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Exile's_Home ©1997 George Steffanos

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Then The Hail Came

Last updated 2/05/97


CHAPTER 20

A TOILET WITH A VIEW

(Sherburne Pass, Vermont to Glencliff, New Hampshire)

SATURDAY, 8/27/83, MILE 1676.7 --- I was on the trail at 11:59 to begin my last climb on the Long Trail, so I finally managed another morning start -- a tiny little victory, but I will take whatever I can get. The half-mile climb to Maine Junction was fairly tame, but I quickly became a walking waterfall of sweat. It was another unbelievably tropical day for the time of year in northern New England. I must admire the persistence of the heat wave of 1983.

Maine Junction is the point where the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail diverge. The Long Trail is older than the AT, and takes precedence over the younger trail at their junction. Like that of the AT, the Long Trail's route is marked with white paint blazes, while the side trails for both are marked with blue blazes. The 1.3 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Maine Junction to Vermont Highway 100 are a blue-blazed side trail of the Long Trail, the only section of the entire AT which is not white-blazed.

The descent from the Green Mountains was long, but relatively gradual. The footway was not bad, either, except for a couple of large old blowdowns blocking the path. Just before Vermont 100, the Appalachian Trail entered Gifford Woods State Park, which was established to protect one of the few remaining traces of uncut virgin forest in New England. The quarter-mile or so of the AT which passed through the park traveled mostly on gravel roads and did not approach the virgin stands, but, like the rest of Vermont, the woods through which I did hike were lovely.

I followed the trail across Vermont 100 and back into the woods along the shore of Kent Pond, a huge recreational lake owned by the state. Shortly after leaving the lake, the Appalachian Trail turned onto a paved road which quickly became dirt-surfaced as I followed it down for another mile or so into a narrow valley wedged between two rather lofty ridges. At the bottom of the valley, the road crossed the Ottauquechee River on a small bridge. The AT closely paralleled another paved road for a short distance before turning onto a steep jeep road and climbing the next ridge.

The AT soon turned off of that jeep road and continued to ascend along a narrow, overgrown woods road. This was easily the most unattractive section of the trail in Vermont. The old road was covered with tall, ugly weeds, a prickly, odorous mass which closed in upon the trail and often encroached. The surrounding woods were a squalid, singularly unappealing second-growth forest. On top of everything else, the climb was a killer. I could not seem to work up any of my recent enthusiasm for this stretch of trail.

Once I topped the ridge, the AT became instantly transformed. The old woods roads it followed down the other side were grassy and relatively weed-free. The trees were taller and shapelier, the woods more open and airy. I followed an attractive little brook down into the next valley. When I was about a mile from Stony Brook Shelter on the floor of that valley, a light sprinkle began to fall. It was just developing into a steady drizzle as I reached the shelter. I ducked inside under cover and grabbed a quick snack as the drizzle became a heavy rain. While I was eating, the rain tapered off to a fine mist.

Unmistakable signs of more rain on the way tempered my relief. Thunder rumbled in the distance and the sky remained darkly ominous. Before leaving the shelter, I put on my rain jacket, placed my rain pants where I could have ready access to them without removing my backpack, and refilled my water bottle, which had become bone dry after just eight miles. The rain had noticeably cooled things down, so I figured that I could make this refill last for the remainder of the day.

The trail climbed moderately alongside another lovely brook for almost a mile before crossing and beginning a more rigorous ascent of a half-mile. Then, it descended steeply for a half-mile, followed by another stiff climb. The ridges all ran north-to-south; I was traveling eastward. Ridgehopping can make for a grueling day. I was doing a hell of a lot of up-and-down hiking without receiving any major scenic rewards. It was a psychological challenge; I had just been spoiled by the Green Mountains.

The final killer climb of the day lasted for two miles, and most of it was steep. The next few miles contained frequent short ascents and descents, but it was a cakewalk in comparison with what had preceded it. The rain had stopped. Smooth sailing.

A heavy thundershower struck. It was nothing special compared to some of the boomers I had encountered down south, but I was thoroughly soaked climbing the next ridge. To me that was an improvement over the sauna in which I had been hiking earlier this afternoon. The storm blew over quickly. I took the short side trail up to The Lookout, which was the best viewpoint by far on the Appalachian Trail today. The sky had cleared just enough to allow hazy partial views. The surrounding ridges and valleys peeped out through the shredded remains of storm clouds -- a rather dramatic tableau.

