Normally this weekend in New Hampshire is peak foliage season. But a sustained drought has stressed the trees just enough to pull peak ahead by two weeks. So the thousands of people plugging up the roadways of the Mount Washington National Forest were seeing the forest muted in dynamic impact. And yet they came. And they saw enough. For the mountains offer their own ruggedly stunning backdrop. I considered the tourists on my afternoon commute home from a day of hiking. Clusters taking a photo next to the roadside sign announcing you were in the MWNF, picture-taking all around you. Cars parked in odd assortments along the sides of the road, as if clung together by magnets the way the metal dust would clump together in the old Wooly Willy toy would clump into beards and eyebrows with a magnetic stick. Funny what you think about when you observe tourists in the wild.
To be amongst the mountains is relatively easy when you live in New Hampshire. Less so, I suppose, if one were to live in Florida. But they have that tropical water hugging them on three sides, and I suppose the amusement parks and fresh oranges to consider too. But you can’t swim in a pond in Florida without risk of being dragged down by an alligator. There are no alligators in the mountains of New Hampshire. Maybe the occasional bear or mountain lion, but they mostly want the food in your pack, not you as food. The bigger threat to your well-being are the damned rocks. New Hampshire is the granite state, and as if to hammer that point home every trail is worn down to ankle-bending, knee-twisting rock. And in October those land mines are covered over in a bed of beautiful leaves. So a descent becomes a shuffle of sorts, as you work to avoid catastrophic injury on remote yet well-traveled trails.
I have a friend who points out my tendency to pick overindulgent goals for myself. Really though; all my friends point this out. Like rowing a million meters on an erg in three months, or taking my family on a hike up the toughest mile of the Appalachian Trail, or peak-bagging three out-and-back peaks in one day, as I did yesterday with Mounts Willey, Field and Tom. I might have taken a hint from my hiking pro friend who refers to these three as the WTF hike. I chose to experience it on my own, with an extra helping of previous injuries I was nursing. WTF indeed.
The morning after a hike like the WTF hike, the first step is to get out of bed without incident. Plant your feet and gradually put weight on the ankles and knees that you abused so ruthlessly the day before. Assess how much they resent you, and then shuffle to the bathroom for relief and some Motrin. This isn’t a walk of shame as much as a recognition of all you’d done, in the form of some tender moving parts and sore muscles. And I wonder in those moments of truth, am I past peak myself? Or simply overindulgent? I’d like to think the latter. All I can do is keep moving. Perhaps with a bit of moderation next time. I suppose that’s a perfectly reasonable request.