The Whites

Before I even get to anything hiking related, if anybody has an HGH guy, (think of the guy that was on the football team but never really played so they turned to weight lifting as their thing and got waaaaaayyyy too into it) stop reading and get your hands on as much as you possibly can. I’ll pay double.

You know the 75+ year old lady at your local gym that climbs the stair master for 6-10 hours a day? She usually wears a neon leotard and walks directly down the middle of the limited walk space at a snail’s pace so it’s impossible to get water before she fills her gallon jug. We all have one. At home, my shithead friends and I nicknamed ours “Droop Dogg”. Her face looked like a Bassett Hound. She looked as if her cheeks suffered the gravitational pull of each descending step of said stair master . Sort of like a leather Scream mask.  You get what I’m saying.

Yeah, well, due to a correlation of lifestyles, Droop Doggy Dog and I could pass as brother/sister now, so send me some of that Barry Bonds, a couple vials of A-Rod’s secret stuff, that Lebron “offseason diet” (yeah I said it, prove me wrong!).

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For weeks, I’ve busted my ass to buy time in The Whites. The Whites, located in New Hampshire, are the most impressive section of the Appalachian Trail. The difficulty, views, and experience are second to none. There are 48 peaks over 4,000 feet. The AT goes over 14 of them, and within a 5 minute walk from 3 others. Most of the summits are above tree line, and weather can be unpredictable.

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​I managed to perfectly synchronize my hike though the most treacherous section of the AT with the remnants of Hurricane Harvey traveling north. Thankfully, during the worst of the weather, I was able to seek refuge in town.

​My first real taste of the mountains, I stayed at Hiker’s Welcome Hostel and slack packed south over Mt. Moosilauke. I took an amazing time-lapse of an hour’s worth of dormant storm clouds rolling in that I posted to Instagram and FB.

I must have a help me, I’m broken face, as of the dozen or so hikers on top of Moosilauke, all the day hikers gave me, and only me, their extra fruit’s and veggies.

​Going south over Moosilauke turned out to be a blessing disguised in a lazy decision. The south side is a steeper, but shorter climb. The first mile and a half run parallel with cascading waterfalls. It was stunning. From there, it turned off into a thick forest of spruce, all just a bit taller than myself. After two miles, the tree line stops and the summit of the mountain is exposed. The depth perception is completely unreadable. The summits look a tenth of a mile away, and in reality, they are a full mile off. It’s like walking in the wrong direction on an escalator.

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​Over those 4 miles, I ascended 3,500+ feet. Lately, I’ve been forced to throw my hiking poles thirty or so feet up the rocks in order to free my hands. At times, I am climbing, not hiking. It really slows the pace, and my eight mile day took roughly six hours, including the hour break up top.

The way the mileage works is a real pain in the ass. Next up, Wolf Mountain and the Kinsman’s. It is seventeen miles to town, and a much needed resupply. That’s too many miles for one day, but not enough for two days. Camping costs money in The Whites, so I hiked fifteen miles and hung my hammock in the middle of nowhere, alone. The silence was nearly overwhelming, the smallest snap of a twig had me flinching. Also, the idiot in me forgot to get water, so I ate dinner, brushed my teeth, and slept without a drop of liquid. By 9 am, my mouth felt like I’d eaten beach sand for breakfast.

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​Two miles hiking and an impossible hitch brought me to Chet’s place, a donation based hostel. It’s a great setup, and he’s an awesome guy filled with one liner’s you’re bound to hear fifteen times if you hang around long enough. Unfortunately, there are cats and dogs and every known allergen ever discovered inside the garage. That, and a bed frame constructed for Danny Devito, resulted in a sleepless night. Instead of hiking out, I went to the Notch Hostel to lick my wounds.

​Apparently, there is a list of the “best hostels along the Appalachian Trail”. The Notch lingers around #5, and that’s incorrect. They are 1a/1b with the hostel I write these elegant words from, the Rattle River Hostel. That list has Four Pines Hostel as the #1 hostel. Four Pine is a donation based, open expanse of couches under a roof that surely provides more MRSA/Staph Infections than hours of sleep. I hammocked in the barn there with 500 chickens. So yeah, disregard that list.

Anyway, The Notch Hostel saved me. They had an Extra Long twin mattress just for muah, bikes for rent, and the entire Harry Potter Series in hardcover. The main person on site, Bookie, gave me a 2 hour hitch from Trail Day’s back in May. I couldn’t believe when she came outside to get me checked in. We hugged and caught up before I took off on a bike into town for real food.

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I rode by a place called ‘The Gypsy Cafe’, where I saw a Nordic-Goddess with blonde braided pigtails in a dress serving tables, and in my head, she loved guys with no income, protruding rib cages, and patchy beards. After my croc got stuck in the pedal and tackled me to the ground, I dusted myself off and stopped for lunch.

I ate, read the entire homepage of TheRinger.com, gave her three or four awkward “I got caught looking at you so I half grin and look away” smiles, and left.

Thankfully, the hiking, when the weather permitted, went much better than the flirting.

Two days hiking took me over Mt. Lafayette, Mt. Garfield, and The Twins. The ascent up and over Lafayette couldn’t have been steeper.

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I, still, am not ready to declare my height an advantage on the AT. I hear the same shit every day, “I wish I had those long legs”. I’m willing to argue that balance, and a lower center of gravity are more valuable than being able to take longer steps. Downhill’s are not like stairs. The surface is uneven, much smaller than size 13 boots, and you have to lower yourself to that step, or you risk a blown knee or broken ankle. Lowering myself to these steps means my knees have to turn in all sorts of unnatural angles. Height sucks out here.

That being said, they look fuckin great in short shorts, so I’ll keep ’em. But really, small hikers, be quiet and enjoy the one arena you have an advantage in.

Onward!

IMG_1707As I mentioned earlier, that bastard (Hurricane) Harvey is just sort of lingering around The Whites, and I was forced back into Lincoln, The Notch Hostel more specifically, for two more days. A big group of hikers sort of log jammed in town, and the Hostel filled up. Thankfully, the owner Serena (smokeshow!), had some extra space and helped a couple of us with a spot to crash.

Mt. Washington is the pinnacle of The Whites, with a summit of 6,288 feet. The day I summitted was to be followed by another storm of epic proportions. For clarification, I don’t mean some wind and rain. The night before I hiked up, the mountain recorded a gust of 163 mph, and wind chills were predicted to be 20 below freezing. It was 11 miles to the summit, and another 7 to the next shelter from the elements. I opted for the latter, an 18 mile day. Although I may as well have taken a sledgehammer to my knees, it ended up being the right decision. The hikers who stayed behind at the summit ended up stuck at the Lake of Clouds hut, some requiring a shuttle down from the top.

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​In order to sleep in the Hut, I needed to work for my stay. The Croo (crew), as they so annoyingly spell it, gave me the job of scrubbing the grease out of the corners of their baking sheets. I scrubbed for 75 minutes and made absolutely zero progress. Not a single spec disappeared. My reward, a plate of cold leftovers and a spot on their dining room floor to suffer on.

I fractured my L5 Lumbar (I honestly don’t know what the hell that is, but I remember the doctor going on and on about it) when I was in high school. Since then, my spine has the same stability as a piece of driftwood. That’s why I have to wrap my core in such lucious abdomen’s, otherwise I’d we flopping around like a wet noodle.

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​Anyway, sleep’s always been fairly elusive for me, and the entire Wohlleb male lineage for that matter. That, plus my back on a hardwood floor, mix like white people and the NaeNae dance, and before I knew it, I had my second sleepless night of the week. As soon as the sun rose, I hiked out.

So now, the weather forced my sleep deprived brain and body into some dangerous terrain. I decided to hike 9 miles down, 2.5 of which are above tree line, at the coldest hour of the day, completely alone, in the remnants of a hurricane, at 4,500 feet up.

The Trail baptized me with a hail storm on my very first night. (If you haven’t read about that, go back to my first blog post from March). Even after five and half months living amongst Mother Nature, I still am awed, not just by the beauty, but by the power.

