Sunday, October 5, 2014

Family Hike #4: Carter Notch Hut, NH

Hike #18: Carter Notch Hut with kids
Elevation: 3,288
Date: September 13-14, 2014
Location: Coos County, NH
Distance: 7.6 miles over two days
Time: 6:53
What a waste of a year! A foot injury has killed the season. When planning vacations and bigger activities at the start of the year, we booked a mid-September weekend at the Carter Notch Hut with my daughters. I’d done it a year earlier and had a phenomenal time, and wanted to share that experience with them. It would push them to a higher elevation than they’d ever climbed, and the hut would be both fun and a way to reduce their pack loads. So, I was determined to ignore the injury and make the most of the hike, and shut it back down for the year afterwards.
Group selfie at the start of the Carter Notch hilke!
Despite their dislike of exertion, sweating, and muscle fatigue, my girls enjoy the gearhead aspect. The night before, the girls were excited as we sorted supplies and clothes, figuring out the right combination, packing clothes in big Ziploc bags to keep them dry. They pondered, questioned, learned, took suggestions, and made decisions. It was good to see their seriousness as they both trusted our experience and took ownership.
The air had a pleasant chill when we arrived at the trailhead after a long drive. We geared up, took some selfies, and set out. Cars overflowed the lot into the road in both directions. But the good news in setting out later than most was that we had the trail pretty much to ourselves.
Alright ladies: everyone stop and admire the scenic brook!
No handrails? No problem!
The plan was to hike up to the saddle between the summits of Carter Dome and Wildcat, along the well-maintained, gently sloped trail that ran just under four miles. The climb was perfect for the girls’ abilities and so much fun. They stopped occasionally for food breaks and enjoyed some delicious snacks. They asked about the environment around them, such as the out-of-place dam for such a small brook. They learned, such as about leave-no-trace principles. They engaged with their surroundings, including snapping pictures of the small waterfalls or a patch of wildflowers alongside the trail. They demonstrated admirable delayed gratification, such as refusing to eat their cupcakes until they reached the hut. They showed respect, such as protecting a caterpillar in the middle of the trail that was in prime position to get squashed. And they demonstrated bravery, at some water crossings.
Admiring the view of a high mountain
pond and Wildcat's summit.
The hike took almost four hours, about twice as long as last year, but I couldn’t care less. The four of us were immersed in our journey and the world around us. We also constantly morphed: at times the four of us conversed. Then we’d break off into pairs before one kid drifted to another person to listen in on a story, ask a question, or just bond anew. Then we’d converge back together, such as guessing how long the Fruit By the Foot snack would be, if fully unrolled (answer: three feet).
Once we crested the 19-Mile Brook Trail and were really close to the hut, the wind picked up noticeably. It was funneling between the mountains and gathering strength, and carried a cool, raw feel. But we descended slightly from the crest and lingered by the high mountain pond, snapping pictures and absorbing the beautiful scenery. As we continued on, the hut was close by and the girls’ energy picked up knowing they were close.
Time for unpacking, snacks, and comfy clothes!
We checked in and were assigned our own bunk room, which was perfect. Turns out I would stay in the same room and bunk as a year earlier. The girls enjoyed unpacking, setting up their beds, and deciding on the comfy clothes to wear. Composting toilets? Notsomuch, but better than digging a hole.
Back in the main lodge, they warmed themselves on the plentiful hot chocolate and we snagged the hut’s Scrabble game for some fun while munching on cheese and pepperoni we’d packed in. Sarah, who hates pepperoni, nevertheless chowed on it, proclaiming, “it’s soooo gross. But I can’t stop eating it!” At dinner, Sarah and Sydney were hungry and wiped out so they fought to stay awake, hands propping up heads, as we adults talked to a family next to us. But after several helpings of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy, they came around a little. Despite their hunger, it was good to see prior lessons staying with them; they took small helpings and cleaned their plates, knowing leftovers had to get packed out by an Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) staff member.
