Thursday, August 18, 2011

True Confessions and Sore Feet

So, the rumors that have been flying around are true.
I cheated on my wife.

With this guy.

Ben. The other man.

But not my real wife. I cheated on my hiking wife, Julie.
I'm sorry, Julie. I truly am. And I hope that, in time, the hurt will heal and you and I will one day be able to move past this and go hiking again. Like maybe next Friday? I have Monday free, too. Let me know.

Yesterday's hike with Ben, who has been my best friend since we were 10 years old, started, as so many hikes seem to, at an unpleasantly early hour.

Ben arrived at my house at 6:00 a.m. and, after a cup of coffee, we headed up north to spend the day tripping over the roots, rocks, and small children that litter the trails of The White Mountains. Our destination was called Falling Waters Trail and encompassed not one, not two, but three mountain summits. Our friend Ryan suggested this hike as a "very nice hike".

I think that Ryan does not actually like us very much.

While it was, undoubtedly "a very nice hike", it was also "a very long hike" that begins with "a very long drive".  The drive up north was actually quite pleasant. Ben and I have been friends for so long that we always have lots to talk about, but even if we didn't, long silences are never uncomfortable.

There was little chance for silence on our ride, however. Early in the trip, Ben had pulled his iPod out of his pocket and plugged it into the stereo so we could listen to some music. The music and conversation was then punctuated by Ben's iPod alarm going off. He fiddled with the iPod and conversation resumed. Then the alarm went off again. And again. And again. Every 5 minutes, Ben's alarm reminded us that it was 5 minutes later. He fiddled and fooled with it. "I've turned off everything on it!" he cried, "There's nothing left to make any noise at all! Was one of my kids messing with this as a joke?!"

Ben and I have both worked as teachers and are well practiced in tuning out annoying noises, however. We continued on our way, Ben cursing his iPod every 5 minutes. When we finally arrived at the trailhead and turned off the car and the iPod, the alarm went off one final time. Ben reached into his pocket and removed his cellphone. He pressed a button on the phone and the alarm stopped. "Hunh. I guess it wasn't my iPod."

We were still happy, in spite of Ben's alarm mishap; but that's because we hadn't started hiking yet. A brief stop at the trailhead bathrooms was made even briefer by the toxic cloud of death that hung about the buildings. We opted for more rustic facilities along the trail and we were off.

The trail starts with a delightful stroll along a heavily wooded path before turning a corner where a guy with an ax appears out of nowhere.
I'm not saying that Ben and I screamed like little girls, but I'd just like to state, for the record, that nowhere in any of the guide books was this guy with the ax mentioned. It's just not something that you expect to see on this sort of hike and it may have startled us a bit. But, I repeat, we did not scream like little girls.

It turns out that, as far as we know, the guy was not a homicidal maniac. Or at least if he was, he was not wielding the ax in that capacity. They were deep in the middle of major trail maintenance, so we would occasionally round corners and discover scenes that look like they belonged on the cover of romance novels. Or in a Diet Coke commercial.

"Oh. Who's the sweaty, shirtless fellow leaning on his shovel along that sun-dappled path deep in the woods?"

And then somebody opens a cool, refreshing Diet Coke and everyone is suddenly dancing around in a spray of cool, refreshing mountain spring water.

But it wasn't a Diet Coke commercial.  And nobody was dancing around in sprays of cool, refreshing mountain spring water, despite the fact that Falling Waters Trail is the most appropriately named thing on the face of the planet. There was water falling everywhere. The place was silly with waterfalls.

Wow! A waterfall!
Ooh. Look! A waterfall.

More of a watertrickle, but okay.

Hey! Another waterfall!

Hey! Another waterfall!

Hey! Another waterfall!

Hey! Another waterfall!

Hey! Another waterfall!

Okay. We get the point.

Lots of waterfalls. Not many sweaty construction guys prancing about in the water. And for that, we were truly thankful. Because we had enough sweat of our own. Ben developed a delightful pattern of sweat across his front that began to resemble a smiling face.

Sadly, it had lost some of its smiling cheerfulness by the time I took a picture of it. I believed that Ben's sweat may be revealing secret messages to us, but I simply couldn't decode them.

We eventually made it to the summit of the first mountain, Little Haystack, and Ben had an opportunity to change his shirt. It is unfortunate, however,  that he had managed to sweat all the way through his backpack and on to his clean shirt.

I, of course, was still clean, dry, and shower-fresh. And I don't think that Ben has any photos that will prove otherwise. Because he killed the battery in his iPod trying to shut off the alarm a hundred times.

We wound our way along the ridge line for a mile and a quarter, drinking in the breath-taking views and breathing in the breath-taking stink that we were creating.

We made our way to the final summit where we were greeted with the majestic, awe-inspiring view that we had hiked so far to witness: a random kid on the top of a mountain playing a hand-held video game.

We ate lunch and surveyed our surroundings, ignoring the kid with the video game.

The sight of a plane soaring hundreds of yards below us and our car, six-thousand miles away did little to dampen our spirits because Ben's wife, Ann had packed cookies for both of us and they gave us a reason to live. (And, yes, I swear, that little speck in the photo is really, seriously, honestly a plane.)

We headed off down the mountain toward Greenleaf Hut, one of the many AMC facilities that punctuate the mountains, offering $100/night bunks and, no matter how hot it is outside, bowls of nourishing, hot soup.

We passed on the lodging and the hot soup, opting instead to refill our water bottles and make room for more water by taking advantage of the hut's composting toilets.

I don't wish to dwell on the scatological elements of our hike, but I must mention that the toilets at the huts are composting toilets and, while standing at it and making use of it, I was aware of an unexpected and unsettling cool breeze blowing up from the depths and into my face, exactly the part of my body where I would least wish such a breeze to go.

The signs posted in the bathroom offered an explanation, describing the methods by which the toilet works, including "a circulator vent fan that moves the air upward and out through the top of the toilet". This was, evidently, an achievement that they were proud of. It seemed, at least, a certain way to guarantee that nobody makes an extended stay in the bathroom.

Freshly watered, we headed off again toward the car, trailing behind us our own personal combination of delightful odors, now enhanced by the auxiliary back-up stink blown on to us by the hut's composting toilet fans.

The trip down was full of spectacular views and unexpected oddities. We saw the natural terrarium rock:

(I am reluctantly forced to point out its resemblance to a toilet seat, an unfortunate theme that seems to be developing.)

The wily and elusive Benfoot, viewing us curiously from his den:

And our last view of the entire hike before we descended below tree-line:

A few hundred years later, we arrived at my car and, despite how tired we were, we were kept awake for the ride home by Ben's cellphone alarm chirping cheerfully at us every 5 minutes.

No comments: