(Sorry for the late posting, this hike was Oct 12, I've just been swamped since Wednesday)
Today I hiked in a combat zone, a no-man’s land really. It was a seasonal one, one I thoroughly enjoyed, can’t think of a better place to be. Fall and winter are exchanging blows and I’m stuck in the middle. I love fall, I love winter. Spring refreshes us, Summer lulls us into a swoon, Fall entertains us, and Winter, well, if we turn our back on it, it punches us right in the neck. That’s a friend.
My hike to Garfield was my last for the calendar year. In the late summer of ‘89 myself and two high school (all of us recently graduated) friends made a run at it. The weather turned us back, we just didn’t feel like taking it on. We retreated to John’s house down in Twin eating a pack of cold hot dogs on the way.
Today was different. Classic NH autumn day. A blessing considering what the year has been like. We tailed a Subaru with MA plates down the road to the lot. Lo and behold, out steps a USFS ranger. If you feel your tax dollars are wasted, well, you’re probably correct-they are, however this morning found the ranger checking cars for parking passes and collecting the fees from the box. Say what you want about USFS policies and employees, today I noticed he clearly passed over cars he didn’t have to, including one with an expired 2007 season tag that wasn’t displaying a presently valid day pass either. Though we all hit trail at 8am he was several strides in front of us.
Back to the seasonal no-man’s land. Imagine you’ve had a dear houseguest for some time, perhaps family or friend, how sad when they must depart, yet at the same time another guest of the same caliber is coming down the walkway to your home. The sadness of saying good-bye, coupled with the joy of saying hello. One hand lets go, the other grasps. This consumed me as we enjoyed the hemlock forest. As it transitioned to heavy beech the truth was obvious. The chickadees are the prevalent call, the thrushes and warblers are gone now, the cool morning, the hidden dips covered by this year’s harvest of leaves. Fall is king now, but its reign will soon end. Soon will come the king from the North.
We hopped, skipped, and jumped the brooks, observed the intersection with the snowmachine trail and continued up. The ranger was still ahead at varying lengths. Sometimes he was close, then far ahead, then not at all, then close again. When we got to the switchbacks he had vanished. It was time to drop from long-sleeve mode, you see, Fall was playing with us. A short time later, we heard stationary voices, the ranger had stopped to chat up two overnighters who were descending. Excusing ourselves, we passed between them and quickly moved upward. We never did see the ranger again, and can only assume he turned off to Garfield Ridge campsite to pursue his responsibilities. When we got to the intersection, we met a couple who let us pass and soon all of us were closing in on the summit fast. We topped out at 10am and they followed within 15 minutes.
Looking into the Pemi it was obvious that Fall’s conquest is complete. Down below, the beeches held strong. A bastion amidst their stripped brethren. Their stubborn leaves portraying a low-level fireworks display frozen in time. What a view. Garfield reminds me of Carrigain. A wonderful, pleasant stroll. Comfortable grades, beautiful forests. A spectacular vista, a massive pay-off for the effort. With all this before me, I began to realize what a great hiking year I’ve had. More than any other time of year, Fall is my time for reflection, and there’s no better way to do it than hiking with the panoramic view Garfield affords as a goal. It makes it all complete.
Garfield is number 45 for me. I will get the rest next year. I am content. As I sat, I reflected on this hiking year. This year I was able to hike with my brother more than any time since childhood. This is the year my wife truly found her trail legs and, when needed, can move as fast as anyone I have ever hiked with before. I have now hiked in places I never had before, and they captivated me. After this summer, I learned how to grow gills and how long it really takes for a pair of boots to dry out. I also learned that after a 2 peak 12 mile hike in pouring rain you should never go to dinner with anyone that wasn’t on the hike with you because there isn’t much to talk about with them if they weren’t there. I met great people in great places on great trails.
We had a lot of time at the top. Visibility was excellent. Owl’s Head really is a hulkster from this vantage point. We could see Mansfield and Jay in the distance, Washington too, of course, and we could make out parts of our hometown of Jefferson. After exchanging photographic skills with the couple, who turned out to be from Dover, NH, we headed down.
Somewhere to the North, Winter’s army is assembling, but for today Fall’s rule dictated short sleeves. As the new season prepares to invade this realm, I thought of next year’s hiking season. As the new guest comes to my door it brings thoughts of what will be my wife’s first overnighter, finishing my 48, an increased commitment to trailwork, and one full week on the Cohos Trail. Unlike our ascent, the descent was crowded, upwards of 30 people on their way up. Whole families, pairs, singles, sisters, uncle and nephew, fathers and sons, mothers, dating, married, old, young, sneakers, boots, sweats, shorts, pants, knit hats, gloves, poles, Americans, and Canadians, we were the brothers contingent, yes, there was something for everyone. We picked up some company in the form of an abandoned Harpoon Lager bottle and food wrappers, these joined us all the way to the bottom, and hence, at a later time and location, a garbage can. Soon we were back in the hardwoods, crunching leaves, and catching almost-did-it rolled ankles. The crystal blue sky was a canvass ripe for thought.
They say when you leave this life it flashes before your eyes. I know this is true. When I was 8, I took a header from a crude,homemade platform I installed in a giant white pine near our cabin. I’m not sure what exactly happened, nor how I never bottomed out, but when the shock was over, there I hung, my left leg hooked on a branch above me, my right arm locked in a fork. When you’re 8 and about to die, there’s really not much material to flash before your eyes. It’s all over pretty quick. It’s just like when you sit down to watch a program you just recorded. You get about 1.5 seconds of recognition of what you just taped over at the start. Therefore, I’d like to make a pre-emptive request, that, when the time comes for the final slideshow of life, that perhaps, just maybe, it could be slowed up a bit.
When the eye of my mind takes its final leap from this body, I pray it heads North, that it catches a nice North-West-Clear-Off at Hudson Bay, then sweeps into my home state of NH. That it sees me at Crag Camp for my first overnighter, learning Crazy 8’s and I Doubt It (dad wouldn’t let us use the other name) from pot-smoking caretakers, that it sees me at 6 waving up from Crawford Path, that it sees me shaking hands with Marty Angstrom and patting Pushka, sees me taking my wife on her first hike ever, yes, indeed, it sees all the people dear to me and my mountains, the family, the friends that have made me what I am today.
Now I can add the memories of Garfield to that wish list. For it has taught me that if you take the time to reflect, and do so in an exquisite setting, life and everything in it comes into focus and gains incredible clarity.
As we hit the hemlock grove again we picked up an escort. A lone blue jay cavorted above us, keeping pace and jumping from branch to branch, tree to tree. Nay did ever this watchman of the forest utter a call of alarm nor any other. It was a rare experience indeed.
Thus, it made me think of one-last minute request to add to the memories of the final wish list. Thanks to Garfield, when the time of the final leap does come, I ask that it happens on a day just like today.
Enjoy the pics, they are few, because as you can see, I had other things on the mind.
Happy hiking everyone, be safe, and see ya on the trails next year.
PS- I also learned this year that, for myself, I could break away from just factual Trip Reports. Thanks to those who have let me know they enjoy reading them, it is truly, truly appreciated and is most of all, encouraging. It gets easier to do, all one has to do is think about all that my home state of NH has done for and means to me, to just let those thoughts flow into words, then write to and about her as an estranged lover.