Tag Archives: Hiking

Mount Major was Minor

In keeping with my goal to hike at least twice a month, K and I set out to hike Mount Major last Saturday. Mount Major rises a majestic 1,786 feet above Lake Winnipesaukee. You can almost see it through the trees.

Oh dear. I seem to be turning into a mountain snob like my husband, which is pretty rich when you consider that South Moat kicked my rear last week.

There are two trail options on Major: Boulder Loop and Mount Major trail. If you take one up and the other down, your roundtrip hike will be about 3.8 miles long. Boulder Loop is 1.6 miles long, a bit steeper and a not as well-marked, while Mount Major is 2.2 miles long with a slightly prettier terrain. The latter is a great trail for kids and dogs because there are a lot of single boulders to climb on but the trail itself is pretty easy footing – and there is a fairly panoramic view of the lake from the summit.

This probably should’ve been our first hike of the season, followed up by South Moat. So I did things backwards. Sue me.

If you plan to hike this mountain anytime in the near future, my first piece of advice to you is this: do not, under any circumstances, use Google maps to get your directions. The directions we got were so wacky and skewed that we must have turned the car around about 12 times – once only about a quarter of a mile from the trailhead, if only we’d known it – trying to find our way. Finally, a cop who was directing traffic at the half-marathon flagged us down. I sweetly told him we were looking for Mount Major and he pointed us back up the Route 11.

We pulled into the parking lot and I was instantly wary. It was packed with cars, people, kids, dogs, hiking equipment and I think I saw a goat. For a minute I wasn’t sure whether I was at a trailhead or the Fryeburg Fair.

One of the things I like about hiking is the solitude. I like to pretend I’m hundreds of miles from everyone and everything, even if it’s not remotely true. I think this is one of the reasons I prefer to stay away from the smaller mountains. As you start getting up into the three, four and five-thousand footers, you meet fewer and fewer people.

So I’m a hermit. Sue me.

K had the best quote of the day: “Hiking was awesome, before everyone started doing it.”

Roger that, girl.

However, we gamely laced on our boots. To the right of the parking lot, when facing the back, is a well-worn path leading up a steep hill. We each grabbed a wad of toilet paper out of my pack and headed up to the huge boulder at the top, behind which was the community bathroom. After taking turns at guard duty and burying our TP, we headed back down the trail to sling our packs and get Owen out of the back where he was waiting not-so-patiently.

At the back of the parking lot was the trailhead, marked with a slightly weathered sign.

Mt Major trail sign 

“Which trail do you want to take up?” I asked K.

“I was thinking we’d take whichever one everyone else doesn’t,” she replied. And this is just one of the reasons I love K.

We watched two groups take the right side trail, so we headed left, up Boulder Loop. One of the trail descriptions I’d read online indicated that hikers would cross two wooden bridges before the trail forked. Almost immediately we crossed a small wooden bridge and then another that wasn’t much more than a few planks tossed across the next bend of stream.

“Were those the two bridges?” I asked. “It seemed more like one and a half.”

K shrugged.

“And is this the fork? That doesn’t really look like a trail,” I said, pointing to the right. What looked like a deer path wandered vaguely in that direction. There were no other indicators, so we followed the more obvious path for about thirty feet before we decided it was leading dead away from the mountain. We turned around and headed up the road less travelled. Sure enough after a few minutes of walking we spotted an orange blaze.

I hate bad trail descriptions.

I swear we’ve had way more than our fair share of unmarked trails and inaccurate directions. Remember this:

Little K on Cranberry Peak 

Fortunately, from that point forward there was little doubt. We began to encounter signs such as this:

more trail signs 

Here you can clearly see that we are supposed to turn right and that Nick is a loser.

Towards the top we had to scamper over a couple of small boulder fields (or around, in Owen’s case) and up a couple of short rock scrambles, but no big deal. We reached the top in just over an hour, even with our temporary off-course veering, and sat down to have a snack.

Owen on Major 

It took a bit to find a secluded spot on the top of that ant hill, but we managed to carve out a little corner to rest and rehydrate. We hung out there for a while, taking in the boats on the lake and watching the gathering gloom.

Lake Winnipesaukee 

K found the summit marker so we took the traditional picture…

Mt Major summit marker 

…and started back down on Mt. Major trail.

I immediately ran into trouble with Owen on the downward rock scrambles. He likes to jump down them quickly, but ends up dragging me with him. We only have a six-foot leash and he’s not an off-leash kind of dog. It’s not a behavior problem: he’s very friendly and mellow; he doesn’t jump and he gets along well with other dogs. The problem is that he has selective hearing in regards to the “come” command.

Very selective.

I could be holding a bacon-wrapped New York sirloin in my hands and calling his name at the top of my lungs, but if he got it in his head that he wanted to check out something else first (like a bird or a bee or a porcupine), it wouldn’t make a difference in the world.

Even once we got past the boulders he continued to pull me, which is odd for him. I worked for months with this dog on loose-leash walking and usually he’s a champ. Not this time. This time he was frustrating me to the brink of either sitting down to weep or just letting go of the leash altogether.

It is so exhausting to walk down a mountain while trying to pull a dog back up it.

