Wednesday, August 22, 2012

And Bears. Oh, My.

You'd think that a sign like that would be enough to scare most people away, so they'd go back to their houses, drop onto the couch with a bag of chips and a quart of dip and say, "Well, I made an honest effort to climb that mountain, but I just didn't wish to be listed as a Bear Related Incident."

Because "Bear Related Incidents" are not often written up in the papers like, "In the fourth Bear Related Incident reported this summer, a small group of local hikers was given a rare treat yesterday along Galehead Trail. A trio of friendly, bow-tie wearing bears rolled out of the woods on unicycles just 20 feet away from where the hikers were taking a granola break. The bears juggled, played instruments, and made balloon animals for the hikers before heading back into the forest."


Bear Related Incidents are generally a bit more grim and contain fewer balloon animals and more carnage.

I saw this sign for what it was. A sign. A sign to abandon this silly notion of hiking along bear-infested trails. Julie–who is giddy with the prospect of completing her quest to summit all of NH 4,000 foot mountains within the next millennium–did not listen to my plaintive wails. She forged onward and upward toward the craggy summit, a scant 5 miles directly above our heads.

And she made me hike it twice.

I don't want to sound bitter about this, but I want to be very clear about the fact that I AM BITTER ABOUT THIS.

We climbed that bear-crusted mountain twice and it's all Julie's fault. Then, she had the temerity to berate me for not writing about the first time we hiked it.

Actually, she had the temerity to berate me for not writing about two other hikes, as well. So to get her off my back, I will cram 3 hikes and 4 mountains into this one, bear-filled post.

Long ago, we dragged my son, Alex along with us to hike North and South Kinsman Mountains. I had just purchased my very first pair of hiking boots and was delighted with their shiny awesomeness to the point that I included them in almost every photograph that I took on that hike. I didn't want the boots to get upset and give me blisters.

Scenic View of My Boot.
Lonesome Lake. And my Boot.
This gentle 10 mile stroll took us past Lonesome Lake and the Lonesome Lake Hut. While approaching the hut, if you listen carefully, you can hear the haunting sounds of a bunch of hippies sitting on the roof, singing a Grateful Dead song.

Arriving at the hut, you are greeted with a stairway to nowhere.
Complete with Doorknob.
My suspicion is that this is how the hippies who run the hut get rid of unwanted hikers.

"Sure, man," they'll say. "You can stay here for free. Just head up the back stairs and the first room you come to is all yours."

Then they climb back up on the roof for another 3 hour rendition of Truckin'.

I tried to send Alex into the hut this way, but that kid is way too smart for those kinds of shenanigans.
Plus, he could smell free food from about a mile down the trail. I tried to convince him that it was just the aroma of hippies, baking in the sun, but being a 13 year old boy, he can sniff out food scents at 1 part per bajillion in the atmosphere.

Who can resist the siren call of a free, cold, leftover pancake? Not Alex. He ate them all. Not true. Julie and I both had one, too. Don't judge us. It was a long hike.
They also tease you with the idea that there may be clean spoons on the premises, but there are none.

Heavy with pancakes and redolent of hippie stink, we headed onward toward the summit where we found a guy enjoying the splendor of nature by checking his email. 

If it's not on Facebook, it didn't happen. Better let everyone know where I am.

His friend, who sadly does not appear in any of my photos because my boot was getting jealous, was hiking with an ingenious contraption that allowed him to broadcast Metallica from his backpack for everyone within a half mile to enjoy. It was the first hike I have experienced with a soundtrack, if you don't include the hippies singing the Dead.

Which I don't.

I was visited again by the strange and terrifying Sweat Bunny.
As we sat, perched on the ledge, overlooking miles of stunning landscape, awash in the soothing strains of Metallica, I told Alex that if he made binoculars with his hands, they would actually work because of the odd properties of light at higher elevations.

That kid is so gullible.

Someday he will appreciate how hilarious I am. That day has yet to come, however.

Julie taking a picture of herself behind Alex and my boot. Metallica was still playing in the background.

A delightful feature of the mountains we were on is the fact that they have more than one lake on them. Lonesome Lake, as I mentioned, is home to the rare and elusive Mountain Hippie.  Much farther up the mountain is a tiny lake whose name I cannot remember and do not care to look up right now.
Bonus, Hippie-Free Lake.
It was thither that we hiked next, as it was on our way home and seemed far enough away from the Metallica guy. And if not, we figured we could drown him in the lake.

Once there, Julie–perhaps addled by the thin mountain air–attempted to walk across the lake.

Even the classic hand position did little to help Julie walk on water.

She almost made it, too. She only had about 1,000 yards to go before she sank.

