Day 170 on the Appalachian Trail Miles Hiked to Date: 1850 Hiked yesterday: 12 Trail Miles, Miles left to hike: 334
First, I must share some somber news. A 25 year old section hiker died on Thursday, September 19th while hiking a trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire that is NOT part of the Appalachian Trail. The Tuckerman's Ravine section of the Whites is a particularly treacherous stretch of trail near Mount Washington, according to the news article: http://www.onlinesentinel.com/news/Hiker-dies-from-fall-while-descending-Mt-Washington-.html. My family and I have this hiker's family and friends in our thoughts. It is never far from our minds that although hiking is a relatively safe activity, it has its dangers. We know that the Northbound thru hikers who have made it to the White Mountains are amongst the most experienced hikers and do not take any unnecessary risks. I know I speak for a lot of hikers' family and friends when I say that we will all sleep a bit better when our hikers complete the trail.
Second, some very good news: I believe 5 year old Buddy Backpacker summited Katahdin with his dad within the last day or two. I couldn't find the summit pic on Facebook or his website, but I'm pretty sure that's the case. Congrats on a job well done! We can only imagine what's in the future for this great kid!
Third, to Heather and all the others who've said they want to join me in my weight loss quest ... welcome! Not only are we going to do this ... WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A BLAST!! I can feel it already! And to those who are wondering (and asking) if this can wait until after the Thanksgiving and Christmas (eating) holidays ... If Chipmunk is still out here hiking 'til then, yes. But if Chipmunk is still hiking in New Hampshire or Maine in November and December, I may well find out if the "freezing" method of weight loss works. There's no heater in the camper ... UGH! Thankfully that Papa Chip is a portable furnace! Plus, I just scored a 12 volt blanket (on sale) for Chipmunk's bunk. Together with her comforter and down topper, she ought to stay nice and toasty.
You may remember that the Hike for Mental Health group recently summited and descended from Mount Washington in one day. They were not on the Appalachian Trail but one of the other many New Hampshire trails that wind through the White Mountains. FYI, most thru hikers take 2-3 days to hike up and then back down Mount Washington.
We arrived at the trailhead and when we opened the back door of the camper, we found Chipmunk awake. It was about 6:30 am and we all swung into motion doing our pre-trail chores. I made Chipmunk's PB&J sandwiches, pulled her snacks. Chipmunk dressed and pulled her extra clothes for her pack. Papa Chip emptied the trash from Chipmunk's pack, re-filled her water and re-stocked her "on the go" toilet paper in plastic baggies.
With Chipmunk on the trail, we headed down the road to do a little research. Our AT Guide gave coordinates for a meet up spot and we wanted to be sure we could get to it. In the AT Guide, it was denoted as parking area at the Mt. Washington Auto Road. We drove there and when we pulled into the lot, we saw that there was still 2 miles left to travel according to Evil Vengeful Rosie the GPS. I was hoping that Rosie was incorrect but found out she was not. Apparently, the Appalachian Trail crosses the Mt. Washington Auto Road about 2 miles North of the access road entrance.
We approached the "toll taker" on this privately owned road to inquire if we could drive the two short miles up to the AT crossing to retrieve our daughter when she crosses there. He said, "Sure. First, you'll have to remove your camper and then pay the toll." (I believe the toll was $26 or 28 for the vehicle and one driver and then $6 or 8 per additional rider.) Hmm. We explained that we wouldn't go all the way up, like tourists, but he kindly said that we couldn't advance any further without removing the camper and paying the toll.
We thanked him and turned around and parked in a nearby lot to discuss options. Considering we'd have to do this twice, once to pick her up and once to return her to the trail at that location, we decided to put Plan B into motion. Chipmunk would have to hike an additional 2 miles past the original meet up spot and into the Visitors Center which does not charge for access. Removing the camper and leaving it in a secure place is a battle all in itself, mostly because the camper is such a big part of our day to day life out here; it's our home away from home. We texted Chipmunk the update and waited for a response, knowing it may be a while since she only turns her phone on to reach us or take a picture.
FYI, I don't like when access to a "natural wonder" is privately owned; especially when access to it is priced in a way that would not give ready access to most any American family (and foreign visitors, as well). I am a National Park pass holder and believe that their rates are affordable for the most part. I know that many families visit parks because not only is it a wonderful family experience but because it's typically more affordable than most vacation options. Oh, yeah ... I also hate Beach Badges! I don't mind paying for amusement park tickets since the private owner typically buys or leases the land, the equipment, etc. Enough about that.