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​The entire ridge line was made up of jagged rock, and remember, no trees. The wind comes from all angles at all speeds. Likewise, the rocks to step on all have their own angles and size as well. It’s impossible to predict which way to lean next. One of my big steps up timed with a wind gust, I would estimate at 75-85 mph, and blew me completely off my feet. That’s 190 lbs plus another 40 lbs of packweight lifted off the ground and tossed a couple feet to the side.

​I can count on two hands the amount of times I’ve felt small in my life. In no particular order, the top three would be:

1a) When I was three, I was attacked by a dog that left the back of my head covered in scars. While I can’t recall all the details, I do remember my head shaking aggressively back and forth against my will. This has no happy ending, though I survived, like a boss, they shot the shit out of that baby-eating dog.

1b) When I would, publicly, act like a real asshole as a youth, my Dad would grab my upper arm, and with one arm, lift my sorry ass off the ground and carry me outside. Also, I was no small child. I was as tall as my teacher in 3rd grade. My Dad was just an actual Bear. Every now and then, a whooping would follow, sometimes though, the embarrassment of being manhandled like that was enough punishment. Whooping’s are good, bring those pack new parents.

1c) Team showers in college.

So yeah, it was a memorable morning that brought me to Rattle River Hostel (RattleRiverHostel.com) in Gorham, NH. Earlier, I mentioned them as a top hostel I’ve been at. Everything is spotless, the beds are clean and comfortable, and the staff is willingly helpful. More on their hiker friendliness to come.

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​The hostel, located directly on the Trail, picked me up 21 trail miles before their location. I attempted to hike the 21 miles to sleep in a bed but only made it 19 before the sun went down. I hiked 2 miles that next day, watched Top Gun, and ate pizza, cinnamon rolls, and waffles (I think we can all agree waffles are 100x better than pancakes, right?). Delightful day.

I left the next day, just sixteen miles short of the Maine border. These small milestones are a major motivator, so naturally, I tried to squeeze all sixteen miles into one day. So far this trip, each time I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, I’ve somehow managed to make it out more or less unscathed.

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​I made it to the border just as the sun set. I was only .3 miles out of my intended campsite, but it got dark quick, and the rain started. I made it all this way, only to end up cold and wet. We all know that ‘burnt out brain’ feeling at the end of long day of work. I needed to stop and put my head lamp on, but the section of rocks I was descending down were way too steep and slippery to take my pack off and get it out.

​I didn’t stop and register the danger I’d put myself in, and I paid the price. One particular section of rock descended about 13 feet, completely vertical. There was a step halfway down. In order to get there, I had to hold the rock behind me with both hands and lower myself as far as possible, then slide down until my foot caught. However, before my foot reached that little halfway marker, my pack caught the rock behind me, and projected me face first, nothing to grab, nothing to break my fall.

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I was able to turn my shoulder enough that my pack took the brunt of the fall like an airbag. My shoulder and head slammed into a pile of mud. I was not able to tuck or turn my legs, and the full weight of both legs slammed into the edge of a rock.

I wasn’t on my feet for another ten minutes. My leg screamed in pain, my head spun, and the reality of what happened had me emotionally shook. All in all, I got extremely lucky.

The bad news, there’s no way I can hike for a couple days. I cant bend my knee past 90 degrees, and downhills are even harder now. I simply wouldn’t be able to safely scale these vertical boulders.

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​I’ve got some decisions to make, I may have to hike hurt. Hiking now is a lot like college basketball in March, or the NBA playoffs, everybody playing/hiking is in pain. If I wake up stiff and locked up again, I may have to skip a day or two worth of miles and make them up if the opportunity logistically presents itself.

​All in all, I’ve made it nearly ninety percent of the way, and there’s no way I’m stopping. If I have to pay for slackpacking to take the weight off my leg, I will. Or one of you will come through with the HGH, come on people, I believe in you.

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Of course, my personal issues pales in comparison to Hurricane Irma. There hasn’t been a major Hurricane for South Florida since Wilma in 2005. Everything since then has been near misses or last minute turns back into the ocean.

I’ve been following the progress of the story during my brief convalescence, and it has me worried. Some of you have evacuated, and I hope your possessions remain unscathed. For those who stayed, I’ll be watching on Facebook for those natural disaster safety check-ins or post storm updates.

Best of luck everyone!

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