Zero Day along US Route 302
AT miles: 0
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.