Kinsman Notch, an outdoor story

I drove up north to hike the Kinsmans on Saturday. I realized too late that I didn’t research the hike well enough; and this is not the first time I’ve done this with disastrous results. Although, I swear I read a bunch of trail descriptions last week and thought it was a good day hike with my dog. I thought that I would just go do the hike and then come home – no big deal. 

Once I turned west on the Route 112 in Lincoln from the I-93 the road was highlighted with fall colors. I was glad to be off the highway and driving through small towns that had characters. I smelled a campfire burning.

Then the anxiety started. I usually love driving to the mountains, but on this trip, I was tired of driving it by myself. I remembered how last year when I started hiking in the White Mountains again after many years away, as I got closer to the trailhead the more nervous I got; especially when it was a trail I didn’t know or hadn’t been to before. I remember hiking Mount Hale for the first time last year and I almost turned around three times before hitting the USFS road; and twice once I was driving on the road. Now, after hiking that mountain three time it’s a piece of cake and I’m not nervous anymore.

I remembered just last month heading north with Kyle and our dogs and not being anxious at all. I was mad a lot; mad at his shitty driving but not anxious. Scared that we were going to die from his lack of paying attention to other cars but not nervous about hiking. That’s what is most fun (and not fun) about a hiking trip with someone.

Today, I was nervous once I hit the section of 112 that heads into Kinsman Notch. I don’t know what to expect and the anxiety started. 

I turned into a parking lot that I wasn’t sure was right, then circled around not seeing signs for Kinsman Trail and then turned back on the highway. I immediately passed the hidden trail sign but only after seeing the Appalachian Trail sign. I forgot that the AT followed the Kinsman Trail. My anxiety lessened once I saw that sign, I’m not sure why. I turned around at the pond parking lot and parked in the lot. I took the last spot at 10 a.m.

Winnie and I crossed the highway and the trail was an immediate endless set of rock stairs. Some rocks were slippery from rain. I don’t feel awesome. I wanted to give the trail some time and settle in, but never got to that point. I stopped to look at the map and realized it was going to be an 18 mile day. I planned this wrong. I looked at the map before leaving the house but didn’t count the miles. Sometimes I just don’t pay attention to details. Okay, maybe a lot of the time. 

But also too, it wasn’t the first time I headed north to the mountains mad and hoping the mountains would redeem me, turn my anger around. Likewise, I thought if I prayed enough that I would get what I want but it doesn’t work that way. It’s like what Lamott says, “you get what you get”. 

About .28 miles into the Kinsman trail I turned around. The map showed Moosilauke on the other side of the highway. But first, Winnie needed a drink and a cool down in the lake up the highway.

As we walked I yelled at Winnie for pulling. I hate it when I’m mad and frustrated and yell at my dog for doing things that she shouldn’t do like pull on the leash or sniff everything in sight. I normally just let her do these things and just get frustrated but I yelled at her. I’m not a yeller and I don’t like myself when I yell at my dog, so I knew I was in trouble. I needed to turn my attitude around about this hike – and soon.

As soon as we got on Beaver Brook Trail, still part of the AT I was instantly relieved. We crossed a bunch of streams, Winnie drank and played, and my anxiety was gone; I came back to myself, the self I love who is okay with the world because I have my trail shoes on, water and food in my pack, and my dog is running around off-leash. After 10 joyful, joyous minutes on the trail the climb began and it was a rock staircase again with a river cascading next to it. Fifteen minutes later a worn and withered sign read: Warning – this is a steep and dangerous trail. If you are not prepared, turn around. Something about the cascades and water. I thought for a minute. A few seconds of positive thoughts:  I’ll give it a try. How bad could it be? And many more seconds of negative thoughts: I suck. Why didn’t I read about this trail? Why am I so stupid? What a waste of time. 

After hiking for a few more minutes on the slippery rocks I stopped at a large waterfall and decided to eat my roast beef sandwich and think about things. I almost never do this. Until I hiked with Kyle last month, I never stopped, I didn’t hang out at the top of summits – I just hiked, bagged the peak and went back home. When we hiked it was fun and relaxing; we’d spend 30 minutes at the top with wine and cheese, taking in the views and then leisurely hike down. Lately when just hiking with Winnie, when I do stop, Winnie stops too and lays down next to me or sits and stares at me. Then we hike until we get back to the car. 

Today, on this gorgeous, warmish Saturday in late September I sat and watched the cascading waterfall in front of me on the biggest, dampest rock on the AT. I thought of nothing but that damn waterfall for five long minutes. However, my thoughts led to needing a plan. What was I going to do? 

It wouldn’t be the first time I didn’t get to the summit. It wouldn’t be the first time that plans changed minutes into a hike. What I really wanted to do was sit there with my journal and write about the natural world; and find joy in a moment which is what happens when I write. Lamott says that writing and reading can decrease our sense of isolation. And this is what I want to do right at this moment but I don’t have a pen or paper. I quietly decide that I will always carry pen and paper with me which I promised myself a decade ago when I hiked around my house in the mountains of Colorado; back when I was writing and publishing stories more frequently. 

