Thursday Sept. 1
I woke up in my bed around 4am, a pretty standard waking time when I sleep the whole night without rousing to empty my seemingly ever-shrinking bladder. 4am is its breaking point.
The morning run was ugh muggy. I jogged three miles to the gym, where I’m a mainstay in the winter and an oddity all other seasons. Nonetheless, the desk guy James greets me with his unflagging warmness and tosses a small towel in my direction. He doesn’t bother to scan my card, which I have long stopped offering to him. I head to the stretching/weights area, where I roll out my calves and quads with a long plastic tube, do yoga-inspired standing stretches, hold planks for the duration of a song chorus, and trifle with light kettle bells. 20 minutes later, I’m jogging along the Charles River to soak up another 2 miles of ugh mugginess before heading home.
Today’s the day we leave for our 3-night camping trip, and there’s a flurry of activity preceding the 9am departure in the fully-loaded Subaru. On the highway, occasional rain showers in Mass. give way to blue skies in NH. We stop at the Flume parking lot to start our day’s hike: an easy climb up Mt. Pemigawasset (aka the Indian Head), roundtrip about 3 miles with 1200 ft elevation gain. Little Boy complains a bit but moves easily and even remarks several times — spontaneously, unprompted — on the scenic beauty!
After the hike, we head to the campground. En route we stop in Twin Mountain for ice cream at a general store. A sign on the door barred certain named people from entering the store for reasons of “moral turpitude.” Thankfully, we were not on the list, and the owners actually seemed pretty normal. Upon reaching the campsite, we set up the tents, tarps, alcove, and start a fire, and enjoy relative calm and snacks.
Friday September 2
I woke up completely at 6:15am after having woke up dozens of times since we zipped up our tent nine hours ago. Little Boy turned and said “Good morning!” when I started to egress the tent; I whispered “Go back to sleep!” and he buried his face back in his sleeping bag.
Confession: I slept in my running clothes, including a somewhat compressive running bra. Camping brings out the uberpractical side of me. I pull on my sneakers and jog to the campground’s meager but convenient trail system. I have a map, and some vague memories of the trails from 5 years ago — when Little Boy was 3! his first camping!
Still, I manage to get lost — panicky lost. The map actually made it worse because it did not depict one of the intersections accurately, so I questioned my whereabouts and forged ahead instead of back-tracking 3 miles. I was disoriented, lost, clapping my hands and shouting “Hey Bear! Hey Bear!” every minute. I strayed into an adjacent ATV trail system before finally finding a sign that pointed back to the Park HQs — 1.5 miles downhill. My planned 50-minute run turned into 90 minutes.
This was all before my morning coffee. So all annoyance at the map and myself dissolved when I arrived back to the campsite to see Mr. P pull a pot of boiling water off our little camping stove. Instant coffee never tasted so good!
After breakfast, we headed to Mt. Washington for the day’s hike. Our goal was to make it to Tuckerman’s Ravine; if Little Boy moved well and was motivated, we would push to the summit, but truthfully our 9:30am start would be too late, as we did not want to be descending in later afternoon. This was fine, as Tuckerman’s is still a worthy destination.
Little Boy has a love-hate relationship with hiking. He primarily hates it, but sometimes he loves it. And the thing is, he’s really good at it when he’s motivated. Things that motivate Little Boy: Candy (both the promise of and immediate aftermath of), anger (he will bound up the trail in defiance of hiking, without irony), a good conversation (I’ve indulged many a vulgar topic just to distract Little Boy from the fact he’s hiking — times I’ve peed myself, if girls fart, what happens to poop when it’s buried in the ground).
We made it to the “Lunch Rocks” in Tuckerman’s Ravine (named for the rocky outcrop along the trail that remains visible during late winter and early spring, when crazy people come to ski down the ravine). Having come about 3 miles and 2500 ft of elevation gain, it was already a formidable hike for Little Boy so we had lunch, took some pictures, and then headed back.
