October 20, 2007

What I did on my summer vacation... part 2

In July I had a terrific weekend camping with the guys. I hadn't been camping in years, and needed to borrow most of my gear from my sister and from Adriaan, but I was excited for the outing for a number of reasons. Adriaan and I don't see each other nearly enough, and it was a chance to meet some of the other friends in his life; friends of his I had met before, but hadn't spent any length of time getting to know. Overall we had a blast together, although it occurred to each of us, several times, that it's a good thing no one else could hear our conversations - every stereotype of men you could imagine was on display that weekend, and the depth of our laughter was only matched by the depth of our occasional and well-deserved disgust with ourselves.

This trip was Adriaan's idea, and with complete disregard for our physical condition he suggested we hike Mt. Washington, the highest peak in New England. I was a bit nervous heading into this weekend, unsure of how I'd do physically on such an arduous hike having been relatively sedentary for much of the past few years. But I'd been hitting the gym with some regularity, and well... not to boast, but I play volleyball. So I wasn't too worried.

Base camp was at Colin's house in New Hampshire. I left work and NYC mid-afternoon on Friday and began my long drive north, arriving at Colin's place about 11:00pm. Colin lives back in the woods, woods which I'm sure to a local would occur as distinct from all the other trees and moose they have up there, but to me was all pretty much "woods." Apparently I sacrificed a skunk on my way north, because as I pulled in to their driveway, Colins dog cried... I wasn't the last to get there, thankfully, as Jonathan actually had to work late into Friday afternoon and then drive up from Boston, and so the three of us repacked our gear and made fun of Adriaan until Jonathan arrived around 11:30. Early the next morning we were up and out,and fueled with equal parts maple-glazed donuts and Mt. Dew (symbolic as well as tasty) we arrived at the base of the mountain just after 6:00am.

The first stage was a hike up to the campgrounds, a warm-up that took about 3 hours and foreshadowed the experience of the rest of the day. It was clear very early on that I was going to be the sweatiest one of the group, though I must say I was very pleased overall with my success. I've always felt like I'm built like a pack-mule, slowly and steadily plodding along despite heavy burdens (oh, the symbolism!) and carrying my pack and working my way up a rocky slope did nothing to dispel that image. I was nothing if not a hairy, Jewish llama.

Arriving at the campground around 10ish we selected our lean-to and unloaded our gear. Moving only what we'd need to summit and return to a smaller day pack, we left whatever we wouldn't need that afternoon behind and after a quick refresher, continued up the mountain. The hiking is very rocky, and at times very steep. As we climbed in elevation the trees disappeared and we even came across the last remains of the winter snow. Considering it was July and I was hiking uphill with a pack, it was the perfect place for a nap.

Weather was ideal, actually. Had it been even 10 degrees warmer, I don't know if I would have made it, but as it was, the harder we worked, the higher we climbed, the cooler it got. If only everything in life was so perfectly in harmony with my preferences.

And climb we did. Up. And up. And UUUUUUUP. Some scrambling on hands and knees, loads of switchbacks, loads of water and trail mix breaks. Plenty of opportunities for outdoor pee-breaks from national landmarks, which I've been a fan of for years... This was some serious hiking. I began to think we were the only men tough enough to brave such a climb, for surely never before have four such specimens as we tackled the mighty mountain! We had an early start and so I was lulled by our relative privacy into thinking that we must be doing something extraordinary that no one ever does. Hike up Mt. Washington? Suicide? HA! We laugh at you!

In fact I think it was merely that we were up before everyone else who didn't need to secure a campsite early, because as the day wore on, the numbers of our co-hikers increased dramatically. And not only did their numbers increase, so too did their ages. I was happily shocked to see a number of elderly climbers ascending - more slowly, yes, but over just as difficult terrain, and with dogged determination. That both inspired and embarrassed me, because by the time we were approaching the summit, I was - well, not a wreck, but I definitely well-used.