On the shores of Hippie-Free lake was a delightful little campground where you would be guaranteed not to find any obnoxious people "camping" in RVs with 72" flat screen TVs mounted to the outside.

The campground amenities included one water spigot, one pit toilet with the delicate suggestion that the toilet is available for "solid waste" and that "liquid waste" might be more effectively disposed of in the woods.

There was also a giant house-like structure on the shore of the lake where you could seek shelter from hippies should the need arise.

My boot at the log cabin where President Lincoln was probably not born.

It was a very cool place, although Alex was reluctant to take up permanent residence there, despite my claims that he could play his lousy music all the time and it wouldn't bother me any more.

The rest of the hike was a simple glide across several hundred miles of hellish terrain, followed by ice cream, as is the custom.

Julie, perhaps still suffering the effects of the oxygen-deprived atmosphere of the mountain, actually got Cappuccino Crunch and Play-Doh ice cream.


I'm sure that you will all join me in wishing her a speedy recovery.

Let us never speak of this ice cream abomination again.

Instead, let's talk about the bear-filled mountain that Julie made me climb.


Remember that?

Yeah. Me too. We went on this hike, originally planning to summit Galehead and South Twin in one spectacular, thrilling climb. It was a long climb to Galehead Hut, then the trail split into a Y. We planned on going up one way, then back down and up the other way.

But we didn't and I'm not one to cast blame, but IT'S ALL JULIE'S FAULT!

We hiked up and summited South Twin and then went home. So we had to go back to hike Galehead a second time. The next time, we tricked Alex into coming along again by telling him that there would be more free pancakes.

There were not. Instead, there were bear warning signs and suicidal mushrooms and mud that looked like delicious chocolate cake.

Rather than write about two more hikes that were essentially the same hike, WHICH IS ALL JULIE'S FAULT, I'm going to combine them into one dizzying and confusing post.

Our hike started off with Alex, or without, depending on which one you're talking about. And I don't know which one I'm talking about yet, so we'll have to see how it all goes.

Was Alex there?

Or not?
 The hike started out as a gentle stroll
Nice and easy.
Before banking slightly upwards toward the sky.

Less easy.

The trial itself was littered with dozens of mushrooms that had decided that life as a mushroom was not one worth living.

It appeared that these mushrooms had given up all hope, climbed into the trees and cast themselves downward, littering the trail with their carcasses.

It turns out that we were all wrong in thinking that, however. Seriously. Who ever heard of suicidal mushrooms. That's just crazy talk.

We eventually found out that these mushrooms had been destroyed by the evil Gargamel, who has prowled the woods of New Hampshire for decades in search of Smurfs. We know this because Smurfette herself told us.

She even posed for a picture before Alex grabbed her and ate her.

 Being a constantly starving 13 year old boy, Alex naturally mistook Smurfette for a tasty piece of Nature Candy and ate her. He desperately needed to get the bitter taste of Smurf Tartar out of his mouth, so I directed him to a pancake that someone had helpfully left by the side of the trail.

More Free Pancakes!

He was not amused.

Arriving at Galehead Hut, the taste of Smurf still burning Alex's mouth, he refilled his water bottle.
It may sound like a simple thing, but water is, it appears, such a precious commodity on the mountain that they guard it with an ingenious trap.

Alex is desperate enough to wash the taste of Smurf away that he risks filling up at the Sink of Damocles. Please note the sword dangling precariously over his head

You'd better REALLY want that water.
The hut also provides a wide selection of books. And every single one of them is about hiking. Because after hiking all day, what could be better than reading about more hiking?

The view outside the hut on the first hike was somewhat limited.

The second time, that same view was significantly improved.

On hike number one–did I mention that I had to do this hike twice BECAUSE OF JULIE?– we arrived at the summit of South Twin to find several thru-hikers making their way along the Appalachian Trail. The peculiar, stinging odor of thru-hiker is visible as fog on the summit.

Thru-hiker stink clouding up the view from the summit.

The climb to the summit of South Twin was brutal, something I will never admit to Julie, because then she will know that I actually didn't really want to do that second summit, even though we were this close.

We only had to get to that little hill in the background.

But BECAUSE OF JULIE, NOT ME, we had to come back a second day and do it all over again. The summit of Galehead was actually something of a let-down.

Guidebooks refer to this as an "enclosed summit". I refer to it as a "rip-off".

To keep people from demanding a refund, Mother Nature has thoughtfully provided a scenic lookout, easily recognized by this natural signal.

Once at the lookout, Alex and Julie were overcome with the desire to look like models from an ad for hiking clothes.