After the hike, we return to the campground for a dip in the swimming pond.
Saturday Sept 3
This was to be the most momentous day of the vacation. Mr. P tackled a Presidential Traverse (19 miles, hitting all seven of the Presidential Range’s 4000+ footers) while Little Boy and I would be tackling one of the Presidential peaks, Mt. Pierce. We had tried to time our respective adventures so we would all meet up at the end of Mr. P’s traverse, but we moved a bit too fast and he moved a bit too slow, so we only shared the last 1.5 mile together (and more importantly for Mr. P, the car ride back to the campground).
Still, a great day. We dropped off Mr. P at the Appalachia trailhead early so he could start his traverse at the northern-most part of the Presidential Range, then we headed back to the campground for a lazy breakfast.
Then Little Boy and I drove to Pinkham Notch to start our ascent of the southern-most Presidential peak, Mt. Pierce. This is an “easy” hike for a 4000-footer, less than 3 miles one way and 2500 ft. elevation gain along the nicely-graded Crawford Path. I’ve noticed Little Boy moves much easier when he is with one parent as opposed to both of us. Perhaps he feels more like a hiking buddy and less like he is being dragged into the woods by his crazy parents. We stopped for two Kit Kat breaks along the way but made it to the summit in less than two hours.
We waited. Mr. P projected his arrival to Mt. Pierce before 2pm, but at 2:30pm he wasn’t there. Since I had no cell phone service, I assumed all sorts of bad things. I decided Little Boy and I would start to descend and we’d take it from there.
Then, disaster on the descent: Little Boy, who is normally so fluid and agile on the rocky downhills, slipped on a wet rock and banged his right knee badly. He howled, tears screaming down his face as I hugged him and weighed my options if Little Boy was unable to walk. Could I carry him down? Should I enlist other hikers’ to go radio for help at the nearby AMC hut? Fortunately, after about two minutes Little Boy started to walk — or hobble, rather — down the trail. He couldn’t flex his right knee without pain so he was descending slowly straight-legged, which looked so wrong. My head marinated with negativity; now my son was maimed, and my husband was missing.
Then, Little Boy began to pick up the pace. In fact, he was flying down the trail and I could barely keep up. I even lost sight of him. I began to call his name. I called it a half-dozen times when I heard a noise behind me. It was Mr. P!
We caught up to Little Boy and all my gloom lifted. Sure, Little Boy had a bruise but it would heal. And Mr. P was there, so there was no reason to call 911. Not an unequivocal success, but still a nice day.
Sunday Sept 4
Our last half-day camping. Even if Little Boy could hike with his swollen knee, we knew that he had reached his tolerance level… as had Mr. P, after his Presi Traverse. So they went to the Mt. Washington Cog Railroad while I planned to explore the trails within running distance of the campground.
I started on the Jimtown Logging Road. I had planned to hike up Mt. Crescent and back to the campground on the logging road, but I quickly developed hatred of the route, which was overgrown with meadow grass to the point that walking — let alone running — proved difficult and kinda gross. So I mapped out an alternative plan back to the campground. Instead of going up Mt. Crescent, I would descend to the Appalachia trailhead through a bunch of little-used local trails (all maddeningly labelled “Path”) and take the Presidential Rail trail about 5 miles back to the campground.
On the way to Appalachia, I passed Lake Durand, which was a pleasant surprise. There was a great view of the Northern Presidentials from the lake.
The five-mile jog along the Presidential Rail trail was actually quite beautiful. It felt strange to be doing something so flat in the White Mountains, but compared to the jam-packed trail of holiday hikers, the isolation of the trail made me feel like I was truly getting away from it all.
I returned back to the campground at around 11:30am, which was prime time to snag a hot shower without a line.
After lunch, and breaking camp, and a quick dip in the swimming pond, we headed back home. Bye, summer… we hope we gave you a good send-off.