Dick called from Gorham, New Hampshire, 16 miles from Maine, 297 miles from Mount Katahdin. The White Mountains had proven much more difficult than either he or RickRock had expected. Their feet are so bruised and sore they decided to take a zero day today and another zero day tomorrow.
On Friday, August 27, Dick and RickRock hiked into Pinkham Notch in the White Mountains. From there they hitched a ride to Gorham and checked into a hostel. Early Saturday morning, a man at the hotel drove them back to Pinkham so they could "slack pack" back to Gorham. Even with the luxury of hiking without their heavy packs, it still took nearly 12 hours to hike 21 miles and finish the last of the White Mountains. Dick said that after hiking over 1800 miles he knew that he and RockRock were in shape. But the mountains were in better shape.
In addition to their rugged terrain, the Whites are also known for the huts. Day hikers and weekend hikers come with their families and stay in the rental cabins. The community dining rooms can accommodate anywhere from 35 to 50 people. At most of the huts, thruhikers are offered the opportunity to "work and stay," a program whereby a thruhiker can do chores in exchange for a meal or two and a place to sleep. Dick and RickRock participated in the program twice.
The first time, they arrived at a hut just after four members of a five-member crew had gone off duty. Until Dick and Rick arrived, there were no thruhikers to form a new crew. The one remaining worker was close to panic. He had to prepare dinner and the dining room for 36 people, all due in less than two hours. Dick said he and Rick weren't there ten seconds before they were put to work. Over the next few hours, they served meals, bussed tables, washed dishes, and swept floors. They earned their meals and then some.
Several days later when another opportunity to "work and stay" arose, they hesitated. The last experience had left them exhausted. But rain was threatening and the idea of sleeping in a cabin had far more appeal than sleeping in tents. This time, however, there were two other thruhikers working with them, so all Dick and Rick had to do was bus tables.
When I came home from work last Thursday, I found Dick's phone message saying he and Rick had climbed Mount Washington. As the highest point in New England, Mount Washington is notorious for bad weather. But on the day Dick and RickRock climbed it, the temperature was in the 70s, the sky clear and beautiful. I wonder if Dick had the chance to sit and talk to a would-be thruhiker the way "Easy" had sat and talked with Dick back in early September of 1997. I remember that weekend well. I had won a two-night stay at the beautiful Eagle Mountain House in Jackson, New Hampshire. I wanted to poke around the area for antiques. Dick wanted to hike Mt. Washington. So he climbed the mountain while I drove up and found the gift shop. I bought a book about women who had hiked portions of the White Mountains at the turn of the century.
Back in Gorham, Dick was calling me from a payphone. While we talked, Single Malt rode by on a bicycle, courtesy of the hostel known as The Barn. The owner has eight bicycles and makes all of them available to hikers. Going to the grocery store, the laundromat, or the outfitter is always easier when you have wheels. I told Dick that I had just recently discovered Single Malt's journal on the internet and how much I had enjoyed reading it. Apparently, Single Malt writes in his journal every day then mails the entries to his son who posts them to his father's website. Dick said the son had just left home on a temporary assignment in Europe. Dick didn't know anything about the job other than it involves computers and trouble-shooting. Now Single Malt is trying to make other arrangements to get his journal entries posted. I hope he is successful.
The Barn is popular for more than its bicycles. The rates are $7.50 a day for a bunk, $3 to shower, $1.50 to use the laundry, and $4.50 for breakfast which consists of huge pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs, fruit, juice and milk. Some hikers are staying a whole week.
While in town, Dick ran into Grizzly. Grizzly had been 14 days ahead of Dick and RickRock but decided to slow down his pace. Now, however, everyone is gearing up to reach Millinocket, Maine, by September 24. That's when the first annual three-day "End of the Trail Festival" begins. I doubt there will be as many tents as there were back in Damascus, Virginia. Still, I'm envisioning a heart-felt celebration with good food and songs like "Ease on Down, Ease on Down the Trail" and the perennial favorite "These Boots Are Made For Hiking."
Ah, but by the time they reach Millinocket, northbound thruhikers will definitely be short-timers. The "real world" with its bills and its traffic and its television and its yard work will beckon as surely, as strongly, as will Katahdin. Perhaps, just perhaps, the "real" world is that of the hike, or for some, a stretch of isolated beach, or the solitude of a kitchen at dawn, or a rocking chair on a front porch at twilight. So here's to the unhurried world, the "real" world, wherever you can find it.