I survived the whites! They really weren’t all that bad, but then again I wasn’t killing myself to go really quickly either. All in all they were a mixed bag in most regards. I had a few absolutely beautiful days above treeline, days on which I just couldn’t stop smiling because of how amazing the views were. But I also had days with 40 mph winds and fog so bad that I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of my face. Unfortunately the day I summited Mount Washington was one of those days, so I had no view. The fog was so bad I actually got a little lost in the parking lot on top of the mountain – I couldn’t see any of the sides. But it was a little cool climbing up in such relatively harsh weather. It almost made it feel like real mountaineering.
Some days were harder than expected, some were a lot easier. Some were highs and others were lows. My highs generally had to do with enjoying the views or the day’s hike, my lows generally had to do with the AMC. The AMC is the trail club that manages the section of the AT which runs through the whites. In my opinion they’re doing an awful job of it. I wrote most of a long blog post ranting about specific faults, but was too tired to finish it, and it wasn’t very interesting anyways. The long and short of it is their attitude toward thruhikers ranges from careless apathy to true dislike. They make no
accommodations for thruhikers and their management plans often actively hinder us. For example the spacing of their
shelters/campsites/huts are perfect for section hikers, but awful for people who need to do more than 8 miles a day. And when they do have campsites, they’re only tent pad (wooden platforms as opposed to the ground) campsites. Most thruhikers these days lean towards being lightweight and most lightweight tents can’t be pitched on tent platforms without a lot of work. This goes doubly for my tent, which can’t even be jerry rigged to stand on a platform. So even when there were good places to camp, I couldn’t. This forced me to stay in the huts every night in the whites except for the first.
I won’t go into quite as much detail as I originally planned to about the huts. They’re basically semi-fancy alpine hotels with bunks and hot meals for their guests. They cost 95 dollars a night, so they draw an upscale clientele. The AMC allows thruhikers to do work for stay (some amount of labor to sleep on the floor and eat leftovers), but they’re not a pleasant experience. The work isn’t bad, anything from sweeping up after dinner to giving a talk about thruhiking, it’s the general experience that makes it unpleasant. The hut staff is rarely very nice and asking for the work for stay often feels like begging. On top of that the guests go to bed at 930 and wake up at 630, which meant that we had to go to sleep at 10 and wake up at 6, which just wasn’t enough sleep. All around not a fun experience that really soured me on the whites and the AMC, particularly because I couldn’t escape it by camping. Oh and the camping costs 8 bucks a night, which is ludicrous considering the average thruhiker would have to spend 48-64 dollars just to make it through, a fortune in thruhiking terms. A popular joke became, “Why don’t the AMC shelters have log books? Because every entry would be ‘#@$& THE AMC’.”
But enough of that. I got into Gorham, the town right after the whites, 2 days ago in the evening. I ended up staying at a very nice hostel that night, probably the nicest on the trail, though not my favorite.The whites beat me up pretty bad and I woke up really tired, so decided to zero the next day. On the plus side, there was a Walmart in town, so I ate for really cheap, on the minus side the zero wasn’t that great. My body definitely needed the rest, but it was
unsatisfying and I ate way too much. When I got back on the trail today for the first few miles my legs felt like they were on fire and it was really hard to hike. After a while they sorted themselves out, but I only made it 12 miles today, a little less than I would’ve liked.
I’m camped tonight just 4 miles from the Maine state border, which is pretty close to the 1900 mile mark. It’s almost ludicrous how close to being done I am. I figure it will take about 18 days to finish from now, give or take a few depending on how I feel. I was just looking at my guidebook and I only have a handful of town stops and resupplies left.
With the end so close, changes in my fellow thruhikers are becoming more and more clear. A lot of people are really burnt out. There’s not a lot of love for the trail or enthusiasm going on in general. That’s not to say people are unhappy, just that their mindsets have shifted. I saw a friend yesterday that I hadn’t seen since PA. He’s so burnt out that he’s trying to hike the 280 miles left in ten days. He just wants to be done. He’ll probably do it too.
People have become more withdrawn as well. If they’re hiking with a group, they’ve withdrawn into that group, if solo, they’ve withdrawn into themselves. Not that people aren’t being social, just that it’s much more mellow now. I don’t blame them and I’m probably doing the same. Sometimes its all I can do to make the bare minimum of small talk when I meet some new just because I’m so tired. Also there’s an element of emotional pulling away. Each goodbye at this point is pretty much goodbye forever. With so few days left, unless you’re actually hiking each day with someone, there’s not a large chance that you’ll see them again. So it seems that people are naturally drawing back a bit. Yappy pointed this out to me 200 miles ago. I couldn’t see it then, but I definitely see it now.
As for myself, my feelings are mixed. Sometimes I’m moved almost to tears when reflecting on how far I’ve come and how much has happened. Others, all I can think about is being done. Sometimes the miles left seem like an insurmountable obstacle, other times I’m shocked by how little there seems to go. And sometimes it just feels good to be walking in the woods and that’s all that matters.
Finally, I’m currently in the midst of the southbound bubble. It’s provided a really cool opportunity to see more of the thruhiking community, as least as we were 300 miles in. I’ve been hiking with one subset of thruhikers most of my hike: light, fast, dedicated, and young. The rest have either dropped out or dropped behind (or for the people who go crazy fast, pulled ahead). But at this point in the SOBO bubble I get to meet all sorts. People who started early and are partying like crazy, people who started late and are flying by, and people just doing their best to keep going. The trail has distilled this milieu down greatly for us NOBOs, but the SOBOs are still just beginning their hike and they haven’t been mellowed or thinned out yet.
I had something else I wanted to write about, but I forgot it, so that’s all for tonight. I’ll be in Andover Maine in a few days, and Stratton after that. Just a few more weeks and I’ll be back home. Madness!