I went to snowy New Hampshire for Christmas. This has been one of the best Christmas in recent memory. Then again, when does one have enough time off to do nothing for 10 days!
I have been good with my personal days this year, and even with this last expenditure I will be rolling some days over to next year. When I go on the Appalachian Trail I will have some days to give me that one last extra boost monetarily.
Cara and I drove up after work and arrived fairly late on the 16th. Her parents own and operate a country inn called Lovette's Inn, in Franconia, just down the road from Franconia Notch and Canon Mountain, only a couple miles from the Appalachian Trail and within very easy driving distance of several other ski resorts, and the entire White Mountains region. I didn't realize how many trails this area has to offer... more on that later! Both of her brothers and Significant Others were there, as well as her older brother's 2 kids. The next day after getting there we visited and played with the kids, watched some Christmas movies and generally relaxed. What little snow was on the ground melted. I was hoping for a white Christmas but we still had lots of time until the guy in the red suit showed up.
Over the next several days we opened some presents, ate massive amounts of good food, drank excellent wine, and just generally enjoyed the downtime. Guests with their children came and enjoyed the Inn along with some of Cara's brother's friends that were in the area. The hustle and bustle, was counter-pointed by how homey it felt. One evening we took the kids over to the Polar Express on the Hobo Railroad in a nearby town. The program included getting on a train, getting hot coco and candy, and traveling to the North Pole to hangout with Santa and the elves. Very fun to see the joy and wonder on all these kids faces.
After Cara's brother's left it was just Cara, me, and her parents for a week. We did more of the same, Christmas movies, some light shopping in Littleton, hit a couple local restaurants. Cara and I drove to North Conway to the outlets, on our way across from Franconia we passed by the base of Mt. Washington, which was unfortunately mostly shrouded in clouds and the sky dropped rain onus that froze on the roads and made shopping treacherous - I needed some micro-spikes! The following day the sky cleared and the temperature dropped. The 4 of us went back to Mt. Washington and I was able to see the true sky-scrapper in all it's majestic glory.
We got snow! Enough to go on a short hike on snow-shoes on the cross-country trails behind Lovette's Inn. that evening we decided to open one Christmas present. The girls boxed up a map that I had been eying in a local store, they thought it was a semi-joke gift... I guess they didn't realize how much I love maps! I poured over it, imagining myself cresting this hill, following that stream. The White Mountains has enough trails scattered around it, some very densely interlaced, I could spend the next 20 summers trying to explore them all. I was always impressed by the amount of trails in Acadia when we visited in my childhood. Acadia has a fraction.
This area echoes in my mind with names that I have heard over and over in all the books on the AT I have read. I saw the AT cross the road in Crawford Notch, looked at the mountains surrounding the Notch, stared up at Mt. Washington and tried, really really tried to imagine myself on the Trail for 5 months. But I can't. I cannot fathom how I will feel, or if I will make it. I imagine that I will, but how can I not when I'm making a 6 month commitment to the AT. People ask me almost daily, relatives and friends, if I am ready for my trip. I always answer positively, but it is not an honest answer. I am filled with eager anticipation, tinged with fear of loneliness and knowing that I will miss Cara and everything "normal". The anticipation is great, I have not fully allowed myself to realize I am actually going to embark on this trip. It's all an idea right now. I see the silver thread of the tread-way skimming across the mountain tops, marching a steady march to Maine. I see images flash by in fast forward as if I was on the Trail. But it is all illusory, dream-like and ephemeral still. I am planning and studying maps, trying gear, and making food packets, but I can't comprehend 6 months. I can't grasp going to a post office for food week after week. It's like sitting on a beach gazing at the stars and you can't wrap your head around the vastness of all the stars above you or even all the grains of sand beneath you. I doubt I will get it while I'm out there immediately. We're programmed to always be looking to the next thing, the next drop off point, the next day, the next turn in the Trail or the next peak to bag. I'm hoping when I have 7 days food on my back and all I gotta do between now and the next post office is walk that I can be more in the NOW than I ever have been before.
Another walk in the snow with the three yellow labs playing in the snow with us, and a couple more days of delightful nothingness, work and the world called us back. Ten days gone so quickly, and with less adventure then I have had in years. But I feel recharged. My love grows ever stronger for Cara, and times like this of us just being for days with only quiet happiness confirms my feelings. Of course the drive back in traffic was completely trying to my state of euphoria, people are in such a hurry to get back from work and away from family. I surely won't miss traffic and brake lights while I am on the Appalachian Trail! We got back in time to see my Uncles and Aunts and cousins before finally getting home in Southern MD...
I have been putting together meal packets for the Appalachian Trail. I enjoy the preparation. Not only do I like searching Amazon for deals on food and getting package after package of Clif Bars in the mail, I also enjoy separating, organizing, and repacking. I try to imagine myself 6 months from now when I get to a post office and unbox my fuel for the next week. Will I curse myself for not enough diversity? Though I've tried for it. Will I berate myself for forgetting to put a packet of coffee one morning? Will it be too much or not enough? I feel I can't answer any of these basic questions until I have been out there for awhile. At first I think I will be wasting food, as 700 calories of rice, couscous, or other starch is a LOT, but later, when the hiker hunger creeps in I'm hoping it will be enough. Not to get bogged down into crunching numbers, but I have tried to make the meals fulfill what calorie expenditure I have researched. I do not want to lose much weight while I hike. I can't afford it. To that end I have lots of protein bars, nuts, dried fruits and meats, and tons of starches planned. I am trying to buy as much now while I have a pay check so while I am out there I won't need to spend my saved money on daily meals. I want the money put back to go for 'over-and-beyond' stuff; like an occasional hotel stay, an AYCE buffet, a shuttle ride for Cara to her car - whatever it takes for me to be happy out there, but not the base expense of the Trail.
The anticipation builds, as I think how fast the past year has already gone. Only 3 more months. Only 3 months to buy, build, organize test, address, label, check and double-check EVERYTHING. And all these checks and double checks could go awry if I hike faster than what I have planned (not slower, not in my vocab!). Also adding to the anticipation besides, the ticking of the clock, are the presents I received from all my loved ones. An awesome pair of boots, the Packa which I've spoken of before, hiking socks, a poncho, camp mug, MAPS!, a better funnel and pre-filter for the SteriPen, and a AT tee shirt! People know what I need!
The list grows shorter of what I still need to do. Some things must wait until last minute, like getting a cheaper cell phone, loading the licensing for the SPOT, discontinuing credit card use and switching to cash. Other things I need to ramp up on in a major way, like drying beef jerky and fruits, completing meal packaging, boxing meals into shipping containers. All the work is fulfilling and time consuming.
*Other pics to be added soon
I have found a good resource for finding out where the AT crosses roads:
Google Maps also has a couple good publicly shared maps of Parking and Shelters, provided by the ATC: