(0.0; 297.9 total, 1876.1 to go; -15.0 from pace, -152.1 overall)
I set my alarm for fairly early the next morning as I plan to walk into town to Welsh’s for breakfast. As it turns out, I wake up just as Dan and Leah are leaving to hit the trail again. After they leave I notice a 2008 thru-hiker’s companion left where they were staying; it’s probably theirs, so I put it with my stuff to deliver it to them further down the trail.
I walk about a mile in to town before getting picked up by the same guy as yesterday, who drives me the remaining half mile in. Breakfast is a big omelet; at Welsh’s I meet Sunday again (staying at a different hostel), as well as a different couple, Silver Potato and Cracker, who are eating breakfast and getting a mail drop before hitting the trail again. They ask what kind of stove I have, and when I note I have a canister stove Silver Potato asks if I need any fuel — their mail drops anticipated a greater burn rate than has actually happened. I’m still working on my second 15.9 ounce canister but was planning on getting more while in town, so we discuss a meeting location when I finish breakfast.
After breakfast I head to an outfitter nearly across the street to pick up those trekking poles I could have used so long ago. A random passerby from the Randolph Mountain Club explains the basics of trekking pole features; the available choices range from $80 to $140. I eventually decide to keep it simple and just get the most expensive ones, because I’m generally pretty thrifty and can’t think of a better way to spend it than here — I’ll be using these for at least another couple thousand-ish miles. I also grab a second stuff sack to help with carrying food; I don’t remember what I used before I got this new stuff sack.
Next stop is Colonial Comfort Inn where Silver Potato and Cracker had stayed the previous night. Silver Potato gives me two eight-ounce fuel canisters, which should at least be enough to get me through New Hampshire. Yay for free fuel! I’m also present as Cracker conclusively chooses her trail name (for managing to break one each of two pairs of hiking poles so far; they’re sending them home now to deal with possible warranties and such when the thru-hike finishes).
After making a phone call home, I head to the library for Internet access. The library in Gorham, as with every place I’ve visited, has a copy of Firefox running on it. What’s particularly interesting, however, is the bookmarks — the bookmarks in the bookmarks toolbar are:
So this install dates back at least to Firefox 0.8 or 0.9, can’t remember the last release with those bookmarks — pretty unusual for a library with restricted use policies.
Speaking of restricted use policies, this library’s Internet is practically useless. I cannot access my blog (Reason for restriction: Forbidden Category “Games” — what the heck? It’s a single personal domain! The blacklist must be ridiculously comprehensive.), so I’m forced to write some of the immediate past trail updates in an email to myself via webmail. I also can’t access xkcd (Reason for restriction: Forbidden Category “Humor/Jokes” — at least this one makes sense). I cannot access Facebook (Reason for restriction: Administrative Custom List settings — so a prejudicial block), which isn’t really a huge deal. Internet security gurus will not be surprised to find that 0×000000 is blocked, as I suspected after images from an entry displayed by Google Reader didn’t load (Reason for restriction: Forbidden Category “Hacking/Proxy Avoidance Systems” — I am amused). Note how the last item demonstrates the considerable flaw in the apparent blacklisting setup they’ve got running here — there doesn’t seem to be any attempt to block content, so if you can get it another way you win. Lastly, while I don’t have any intention of doing any here, it seems this publicly funded library also forbids speech over the Internet in the form of political lobbying as well. (Aside: small-government enthusiasts will note that there would be no First Amendment concern here if this library weren’t publicly funded: a private library could set any access restrictions it wanted without raising any freedom-of-speech concerns. The First Amendment applies to state and federal governments, not to independently-operating private entities.) I don’t ask the librarians if there’s a way to disable the blocking, but when I mention the blocking being a pain they say they can’t do anything to override it. To top it all off, the connection is slow and flaky, and I can’t get images off my camera’s memory card and into permanent storage elsewhere because of it.
I spend rather more time at the library than I should making less progress than I’d like before heading out and back to the campground. On the way out I pass a northbounder, Bird, who’s in town from further south on the trail (possibly Pinkham Notch, I think); we talk for a little bit about various things before heading our separate ways.
Back at the campground I regroup for a trip to get supplies for the next section of hike. Tomorrow begins the anticipated White Mountains, consisting of roughly 100 miles of trail. Various roads cut through these national forests, so I don’t have to carry food for the entire trek, and furthermore, thru-hikers have the option to do a work-for-stay at a series of luxury shelters (in price, not amenities) in the mountains along the way. I decide to carry food for a roughly fifty-mile section to Crawford Notch, about five days of hiking. I get a ride in to Shaw’s, which is at the far end of town, to pick up food.
