AT Day 90 – Tough Decision, Zero Miles, Many Cookies

Zero Day along US Route 302
AT miles:
Total miles: still 1856.8
Elevation change: none

To zero or not to zero, that was the question. With as tired as I was after the first section through The Whites, the answer almost seemed obvious. Even with the low mileage totals of the past few days, my body was ready for a rest. The strange new aches caused by the strange new terrain and consistent snow travel would benefit from a recovery day. My brain would benefit from a rest day as well. The logistical challenges created by restricted camping and uncertain weather was a lot to juggle. And yes, there was also the weather to consider. A cold front, bringing snow showers along with it was going to pass over the high peaks in the evening. Why would I want to be in the mountains for that?

So why was this question, with a seemingly obvious solution, so difficult to answer? Because hiking is my default, it’s what I do. Because hiking more has been my solution to almost every problem for the past three months. Because it’s hard to sit still after so many days spent in motion. Because it’s agonizing to slow down so close to the finish line. Because I like hiking and pushing my body. Even with all of the strong arguments in favor of hiking on, the voice of reason and the one in my heart kept me planted on my butt, with my feet up. Fortunately, in addition to hiking, I also really enjoy sitting and eating all day in the warm company of SpiceRack and Tango. So that’s what I did, and I do not regret it.

One thing was certain in the morning as it dawned bright and clear, I was going to sleep-in to my heart’s content. I was going to give snoozing my best effort after so many early mornings, no matter what. I woke up at 5am. Snooze. 7am. Snooze. 8am. Snooze. It wasn’t until SpiceRack slid me a plate of freshly baked crescent rolls and mug of chai tea that I finally sat up and woke up. Even then, it was almost 11am by the time I left bed without the intention of returning.

The green beech leaves glowed and blustered outside in the gusting breeze, and the day was warm. Day hikers flocked to the trailhead and disappeared up the trail, including Spice and Tango, while I sat with my tea and phone, refusing to feel rushed. After she returned, Spice and I shared a humongous bowl of fruity pebbles, then prepared Blackbird for a drive.

The fastest miles of New Hampshire.

Four miles up the road, we pulled into the AMC Higland Center, a lodge and staging ground for excursions into The Whites. However, we were there for different resources, bathrooms and WiFi. I needed a good weather forecast before making the zero/no zero decision, and a flush toilet is always a treat these days.

Hmmm, what to do with this information?

The updated weather only served to confuse me. I would definitely dodge the worst of the freezing weather by spending another night in the van with Spice. However, it would also put me on the high peaks of the Presidential Range during the gloomy day after tomorrow, rather than with clear skies if I were to hike out today. Much to ponder, with no obvious answer.

Feet up, no hiking today.

Spice helped me get to the bottom of it as I sat agonizing over the decision, my gaze locked on the building clouds outside. My body needed a rest. She could see it better than I could, prideful and stubborn as I am. The full day of recovery would do me an important amount of good regardless of the mountain weather. The conditions would be what they would be, and I had a better chance of enjoying myself if I felt recuperated and strong. So it was settled. No hiking today.

Tango knows what’s up.

That choice paid dividends just a couple of hours later, when it began to rain. These showers were not in the forecast, but they still would have soaked me through if I had decided to hike on. Instead, I sat inside, grateful to be dry and warm, eating the burrito and tofu scramble that Spice cooked up. After a few hours of internet chores, and with the rain still falling, we splashed through the parking lot puddles and made our way back to the trailhead for the night.

What would happen if I just put that whole bowl in the oven?

With our work done for the day, we moved onto the fun stuff, cookies, dinner, and a movie. The chocolate chip cookies turned out gloriously underbaked, and the tempeh spaghetti deeply satisfying. The van was warm with delicious smells and laughter. It was way better than being alone in my cold and wet tent on a windy ridge somewhere. Normally, I dream of being in the mountains whenever I am not, but that wasn’t the case tonight. I was exactly where I wanted to be, and that felt good.

Well after dark, with the rain tapering off, we moved to bed so that our drooping eyelids wouldn’t leave us stranded on the couch. With my full belly gurgling and my full gut already punishing Spice for refusing to hear my call to the omit onions from dinner, I pulled the covers up past my shoulders, feeling perfectly content. The Presidentials were waiting for me, and I for them. The questions about the snow and weather were still out there too, but with the decision made, the zero day complete, there was nothing left to do but hike. It always came back to hiking, and that’s what I was going to do.

3 thoughts on “AT Day 90 – Tough Decision, Zero Miles, Many Cookies

  1. Based on the weather forecast, I strongly recommend you get over Mt Washington on Thursday at the latest. Don’t leave it to Friday; the weather will be bad, see below. I like the “Hourly Weather Forecast Graph” provided by the NWS. Here’s a link to the graph for Mt Washington (you may need to adjust the start date/time of the graph):
    Daytime forecast for Thursday 5/26:
    Temps in the 40s. Morning winds 25 mph gusting to 30 mph. Afternoon winds begin climbing, eventually reaching 40mph gusting to 50mph. Chance of rain less than 15%.
    Daytime forecast for Friday 5/27:
    Temps in the high 40s. Morning winds 50mph gusting to 67mph. By 7am, winds will climb to 60mph gusting to 80mph(!!) and will keep at it all day. Chance of rain 40% climbing to 70%.

    I section-hiked the Whites NOBO last year in September. I crossed Mt Washington with temps in the 50s, winds 40mph gusting to 50mph, with blowing mist/rain. I was ok in base layers and rain jacket (without my fleece on), but the wind was at my back. Some thru-hikers heading SOBO had the wind in their faces and couldn’t take it, deciding to stop. The 50mph gusts on the summit would have blown me over if I didn’t have trekking poles. I can’t even imagine 60mph gusting to 80mph with actual rain.

    Good luck!

    Good choice on taking a zero, btw. I was worried you’d break yourself on the Whites, given how many miles you’ve been posting each day!

    Another comment: I noticed you’ve written a few times that onions cause you gastro distress. I have a friend who discovered that Beano solves that problem for her. YMMV.



  2. Owen & family. Your health & instinct should be the first influence in your choices to power ahead or lay low. Sure weather forecasting will influence instinct but it’s not the be all and end all. Can’t see the bigger rush! Your journey has been remarkable. It’s only yours


  3. Hi Owen,
    You are so lucky to have Spicerack and your four legged friend to help you on this amazing trek. You are a very lucky man. Taking the zero day off is so smart and one that allows you to find what is so important. Best of luck getting through the Whites, they are beautiful and unforgiving at the same time.


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