We drove to the Visitor Center and I asked the attendant at the front desk if I could get some information about the AMC operated huts. She said, "Sure." I asked if there was an age limit for the "work for stay" program. She said, "No. There's no age limit." I told her that my daughter was turned away; told that she was too young. The attendant said, "Well, how old is she?" I said, "Fifteen." She said, "Oh, well she's too young." I blinked a few times and then said, "I don't understand. I just asked if there was an age limit and you said there wasn't. Now you're saying there is. I truly don't get it." She then said, "Well, I'm sure it's governed by the department of health and you have to be 18 to work there."
I took a deep breath and calmly said, "I'd like to speak with someone who oversees the hut staff." She thought for a moment and then said, "Hold on." She walked away, made a phone call and said, "He'll be right down." Shortly, a gentleman walked up and introduced himself: "I'm James Wrigley. I understand you had some questions about the AMC huts work for stay program." I nodded and he said, "You're daughter's a thru hiker and she's how old?" I said, "Fifteen" and before I continued, I asked if we could meet privately about this. I didn't want to discuss location details about Chipmunk's hike amongst the strangers who were circulating about the Visitor Center. He invited us upstairs to his office.
We took seats and I explained our story and asked him if there was an age limit for doing the work for stay program. He said, "No, there isn't." He apologized for the misinformation and said that he'd contact the AMC hut staff and clear that up for the future. In fact, he said, he'd contact the huts she was heading to and make them aware in advance that she wanted to do work for stay. Then, he gave me his email address and phone number to reach him if there was a problem in the future. I took it and gave him a business card with our number and website address on it, too. He said he was looking forward to checking out our story. Papa Chip and I shook hands with him and thanked him for his help.
We went downstairs and discovered a hiker lounge, showers and bathrooms. The showers are coin operated and give you 3 minutes for the first dollar in quarters and then 45 seconds for each additional quarter. The desk attendant said that for about $3-4, you can get a decent shower. Since we are used to a 5-10 minute shower for 1-2 quarters ... $10-12 for our family to get showers didn't sound attractive. Sooooo ... we rolled on a little extra deodorant and figured we'd invest our $12 into another upcoming $15 stay at the campground where we'll be able to dump tanks, plug into electric, re-fill water, do laundry and get showers all in the same place.
The Visitors Center also has dormitory style housing on site and lots of parking. It's a rather popular start point for hikes in the White Mountains. We checked out the trailhead maps outside before we headed into the town of Gorham.
She told us that many a hiker comes into the library to use the internet and find out where everything they need is located in town. She said that some of them are a bit "stronger smelling" than others but she understands why. She said she just keeps Febreze on hand.
Just before we left the library, we received Chipmunk's "OK" message via her SPOT device, letting us know she had arrived at the hut and all was well. We crossed our fingers that they'd allow her to do work for stay. If she's able to do so, it will definitely help us as we budget for both this last month on the trail and the trip all the way back to Florida.
We checked it out and found some interesting design items that we liked: higher counter tops, a bathroom and toilet in which you don't have your knees right under your chin when using, and some smart storage in the bunk over the cab.
My phone rang and it was Chipmunk. She told us that she had arrived at the hut and that they were already aware she was coming. They readily gave her the work for stay and she said that the staff was really nice. She had to scrub the black off some old pots, which she said she did for about an hour. She told us that she had amazing views most of the day and was really looking forward to summiting Mount Washington the next day. I was so relieved to hear her voice and know that she was safely indoors for the night. Although it's been sunny during the day, the temps do drop down into the low 40's at night in town and the mid to low 30's up on the mountains.
After the phone call, we wandered back to Walmart and rented a movie at the Redbox kiosk. We prepared a simple dinner, using up the last of our almost still frozen chicken patties. Around 7 pm, we crawled into our bunks and put "Cloud Atlas" on the DVD player of the laptop. We started watching it and almost immediately I started nodding off. For that reason, I can't really tell you if it was a good movie or not. I left my phone on but had only intermittent service. Every time it dinged, whistled or rang, I checked it, just in case it was an emergency. Eventually, I fell asleep and so did Papa Chip.
If you enjoy reading the story of our adventure, and you’d like to send some “Trail Magic” to Chipmunk, click on the “Donate” button at the upper right corner of today’s blog post. Chipmunk maintains a twitter account: @openlymtngoat where a common hashtag is #GoChipmunk . She (or we) will try to answer any questions you may have about her hike and this family adventure.
Thanks again for all your support,
Mama Chip, Papa Chip, Chipmunk and her dog, Chocolate Chip
(Tammy, Jay, Neva and Coco)