The good news is that Mt. Major trail was quite well-marked.

obvious trail sign

You can’t quite make them out in this picture, but not only is there a sign pointing out the trail’s rather obvious location, there are also a total of four blue blazes along this straight stretch. Four.

Even K and I don’t need that much help. But hey, I guess I’d rather have an over-marked trail than an under.

We made it back to the parking lot just as the first few drops of rain were starting to fall. As we drove off, the sprinkle turned to a downpour, so our timing was pretty good.

Best of all? I wasn’t at all sore the next day, so I got back a little of my self-respect. On to the next mountain! Right after Owen and I do a little review of “easy”, “wait” and “stay”. “Come” is just hopeless, so why bother?

How about you? What commands do you have a hard time teaching your dog?

Say, “Moat”!

The hiking meal of preference for my husband is a sandwich. And not just any old sandwich. It has to be a sandwich from Subway.

Clearly, if you bought a whole wheat sub roll at the store, stuffed it with some sliced chicken breast, spinach, banana peppers and Dijon mustard, that would be inferior to say, a Subway sub roll filled with ham, cheese, spinach, yellow mustard and banana peppers.

I’m just not sure how.

Regardless, this is his MO. So I go along with it. I’m supportive that way.

This is how it was that on Sunday morning we found ourselves in the Subway parking lot. Much to Owen’s dismay, they don’t allow dogs in the sandwich shop, so we waited in the car while “Daddy” got his lunch for the day.

Owen waiting at Subway

Waiting for Daddy

Happily, once T came back out with his Subway sandwich, we were able to proceed to the trailhead of South Moat mountain where we met our friend, WB.

South Moat trailhead

South Moat is a modest mountain of just under 2,800 feet. The trail, roundtrip, is about 5.4 miles long and the total elevation gain is a respectable 2,000 feet. I thought it would be a great starter hike. Or, more accurately, a great “first hike of the season” hike. We usually start a bit smaller than that, but I decided to go for it this time.

The first part of the trail was full of hemlocks with little undergrowth. Instead, a fragrant carpet of pine needles lay on the forest floor. To the right was a gorge ripe with spring melt off. We marched up the trail and over a wooden bridge spanning the rushing water.

South Moat trail bridge

Crossing the bridge put the water behind us and the trail quickly turned almost sandy. There was a decent incline almost immediately, though it was interspersed with flatter areas. None of us quite had our hiking legs yet, but it was a short hike and we were in no hurry. We were content to stop often and enjoy just being outside after a long winter.

Taking a break

I got some love from Owen while the boys talked.

Love from Owie

Because it was so early in the season, the black flies weren’t out yet, which was a blessing. What I didn’t anticipate was the sun. Normally, this would be a nicely shaded trail its early stages, but with the trees just barely budding, there were no leaves to screen us from the rays. It got hot fast.

Fortunately, Owen is good at finding the shade.

Owen finds shade

Owen's shady spot.

Soon we started hitting ledges where there was open rock face and some nice views. Here’s what Chocorua, which I hiked last summer with a fellow MilSpouse, looks like from across the way.

View of Chocorua 

The last stretch to the top was rough. My legs were sending me urgent “you’ve been lazy” messages, so WB and I took frequent breaks while Mr. Mountains-of-Afghanistan plowed steadily ahead with Owen. During one such break, WB turned to me and said, “Oh, man. Wait until you see what’s coming down the trail. This is going to make me feel even more like a pansy.”

It wasn’t the brown lab that came panting down, eyeing us with friendly curiosity. Dogs were not an anomaly on this trail. They were all over the place. No, it was the elderly woman who came after him decked out in a sweater and hiking boots and picking her way steadily along the trail with her poles. She had to be in her seventies. She was amazing.

We were slightly less inspiring. Eventually, though, we made it to the summit.

South Moat summit marker

South Moat summit marker

We took a look around and explored for a bit.

View from South Moat

Ignore the awkward leash position.

Then we settled in for lunch.

Me at Lunch

WB found the perfect little nook to make his hot cocoa.

WB's hot cocoa 

Can you imagine a better view for cocoa drinking? Or a nicer place to read?

WB and Owen reading

T manned our stove so that I could eat my soup.

T at the stove 

In all honesty, it was a little too warm for it, but I was hungry. Probably should’ve gone with Subway.

Owen found a shady spot for a while, but then perched on an outcrop to watch the birds. It’s pretty cool when you can see a turkey vulture fly by at eye level and I guess he thought so, too.

Owen on South Moat 

A fellow hiker saw us snapping photos and kindly offered to get all three (well, four) of us. “Say, ‘Moat’!” he said and we all laughed (except Owie).

Say "Moat"!

Say "Moat"!

After a nice, long break we packed up and made the trek back down. We didn’t stop as often, so we made decent time and came out around 4:30 p.m. It was a good day’s work and a nice – if slightly aggressive – starter hike.

Even Owen was tired.

Owen sacked out

Sacked out in the back.

Walk With Me: Our Story, Part XIII

With the funerals over and the FRG temporarily disbanded, we still needed to find a way to endure the next nine months of the deployment.

