"I was weary of the trail, but still strangely in its thrall; found the endless slog tedious but irresistible; grew tired of the boundless woods but admired their boundlessness; enjoyed the escape from civilization and ached for its comforts. I wanted to quit and to do this forever, sleep in a bed and in a tent, see what was over the next hill and never see a hill again. All of this at once, every moment, on the trail or off."
-Bill Bryson, from "A Walk In The Woods"
Amidst cloudy skies that threatened rain, I met my old work friend, Dan Prior, for some afternoon hiking. It was hard to believe it had been 6 weeks since I'd seen him, and this would be our first hike together, after lunch after lunch of talking about hiking and our shared absurd dream of someday conquering the Appalachian Trail.
I put on headphones and we agreed that we would talk on breaks, and whether he liked it or not, we would take plenty of them. Hiking Welch and Dickey Mountains is to most people a beginner to intermediate hike, with only the top being tough. The first time I ever hiked here, I made it to the first flat, rock face section and thought that I had conquered Welch mountain, and the bump to my left was Dickey. I brought Hilton, Rich and Josh here a year later, and we tried to do both, eventually having to turn around, because, from leaving waaay too late and it being late fall, it was a frozen tundra of cold winds and snow at the top.
frozen hands, but still trying to text
I would then, years later, hike again with 6 people and 2 dogs. This is when I found out that that "bump" was actually the summit of Welch mountain- that the flat rock section we thought was the summit was merely a nice place to take a break before facing some pretty serious (and with barely any grips) exposed rock inclines. Dickey was an entire other mountain next to it, and doing the full loop meant a lot more work, but a beautiful view looking down the side of an enormous exposed rock slab. The day we went, the sky was this clear:
Le Tobin and Damien. Seriously, no photoshopping. That's real sky.
So, with threatening clouds but a forecast of sun, heat, and no rain until later that evening, we set off.
I knew this was going to be tough- I am a lot older and much more out of shape than the last time I hiked here, but this hike was on my list of things to do this summer, and if I ever am going to conquer Chocorua (which beat me last year), I would have to get my legs working again. Immediately, Dan's energy and lack of panting uncontrollably annoyed me.
But through breaks, a very sweet shuffle of music and lots of water, we made it through the "easy" part fairly quickly.
The exact moment we took a breather and stared out at the beautiful landscape, it started to rain. AWESOME. At least the rest of the hike didn't have any exposed rock that would become extremely slippery under these conditions. Oh wait...
We shortened our break by quite a lot and set off to get to the summit before the rocks were a death trap.
And then Dan meditated.
And I hated him.
Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted and no rocking song or dream of a summit-reward Snickers bar was going to help me through this- I needed to use my stupid legs and stupid back to get me through these horrible rock evils to the endless views at the top.
While I was dying, a group of 4 people came through, and they were quite special. Leading the charge was a 50 year old man, sweating hard but pushing on positively. He had a child with him who was probably 7 at best, and they were both working hard. We had some small talk about how this wasn't easy and how he had hiked it last week and it was just as bad this time, etc. Then came the other people with him. One was a teenager with long hair and a black t shirt, skate shoes, and wide legged jeans. He was slipping everywhere, but had endless energy (bastard). And then came what I can only hope was his dad- a disaster wearing his own version of skate shoes, a t-shirt that said he survived some party, and not only did he mistake Dan for his friend, but he said about 5 other things that made no sense at all, slipped several times on the same spot before finally listening to me that he should go a different direction, and he seemed completely drunk. "Hey! Let's get wasted and hike a mountain with kids!" The sad part was that he was doing WAAAY better than me.
We pushed on.
Dan wastes more energy. Oh wait, that's right, he doesn't run out.
Dan scouts ahead
Through stop after stop, and drinking nearly all of my water, we made it to the top, and I was pooped. I made a ghetto little panorama video:
Then we descended the beautiful, interesting and awesome backside of Welch, which was somewhat terrifying because of just how slippery it was, and started Dickey by going right back into the woods.
