Whitewater Canoe Clinic

Mahoosuc canoes

On eddy turns and peel outs

Just below the dam

No Goodbye’s.

            Continued from:  https://swanhikes.com/2020/11/25/rusty-on-mt-madison/

Rusty got a hitch into Gorham, New Hampshire where I was. It was wonderful to see her. We spent a night there and the next morning, we called for a shuttle to take us to the notch to continue along our way. I was in a lot of pain and trying to hang in there. My foot ached so bad. Rusty taped my foot up with KT Tape as she had begun doing on the regular. The KT Tape really supported my foot. I was abusing myself by taping my foot up to keep going, but it worked!

            The shuttle arrived 15 minutes late and I was irritated. When I opened the back of the shuttle, a bunch of backpacks fell out on top of me and I noticed that the vehicle was full, except for one seat. Rusty and I were a party of two, and I had told them this on the phone. I said something about it and the young college age driver shrugged his shoulders. Not having many options, we got in. I became increasingly angry that it was so crowded and that there were not enough seats for both of us. Rusty was sitting in my lap. I got into a battle of wits with the driver. I was really pissed, but calmed down by the time we got to where we were going. The driver ended up saying that the ride was free. We tried to pay him anyway, but he took off. Over a year later I can say that I still would have been upset about the driver’s smart mouth, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. In retrospect, I was probably transmuting the pain into the beratement that I gave the driver. Sorry bub.

Photo from: Joe Dodge Lodge – Pinkham Notch | AMC (outdoors.org)

            Pinkham Notch Visitor Center is where we were dropped off. We went inside and looked at the gear and books they had for sale. There was a cool 3D topographic map that I really wanted, but it didn’t seem practical to carry it on my pack. After filling up our water and using the bathrooms, we stepped off. It was a nice little nature walk for a minute, until it was time to ascend up into the mountains again. There was a bit of a nerve-wracking scramble that we both had to go up. I told Rusty to stay way back from me, in case I were to slip, because I didn’t want to create a domino effect and crush her. We both made it up and continued hiking up to the top. We sat down together on a flat rock overlooking Highway 16 in New Hampshire. I began to shake vigorously. The sweat combined with the wind chilled my core. Rusty and I cuddled up and I began to cry. She tried to comfort me, but I was miserable. I felt sick, broken, and was beginning to wonder if I had some kind of infection that was giving me fevers. The words came out as painful as what I was feeling in my foot,

            ” I might have to get off the trail, Rusty.”

            Rusty: “Will you go back to Georgia?”

            Me: “I don’t want to. I don’t want to leave you or the trail.”

            Rusty: “I don’t want you to go either, but I have to finish the trail.”

            Me: “I know. Maybe, I can go back to Georgia and recover and get a bicycle and peddle it to New Orleans to see you. That would be a fun adventure… AAAHHHH. I am going to try to keep going. LET’S GO!”

            I got up and continued hiking over 4,000 foot mountains, in the autumn, in the White Mountain National Forest. Every third step heard me cussing. I was cold while I hiked. I kept thinking to myself, “Why am I cold? I am on mile 5, hiking over a ski mountain, I should be warm.” But I wasn’t. We took a break on top of Wildcat Mountain, but didn’t stay long. I was so cold, sickly, and broken that we had to keep moving. After several miles, we began to descend into another notch. It was so beautiful and steep. The foliage is burned into my mind. We made our way to the bottom and took a side trail to one of the huts. I am so happy that the White Mountains have the hut system, because they saved my tail – twice!

            We walked along a stunning side trail. There were little ponds on each side of us and I took some beautiful photo’s of my lovely lady and tried to make it a happy experience, because I knew this might be the end for me and the Appalachian Trail. We made our way inside the hut and searched the log for the names of our friends.

            “Oh look Rusty, Grock stayed here on his way down from his flip!”

