Arriving in the city of Gorham was immediately sobering. No longer am I in tiny podunk Maine towns, here they have a Subway! Among 4 or 5 pizza restaurants, and other garbage, but that’s besides the point! Maine had been difficult. Some tall mountains, steep climbs, and weird footing, but looking up at the White Mountains surrounding this new space was new. These things are massive. Towering well beyond the clouds. Towering well beyond what I immediately felt like climbing.
So I didnt. I checked my guide and chose a hostel most central to all the food in town. As I’ve learned I could mostly care less about shower or laundry, it’s about the food and electricity for me. Can’t say I’m exactly out here to be clean beyond avoiding chafe, and illness associated with being dirty. Typically I wash myself in streams, and my clothing does indeed suffer for some time with the occasional swim to remove salts and things, or shave my face with river water.
This hostel was mostly a dump. Outlets falling out of the walls, sticky floor, not exactly ideal. I’m not too picky but it left me wishing I had flipped that coin a little differently. However there was one thing special about this particular hiker paradise…. one of my hiking hero’s had stayed here during his legendary hike of 1998. Nimblewill Nomad is his name, and that hike being what I’m doing now. 4,800 miles from Quebec to Key West. But north to south instead of the other way around. This is the second time I’ve had this has happened to me now. Day 0 of this trip I stayed in the last hostel Nimble had stayed at after he finished his long and lonesome journey. It’s like I’m following in his footsteps, as well as the very few others to ever do this hike. About 20 folks in 20 years if you’re wondering. This year, I’m the only one still at it.
After a nights rest and a lesson from a local in the methods in which tobacco is farmed I decided since I just finished walking close to 500 miles through Maine, I’ll treat myself to a night somewhere hopefully more enjoyable. My second stay was at a bed & breakfast, but not really. Next door the owner has a barn that’s been converted into a hiker hostel, and this place truly is a paradise. Clean, beautiful, wonderful, and full of awesome hikers to chit chat with! A good decision. Or a dangerous game to get caught up in these towns. Am I out here to hike? I am, but it’s often very refreshing to stop now or then. Even though I’ve been fooling around a lot more than I should, as it turns out I’m still going rather fast. I still feel I’m on track to meet my goal and that’s what counts!
Regardless of my mixed feelings towards staying in towns longer than it takes to charge my phone I’m happy I did this time. A beautiful girl by the name of Weebles was there who’s heading in the same direction I am, is a vegetarian, and all around super cool person. We talked for a while, and although I was staying another night she was heading out that day. Late though. 6pm. Maybe she was considering staying longer. The company and conversation was much appreciated.
The next day I find myself in the same situation. About ready to declare residence, thunder and rain imminent that night. Another stay in doors would be nice, but no! See ya soon Weebles. 6pm I myself leave. Figuring I can walk the 3 miles out of town back to the trail, and hike in the dark until 10 or 11 at night. I make the trail and the thunder and lightning begins to crash. Blackness paused briefly by the entire forest filling with light, quickly fading again. On and on this went until the rain began to fall. Coming up on some other hikers who were huddled under a wooden shelter away from the weather. They look at me with my tiny umbrella like a dog might in confusion. Head cocked. Questioning where I’m camping in this rain. Wherever I please! Although I didn’t feel like climbing the next mountain in such conditions I have no issue setting up my shelter or sleeping on days like this. Back home this is weather I’d seek out to go backpacking in. All those trips of the past paying off, although I’m still learning so much more out here it’s of a different variety. Rain and thunder just doesn’t bother me. As I’ve always said. No one ever dies by getting struck by lightning….
Slippery rocks, beautiful swimming holes, and finally… the White Mountains. This first climb the next morning came easier than expected. On the way I passed a couple that recognized me (which was funny!) and I took the opprotunity to ask how far ahead my friend was. The girl had a large smile that echoed of withheld information, and what I heard was that if I hustled I might catch up! But also that she was leaving the trail for a week to go explore the east coast then return to these mountains again to continue on. I had hoped she would want to hike with me, but I can at least wish her a farewell.
The miles came quick, and for the first half of the day I was pressing over peaks covered in clouds, buffeted by wind. At the higher elevations here its truly hit or miss. I figure you could time the peaks well to get the view or you can enjoy the experience for what it is. I always choose the latter, and I always have a good time! Descending the mountain I’m greeted by my first hut of this area, a premier and unique feature to these mountains installed to gather revenue, and help more folks experience these places. My first hut of many, a system that stretches through the whites, and the whites only. Buildings filled with bunks, a kitchen, dinning area, and typically very far away from where the typical person could access without some serious effort. Ya know, walking here! They all offer food, coffee, and other things. I had a great experience with them, even though I heard many stories of other hikers having a bad time. I think in their case it’s because they’re maybe more so the party hiker. More so party, less so hiker. The hut employees most definitely do cater more towards those who put in hard days (whatever that means respective to the person.)
These huts and this mountain range was actually a large source of stress for me before I left for my trip. As you may know, I planned and more or less virtually hiked this whole thing before I even started. Months and years of planning and preperations. It’s a big trip man…. a project as some say. Anyhow. I hike my hike, and I like to do each day my way. The huts I heard somewhere that it was mandatory you stayed in them. Which will run you $160 a night, or you could show up at 5 pm and try to convince them to let you work off your impending debt persay. The later being extremely common, but you know me!! 5pm is just to darn early. So I worried. Could I camp anywhere secretly? The weather here is known to be the worst in the entire country. Seriously. Look up Mt Washington wind speeds. 100+ is common, and I think 280mph or so is the world record… set there, right on the trail I was walkin’. You can see why this area might have been a small question mark. As it turns out, not once in the Whites did I do a work for stay in the huts. I camped every night, and it worked out great!! Some might say I missed an experience, but I did actually stop one day and really got to know one of the employees who was planning his own thru hike for next year. I feel I missed nothing!
