As it got dark the stars got brighter and brighter. I stayed awake a long time looking at them. I was a tiny creature in this Universe yet I had a personal relationship with the maker of it all, Jehovah. Branches made the sky black where they blocked the stars. I woke up twice that night, and each time there was the same sky. It was not going to rain. I camped that way at another place further up the trail. When I got to Rte. 2 near Gorham, New Hampshire I stopped.
Originally I planned to finish the trail that year. I started late, and stopped 17 miles from the state line with 300 miles to go. It was September 18, 2015. I started that section of the Appalachian Trail nine days earlier at Crawford Notch, 57 miles to the South. In the five years I section hiked the Appalachian Trail that was the shortest distance I went; partly because the Whites are different from the rest of the trail; partly because in April of that year I had a heart attack; partly because one of my children got married in late August; and, partly because Jenny, my wife, said if I wasn’t at the wedding she would leave me. I didn’t think it was prudent to go hiking. As it turned out the weather was near perfect in September. The cardiologist gave me a clean bill of health to hike. The wedding was fabulous. And, our 38-year happy marriage continued.
In Gorham I stayed over night in a hiker hostile where I recognized a young hiker who in 2011, four years earlier, was in the Mountaineer Shelter in Tennessee where we talked about how she was a mail carrier from Salt Lake City on her two week vacation, and it would take her 17 years to complete the Appalachian Trail. She didn’t remember me. This time she was also Southbound on her two week vacation, and was going to hike in the White Mountains. She no longer worked for the Postal Service. Seeing her again like that was most unusual.
The next morning I took a bus back to the Highland Center at Crawford Notch to get my truck. Nine days earlier at the start I was there and almost decided to abort the entire hike because my blood pressure was high. At breakfast I decided to get on with it taking a well worn path, a short cut, to Mizpah Spring Hut. I got there by mid afternoon. I felt fine.
Six months before that I had a heart attack although I prefer to call it a heart event. My wife and I were returning to Cincinnati on April 6 by car from a family reunion in Connecticut. That day I was feeling a dull pain in my chest. It was a two day trip, and when we got to a motor lodge she wanted me to get it checked out. It didn’t hurt. In a walk in clinic they took my blood pressure and hooked 12 wires to my chest. The lady looking at the monitor said there was an an unusual blip on the screen.
A few minutes later she came back and said a nearby hospital also could see what the monitor showed, and a doctor there wanted to see me right away. She said the ambulances were out, and as soon as one was available it would take me to the hospital. I waited quite awhile, and then my cellular telephone rang in my pocket.
It was my sister who I had just seen in Connecticut, and knowing nothing of my present situation she proceeded to tell me how awful it was what I said to her daughter’s son. Her daughter and a 10-year old son were standing with me when the daughter told me with a laugh that her son had just “busted the Easter bunny” (figured out it was a familiar person in disguise). I leaned over and whispered into his ear that the tooth fairy is also a fake. That was all I said.
I told my sister in no uncertain terms that she made excuses for that child (her 35-year old daughter) all the time, and I wasn’t in a position to listen anymore. My blood pressure spiked. The monitor went crazy. The people in the hospital 10 miles away thought I was having a full blown heart attack and in a few minutes an ambulance was there. I told my sister several weeks later on the telephone that her call at that moment was the Holy Spirit in action, and I asked her how it felt to be used.
When I was wheeled hurriedly into a room full of stainless steel fixtures and bright pointing lights with people all around wearing blue gowns and masks I knew this was serious. Through a vein in my wrist they took out most of a “thrombus” in the left artery of my heart and put in a “stint.” I was in that hospital for five days and during that time a doctor said there was no damage to my heart mussel. I left the hospital with five brown plastic containers of pills and instructions to take one from each bottle, once every day.
No doctor told me this, but I survived the whole event because I had a strong heart mussel from hiking the four previous years. Also, I was convinced the thrombus or blood clot was from a motor cycle wreck I had in 1994. Then the doctors told Jenny all my broken bones might cause a “fatty embolism” to appear in my veins and that would cause big problems. That thrombus was lodged somewhere in my veins for a long time as a fatty embolism. The doctors in the hospital told me there was no sign of heart disease anywhere else, yet when I got there they said I was 91% blocked in that one artery which to me implies a rather large size thrombus.
Soon after I left Mizpah Spring Hut the trees disappeared. The Appalachian Trail is mostly above tree line for the next 27 miles. The next hut is five miles away at the foot of Mt. Washington. It is named Lake of the Clouds Hut. It is beside a lake. It took me all day to get there. Mt. Washington is the highest and best known mountain in the New England States, and because of that there are trails in all directions around the mountain. In the hut that night there were at least 30 hikers, none of them thru hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Mt. Washington has the highest recorded ground wind speed on the planet at 231 miles per hour recorded in 1934, and it is known for having extreme weather conditions that change rapidly. The next morning was an unusually beautiful, clear day. On the peak I ate lunch and stared in silence at the mountains. It continued to be a nice day as I went from there to Madison Hut. I got there after supper was started. That’s where they told me and another late hiker we had to “push on.” We ended up staying there once I was able to reason with them.
The next morning it was windy and raining significantly. There were several gentle trails out of there, but the Appalachian Trail going North from Madison Hut went up and up past large rocks to the top of Madison Mountain. My rain poncho kept blowing against the rocks and sticking to them. When that happened the snaps would come undone and I had to stop to refasten them. After several times of that I took the poncho off, and decided it would be better to get wet. The air temperature was about 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
By noon I was at the top and at the same time the rain stopped. Now there was fog. There are no trees up there, just 5-foot egg shaped rocks standing on end. The trail zigzags round the rocks along Osgood Ridge. It is not possible to see where the trail goes by looking for wear on the rocks made by the shoes of other hikers. The trail’s direction is marked by cone shaped rock piles called cairns. Thick fog banks rolled by, and several times I had to wait to make visual contact with the next cairn.
Northbound from there on the Appalachian Trail the first place where there is any kind of civilization is at Pinkham Notch. I couldn’t get there that day and spent the night under some trees without a tent hoping it wasn’t going to rain. It didn’t, and in the morning I got to the Joe Dodge Center at Pinkham Notch in time to enjoy a hot lunch. The next day on my zero day (day off) I slept most of the time while it rained all day long. The day after that I set out for Carter Hut in good weather.
It is a steep rise out of there and after several hours the trail turns into the woods. I stop to drink some water. The view behind me is spectacular. It is my last look at Mt. Washington, and far down below me is the Joe Dodge center where that morning I walked across the parking lot and highway. Now everything is so small down there.
All the bald mountains are behind me. From now on the trees are mixed hard woods, and full size conifers. That afternoon the gazelle goes past me on her way to Carter Hut. I get there when diner is over and it is dark.