Thundering Falls to Pomfret Brook
Clean Freezer Camp to Water Feature Camp
AT miles: 22.6
Total miles: 1741.7
Elevation change: 6650ft gain, 6860ft loss
As I draw closer to New Hampshire and The White Mountains held therein, I feel my anticipation, excitement, and unease building. Questions about the snow conditions, weather, camping situation, and terrain challenges on the high peaks constantly swirl in my mind. They are there when I wake up, dip in and out during the day, and flood back at night. I try to relax, telling myself that the answers will come as needed, as they usually do, but I’m no Zen master. That only kind of works, so I tell myself that feeling these feelings is a good thing, and I believe that. It would be a poor finish to the Appalachian Trail without some sort of uneasy questions and anticipation of what’s to come. I wouldn’t want the AT to finish comfortably with smooth walking over easy rolling hills. However, standing on the edge of a potential climax, watching it approach with every step, feeling the weight of it build, is agonizing. As I must, I trust that it will all make sense once I am there, doing it. After all, it’s just hiking, and I’ve hiked a lot. One foot in front of the other. One step at a time. Each one is different, each one is the same.
Even with The Whites still days away, I woke up early and anxious. Was it their shadow that troubled me, or something more mundane? I lay in bed, fully awake, but not wanting to be, listening to the birds sing and watching the sunlight fill the distant hillside through the window. Eventually SpiceRack and Tango stirred next to me, and the day began, plastering over the idle dread with the satisfaction of the routine. I sat in bed, watching Spice move deftly around the kitchen. In just minutes, I had a steaming grilled cheese in my hand, a mug of coffee in my lap, and a fresh batch of granola was in the oven. Incredible.
After eating, I busied myself with the small and plentiful things that needed to happen before I started hiking again. In the middle of that process, we received a call from none other than Canada, the folk that we had hoped to speak with yesterday from the laundromat parking lot. Sam apologized for missing our appointment (apparently it was a crazy day up north), and we took care of the business that needed taking care of. Spice led the conversation, asking questions based on the itinerary that she had put together, and we got tripped up many a time on the pronunciation of the French place names. Our permits for the Quebec portion of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) were going to be expensive and inflexible, contrary to everything that I believe the backcountry should be, yet the call excited me. Hiking through Quebec was going to be sweet.
After a fruitless trip to the gear shop to replace my trekking pole tips, I unloaded back at the trailhead. I said goodbye to Spice, and watched her drive away, leaving me to fend for myself for a week while she did some sightseeing with her grandma. Hoping that my ability to resupply in town hadn’t completely atrophied in the time since Pennsylvania, I disappeared back into the woods, New Hampshire bound.
The late morning was already hot as I clambered up the steep first mile of trail. It seemed that the trail builders had tired of switchbacks and the low traverses, so I quickly rose back to evergreen level. On the way, I kicked through deep troughs of crispy brown beech leaves while my gaze turned to the infant canopy above. The buds had burst, and tiny new leaves of neon looked caught in time as they unfurled at their glacial pace. They caught the bright sun and glowed.
The trail dipped and turned atop the lumpy ridge. It was difficult to follow sometimes for all the leaves on the ground, but the blazes always brought me back on track. Views through the trees south to Killington and Pico revealed plenty of snow left on the ski runs. I didn’t like the look of that one bit at all, and scowled to no one in particular.
A steep descent dropped me to a dirt road and clear creek before the trail bounced me back up again. At the next water, halfway to the top, I stopped to refill my bottles and eat a quick lunch before pushing on. Beyond, a gradual, long, and undulating decline carried me through a peaceful forest of spring explosion. The mottled red-green of maple leaves joined the fuzzy beech, crumpled and miniature at the end of slender twigs. Everywhere, floor to sky, the forest glowed with the green of a million lights, yet somehow just a single bird sang its song. It was like they were taking shifts or something. My new shoes felt springy and light, as did my mind. There was no worry of The Whites, just wonder of the present.
A wide pasture in a narrow valley put me at a paved road, then a ludicrously steep climb put me back on top of a short ridge. This repeated again after another gentle and beautiful descent, and the pattern would have continued except for the dipping sun. I chatted with two other hikers at their camp, Backstroke and his dad, about the upcoming Whites and learned a great deal about things that I would eventually have to know. All of it was good info, but it was too weak a balm to sooth my burning questions. I could have talked longer, but the last orange rays took flight from the ridge ahead, and the day’s light dimmed.
In just a mile, I found my own camp next to a rushing creek and sporadically rumbling road. I set up by red headlamp, then moonlight, feeling good about the day. My body had felt strong and rested, my mind felt sharp and fresh. I was well suited to this lifestyle now, honed to a fine and stinky edge. I would meet The Whites in whatever their current condition, with a watchful eye to the weather. That’s what was going to happen, whether I stressed about it or not. Blind belief or empty words of self-encouragement, these thoughts may be, but they went down well with my cold beans and Oreos.