            Rusty managed to get a work for stay, but I paid for myself. The last thing I wanted to do was work. We played cards and board games and had a good time. There was another pair there. Eventually, we retired to our private bunkhouse. The only reason it was private was because it was so late in the year. Many huts had already closed. As I laid there on the bunk, I began to shake uncontrollably. Rusty laid on top of me to warm me up. I was so cold that she became cold, as well, in her efforts to warm me. I couldn’t figure it out. I knew how to dress, but my body would not regulate properly. I called my friend James, from New England, and asked him for advice. It was all stuff that I knew and nothing was working. I told Rusty that I was going to have to quit my hike. We both cried and went to sleep.

            The next morning, Rusty had to continue hiking north. I would be taking the 19 Mile Brook Trail down to the highway and calling a shuttle. It was a very emotional morning. I walked her out to where the trail forked for us to go our separate ways. We stood there embracing for the longest time. It was difficult. By this time, we were really in love with each other, but maybe too close to see it. She told me that we would could keep dating and that I could see her when she was done with the trail. I wasn’t ready to totally part company with her. I decided to take a shuttle to the next town that she would be at and I would brainstorm on how to stay with her for a few days until I saw her again.

            Never-the-less, it was an emotional departure. I used to yell, “YEE-YEEEEEEE” as my call to let my tramily know that I was near-by. Rusty had been living up to the nickname that she got in New York, Mama Wolf, and howling to call out. Sometimes, she still sets the woods alive with the howls of Canids reaching out to her. After a long tearful embrace, we parted ways. We called to each other for a mile, until the distance was too great. I sobbed. I couldn’t be without her.

            The hike was incredibly easy and beautiful. The 19 Mile Brook Trail is almost graded and very well groomed. Limping out alongside this amazing brook helped to calm me. I continuously checked my cell phone for service and when I got it, I called a shuttle driver who was listed in the Guthooks App. He met me at the trailhead and took me to Bethel, Maine, where I would await the arrival of my queen. I hobbled into the main entrance of the Chapman Inn, where I told the lady my troubles and our love story. She put me up in the bunkhouse and said that when my Lady Love arrived, that we could have a private room. The Chapman Inn was a great place to get my head together. I could barely walk, but the one Uber driver in town was really nice to hikers and really helped me out, for a small fee. As I was lying in my bunk, licking my wounds, I got a satellite text from Rusty. She had summitted Carter Dome, but her water purifier broke and the rain cover on her pack flew off. Freezing rain was coming down with heavy winds blowing across the peaks. She said she also missed me and that she was taking a side trail out of the forest and coming to see me. I called the same shuttle driver and told him what happened and he said that he would be waiting at the trailhead for her. I felt bad that she had some logistical hiccups, but elated to know that I would soon be in the warm embrace of “Rusty, Mama Wolf, Bad Ass”. She arrived and we were moved into one of the haunted rooms at the Chapman Inn.

Photo from: The Chapman Inn and Bed and Breakfast in Bethel, Maine. Lodging near Sunday River Ski Resort

Rusty On Mt. Madison

(Continued from: https://swanhikes.com/2020/07/24/drunk-man-walking/)

I made my way down the Jewell Trail in heavy fog thinking about the times I had hiked above treeline in the Rocky Mountains. It was going to be a very bad day for Rusty. No matter how vigilant I was above treeline, I consistently found myself off course, but I knew the general direction was down. My concern for Rusty was calmed by the awakening of nature around me. The fog slowly cleared as I made my way down the mountain.

It felt like a very long time to get below treeline, but I finally made it into the spruce and pines. I can smell them as I sit here and type. The smell of the forest in New England purifies the soul. The image of the jovial Jewell Trail is burned in my brain like a pyrograph. It was beautiful, but seemed to never end. I walked along the duff covered trail, alongside a stream, and close enough to hear the Cog Railway, whose base station I was walking to.

The all night rain soaked the trees and shrubs. The fog permeated every pore in my poor rain jacket and skin. Spruce and Pine boughs blessed my shoulders and pack with drops of dazzling dew. Weather-worn, I weaved my way along the winding trail and across the Ammonoosuc River to the base station. I left my pack outside and went in to use the WiFi and contact a shuttle to take me to Gorham, NH.

