I was looking forward to having lunch at a hamburger stand in West Hartford, Vermont, but when I got there a sign said it was permanently closed. The last few miles before I got there I kept thinking about the hot, juicy hamburger I was going to have for lunch and what I might get to drink like maybe a chocolate milk shake. I hailed a man in a brown package delivery truck going down that quite little street. He stopped and said there was a house a short distance from there where a hiker could get water. I had food but needed water. A middle age man and women were leaving when I got to the house. The woman lowered her window in the rain. I cheerfully told her what the delivery man said. She pointed to a spigot and said I could get water there. I asked if they would mind if I ate lunch on the wall by the spigot. She said, “Of course not,” She pointed to trees in her back yard and said, “There is a picnic table if you want to sit there.”
“No,” I said, “I’d rather sit on the wall.” There was a long pause as if she might say something else, then they slowly drove off. In addition to drinking water I ate some Vermont cheddar cheese I bought earlier at a farm stand, some hard salami, and some peanuts. I took a long drink and topped off both water bottles before I set out for the Happy Hill Shelter and then Hanavoer, New Hampshire.
The trail goes right through the town of Hanover where there is a big college. When I got there students were arriving with their parents. There were no rooms. It was September 11 and the hiker hostel in that town closed September 1. A person representing the Dartmouth Outing Club (DOC) called me back. She had a list of people and houses where I might stay. The DOC has a big presence on hiking trails in New Hampshire. Eventually, I got a room five miles outside town on State Route 10 in an ordinary run down motel where it cost three times what is should have because of the college weekend. I was there to resupply and take a zero day.
After the trail crosses Lyme-Dorchester Road a sign stuck in the mud has an arrow that points to free ice cream and water at a house on the other side of a New England rock wall. When I got there no one was home. A hand written sign permanently thumb-tacked to the door said the ice cream is around back in a freezer inside a screened-in porch. Take one, it said, and sign the register on the table beneath the sign. Also on the table was a basket with some money in it where a hiker could leave money. The sign didn’t say anything about water but when I looked around there was a spigot beside the stairs leading up to the side porch where I was standing.
Before I turned around to get some ice cream someone drove up the gravel drive-way, and stopped beside the stairs leading to the side porch. An older man got out, and came up the stairs. He made sure I was going to sign the register. He told me that 1700 hikers stopped at his place that Summer. He said there are not so many hikers this time of year. It was September 15.
When I asked about the ice cream he went through the house to get an ice cream bar. We talked in his kitchen as I gobbled it up. He said he always had tea at four o’clock and asked if I would like some. We sat in two chairs facing each other by a wood stove, sipping hot tea. We discussed life in general. His children climbed rock walls and he had framed pictures of them doing that near where we were sitting. His wife of 49 years died a few years earlier. Now he had several lady friends. One called while I was there and maybe it was that one who not long after the call walked across the field to see him.
He said he had to leave to deliver dinner to several “shut-ins.” They lived on the other side of Lyme. He offered to drop me off in town where there was a restaurant, and several stores. Then he picked me up on his way back. I left my pack at his house. He said hikers often camp in his yard. When I got there I noticed there was a croquette set-up in back, and out of sight of the house was a green and white fiberglass portable toilet.
It rained that night and before it started he said I could sleep on the side porch. Two Southbound hikers got there at dark. They slept in the screened-in porch. When we were talking over tea that afternoon he said he was from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and when he retired from being a professor he moved up to the house where we were sitting. He said the house was in his wives family long before they met.
It was still raining when I left the next morning. It rained all day. I waved goodbye through a glass window on the side porch. He was talking to the two hikers, and I don’t think he saw me. I hiked to the top of Smarts Mountain where I stayed the night in an abandoned fire warden’s cabin.
It took six hours for me to go six miles to the top of Smarts Mountain. Later on it took me four hours to go 1.6 miles down Mount Moosilauke from Beaver Brook Shelter to the base of the mountain where things leveled out. It was all steep, wet, terrain made up entirely of rocks and ledges. It was raining enough to make everything slippery. Another time in the White Mountains I went from a camp site near Skookumchuck Trial to the next camp site five miles up the trail. I started hiking at 7:30 a.m. and found a nice place to camp at 4 p.m.
When the terrain got tedious I slowed down as much as I needed to get there in one piece. It was not as if I was out of breath, or that my legs hurt. What made me go slow was the extra time it took to safely go over difficult ground. I had to resist the tendency to move faster.
It wasn’t always that way. I was making pretty good time the day I slid twenty feet down a steep ledge and bloodied an elbow. I was in Vermont where it seemed there were uphill ledges all day. When I got to the one where I slipped there was an alternate route (blue blaze) around it to the side, but I was going to power up it like I did the other ones. It was steeper and longer than the others. I lost my footing early on and once I started to slide there was no stopping until I hit bottom. “When will you ever learn,” I thought out loud. I collected myself and tried again, taking more time, a lot more time, and taking a different route where the rock surface was rougher.
When I got to New Hampshire Route 25 C my wife’s cousin, Mike, lived six miles away in Haverhill. From the top of Cube Mountain where there is a view that goes for miles and miles we communicated by cell phone. He said he would leave a car for me at the 25C road crossing. When I got to the road there it was just as he described. It felt so strange to drive a car. I stayed there a full day, and two nights. One of the most important things I had to do was get a new hat.
The hat I lost was a floppy hat with a wide brim all the way around, perfect for keeping rain off my glasses. In a thrift shop I found a cheap pink ball cap that would do the job if I disconnected the plastic adjustment in back. The next day Mike drove me back to the 25C crossing and I resumed my hike. It was a bright sunny day. The pink ball cap was stashed in my pack.
In the next shelter I was the first one there. Hanging on a peg was a really good Boston Red Socks ball cap with no plastic adjustment in back. Inside it said Cooperstown Collection, and XLG flexfit. It fit perfectly. I put the pink hat on the peg and kept the other one.