June 1984

200px-AT_-_Franconia_RidgeMan, am I bruised and worn, but at least my legs are tight. Guess I won’t need to do the exercises in Thin Thighs in Thirty Days for a while. It started as a conversation I had about camping one night while we were hanging out with some of Lou’s old high school friends. I was a Girl Scout for years, and even got to the rank of First Class. So perhaps I bragged too much about that fact in my enthusiasm to get Lou interested in a camping trip. To me, camping means going to a campsite and pitching a tent. Then, you build a campfire, go on day hikes up a mountain, and swim in lakes and streams and stuff like that. I thought it would be a lot of fun, and something new we’ve never done together, and something that Lou’s never done at all.

We went to the library at Stony Brook to find info on where we could go camping. I assumed we would go to the Adirondacks or Catskills, which are not far from here. We looked at lots of books, including this one written by an old woman who had hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine. This concept got Lou really interested and excited, and we ended up checking out only books about the Appalachian Trail. Next thing I know, we have narrowed our search down to a section that we could do in a week of backpacking, which was described as the most difficult part of the entire 2000 miles of trail. Once he had set his mind to this task, there was absolutely no interest in “camping” anymore.

There’s a difference between camping and backpacking equipment. We borrowed camping equipment from my sister, which included an orange tent with lots of poles and stakes, backpacks with no support systems, boots that didn’t fit me right, a heavy camping stove, and thick, heavy flannel sleeping bags. My backpack was well over 50 pounds, and Lou’s was heavier, but he’s in much better shape, and much taller and stronger. I am proud that I made it through the entire week, but it left its mark; my shoulders have welt marks from the weight of the pack, and I have a huge multi-colored bruise on my thigh from when I lost my footing and fell down a steep rocky slope. Our feet suffered the most. Thank God we brought moleskins to put over the blister spots. Lou had each of his toes bandaged up and we laughed that they looked like the hostages in Iran. “Blindfolding the hostages” made wrapping up our painful piggies every day actually kind of fun, despite the joke being in bad taste.

The views at the summits were incredible, and well worth the hard work to get there. As you climb, you stay in the woods for the most part, and you really can’t see where you are in relation to the overall mountain, and it seems like you are never going to get to the end. But as you get closer to the top, the trees become smaller, and there are more rocks, more views, and then usually small flowering bushes that you’d see just before you reach the summit. After a few climbs, we learned these flowers meant we were close, and we dubbed them the “welcoming committee.” We always took a break at the summit, and ate trail mix and M&Ms for a snack. Breakfast was instant oatmeal and hot chocolate. Lunch and dinner were freeze dried instant meals from pouches mixed with hot water. We had pills that you could add to the water to make it safe to drink, but the water from the streams was really good, so we didn’t have to do anything to it. The only night I was kind of scared was after we had just hiked through the Mahoosuc Notch, which was basically a mile of climbing over and under huge piles of boulders. At the end of the notch was the base of the Mahoosuc Arm, with a steep, 1000-ft ascent to its summit. It was just about dark when we got through the jumble of boulders that literally filled the bottom of the notch, so we camped out there at the base of the arm. There was something about the spot that felt so completely trapped to me, with the huge obstacles on each side. My own breath was freaking me out when I tried to sleep. The noises that the material of my sleeping bag made as my chest rose and fell became creatures in the night in my imagination. Lou slept like a log, not the least bit intimidated.

For a week, we only had washcloth baths near the streams and dips in the lakes to clean up. It is amazing anyone picked us up when we hitchhiked from where we popped out in Maine back to where we parked the car in New Hampshire. We drove straight through at night from Long Island up and back. Lou can’t drive late at night, but as long as I have a radio to sing along with and an open window, I can do it all night long, and I did both ways. I must have heard Ghostbusters a couple dozen times on that drive up.  While going through the toughest parts of the trail through the notch, we kept singing, “I ain’t afraid of no notch!” I’ve done a lot of travel, but I have never been so glad to be back home as I was after this trip. A piece of pizza, hot shower and a soft bed were real treats.

Lou wants to go again, and eventually wants to hike the whole trail. I’ll do it if we can get some better equipment first. It was beautiful and I’m proud I did it, but this was physical torture for me.

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