Looking back I think that first day, over the Wildcat range, looking for Weebles, that was the hardest day I remember. It was 21 miles or something but multiple really steep climbs, and even steeper descents. Hard both on my lungs and joints. In Gorham I remember hikers who had just done this section icing their knees. I can see why, but I’m happy to report that I have no soreness or pain after doing any of that.
But wait, did I ever catch Weebles? I did. I had this image in my head for some reason of her getting to the next road and instantly departing. So with that in mind I moved swiftly up and over rocks. Brushing my teeth on the go, and as I put my scrubber in my pocket there she was. “HI! :D” although hesitent of this weird guy I did get to hike with her. About 2 miles worth. Still much time left in the day I had the option to go on, but as it turned out she wasn’t leaving until the next day. Boston bound, then back to experience the rest of this awesome section of trail. My options weren’t really options at all. Hesitent again, I’m glad she let me camp with her. We talked again, and apparently she had thought I was ahead of her and actually asked that same couple about me as I did her.
The next morning I made my way up into the great unknown. My best day on trail so far. One big climb and I was above treeline walking an exposed ridge almost all day. I thought of her quite a bit that day. What a happy day. The kind of day you just smile from ear to ear about. Remember Mt Washignton? That was this day, the second highest peak on the trail. Wind and harsh weather? I got lucky and it was totally clear and calm. I made 26 easy, happy miles that day, and camped under a “no camping” sign at a waterfall.
Although I didn’t get so lucky with clouds and weather for the rest of my time during the Whites I still had the most amazing time. The walking was fun and enjoyable. Just kind of the stuff I dream about. Open ridge lines with wind in my face, above everything, pressing forward with glee. I actually get to do this every day. It really is a dream for me.
I did however do some questionable things. I climbed Mt Lafayette and walked Franconia Ridge at night for example. A 5,000+ peak and a ridgeline that follows. For those that know this area well that’s a big no no. It’s known to be exceptionally beautiful, and here I got to see it in the dark. It was still a whole lot of fun!! But certainly not something most would do on purpose. I actually had this grand idea of catching that section during sunset, and having this ultimate experience. Not everything goes as planned!! Up in a cloud, in the dark, with my handheld 70 lumen flashlight. All the more reason to come back sometime.
Mt Moosilauke is the final 4,000+ foot Mountain that I’ll have to climb for a very long time. It also marks the end of the White Mountains. I was actually dreading it as I approached. Feeling a bit under the weather the last thing I felt like doing was walking up some massive hill! But ya know I was so happy I did. Getting to the top was such an amazing experience. Up in the clouds as always, I ran as fast as I could across the rocks on the top to the sign marking the summit. Phone as dead as ever I had some other hiker take my photo and send it to me. Big thanks to him!! This peak also marks roughly my 1/4th way point! 1,200 miles down, just 3,600 to go. Sounds silly but to me it sounds so attainable. Just one step at a time, one mile, one day. All in time!! You really can do anything if you set your mind to it. Sometimes it just takes a bit of love.
My next town stop was unplanned but there was a hostel that was only 0.3 miles off trail and a friend VERY graciously offered to pay for my stay there. Due to my sickly condition, one night turned into three. This friend remained firm in that I would pay for none of which. I really can’t thank him enough. I really needed the days off. Snot flowing freely from my nose, a soar throat, and a fuzzy head makes for much less than fun hiking. The hostel turned out to be really great too, aside from just a place to rest. The owner and caretaker, as well as an employee all happen to be extremely experienced hikers. I love hikers!! It was so cool to talk to some people who really have been around and done that. Maybe you wonder what I think about while I spend my day walking. Often my mind wanders to the topic of other trails. So here was my opprotunity to geek out about trails, as well as recover. Thanks again to a good friend back home. I would have passed up that place of refuge had he not offered. Really glad to have stayed, really glad to be back on the trail again with a clear mind.
I actually got to meet a serious trail legend during my stay there as well. The famous Miss Janet! A lady who tirelessly helps hikers all year round on this particular 2,200 mile stretch of trail from Georgia to Maine. I had thought I might have been too late in the season to run into her but as it turns out she’s giving the north bound hikers that final little push before winter hits, then she’ll head back down south to meet up with my crowd. Really I have no idea how she does this year after year. I would certainly lose my mind!!! But I guess you gotta love it. For me the hiking is where my heart lies. For her, it’s helping folks like me achieve these goals.
After Mt Moosilauke the terrain changed drastically. Although I’m still in NH I consider this Vermont already. Like day and night, suddenly the trail is just SO much easier. It’s awesome. I can finally open my stride and walk like I wanna. Maine and New Hampshire were very beautiful and both a great challenge, but I’m ready for more!
If you’re keeping count I only have 14 more states to go, and they’re getting smaller as I go. Aside from Virginia, Alabama, and Florida that is.
As I write I’m planning my attack for Vermont. I begin tomorrow. It’s about 150 miles worth of trail and I’m thinking 5 days at most.
This is life!