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/

Country Boy Meets New York

(Continued from: https://www.swanhikes.com/2020/05/30/meeting-a-goddess-on-trail/)

I am so lucky to have friends across the country. It was amazing to have been taken care of by such good people as Ed and Ren. Thankfully, the intermediate medical facility they took me to billed the Department of Veterans Affairs and did not give me any trouble. On the contrary, they were of great help. I wish it were that easy in my home state of Georgia. After a few days, I passed the kidney stones and was taken back to the Port Clinton Pavilion where I got back on trail.

I had lost my “trail legs” (After so many miles, your legs become tireless and strong). The Kiltman was South of me. Crash and Rusty were ahead of me. I already had very strong feelings for Rusty. She is so wonderful. I wanted to catch up with Rusty, but I didn’t want to be a stalker. The decision that I made was to let her know that I was going to stay on trail after all and catch up with the Kiltman for a reunion and continue hiking to Katahdin. I sent Rusty a text letting her know. Quickly, I received a reply saying, “If you want to yellow blaze up to me, I wouldn’t judge.” Yellow-blazing is hiker terminology for when someone skips ahead on the trail by way of a car and the yellow lines on the road. I was elated.

I knew how much the thru-hike meant to Rusty. I COULD have just hopped in a shuttle and met up with her, but I was weak from carrying and passing the kidney stones and had lost my trail legs. The Kiltman was alone and trying to catch up to Crash, so instead of hiking north to Rusty, I hiked south to the Kiltman. It sounds counter intuitive, but I wanted to be sure that I was in marching shape before I caught up with Rusty, so I wouldn’t chance slowing her down. For three days in almost constant rain, I hiked south to meet up with my friend. When I did, we camped at our rendezvous point by Swatara State Park and then hiked north together the next day. In that week, I hiked something like three 17 mile days in a row and then two shorter days followed by a 24 mile day back into Port Clinton. This showed me that I was back to my old self and ready to join Rusty.

Rusty is a total sweetheart and everywhere she goes, people love her. Such was the case with “Rooster” and “Tinklebell” who live near Port Clinton, PA and had met her while hiking in a different state. They loved her so much, they gave her an invitation to their house for when she made it to Port Clinton. I told Rusty where I was and she contacted them as a reference for the Kiltman and I. These amazing hikers/trail angels came and picked us up at 10PM in the dark, next to a set of railroad tracks, loaded all of our stink into their car, and took us to their home.

It was such a blessing to be picked up by them. Remember how I mentioned it rained for days? Well the tops of my feet were covered with rash worse than I can ever remember. I was miserable, but highly motivated due to hitting miles and being on my way to see Rusty. I could barely move by the time we arrived at their house. It took me several minutes of just sitting motionless outside of their front door. Finally, I was able to move inside. These beautiful people took our dirty, nasty clothes and washed them for us. I mean: THEY WASHED THEM FOR US! Do you know what wet dog smells like that has just rolled in something fragrant in the yard? Multiply that times 5 and that is how bad a wet hiker smells.

To my recollection, Rooster is a vegetarian and Tinklebell is a vegan. They cooked eggs for us and we had a wine and cheese party (Of course Tinklebell abstained from the eggs and cheese). The Kiltman cannot consume gluten, so they even went to the trouble of going to the store and buying gluten-free bread for him. The hospitality was moving. Almost a year later, I still feel the warmth of their hospitality. Perhaps it is the Chai Latte I just had. No, they will forever be a fond memory and example of selfless service to a stranger. I am so glad that Rusty vouched for us. Did I mention they even let us use their car?

After two days of recover, they returned us to the trail. I went to the Port Clinton Hotel where I waited for a shuttle to come pick me up and drive me 100 miles north to Rusty. The bartender at the hotel gave me a dirty look and pointed at a sign on the wall with her eyes. “We reserve the right to refuse service if you have not showered and aren’t wearing deodorant.” Obviously, they are used to dirty, nasty hikers coming through. I immediately said, “Hey, I am a hiker, but I promise I slept inside and showered this morning!” Having concealed the fact that I was not wearing deodorant, she let me order some food. Hikers often do not carry deodorant, because what’s the point? I ate a hearty meal and then waited outside for my shuttle.

It was a $200 ride and worth every freaking penny. The afternoon of August 20, I was dropped off at the Warwick Drive-in Theatre. The Lion King was playing. We had a drink at the cidery across the street. There was a hiker there who was finishing up his hike from the previous year. He hung out with us some, but when I asked him what his name was he said, “Nick….FUCK… ‘TUMBLEWEED’, for this reason, he got the new trail-name: “Nickfucktumbleweed”. I liked the guy even more because he would laugh whenever I called him that. In retrospect, I suppose it could have been annoying, but he was a good sport. We actually leap-frogged for several days and had a few meals and camped near each other. I was glad that he finished his hike. One day, I will too.

That night, Rusty and I slept in my MSR Hubba Hubba for the first time together. It was a big deal for me, because I am claustrophobic. I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to sleep in a tent with her. We did every night for months after that. The next day, we began our section of “Deli-Blazing”. In New York, there is a 3 or 4 day stretch where you almost don’t even have to pack food because of all of the deli’s. Around mid-day, we stopped at a creamery near the Hawk Mountain Preserve and we charged our phones. Rusty had ice cream and I had homemade Greek yogurt. It was DEE-LISH! That night we camped privately by a waterfall that we spent some time in. It was beautiful. People had taken rocks and built a pool at the base of it. It was a magical evening that neither of us will ever forget.

We hiked all day, every day, for the next few days. The night after the waterfall, we camped behind a deli and pizza place. New Yorkers love their pizza and Rusty was met with some attitude when she asked for a slice. After all, this was New York. “WE SERVE PIES!” On another night, we slept beside a deli and some railroad tracks. Deli blazing was very convenient.

