Day 35: Heading into Maine

My hiking partners today are Chris Rogers and Steve Bell, friends from Boy Scout Troop 507 in Winchester, MA. Chris has been the troop’s Scoutmaster since before my son Henry joined as a sixth grader in 2007. I’ve been part of Troop 507 since then, and Henry and I have had great adventures with Chris, Steve and many other parents and scouts over the years. It’s also how I became an avid hiker.

From Chris: We started our day in Winchester at 7am. We parked at the trailhead in Township E in Franklin County, Maine, and began our hike on the Appalachian Trail overlooking scenic Rangeley Lake at 11:35am. Much to our chagrin, the trail immediately headed straight up in a quick test of our endurance. We soon experienced downhill treachery too, along with beautiful scenery including Moxie and Long Ponds. We arrived at the Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to at about 6:00pm. We quickly dropped our packs, changed into more comfortable footwear, refilled our water bottles and had dinner. Early to bed. Ready for an early start tomorrow. (photos to come)

Meanwhile, Troop 507 has had some good times over the years:

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Top of Mt. Baldy (12,441′) at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico (2013)
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Annual troop freeze-out (2011)
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The Adventure Park at Storrs, CT (2015)
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Hiking up Mt. Willey in New Hampshire (2012)

Day 34: A Stitch in Time

From Ted: Batwing and I set out this morning to “stitch” (hiker slang verb: to complete a section of trail previously missed) a bit for Rick. We began at USFS 10 (elevation 1,517 feet) summited Baker (2,860 ft), Peru (3,429 ft), and Styles (3,394 ft) Peaks and ended 12 miles south at Mad Tom Notch Road (2,443 ft).

The first things that we noticed coming back to Vermont were the gentle rolling nature of the hills and the ease of hiking on the softer less slippery schist https://flexiblelearning.auckland.ac.nz/rocks_minerals/rocks/schist.html rather than on New Hampshire’s hard granite. The combination makes hiking in the area much easier on the knees and hamstrings. Yes, we discussed being ankle deep in schist and numerous variations on the theme along the way, then settled in for a delicious hikers’ lunch and swim at Griffith Lake. Along the way we noticed views and outlooks that Rick would appreciate and the approaches which would have been onerous for him. While Rick was not with us today he was very much on our minds and in our hearts.

There is something irreducible about hiking. Things are simple. Cause and effect cannot be renegotiated or avoided. If you forget to carry a jacket and the weather shifts you will be cold; if your equipment fails, you either know how to fix it or you do without; there is no running to the store to buy your way out of a jam. Perhaps that is one reason why hikers tend to be so helpful and kind to each other on the trail. We all have an appreciation for how quickly things can go sideways and know how important a helping hand can be. Or maybe it is just the beautiful surroundings we are in and the great relief of not having to listen to the 24 hour news cycle and constant electronic chatter that mark our lives these days. For whatever reason, everyone that we met today greeted us warmly and offered us helpful news of conditions on the trail ahead. What a contrast to Boston drivers and Beltway politics.

Hope to see you out here soon!

Wombat, near Peru VT 7/19/2017

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Luna Moths live for four days each year
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Batwing up to his knees in shist

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Day 33

Today’s blog is by our friends Ingrid Geis and Steve Delaney, who bagged Mt. Moosilauke for me today. Mt. Moosilauke is a very tough 4000-footer along the AT in New Hampshire — its name means “high bald place.” I want to thank my friends for hiking for me and for helping to spread the word about ALS. Steve and Ingrid are also contributing our first bear sighting!

Despite not having Rick’s inspiring and Steady presence with us today, we managed to hike the AT up and over Mount Moosilauke. It was a long day, leaving Winchester at 7am and starting up the trail at 10am, after dropping a car on the far side. Don’t tell Rick but we were Sobos for the day (southbounders in thru-hiker language.) Like most thru-hikers, Rick is hiking south to north. But, we chose to hike Moosilauke north to south to spare our knees from having to go down Beaver Brook Trail. Climbing up Beaver Brook Trail was bad enough, like climbing 150 flights of stairs.

But we had a near perfect day, clear skies and in the 70s. We met several thru- and day-hikers along the way and shared Rick’s story with several.  Just as we broke out of the trees onto the Alpine splendor of the summit ridge, we were greeted by a glider plane silently circling the peak. After a nice break in the sunshine and cool breeze of the summit, we headed down the Glencliff Trail which, while steep and rocky in sections, was a far better choice for our descent. The trail eventually changed from New England rocks and roots to relatively flat packed trail and we made pretty good time. About a half-mile from the trailhead where we’d dropped a car earlier in the morning, we were greeted by rustling in the trees just the left of the trail and caught a black bear scrambling down a tree and, thankfully, away from us into the woods. While we found no ready source of gelato at the bottom, Moose Scoops in Warren, New Hampshire proved a more than satisfactory substitute.