When I rejoined the Appalachian Trail, it was 6:45. I had told my mother I would meet her at the Vermont 12 road crossing at 7:30, but I was having another mediocre hiking day. At that point, I would be lucky to beat nightfall, which has lately been occurring before 8:00. Since Georgia, I have learned a great deal about turning my mind off to the aches and pains of my body and ignoring fatigue. For what felt like the zillionth time on this trip, I sucked it up at the end of a bad hiking day and put forth my best effort.

Except for one fairly brief climb, the AT was downhill for the remaining five miles, all of which were on woods roads and dirt roads. The final descent was along a dirt road, passing a picturesque series of small New England farms and one beautiful little pond complete with a tiny flock of ducks. My guidebook mentions that much of this section is going to be relocated off of the roads in order to make the trail route more scenic, which I applaud, but I must admit that the two-mile stretch along that road was perhaps the prettiest portion of today's hike.

I came out on Vermont 12 at 8:10, having walked the last half-mile of that road in Vermont moonlight. Unlike most Appalachian trail highway crossings, this one lacked a roadside marker. Although I was forty minutes late, my mother was not there, and I was worried that she was unable to find the trailhead. She drove by about ten minutes after my arrival. She had been driving up and down Vermont 12 since 7:30, looking for me. I think I will have to reevaluate my hiking pace until my body shakes off whatever is ailing it.

SUNDAY, 8/28/83, MILE 1676.7 --- A cold front moved through today. I took the day off from hiking. Scattered showers lingered from morning through evening, and I was still not feeling one hundred percent. Tomorrow is supposed to be slightly cooler and a great deal less humid than the past few days. I can live with that.

MONDAY, 8/29/83, MILE 1688.7 --- I started on the Appalachian Trail at 12:30. I would have liked to have started earlier and done the final twenty-one miles in Vermont, but that's life. I settled for the twelve-mile stretch between Vermont 12 and Vermont 14.

The first couple of miles along the AT today were legally closed, resulting in a long detour on paved roads. However, my guidebook informed me that the landowner would grant permission to backpackers to walk the old trail, provided they first stop at the house and ask. I stopped by and met the owner's wife. She graciously allowed me to cross their land, so I was able to walk the official trail listed in the Data Book.

The trail was difficult to follow at first. It ascended through farm fields, turning onto and off of small dirt tracks, the route poorly-marked. After a quarter-mile, the AT turned onto a large, well-cleared dirt farm road and climbed steeply up the ridge. At first, I passed through open pastures with great views of the surrounding hills. Then, the trail entered an attractive, mature forest. The woods were occasionally broken by old overgrown fields as the trail crested the ridge and descended the other side. Towards the bottom of the descent, I walked through the pastures of another picture-book little farm, passing between a large barn and several smaller outbuildings just before coming out on a paved road.

In some ways, the portion of the AT which I describe in this chapter can be thought of as a connecting trail between the grandeur of the Green Mountains and the magnificence of the Whites. That outlook would ignore the charms of this pleasant country of rolling ridges and neat little farms. The overgrown fields through which I passed near the last ridgecrest were the remnants of abandoned mountain farms, an interesting feature of the region through which the Appalachian Trail passes between the two major mountain ranges. The country's gradual expansion over the years into the more fertile regions of the midwest, the plains, and the far west slowly doomed those rocky, dirt-poor fields.

When eagerly devouring the trail descriptions in the guidebooks as I planned this trip last spring, I used to skim through these sections impatiently before hurrying ahead to the more spectacular parts. I have discovered the value of diversity along the trail as the slow months of this journey drift past; I find myself enjoying this portion of the trail immensely. The added benefit which I receive is a renewed sense of excitement upon my return to the high country.

The only downer today was the weather. The forecast had called for sunny and pleasant conditions, but the day was cloudy and gray, and the humidity hovered around ninety percent. Although the thermometer never climbed much above eighty, I spent another day soaked in my own sweat. If you are growing tired of reading that, imagine how I am feeling about writing it. I am expecting some relief next week in the White Mountains. Snow squalls up at the summits are not unheard of at this time of year. Whatever weather I encounter in that range, it should be interesting.