After dinner, we retired to the bunk room. The girls got a second wind and stayed up surprisingly late. That made for a lot of highlights, some quirky. On the good side, Sarah noticed a big gap under the door and we blocked it with spare clothes, instantly warming the room from the outside temps in the 30’s. Less pleasant (but funny) was when one of the girls next to us at dinner lost her winter hat in the composting toilet and insisted her mom go in and retrieve it – not happening! Sarah was reluctant to use that stall the rest of the night out of consideration. But mostly the girls liked wearing sleeping bags and headlamps, chatting and laughing. Sure, Sarah got scared at one point about my creepy tale of local madman Earl Farthead (pronounced "far-the-add"). But once I forced her to spell the last name, she clued in and dropped the fear. I decided not to push things by sharing too much about my fictitious New Orleans witch doctor, Jean-Louis Booger ("boo-zhay").
Everyone enjoyed each other's company,
and their own little worlds.
And the sweetest moment was between my girls and their stepmom. They affectionately refer to her as “Big Sara” since my daughter laid claim to having the name first. Turns out there’s a National Step-parents Day, which would be right after the hike. Big Sara has helped raise the girls, teaching them to hike and ski, and cultivating in them more confidence, perseverance, and aspirations. Through those events and adventures, they’ve grown to be close and she serves as a great role model. They surprised her with a bracelet with a tree on it, symbolizing growth, hope, and conservation – fitting, given her influence, and our hike. Sydney secretly enjoyed the affectionately teary smile and hugs that followed… and the big pig pile that followed which I didn’t instigate.
Despite the lack of amenities and internet connection, the cold and snow mixing in with the rain, the girls had a blast that night. They could’ve whined and seen only the limitations. But they rolled with it, saw it for the unusual adventure it was, and looked forward to bragging to their friends about it.
The girls found the note we'd left for them a year earlier,
congratulating them on making it to this point.
The next morning was pretty cold as we piled into the lodge for a hearty breakfast. After dressing for the descent, we stopped back in the lodge to refill water bottles. Then we pulled out last year’s logbook and found our note from last year’s trip. The girls discovered it was actually to them, complimenting them on making it here. They were proud and found it cool that we’d written it a year in advance, confident this moment would arrive. And, in a last bit of chatting with the wonderful AMC “croo”, we talked about Red Mac, an early AMC pioneer who spent decades staffing the Carter Notch hut and who purportedly haunts the hut. The staff responded by sharing honestly some events they or their fellow croo members had experienced. The girls were definitely weirded out. But I’d deliberately brought this topic up in the day, as we were leaving, so the odds of nightmares decreased dramatically.
Great Fall weather accompanied our
return hike from the hut and Carter Dome.
The walk out was easier, despite tired legs, with a pleasant, gradual descent of barely over three hours in cool, dry, sunny weather that made for perfect hiking conditions. The only lowlight was when Sarah caught her foot in some rocks and crashed on them, getting a couple of tiny but painful bruises on her kneecap. But when they looked like eyeballs, we drew eyebrows and a frown, and Sarah laughed and turned her attitude around. In fact, near the end she was running. Normally one to drag and slow the pace, she wanted to finish with a sub-three-hour hike and it was great to see her push so hard.
The eyes were bruises from a fall
but the rest of the face was
sympathetically from a pen.
After exiting the woods, and changing into dry clothes, we started the drive home. Sarah fell asleep in no time, and Sydney was low on energy but unable to nap. Near Loon Mountain, we stopped for well-deserved ice cream. Sure, I couldn’t let a nice moment go without a prank. So I woke Sarah up and told her we were almost home. When she reacted in surprise, I burst her bubble pointing out we had well over two hours left. But the furrowed brow disappeared as she scanned the list of options in the ice creams shop.
There was so much shared adventure that I can live without the dozen summits I’d expected to hit this year. It set a new bar for the girls that allows us to look at multi-hut hikes or other options next year, opening up a lot of possibilities. They’re at an age where they can still be pushed and influenced, but they’re old enough to respond to real challenges. It’s a great point in their childhood. And while this weekend will stay with me forever, I’m just as excited to see what next year brings.
See you on the trails,
Jay, AKA RockHopper

