Mapping the world, one waxy strand at a time…
Guest Blogger! Remembering the MM: The Other Side of the Story…
August 4, 2008
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Without question, Abby has done a marvelous job recounting our week-long adventure traversing the state of Massachusetts. After some poking ad prodding and a promise of my own to actually write something for “Have Dental Floss, Will Travel,” I am finally getting around to articulating some of my thoughts from the trail. That’s all I will attempt to capture: some snapshots of animals, scenery and the rambling thoughts that we are subject to when we hike for 10 or more hours a day for days on end. Here they are in no particular order.
- In one of her earlier blogs, Abby reprinted part of an email from our time in Italy. In it, she mentioned that her new husband was “hardcore”. Well, a year removed from our attack on the Dolomites, the playing field has been leveled significantly. This time it was my turn to marvel as I trudged along, suffering foot pain that, at times, made it nearly impossible to enjoy all the natural wonders and beauty I had personally come out to experience on this trip from Connecticut to Mt. Monadnock. I would stop every few miles to elevate those feet of mine or chill them in a cold mountain stream, while Abby seemed unfazed at the long days of relentless walking with relatively heavy packs making each step all the more challenging for my aching arches. Unlike the Dolomites where I would unknowingly creep ahead, I found her always there, even when I thought I was moving well (a rarity toward the end of the days). And yes, there were plenty of stretches when I was the one looking at her backside as she pounded ahead at speeds I at times found difficult to maintain. I don’t know about my “hardcoreness”, but Abby is turning into quite the outdoorswoman herself, which makes sense considering her training for the Ironman and her growing interest in Adventure Racing. I cannot even imagine where we’ll be next summer, but I have no doubt that I’ll be crying uncle wherever we end up hiking next!
- I was hoping to see a bear on the trek, but I was not actually expecting to be so fortunate. Plenty of hikers go for far longer than six days without seeing signs of these breathtaking creatures, so I was quite shocked when we saw one on our first afternoon out. In Abby’s mind, I think only an actual mauling could have been more psychologically damaging for her mental comfort than seeing that bear so early in the trip (night one was a rather fitful one for her, and since there was nowhere to go in our small tent, I felt her anxiety with every breaking twig or rush of wind that night on top of Mt. Tom), but I will remember that close encounter as one of my favorite outdoor experiences. I find all wildlife to be captivating, and the awe of seeing such a powerful animal is mesmerizing. I liken the experience to that of swimming with a shark. Not a nurse shark or reef shark mind you, but one that must be taken with a greater degree of caution. But I think the thing that makes such meetings so memorable and incredible is the realization that these animals hold a natural respect for us just as we do, or should, for them. The rare cases of tragedy aside, if we can revere these creatures, they will almost certainly respect us. Had our second encounter with the mother and three cubs not been at the rather inconvenient time of dusk with us seeking to pitch a tent, I would have savored that moment too. That time, instead of the burst of fear I had upon seeing the yearling a few days before, I thought of little except how to get by them to continue to a campsite…Wait, that’s not entirely true. I thought about how amazing it was that those two cubs that remained in the tree could scamper so high above the ground. And I imagined continuing on the trail and seeing an angry momma bull-rushing us from the trees…
- Another fond memory of wildlife has to be the beaver sighting on the last full day of hiking. The trail meandered through the woods as it had for most of the trek, and without much warning we were walking on the banks of two large beaver ponds, remote and seemingly untouched. I admit, I have a thing for these aquatic rodents and for the ecosystems which they inhabit. Beavers, more than most animals, have a dramatic effect on their surroundings. At least, one can observe the effects an animal has on its surroundings more easily with beavers. What once was a sylvan stream becomes a marshy pond with deadfalls, beaver dams and a variety of new plants and animals that come to these new aquatic habitats. Shadowed forest floor is replaced by swaying reeds and water reflecting the blue sky and shimmering sun above. Sometimes these ponds might be a mere dollop of water in the woods, or they might boast shorelines miles long. The beaver ponds we passed were some of the biggest I have seen, and to actually see one of the beavers swimming by, almost guarding the pond as we first emerged from the woods, only added to the already amazing spectacle. The booming slap of its tail as it dove beneath the blue waters of its pond made me smile as I momentarily forgot about my pulsing feet.