Would you buy clothes from these two?
My own modeling attempt is less successful.

Hiking pirate!

Alex, however, kept trying.

Alex attempts to model for an energy drink commercial.

And fails miserably by gagging, an activity that advertising people do not care to associate with their drinks.

Before we descend to the cars and ice cream, Julie assures us that we are not, no matter what it looks like, in any way, lost.
No. We are not lost. Julie just wanted something to read. A map was handy. That's all.

And see that knee brace Julie is wearing? Sometimes during a hike, her knee bothers her, so she keeps that brace handy in case she needs it. The problem, of course, is that she failed to read the directions before putting it on. As a result, its usefulness has been compromised somewhat.

Julie tries in vain to slip the knee brace on over her head. Duh, Julie.

Still not working right. Duh, Julie.
If anyone knows how to use that stupid thing, please tell her. It's really annoying listening to her whimper and moan about how much pain she's in during the hikes.

We made our way down the mountain, Julie limping along and adjusting her knee brace every few inches and Alex complaining about how hungry he was. I directed Alex to some delicious, fudgy chocolate cake that some helpful person had left in the middle of the trail.

Mmmm. Tasty.

He was not amused.

We trudged endlessly through the woods, talking exclusively about ice cream until we came to the lair of The Bog Monster from a Scooby Doo cartoon.

We laughed heartily as it rose up from the murky depths and ate Alex.

Nice knowing you, kid.
Back at the car, I took the opportunity to remind Julie that we had to hike that mountain twice BECAUSE OF HER. Plus, I sort of blamed her for my son being eaten by a Bog Monster. We were just packing up to go get some ice cream when Alex staggered out of the woods.

Yay! He didn't get eaten!
I was so happy to see him again that I bought him some Play Doh ice cream.

He was not amused.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ketchup River and the Mysterious Naked Man on the Mountain

First, I need to assure (or disappoint, depending on why you're reading this) everyone that there will be no photographs of the naked man mentioned in the title of this post. Sorry.

I mean, there will be pictures of the man, but he won't be naked. Not anymore, at least.


That's the naked guy on the left there. My best buddy in the world, Ben, the non-naked naked guy.

I frequently write about my hiking trips with Julie, my hiking wife, which is odd in itself because this blog is supposed to be about being a children's author and illustrator. Don't believe me? Go look at the title.

See? Smarty-pants You thought it was a hiking blog didn't you?

That's the thing. Being an author and illustrator is really, really slow and boring. At least from a daily writing about it sort of standpoint. A writing/illustrating blog might go like this:

August 16, 2012

Today I had some coffee, read a bit, went back over a chapter I had written and rewrote a few sentences, smoothing out the flow and changing some rather embarrassingly passive writing. Then I worked on some sketches for another book idea that sounded great when I had it, but is turning out to be kind of dumb. Then I sat there mulling over my life-choices for awhile and smiled because I've never worked in a cubicle. Then I ate lunch.



But, if I write about other stuff, I can say things like:

August 12, 2012

While hiking with my buddy Ben today, I saw a ketchup river and a totally naked man on top of a mountain.

Much more exciting, isn't it?

And it gets even better. Because I was actually hiking with the naked guy. He wasn't nude while he was hiking, of course. Nudie-hiking only leads to uncomfortable chafing and leaves you with absolutely nowhere to keep your car keys. But there was a brief time when–and I need to make this perfectly clear to Ann, Ben's wife–with absolutely no prompting from me AT ALL, Ben was completely naked on top of the most hiked mountain in North America.

(Fade back to the beginning...)

August 12, 2012

I arrived at Ben's house at the decidedly unwholesome hour of 7:00 a.m. I have frequently noted this particularly profound character flaw in my friends who like to hike. They like to start off when normal people should just be considering the idea of thinking about the concept of possibly getting out of bed.

When I arrived, Ben was finishing his breakfast and, rather than offering me a cup of coffee, he offered me a coffee cup. It was cruel of him to give me an empty mug, but we've been friends since the beginning of time, so I forgave him. Also, it was a very cool mug.

Ben is a potter and makes mugs of unusual design and resplendent beauty. He is also very generous with his mugs. I discovered this years ago when we were camping together. He had a great mug with him that he was drinking his coffee from. I complimented the mug, as it was so worthy of compliment, and he gave it to me. After he finished his coffee, of course.

The same thing happened with another mug many months later.

I started following Ben around everywhere, complimenting everything.

"Hey. I like that car you've got there."

"Whooo-boy, that is a tasty looking burger you've got yourself, buddy."

"Hey, wow. Where'd you get that awesome twenty dollar bill?"