Monday, August 25, 2014

Rockhopper’s Top Ten Homemade Mountain Biking Terms Destined for World Fame

Amazingly, my brain still works well enough to create my
great homemade jargon. Or, maybe I can't realize it stinks!
Not much is as fun and exciting to me as hurtling through the woods on a heavy-duty bike, putting myself in harm’s way and trusting skill, attitude, and luck will get me through. The majority of occasions fortunately end with me successfully on the other side of the tricky areas. My reality is that I’m not a great mountain biker. But I’ve gotten a lot better, and love terrain that’s more about technical and mental challenges than sheer power. However, that enjoyment has been earned with the reality that not all rides go well, as proven by my broken bones, broken helmet, and countless road rashes.

One side benefit of this is that it can be fun to be a gearhead, replacing broken items with state-of-the-art gear. And every sport has its own lingo to be woven into the stories. Popular sports extoll pick-sixes, walk-offs, one-timers, dingers, and so on. Mountain biking’s no exception: churn-and-burn is the never-ending uphill climb (been there, not a fan). An end-o is going over the handlebars (been there, too, and seriously not a fan). And a rock garden is a long, rocky stretch of trail (which often causes said end-os). But since I tend to ride alone or just with one other person, I’ve wound up with my own lexicon, which I use often if discussing riding fails or if talking to myself after an adrenaline-fueled section of trail. I think these deserve to become part of the sport’s jargon and am therefore starting my campaign to make my top ten terms well-known in the sport:

Toe Tap - unless no one saw it, in which case I nailed it!
Toe tap: mild stuff; you’re on rocky singletrack, get bounced around, and can keep going but you need to put one foot down to either quickly regain balance or push off of something. No biggie.

Forced dismount: this is worse than a toe tap but nothing awful. The starting point is that you got tossed from your bike. But you land on the ground with only feet and possibly hands touching. If any other body part, such as a rear end, shoulder, back, or head hit the ground then it’s a wipeout. But feet? That means you were just forced to get off the bike. It’s like a TV time-out in basketball: no one’s worse off, just a mandatory break in the action. One easy litmus test: if there’s a cracked helmet, head wound, and a stick stuck inside your shorts and in the crack of your arse that needs to be pulled out and leaves a scar then it’s not classified as a forced dismount!

I didn't want to quit and risked
a Superman or, even worse, a Field Goal.
Superman: this is a particular kind of forced dismount. Sure, you get ejected from the bike and land on your feet. But with this one, you get launched, Superman-style, with arms out, like you’re flying. Well, actually, you are briefly flying, but you luckily land safely. The appropriate response is to stand proudly, chest puffed out, declaring to the forest, “gimme your tallest building. I can jump that, too!”

Field Goal: again, this is a subset of something else. Unfortunately, this is the end-o in its purist form. Sure, you go over the handlebars, ass over teakettle. But if a kicker for your favorite football team nails it, with an announcer proclaiming, “the ball is up, it’s straight, plenty of leg, and it perfectly splits the uprights!” then it would perfectly describe my body going between the imaginary uprights from the handlebars. Just to recap, Forced Dismounts and Superman = good. End-os and Field Goals = bad.

Sparrow Trail, where I learned to emote. Not
a fun moment to be in touch with my feelings!
Emoting: mountain biking is a male-dominated sport, probably because women have evolved a greater desire to not be idiotic. Nevertheless, as males, we’re often emotionally stunted, we don’t use our words enough, and feeling words make us particularly uncomfortable. Evolution has compelled me to suffer these same traits along with my X-Y chromosome brethren. Emoting is when a wipeout forces you to express yourself. Fittingly, this term came to exist the day after a woman pointed out my tendency to not share feelings. The next day, I was asserting my dominance over the woods, descending through a nasty rock garden. Suddenly I went airborne, parallel to the ground, and crashed onto those same rocks still wrapped around my bike. And in that moment of impact, when I grunted and yelled and futilely tried to get back up like Rocky, who may get knocked down but won’t stay down, a thought worked past all of that pain: if that same woman were here, she’d say “Aww, you’re sharing your feelings! Well done!” And so a term was born, as was a big bruise.

You finish a stunt, you gotta celebrate.
Nothin' to see here ya lookey-loos!
Nothin’ to see here ya lookey-loos: not every term has to revolve around a crash. It’s an easy source. But sometimes you have those moments where you’re out of control and have to fight to regain balance. Or you’re intensely focused in a dangerous spot, committed to it but still ready to poopie in the pantalones. Or, hypothetically, you master an area that you’ve never been able to do, and get off the bike to do the JayJay’s Awesome dance, only to realize the single other person in the whole stupid park happens to be a few yards away, silently watching. Whatever the source, having that embarrassing moment is when this term fits like a glove.

Role Reversal, also known as Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy: here’s the way nature intended things to work: I get on the bike, ride the trails, get off the bike, put it in my truck, and go home. Sometimes life plays out differently: I get on the bike, ride the trails, get thrown off the bike, it stays upright, then it rides over me before it falls. Yes, it’s true. I’ve had tire marks on my back. Not my proudest moments.