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Day 32

Today’s blog is from my friend Tom Simard, who hiked a different part of the White Mountains this past weekend.  Thank you Tom for hiking five mountains along the AT in the Franconia Notch area: Mt. Garfield (4,501′), Mt. Lafayette (5,249′), Mt. Lincoln (5,089′), Little Haystack (5,089′) and Mt. Liberty (4,260′).  I really appreciate your help in covering this section of the AT that I can’t get to any more — as well as your photos, which show everyone just how beautiful this part of the country is!

My two-day hike of the Franconia and Garfield ranges along the Appalachian Trail started on Saturday, July 15th, under sunny skies along a deceptively easy and picturesque trek through the Pemigewasset Wilderness. The Lincoln Woods and Franconia Brook Trails had once been logging roads, and many old railroad ties and spikes exist to this day. The first 8 miles were relatively easy, though soggy from days of rain and several brook crossings. I arrived at the Thirteen Falls Tentsite just before 1pm and learned from the AMC caretaker that two large groups would be staying there overnight. I decided to trudge on, hoping to reach the Garfield Ridge Shelter before the predicted rainstorm arrived. As I approached the steep ridge to the Appalachian Trail, the skies opened up and I was drenched before I could get my poncho out. The deluge ended as abruptly as it arrived, and a few hours later I came upon the welcome sight of the Garfield Ridge Shelter. There I stayed the night with many thru-hikers, including David whose trail name is “Goliath” and who had met Rick and his team several days earlier. He was so impressed with Rick and what he’s setting out to accomplish (as we all are!) and asked that I pass along his admiration and best wishes.

The next morning, I was up with the sun and decided to have my breakfast on the summit of Mt. Garfield, a 45-minute scramble up the ridgeline. From there I could see my destinations for the day – the peaks of the Franconia Ridge: Lafayette, Lincoln, Little Haystack and Liberty. Had I known how exhausted I would be later in the day, I would’ve eaten a bigger breakfast! It took a while, but by 12:45 I was at the top of Mt. Lafayette and enjoying a well-earned lunch. The peak-bagging continued with a long descent along the ridgeline. By mid-afternoon it was clear to me and my weary legs that I would be better off taking the trail down from Liberty to the notch road, where a fellow hiker and good Samaritan offered to take me from the trailhead to the Lincoln Woods Visitor’s Center where I’d parked my car the previous morning. Two days, five peaks, and 21 miles later I’m looking forward to a few “zero days” in Vermont where I’ll be resting, taking some vitamin I (ibuprofen) and following Rick’s amazing journey with all of you.

Goliath and (just) Tom
Goliath and (just) Tom
Franconia brook
Franconia brook
Lafayette from Garfield
Mt. Lafayette from Mt. Garfield
Lincoln from Lafayette
Mt. Lincoln from Mt. Lafayette
Selfie on Lafayette
selfie on Lafayette

 

Day 30

From Sean: Yes, today Rick conquered Mount Washington, but honestly was there ever a doubt? Could anyone have been surprised? Certainly not our group of seven hikers who had the privilege of accompanying Rick on this weekend’s Presidential journey.

As a faithful reader of Rick’s blogs, I admit that I do not have the skills to effectively convey the experience of hiking alongside Steady — the most fitting trail name if there ever was one. So instead I present a summary of learnings and experiences that capture the weekend experience (sprinkled in with a little advice to future hikers with Rick):

  1. Oft-repeated among us “There’s no quit in Rick.” As an example, if there are two path choices, and someone foolishly says aloud “this looks easier” you can be assured Rick has already sized up the bigger challenge and you best not get in his way or slow him down!
  2. Even more foolhardy: suggest to Rick to take the smooth, but off-trail path? No chance, as Rick is a disciple of the Hiker’s Code: Stay on the Trail.
  3. For future hikers, let it be known that Rick strictly adheres to morning hike start times. He was always the first one up, dressed, sleeping bag and clothes packed, and bed returned to its original condition. And should you not be ready, well be prepared for the stare because he’s going regardless of whether you are.
  4. Confirming previous reports: the celebratory elixir of choice is Long Trail Ale (Amstel Light will do if the LT isn’t available). But what surprised me is Rick’s affinity for boxed Chardonnay, especially when delivered by Girl Scouts (thank you Holden Girl Scouts — your Mizpah care package rocked!).
  5. No matter the situation — challenging trail, inhospitable weather, etc — it’s comforting to have two priests with you, especially when they are Epiphany’s own Thomas Brown (proposed trail-name: “Calves”?) and El Hogar’s Matt Engleby (“Unbreakable”?). The flip side is that you feel really bad about f-bombing after a fall.
  6. It really helps to have an Uber-knowledgeable local hiker. If not for Jay Olmsted (“Man of the Mountain”?), it’s entirely possible that we would have found ourselves on Jefferson instead of Washington.
  7. Yes, New Hampshire, there is a Santana — Carlos Nolasco, who earned his trail name by delighting both AMC huts with his repertoire ranging from Hotel California, Personal Jesus, With or Without You, and Come As You Are.
  8. I’ll say it — we’re calling BS on the Mizpah Hut Jenga record – no way any thru hiker got 34 levels with those blocks!
  9. But believe me when I tell you that a single bird followed Bill Walsh (“Lion”?) from the AMC Highlands all the way through to the summit of Mount Washington. I really did begin to think that he’s right, Betsy has created a drone bird.
  10. But even that bird could not touch “Whitipedia” Rappole for steadily regaling us with facts encompassing (I only have space for a fraction of subjects) 1970’s NFL quarterbacks, obscure books & movies, rock formations, Uber’s valuation, college nicknames, Title 9, the rise and fall of the oil economy…
  11. Rick’s “Thumbs up”: peanut butter on English Muffin, Hershey’s chocolate, VT cheddar cheeseburgers with jalapeños, chocolate milkshakes, mountain peaks, AMC Hut storytellers, Dak Prescott, ALS ONE
  12. Rick’s “Thumbs down”: jelly, gummy bears, red wine, bypass routes, Carson Wentz
  13. This moment, Saturday night at the Mizpah Hut dinner, captures my witness to Rick and his unquenchable desire to find a cure to ALS by 2020:

