September 29, 2012

The Only Plan Is...There Is No Plan

The constituency has been clamoring for another blog post, so here goes. 

The weekend in the woods ended before it even began.

No, not in the sense that time flies when you're having fun, but in that my hiking partner for a three day backcountry trip bagged out two days before departure.  Not unexpected, but the turn of events left me adrift for a way to dispense with a free weekend.  What transpired was a Woods Hippie wandering of the finest sort - an adventure of motorcycles, tempests, summits and spirit that was rampant in spontaneity yet rooted in familiar terrain.

Rowell's Bridge spans the Contoocook River in Hopkinton, New Hampshire.
At the urging of Mrs. Hippie, who was anxious to rid herself of a moody husband, I packed the motorcycle with a kit of essential camping and hiking gear.  With tent, bedroll, stove, and clothing in the saddlebags and gasoline in the tank, I struck out in search of new roads.  I would like to brag that I was unencumbered with preconceptions and expectations and set out on an adventure of pure whim, but the reality was that the trip didn't immediately take a form because of paralytic indecision on my behalf.

Brooding.  Where should I go?  Irritable.  How about here (points a finger to a random place on the map)?  Frustrated.  No, I don't really want to go there.  Resigned.  But why not?  In the end, I settled on riding north into New Hampshire to camp at a Forest Service campground in Waterville Valley where I would stage hike of the Tripyramids.  Okay, fine, fair enough, it was enough to motivate me to put up the kickstand and hit the starter switch.  Friday morning arrived and I bid the family adieu, two- and four-legged alike.  The ride, all 260 miles of it, passed pleasantly if not unremarkably, highlighted by the waning colors of summer's passing days.  The spring and summer flowers have long wilted, leaving behind weedy hedgerows of goldenrod and aster to hue the fields, and the maples and beeches have taken on a tired grey-green tone to their foliage - perhaps the earliest signaling of the resplendent carnival of color to come.

As the bike carried me to the southern gateway of the White Mountains, mere minutes from my intended bivouac, more changes.  I was a mere 45 minutes from my family's mountain retreat, complete with a hot tub, soft bed, and a bottle of cheap whiskey.  That, and twenty miles of the sweetest sweepers and twisties in New England.  (Not familiar with sweepers and twisties?  Buy a motorcycle, immediately!)  The aches in my shoulders and posterior that had been building all day suddenly diminished and I nudged the black Suzuki on a northwesterly tack alongside the Wild Ammonoosuc River, an unrecognized foreshadowing of the following morn when I would hike to her headwaters high on a mountainside.

Settled with drink in hand and music pulsing form the stereo, I opened the hiker's guidebook to peruse some trail options and unleashed rolling, unstoppable changes to the plan, this time not at the hand of indecision but rather as necessary reactions to impending weather - a powerful cold front that was forecast to be the turbulent arrival of fall in the White Mountains.  All at once the wide open day was framed by very real considerations - squalls in the high mountains are significant threats and riding motorcycles in the rain is just plain misery.

The plan...those rolling changes...which mountain to climb?  The necessities - a short ride from camp, quick hike to a tall summit, off the mountain before the storm hits, majestic scenery, and superlative physical challenge.

Anyone want to donate to the Buy the Woods Hippie a Better Camera Fund?
My mind wasn't fully made until I awoke in the pre-dawn hour.  Clouds streamed above at altitude and the lowlands were crowded with fog.  Fools stay in the hills in such weather, so this foolish boy climbed Mt. Moosilauke via the Beaver Brook Trail, a short, steep, and physical footpath.  The trail and brook are synonymous - often occupying the same space.  Primal cascades slide down a laceration in the woodland that has exposed the bedrock heart of the mountain.  Vivacious, tumbling, medieval.  After a steady, meticulous climb on slick rocks, I emerged from the ravine and ascended into the summit meadow.  The unrelenting fog sparked thoughts of the delicate dance of water and life.  Having just returned from the desert canyonlands of Utah, I was acutely aware of the biotic struggles to acquire this essential fluid.  And here, surrounded by billions of somehow perceivable vapor droplets suspended on the wind, I could almost sense the summit vegetation opening their stomata and drawing deeply of the moisture-laden air, obtaining from thin air the lifeblood long denied by the hot and dry summer season.  On this grassy peak the hydrologic cycle began, or ended, or simply was.  All this vapor condensing on rock, soil, and plant alike, with the smallest volumes merging in the subterranean pores to create a saturated body sufficient to supply the cascade deep into summer.  Rivers from clouds.  The swirling womb of the Wild Ammonoosuc River.

The view from the summit meadow.  I wouldn't have it any other way!
My early departure, eagerness to climb hard, and trepidation regarding the approaching storm found me on the summit at 10am.  Plenty of time to enjoy the rockpile, or so I thought.  Food, water, and added layers of clothing kept the moist, cooling winds at bay for a half hour at best until a chill crept into my bones and beckoned me to retreat below treeline.  The descent had worried me on the ascent; the trail was quite steep and is notoriously wet even in dry weather.  However, the boot rubber did its job and ushered me safety down the mountain to the dew-streaked Suzuki.  I suited up in riding gear and ripped down Route 112 from the hikers' parking lot at the height-of-land of Kinsman Notch, again enjoying the curvy pavement that had treated me so well the previous evening.  Cool to think that half of that parking lot drains to the Wild Ammonoosuc and onward to the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound, and the other half drains to the Lost River and the Gulf of Maine.