A local shuttle driver picked me up from the Cog Railway and took me to a hotel in Gorham, NH. I was really looking forward to seeing Rusty that evening. My foot hurt pretty bad, but I wanted everything to be perfect when I saw Rusty that night, so I hobbled down to the laundromat where I ran into Dave Mac, a hiking acquaintance and a traveling nurse. I had been asking different people on trail what they thought about my foot. No one thought it was broken. Dave Mac was the closest. He said it was a sprain. I found out later that there was a sprain and a break.

The weather started to get pretty bad and I was wondering where Rusty was. We started texting back and forth from her Garmin to my phone. Most of her hike that day was above tree line. It didn’t look like she was going to make it, so I took myself to dinner. While I was at dinner, the sky went from gray and rainy to black and stormy. Thunder shook the Chinese restaurant as I ate my Umami soup. I began to feel uneasy as it shook again and the waitress came by to congratulate me for not being on the mountain in that mess. I told her that my partner was up there and she was supposed to be at dinner with me and I was starting to get pretty worried. The waitress shared my concern.

I walked back to the hotel and started looking at the comments on the Guthooks app, to see what the trail was like and if there were any side trails she could use to safely exit. The comments on Guthooks did not inspire hope as I read things like, “Jagged rock outcroppings that cut your hands”. I texted Rusty to see if I could get dropped off at the trailhead she was hiking to and I could hike to her and spend the night. I was concerned with her being wet and cold. People die of hypothermia in the Whites in the summer time, and this was fall. She told me not to.

Thunder shook the hotel over and over again. Rain beat hard on the walls as it blew in side-ways. The mountains could not be seen due to the black wall of worrisome weather. I messaged my cousin, and called my brother and friends. They reassured me that if she made it that far, that she knew what she was doing. Plus, I was always telling everyone what an impressive hiker she is.

I was going crazy, but she finally texted me that she made it below tree-line and set up camp.

Rusty:

I was a different animal when I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail – confident, determined, and stubborn to the point of folly. When I woke up on the swag between Mt. Washington and Mt. Madison, not quite below tree-line and damp from the rain the night before, it did not occur to me to be concerned about the cloud coverage. I had been warned numerous times about the weather in the White Mountains, but with over 1000 miles under my belt, I was fearless. 

Swan’s foot had been hurting him for some time, and with more alpine experience than me, he looked at the fog appraisingly and said, “I’m not doing it today!”

He would take a side trail down to the cog railway that ran to the summit of Mt. Washington, and wait in town for me as I hiked an easy 12 miles to him. I didn’t even want to take the tent, because I would be in Gorham, NH that evening, but out of an abundance of caution I tied the tent to the top of my pack, put on all of my rain gear, and kissed Swan. It would be good to collapse in his arms at the end of the day, I thought.

The terrain in the Presidential range is unique and unlike the hundreds of miles that stretch in either direction, north or south, on the Appalachian trail. There is almost no tree coverage or even much soil. The rocks are jagged and range from a pale beige that is almost white in the high sun, to a deep gray that turns black in the rain. The vegetation is hardy and windswept, deep magenta and desaturated greens and yellows. All of it is low to the ground, and reminds me somehow of coral. Perhaps it is that walking along the trail in these mountains feels like being alone out at sea. 

There was no one out on the trail that day, which is an oddity for the AT, but the White Mountains are remote enough that it isn’t unheard of. It wasn’t until the fog turned into a light, persistent rain that soaked all the way through my rain jacket, that I realized that no one was out hiking because of the weather. It didn’t matter, as long as I kept moving I wouldn’t be cold.

    Sometime in the mid-morning I looked down at my phone to check my progress. I had a GPS map installed on it called Guthook, which could accurately pinpoint my location anywhere on the trail. I had made distressingly little progress, and was actually a bit off trail. I looked up and spotted a cairn off in the distance and walked to it, then I walked haphazardly to the next, losing the trail every time between cairns. It was extremely difficult to navigate in the fog above tree-line because everything looked the same in every direction, and the trail was not well worn. Side trails had been created in the places were 100 other people had gone the wrong way so often that it made the trail look like a spidery web with no real direction. Had I really only gone two miles?

