son:

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Strong mountain women!

The winds were blowing around us and the sun was battling to be seen as we reached the top. ( I have photos but wish to protect the privacy of my boy). We debated eating because of the temperature but we were starving, so we took shelter behind a small slab of rock. The place was alive with French chatter and thru hikers talking shop who had emerged from an unseen path via Franconia Ridge. The clouds parted briefly and a loud cheer went up as we celebrated and clung to its heat. We felt uncomfortable sitting in our cold sweat, a dichotomous bodily experience that only movement would alleviate!

Emily and I share an aversion to descents. We find them harder because we fear placing our feet on the wrong rock and going ass over teakettle. We move like turtles as we watch others jump and run like mountain goats. My son is one of those. He relieves me of my stick and encourages me to use my arms for balance and tells me not to worry about falling. Emily and I stop to let others pass. This helps me get a better grip mentally. We reach the hut once again and Emily makes a pit stop. The place is even more lively than before as the sun has finally won out over the wind. It is here that we see the summit:

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And lovely Eagle Lake once again:

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 As we reorganize our minds, bodies and spirits for the remaining 2.9 miles, I take in the raw majesty of Lafayette, its environs and its ever changing moods. I sigh, prepare myself and reckon that I must make the most of the rest of the day. And I surprise myself. I get better at my landings and when faced with slick slabs, choose the ass sliding option (coined by Emily!).  We make sure to stop at the outcroppings which offer us endless greens and oranges, an overall rich golden hue and views to infinity.

The rushing sound of  a wide-flowing stream signals we are near the end of our experience. My quads ache and Emily’s feet throb but we have enough energy to harmoniously shout a loud “WHOOP!” in the underpass that leads to the car. The packs are dropped as we open the trunk and cooler for a long cold one. The seven hour and forty-five minute hike ends with a  toast to another memory made. We remove our boots and hit the road for the drive home. The notch road is lined with cars. We saw them from the heights of the mountain. Many of them are like us. Longing for an escape. A few hours away from the troubles and annoyances of everyday life.  We journeyed into what truly matters. Time with Creation and with each other.

 

 

 

 

A Day at the Beach(Elevated!)

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Anyone who lives in the Northeast region will tell you that the weather can change on a dime. We can have gasping heat as summer says goodbye one day and near frost temperatures by the end of the same week. Tonight as I write this, a cool drizzle has begun with promises of a rainy day tomorrow.

But yesterday, oh yesterday was indeed a brilliant Sunday! Perfectly warm with no forecast of precipitation. A day planned for one final ascent before our October challenge in 13 days (weather permitting!). Mt. Osceola-considered to be one of the 4,000 footers in the region-awaited our arrival.

For me, the  trip up is one of jittery anticipation. While I do extensive reading about and preparation for each hike, I am aware that one can never fully know a mountain until the boots start walking. The road to the trailhead lies seven miles off the highway on a barely paved then gravel road that is closed in the winter. Wilderness camping spots sporadically dot the roadside. No luxuries here. Seven miles feel like seventy when we finally locate the parking area. Full already with eager hikers like ourselves, we park the car roadside along with others and check in. I eschew the porta-potties for the privacy and cleanliness of the woods, risking only a mosquito bite or two.

The mountain will be busy today but not overly crowded. Merely populated by others like us who are seizing this day, for we know old man winter will visit soon enough making treks like this a little less possible. We lose daylight in just over a month and the climate in the higher elevations (even as low as this one) changes rapidly.

The ascent is one of large rocky switchbacks surprisingly easy on the legs and lungs. The cooler air in the woods helps to keep the heat at bay just a bit but I am soon down to a mere singlet. I lead and my son chats away about work and other things. Conversation comes easy to him here as opposed to other venues. We are in a natural rhythm as the trail climbs higher with slanted rock and delicious muddy puddles that my boy delights in tramping through-still so much a playful child but this time with waterproof steel toed size 14s!

When you work hard and sweat, it is easy not to feel hunger but hard to ignore thirst. We drink a lot of water but I begin to feel low on fuel. I am hopeful the summit is just minutes away, judging by the changing skyline. More blue than green tells me the top is close and I can’t wait to eat!

Sure enough, it appears in all its glorious beauty. We are smiling at not just having arrived, but at the vastness before us. The granite turf is filled with many others cheerfully chatting and feasting on their well deserved nourishment and drinking in the view that is like no other we have seen this season.We take a big break and move closer to the ledge-a front row vista in real 3D!

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(Me in shadow, thankfully!)

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(The boy’s gunboats and the infinite expanse are a good match!)