Biggest rock that ever pinballed me.
Pinballing: Sometimes you’re the pinball wizard. Sometimes you’re just the pinball. However, the good news is that I’ve learned a helpful tip on surviving bouncing off of a series of boulders. If you have a Camelbak or some sort of fairly full water bladder on your back then it provides a cushion to help absorb blows to that side of your torso. Alas, wearing another one on the front may help but you look like a moron. Body armor might help. But no matter the details, pinballs still take a beating.

I still get stuffed here about half the time.
Stuffed: no, not stuffed as in me being the Thanksgiving stuffing and boulders being the turkey. Rather, stuffed as in football runningbacks. Modifying the John Madden color commentary, “wow, Pat, let’s diagnose that play! Jay Bell goes for the power drive. You got big ol’ rocks here, fallen trees there, and he says, ‘hey, I don’t care. I got a big head of steam.’ So he just drops the shoulders, pedals hard, and hopes for the best. (Of course Madden is going nuts with the telestrator at this point.) Poor fella was almost off to the races. Then, Granite Boy and Tree Trunk said ‘hold up, speed freak.’ They pinch his tire, stop him dead in his tracks, and BAM! Nature stuffed him!” Pat Summerall then adds melodramatically, ”he’ll be feeling that in the morning, particularly since the handlebar stem hit him where the padding ends!”

Spin Class: last but not least is one with no pain involved. In fact, if it happens, the best response is to wear an enormous smile and scream gleefully. Usually, this comes up after bouncing through a section and being a little surprised you’re still safe and sound. Maybe you then cruise a little bit or then have a hill to climb. Whenever it is, it’s what you do once you find you’re still on the bike but the chain has slipped off and you’ve got no pedal power. When you discover this, you see how far you can last, and you spin the pedals as fast as possible – preferably screaming, “whee! Whopee!” Maybe then you change to a Mexican accent, a la Blazing Saddles: “Bike chains? We don’t need no stinkin’ bike chains!” Or add in the militant Spin Instructor: “Come on! No tomorrows! Give it all you got!”
If it weren't hard, it wouldn't be worth doing!

Bottom line is, enjoy the ride while it lasts. It won’t always be fun, but the bad times make the good times better. If you can come out of it with a smile and a story then you can choose to call it a success.

See you on the trails,
Jay Bell, AKA RockHopper

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Fork in the Trail

Looks like I'm headed for a change in scenery.