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The way up was hard…
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The way down was much easier!
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Carlos — “Santana” — came all the way from Houston to join the hike
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Carlos Nolasco, Jay Olmsted, Rick Marks, Bill Walsh, Thomas Brown, Matt Engleby, Sean Dalton, and Whit Rappole

 

Day 29

Today our group of eight hiked 4.6 miles for a net elevation gain of 1204 feet. Sound simple? It took 9.5 hours. We summitted Mt. Pierce and Mt. Eisenhower. The terrain was steep and rocky — much of it above the treeline, where it became windy — and more than one of us lost our footing. Fortunately our group included not one but two Episcopal priests. Perhaps that is why three additional bunk spaces opened up this morning at the fully-booked Lakes of the Clouds Hut, enabling our entire group to stay in the hut tonight. But credit is also due to the dedicated and empathetic crew at the Appalachian Mountain Club — I especially want to thank Dio Thagouras, James Wrigley, and Bruce Glabe for taking such great care of us.

We arrived at this AMC hut near Mt. Monroe at 6:00pm, just in time for dinner. There were five of us now, as Thomas, Jay and Whit had to leave us at Mt. Eisenhower to hike back down to the real world. The dinner was excellent: vegetable soup, fresh bread, and turkey and gravy. I passed on the salad, peas, and pumpkin pie. I bought a Hershey’s chocolate bar. It was a great day.

From Thomas Brown, rector of the Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, MA:

Last night, following a full day of major ascent, Rick had retired for the evening in his bunk at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Mizpah Spring Hut. The rest of us were sitting around talking about the day, and we kept coming back to the same statement, not quite verbatim, but still shaking our heads and saying things like “he’s amazing” or “he’s so determined” or if it was getting too serious in order to get a laugh one of us would say, “he’s part billy goat.”

It was extremely moving to me to see other hikers go up to Rick to talk about their own connection and experience with ALS, and to tell Rick how much they admired him, or how much they were cheering him onward. Rick would pull out his tablet to respond, then he’d smile, and pretty soon he’d give his ubiquitous thumbs-up. All of us learned to cherish a “thumbs-up.”

A very serendipitous moment occurred today on the top of Mt. Eisenhower. We were basking in our accomplishment of reaching that height. We were happy to impose upon another hiker to take a photograph of us when suddenly we heard a ruckus. It was Barbara and Jonathan Foot—great friends of Rick’s from Winchester (and also members of the Parish of the Epiphany). They’re in the White Mountains this weekend for a business commitment of Jonathan’s, they hadn’t checked this blog, they assumed Rick was already in Maine, and they had NO IDEA that they might encounter us. Rick was so happy to see them, and they were so happy to see him! I didn’t go up to all of my brothers’ eyes, so I can’t say for sure, but I’d be willing to wager that all of us were crying. One of the least religious among us said, “well, if that [seeing Barbara and Jonathan] isn’t about God I don’t know what is!”

I’m not sure what I’d identify as the single highlight of these last 24+ hours with Rick and the others. For sure it was great to be with a group of men who love God, who love Rick, and who either already loved each other, or quickly discovered that our friendship, whether new or old, transcends time and space. I guess I’d say there was something “other” about what we were doing. That is, we knew this wasn’t about us, and we knew we could talk about it openly, and we knew equally powerfully that we could hold it all in silence, knowing full well that we’ve never done before, and almost certainly won’t do it again.

Tomorrow when those four brothers of Rick accompany him from the Lakes of the Clouds AMC hut up to Mt. Washington and down the cog railway the rest of us might be saying something like, “God’s mercies are new…every morning.”

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Mt. Pierce (4310′)
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meeting up with Barbara and Jonathan Foot
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Mt. Eisenhower (4,780′)
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moss break
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getting close to Lakes of the Clouds…