 Read Our Story from the beginning.

The months following the funerals were filled with dread and uncertainty. I had no idea what my boyfriend was going through: how trying to sleeping during the day for night missions was nearly impossible on a base as large as BIAP; how, with his platoon separated from the rest of his unit, he had to deal with unfamiliar and often incompetent leadership; how as ranking officer from his unit he was responsible for not only the physical safety, but the general well-being of fifty other guys.

I was new to the military. I didn’t know any of it and he certainly didn’t tell me much. When I asked what he needed me to send him, the answer was always, “Nothing.” They had it all on base. They had phones, internet connection, a huge PX and even fast food places. They had a chow hall, a swimming pool and a barber shop. They got their laundry done for them and T had his own digs.

Other than being out on the road every night, navigating through the IED-infested streets of Baghdad, it seemed like things should be pretty good for him.

Well, they weren’t. But I couldn’t see it. All I knew was that my boyfriend had email and phone access, but our communication was limited to one short phone call where he was constantly distracted by music, shouts and the delay of the international wire, and one email per day. (I didn’t have a computer, so my emails were all sent and received from work or from K’s house.) Instead of the starry-eyed start to a new relationship when we should’ve been inseparable, we were thousands of miles apart and we were constantly beset with the misunderstandings of a toneless email environment and the miscommunications born from two totally different sets of experiences.

Fearing that our relationship wasn’t growing as it should, I became more and more needy. I begged for more communication. Then, when I did get it, I reacted negatively, letting my feelings be hurt by every little nuance of an email. After one such misunderstanding I complained, “It’s hard enough for me to tell when you’re joking when I’m talking to you, never mind in email where tone is more difficult to express.” We didn’t have the luxury of history, so we didn’t know each other well enough to fill in the blanks.

Yet, somehow, this man never lost patience with me. Not then, anyway. Not while he was still deployed. He just continued to send more and more loving emails.

And there were some good moments. We joked and made each other laugh and sent increasingly steamy emails as leave approached. We developed some interesting ways to stay connected. But I still needed a way to cope with the tension and the gut-wrenching pangs of worry and the long, empty nights where I lay and wondered what it was really like where he was and why he couldn’t be with me. I needed an outlet.

Clearly, alcohol hadn’t worked for me.

So K and I turned to exercise. We pumped up our running program. We set goals for ourselves. And we began hiking.

Bingo.

Being in the woods was almost like meditation for me. The earthy smell breathed its way into my pores and flushed out the toxins of stress. The sound of tricking water melded with that of little peeping birds and tiny rustling creatures, making a subtle music of epic joy. It was creation. It was pure. And it was truly spiritual.

Hiking brought me closer to my boyfriend, even during his absence, in a way I didn’t anticipate. He is an avid hiker and has hiked about 75 of New England’s 100 highest mountains. I met him on a hike and we had plans to hike during his leave. Hiking became a bond between us.

So K and I hiked.

We hiked Cranberry Peak in May.

We laughed with Little K and Laurie Loo for the length of the trail.

K and Little K on Cranberry Peak

K and Little K on Cranberry Peak

We laughed at the summit as we posed for silly pictures to send to Iraq.

At the summit of Cranberry Peak.

At the summit of Cranberry Peak.

And we laughed when we got lost, thinking of the joy our men would take in teasing us.

For the record, we weren’t really lost. We knew exactly where we were and we knew where we needed to go. We just didn’t know how to get there. But I don’t see how we were to blame for poor trail maintenance. Even the warden couldn’t find the trail right away.

Yes. Yes, we had to call the warden to take us down. Not one of our finer moments.

Waiting for the Warden

Waiting for the warden.

(I love how in this picture Little K’s face so clearly shows that she’s thinking, You guys are idiots. And I’m stuck with you. Great.)

In early July we hiked East Osceola and Mount Osceola.

My boyfriend had hiked Mount Osceola several times and when he learned we were going he told me of his experiences. He had never seen the view from the top because it had always been raining or socked in the clouds. In fact, he wanted to hike the mountain again sometime for that very reason.

When K and I started out, it was a sunny summer day, without a cloud in the sky. I couldn’t wait to tell T that I had gotten to see a view he hadn’t.

Osceola trail sign

Notice the sun?

But as we neared the summit, a fog rolled in, seemingly out of nowhere. The first drops began to fall as we came out of the woods and the rain continued for as long as we were on the top. I stood looking out at the white blanket obscuring the other mountaintops and thought about how it felt too big for a coincidence, even considering the weather of the Whites. It felt mystical. I got goose bumps on my arms and tears rolled down my face. I had never felt closer to my boy.

Socked in on Osceola

Socked in on Osceola.

When we turned to go down the trail, the clouds broke. The rest of our hike was sunny.

Finally, in late July, we hiked Borestone Mountain.

For this hike, we travelled up Maine and spent the weekend with a fellow military spouse. We had a lovely time connecting with this friend who knew just what we were going through.

At the summit of Borestone.

Another bonding moment.

That was our last hike for a while. By August we were planning for two weeks of R&R with our men. K’s husband would be home in the middle of August and T would arrive a week later.

I couldn’t wait to finally see him again.