Today is a holiday for us folks who work on the clinical side of hospital operations and with Ciara 2600 or so miles away having a ball, roaming somewhere in the Sawtooth mountains – all this can mean only one thing: I am on puppy-watch until she returns to the east coast!
I’ve been hitting our favorite trails every day after work; lace up, collars on the boys, then start right from home. Boone and Crockett damn near pull me like a kite down the murky trails as we meander our way to their favorite spot on the lake – they know this spot well and need no guidance – the best place to jump in for a quick dip in the water, I suppose!
Today I craved something more, something that I had not done before.. which is really not at all difficult having nearly 80K of old abandoned roads and trails, with the addition of about 1,790 miles of Appalachian Trail to the south, with about 400 miles more heading north.
As of writing this, I actually have not found myself seeking out the AT.. sure, I know it is there and I know there are some absolutely stunningly beautiful sections of it nearby – but I always felt that I would like to leave its mystique and draw for the actual thru-hikers.. heck, I may actually be one of those rad long-distance trekkers soon!
There has been a loop poking at the “hey, I haven’t done this yet.. so let’s get to doing this..now” side of my brain.. but with so much to explore, I just had not settled on it – until today!
The map packed (yes.. a paper map which I reviewed the night prior just to amp myself up!), topped off all of the 60 or so ounces that my running vest will hold, stretched just about every muscle in my body, had a mini-breakfast of tofu (I had an open block in the fridge that needed eating!) and a few bananas, laced up the Altra’s, slapped on my gaiters that I tore at Chocorua thinking “these are going to fall right off!“, set the Coros to record in trail run mode – and my adventure was unfolding right under my feet!
The initial miles slipped by, feet became wet from the mud seepage and before I knew it.. shoved myself right into the thick knit of pine branches that I knew would lead right to Smarts Mountain summit.
Breaking through to the official AT, I was drawn to the left, trekking south for those 10 feet or so – just to see the sign in a new light, focusing on the lettering and classic A over T logo harder than ever this time before scooting down the side of the mountain. I had read this sign many times leading up to today’s encounter, it read: AT North.
Sure, technically the Appalachian Trail does run back down the south side of Smarts Mountain – sure, I had been on that trail a few times now.. but something just felt different about heading down this side of Smarts, I was heading away from that cabin that I call home.
I noticed something different.. immediately as I passed that sign and concentrated on my feet as to not catch every root (heck, I do that enough.. always trying to not catch a toe!).
One white blaze after another, passing those marked trees, each 3×6 white paint strip took my thoughts deeper into remembering the time Ciara and I spent recently on the Northville Placid Trail. It took me back into the depths of my mind to each and everytime I had been anywhere else, be it north or south, riding in the car or hiking down (I see a lot of those white blazes hiking the Whites and living in New Hampshire..) the trail. My path was quiet as I was certain hikers were finishing in celebration at either end of the trail, but at least for a minute or five – no one was here with me.
The AT itself seemed to contain a shimmer of magic, perhaps all of the past trail magic dispersed its way through these hills had settled into the soil, trees and water itself. Looking down, trying to keep myself up-right and moving forward, I was taken back by so many simple things – the most tangible, of course, being the AT itself – the amount of time plugged into these sections – to install waterbars, placing rocks to ford bottomless mud pits, all the wood beams carried in to build iconic White Mountain bridges.
The trail was clean, like.. really clean.
Sure, it sees its share of hikers annually, perhaps it will see another 700 or so finish their trek this year – flying over roots and rocks at 10am, these are the thoughts barraging my mind. I felt truly content to be sharing this section of the AT with so many other determined individuals – is it possible to soak up the energy, the laughter, the will to simply push on from these roots, rocks and flowing water? Some may argue: Yes.
I did see some thru-hikers, and it was a simply amazing experience to see their faces light up as I wished them an excellent rest of their journey – and of course, a super happy Fourth of July! I could tell quite a few out there on the trail had in fact forgotten what day it was, or perhaps just chose not to remember, only the present moment to be alive in – the way of life that I grew dearly to while traveling cross-country several years ago!
I should to add also that my perception of the AT between Smarts over to Cube may have been slightly biased because I finally finished reading last week a very excellent book by an incredible ultra-runner/athlete known by some as Scott Jurek, the read is simply titled: North.
It was an amazing read, and much like this trail today – it took me back to all of the places we have traveled, recounting the towns and nameplaces Ciara and I had encountered. Toward the final pages of this book there are several photographs.. the back of Jurek out on Lambert Ridge as he heads away, up to the summit of Smarts. In short: it reminded me of all persevering that friends and hikers exuded which then fell in the form of sweat into this soil and onto the rocks all around, a rather humbling thought for me to be on these trails at that very moment, sharing muddy footprints with so many others!
There were, of course, several thru-hikers who decorated their packs with the iconic American flag. Remembering this is a holiday and nice days such as today have a way of bringing everyone out, I took a few photos and moved on.
Some longhaul trekkers turned their weighty packs into pillows, catching some good ol’ vitamin D atop the summit of Cube – but even with hats over their eyes, everyone still gave a pleasant ‘hello!’ as I passed by, and I even tried to travel lightly as to not wake them!
For the route down.. sadly, I was now off the AT. The trail seemed to lose its charm as I passed families with their dogs all off leash – the encounters so frequent in fact, I had a mind-game going on, trying to figure out whose pup belonged to which family!
Let’s remember the day as what I already mentioned.. and not the overgrown, old logging roads that made up the remainder of my day. It only took two decent bushwhacks pointed in the general direction of “home” – and here we are! Writing about it, eating watermelon and listening to the gentle rhythm of the inhale-exhale cycle of both Boone and Crockett.
They ran, they ate, they are happy now.
I ran, I ate (a lot of watermelon!), and I am also quite happy now.
So keep an eye out on your morning commute, or afternoon bike ride – the looked over trailhead you’ve noticed a thousand times just may be the ticket you were looking for, the trails you’ve been dreaming of! Don’t be afraid of what you might find, make the time and decide to go check it out – after all, has anyone really been in a worse mood after spending time outdoors? Just get out and explore anywhere! See what nature has to offer, and while you are at it – pick up that wrapper that someone dropped, move that stick out of the trail before it trips someone! Say ‘hello’ and wish someone a nice hike, these things are small and so simple yet go so far! Let’s get more hikers and trail runners on the wagon! What can you do? Just be a thoughtful, decent human being.. and that alone should put you as well as everyone else around you in a better mood! 🙂
And if you made it this far: don’t forget to check for ticks after you and your pups spend any time outside!
It’s quick and easy to do – my boys love the attention of fingers running through their fur.. seeking out those dreaded little bloodsuckers, find ’em and crush ’em!
Today’s fun run stats:
Recorded with Coros Pace
- 27.2 miles
- 5hr 50minutes
- 5,387′ elevation gain
- Smarts Mt, 3,238′ – mile 5.7
- Mt Cube, 2909′ – mile 13.6