Day 133 – Wednesday, July 20: The Dungeon, Lake of the Clouds to Stealth Camp (Pinkham Notch), 15.0 miles, 1,869.7 total AT miles.

We must’ve fallen asleep by 8:00pm last night – we were that tired. I woke early at 5:30am and ran outside and upstairs into the hut to use the bathroom. It was freezing outside and completely socked in with grey clouds.

I entered the Dungeon as quietly as I could and started packing up – Greyhound woke when she heard me stirring. We were up and ready to go by 6:30am. We briefly went upstairs and chatted with Black Santa. Part of his WFS was helping out after breakfast in the morning – he wouldn’t be getting back on trail for another two hours. We made plans to meet a Pinkham Notch fifteen miles north.

Greyhound and I set off into the cold. The wind was brutal – it was easily in the mid-30s. At least our packs were light. Our massive resupply we each purchased with Medicine Man had dwindled down to next to nothing. We set off into the cold wind.

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The hiking was tough. Neither of us were in a good mood. Here we were, freezing on the top of mountain, in late July. Despite the arctic temperatures, we hiked quickly, trying to keep warm. On our way to the summit, we ran across three hikers breaking camp from behind a stone windbreak. They were turned away from LOC last night and had to find shelter at 6,000 feet.

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They claimed to be doing fine – Greyhound and I would in fact end up leapfrogging them all day. At 8:30am, we reached the summit of Mount Washington. We tried to climb the pile of stones and boulders at the summit, but the winds quickly forced us down. After nearly falling backwards due to a wind gust, Greyhound sped off. She was done with this weather.

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We started our descent of Washington, slowly peeling off layers as we lost elevation. We hit the Mount Clay and Mount Jefferson bypass trails by 10:30am.

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I turned and watched a beautiful lenticular cloud form over Mount Washington, now almost five miles behind us.

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We pushed forward on the rocky terrain. While the skies had cleared and the temperature had risen, the wind was still fiercely howling. We stopped in at the Madison Spring Hut and were treated to free (cold) oatmeal and raisins. We quickly ate and pressed on. We hiked along the exposed ridge, eventually making our way over Mount Madison and beginning our descent into Pinkham Notch.

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Greyhound fell into a bush on the way down – she was fine (it was actually pretty funny). Today was just not her day. We eventually make the seven miles down Madison into Pinkham Notch by 5:00pm – not bad time on the day considering what we traversed this morning.

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Black Santa was waiting for us at the bottom – apparently, he left LOC earlier than expected and passed us while we were taking a break. There were a lot of section and day hikers mulling about the parking lot. We were approached by two girls Greyhound and I had met as we descended the mountain. They offered us a ride towards town so we could resupply.

Turns out, we went the wrong way. Instead of heading towards a town with multiple restaurants and resupply options, we found ourselves in a small grocery store next to a Dairy Queen. The three of us resupplied as best we could before heading over to the DQ to buy ice cream and dinner.

As I exited the store, I caught up with Black Santa and Greyhound – they had secured us a ride. She was waiting in the DQ parking lot. Fifteen minutes later, we found ourselves back at Pinkham Notch. We crossed the highway and entered the woods, quickly finding a suitable campsite maybe .2 miles away from the notch and visitor’s center.

I made camp and ate DQ fried chicken – it was delicious. I even saved some for breakfast. Black Santa hung out with another hiker we had been running across and I spoke privately with Greyhound.

This hike had gotten very hard, very fast. We were originally planning an ambitious August 5th finish date, but the difficulty of the Whites had blown our schedule out of the water. We both had flexibility however – our dates were totally arbitrary after all. I wanted to finish this thing in less than five months. That’d mean I’d be summiting Katahdin on August 9th – that became our new arbitrary finish date. Black Santa was still leaning closer to the Aug 5th date.

Greyhound and I also looked at the elevation profile for the weeks ahead. Things didn’t look to get any easier for quite some time, we’d still be in big mountains for at least another week.

I went to bed extremely tired. My feet were starting to hurt again.