One thing about hiking the A.T. in New York: You never stop hearing cars. I would also have an attitude if there were no place to escape the hustle and bustle. I know people like it around New York City, but I have to be able to actually be in nature, which means you can’t hear car sounds. 30 to 60 miles from New York City, you can still hear it. We met some SOBO hikers (Southbound), who we told this to and they said it was funny, because in Connecticut you hear lawnmowers every where. It sounded odd, but we found it to be true. We walked through the most crowded park that I have ever been to and ended up at the saddest zoo I have ever been to. It was abominable. Honestly, I hope one day that the sad bear in there escapes and eats the board of directors.

Speaking of bears, at the base of Bear Mountain, Rusty and I were walking along when a group of 4 tourists stopped us with tears in their eyes. “OHHH You two are obviously together! How did you meet?” They took our photos and gooed and gawed over us for a bit. It was heart warming to know that our love shined like that. I love her so much. Connecticut wasn’t much better than New York. The best part of the trail in the Mid Atlantic section for me was when we got to Massachusetts, AKA New England.

Keep a look out for my next post. Rusty and I have wayyy better adventures:

https://swanhikes.com/2020/07/18/marching-through-mass/

A Long Distance Hike Packing List

Example of a gear layout.
  1. Compactor Bag .5 (All ounces)
  2. Toaks cook pot .4
  3. spoon .1
  4. MSR stove/fuel 10.6
  5. Hubba Hubba 47.5
  6. ULA Ohm 2.0 34.5
  7. Pillow 15
  8. Cedar Ridge Quilt 22
  9. Puffy Coat 11
  10. OR Rain Suit 13
  11. Large Thermarest 16
  12. Water Filter 3
  13. Protein shaker 5.5
  14. 2 Smart water bottle 3
  15. phone 10
  16. charge cable .5
  17. wall cube .7
  18. headlamp 3.1
  19. 2 mini bics 1
  20. MISC 6
  21. 2pr socks .5
  22. boxers 4.5
  23. Smartwool top 8
  24. smart beanie 1.5
  25. base top/bottom 16
  26. compass/map 6
  27. camp shoes 12
  28. anker ` 6.4
  29. toenail clippers 1.5
  30. URSACK MAJOR XL 8.8
  31. opsak odor proof bag 1
  32. deuce of spades .5
  33. sit pad .5
  34. journal 8
  35. pen .5
  36. Plastic Lays chip tube w/velcro straps. (To keep in side pouch for quick access to items that I do not want getting wet.)
  37. Toiletries Kit:
  • hand san 1oz
  • bronner 4oz
  • toothbrush .21oz
  • paste 1oz
  • floss 1oz
  • wipes 8oz
  • TP 8oz
  • aspirin/melatonin w/ bag 1oz
Sometimes I put together food packs and weigh them and add up all the calories.

Osprey Stratos 50

First week on the A.T. with too much stuff. Eventually, I moved my tent roll to the top, got rid of the hat, and water bladder. It isn’t a good idea to have your pack looking like a Christmas tree.

I bought my Osprey Stratos 50 in April of 2019 and lived out of it full-time for 8 months. Actually, I went through 2 in those 8 months. My first one lasted 2 months before I broke the clip on the cinch strap. Typically, I would repair something like that on my own, but on a long distance hike like that, I didn’t have the resources and I bought an Osprey because of their customer service. I emailed them, they called me, told me where to swap my pack out at no cost to me. I was able to do so about a week up the trail.

I took the brain off of it as soon as I got it and cut those straps off. I have also cut off a lot of little bungees, straps, etc. that I didn’t need, to save on weight. I never used the side zipper on it. The straps at the bottom were used to carry my seat pad. I used a contractor bag for a liner and used the rain cover that came with the pack. I never had an issue with the contents of my pack getting wet. The suspension system on it is very nice and makes for a comfortable carry. During 100 degree weather, I took my shirt off for a day and the mesh acted like a cheese grater on my back. It was gnarly. Keep your shirt on, Hot Shot!

I was never gentle on this pack. When I first started the trail, I had a full resupply weight of 42lbs, which means I was carrying 38lbs inside of the Stratos 50! I often picked it up by the shoulder strap and swung it onto my back. There have been many boulders that I dropped my pack off of or threw my pack on top of to facilitate easier movement. It has been used as a pillow and an ottoman inside my tent. I would often hang it by the top handle that is between the shoulder straps while having lunch at shelters. It has been rained on more than I can count and in the elements for 32 weeks. The rain cover that came with the pack held up the entire time. This is a VERY TOUGH pack that rides easy on the back. After about 500 miles, I had my full weight down to about 36lbs. Once this pack (or any pack) has been used on something like a thru-hike attempt, you can count on the perma-stank being too bad to continue using. Currently, I am experimenting with getting the smell out. Any tips?

At less than $200 and under 4lbs, I would highly recommend this pack.

Eventually I moved my tent to the top of the pack for more stability.
I am on the far left with my pet Osprey. Picture courtesy of http://www.thewanderingkiltsman.com. This is mostly how my pack looked. The clothes hanging from it were drying.

Specs

Load Range 20 – 40 lbs.

 VolumeDimensionsWeight
S/M2868 in3 / 47 l25.6h x 14.2w x 15d in.3.557 lbs.
M/L3051 in3 / 50 l27.6h x 14.2w x 15d in.3.682 lbs.

Fabric Main 210D Nylon

Crosshatch Accent 420HD Nylon Packcloth

Bottom 420HD Nylon Packcloth

https://www.osprey.com/us/en/product/stratos-50-STRATOS50.html