Getting back to today, when I turned off of Barnard Brook Road into that field, I had finished hiking the officially "closed" section of the Appalachian Trail. After a steep climb along the edge of the pasture, the AT turned onto a delightful woods road along which it ascended gradually through a forest of spruce and fir. The old road was cushioned with a luxuriant carpet of evergreen needles. Treading it was a delicious sensation for my often-abused feet. In some aspects, this was one of the more pleasant portions of the entire Appalachian Trail.

As I reached the crest of a hill, the composition of the forest changed to a lovely spread of mature hardwoods sprinkled liberally with clusters of white birch. The rhododendron down south are quite a sight when they are in bloom, but, to my mind, nothing compares to the stark beauty of these wonderful trees, with their gleaming white trunks and limbs. One of the features of autumn in Maine which I most eagerly anticipate is experiencing the full glory of the birch and the sugar maples.

There were more nice views from open fields along the eastern slope of that hill. The Appalachian Trail descended on a wide farm road, passed between a barn and a farmhouse, and crossed another paved road. It continued through a fascinating mixture of farms, pastures, abandoned mountain farms, evergreen forests, and attractive stands of birch, beech, maple, and other hardwoods.

After almost seven miles of hiking, I arrived at Cloudland Shelter. It was a bit off of the AT on a side trail, but I made the trip to read the register and catch up on the adventures of some of my friends who I will never meet up ahead on the trail. After months of following their ups and downs, their hopes and dreams, and the stories of their adventures, I feel as if I know many of them personally. At any rate, I had a great deal of time to kill today. I had asked my mother to pick me up at 6:00, allowing me five-and-a-half hours to hike twelve fairly easy miles. Thus, I was able to spend a half-hour at the shelter without feeling guilty.

Cloudland was one of the more beautiful shelters on the entire Appalachian Trail. Although located near a road, it looked brand-new. The structure possessed handsomely-finished hardwood floors and walls, and the place was spotless. This was my first look at a Dartmouth Outing Club shelter, and I was very pleasantly surprised. Not only was this shelter wonderful, but their trail, on which I hiked today, was excellent. I would hike their section on its own at any time. They make what could be mere connecting trail a worthwhile trip in its own right.

In the register, everyone remarked about the outhouse, insisting that it should not be missed. That was such a bizarre suggestion that my sense of adventure compelled me to follow up on it. I shrugged and strolled dutifully over to check it out. It truly was a magnificent specimen, one sure to delight the most discerning connoisseur of outhouse architecture. It was as carefully engineered as the shelter, the bottom half being constructed of similarly impressive finished hardwood. The entire top half of the walls was composed of a fine wire mesh screening, which explained why the outhouse had been built so far out into the woods, out of sight of the shelter. This little touch eliminated the usual stench which permeates most privies. The floor and the coiling were also finished hardwood, and there were two (count 'em, two) rolls of toilet paper next to the throne (usually one must bring one's own).

The D.O.C. is so proud of this toilet that they leave a special edition outhouse register in there (a truly civilized innovation), as well as a bulletin board with thumbtacks and index cards, on which hikers may leave messages. I wrote that the outhouse was so elegant that it almost made me wish that I arrived with a case of the trots.

I left the shelter at 4:00. For a change, I was looking at two hours in which to hike about five miles at the end of a day. That was like a vacation. The Appalachian Trail followed old woods roads and footpaths over the crest of a ridge, and then was mostly downhill for the remainder of the hike. The highlight was an open, grassy knob a couple of miles past Cloudland which provided 360-degree views of the White River and Connecticut River valleys and the surrounding hills. I took my last break of the day on this spot, called Thistle Hill.

The final mile or so was on a paved road, which passed one exceptionally fine brick house as it made its way down into the White River valley. I crossed the bridge over the river and arrived at Vermont 14 at exactly 6:00. I had been able to stroll along at an unhurried pace all day long. I would love to have that extra time more often, if I could just get my butt out onto the trail early in the day. I've managed to make day hiking at least as challenging as backpacking.

My ride showed up a few minutes later, and I drove to our motel in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Sometime tomorrow afternoon, I will be entering this state officially on the Appalachian Trail. The saga draws toward a conclusion. 449.8 miles to go.

TUESDAY, 8/30/83, MILE 1705.1 --- I was at the White River bridge today at 12:15. The Appalachian Trail followed Vermont 14 north for a half-mile, paralleling the river, and turned east on a smaller paved road. After another quarter-mile, the road passed under Interstate 89 and the pavement ended. The AT followed this dirt road up a ridge for two miles as it gradually dwindled into a dirt track. The next few miles were on jeep roads, crossing the wooded crest of Griggs Mountain and descending to Happy Hill Cabin, an enclosed trail shelter with doors and windows. It was another great looking Dartmouth Outing Club shelter. I spent about a half-hour there, talking with a southbound thru-hiker who had never heard of the Ralph's Peak Hikers Cabin or the Greymoor Monastery. I filled him in, just as others had done for me in the past.

After Happy Hill, some of the dirt roads looked passable by ordinary automobile. I enjoyed my last sights of Vermont forests, but the weather was once again threatening. Yesterday, there was thunder in the west back towards the Green Mountains for the entire time I was hiking, although I never did get rained upon. Up to this point, the rain was yet to appear, but thunder now surrounded me in every direction.

The last two miles of descent to the Connecticut River were on paved roads, including the final mile on US 5 and Vermont 10A. These were two busy roads, and walking them felt a little strange with all of that heavy traffic roaring past. I have grown accustomed to the quiet serenity of the forest over these past months. I crossed the river on a beautiful little stone bridge and entered Hanover, New Hampshire. Twelve states down and two to go. Back in Virginia, the trail sometimes seemed to crawl by. Now, it almost moves too fast.

The beginning of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire followed busy streets through downtown Hanover, home to the Ivy League's Dartmouth College. The sidewalks were thronged with students and their families -- no surprise, since I imagine the fall term must be starting about now. I strode through the bustling crowds, among them, yet, in a deeper sense, worlds apart. It was a relief to turn off of the roads and return to the still forest.

The Appalachian Trail from this point to a ridge named Velvet Rocks was like something out of Tennessee. It was constantly scaling up slippery slopes only to immediately drop back down. The sky contributed to the wonderful ambience of this section by opening up and dumping all over me. The downpour turned an already tricky, shifting footway into a treacherous, muddy mess.

After about two miles of mild torture, the trail improved to the point where I could begin to enjoy myself, despite the rain. The toughest remaining obstacle was the crossing of a thirty-foot-wide stream which lacked an alternate high-water route. The monsoon through which I was suddenly hiking had quickly transformed this quiet brook into a small whitewater river, and the rocks on which the trail crossed were completely submerged in the rushing current. I was compelled to bushwhack some distance downstream in order to find a feasible crossing. A low strand of barbed wire had been cunningly concealed in the brush along the stream bank. My shin found it. Good thing it wasn't two feet higher. I managed to extricate myself and walk away relatively undamaged.

I arrived at the Etna-Hanover Center Road crossing at 7:25 -- five minutes early despite all of the obstacles at the end. The final surprise of the day was a brand-new relocation which had not been included in my updated 1983 guide book. It turned the last 1.6 miles of the Appalachian Trail today into 2.4 miles, a 150 percent increase for my tired, soaked body at the end of the day. The AT is so much fun.

Virtually all of the Appalachian Trail that I hiked today was pure connecting trail, especially the nine miles in Vermont. There were frequent roadwalks and few scenic highlights. My guidebook again informs me that major relocations will soon reroute most of this stretch in order to create a more scenic trail. I would like to hike this trail again when that happens. If what I have seen so far of their work is any indication, the D.O.C. will do an excellent job.

WEDNESDAY, 8/31/83, MILE 1716.8 --- It was cloudy and damp, and looked like rain at 12:40 this afternoon when I returned to the Appalachian Trail. The AT followed a private driveway for a short distance from the road before turning into a field and skirting the edge of water company property near a reservoir. It entered the woods and climbed over several hills on old roads and paths.

There was a major discrepancy between the guidebook and its accompanying map regarding the trail route on Moose Mountain. The book said that a brand-new relo ascended to the south peak and followed the ridgecrest over the north peak with good views. The map showed the Appalachian Trail meandering along the lower slopes of the mountain's west side. As it turned out, the map was correct, trimming about a mile off of an already-short day. When I discovered this fact, I immediately sat down in the middle of an attractive birch forest, mostly to kill time and eliminate some of the wait for my ride I was facing at the end of the day.

The AT passed through an emerging new housing development and another area which was in the process of being lumbered. I believe that the Moose Mountain relocation is going to be a very good one. The stretch of the Appalachian Trail over which I walked today was more pure connecting trail. The new route, as it is described in the guidebook, will be worth a trip for its own sake.

