September 1st has arrived and with it, instead of fall weather (my favorite), comes 85 degree days and humidity thick enough that even my hair frizzes.
Still, is there a better way to say goodbye to “summer” than to sit in my little apartment with my cat and husband, drinking coffee spiked with the last of our pumpkin creme liqueur? No. Wait, maybe I will make some pumpkin spice toast. Yes, that’s a thing.
Jason and I said goodbye to summer by taking our (my) biggest hike yet: the Franconia Ridge. The hike was an 8.9-mile loop, unofficially split into three parts. The first part was the hardest: called the Falling Waters trail, it’s a 3-mile trail that took us up up up up to the summit of Mt. Lincoln, the second highest of the 3 peaks on the ridge. The second part was a 1.7-mile trail that trekked across the ridge, from the tip of Mt. Lincoln, across Little Haystack, ending at the top of Mt. Lafayette, one of the highest peaks and the second most prominent mountains in New Hampshire. The third part is really almost two parts: the first being a short 1-mile downhill trail (the Greenleaf Trail) from the top of Lafayette to the Greenleaf Hut, a decent sized resting place for Appalachian Trail hikers (or all hikers) that houses actual bathrooms, a handful of bunk rooms, a kitchen, and a dining area, as well as gorgeous views of the ridge. The second and final section of the third part is a 3.2-mile downhill trail (The Old Bridle Path) that ends at the parking lot where we started. You can actually follow the entire trail the opposite direction, but this way is considered the smarter way, as the bridle path is the easier of the two paths and therefore best to save for the end, when you’re tired.
I was incredibly excited about this hike – I knew it would prove to be more difficult than anything we had done yet, but I also knew it would give me some of the best and most satisfying views, ever. So I started out with a positive attitude. The weather was perfect: warm enough that we could wear short sleeves, but cool enough that we weren’t overheating. I got to use both my new day pack and wear my new hiking pants. I was ready to go.
Of course, my body didn’t fully agree with me. I was struggling to find the energy after the first mile, which is strange, because usually it takes me a mile to warm up. Still, I pushed on through, taking slightly longer than we anticipated. On the way up, we met several other hikers (it was incredibly crowded) including a very friendly German man and his companion (he was so nice that when I saw him a few miles after we first crossed paths, he checked in to see if I was doing ok); a dog named Asher and his two owners (we reconnected with Archer & Co many times); Jim, a slightly overweight middle-aged man who was struggling his way to the top where his (very young and fit) female friend was waiting; a group of 3 legitimate hippies, one who was hiking sans-shoes; and this horribly annoying group of hikers that would either rudely push past anyone that was going slower than them, or walk practically on top of them while talking loudly, but never once asking to pass by. We didn’t care for that last group.
After about two and a half hours of hiking, Jason and I made it to the top of Mt. Lincoln (which is 5089′ elevation). This is where we met a dog named Zeb, and his owner. I was probably a quarter mile from the peak, I could see the peak, and yet my legs were screaming at me to stop so I paused briefly on a rock. Zeb immediately came over to comfort me, and nudged me upwards. I made it. Before I could even take in the breath taking view, Jim’s hiking companion called out to us, asking if we had seen Jim. We told her he was not far behind, and she told us how proud she was of him for doing this. Then we looked around and settled down on a rock to enjoy some lunch while enjoying the views. At one point, Asher came bounding over and generously licked all the sweat from Jason’s face. Whatta great dog.
What a difference the summit is from the trailhead weather wise. When we started, it was all short sleeves and we were still sweating as we hiked. Once we were up top, the winds were strong enough to knock us over if we let them, and were cold to boot, so we bundled ourselves up on our long sleeves and headed out onto the ridge trail. (Unfortunately, I failed to put on sunscreen and now have a weird sunburn around my neck. Ah well.)