Lest you think I take this too seriously, let me say this.  Despite all the bullshit prose I drop on this blog from time to time, I'm really just a goofball kid that likes to hike in the mountains.  The rest is just gravy.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent alongside the swimming hole on the Wild Ammonoosuc - a marvelous sequence of small waterfalls over polished rock - the view governed by the historic Swiftwater Covered Bridge.  Baptism in the vapors which had coalesced in my presence at 4,802 feet above sea level just that morning.  (I hope my post-hike pee was on the Gulf of Maine side of that parking lot...)  Bands of light rain showers rolled through and offered me the delightful interlude of temporarily abandoning my swim for the shelter of the underside of the bridge to write in my journal (waterproof geologist's field book, in case you're wondering).  Returning to the cabin, I briefly flirted with the idea of riding to a nearby forest service campground, but a check of the weather radar indicated a whole lot of red, so I instead spent an enjoyable evening weathering the storm with my cousin and her boyfriend who had also journeyed north for some rejuvenation in the pines.  Thanks, guys, for tolerating your vagabond hippie cousin on your weekend getaway.  Sorry about that.

Isn't it amazing what nature provides?  Steps in the rock!
And the storm, for all my worries and insistent media forecasts, was five minutes of fury and then gentle rain.  As a wild man once said, the earth refuses to be tidy.

Morning again - this time with sunshine sparkling and winds absent.  The night prior I had hatched a plan to tackle Kings Ravine on Mt. Adams in the Presidential Range, but I slept in and then realized the folly of trying (or wanting) to rush a hike that should be savored.  I mean, this ravine has hidden ice year-round and a crazy jumble of boulders among thousands of feet of vertical gain that beg for a day-long exploration.  Not suitable fodder for the day when I have to ride home.  So, I picked another local favorite, Black Mountain via the Chippewa Trail.  A short little mountain with a two mile ascent that packs a mighty punch.  Steep!  This mountain has one serious Napoleon complex.

The steepness of portions of the trail drew comparisons to the prior day's hike up Moosilauke.  My legs certainly took a while to warm up to the experience.  The fledgling autumn weather was a stark contrast to the meteorological witchcraft summoned on the Beaver Brook Trail.  The interesting thing was that these two hikes were unique in their details but I ultimately perceived them both as a continuum of thought and experience over the two days.

The coolest part of the hike was the lime kilns.

These kilns were operated in the mid to late 1800's to produce lime (the stuff you put on your lawn) from a low-grade marble that was quarried from the flanks of Black Mountain.  Alternating layers of marble and charcoal were piled in the kiln and were fired below from the brick fireboxes that were undoubtedly fueled by wood from the surrounding forest.  I can only imaging that the dense woodland surrounding me on this hike was a barren hillside during the kiln days, stripped of burnable materials to feed the kiln.

The figurative and literal foundations of our modern society.
I was struck by the primitive technology that was in use little more than a hundred years ago, during the lifetime of my great-grandmother who I knew well into my teenage years.  The moss-covered rocks of this early industrial structure brought forth memories(?), no, perhaps a shared ancestral experience(?) of some medieval forge on a Welsh hinterland.  Looking at the kiln and pondering the way of life that accompanied its operation, the inevitability of technological progression dawned on me.  We as humans are committed to technology at this point, regardless of the impacts it may have on the earth.  Through natural selection of our own device, we as a species are no longer fit for life in the wilderness.  And all this change happened so suddenly, within a few generations prior to my birth.  In my great-grandmother's time we went from stone kilns to space travel and the instantaneous global sharing human unprecedented rate of change. Why?  Think!  Energy.  Petroleum!  Man's endeavors prior to the discovery of oil were limited by the availability of energy - the amount of firewood that could be cut to fuel the kiln or the acres of hay that could be grown to feed the oxen to pull marble from the quarry .  Energy was tedium.  Oil changed all of that.  Energy was suddenly readily available and non-perishable, thus freeing our bodies from the physical act of procuring energy (read Joel Salatin's Folks, This Ain't Normal for more on this topic).  And the tidal wave of innovation that surrounds us today, this most massive application of our evolutionary intellectual advantage, is the direct result of this liberation.  As a self-described environmentalist, this thought resonated like an electric shock.  Is there any turning back?  Should we? Could we if we wanted to?  Are we destined for the confines(?) liberation(?) of pure mechanism, or will we find a harmonious balance of the wild and technological?  I hope for the latter...

I don't want to know a world where these wonders are paved over...
 Whew!  Some time alone in the woods can make a man think...

So, just as quickly as the little black motorcycle whisked me away to the northlands, it brought me back home. Ostensibly, a bit disappointing, until I got to experience the little guy enjoying a ripe tomato from the garden...

...which put the whole thing into perspective.  

Safe travels,

Woods Hippie