Saturday, July 25, 2015

67 in 67: Mount Moosilauke, Benton, New Hampshire (summit #22)

Hike #20: Mount Moosilauke
Elevation: 4,802
Date: June 27, 2015
Location: Benton, NH
Distance: 7.8 miles
Time: 5:26 (41:48/mile)
My first hike of the year, on Mount Cardigan three weeks prior, was a gentle one to test my feet. Both continue a 14-months-and-counting recovery from plantar fasciitis. It unfolded without any problems, including a relatively pain-free next day, so we decided to take it up a notch. The goal was to add some distance and tackle my first four-thousand-foot summit in twenty months, and twenty-second on the list of sixty-seven New England 4,000-footers.
Instead of excitement, I felt anxiety about the added distance and elevation, afraid of setting myself back and crushing my spirits yet again, as I long ago became a statistical outlier in my recovery time. We thoroughly researched the list of remaining 4,000-foot summits accessible for a day trip, and then further researched trails to figure out distances, elevation gains, and hiking times. We settled on Mount Moosilauke because of a recently revamped trail allowing for a longer but gradual ascent. This seemed to be the mildest route to the summit of a 4,000-footer, so we locked in on it for our hike.
Admiring the views from Mount Moosilauke
That Saturday morning, we headed out early, grabbing coffees for the road. When we approached the trailhead, cars were lined up well down the access road. The hike itself was to be 7.3 miles, but with a quarter-mile hike just to get to the trailhead, it added a half-mile roundtrip. However, the trails leave from near the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, a Lodge – and a series of bunk buildings – maintained by Dartmouth College. Friendly staff greeted us in the main lodge as we checked it out and verified our planned route. They clearly hosted some bigger groups, and with an old building and big lawn nestled at the foot of the mountain, it seemed to be a great place for families, camps, or other groups to bond over shared adventure.
Our journey started at 10:30 and finished just before 4:00 that afternoon. All of the usual hiking elements showed up: legs burning from a long grind; woods giving way to scrub pines which, in turn, gave way to windswept grasses and exposed rock; views opening up to eventually reveal a panoramic view of surrounding mountains, dormant ski resorts, and roads snaking between villages and farms; lunch on the summit, sheltered from the constant wind behind some rocks; and bodies ready to finish a little before they actually could. Several rainbows even broke out on the summit.  In short: a good and normal hike, the way it’s supposed to be.
Mount Moosilauke's open summit affords great views of the ridgeline and mountains beyond
Mount Moosilauke is near Loon Mountain ski resort and Lincoln, one of the bigger towns around. It’s even closer to Woodstock, home of the Woodstock Inn, Station & Brewery, which features award-winning craft beers and a fantastic pub, with outdoor seating. We’d last been here two years before. A late season snowstorm on Memorial Weekend altered our plans, and after a couple of cold, wet day hikes, we enjoyed a hot shower and heated bathroom floor before chowing down and then sleeping on an extremely comfortable mattress.
Tough apres-hike decisions to make at the
Woodstock Inn, Station & Brewery in Loon, NH!
We opted to stop for some post-hike grub before spending a couple of hours driving home. We managed to snag one of the final outdoor tables available before the dinner rush. Over a refreshing beer and some of the better nachos we’ve ever eaten, we quizzed ourselves on the names and order of 4,000-footers we’ve done to date. Reluctantly, we paced ourselves on the nachos. Even more reluctantly, we cashed out and headed home, sorry to not spend the night.
My feet were mostly a non-issue, leaving me happy that the hike focused on the views, the conversation, the challenge to our bodies, and the chance to happily process it all afterwards. This was a chance to just lose ourselves in our hike and in our day. It was great in its ordinariness. With summer now in full swing, I’m less anxious and more hopeful that there are more of these times in store.
See you on the trails,
Jay, AKA Rockhopper