After swinging around the north flank of Moose, the AT crossed a paved road. A rope was hanging from a tree beneath a cardboard sign which read, "Hikers: If our very friendly Lab starts following you, please use this rope to tie her to the tree, so that we won't have to hike up the mountain to find her." It sounded like the plea of someone who had been forced to climb that mountain many times.

The Appalachian Trail followed some dirt roads through a pleasant farm valley encircled by mountains, and re-entered the forest to begin a fairly taxing climb up to Holts Ledge:, the first real mountain which it had thus far traversed in New Hampshire. It kept turning onto one woods road after another, and each was a bit steeper than the preceding one. It passed just to the left of the wooded summit and began very gradually to descend along the ridgeline.

The sun broke out just as I was breaking out onto the open ledges. Suddenly, the sky was clearer than it had been in days. I sat down to drink in the sunshine and the views. I was so far ahead of schedule that I was able to linger for about an hour. I had a 180-degree view of miles of lowland lake country to the south and mountains to the east and north. From this relatively low altitude, the masses of Smarts Mountain and Mount Cube shut out my view of the loftier peaks of the White Mountains to the northeast, but they were impressive features in themselves. I will be climbing them tomorrow. The most mesmerizing portion of the view was that wide expanse of green forests and blue lakes stretching out to the southern horizon. It was nice to finally receive some cooperation from the weather, just when it could really pay dividends.

I made it down the mountain in no time, and arrived at the Lyme-Dorchester Road twenty minutes earlier than planned at 5:40. Just as I reached the road, it began to rain. Soon, it was pouring. So much for cooperation. Mother Nature seems to still hate my guts. I spent fifty minutes being soaked until my ride arrived. Just as I stepped into the car, the rain stopped. F___ you, too.

I have about one month remaining in my hike. Tomorrow is the first day of September. Today, I passed the four-fifths-point of the Appalachian Trail. It looks as if I am destined to complete it in almost exactly the five months on which I had originally planned.

The foul weather is supposed to break tomorrow, which would be excellent timing. I will be traversing Smarts Mountain and Mount Cube, purportedly the two most spectacular features on the Appalachian Trail between the Green Mountains and the Whites. Tomorrow will be my last day of peace before the three-day Labor Day weekend, but that will be the final holiday with which I will have to contend on this adventure. I will soon be backpacking once again, and the trail shelters should be less crowded as the summer season draws to a close and folks return to work and to school.

THURSDAY, 9/1/83, MILE 1731.2 --- The first day of September was a gorgeous day in central New Hampshire. It could not have come at a better time. I hiked one of the most spectacular sections of the entire Appalachian Trail. I knew from my reading of the guidebook that it would also be a very strenuous one -- including a 2400-foot and a 1760-foot climb. In order to cover all of that climbing and still have time to enjoy the impressive scenery, I allowed myself seven hours to traverse this fourteen-mile section.

The hike began at 12:20 with a two-mile roadwalk. At the beginning, I passed a few farmhouses, but most of this stretch was in the woods. It was a good warm-up stroll, climbing very gradually. The Appalachian Trail turned onto a woods road and the climb became more strenuous. It followed this woods road and another one up the lower slopes of Smarts Mountain for a couple of miles, following the banks of Grant Brook.

The AT left the road and turned up an extremely eroded and rocky trail. It was a steep scramble across slanting, moss-covered rocks, over which a steady trickle of water was dripping. I had a difficult time keeping my feet beneath me. I climbed through a spruce forest, eventually breaking out onto open ledges with views westward towards the Connecticut River valley and the distant blue-gray line of the Green Mountains. After about a mile, the trail turned straight up the rock face and became even steeper and more difficult. Fortunately, this stretch was fairly brief.

When I arrived at the junction with the side trail to Smarts Mountain Shelter, I was more than happy to make a short side trip in order to recover from that climb and enjoy the expansive vistas to the south and east from the shelter. I flipped through the register, finding comment after comment about the magnificent view from the fabled Smarts Mountain privy. I admit that I was becoming concerned about my fellow thru-hikers' sudden fixation on bodily functions, but once again I shrugged my shoulders and sauntered up to check out the outhouse.

