After a break to visit Christy and attend her sister’s wedding in D.C., the vagabond beard has been trimmed! I had to look somewhat presentable for Janice and Dan’s wedding. Don’t fret, I have another full month to grow it out again.
The trip back to D.C. was incredibly fun and busy. I discovered that when you are dating the sister of the bride and maid of honor, you are quickly put to work with various wedding tasks. The best of which was ringing the church bell – I’m talking Quasimodo style. I was up in the church loft in charge with pulling this long rope connected to the belltower. It was fun to be involved in such a beautiful ceremony. Thanks so much Taylor and Lauffer families for including me in all the festivities!
I’m back on the trail now and just finished walking through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Unlike my first two days of cold rainy weather, I lucked out and experienced the most spectacular section of trail yet in fairly sunny weather. As promised in my last entry, I want to explain the White Mountain hut system which is run by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). The AMC is one of the oldest outdoor clubs in New England and they have built several huts throughout the Whites. They typically cater to weekend hikers who don’t want to ‘rough it’ in a primitive campsite and carry food, tents, etc in a big pack. The seasonal huts are run by young college-ish age ‘croos’ who cook the hut patrons a hearty dinner and breakfast and typically perform some sort of skit in the evening. Yes, I do know how to properly spell ‘crew;’ for some reason all the AMC hut workers are a ‘croo’ and none of the croo members knew why they spelled it this way, “it’s just tradition” they told me.
Now when I first heard of these huts I was imagining something fairly old and rustic that would hold maybe 20 people. I was blown away with how large and nice the huts actually are. They can hold a range of 60-100 guests a night depending on which hut. There are no private rooms, it’s all bunks and cots so space is utilized very effeciently. Also, they are extremely nice and clean. Fully enclosed wood and stone lodges (a much better word to describe them), they utilize all the earth’s resources for power. Completely ‘off the grid’, all the huts have solar panels and windmills on the roofs. One hut even had a water tubine that used a nearby waterfall to provide power. The power is used mainly in the large kitchens which feed the many guests throughout the summer. Each hut has a large common room where guests socialize, eat meals, and take advantage of the books and board games from the tiny corner libraries. A typical stay at a hut is around $80-$100 a night including dinner and breakfast. Some people gasp at this price considering you don’t have a private room or full-size bed, but I think it’s a pretty good deal considering the remoteness of these huts, and the fact that croo members pack in all the food and pack out all the trash via the same trails guests use to hike up the mountains.
Thru-hikers have mixed feelings about the AMC and hut system. Because they existed before the Appalachian Trail was blazed, the AT is kind of a secondary trail to the other trails in the area. This means the AT runs along pre-existing routes through the Whites, is barely marked with the usual white blaze, and if you aren’t careful it’s pretty easy to get ‘lost’ and follow a different trail that actually isn’t the AT. Many hikers did this, some for several miles. Fortunately it only happened to me once and I realized it quickly enough that I didn’t hike a long distance out of the way. But there have been several frustrated register entries from thru-hikers that go along the lines of “the Makaye trail is NOT the AT! I just had to climb that mountain TWICE! Fu@$ the AMC!”. Such profanity! But if I had to scale a 4000 foot ascent twice in one day, I’d probably have the same feeling.
Also many thru-hikers are on tight budgets and can’t afford to stay in the huts. Unfortunately the terrain through the Whites (above treeline, too exposed to tent in most places) forces hikers to stay there. The solution? Work-for-stay. In exchange for some dishwashing or sweeping chores, croos will allow thru hikers to eat any leftover food (there are always leftovers) and sleep on the floor in the common area. I paid to be a guest in one hut, and I did work-for-stay in another. For my work-for-stay at Lakes of the Clouds hut, I offered to give a short presentation on the Appalachian Tail and my thru-hike experience thus far. I selfishly figured this would keep me from doing dishes and allow the croo a break from entertaining the guests. So around post-dinner time when most of the guests were still in the dining hall socializing, I whipped out those public speaking skills developed at UNC and announced I was giving a talk on the AT in 5 minutes. Well much to my surprise, nearly the entire hut of around 60 guests assembled to listen. I was expecting maybe 10 would be interested. Just this once I’m going to brag – I was quite proud of myself. I definitely ‘had the room’ discussing the thru-hiker experience, passing around my gear like the ‘show-and-tell’ days of elementary school, and facilitating a Q&A session. I had to cut off the guests because I would have been there all night they had so many questions. It worked out really well because not only did I earn my stay at the hut, I felt like a celebrity – all the guests were offering me wine and various foods after the presentation. This actually lasted about two days because many of the guests were walking sections of the AT, and people I barely remember seeing would come up to me and say “hey Bojangles, come have lunch with us on Mt. Washington,” or “will we see you for dinner at Madison hut?” etc. It was wonderful, I barely touched my food bag for two days.
Needless to say, I had a very positive experience through the Whites. I had great weather on Mt. Washington, New England’s highest summit known for it’s consistently bad weather and world record wind speed at 230+ mph. Franconia Ridge in particular was breathtaking; a very narrow, ridgewalk above treeline where you could see the trail’s path ahead and behind you for miles. My friend Kristen who is from New Hampshire joined me for two days and provided a couple of the photos below…not to mention some great homemade chocolate chip cookies. Thanks Kristen!
Right now I’m relaxing on Christine Lake, at fellow thru-hiker Lulu’s bandmate’s lake cabin. Lulu’s banjo pickin’ friend gave five of us hikers a seriously nice off-trail experience – comfy beds, wonderful food, musical jam sessions, and a beautiful lake for swimming. A nice break for the legs today. Only 17 more miles and I’ll be in Maine!