We approached the last few strides with enthusiasm, and when we stepped onto the pavement it felt odd and surreal to be back in "civilization." Cars, tourists, hawkers with novelties, a big snack shop, etc. Another time I might have driven up and enjoyed the drive, and been one of the people atop the mountain wondering where the worn, bedraggled zombies wandering amongst us had come from. As one of those zombies, however, I fiercely resented the car-tourists. It was about 12:30pm, I had been hiking up for several miles and over several hours, and wanted no part of waiting on line for water because you're thirsty after finishing your waffle cone. Adriaan told me there was a separate lounge for hikers for just that reason, and though I didn't avail myself of it, I was glad to know that others before me had similarly despised the soft and lazy car-tourists. That being said, I can't wait to drive up there myself sometime...

I'm happy to report that I was not the most disturbing specimen that day. Adriaan, my best and dearest friend for years, was a total wreck and I was laughing my ass off at him. I was positive he was going to go all back in 'Nam on us and lie down on the mountain telling us to go on without him. That last half-mile he didn't say a word - just face into the wind, one foot in front of the other. Up most assuredly didn't agree with him, though he later showed us all how down should look. But I jump ahead. Firstly - the summit:

We didn't want to seize up while still needing to descend several miles back to our campsite, so our break was brief. After refreshing ourselves on soup and chili dogs for about an hour, we headed back. Suddenly transformed into a mountain goat, Adriaan all but flew down the mountain. While I, with my crappy knees made of popsicle sticks and elementary school paste, I found the descent much more difficult than the climb. I had to work my quads much harder to protect my knees from each jarring step, so as we worked our way back down, I really, really had to work.

Eventually, we found ourselves back at the campsite. I had wisely packed my sandals, and so immediately changed out of my hikers and got comfortable. We got our water, made some dinner, played some cards, told dirty jokes and emitted foul odors, and when the sun went down around 8ish we eagerly went to bed. At one point a guy and his son came by and were checking out our lean-to, to see if they wanted to join us. We pretty much fell over ourselves in pointing out that Adriaan had gas, I snored, Colin hadn't showered in a week, and Jonathan had condemned the outhouse by single-handedly maxing out its "suggested usage level" in one session.

Which was pretty prescient, all in all. While it was rude and inhospitable, in fact I had the gas and Adriaan was snoring like a balding, chocolate sprinkle-eating Dutchman, and to hear Colin and Jonathan tell it, we did those two a favor by encouraging them to move on. Apparently Adriaan and I canceled each other out, because we both slept rather well, but Jonathan and Colin... not so much. In any event, when dawn broke, we cleaned up camp and started back down to the car.

The next morning wasn't so bad - sore early on, we warmed up quickly and were in good spirits by the time we got back to the car at about 7:00am. A quick refresher at the base lodge (including a nice flush toilet and more Mt. Dew) and we were back in the car on our way to Colin's place and then back to New York City.

I wisely planned on taking Monday off, which was the day the pain really hit. But overall, my body and my spirits were in good shape. When Adriaan asked if we wanted to do it again sometime, though I couldn't imagine it just then, the air, the unprocessed, unfiltered experience of unspoiled nature, and the camaraderie all made for a thrilling experience. And I've now got specific measurable proof than I am in fact in better shape than I've been in years despite my advancing age, and if that weren't enough, I have a new bumper sticker on my car to show for my efforts:


At 8:05 PM, Anonymous Chris Leonard said...

Nice! Mt. Washington is a great trip. Which trail(s) did you take? If the hiking bug catches you, give me a shout and head upstate - plenty o' big peaks in the 'dacks, and none higher than what you just climbed. Also, I was in Hamden last week. Your old house is now painted salmon red...

At 6:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not that any of you NEED to know, but you should know that I am HAPPY TO KNOW that...there is no area on Dan's body that is fat! Hairy - yes! Fat - NO! Every area is scrumptious and just as it should be.

At 8:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan, you do need to cross out the fat part. You've worked so hard over the past year.

Glad you had a good time. And before I even got to the part in your blog, I was thinking, "I wonder if there was a Hadrian's Wall moment."

The only thing that would have made your day better would have been sheep to sing to and a portable tape player to record it for me.

See you soon!

At 11:17 AM, Blogger Dan said...

Well, I certainly appreciate the votes of confidence in my svelter self!


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