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

67 in 67, Hike #12: Mount Cardigan, Orange, New Hampshire

Hike #19: Mount Cardigan
Elevation: 3,156
Date: June 6, 2015
Location: Orange, NH
Distance: 5.7 miles
Time: 4:37 (48.36/mile)
Any time something becomes a regular event in your life, it becomes easy to take it for granted. Whatever it is, you may be very clear that you love or hate it. But, people often adapt to any change, so you adjust to it and it becomes your “new normal”. This may be a new approach to nutrition, new exercise program, new job, new kid, new divorce, new place to live… the list goes on and on.
When I went through some big upheaval in my life a few years back, multiple types of activities in the woods across all seasons became ways to work things out in my mind, connect with those around me, and enjoy living. In short, playing in the woods became my new normal. After a while, I developed skills and knowledge to even become pretty good at it all. I’ve now mountain biked black diamond trails, skied double-diamond trails, and hiked the whole Presidential Range of New Hampshire in a single day. I also have read and written about outdoor adventures, and some of the best moments of my life have taken place on mountains; not bad for a guy who quit playing in the dirt for twenty years.
A quiet moment to appreciate living well.
“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we’re living our fears,” Les Brown once observed. Many times, if you want to make a change in your life it is about making the mental commitment and persevering until that change becomes your new normal: quit smoking, and after the first week, month, and year it gets easier. Reduce your sugar enough and you’ll find that a big slice of cheesecake now sits like lead in your stomach for a few hours. Exercise several times each week and a few months later you’ll find you’ve dropped weight. This is the way it’s always been for me, too. Only, sometimes effort, commitment, and sacrifice are completely irrelevant.
Both my feet had a plantar fasciitis flare-up starting over a year ago. Symptoms worsened over a few months, and I became increasingly limited. I only hiked two easy mountains, biked very intermittently, and even skiing, one of the few doctor-endorsed activities, caused several days of pain. Apparently, I’m an outlier. Apparently, anyone who has a double limp also looks weird (feel free to video yourself trying it if you don’t believe me).
Bonding with Sara on Mount Cardigan's Holt Trail
A ridiculous amount of medical visits, treatment approaches, time, money, and agony clearly established me as a statistical outlier. More painfully, it cost me the chance to live life in the way I love. It cost me moments of calm, accomplishment, pride, intimacy, amazement, and insights. I've rarely felt as peaceful as I have when sitting on a solitary, wind-swept summit. Nor have I typically felt as connected to Sara as when we've bounced across deep and light topics during a hike and settled into an evening in a plush hotel room bed, bundled up in a hut, or in front of a crackling fire. My job has its challenges and rewards, but will never leave me as pumped as when I finally crossed a narrow bridge over rocks that had previously left me with a broken hand. Lastly, sitting with my girls beside a mountain stream or on a chair lift offers a great chance to better understand their world, give them opportunities to develop, and to have experiences that lead to stories we'll relive years later.
Is this a sign of fun or stupidity?
I’ve slowly progressed and just undertook my first hike of the season. The intent was for a mild, shorter day hike. We chose Mount Cardigan, in southern New Hampshire. It turned into more mileage because Google directed us to the wrong parking lot and we missed a trail intersection. But I survived. I also survived the Holt Trail, one of New Hampshire’s hardest trails that is about as difficult of a free climb as hikers will tackle. My feet were no worse the next day and it gives hope of more hikes to come this year.

The injury, regardless of the healing time, will be temporary. The real scare is because of what it points out: no matter your effort, at some point everyone’s best days will be behind them and their bodies will fail them. I can’t be in my sixties getting tossed over the handlebars deep in the woods. I won’t want to sleep in a hard, cold lean-to.  I won’t traverse the Presidential Range in a single day when I’m in my eighties. It’s not an insult; it’s part of the natural arc of life. Frankly, it’s the part that sucks. Perseverance can keep that part at bay for a while, but not forever.
Immersed in the free climb section
of the Holt Trail
Hiking Mount Cardigan reminded me how much I’ve missed this sort of activity: Sara and I were unplugged, our conversation meandered across topics, and we bonded after contorting ourselves through and over a particularly nasty section of rock. I liked the challenge that an oceanfront game of bocce can’t provide, and the endless view of rolling mountains reminded me of rolling waves, but yet was very different.
There may be no real lesson from this injury. Maybe it just stunk as it became my yearlong new normal. But, since we often search for meaning in events, maybe there is some value in it. Although I’ve loved how I’ve lived over the last few years, and tried to squeeze every bit of living out of those moments, maybe I still took it for granted, at least during this point in my life. This injury has reinforced how temporary and fleeting things can be. Maybe this helps me appreciate these times for however much longer they’ll last: more chances to have long conversations, to watch a child study a bug or butterfly, to enjoy the accomplishment of summiting a tough mountain, to coach my girls to push themselves past their comfort zones, to feel the rush of a natural mountain bike half-pipe among the trees, or to sit with my family on an open peak as we take in the view. While I currently can’t imagine the day when I give them up, maybe it also points out the benefit of being open to finding a way to continue some version of this lifestyle, but in a modified way: loving and immersing myself in the outdoors, but in a way I might not have thought of at this point in my life.
Feet, don't fail me now!
Today, I don’t need to figure out what my future outdoor lifestyle may look like. Time and effort will figure out what becomes my new normal. My desire for a meaningful life well lived means I’ll try to make the most of it. For now, I need to celebrate being on the edge of returning to those activities that offer a vibrant, connected life. In short, today I’m focusing on celebrating my impending return to my old normal.
See you on the trails,
Jay, AKA Rockhopper