I came across a hut at noon. The employees were outside, servicing the composting toilets. I won’t go into much detail about what they were doing, but suffice it to say that I did not think they wanted to have a conversation with me. I passed them, and they barely noticed my presence. They had other shit on their minds.

I rested there within sight of the hut but upwind of the smell. The rain had stopped for a minute and I told myself I really needed to pick up the pace. I got up and told myself “Ms. Rastelli, you better hustle. You got a hot date and you don’t want to be late.”

I pressed on, and climbed right back up into the clouds. The rain was more earnest now, the rocks sharper and more slippery, and the wind was picking up. I slipped on a rock and fell to my knees. When I fell, I had a little ritual that made me feel better. I always ate a snack while on the ground, preferably chocolate, before getting back up. I ate the chocolate and rose to my feet as much as I could, but the force of the wind kept me half crouched. I struggled forward,

but between the wind, the rain, and the difficulty of the climb, which was hand over foot in some places and still very difficult to navigate, I was starting to have to literally crawl. My stomach rolled over as I looked out at the endless black sea of unforgiving rock.

There is a little delusion that most hikers have, a delusion propped up by the quality of our gear, the food in our packs, the filters on our water bottles, and our outdoor experience. It’s the delusion that we have some sort of control over nature, that we can set a goal and with adequate respect and preparation, nature will invite us in. Under many conditions, this delusion is helpful, it allows a mere human to go off into the wilderness alone and emerge unscathed, and tap into the companionship with the natural world that is inherent to all other living creatures. The truth however, is that nature owes us nothing, and it is entirely free of limitations. So while I valiantly tried to keep my body warm, and the rubber side of my shoes down, the heart of the storm rolled in. I cried. I could feel the electricity building in the air around me, and I had nowhere to go but up. I was going to be the tallest thing around for at least another 5 miles and the wind consistently tried to blow me off the side of the ridge. The water was coming down as heavily as a cold shower, and with only 2 or 3 feet of visibility I was only sure I was going in the right direction on the rare occasions that I saw a cairn, or came across a sign.

I pulled my satellite phone out and began texting Swan.

“I hate this,” I told him.

“You can do it, just move slow,” he answered.

I kept on texting him as I made my painfully slow progress. It became clear that there was no way I was going to make it to town. At this point my only goal was to make it below tree-line. I sang to myself about how much I loved trees, and that, “all I want for Christmas is to get below tree-line, to get below tree-line, to get below tree-line.”

It took the entire day for me to go 7 miles. Sun was starting to set when finally, finally, I saw the forest a few hundred feet below.

“I love you!” I called out to the trees. When I hiked up to the first tree I put my hand on it and thanked it. The tree cover immediately made me feel about 10 degrees warmer, and protected me from the ferocious wind. I looked at the clouds and realized that this was why I had so misjudged the storm. After months of walking through the “green tunnel” that is the majority of the AT, I had no idea how different the same conditions felt when exposed. The trail was easy to follow, and although steep and slippery, I hopped down another few miles. I wanted to get as low as possible, I even considered night-hiking to town. As soon as I had that thought, the sky rumbled. I found a little patch of flat-ish dirt on the side of the mountain, and the first crack of lightning hit the mountains just as I pitched the tent. I mopped up the inside as best I could, because the inside had gotten soaked by rain in the 5 minutes it took for me to pitch the tent.

I texted Swan that I was safe, and that I would hike out to him early the next morning. Too tired to cook a meal, I changed into my driest clothes and laid down. The hardest day I’d had to date on the Appalachian Trail was behind me. Slugs gathered underneath the cover of my tent, and with a bit of amusement I counted my new slug friends until I fell asleep.

I’ve had harder days in the wilderness now, but that storm on Mt. Madison imparted more wisdom on me in a few hours, than most of my preceding years of life.

https://swanhikes.com/2021/03/27/no-goodbyes/