* * *

I checked the bottoms of my Montrails and the grip is nearly all worn off. I’ve been having a lot of trouble slipping lately and never even dreamed it could be my trail runners that were only two weeks old. I can’t believe that I’m back in the market for new shoes.

Day 132 – Tuesday, July 19: Stealth Camp (Crawford Notch) to The Dungeon, Lakes of the Clouds Hut, 11.0 miles, 1,854.7 total AT miles.

I woke up at 6:30 and started packing up. Today we would slowly ascend Mount Washington, stopping just shy of the summit at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. I’ve always wanted to stay here, Greyhound and Black Santa agreed to stay as well. Work-for-stays are granted on a first-come-first-served basis. In addition to having four WFS opportunities available every night, LOC also had a basement bunkroom known as The Dungeon.

We left Crawford Notch at 7:30am and slowly started ascending. By 8:45, we had gained nearly 2,000 feet in elevation, pausing to take a break at Webster Cliffs. We finally summited Webster at 10:30 – we were only three miles away from Crawford Notch. We knew we’d soon be hiking near or above treeline and the trail should get easier.

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We crossed Mount Webster and Mount Jackson and stopped at the Mitzpah Spring Hut for a hot snack, Black Santa was ahead and didn’t stop. After gaining elevation all morning, it was noticeably colder now that we were back in the Presidentials. I was thankful to take a break and warm up indoors. We ate minestrone soup with cornbread – it was a welcome snack.

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We left at 1:00pm and started making the slow climb up to LOC. The trail was beautiful and the views were simply stunning. I just wanted to keep pausing to take it all in. Fearing the dungeon would fill up, we started booking it on the exposed terrain and made to the hut at 4:00pm. Black Santa was already there – he was able to land a WFS. Greyhound and I paid for out bunks in the dungeon and walked around the building to see what we had in store for the night.

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It was pretty ridiculous. Two bunks for six hikers, no bathroom or running water, and a giant, squeaky iron door that bangs shut every time someone walks in. I see why they call it the dungeon. We both cooked a quick dinner and laid down to read and write. I ventured upstairs to chat with Black Santa. He had just finished cleaning up after dinner and was enjoying a large plate of lasagna. I was a little jealous.

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As I ran downstairs, I noticed how cold it had gotten. It was easily in the 40’s with strong wind gusts. Thick clouds were moving in. I clanged the door to the dungeon shut one last time for the night, hopped up into my bunk and fell asleep.

Day 131 – Monday, July 18: Stealth Camp (Gale River Trail) to Stealth Camp (Crawford Notch), 15.3 miles, 1,843.7 total AT miles.

I woke at 6:30am and slowly started packing up. I often find Greyhound waiting on me while I shuffle around, trying to cram everything back into my pack. I swear, she can be ready to go in like 20 minutes – I’m an hour, minimum. We finally got to hiking by 7:30 and began our ascent of South Twin.

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But before we could get to the summit, there was something Greyhound wanted to do first – she wanted to stop at Galehead Hut.

Galehead is one of the many beautifully-constructed, fully-staffed, “primitive” bunkhouses scattered throughout the Whites. And they fill up quickly – section hikers pay nearly $100 a night for a home-cooked meal and a clean bunk. Thru-hikers are offered the option of performing a “work-for-stay” – you’ll hang out while the paying customers eat, clean up after them, gorge yourself on leftovers, then sleep on the floor.

We reached the hut at 8:00am and walked inside. The main dining area was bustling with section hikers getting ready to hike to the next hut. We quickly discovered that the hut sold coffee and pastries in the corner – thankfully, we had cash as it’s all based on the honor system. We hung out for a little while and enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate. We were nearly about to leave, when up strolls Black Santa.

He camped a few miles behind us last night after not feeling well for the past few days – he said he felt a lot better today. I could tell he was in high spirits. The three of us left Galehead at 9:00am. Black Santa forgot his trekking poles and had to turn around.

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We passed quite a few section hikers on our way up South Twin, finally summiting at 10:15am.

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Greyhound was flying today – she stayed ahead of Black Santa and me for most of the morning. We all eventually caught up at Mt. Guyot. From here, we faced a rocky descent to the Zealand Falls Hut four miles away. As we hiked, we speculated on the trail ahead. If it were indeed flat, we could get to Crawford Notch by 6:00pm or so. If the trail were to be rocky and rooty, as it’s prone to, we’d be stealth camping somewhere near Ethan Pond.

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Thankfully the trail was some of the best we’ve seen in a while. We passed Ethan Pond at 4:00, making it to Crawford Notch at 6:00. We reached the road crossing for US 302 and quickly scouted potential campsites in the woods across the street. After consulting the AT Guide, we found out there was a campground market just a few miles down the road. Black Santa and another hiker stayed behind and made camp – Greyhound and I quickly caught a hitch to the campstore.

We bought sandwiches, snacks and drinks for ourselves and Black Santa. We both washed up in the bathrooms before attempting to hitch back to the AT. As we were packing up, we were approached by a really nice dad who insisted on giving us a ride back to the trail before the storm hit.

Storm? I briefly looked at the radar in the campstore and didn’t see anything. We were dropped back at the trailhead and quickly made our way down the trail towards Black Santa’s campsite.

He was nice enough to set up our tents for us seeing as how we were getting him dinner. And a good thing to – Greyhound and I had been in camp for less than two minutes when the storm hit. It went from a few drops to buckets in a few seconds. I laid in my tent, thankful I was dry.

Greyhound used my extra vestibule as a kitchen again – and again, no tent fire. I cooked as well and quickly ate my campstore purchases. After dinner, Greyhound and I worked on our trail journals – I was still taking notes in my AT Guide. I didn’t write long – I quickly fell asleep to the sound of raindrops hitting my tent.

Day 130 – Sunday, July 17: Stealth Camp (I-93 Overpass) to Stealth Camp (Gale River Trail), 12.6 miles, 1,828.4 total AT miles.

I woke up several times throughout the night as storms crossed overhead – but we were protected. It was a weird thing – we were sleeping on a natural rock slab next to Whitehouse Brook, but being protected from the rain by a man-made rock slab in the form of I-93. I finally woke at 6:00am and started packing up. It was still raining hard. I like sleeping under overpasses.

I put on my raincoat and readied myself to leave by 7:00am. Today was an exciting day – the elevation profile looked severe. We were about to hike Medicine Man’s favorite hike – the Franconia Ridge. I hoped the storm would blow over so we could have some views.

The trail up into these mountains, the Presidentials, was brutal. We gained 3,500 feet of elevation in about three miles. Thankfully, the storm had blown over and we were awarded with a few views as we ascended. We hit Little Haystack Mountain just before noon – Little Haystack marked the start of our above-treeline AT hiking. The views were amazing – the clouds and howling wind made me feel like I was on another planet.

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We took a quick break at Mt. Lincoln, eyeing Mt. Lafayette in the distance.

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Up here, the terrain wasn’t bad at all – we could have moved very quickly if we wanted to, but the whole experience of walking that ridge was too amazing to rush.

Greyhound agreed – this was undoubtedly the most beautiful part of the trail so far.

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We descended Mt. Lafayette, eventually re-emerging above treeline as we climbed Mt. Garfield. Greyhound and I paused and rested at Garfield for a while – the views were amazing.

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It was 5:00pm by the time we left – we had hiked ten miles on the day in ten hours.

We talked about how we severely overestimated our daily mileage totals. We thought we’d be cruising sixteen miles a day, no problem. The reality was that, with full packs, sixteen miles in the Whites nearly crushed us. We decided to stealth camp in the valley ahead. We stopped at the Garfield Ridge Shelter to collect enough water to get us through the night. We finally found a spot at 8:00pm and made camp quickly before the sun went down.

We cooked dinner and tried to plan out our next few days, taking into account we had no idea how far Black Santa was behind us.

