For the next several months Alton meticulously outlined details for our excursion. After weeks of reading a variety of informative “what to and how to” literature, he provided each member of the backpacking group with folders containing an itinerary, maps, a list of supplies needed, and a discourse on the much dreaded black fly of New Hampshire. Doc, Reg, Alton and I (the already or about to be 50 year olds) and Fitts and Lindsey (20 something’s) eagerly (yeah, right) awaited the end of the school year and our trek up to the northeast.
The flight from Atlanta to Boston and the subsequent van journey to Lincoln, NH proved uneventful. The next morning, we set out near Franconia Notch with great enthusiasm. Our first day goal was about a 12 mile hike that would culminate at the Guyout campsite off the AT. We made it to our destination, but along the way we learned much about backpacking like…..it’s not a good idea to bungee gear to your pack, don’t plan to camp at a site .7 miles off the trail, taking turns carrying the two 4 man tents does not diminish the weight of the tents, check to find out if fires are allowed before purchasing steaks to pack in to cook over campfires, and lastly, visit a physician before beginning the hike if you’re 50, slightly overweight, and have never hiked in the Whites (Reg).
Alton and I, who were the only two of the group really in shape, were the first to arrive at the campsite. We were greeted by a young female caretaker who gazed on our appearances with what might have been considered utter amazement that we were still standing. I still remember declaring to this young lady that this was our first backpacking trip and that it was about to be the first night I had ever spent in a tent. And I unabashedly added, “And I just turned 50 two weeks ago.” She was not impressed. When she asked, “Why did you choose the Whites,” neither of us could think of a good reason.
About two hours later, shortly after dark, the rest of the gang arrived, and they were a pitiful looking bunch. The caretaker graciously offered to boil us some water for our MRE’s after telling us that campfires were not permitted. After our meals, we settled in to our tents. Alton, Fitts, and I shared one; Doc, Reg and Lindsey the other. I slept very poorly that “first night in a tent.” If I had brought a sleeping bag, it might have been better.
The next morning six very sore hikers (yes, we were hikers now) awoke to near freezing temperatures. To warm up we began that .7 mile trek from the Guyout campsite back to the trail that would take us southbound on the AT up to South Twin and then down to Galehead Hut. Before reaching the AT, however, Reg declared that he couldn’t make it and actually asked the caretaker if he could be airlifted out. When she informed him that the only type of rescue that was available was for him to be carried out, he opted to accept her suggestion that she carry his 60 pound pack to Galehead for him. Reg smiled broadly sitting atop a rock on South Twin, packless, as the rest of the group arrived. As we continued down what some have called one of the toughest miles on the AT from South Twin to Galehead, I prayed feverishly that I wouldn’t break a leg and made one of those deals with God that if “He would just get me out of these mountains safely…”
After a night at the 13 Falls campsite, on a trail off the AT, we finally made it back to Lincoln. For days, every time I closed my eyes I saw giant rocks. This was one adventure that I would never attempt again. I was a runner, not a hiker. I didn’t even like camping or sleeping in a tent. This would definitely be my last backpacking trip. But alas, it wasn’t. Over the next twelve years since that first taste of the AT, I would section hike over 1000 miles of the trail and now actually own a sleeping bag. So, twelve years later, I plan to arrive at Springer in March, a little older, and much more knowledgeable about backpacking, to attempt (and I do say attempt) a thru hike.
My goal is obviously to reach Katahdin, but along the way I have some other goals I hope to achieve as well. One of those goals is to record a daily entry into my journal, detailing as accurately as possible what it’s like out on the trail. Other goals I’ll share in future prep entries and as I hike. Among other things, I’m looking for an adventure. And I think the AT just might provide one for me.