The Majesty of the Whites

Aug 5th, 2016 in Adventure

Hello from Andover, Maine, in what’s my penultimate log entry on the entire trail! I’m now in the final state, but it’s not like I’ll be coasting along to the finish line. This state’s remaining ~250 miles include some of the most rural and difficult sections of trail. After a revitalizing trip through New Hampshire’s White Mountains range, and a day off hosteling, I’m as ready as I’m gonna be for this final stretch.

I confess to entering a period of ennui before The Whites. Weary, and hopping from house to hostel to town to hostel turned me into a wifi junkie, desperate for my fix of news and games. A joyful jolt shook that out of me as I first entered the alpine biome and felt that chill air, even in July. I even found ice in the caves of Maine’s Mahoosuc Notch.

The ridgelines of the Whites were incredible to spend hours walking upon. I saw not only the world below, but also the distant peaks way away. I became intimate with Mount Washington as I approached, summitted and then retreated from it over each day. On top, with trees absent, only rock cairns, the occasional signpost and intuition guided the way North.

Every monumental view in the Whites was one that needed to be earned. They are legendary for their ruggedness, and brutal, sustained rock scrambles ruled each day. Conventional wisdom for thru-hikers here is to accept being slowed down and take it slowly. I rejected that.

Nothing halts my turbo. With the aid of “Wild Turkey”, we kept an average mileage above fifteen per day. This pace was grueling, with days where our total elevation change exceeded ten thousand feet, but we both shared a feeling of accomplishment from the competitive thrill each evening. “Wild Turkey” is now ahead of me, choosing to dash on for Katahdin instead of taking a day of rest. Maine’s not any easier, so I hope he can sustain that speed and finish well.

The Whites are also legendary for their hospitality, something I’m always keen to take advantage of. The Appalachian Mountain Club has a century long tradition of it through their series of mountain huts. These edifices, built for sustainability, offer food and lodging for recreationers. Thru-hikers get a chance to participate in exchange for a token amount of labor. I got to see my most amazing sunset of the trail from Lake of the Clouds, 5000 feet up, as well as sleep under a table at Zealand Falls. My food bag? Hardly touched it, I got all the leftovers.

I’m truly cognizant now of the real wear and tear thrust upon me. I’m now minus twenty pounds since March, despite my insane diet. Also, multiple pieces of my gear are compromised. My hope is to make them last and junk what’s broken at the end. Let’s not start on my cuts, chafes, and contusions, nor my plundered coffers.

In opposition to my exhaustion are my feelings when I cross Southbounders. I am ending my journey while theirs is only beginning. Each meeting, at least, offers a valuable opportunity to swap intel and for me to give guidance. In the end, we’re both warriors on the same quest. The ones I get a chance to chill more than a moment with I find are cut from the same cloth as myself, maybe just a bit less ragged of one. The lot I’m meeting lately won’t be finishing until December!

Despite my weariness, there’s a looming end now in sight. I’m still struggling to properly put into my words my thoughts on that and hopes or anxiety on what comes next. I do know, at least, that preoccupation with the ending isn’t going to serve me well to enjoy this last phase. Though that doesn’t preclude some careful planning (where am I gonna live?), a successful thru-hiker is an unflagging optimist when it comes to a murky path ahead.