Reluctantly, we take our leave of Nirvana. Admittedly, I dislike descents. Unlike my son, whose large feet propel him with seeming ease over slabs both large and small, my lower center of gravity has me twisting and turning and landing on my ass (always at least once every time!). But it is a social event as well. Dogs, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, groups of friends older than me, clearly glad to be anywhere but mostly here. We stop to let others come up past us and I recognize a woman who is climbing with her friend. “Excuse me, but do you go to South Church?” I inquire. She does and quickly confesses that she is not in church today (neither am I!). I always find it humorous when this happens-as if one has to feel guilty for some reason. The party behind assures us that we are a congregation and we laugh. I am sure our pastor would not mind at all. My son once again is amazed at the fact that I ran into someone I know somewhere far from home (It is true; it happens quite often).  He says that even if we went to Europe, I would see someone I know!

While each step down brings me more fatigue, I am filled with joy for this day. There’s an energy to this place that inspires one to keep on going. I’ll have to hold onto that feeling and bring it to my everyday life and harness it for the next big climb.

 

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Firsts and Lasts

 

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We loaded the old boiler onto the truck Sunday night. It died two weeks ago during the last of summer’s heat. A few mornings of cold showers were tolerable, keeping us grateful that we weren’t enduring the endless cold snap of winter. A chilly house is an entirely different story during the dead season. Truth be told, we’ve been hanging in there with the old girl for at least two years. Replacing worn out  parts here and there and enduring the fickle temperatures of the house’s water was all I could financially and psychologically manage. The day the new one was put in was drenched with unusual humidity. My youngest son was called to a job in the city first (but not before his vehicle was hit in the drive-thru getting his coffee!) to fix the clogged drains of helpless college students, leaving his boss to literally do the heavy lifting.  A day of limbo-too hot to move or get things done in the house, so I watched and waited.

Daily life here has taken on a form of time out of mind. September began as and continues to be a state of fervent motion. My job in education this term has found me in a vortex of all-consuming energy leaving me little time to write. My house is full of people. My sons and their loved ones who are in need of shelter and peace take up space. Finding my groove this last autumn season here has proven to be challenging.

Perhaps this is how it is meant to be. I find myself in an acute state of high alert and awareness, this all-knowing sense of the last go round before the birth of a new life in a new place.  (Truly- nine months from Sunday is the wedding day! ) I hear myself saying “This is the last time…” more often.

With that in mind, I am disconnecting and reconnecting to people and places which I’ve known for more than half my life. The town I live in and raised the boys no longer fees like home. The neighborhood-almost a last holdout for regular working class and middle class folks- is undergoing  the transformation to over-sized and up-scaled  new homes. The prices are ones I would never pay even if I  had that kind of money. I no longer frequent the coffee shop  in the busy center either. The familiar faces are scarce and the chances of running into my ex-husband and/or his current girlfriend keep me on edge. Not worth the trip! The shift is palpable; I feel like a stranger in a strange land.

That said, I am rediscovering the mountains that loom just a mere two hours from my house. My youngest son (and my dear friend Emily as her schedule allows) are hiking some of the 4,000 footers. The experience is always unique (see Trails, Tales and Tails) . Labor Day weekend found us hiking on Mt. Liberty, a rugged and steep climb culminating just above tree-line.

Summit

Credit: http://www.summitpost.org/summit/461392/c-151121

The descent was challenging as well and we were briefly entertained by a hiker holding court on the trail wearing only his tighty-whities! I guess Captain Underpants does exist…

Our most recent hike was an easy one; it’s purpose purely preparatory for the 5,000 footer we hope to ascend in October. The packs were heavier and the climb not as steep but we were moved by the bravery of a ten-year old boy with spina bifida who was climbing his first mountain with his family. Tomorrow is a new mountain, higher in elevation than the last with a day that promises to be brilliant.

These excursions (and others in June and last weekend with my fiance’ to other places that I hold dear to my heart) have helped remind me of the beauty in the surrounding region. It is the place where I grew up and grew older- and hopefully wiser! The time spent with my youngest (my oldest works on Sunday afternoons, unfortunately) takes on a deeper meaning and allows for new memories to be born.

Being wholly present during this shifting paradigm has continuously been a goal for me. Allowing myself to partner with the universe keeps me grounded and prepares me for the harder decisions and changes in plans for the future of my home and loved ones. Mostly it is empowering!  The turn of events to come both sheds more of the past and sows the seeds for the future. One where we can all marry simplicity and strength.

