Nina Baxley: AT Thru-Hiker

Happy Hill Shelter, New Hampshire

August 16, 2000
AT miles hiked: 447.7
AT miles remaining: 1,719.4
Location: Happy Hill Shelter, about 6 miles south of Hanover, NH

Yes, I was going to write an update while in Hanover. But I had my priorities while in that college town; in addition to doing the usual chores, I found it more important to spend time with Isis and Jackrabbit, play the piano, hang out at the coffee shop, and browse the shelves of the Dartmouth Bookstore.

Hanover, home of Dartmouth College, is one of the few towns through which the AT actually passes. Isis, Jackrabbit, and I followed the trail past a soccer field, a grocery store, a Ben & Jerry's scoop shop, the post office, a movie theater, a bookstore, and several restaurants.

Upon reaching the Dartmouth campus, we took a blue-blazed"side trail" to the Dartmouth Outing Club's office, where we were directed to the Panarchy fraternity house, where we would stay for the night. Several fraternities at Dartmouth let thru-hikers stay in their houses for free; we stayed one night at Panarchy and two at Alpha Theta.

I took two much-needed "zero-mileage" days in Hanover. Physically and mentally beat-up by the Whites and the bad weather, and tired from hiking 17 miles that day, all I wanted was rest, relaxation, good food, and a piano.

We spent 13 days trudging, slipping, sliding, and hobbling through the White Mountains. During those 13 days, the sun came out 4 times —our first and last two days. It was tough, knowing we were in one of the most beautiful sections of the AT, and not being able to see more than 100 feet ahead of us most of the time. We decided that the mountains are called"The Whites" because all you see when you reach one of the grand 5,000- or 6,000-foot peaks is . . . WHITE.

Despite tough weather and slick trails, Isis, Jackrabbit, and I managed to laugh a lot during those 13 days. We made up songs and stories, cursed the poltergeist Murphy, and read Harry Potter each night. But even our sense of humor couldn't help us from feeling down when, wearied of the slippery rocks and nearly two weeks of WHITE weather, we camped near the Gordon Pond Trail our second-to-last night in the Whites.

We had six slow miles to hike the next day before starting up the 4,802-foot Mt. Moosilauke. The first six miles would include a steep descent into Kinsman Notch. We all cringe when we see the word"notch" on our maps. The steep descents into these valleys can be treacherous, particularly if the rocks are wet. That means SLOW hiking.

The next day, when we finally got to the road at Kinsman Notch, a woman ran up to us.

"Waterfall! Do you remember me? We met at the Gathering!" she called out.

Tired from the last six miles, I stared blankly at her. I had met so many people at the Appalachian Long-Distance Hikers Association Gathering in Hanover the year before.

"I'm Stitches!" she said when I didn't respond.

Stitches! Of course! She was Mara Factor, a '99 thru-hiker that I know from AT-L.

"I have soda and goodies in my car," she told us,"and if you want, I can slack you to Glencliff."

Isis, Jackrabbit, and I stared at her, open-mouthed, for a few seconds. What good fortune! Not only were we going to get good junk food and sodas, but Stitches was offering to drive our packs to the hostel in Glencliff, thus allowing us to hike with only fanny packs over Mt. Moosilauke!

"Slackpacking," or hiking without a full pack, is a popular way of traveling for some thru-hikers. The chance to slackpack sure was welcome that morning. Soon, we were practically skipping up Moosilauke. We enjoyed a beautiful afternoon on the peak, hiked briskly down the mountain, and found ourselves in Glencliff in no time. Glencliff marked the end of the White Mountains for us, and we were literally giddy with delight at having made it through one of the toughest sections of the entire AT. Later, the three-day hike from Glencliff to Hanover was hilly but easy compared to what we'd been through in the Whites. The trail, so rocky and slippery in the Whites, was now mostly soft with pine needles. The terrain was more sloping—more inviting. We were able to hike much faster than the slow trudge that had characterized our hiking for the last two weeks. We hiked 17 miles from Trapper John Shelter into Hanover on August 9. We never would have been able to do that in the White Mountains!

I enjoyed my stay in Hanover, but I was ready to hike again this morning. I get tired of towns, with their frantic busy-ness, their preoccupied, unsmiling faces, and their too-soft beds. After staying a night in North Woodstock, NH, several nights ago, we practically ran back into the woods when it was time, desperate for the familiarity of the AT.

The woods are more comfortable to me than town. They are more real to me. I feel more at home when I'm hiking the trail, following the white blazes that mark the path from Maine to Georgia. I feel like that's where I belong, for now.

That first night after North Woodstock, Isis, Jackrabbit, and I set up camp about a mile south of Lonesome Lake Hut. The skies were overcast; it looked and felt like it would rain any minute. So, instead of cooking dinner immediately, we decided to get our daily dose of Harry Potter first, in hope that the storm would come and go while we were reading.

We all crowded into Isis and Jackrabbit's small tent, and Isis began to read aloud. It thundered outside, and the rain began to hit the tent fly with a slapping sound. Isis simply read more loudly, her voice projecting clearly over the sounds outside. I felt like a 10-year-old at summer camp. Snuggled in that tent, listening to Isis read, hearing and smelling the rain outside, I had that feeling of,"This is where I'm supposed to be in life." I'm exactly where I belong—sitting here in this dark tent, my hair in pigtails, my muscles tired, my mind focused on both the sound of the rain and the trials and tribulatios of an adolescent wizard. This is a good life.

Later, the rain stopped, and we went outside to cook dinner. I had already started cooking when the rain began to fall again. Isis and Jackrabbit, who hadn't started cooking yet, dived back into their tent. I didn't have much choice; I simply put on my rain jacket and kept cooking.

Sometime soon after, the woods became magical. The rain lit up everything; water droplets reflected everywhere—from the leaves on the trees, from the branches, from the twigs on the ground. I was getting wet, but I didn't care. Like most people, I tend to run for cover when it rains. You can't always do that in the woods. And I've never purposely stayed out in the rain, just watching it and listening to it, feeling it on my face as I twirled around the forest with my arms opened wide. I was reminded of the lines from "Annie's Song": "You fill up my senses/Like a night in the forest/Like the mountains in springtime/Like a walk in the rain . . . " My senses felt filled. The forest felt so alive with motion, sound, smell, and light, and I felt so alive because I was there, experiencing it all.

It was a light rain that soon ended, but I now have a memory I'll keep for a long time. Isis and Jackrabbit soon emerged to cook dinner, and an hour later, we were all in our tents, drifting off to sleep. It was good to be back in the woods.

And it's good to be back in the woods now, even though I miss Isis and Jackrabbit. Jackrabbit has a bruise on the bottom of her foot, and she and Isis decided to wait a few more days in Hanover before hitting the trail again. Hopefully, I'll be hiking with them again soon. Meanwhile, I'm on my own again, even though I'm never really alone on the AT.

What is she carrying? Check out Nina's gear list and pack weight
See the trail dispatch archive for previous weeks.

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