After the limited options in Monson and the relative smallness of the Stratton store, Shaw’s is paradise: rows and rows and rows of choices, much closer to what I expect after having grown up in suburbs of Detroit and having spent the last four years in Cambridge in Massachusetts. The choices are most obvious in the pouch tuna section: several choices, with seasoning and without, and a variety of other pouch meats as well, including salmon and crab! I cannot pass up the chance at crab, so I grab a pouch for one of my meals. Along with the usual Knorr fare I also try out Idahoan potatoes, as noted in another hiker’s meals earlier on the trail. Once groceries are completed I head a little further up the road, intending to hit a Wal-Mart (yet another verdant oasis on the trail) to get a new memory card for my camera. The current card was the original that came with the camera, and it’s painfully small: a pitiful 16MB for pictures and minimal video. I end up hitting a Radio Shack before getting there, and the new card I pick up means I’ll never have to worry about capacity again: 1GB of roomy goodness for pictures!
It’s now about dinnertime, so I head south back into Gorham to find a place to eat. I’m in the mood for Mexican, but Dan and Leah discouraged me from going to the Mexican restaurant (it apparently doesn’t serve free chips and salsa!), so I end up stopping at Mr. Pizza, this time for a sit-down meal. I attempt to satisfy some of my Mexican longings with a margarita, and I eat another Hawaiian pizza for the actual meal.
What’s truly memorable about the dinner, however, isn’t what I eat but rather what I watch: baseball! The Red Sox are hosting the Twins at Fenway, and when I come in it’s the top of the seventh and the Sox are down 4-1. The top ends and the bottom begins; the Sox score a run to take it to 4-2, but the Twins strike back in the top of the eighth to make it 5-2. The top ends and things start to get interesting: the Sox get a man on base, and a double puts him in to make it 5-3. Up to the plate comes Manny Ramirez (who I have since found out has been traded, alas — hope the results of the trade pan out), with a man on second. Manny takes the very first pitch and smashes a monster over the Monster and into the stands, and suddenly it’s a tie game! There’s still more inning to go, and the Sox get another run in to edge up to 6-5; the Twins can’t overcome in the top of the ninth, and we have a game. Awesome!
By now it’s nearly ten; I should sit in the parking lot and wait for someone heading south to leave so I can get a ride, but instead I start walking back to the campground, arriving some forty minutes later, just in time for a good night’s sleep. I’ve probably walked seven or so miles today around town (albeit without a pack) and I fall asleep pretty quickly.
(8.0; 305.9 total, 1868.1 to go; -7.0 from pace, -159.1 overall)
Back on the trail again today! First, however, I go into town (this time hitching the entire way — I’m saving my energy for hiking today, no unnecessary walking around town; I ask the campground owner about getting cheap bikes for use by hikers, and she says they had them until the insurance company complained — phooey) and eat another breakfast at Welsh’s; I then head to the post office to ship home more supplies I don’t need. This time the big item is a bear canister which everyone’s said I don’t need (the sites which have problems have adequate facilities to handle smellables) as the container, and inside I stuff a water bottle (I was carrying four, of which I only ever used two or three assuming on-the-go water refilling), trekking pole packaging, soap (licking clean plus boiling water is plenty for sanitation), a compass (the trail provides enough directional assistance, and besides, I don’t have a map with which to use it), and other assorted items I’ve since forgotten and rarely if ever used. That done, I grab a ride back to the campground, pack up my stuff, and hit the trail around noon with a northbounder named Ishmael (yes, he carries Moby Dick with him, as I recall) who’d arrived the previous day.
Today’s hike is going to be short since I’ve started so late; the question is how short. The first shelter is 1.9 miles in, and I cover it in 35 minutes. Is it the zero, my poles, breakfast, or something else? As I write in the shelter register, “Who cares!” (In retrospect that section was fairly flat, so it was probably that plus excess energy from breakfast; I’m also a little skeptical of that distance being accurate.) Jukebox catches up and passes me at the shelter from his stay in Gorham, and I continue on after a snack.
Much of the hiking today is fairly uneventful; the weather turns a bit inclement, but there’s nothing particularly memorable about the views. Still, since I have the pictures, I might as well post them. Here’s one last bit of video footage from a trailside overlook area:
Continuing on and up, it starts to rain. I pull out a rain coat and my pack cover and keep going to Imp Campsite, my first pay site in the Whites. I pull in around 19:30, pay the caretaker the fee, and head in to the shelter itself to make dinner and head to sleep. Compared to every other shelter I’ve used, this one is dead — I doubt I hear more than fifty words from the time I reach the shelter to when I go to sleep (including anything I said) because so many people are asleep or close to it, even though hushed voices really wouldn’t pose any problems.