 

(I’d like to thank all of you who have continued to follow me as well as my new followers during this unplanned break in my writing. Happy to be back with Kellie’s prompt! )

#FWF Free Write Friday: Image Prompt

by Kellie Elmorefwf kellie elmore badge

Trails, Tales and Tails

Credit: www.taylorlenz.com

Sunday morning dawned perfectly. Cool, slightly humid and cloudy. My youngest son and my closest friend were headed up to the mountains for the day. I had spent the previous few days picking out a location and preparing the gear and gorp for the trip.  I was confident and excited; the hike was considered “moderate” and we had options to attempt other trails in the vicinity as time and energy allowed.

As we pulled into Emily’s driveway, her gorgeous black lab stood at the doorway. He is a special dude as far as labs go and I thought it would be great for him to join us.  He was unsure of where he was going (new car and why is Mom with me in the back seat?) but was quite delighted when we stopped at what was to be our first spot for the day.

Much to our surprise, the trail that we were originally going to start out on was inaccessible due to a bridge wash out. The woman at the desk gave us an alternative destination where we could pick up the trail a few miles up the road. Now, when you get to this part of the mountains, you have to do a lot of traveling in one direction in order to turn around to get to the other side of the road. This should have been an omen for the rest of the trip, but hey we were prepared, we could go with the flow. Time was on our side anyway.

After parking and checking our gear and the map, we set off. The dog was having a good time with the exception of the fact that he would bark at hikers coming from the opposite direction (it was his first hike-still a pup at 18 months despite his 75 pound size).  Soon, however, he became distracted by the presence of another dog whose company he kept for the remainder of our hike to our destination.

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We were feeling just fine, having hiked for about 1.6 miles over fairly easy terrain. I was looking at the map when another hiker peered over my shoulder to sneak a peek at possibilities for him and his kids. As we were chatting, my son gave me his secret signal- “You wanna try for the summit?” said his eyes. And if you know my friend Emily, you know she is always up for an adventure.

Now, I had already knew that the trail took on what was described to be a “rock scramble” as it got closer to the summit. Never mind the fact that it was also a 4,000 footer ( the Easter hike was 3,755). Of course, we had no idea what the rock scramble was actually like; but in these parts, climbing large slabs of granite are par for the course. Plus, time was on our side anyway.

So we set off into ignorant bliss. We were working hard, the sweat sharing space nicely between our backpacks and backsides, soaking our hair and dripping from our chins. The trail grew loud with a  silence so rare that we stopped for a bit to listen.

Credit: dailey7779.blogspot.com

And then the going got a bit tougher. Huge, somewhat slick slabs with gaps between. Not too hard for a human but terrifying for our four-legged friend.  At first the beast (as he is lovingly called from time to time), would stop to think about his next move.  But after one too many of these, he decided that he’d had enough. He started to walk back down the trail!  We managed to get him back and we commenced a new means of getting him through the rough bits.  We thought by showing him how to get up, he would follow along. This did work for a while but then he would stop again.Then Emily lifted his front paws onto the rock followed by his hefty rear. I don’t remember how long this went on but it became a series of stops and starts with my son taking over the role of the Dog Whisperer. Between Emily’s heavy lifting and my son’s sweet encouragement, the dog began to gain confidence.

And then the moment of absolute doubt and absolutely no turning back. The big boy just sat. Tired. Ready to give up. My son had climbed a few yards ahead, relaying the news that the next bunch of rocks were sideways.

Credit:whitemountainimages.blogspot.com

Impossible for the dog.  A risky possibility for us. Other hikers were descending at this point, having completed the summit from a much more difficult trail with ladders!! 

Credit: www.franklinsites.com

They were certainly feeling the challenge of the descent and were not heartened by the news of what lay ahead just as were equally discouraged by the lack of a good trail alternative. They suggested we take the tram down for the dog’s sake.  (We were truly fine physically but exhausted mentally and the idea was tempting.)

As we were pondering our possible fates, the party that was at the lake caught up to us and brought with them it a bright spot of encouragement. First, a way to bushwack through the woods and second,  a mere 500 feet to the summit!

Once again, the butt lifting began, with me holding the leash, sitting down in case the dog pulled and sent me rock bouncing. Success! He made it to me as I quickly handed the leash to the Whisperer and began a series of slow twists upward in order to right my body for the remainder of the climb. The walk in the woods was easy and we were relieved that the summit was within reach while at the same time feeling a bit nagged about the descent.

My son and I climbed the summit tower with views that were stunning and affirming of why we like to hike.

Credit: adventurehiker.blogspot.com

The dog rested and drank a bit, observing the endless “tourists” who arrived via the tram. This particular mountain is overwhelming popular in winter as a skier’s destination (one of many in the area) and the tram is put to full use in season by those who love the sport.