What can I say? The view from that crapper is so compelling that the D.O.C. has completely removed its walls and ceiling in order to enable the grateful user to enjoy it to the fullest extent possible. Considering the climate in northern New England at this altitude, I found the open-air concept a little . . . well . . . f___ing deranged, but I must admit that the views did absolutely blow away those from any other toilet at which I have ever been. The magnificent sweep of that lake country eastward to the foothills of the White Mountains could make a man feel himself to be the lord of all he surveyed and compel him to leave his newspaper unread. It is a heady thought. On the downside, New England weather had not been kind to the wooden seat. Splinters were a distinct hazard. Ouch! Fortunately, I had no need of the facilities.

I spent a half-hour at the shelter before hiking on another whole tenth-mile to the 3240-foot summit, where I spent another fifteen minutes enjoying the vista from the firetower. The 360-degree panorama was dominated by the nearby hulk of Mount Cube and the distant mass of Mount Moosilauke -- my first glimpse of a White Mountain summit on this hike. The Connecticut River valley and the lake country were a pastoral dream, drawn in brilliant sunshine beneath a deep blue sky. My mind wandered back to the numerous occasions when I felt compelled to quit this quest during its sometimes-dismal early days, and I felt an enormous surge of gratitude towards the tired, heartsick guy who kept trudging onward back then. I took one more look at the alpine summit of Mount Moosilauke before continuing my hike. I will be climbing it in a couple of days, returning to the White Mountains after a two-year absence.

The trail down the far side of Smarts Mountain was in worse shape than the ascent had been, but what did that matter to a man who was surrounded by that kind of magnificence? The AT lunged downward across more of those dripping, mossy rocks. It required more time for me to cover the first mile down from the summit than I had needed to make that final steep mile of ascent. After that first mile, the,Appalachian Trail began following a woods road, which gradually became a passable dirt road as I walked past a couple of crude cabins. The road emerged from the woods in a wide, flat, high valley, passing farm fields over which there were spectacular views of Smarts Mountain behind me and of Mount Cube up ahead. The farms were part of a tiny mountain community known as Quinttown.

Altogether, there was four miles of walking various grades of dirt roads through the valley. The Appalachian Trail route was not well marked, but I did not lose too much time in finding my way. A proposed relocation for this section of trail will remove this roadwalk. It will improve the AT -- most of the roadwalk was rather dull. Nevertheless, that little stretch near the beginning past those farms made the entire roadwalk for me. I am glad I was able to walk this portion of the Appalachian Trail before the relo was completed. I will be back some day to see what the new trail looks like.

After four miles, the AT left the dirt roads and proceeded to climb Mount Cube. Mount Cube Shelter was located at the base of the mountain, just a quarter-mile from the road. It looked very used, but the area was kept nicely clean. The best feature was another great outhouse, identical to the one which I described at Cloudland Shelter in Vermont earlier in this chapter, right down to the bulletin board on the wall. I wrote another rave review of a D.O.C. outhouse on an index card and tacked it up with the others. Then, I began the warped, diseased climb up Mount Cube.

The trail up Cube was similar to the trail down Smarts, only steeper. The air was dry and fairly cool, but I lost buckets of sweat on that ascent. I was happy to break out onto the open ledges surrounding the south peak. There were fantastic views -- better, in fact, than the guidebook had described (a nice change of pace from the frequent guidebook hyperboles). The south peak -- the mountain's main summit -- had views to the south and west of Smarts Mountain, Holts Ledge, and the Connecticut River valley. The elevation was just over 2900 feet.

I enjoyed that view for about fifteen minutes, before making my way over the rugged, rocky crest to the north peak. Ledges near this summit featured great views of the White Mountains towards the northeast and a scenic farming valley encircling a large lake to the east. The climb down the north ridge of the mountain was another scramble; it took me forever to pick my way down the first precipitous mile. Occasional views to the north from along this ridge enlivened the descent.

A relocation near the base of the mountain lengthened the trail somewhat but made the going much easier. Nevertheless, between the slow descent and the extra mileage at the end, I arrived at New Hampshire 25A fifteen minutes late at 7:45. It had been a tiring but entertaining day. Tomorrow, I will traverse a very easy fourteen-mile section of trail, through which I anticipate breezing. Beyond that lie Mount Moosilauke and the rest of the White Mountains, where I will truly have my work cut out for me.