(10.6; 316.5 total, 1857.5 to go; -4.4 from pace, -163.5 overall)
I get up in the morning and return to my traditional breakfast fare: oatmeal packets. These oatmeal packets are Shaws-brand, just as my first batch in the 100-Mile Wilderness was, and they have trivia questions on them. Strangely, today’s trivia has an error in it, giving “Irvin” Berlin as the author of my aunt’s favorite Christmas song, White Christmas. (I also hit an error on the last day in the 100-Mile Wilderness with a packet crediting Hank Aaron with the all-time home run record but forgot to mention it here; it passed to Barry Bonds fairly recently.) Another oddity: a fellow backpacker remarks upon my eating oatmeal from the packet after pouring in the requisite boiling water; I’d thought that trick was well-known backpacker folklore, but perhaps it isn’t in very rare cases.
The day commences with travels over three peaks named North, Middle, and South Carter Mountain. Early on I pass two girls in a tent off the trail at a stealth site (although to be honest it’s pretty un-stealthy; I’m surprised ridge runners haven’t managed to cite them, since they’re right next to the 0.25-mile radius around Imp where you can’t otherwise camp and aren’t the required 200 feet or so off the trail. Jukebox passes me on one of the peaks when I stop for a snack.
As usual, I also snag a few 360-degree videos:
Lunch is near Carter Dome, a rocky mountaintop with excellent views. I meet Limeonade and Emily doing a southbound thru-hike; Limeonade got her trail name from a botched blue hair-dyeing session, learning as so many MIT students learn that getting the color hair you want is easy to get wrong. There’s also a backpacker out enjoying the Whites who did a thru-hike in the past and a couple northbounders who talk about shelters south; apparently there’s one which is known as being capable of receiving pizza deliveries.
I continue on, doubling back to grab a water bottle that fell from my pack in an errant stumble (wasting probably half an hour doing so), and reach the trail to my first “hut” before 16:00.
In the Whites, huts are buildings administered by the AMC where you can stay overnight in bunks with provided sheets and blankets, get meals in the morning and at night, use bathroom facilities, stock up on drinkable water (a scarce resource, especially if as a day hiker you don’t carry water-purification options), and get minimal supplies (energy bars and the like). They’re also wicked expensive — upwards of $90 a night, targeted at day hikers and families. Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone would visit them at that price. Thru-hikers, however, do have an option which makes them useful beyond just temporary resupply and indoor snack-eating: work-for-stay. Under this system, some number of thru-hikers (the Companion says two or four, but experience says these numbers are lies) are allowed to stay overnight in the hut, on the floor in the common area, and get to eat dinner and breakfast leftovers, in exchange for an hour or so of work around the hut. It’s about the time when I could do a work-for-stay at Carter Notch Hut, but I decide to continue on and leave that open for Limeonade and Emily, who are nursing a sprained ankle and need it more. (Had I known of the two-is-a-lie rub I might have stopped, but it would have been a pretty short day, so I probably would have pushed on.)
Next up are the Wildcat Mountain peaks, of which I pass over peaks A and D (I don’t know where the others lie, except off-trail). I’m hoping to reach Pinkham Notch and camp off-trail to walk in for an all-you-can-eat breakfast the next morning, but the terrain stymies me, and I make it but half a mile or so past peak D and have to call it quits for the night. I move off-trail a ways to be regulation-legal (200 feet, but as I find in the morning it’s really only about half that, oops), set up, eat some Idahoan potatoes (amazing, competitive with Knorr in simplicity, weight, and calories), and sleep.
(10.3; 326.8 total, 1847.2 to go; -4.7 from pace, -168.2 overall)
I get a really late start today, far too late to eat that breakfast at Pinkham Notch, and descend the remaining miles to the visitor’s center.
As it turns out, I’ve been here before — this was the entry point for a weekend trip in the Whites toward Glen Boulder (not on the A.T.) during MITOC‘s winter school in 2007. I eat lunch, offload my accumulated trash, and head on.
I reach Osgood Tentsite around five or so in the evening, at the base of Mount Madison, after passing over a stream on a bridge which seems excessive after the sparseness of bridges over rivers in Maine (picture coming when I have time to insert it ).