After a difficult ascent of South Twin Mountain the AT gradually descends to what looked to be a flat spot. We decided to shoot for Crawford Notch, some fifteen miles ahead. As I drifted off to sleep it started raining.

Day 129 – Saturday, July 16: Medicine Man’s Camp to Kinsman Notch to Stealth Camp (I-93 Underpass), 16.1 miles, 1,815.8 total AT miles.

We woke early and packed quickly. It took a long time for the three of us to pack away our food. I was carrying more than I ever had before – both my food bags were overflowing and my emergency food bag (a small, burlap sack I found in a hiker box) was busting at the seams. We arrived back at the trailhead at 9:00am.

I said goodbye to Medicine Man and thanked him for his hospitality – he really helped us out. I left a little sad he wouldn’t be rejoining us.

The three of us set off north. Black Santa still wasn’t feeling well and quickly fell behind. Greyhound and I still felt motivated and powered on. The trail was mossy, difficult and beautiful.

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We took a break at the Eliza Brook Shelter at 2:30 and had lunch – Black Santa still hadn’t caught up. We pressed on – Greyhound ran into a precarious situation near Harrington Pond, probably about halfway up South Kinsman Mountain.

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We finally summited North Kinsman Mountain at 6:30pm – Black Santa caught up briefly but wasn’t feeling well and decided to set up camp. Greyhound and I left for another round of night hiking just before 7:00pm.

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The weather was nice and we were primed for another successful hike. The descent down from North Kinsman was just as difficult as the ascent up. I had never heard Kinsman Mountain before – this day proved to be one of the more challenging I’ve hiked in months. The trail eventually leveled off and we finally started making good time – we arrived at the I-93 underpass just after 9:30pm having hiked sixteen miles in twelve hours – the Whites are no joke folks.

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We decided to cowboy camp on a rock slab next to the creek, but still under the bridge. We cooked a quick a dinner and spread our air mattresses and sleeping bags out on the rock face. It was chilly, but not too cold. We found ourselves ready for bed by 11:00pm, totally shocked that our first mountains in the Whites slowed us down so much. Tomorrow would probably be better.

Day 128 – Friday, July 15: Medicine Man’s Camp to Lake Tarleton Rd to Kinsman Notch to Medicine Man’s Camp, 13.9 miles, 1,799.7 total AT miles.

We woke up early and started packing our food for the day – we were only carrying a handful of snacks and leftover chicken for lunch as we’d be returning to Medicine Man’s camp later in the afternoon. I still packed away and carried my tent – I hadn’t done anything close to slackpacking over the last 1,800 miles and I didn’t want to start now.

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We arrived at the trailhead at 8:45 and Black Santa, Greyhound and I started hiking north. We hiked up and over Mount Mist by 10:00am – as we were relaxing on the viewless summit we ran across a hiker wearing a hand-made dress/kilt and carrying only an axe. He was friendly enough. Still on the summit, we heard the distinctive sound of a tree being chopped about five minutes after he passed. We couldn’t figure him out until we started descending Mist – he was performing trail maintenance, using his axe to clear deadfall from the trail.

We crossed NH 25 at 1:00pm and started powering up Mt Moosilauke. The three of us instantly separated, Greyhound wanted to see how fast she could summit, I wanted to hike at my usual steady pace and Black Santa felt very content slowly taking up the rear. The hike up was very difficult – the trail was full of precarious boulders and near-vertical climbs. I soon lost sight of both of my hiking buddies and tackling the mountain alone, eventually breaking tree line and getting a view of the summit at 4:00pm.

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I officially summited at 4:20pm, joining a waiting Greyhound. She had been up there for nearly an hour – she completed her summit in two hours, sixteen minutes – very impressive! It was windy and pretty chilly at 5,000 feet – Black Santa summited thirty minutes after me. The three of us took a break behind a rock wall and ate snacks before leaving to meet Medicine Man at 5:00pm.

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Descending Mt. Moosilauke was very challenging. We hiked alongside a waterfall for a substantial part of the descent.