Then something happened that has never happened to me on a hike- I got separated. I lost Dan. He took a phone call right when I had a burst of energy, and I pushed right past him. Suddenly, the trail went somewhat downhill, and even though I was confused, the trail was awesome and I kept following it. Oops. Eventually, it disappeared altogether, and I was very weirded out that Dan was nowhere to be seen behind me. I went back to precisely where I passed him, and it was about 10 feet from where the trail I was supposed to have taken took a 90 degree turn, up a technical rock climb section- clearly marked, but only when viewing from the wrong direction. I climbed up to the first section of exposed rock and found it to be nothing but a wet, dark ghost town. "DAN?!" Nothing. "DAAAAAAN!" Nothing.
yes, even when I thought Dan was dead, I still worried about documenting it for the blog.
This went on for a few minutes before I remembered we both had our cell phones and if he had had signal, I must too. I almost didn't bring mine because he had his, but remembered that I wanted to TWEET from the top (which I didn't even do). I finally called him and he answered "Where the hell are you?!" to which I replied the same. He thought I had somehow become Superman and climbed much farther ahead of him, and he actually ran forward to find me, before finally realizing how silly that was- that I had more likely fallen off the mountain instead, and ran back. We were alone no longer, I took a picture of distant Welch with better lighting, forgot to eat my Snickers, and began the descent.
I was just there!
It was grim.
The descent was only sketchy at the beginning, and I scratched my legs a bunch trying to find traction in the woods (even with my fancy new hiking shoes, it was a slide-fest out there). We had a brief section of woods, and then we got to go down the usually gorgeous but now terrifying side slope. The last time I was here, it looked like this:
Find the people!
Because of how slippery it was, we had to stick to the far right side, and instead just saw dark greens and grays. And I caught Dan in a "DOIIEEEE" pose.
The wind kicked in harder, and I harnessed the power of metal to salute the mountains we had just conquered. And with this last gesture to the mountain gods, we headed into the woods to get back to our warm cars.
We were just there!
I then drove around Waterville Valley and the surrounding mountain's trailheads for an hour, drove 2 hours back home, showered, and drove to Newington to watch a midnight showing of Transformers 3 (which was stupid, but had the most visually mind-blowing action scenes ever). I got home at 3:30 in the morning and stayed up until about 5. Needless to say, I slept in quite late today and am quite stiff.
Bill Bryson summed up my feelings on hiking pretty perfectly. He had those feelings after leaving the Appalachian Trail and spending months out in the woods, hiking up and down mountain after mountain, but I am starting to feel that way about every time I go hiking. I feel like I'm going to die every time I go, and feel like I did die the next day. I can't breathe half of the time. My legs are nothing but lactic acid and burning the entire way up. My toes are on fire the entire way down. I sweat profusely and probably scare away any threatening animals with my deafening panting and wheezing. I drank nearly 3 liters of water and still had a headache by the time I got home. I hate hiking.
But I love it. The feeling of accomplishment I feel when I get to the top is like nothing else. Not only that, but the views are spectacular and almost always worth any pain. The way down is relaxing, either talking endlessly with a friend or zoning out in my own musical world. I drive home exhausted but accomplished. I proved something. I climbed a mountain. And no matter how full of hate I am on the way up, and even though I know I am going to feel that way on the next hike, and the hike after that, and every hike for the foreseeable future, I usually am already figuring out what mountain to hike next on the way home.
I have not hiked nearly enough in my life. I have dreams of hiking the Appalachian Trail or something enormous like that. I have dreams of hiking every 4,000 footer in NH and I've done none. I feel like I'm dead on small mountains. But I will push on. I will continue to hike. The need to conquer mountains will always be there. I am finally growing into my look.
a mountain man.
The L.L. Bean brothers
Hike time: 3.5 hours
Mileage: 4.4 miles
Total elevation: 2,734 feet
Elevation gained: 1,900 feet
Songs listened to: 49
Percent of conversation about work: 42%
currently listening to: The Chemical Brothers- Further, Final Days Society- Ours Is Not A Caravan Of Despair