There’s possibly still time to reach Madison Hut or a tentsite on a side trail near it, so I head on and up for an above-treeline summit. It’s up but not too steep until I reach treeline, and I make what I think is good time.
Once I hit treeline, however, the going slows. A lot. It’s not the exposure or incline but rather the stupid rocks there, and I have to pick my way carefully to avoid twisting an ankle. Fog starts rolling in as I head up, and there’s not a whole lot of view from the top. More impressively, however, is that I get within about 500 feet of the hut and treeline without even noticing it — a break in the fog as I happen to lift my head from staring at my feet reveals it to me at an impressively close distance.
I reach Madison Hut around 20:00. It’s late and I don’t really expect a work-for-stay, but I need their bathroom and figure I’d be kicking myself if it actually were available and I hadn’t asked, so I ask. Turns out they’re awesome and say, “Yeah, we won’t make you walk further tonight.” Whee! It’s past dinnertime, but they find some leftover pasta and pass me an approximately 9″x12″ cafeteria pan full of bowtie pasta with chunks of ham, along with a bowl and spoon. I fill the bowl and eat, idly chatting with people staying in the hut overnight. As it turns out, there’s another Waldo on the trail hiking north! (I seem to have passed him without knowing it, which isn’t especially hard to do.) Good thing I didn’t stick with that name, because it would have been mildly confusing, to say the least. I refill the bowl again, and again, and again, and eventually I manage to empty the entire pan — I really was hungry, I guess. There are a few other work-for-stayers, but I can only remember that one was named Applecore; all total there were about six or so of us when the limit is supposedly two.
Lights go out at 21:30 to conserve energy (the huts all have these goofy “going green at the huts” posters that make it out to be a save-the-planet notion, but I don’t doubt it’s also economically efficient — this is one place where wind power is a very viable source of energy), and people filter to bed shortly thereafter. I pull out my pad and bag and do a little reading of the Federalist Papers (I believe around No. 20 or so), quite appropriately as I’ve just passed over a mountain named for one of its authors, and go to sleep after topping it off with the usual Bible reading.
(7.0; 333.8 total, 1840.2 to go; -8.0 from pace, -176.2 overall)
I wake up early, around 5:30, to get out of the way of the crew at the hut (“croo” as they call it, for reasons which escape me) as they prepare for the overnighters’ breakfast. Now it’s time to sit tight and wait, because we thru-hikers eat after the paying visitors and croo do — living it on the cheap means you don’t necessarily get a high-quality experience. I do some more reading of the Federalist Papers while I wait. Breakfast consists of some oatmeal and a pancake or two; after that, I sweep out the dining area and both bunkrooms as my work and head out on the trail.
Today’s trail is more of the end of yesterday. I’m now in the Presidentials, a twenty-five mile stretch that’s all above treeline, with all the same frustrating rocks. Progress is slow as I approach the most well-known peak in the Whites, Mount Washington.
Mount Washington is the site of the world record for greatest wind speed (upwards of 230 miles per hour) and, as with Pike’s Peak in Colorado, can be reached either by cog rail or by driving up it on a road. The summit has a visitor’s center, gift shop, and all the usual tourist trap things, so I’m hardly going to be in wilderness on it (not to mention the throngs of day-hikers the huts enable, carrying packs that are way fuller than they should be to carry food and water for a day, warm clothing, and basically nothing else — my fellow thru-hikers wonder what they could possibly be carrying).
On the hike up I pass by the cog railway, best known to thru-hikers for a tradition known as mooning the cog; you can guess what it entails (I choose not to participate). The cog rail is belching an incredible amount of exhaust fumes, making a complete mockery of the “going green” poster at Madison Hut. Some would say the cog shouldn’t exist, but then you require that everyone agree with your assessment of the relative merits of the different ways to pollute, and it’s clear that’s never going to happen, for any assessment that could be made. Once again we see a situation where a fully equitable Pigovian tax which forced people to consider the full costs of their actions, including those which would otherwise be negative externalities not shouldered by the offenders, would result in a natural (and totally voluntary) decrease in an undesirable activity (polluting by riding the cog). Never heard of Pigovian taxes before? It’s too bad, because they’re a good policy idea that politicians are wary to touch for fear of not getting elected; instead we see inequitable and less efficient systems like cap-and-trade proposed simply because it’s easier to say “make someone else pay” than “everybody pay your fair share based wholly on your voluntary choices”.