And let me tell you all now, before  Ben develops a lemming-like crowd of people, dogging his every step and complimenting him on everything, it only works on mugs.

So he gave me a mug and we started on our way to Mount Mondanock, the most hiked hill in the Western Hemisphere.

I will admit that I have hiked Monadnock a couple times before and have never been thrilled with it. It's a nice enough hike, but when you reach the summit, you generally find enough people there to populate a smallish country. They mill around, texting friends, snapping pictures of themselves, and generally getting on my nerves.

But I hadn't seen Ben in a while and a long hike through the woods seemed like a great way to have time to catch up.

Also to see if I could get a new backpack by complimenting his.  (Nope.)

We began our hike at the shore of Dublin Lake, conveniently located in Dublin, right next to a driveway with a huge gate, two security cameras, and a sign, assuring visitors that "Trespassers Will Be Arrested".

The wonderful part of this particular trail is that almost nobody uses it. Probably because of that sign next to it.  We wandered through the still morning woods, listening for the sound of trespassers being arrested, and trying to avoid stepping on the suicidal orange newts that darted out across the path as we walked past.

We passed Bunny Skull Stick, named by me, right this second, because it looked eerily like a bunny skull. If bunny skulls had ear bones, which I suspect they do not.

Does Hugh Hefner know about this copyright infringement by Mother Nature?

 We soon found ourselves climbing above treeline and may have become disoriented and lost our way had it not been for Ben's superior navigational skills.
Ben leading us safely to the summit using only the sky and some small, orange newts to direct him.

We discovered a small crevasse that had a rock in it shaped almost exactly like New Hampshire.

Look closely. It's there.

 I told Ben that I really, really liked it and he offered to give it to me.

But when he tried to lift it out, his head got wedged in the hole. His pitiful cries for help started to irritate me while I was eating my granola bar so after a couple hours, I helped him out and we continued up toward the summit, now tantalizingly close.

You will notice that the summit was not as tantalizingly close as Ben was, however. I suggested that I just hike to him and we could call it a day and go home so I could drink out of my new mug. Ben, however, is made of sterner stuff, and insisted that we carry onward toward the summit which was not actually tantalizingly close at all.

Our climb brought us past such stunning natural phenomena as:

The Mysterious Rusty Bucket in the Middle of the Wilderness.

The Elegantly Stacked Pile of Rocks.

Some Slanty Rocks.

The Sacred River of Ketchup Which Did Not Photograph Well At All And Actually Appears Rather Disappointing Here. Sorry About That.
Ben's Incredibly Absorbent Hat.
The Tiny Pond That Contained No Fish.

The Trail To The Summit, Which Is Vertical.

We slogged ever onward toward the summit, now a paltry 3,652 miles away. When we did reach it, we were rewarded with the splendor of a bunch of kids texting each other.

Two of the hundreds of teens cluttering the summit like it was the food court at the mall.

Directions painted on the rocks, lest you lose your way.

Ben and me at the summit, contemplating lunch.

A desperate plea for help that turned out to say "Peace" not "Oh please help us. We've been stranded here for twenty three days because we couldn't read the giant signs painted all over the summit and now we're lost and we've been eating orange newts dipped in ketchup from the ketchup river - and that's not ketchup."

I was also treated to a scenic view of Ben's sweaty rear-end. Ben was unable to appreciate this view, so I photographed it for him. You're welcome, Ben.

We decided to have lunch down by the shores of Tiny Lake. I complimented Ben on his lunch, as well and he gave me a bite - I love that guy!

After lunch,  Ben thought he would take the opportunity to change. He has a history of sweating in a manly, invigorating way and, being brilliant, he had packed himself a clean, dry outfit to change into.

What I assumed would be a quick change into a dry shirt wound up with Ben, stripped naked and happily air-drying himself in the mid-day sun right on the trail up Mt. Monadnock, which, I may have mentioned, is the most hiked mountain in North America.

He sunned himself and enjoyed the feeling of nature all over him. I suggested that he might consider applying some more sunscreen if he intended to hike the rest of the way like that because, well... you know.

We were out of sunscreen, so he opted to get dressed again. Our descent included the death-defying crossing of The Chasm of Death.

The crossing left us both terrified and drenched with sweat. Ben developed a Mysterious Sweaty Clown Face of Mystery on his shirt. A sign to rival my very own Sweat Bunny.

In case you're having trouble seeing it I've made this helpful infographic:

Because that's the kind of friend I am.

Our hike ended at Dublin Lake where we took a cool refreshing dip before heading back to Ben's house where I complimented the large bottle of rum he had in his kitchen and he obliged me by filling up a really nice mug with it.