As we descended into Kinsman Notch, we lost 2,200 feel in just over a mile and a half. We climbed down steep stairs imbedded into the mountainside.

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We were also afforded some beautiful views.

We reached Kinsman Notch at 6:45 and found Medicine Man waiting in the parking lot – and he had snacks and cold drinks! We piled into his car and first drove to the private campsite to get showers. Black Santa and I had adjacent showers and started making up a song about our exploits on the AT. Towards the end of the song (and of the heat in our showers), we were belting out lyrics. We finished cleaning and exited the men’s room to find a grinning Greyhound. She told me she, and everyone who passed the showers, heard me singing loudly. Oh well…

We left the campsite at 8:00pm and headed to Medicine Man’s camp. Tonight, his father and younger brother were joining us – complete with a steak dinner. We arrived and quickly set up our tents – Medicine Man hopped on the grill and the delicious smell of steaks were soon wafting through camp. Black Santa, Greyhound and I were soon gorging ourselves on tender, juicy steak and enjoying the company of Medicine Man’s family.

We went to bed earlier than the night prior. I was full and content. But I wanted to get an early start tomorrow. I still had to organize my food bag and the Whites loomed large in the distance. Tomorrow morning, we would say goodbye to Medicine Man and hike north experiencing the most challenging week of hiking we’d ever face on the AT.

Day 127 – Thursday, July 14: Stealth Camp (Lambert Ridge) to NH 25C (Warren, NH) to Medicine Man’s Trail Magic, 18.5 miles, 1,785.8 total AT miles.

I got a text late last night and started immediately chatting with Medicine Man as soon as the sun rose. He heard through the grapevine that I was getting close to some property his family owned just outside of Warren, NH. He texted and wanted to pick us up at a road crossing some nineteen miles ahead.

I was excited! I missed hiking with Medicine Man – he really added a lot to my hike. The problem was that I had no way of getting in touch with Black Santa – he was ten miles or so ahead of me. Medicine Man would have to intercept him at a road crossing then wait for us. Greyhound and I left Lambert Ridge before 7:00am – our first early start since we started hiking together.

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We faced a difficult ascent up Smarts Mountain – our first climb over 3,000 feet since entering New Hampshire. We were afforded awesome views of the summit as we hiked up – we got a chance to see exactly what we were about to hike up and over. The trail was tough – we used hand-over-hand climbing up rebar steps set into the rock race. The weather was brisk, but cooled off, and eventually started sprinkling once we hit the summit of Smarts.

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I was, once again, persuaded by Greyhound to climb the fire tower. This one was a little terrifying. We read a trail journal and learned that Black Santa had slept here last night. It was only 8:45am and Greyhound and I had already hiked three miles – Black Santa couldn’t be too far ahead. On the way down Smarts Mountain, I was able to get a text message off to Medicine Man. I told him Greyhound and I were shooting for Lake Tarleton Rd by 4:00pm – and that he probably needed to be there early to intercept Black Santa.

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Greyhound and I started hiking as fast as we could. We summited Mount Cube just after noon – that was another difficult climb on the day. I can already tell I’m hiking on a different breed of mountain. We stopped at a stream to have a snack at 1:30pm – we were only slightly behind our 4:00pm arrival goal.

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We started hiking with a renewed vigor – thankfully, the trail cooperated. It was nearing 5:00pm when Greyhound and I finally made it to the road crossing I was expecting to find Medicine Man at. A lone car was parked by the side of the road. I approached the car and saw Black Santa’s pack locked in the back seat. Hell yes!! I called out into the woods – Medicine Man and Black Santa called back. They were hanging out just across the road on the north side of the trail.

Greyhound and I walked down and were instantly greeted by Summer – she’s still not leaving Medicine Man’s side. Apparently, Summer was the one who intercepted Black Santa – he already passed the road crossing and was heading north about an hour prior. Medicine Man parked his car and Summer took off running up trail – Black Santa recognized her and turned around. What are the odds?