On a mostly unrelated note, some of my Federalist Papers reading lately touches on the federal power of taxation, a contentious power in the days when the constitution was submitted for ratification by the states. No mention has yet been made of why the power to levy income taxes was not included in the constitution (no, really, we amended the constitution to make the income tax possible — go us!); exactly what the reasons were for this prohibition would be extremely interesting to read.
Further up near the summit I’m passed by the two hikers I started with, Slowpoke and Asgask. At the summit I stumble through the crowds to find a gift shop, from which I purchase a candy bar and several postcards, which I hastily fill out and leave at the post office (yes, the summit has a post office, with a “distinguished” postmark, or so I’m told) to be sent when the weekend end. After signing the hiker register I continue down to Lakes of the Clouds Hut, the highest and largest of the huts.
I arrive to the sounds of dinner starting; the impression I get is that the croo functions similar to that of a summer camp, so you get the usual skits and rah-rah-rah stuff as mild entertainment (which invariably here instructs you on how to fold the blanket they provide you as well as how to “tip the croo”, of course). Asgask and Slowpoke are there, as well as another southbounder, Cripple, as are two northbounders (Dee Jay and Gray Ghost, I believe), and I duck inside to inquire about work-for-stay, which is indeed available. I settle back to do more Federalist Papers reading until paying dinner ends. Once everything’s cleared away, dinner is served — turkey, cranberry sauce, some salad, and lentil soup. I get several bowls of lentil soup and, once everyone’s cleared out for the night, head to sleep sated.
(11.2; 345.0 total, 1829.0 to go; -3.8 from pace, -180.0 overall)
We’re up and out of the way of the croo at breakfast by 6, to sit back and wait for our scraps. Breakfast is more oatmeal, and after that we do our work (sweeping out the bunkrooms and changing pillowcases) and head out on the trail.
Today’s hiking gets me below treeline again, which is nice because it means camping options are more plentiful; I don’t know what non-thru-hikers do if they’re not getting scalped by the Appalachian Money Club at the huts, because the pickings are spare through here. The first stop below the trees today is Mizpah Spring Hut, where I stop for a snack. There are tent sites as well there, but it’s way too early to stop, and I continue on and over a couple more peaks, seeing what remains of The Old Man of the Mountain in the distance (a picture is, as always, forthcoming), and heading down the mountainside to Crawford Notch, reaching the road there by about 19:30.
I’ve planned this bit of hiking to have me resupply at Crawford Notch General Store just three miles up the road, so I sit down and put out the thumb. I wait nearly forty minutes before getting a ride, the longest wait yet, until I get a ride there just before it closes, in time for quick resupply for the rest of the Whites down to south of Mount Moosilauke. I’m staying at the attached campground for the night; there’s a new bunkhouse there for hikers, but I’m too late to get a spot in it for the night and it’s already full, so I pitch the tent adjacent to a northbounder named Thud in a hammock, cook and eat a dinner as it starts to rain, shower (although I’m not sure how much good a shower without doing laundry actually is), and head to sleep.
I’m finding I have less and less time when I stop off the trail to make these posts, and I’m stopping off less than I did early on now that I’ve adjusted to living on-trail all the time, so I’m most likely going to try to churn out a few days at a time rather than the longer sections I’ve been trying to do. For example, this bit was going to go to Glencliff just south of the Whites, but I ran out of time to do so and would rather get something out instead of punting getting anything out for another long period of time; I’ve punted getting anything out for too long.
Just so everyone’s aware of my current progress, I’m about 25 miles into the New Jersey section of the trail, but the trail dips back into New York for a little bit (it’s hugging the border mostly), so I’m in Unionville, NY at the moment. By my numbers I’m at 843.3 total, 1330.7 to go, -206.7 overall, an offset from pace which is worse than the latest numbers you see in this post but better than a nadir of -234.1 overall, hit partially due to an opportunity along the trail that I couldn’t bring myself to miss that required that I slow down slightly (or rather, not speed up too much) through August 1. More importantly, in the last two weeks of hiking I’ve only had three days below pace (one due to a thunderstorm as I was heading up a mountain and by only 0.6 at that, the other two which I intentionally made into an effective zero), and if you cut those out I made up about 40 miles on pace over that time, and some of those days felt (and were) easy due to restrictions on available campsites (the last several states only allow camping in designated sites, which curtails freedom in how far I can hike). I wish I had no deficit, but what I do have seems to be peeling away nicely, and 20+ days are easily and commonly in reach now.
Oh, if you were in MA/CT/NY and a little bit on either side of that between July 30 and August 17 and smelled something funny, it was probably me and my stench from not having taken a shower during that time.