I’ve been grumpy lately. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I can still be idiotic and playful with my kids, allegedly hold up my end of interesting conversations with people, and make folks laugh. But I’ve still secretly (and sometimes not-so-secretly) been irritable recently in a way that’s out of character for me.
I re-injured my Achilles in April and it hasn’t been the same since. I tried powering through it and only made it worse. I tried going easy on it and learned walking on the sand aggravates it, even if I’m headed towards a beach chair and a sedentary afternoon.  I have exactly one hike under my belt this year and no 4,000-footers to cross off the list, stalled out in my quest to climb all 67 4,000-foot summits in New England. Last year’s momentum evaporated along with my sunny disposition.
But I realized something in the last few days. Amidst shopping for flip-flops with quality heel support and upper body exercise equipment and being jealous of the hikers posting great pictures and blogs on Twitter, I found myself forgetting about an early premise to this whole hiking thing.
A couple of people asked me early on if I were writing a book about these adventures. I plan to at some point, but not yet. Right now, I just want to capture my experiences and how they might fit into the lives of me and those around me at those points in time. I don’t want to start the adventure claiming to know the storyline, but rather let it unfold and reveal itself organically.
Shorter summits, but the views are still great!
The hiking I’ve already done led me to think a lot about clarifying and focusing how I wanted to live. If not for that, I wouldn’t have been willing to pull the trigger on getting a house on Cape Cod – I’d still be hemming and hawing and hand-wringing with analysis paralysis. If not for talking that through with Sara in places such as a quiet trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire or at a pub having après-hike grub, unfettered by the normal daily grind, there are great memories that wouldn't exist.
Stud-boy taking a break while earning
Man Points from power tools and flooring.
I wouldn’t have spent time this summer playing beach bocce with my girls. I wouldn’t have witnessed the "supermoon" rising over the open Atlantic. I wouldn’t have been cheering Sara on as she completed an emotional Dennis Road Race 17 years after she last ran it, leaving her feeling very connected to the community that’s now hers but is the same one she summered in throughout her childhood. I wouldn’t have had some group fun and maybe a little mischief with some great people who live locally, deepening some friendships and starting others. Nor would we have connected as much with Sara’s aunt and uncle, who own a place down the street and plan to retire here. Very importantly, Sara would have missed the chance to see my mad beach umbrella-planting skills or to award me Man Points as I played deftly with power tools (aside of electrocuting myself every time I do a rewiring project). Clearly this has worked out beyond either of our wildest dreams!
So, the mountains led to the beach. And the adventures led to thoughts, goals, and dreams that are playing out. It doesn’t really matter where the experiences take place, and the mountains will still be there whenever my heel and the ants in my pants get me back up there. In the meantime, I can follow the path where it leads and be open to how life unfolds.
Finish lines are only for races, but it's been a good run so far!
(Props to Sara in the orange shirt for finishing strong!)
This week Sara and I changed our route. We’re holding off on the five-day backpack deep in the White Mountains – Search-and-Rescue is not supposed to be a part of my hiking! We’ll spend the week on Cape Cod and try some new things. Maybe we’ll bike the length of the Cape Cod Rail Trail and sample Cape Cod Beer’s offerings afterwards. Maybe we’ll try stand-up paddleboarding or go kayaking and visit with friends or family afterwards as Sara laughs at me for flipping my kayak. I heard about a mountain biking spot I haven’t tried yet and one of the better places to ride in southern New England isn’t far from here – following that up with après-ride appetizers and drinks at a waterfront pub as we relive the highlights or falls into Cape Cod’s omnipresent briars seems like an awesome day. As does a hike in the dunes of the National Seashore followed by a visit to the local vineyard. The bottom line for me is that there are plenty of ways to engage with the world and see what I learn from it, and to enjoy how those experiences bring me closer to those I’m with. Whatever the deal, I’m gonna go throw myself into it and see where it leads us.
See you on the trail,
Jay Bell, AKA Rock Hopper

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Family Hike #3: Skinner Mountain, MA

Hike #17: Skinner Mountain with kids
Elevation: 935
Date: June 8, 2014
Location: Hadley, MA
Distance: 2 miles
Time: 2:16 (1:08/mile)

It’s been months since any hiking. I’ve been chafing, and keeping my legs fresh by walking the stairs and ramps in the parking garage at work or setting the treadmill at a steep incline. But it just isn’t the same. This wouldn’t go down as an epic hike, but it breaks the drought.

The girls and I were looking for something that wouldn’t be too difficult, to ease them into the hiking season. They are now proud owners of new day packs and were excited to use them. We settled on Skinner Mountain, in western Massachusetts; it wasn’t a long drive, nor was it a tough hike. A weekend work commitment required that Sara skip the hike, but she bought us treats to enjoy: fruit chews, Capri Suns to freeze and savor as they melted, cookies, and a Slim Jim for Sydney to have some salty, meaty deliciousness.

The packs were an important opportunity for the girls to show ownership over their hike, and they diligently packed their food and water. Each also had some group food, reinforcing that they’re part of a team. They donned new performance clothing after studying the weather and their options. Their new and, of course, fashionable gear instilled confidence and enthusiasm that made those offseason purchases worthwhile.

Hydrating and bug-fighting at Skinner Mtn.
Although I missed Sara’s company, conversation, and role modelling for the girls, I liked the quality time with them. They never touched iPods and instead played games and chatted the whole drive out. With the school year winding down, we talked about accomplishments, new friendships, growth, summer plans, and expectations of the next school year.

The hike started a little rough. I wouldn’t say the ranger at the park’s entrance was useless. But if you did I wouldn’t argue! She had a map and nothing else to offer. She couldn’t suggest a route, wasn’t a hiker, was unfamiliar with the mountain, and couldn’t even name the nearby trailhead. The state website’s reference to on-site restrooms also neglected to mention that they were only at the summit, and the girls were unwilling to use the woods. To top it off, the initial trail we chose was seriously bug-infested, with the steamy weather seeming to encourage their feeding frenzy. I wasn’t sure if the girls were going to mutiny or run to the summit.