We hung out for a few minutes before deciding to pack up and head to the Super Walmart to purchase our resupply as we were about to enter the Whites. We all bought way too much food – I bought more snacks than I could cram into my 7-liter stuff sack. Greyhound and I also decided to split a rotisserie chicken for dinner.

We headed back to Medicine Man’s camp and had arrived by 7:00pm. Black Santa, Greyhound and I set up our tents in the grass surrounding his family’s camper. They had a really nice setup – everything a hiker needed to enjoy a night off-trail. We sat in lawn chairs around a giant fire pit while eating chicken sandwiches. We had a great time.

Medicine Man offered to pick us again tomorrow – that way would could tackle our first big summit of the Whites without fifteen to twenty pounds of food. Mt. Moosilauke lay ahead – we’re going to gain 4,000 feet of elevation and summit the rocky bald to clear skies tomorrow afternoon. Medicine Man wanted to take us to a campground that would allow us to shower as soon as we descended tomorrow evening.

We went to bed with full stomachs and in good spirits. It was great seeing Medicine Man – and I’m glad we were able to get a great resupply after the poor options in Hanover. We decided to wake early and tackle Moosilauke hard and fast.

* * *

The burn on my ankle has healed.

I’m apprehensive about starting the Whites tomorrow – the elevation profile is pretty imposing.

Day 126 – Wednesday, July 13: Sunset Motor Inn (West Lebanon, NH) to Stealth Camp (Lambert Ridge), 20.3 miles, 1,767.3 total AT miles.

We woke up early and headed straight to the continental breakfast bar. We ate a ton – even after all that pizza last night. We quickly packed up and started walking/hitching the three miles back to Hanover. It only took about 15 mins, but we caught a ride from a nice guy heading to work. He dropped us of near the trailhead and we started hiking north, in full pursuit of Black Santa.

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We hiked for about two hours, crossing a field on a pretty boardwalk, and stopped near a stream five miles outside of Hanover. We both felt terrible. Despite our recent (accidental) zero, I feel kind of miserable – this hike’s getting hard once again. What started as an 11:00am snack break turned into to a three-hour affair. Greyhound very much wanted to catch up on her own personal journals and I needed to figure out what to do with my website.

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I felt very bad about not posting anything – literally falling off the face of the earth to many people. The truth was that I was kind of glad my keyboard broke. I was having a lot of fun for the first time in a long time. Hiking late, hitching into town frequently – these were the things that were bringing me real pleasure in the last month of this adventure.

I also felt guilty, that in not writing, I was not doing this thing to its fullest. To some extent, it’s very true – unfortunately, the effort it was taking to mentally finish this hike completely occupied what was once writing time. This thing was about to get hard again – we were in New Hampshire and was seriously starting to question my own drive to finish.

I got over it. At 2:00pm we set off hiking again with a renewed vigor – the rest of the afternoon looked challenging. We decided to hike as far as we could, try to get as close to Black Santa as possible. But that would involve a night hike. And Greyhound had never night hiked. After my crazy night hiking experiment in the week leading up to Bear Mountain, NY, and my bear encounter on The Rollercoaster heading in to Harper’s Ferry, WV, I considered myself to well-versed in the ways of night hiking.

The trail was relatively easy hiking until sunset – by 8:45pm, I had hiked eleven miles and took a quick break near Moose Mountain Shelter. I had been ahead of Greyhound for quite some time – I hadn’t seen her in hours. She quickly caught up and expressed the same thing I was feeling – she felt a little depressed and a little worn out as well. We decided to only hike an additional nine miles. We knew we had some tough miles ahead but really wanted to get back on our 20-mile a day average.

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Not twenty minutes after we set off from the north peak of Moose Mountain, we ran into three bears – a mother and two cubs. They were scurrying around about 30 yards away from us in a clearing off-trail. Greyhound paused and jumped behind me. I yelled loudly and forcefully, just like on The Rollercoaster, and the bears took off – the two cubs climbed a tree and the mother ran for cover in the bushes. We hiked on.