Miraculously, I decided to keep going forward, a primal urge we have when paralyzed with expectations, guilt and foreboding. One foot in front of the other, a mantra I try to use in ultra running and long distance hiking. I continue up the slippery slope of Moosilauke when I realize that this just isn’t fun anymore. I fear slipping or my dog slipping. I’m okay stopping when I’m not having fun anymore. Winnie doesn’t seem to care and we change direction and head back to the car. Defeated; I walk the slowest walk back to the car. It’s only 11:30. 

I wander a bit off trail and look for something to take my mind off my defeat, and not finishing something, yet again. You see, I have a bit of a problem. In January I had so many goals and as of today, I have only finished about 75% of the what I planned for this year.

I hoped for a 100% finish rate.

I finished some important trail races and finally finished my 4,000 footers in New Hampshire but it’s that other 25% that makes me feel like I should just bury my head under a pillow for the rest of the year and not sign up for anything I might not start or finish. 

Hiking can heal that hurt; or it has for me in the past. But alas, today there is no summit and my finish rate plummets. As I write this story sitting on my sofa in Concord, 68 miles from that trailhead I feel blah. Writing does heals the hurt a little. Maybe I’ll head up there again tomorrow and try it again. I love that life always gives you that option. 

Leadville Pacer Planning

I’m in Colorado, and today I meet with my Pacers and Crew to discuss race day planning. But first a short run at 5,500 feet in Littleton. The picture above is me stretching after a run, looking into that gorgeous blue Colorado sky.

Here’s my hope for pacing on August 17:

Pacers as of July 13. Please Roger, say yes!

Today, Mary and I head to Manitou Springs to check out Garden on the Gods and Cliff Dwellings. A little more acclimation training for me and tomorrow – Pikes Peak to bag a 14’er.

Hiking Whiteface, what cures hopelessness

This morning I head up to the White Mountains to hike Mount Whiteface. I attempted her early this spring and turned around at the granite ledges because I seriously thought I would die. It was snowy and icy and I brought my dog. I wanted to live. So I turned around.

Now, June 1 I hike Blueberry Ledge solo. I want the peak. I am not sure what the day will hold for me; maybe Passaconway, too. But I don’t have a plan except to bag Whiteface.

The trailhead has a little history for me. Back in 1988 my boyfriend at the time took me to Sandwich and Wonalancet for a second-hike-ever to Whiteface. He told me that he wanted to be buried in Wonalancet because he loved the place so much. Now, so many years later I had a first kiss in the trailhead with a guy I really liked. Hmmphf. The mountains. The place where I felt reborn after not having any goals and not knowing what my life would be like after high school graduation – the most confusing time of my life. I feel for high school graduates.

June 1, 2019 – I’m running/hiking Blueberry Ledge for the third time in my life and I’m feeling great. One week after running 50 miles I feel like a million bucks….. Until I get to the ledges where I turned around a month ago. It is so steep and scary and I feel at any moment I will fall to my death. Okay, a little dramatic, but I’m not in love with this trail or this mountain in any way, shape or form. I somehow manage to scramble to the top and I’m pissed. The trail diverges and I don’t know where to go. I go left and then it doesn’t feel right. The view is amazing but I’m distracted. I take off my pack and look at the map and I have to decide where to go. I’m not going back the way I came; certain death. I decide to go the Rollins Trail and just go home. I know I should summit Passaconway, I’m so close. I’ll wait and see.

But my mood is dark. I’m mad. I’m pissed. It has more to do than the hike and certain death; I’m just mad.

I follow the trail and it meanders into dark, moody places along the ridge. I run when I can; I want out. I think about Leadville and how I will feel running downhill. Will there be as many rocks and roots? There will definitely be more people. I stop and eat and finally take a picture.

I’m praying and hoping the mountains change my mood but I’m mad. I want the mountains to change my mood; I want to be happy and hopeful – but I’m not. There are no people on this trail. I finally reach the trail junction where I can head to Passaconway or go down Dicey’s Mill Trail.

I chose home.

I run as much as I can and finish 9.7 miles back to my car. The parking lot is overfilling with cars. I only saw 5 people the entire day.

I actually came to do what I set out to but in the back of my mind it would’ve been good to get Passaconaway.

I stink. I’m mad. I drive home.

I walk down to the Concord Co-Op for dinner. My heart hurts for a million different reasons. I feel like a teenager whose heart is broken and my stomach aches. As I enter the store I hear the song, Let It Be from the Beatles.

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree

There will be an answer, let it be

I buy my food and walk home. I hear a line from a book I read so many times, so many years ago: Running From Safety, that reminds me –  take me out of the ball game, tell me it’s over, and I get instant perspective.

The anger, frustration is gone, gone. Instant perspective is all that I needed.

While the mountains didn’t cure me today, I’m still certain they will.

Heading into a big mileage weekend

It’s Saturday and I just got back from a warm-up hike with Winnie.

4 miles around Marjory Swope

And hitting Jerry Summit twice for some added vert.

Now it’s time to head out for 25 miles. I’ve been fighting a head cold that is now heading into my lungs but it’s very minor. However, yesterday running up hills was hard!

I’m heading for the hills west of Concord and not sure what the mileage of the first loop will be. The plan is to come back to my house to refuel and then head out again to finish the miles. It’s wet and muddy out there but I’m up for the challenge.

Tomorrow is a hike up north for a 4,000 footer and then a 13 mile recovery run. This is it. This is what I have to do to get strong and be ready for 100 miles.