AT Sobo Part 12 – Emerging from the wilderness into Day-hiking madness.
Franconia Ridge was worth the wait to summit and explore in the sunshine. We’d emerged from the misty Pemi Wilderness, and I was very happy to see the undulating sea of mountains on either side of the ridgeline as I climbed. I spoke to some hikers coming down as I ascended, and they spoke of the previous day’s high winds, frightening lightning strikes and the complete disorientation of knowing they were very high up but couldn’t see their hand in front of their faces. I was glad I had been below, exploring the wild dank woods.
As the day progressed and Hambone went on, I began to wonder whether I had enough water. My pack was always heaver than most and I was teased for it a lot, but one of the things I always carried too much of was water. Not today however! I was trying to keep my pack lighter, but also I hadn’t seen many sources on my way up. Not good planning on my part. The path to the ridge became baking hot as the morning turned to noon. The false summits began to mess with my mind, as I constantly thought I had made it to the top, only to clamber over an outcrop and see another steady swell of rocks and path climbing up in front of me. I was sweating buckets, working hard, and various bits of my shins, elbows and palms were bleeding from scrapes and climbs. This was all normal for a thru hiker, but what I didn’t know was that I was about to meet….the DAY HIKERS. I had been immersed in remote and hard-to-reach trail for many weeks at this point, only meeting other hikers when we came within an hour away from whichever trail head they had driven into for a walk. Oh my goodness, the dissonance!
As I pulled my stinky, sweary carcass up onto the first summit peak I became aware of a squawking group of teenagers standing at the peak cairn; swigging bottles of Coke and 7up, smashing crisps into their mouths and taking selfies. “How weird”, I thought. I raised my gaze along the beautiful long flat path that stretched along the Franconias (which I’d been struggling up for hours) and saw hundreds of them, like zombie horde. Hundreds of people who had come for the day to see the views. I moved through them and they looked at me like I might be the casualty of some terrible accident, lost in the woods after a plane had crashed or something similar, only now finally making my way out. “Are you ok dear?” Some asked. “Do you need a band-aid for that?” enquired others, with kindly faces. I inhaled their perfume as I walked by; laundry powder, drying sheets, deodorants and shampoo; it was so hard to calibrate these aromas with the trail, where loamy dirt and musky body scent are the only choices on our perfume counter. A little overwhelmed, I pushed through. I was recognised by some northbound hikers who had followed me on Instagram in the months leading up to my hike, and we stood chatting happily amidst the Disneyland of the ridge top.
As I continued, I had an unsettling awareness of how truly thirsty I was, and that my water bottles had mere mouthfuls left of warm and murky water in the bottom. I drained them both and looked up ahead for friendly faces. I’d already hiked 15 miles that day and had many more to go, so perhaps some of these fine day-hike folk could help me out. I asked a number of people, quite embarrassed to do so, before one man said “Yes, of course!” and filled my bottle with his large, cool water carrier. “PHEW “I thought, as I thanked him profusely. “Thank goodness for day hikers after all.”
I picked my way down the far side of Franconia and hitched a ride into town with a volunteer trail worker who happened to be heading through. She had heard of Cornwall as a beautiful and wild place and I was so delighted to talk to someone about home. We discussed the differences of forest life (hers) and seaside (mine), and the things we both missed when we were away. Delivered into town, I made my way to one of the best kept secrets; Chet’s. Chet has a large garage attached to his house that he turned into a makeshift hostel for hikers. You can stay there for a donation and to help him out. You see, Chet was an avid hiker a few years ago but he used a gas canister to cook that turned out to be faulty and blew up, leaving him almost dead. His recovery has been incredible but means he’s legally blind with very limited vision and is confined to a wheelchair; the nerve damage and scarring he suffered from his burns and the inhalation of scalding chemicals means that he cannot walk or breathe well. He sued the company and ploughed all of the financial award back into his greatest love: hiking.
Because he can’t hike, he wants to help others, and thus his garage ‘hostel’ was born. When we arrived I immediately set about washing and drying bunk bedding and Hambone helped with clearing recycling and moving some furniture around. We took a zero day here and sat on his porch; drinking beer, watching the beautiful red Cardinal birds dip around the garden, and chatting with Chet about life. It was a special day, where I was reminded of those of us who are struggling to keep hope alive with just a rebellious spirit and love of life, in spite of terrible odds and prognoses. I remained amazed every day on trail that my pain was gone and that the physical pain I did suffer was no different to my hiking friends in their 20’s. For that miracle I remained silently in awe every day.
After our zero we set out again, over hill and dale and towards the end of New Hampshire. We were soon to cross over into Vermont and I couldn’t wait. All I knew at this stage was that there was a ‘cult’ waiting for us there, over the next mountain ranges, called the ‘Yellow Deli’, which let hikers stay for free and encouraged them to remain. The trail folklore was that some hikers had never left, and had abandoned their thru to become ‘cult members’. Turns out this was true as one such man was a friend of Hambones and he was intent on breaking him out. Who knew hiking could be so dramatic off the trails as well as on!