Not twenty minutes after that, we definitely heard another bear off-trail to our right. It was out of the reach of my or Greyhound’s headlamp, but it certainly sounded big. We were climbing up to Holt’s Ledge at 9:45pm when two glowing eyes caught my attention. A large cat was frozen motionless about 20 yards to our left. I took special notice of the silhouette of his boxy ears and stout frame. Greyhound’s been lucky enough to have run across a bobcat down south and remembers this one being twice as large. We cautiously hiked on.

We passed the Trapper John Shelter at 10:45pm and an old AT marker (off by thirteen miles) at midnight. At 1:00am we collapsed on the Lambert Ridge, eager to eat and sleep. We found a spot that reminded me of the exposed rock that Black Santa and myself slept on after crossing into New York from New Jersey. We cowboy camped on the ridge and fell asleep just before 2:00am.

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Day 125 – Tuesday, July 12: Stealth Camp (Hanover, NH) to Sunset Motor Inn (West Lebanon, NH), Zero Day, 1,747.0 miles

Greyhound and I both woke early, breaking camp as soon as the sun came up. Out hidden nook on the pedestrian trail looked more like a jogging path in the early morning daylight – we both were packed and ready to leave before 7:00am. The Dartmouth crew teams were out rowing on the Connecticut River.

We were exhausted having slept less than seven hours. Nonetheless, we put on a cheery mood and headed back into New Hampshire and downtown Hanover. The AT Guide listed several restaurants and cafes in town that offered free menu items to thru-hikers. We first headed to Lou’s and received free glazed donuts – we ended up buying coffee as well.

We had problems finding the other two restaurants and gave up, opting instead to head to the post office and pick up our packages. After breakfast and with maildrops in tow, we walked down to the community center where we were able to wash our clothes and take a shower. We donned loaner clothes and headed across the street to resupply. The co-op proved too expensive, so we decided to walk back to the Irish pub for an early lunch – we were both starving. I ordered a buffalo chicken sandwich – it was really good. I also texted Black Santa.

Greyhound was getting ready to head back to the community center and put our clothes in the dryer, when Black Santa arrived. He was hiking with Ralphie and a few others – they had been hostel-hopping for the last week and were having a really good time doing it. I moved to an outside table and joined them – Greyhound returned 20 minutes later.

We all had a great time – I ended up finishing off another plate of chicken wings by the time it was ready to leave and get our clothes out of the dryer. Greyhound and I organized our packs and stored them at the CC while we went back to town to complete our resupply. I bought overpriced snacks from a convenience store and headed back to the co-op where I spent way too much money.

I texted Black Santa and told him we were getting ready to head to the trail – he wanted to meet us there. We organized our packs at the CC and left – the AT picked up again behind the baseball fields across the street. We met Black Santa maybe 150 yards into the woods and hung out trailside for a long time. It was nice to have Black Santa in the mix – we were all ready to go.

As we were packing up, a hiker approached and asked if anyone had left a wallet at the CC. Greyhound dove into her pack and looked panic – she couldn’t find her wallet. She literally ran into town – I stayed behind with Black Santa and, now, Ralphie and hung out by the trailhead. Greyhound returned with good and bad news. They CC had her wallet safe and sound – but they wouldn’t be opening until tomorrow morning.

Black Santa and Ralphie decided to hike on towards the next shelter – I stayed behind with Greyhound. We walked back into town and quickly caught a hitch right in front of the convenience store I partially resupplied at. A younger woman, whose anniversary is tomorrow, picked us up and drove us directly to the Sunset Motor Inn in nearby West Lebanon.

The hotel was quite nice and very, very clean. We ordered a pizza, devoured it, and quickly went to sleep.

* * *

Fun Fact: We ran into our first large group of Southbounders today. We didn’t speak to them.

Day 124 – Monday, July 11: Wintturi Shelter to Stealth Camp (Hanover, NH), 26.3 miles, 1,747.0 total AT miles.