- I love camping, but insects really have the capacity to ruin the good cheer when you’re trying to erect a tent, eat dinner, clean up – or the other away around: get dressed, eat breakfast and take down the tent. This is the first time in my life I have truly had a hard time with bugs. I’m usually the one who says no to the deet as others slather it on, but I definitely indulged only to find the benefits last for an hour or so before the bugs would muster the courage to bite, sting and pinch through the fading residue once again. However, I have to say that in the moments when the trail felt unending, I found that these pests provided me with a strange sort of relief. I would simply remove my hat, and wait as the deer flies quickly found my sweaty and somehow appetizing scalp. Granted, they were speedy and hard to catch, but the flies seemed to prefer my cropped hair, leaving the exposed skin to the mosquitoes. It became a challenge to see how many flies I could bring down as they darted about my head, and there were times that they helped me pass the time; they hunted me, and I hunted right back, hands poised in midair, waiting for them to land, arms flailing about madly as I experimented with a variety of attack patterns. I had momentary feelings of guilt at the carnage I left behind as I crossed the state of Massachusetts into New Hampshire, but the pain, itching and lost blood I suffered thanks to the thousands of mosquitoes, gnats and flies that swarmed for the majority of the hike made up for it and helped me sleep somewhat better at night.
- Being circled by coyotes in the night. Dozing off and be awakened every few hours by their nearby yips and howls. I can’t say I enjoyed every moment of it or rested as easily as I would have had the night been a quieter one, but I also savored the moment.
- Mt. Monadnock itself is a terrific mountain. On one level I wish there were not so many people on it, but it is also wonderful to see so many people out for a day hike in a country where relatively few people truly indulge themselves in the outdoors (compared to some other hiking friendly nations I have had the pleasure to visit). It is a delightful hike to a peak unrivaled by any other in southern New Hampshire, and I have to say, without the crowds it would be as majestic as any 10,000 foot peak in the great Rocky Mountains. While it is only a shade over 3,000 feet, the gain is significant and the terrain is a challenge and a delight to those who love nothing more than to scramble, jump and climb over boulders, rock faces and cliffs. Much of the trail, depending on the chosen course for the day, is almost exclusively over stone rather than roots and soil, and as you emerge onto the bare summit, battered by wind, you feel like you have actually climbed a mountain rather than simply walking to its summit. Whether it is the most hiked mountain in the world or merely one of the planet’s top five hiking destinations, this really is a mountain to see without the expensive demands of gear, or long distance travel. And the risk level is significantly lower than the nearby White Mountains or most of the other dramatic hiking destinations in the United States.
- Despite my two to three years of time overseas and my numerous escapades in the wilderness, I had never done a true through-hike before. Yes, it was nice to have a bed at my parents’ house, and we did take advantage of that luxury rather than staying true and pitching a tent on the lawn. Yes, we indulged at the East Hill Farm and marveled at Mt. Monadnock from a hot-tub before tackling it the next morning sans packs (Actually we had a light day pack which paled in comparison to the loads we had shouldered during the hike, and Abby carried that up the mountain). But we still hauled our 30-pound packs for approximately 130 miles over six plus days. We weathered the elements, hot and cold…Well, not cold, but wet, yes. Abby began to overcome her fears of the local fauna or at least learned to cope with said fears well enough that she could sleep at night in a tent that was cramped, malodorous and damp with the summer humidity. I was humbled more than I can remember by my aching feet, and had we brought a tow rope with us, Abby would have been towing me over the mountains and through the dells of southern New England. We purified water from a silty puddle of mud water as dusk settled in and our empty bottles reminded us of our growing thirst, and we even spent time discussing our ever-growing expertise on “how to shit in the woods”. It was a great trip, and though we set out to hike an additional 50 miles to the summit of Mt. Sunapee, the climax of finishing a trail that had beckoned from my backyard since my childhood with such a spectacular mountain at the finish was all the reward I needed.
- And how can I forget the blueberries? They may not be as big as those in the grocery, and they may not be the same brilliant blue. But I promise you: next time you have the pleasure of wandering through the woods on trails that lead you along ridge lines and toward mountain tops, take a moment to find these delicious gems on the trailside. They truly make each step and every travail along the way worth the time and pain.