Things improved briefly when we broke into a clearing, with a nice view and fewer skeeters. We caught our breath but the sun was cooking my younger daughter so we headed back into the woods. The trails weren’t well marked and the trail network was confusing. So when two college girls ran across us, we asked for help. Of course, as a man, I undoubtedly would have found my way. But, you know, it’s good role modelling to demonstrate safe hiking behaviors. It turned out they weren’t sure of our location either. But their description coupled with my cartography skills allowed me to figure out where we were – dad saves the day!

Hiking along the Connecticut River Valley
Inspecting bug bite damage and relishing frozen Capri Suns
Continuing on, the trail steepened and the girls stopped for a rest, breathless. We hadn’t hiked for a half-hour, and their fatigue showed that they didn’t have their hiking legs. Bugs again drove us on, and a few minutes later we hit a road and the Halfway House, a way station partway up the mountain. We snacked in the shade of the clearing, and the girls’ slushy Capri Suns reinvigorated them.

Not long into the next leg, I began worrying about my younger daughter. My reminders about staying hydrated in this heat and humidity fell on deaf ears. I tried to comment in a way that reminded them but let them manage themselves. Except, she wasn’t drinking enough. I asked her pointedly to drink more, and she stopped in front of me. Her sister and I discovered she was crying. She couldn’t explain why, and I knew heat was at least a contributing factor. I also saw it as an ominous sign that hormone changes may be starting to take effect. As a dad, I’m wanting to be supportive but over my head with such a topic. It’s a complete no-win situation for me. Even if I try to talk about it and say the right things, what daughter wants to talk about The Change with her dad? So, as any emotionally stunted and uncomfortable dad would do, I focused on hugging her and having her drink water while appreciating her sister’s help in comforting her.

Descending hikers approached and Sarah dried her eyes, not wanting to be caught crying on the trail. Luckily, the summit wasn’t far. As we came upon a clearing and the access road, we noticed bathrooms nearby. Relieved, the girls… well, relieved themselves. Then we climbed to the summit and collapsed on rocks for lunch. A building stands on the open summit, about 150 years old. Unfortunately, ongoing renovations incurred schedule overruns so we were unable to walk the wraparound porch and take in a 360-degree view. Still, the breeze kept away the bugs and cooled sweaty foreheads while we enjoyed a great panorama of the Connecticut River Valley, with the mountains ringing farms and the meandering river. The girls found plenty of conversation topics in their surroundings and we lingered as long as they wished.

Enjoying the view of the Connecticut River Valley from Skinner Mtn summit
Admit it: you like hiking AND your sister!
After giving the girls decision-making authority on the route down, we started off on the access road, which seemed to have fewer armies of bugs and plenty of shade. Sarah bounced back from her meltdown and Sydney’s red cheeks had lightened. We found interesting bugs to study, with the millipede infestation grossing the girls out. Their spirits improved, they joked, moved steadily, and bonded. When we hit the Halfway House, we agreed it was misnamed, as it wasn’t remotely a halfway point. However, with a picnic bench under a roof, it still offered a good place for a final break. We continued to chat in good spirits until we heard and then saw a bee big enough to saddle and ride. This thing was enormous and we all studied it warily. At one point, it approached closely enough to the side of the picnic table that Sarah and I were on, and she began speaking in tongue, as she clambered over to Sydney’s side. When it continued hovering, we decided we should continue on since Sydney and I were unable to decipher Sarah’s paranoid mix of unintelligible syllables.
We were within sight of the parking lot when Sarah encountered her final challenge, slipping on gravel and ending up with a bloody knee. It bookended a particularly tough hike for her, and demonstrated both of the girls’ need for more conditioning before a hike to an AMC hut later in the year.

On the ride back, the girls enjoyed the après-hike relaxation. They air-dried their stinky feet, munched on well-earned cookies and Combos, and discussed hiking as if they just finished their umpteenth 4,000-footer. We’d driven through Northampton, which is a fun college town with a great downtown. Amazingly, they expressed interest in coming back to hike another nearby mountain that was a little longer. Doing so could be part of a day trip including perusing the downtown, maybe buying something from a store that college kids used for accessorizing their dorm rooms, and having dinner and fro-yo from places we drove past. It’s the first hike they ever proposed. Whether it’s pride in having gear, an excuse to shop and have dessert, or both, I’ll take it! It’s still a first and a good sign my campaign to convert them into hikers is slowly but inexorably working. More seriously, I also like that they express more confidence, more willingness to challenge themselves, and that we can create memories as they continue to grow.

See you on the trail,

Jay Bell, AKA Rock Hopper