We woke up to clearing skies and the rising sun. It rained heavily overnight, but we were nice and dry in the shelter. We packed quickly – we both wanted to get as close to Hanover as possible. The descent away from Wintturi was pretty easy.

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We hiked four miles before 9:00am and stopped at VT 12 for a quick break. Greyhound checked the AT Guide – there was a small market/bakery just up the street. We decided we’d wait for it to open and get some fresh bread or fruit before heading on. The sun was finally out and we relaxed on a pair of trail side boulders.

We were glad we waited – Greyhound bought cookie dough ice cream and I bought a 7-inch peach/raspberry pie. We sat outside and enjoyed our breakfast. As we were finishing up, the group who stayed at the hostel hiked up – I asked them if they’d seen Black Santa. We were told he ended up leaving very late from the Yellow Deli hostel in Killington – he had to do his morning chores. Chances are, if he hurries, he’ll probably pass us while we were eating pie.

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We left the market at 11:00am and really started making good time. The elevation profile for the rest of the day looked really easy. We stopped at freshly stocked cooler at Cloudland Road and enjoyed some much needed trail magic. I had a PB & J and a bag of Pringles before hiking on. While we ate we started talking about the possibility of making it to Hanover, NH tonight. I had plenty of snacks but was down only one dinner – no breakfast tomorrow.

We decided we’d push and make it there tonight. The thought of having a late dinner in town became a motivating force. We left the cooler at 3:00pm – we still had 16 miles to go if we wanted to reach Hanover.

We passed our first maple syrup lines today – really neat to see!

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With ten miles to hike on the day, I stopped at a bench and took a quick break. It was nearing 5:00pm and we really wanted to make it to town. We crossed the White River and passed through the small town of West Hartford, VT. Off in the distance, we could see a large house with a huge garage that had a giant AT symbol plastered on the front. We could tell hikers were hanging out in the yard. As we got closer, I saw that one of them was Black Santa. I waved and we walked over to the group.

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The owners of this home were busy converting the garage into a working hostel. Even though Greyhound and I were committed to making it to Hanover tonight, we graciously accepted a cold drink and some beef jerky sticks from the owners. I used the privy and we got ready to hit the road.

Black Santa wanted to stay at the hostel tonight – he was having fun with the group he had been hiking with lately. I think they were talking about heading into town for beer and pizza. While that certainly sounded like a good idea, I still wanted to push and reach Hanover – Greyhound was still on board. We left Black Santa at 5:30pm after promising to meet up in Hanover tomorrow.

The trail was very flat – we were really able to crank out miles. Entering Hanover marks the end of Vermont and the start of our second to last state, New Hampshire. I’ve been excited about hiking in New Hampshire for a long time, ever since I was a kid. I couldn’t wait to get back into big mountains again.

We cruised onto Elm Street at 9:00pm and started to make the three-mile road walk to the border. At 10:00 we crossed the Connecticut River and officially entered New Hampshire. We were both very tired  – I looked through the AT Guide, trying to find somewhere to grab dinner. We settled on an Irish pub in downtown Hanover, not too far from the Dartmouth campus.

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After dinner, we hiked back down to the Connecticut River and set up our tents in a gazebo near the Dartmouth crew area. About fifteen minutes later, a campus police officer pulled up and asked me to get out of my tent. I stepped outside and was told to move. He suggested I head back to Vermont and camp somewhere over there.

We packed as quickly as we could and started making the walk back to Vermont at around 12:30am. As soon as we crossed the bridge, I followed a pedestrian path down to the water’s edge and found a hidden nook where we could set up camp without being seen from the road. I was exhausted and went to sleep rather quickly.

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The plan for tomorrow is to get up early and get our chores done. There’s a community center that’ll let us shower and do laundry. We can quickly resupply at the grocery store, have lunch with Black Santa and leave in the afternoon. I’d like to make it to the Moose Mountain Shelter tomorrow (ten miles north of Hanover).

Despite the rain, I’ve really enjoyed Vermont.