I have to confess here that I could not turn off the voice in my head about the dog not being allowed on the tram. But I did not to speak out loud about it until we knew for sure.  We took the short walk over into the noise of fast food, a bar and seemingly endless people. Sure enough, no dogs allowed and no real help from one of the operators about a good way to get down. Until… a wonderful man who works  at the food counter suggested we go down  a ski trail that while longer, we get us closer to where we wanted to go.

Now, I know hiking is not allowed on these trails, but I had a feeling that 1) he felt sorry for us and 2) this might be one they suggest to desperate hikers off the record! Going down the trail only validated why I don’t ski; you have no choice but to go fast for long periods of time at the whim of gravity. But the dog was great and we got down in an hour.

And there we stood at the base lodge.  Thinking about hitching a ride, then ditching the idea. We started to walk ‘south’ to the car hoping to find a path. We came upon a state park and asked directions but the teenage girl only confused us and we only confused her. ( In reality, she knew what she was talking about!)  She did suggest we take the bike path, warning us that they don’t usually let pedestrians on it (second time in one day we bent the rules).

Onward we trudged. Anxious for the end. We came to the inevitable fork in the road. Right or left? Which way is south? No sun to act as a guide. The notch’s highway above a beacon of hope. We go left. It starts to rain.  The path is eerily quiet with just one viewing of a cyclist.

Credit: hikenewengland.com

Next, a beautiful bridge with a view of a 5,000 footer my son wants to climb some day.

Credit: responsibleenergyaction.com

And then I realize something is not quite right. If we were going south, the mountain would be behind us on the other side of the bridge! We go back and forth about this for a bit, walking further, then stopping to get out my phone.

Now you may be wondering why we didn’t use any of our phones in the first place. Truth is, we thought we were going in the right direction. Plus, I am not in the habit of using it as a GPS regularly; it never crossed my mind. Until now. And we were so wrong.

At this point, Emily was ready to sit at the park with the dog while we walked back to the car. A seven minute drive and probably a 30 minute or so walk. Then she spies a group of 3 people and their dog.  She walks quickly toward them yelling “Excuse me, excuse me!” She explains the situation and they happily offer us a ride. Of course, they can only fit 2 of us in the car with their dog so my son and I agree to hop in with these complete strangers who looked like they dropped out of the sixties. Beads, bare feet, flowing clothes and a cold bottle of wine in one of their backpacks that was clearly being consumed by just one of them. Her glassy eyes and dreamy look were a dead give away.

I am realizing as I write that this is the first occasion in which I have accepted a ride with strangers!  Possible dire scenarios streamed through my head but I had to dash them and trust nothing bad would happen. Plus, my son is big and strong and tough. Nothing like good physical reassurance!

Penny and her brood were nothing but sweet and when I mentioned that my son probably would love a beer now, the younger woman offered some of her wine. He politely declined as we made small talk about memories in the mountains.

At last we arrived back at the car (actually in 7 minutes!). We said our goodbyes only to be heartily greeted by two other strangers who were hanging out at the car next to ours. We were quite confused and were thinking that maybe something happened to the vehicle. Something did; but not what we expected.  The gentleman handed us a note that he was going to leave us if we didn’t come off the mountain soon. Here’s what he wrote:

                      Hi,

I am apparently an idiot! It is my gear in your backseat. I though it was my friend’s car, and when her keys wouldn’t work, I apparently locked it, then went to ask her what the secret was to getting her car started. My car keys are in the pack, so I am stuck here. Please call me at xxx xxx xxxxx to try and connect.

My son and I burst out laughing. Nancy and Dan were relieved. Of course, of all things, we had forgotten to lock the car up!  All of our valuables were with us, thankfully. This incident just added to another set of unexpected events.  Once Dan got his gear, they invited us down the road to his car for a beer (see, wishes for a 21 year old can come true!). We explained our situation and told him we would join him in half an hour.

We hit the Notch highway hard, trying to remember which exit to get off. Nothing looked familiar but a sign on the right indicated to me that we overshot the one we wanted.  We quickly got off doing 60 mph in a 50 zone, found a turn around and head south once again. Tires were definitely squealing as my son righted the car ( another 21 year old’s wish come true I suppose!).

Credit: en.wikipedia.org

At last we found Emily and the beast! We told her our new tale and of the invite. She was game of course!  The clock said happy hour anyway.  We got to Dan and Nancy quickly, relaxing with  a PBR and Long Trail, swapping stories and relaxing before the long ride home.

On the drive back, we reflected upon our day, at first thinking “Well if we hadn’t decided to go to the summit or “if we hadn’t decided to bring the dog”…. But really that is just silly. We were safe. We had plenty of fuel and gear. We were physically fit. The decisions led to us to one of the region’s more beautiful vistas, a sense of accomplishment and meetings with perfect strangers who helped us remember that most of humankind is generous and good.