FRIDAY, 9/2/83, MILE 1745.7 --- I guess that my down-to-the-wire live-on-the-edge mentality could not handle the concept of an easy day, because I did not set out on the Appalachian Trail today until 2:15. That left me needing to average two-and-a-half miles per hour, breaks included, to arrive at the trailhead at 7:45 -- the current time for nightfall. As my legs were still feeling the effects of yesterday's tough climbs, that was a tall order.

The initial mile of trail was a meandering stroll through the forest on assorted trails and logging roads, after which the AT cut across a farm, going through a pasture and past some outbuildings and turning onto a dirt road. The next mile was all on dirt and gravel roads, at one point approaching Upper Baker Pond: a large, placid lake dotted with vacation homes and surrounded by an arc of low ridges on three sides. I have seen so many of these scenic mountain lakes lately I am almost becoming jaded.

This was followed by a number of woods roads as the Appalachian Trail ascended a low, wooded ridge. The AT turned onto a dirt road called the Old Cohos Road and followed it for two miles past a few cabins, a couple of farms, a great deal of forest, and one extremely old cemetery. It was an intriguing walk upon a historic road dating back to 1768 and the forests were pleasant, but today's trail was obviously merely a connecting link between the rocky, open ledges of Mount Cube and Smarts Mountain and the alpine crest of Mount Moosilauke. It made for a pleasant-enough rest day between two difficult, and rewarding sections. This entire portion of the AT is marked for relocation. Hopefully, they can do something a bit more dramatic with it.

The next mile of the Appalachian Trail was on New Hampshire 25C, a paved two-lane highway. The most interesting feature of this roadwalk was a sign I saw peeking up over the top of a hill as I climbed along the road. I saw the top portion first; it said, "Restaurant." As I neared the top of the hill, the remainder of the sign came into view -- "For Sale or Lease." Many thru-hikers' hearts must have been broken by those last four words.

After I turned off of this road into-the woods, the final seven miles were on footpaths through the White Mountain National Forest. It was a fairly uneventful return to the place for me, mostly a long, easy climb over a hill called Mount Mist -- a low, wooded ridge with one excellent viewpoint along the northern flank of an undeveloped pond in a tiny bowl-shaped wooded valley encircled by small mountains. Over the top of one of those hills, Moosilauke towered in the background. I stopped at this viewpoint for my first, and only, break of the day.

The trail descended past a water source called Hairy Root Spring (I know -- sounds yummy, doesn't it?) to the shores of that mountain tarn known as Wachipauka Pond. It crossed a marshy area and climbed over a wooded hill before dropping down to New Hampshire 25, another small two-lane highway, just outside the outskirts of a little New Hampshire village known as Glencliff. I arrived at the trailhead at 7:30, fifteen minutes early, thanks to all of my nonstop walking today. Darkness was falling and the evening was becoming rather chilly. I put on my chamois shirt and sat down to await my ride. I had brought with me no long pants, and my legs rapidly became chilled as the body heat generated by hiking subsided.

It was a beautiful night -- unbelievably clear. The sky gradually donned the velvety-black mantle which city and suburban dwellers so seldom encounter. Constellations began to appear and the Milky Way spanned the firmament in a blaze of glory. I lay on my back alongside the blacktop, oblivious to the fact that I was freezing my butt off. The entire universe flipped over, and I was staring down into a huge black abyss. The few stars with which I was familiar from southern Connecticut skies blazed like beacons here. My eyes would shift to the empty black beside them, and gradually lesser lights would emerge, eventually flaring with frozen fire approaching the intensity of their more spectacular cousins. My eyes would shift to another "empty" portion and more lights would eventually swim up from the depths. I wished my friend Mark from Shenandoah could have been there tonight. I fell deeper and faster through the vast universe as my forgotten body slowly froze beside a little-used mountain road on a tiny pinprick of light far above. Infinity. It was a magnificent sight, and one which I was able to savor for a good long time. My mother took a wrong turn on the way to pick me up and came out somewhere in Vermont. By the time she got straightened out and managed to reach the trailhead, it was 9:00. It was also a strange night. Virtually every one of the few vehicles that drove past while my body waited on the side of that road was a pickup truck.

The connecting trail is all behind me, now. Tomorrow, I begin hiking the Whites. Beyond that range lies the promise and fulfillment of Maine. The unattainable dream. Somewhere beneath these shimmering stars tonight, Katahdin awaits a solitary pilgrim. 392.8 miles to go.

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©1997 George Steffanos

gsat@skwc.com

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