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.”