The ridge trail is relatively easy, with only a few steep inclines. I actually enjoyed the parts where I had to use my hands to pull myself up. It was during this part of the hike that we met up with Archer again – he hiked with us for a bit with his humans not far behind. His presence made me long for a dog of my own, as I’m pretty sure Pickwick is not the hiking type.
The views from Little Haystack (4780′) were also lovely, but we didn’t stay long, as we were hankering to get to the top of Lafayette.
Off we went! I was tired. I was sweaty and cold. I was strangely not hungry. Well, for food. I was hungry for the peak.
Finally, we made it to the top of Lafayette (5249′)! My legs didn’t want to stop moving but OH were they tired. We settled down for a snack and to take in the incredible views. I was speechless. For once in my life.
Well, I was pretty much done for by this point. Sadly, we still had another 4 miles to go before we reached the bottom. At least it was downhill. The 1-mile hike to the hut was actually really nice – we passed a lot of people who were on their way up, and it was nice to give them encouragement! I had to hold back from singing “The hiiiiiiiills are ALIIIIIIIIIIVE with the sound of muuuuuuuuuussssiiiiic!” at the top of my lungs. I was feeling good again. We made it to the hut in record time. After a quick rest, we set back out. (This was when we noticed that my GPS was a good mile off, which was really weird. Oh well. ONWARD!)
Now, earlier I mentioned the horribly annoying group of hikers – this was where we met up with them again. Going downhill at such a sharp decline is really difficult. You have to have patience and know hiking etiquette when it comes to passing, both passing those going the opposite direction of you and those going the same way. This group, which at this point was just 3 of the annoying people, the others being VERY slow, obviously knew nothing of hiking etiquette. Earlier, on the Falling Waters trail, I had been quite a bit behind Jason, when these 3 people came running up from behind me and nearly knocked me over passing by. We met up with them several times since, sometimes as they waited for their very slow companions and other times as the entire group tried to pass up by (without a single thank you). So here we were, on a very narrow and relatively steep decline, with a nice family in front of us, and these jerks come rushing up behind Jason. I’m already doing my best not to step on the mother in front of me, and the “leader” of the annoying group is practically stepping on Jason’s heels. Well, they weren’t getting by us! We kept our pace and blocked their way as they tried to pass us by on the slightly wider sections of the trail. You could tell they were annoyed with us, but we refused to budge until we heard an “excuse me.” We never did. They eventually took a break to wait for the rest of their group and never seemed to catch up with us again.
Aside from the annoying group, the rest of the hike was relatively uneventful. I twisted my ankle (I’m fine) and Jason might have pulled something (it’s still aching) but we were pretty much no worse for the wear. We finished the hike at 6 hours, 21 minutes, and 21 seconds (thanks Runkeeper!). As we stumbled out of the woods into the sunlight, we turned back to look at the peak one more time. We couldn’t see it.
We poured ourselves into the car, sticky and dirty and ready to be home. The 2 and a half hour drive ahead of us was daunting, but we were anxious to get in the shower. So eager were we to get home that even though we were hungry, we decided to forgo a visit to the Tilton Diner, a diner we had passed a few times and were eager to try. Frozen coffee drinks would have to suffice. When we made it home we took long hot showers, ordered pizza, and indulged in a movie and some dark & stormys.
Needless to say, my legs were dead the next day. We left the house only for brunch and a booze run, then settled into a long day of Ugly Betty reruns and marathon mimosas (Jason drank beer and read).
So here we are now, the last day of what we refer to as “summer” (although it actually will last for another 22 days), ready for the leaves to change, the wardrobes to change over, and for pumpkin everything to take over our lives. The fall is my favorite time of year, and will be filled with me doing stuff, so don’t be nervous that I won’t be around. This fall I will go to San Francisco for the first time, travel a ton for work, go on many hikes, pick apples, celebrate my book club’s 5th anniversary, overindulge in pumpkin flavored foods, and turn THIRTY. This fall is full of promise, and I for one can’t wait to live it.