Sunday, September 7, 2008

Into The Wild - Part 3

Read Part 1
Read Part 2
Day 6: Wauchipauka Pond to MRL

Today was my day to be Leader of the Day (LOD) with Tory. Last night when it was time to volunteer to be LOD, I was actually hoping it would be Tory who stepped up to the plate. She has a real leadership sense about her, probably from her days as a camp counselor. I just knew we'd make a great team, and rally our troops on what would be the longest and toughest day of our journey. We got together the night before to go over the trip plan for the next day. Everything is detailed from time of departure to time of arrivals at various locations. River crossings and potential places for water. Road walks, things to look out for.. and briefing the group on what to expect the next day in terms of these issues and what else we'll be doing. We discussed everything and had a great plan put together. When we woke up today, we sprung into action and got our group working and motivated to leave camp around 8am. We got up at 6 so this gave us two hours to eat, clean, tear everything down and hit the trail.

It was sad leaving Wauchipauka Pond. It was such a peaceful location, though I'll admit I won't miss the daddy long legs who crawled across my face while there every night. I ate my last of the Pop-tarts for breakfast while Spencer ate his last Nutri-grain bars. We noticed how slim our food bag was looking, but things were looking up. We were pretty hungry for sure, but we knew we would be treated to a hearty meal while at Moosilauke Ravine Lodge tonight. By 8am everyone was ready to go, so we rounded up the troops and hit the trail. We worked our way over to the very section of trail we helped repair the day before, where we got a chance to see our changes at work. BUt we also had to pick up various tools from our work day and walk them to the road. I got stuck with the most awkward thing available.. a beach pail filled with steel nails. Ugh! There was no easy way to carry it, I just knew I wanted to make it to the road. We boogied out of the woods and made it to Rte 25 where a tool stash had been established. We all stashed our tools and headed over to Town Line Trail, where we had another student lesson planned.
(Chris With some tools)

As we made our way to the river here, Spencer had his shot at teaching a lesson. Spencer's lesson was on River Crossings. He gathered his thoughts well and told us about the hazards of River crossings which included a variety of things I never even thought of or knew about. After his lesson, we all took our shoes off (I put on my crocs), loaded up our gear and headed for the river. Now even though there was an EXCELLENT place to cross established with rocks.. we were getting in. The water was freezing cold, and about waist deep at its deepest. With our straps unbuckled, we each went hand in hand, created a chain and slinked our way across he water, making sure to not cross our legs. It went perfectly. After our group went, the seond group of 4 went through. We then sat on the far bank and put our shoes back on. Chris wasn;t taking account for his gear, and as we took off he left his hiking pole behind. Robby picked it up and put it in his pack. By the time we got to the first uphill, Chris realized his mistake and began to ran back. We yelled for him to return to which he did.. and when he got back, we gave him his pole back and told him to practice better Leave No Trace. It was pretty funny. So.. a great lesson from Spencer and fun thanks to Chris and Robby, our group remained in good spirits.

We walked the Town Line Trail to a rd in Glencliff, took a right and then a left onto High St. We made our way to the Glencliff Trail Trailhead and ducked into the woods to where we took another break. We marveled at the barbed wire surrounding the fields lining the trail, and even evidence of an old stone bridge that spanned the small stream we rock hopped over. But while resting here, Kel and Robby put on quite a show with a skit. The skit was on Trail Etiquette and more-so about how to effectively speak to other hikers on the trail. The first skit they did was a skit in where Kel approached Robby who was acting as a fisherman. Kel yelled and screamed about how its "my river" and so on... and was really a jerk and real negative. The point of the skit was to display a negative way to effectively communicate with others in the woods, AND to show how this method is not a very good way to educate anyone. The second skit was a more proactive approach where each spoke calmly and collectively to each other. It showed a more respectful and easier way to effectively communicate and educate another about the wilderness. Man... I wish all those folks who told me I was "going to F%^&ing kill myself" while running Franconia Ridge could see this!

We continued on up the trail, taking a right onto the Hurricane Ridge Trail. The trail was created as a result from the great 1938 Hurricane that devastated portions of the great northern forest. My health has been a concern for the last few weeks... and it was here that it all finally became a true and blue concern of mine. As the class began to climb the slope towards the ridge and Hurricane Mountain, EVERYONE was WAY ahead of me while I lagged far behind and gasped for air. It felt like someone was sitting on my chest, my legs had no power and I was zonked. Was it because I hadn't eaten well? OR was it something else seeing as this has been going on for a few weeks now... more on this later. The group was forced to wait for me to catch up, which was an exercise in pride sucking on my behalf. I was hurt and wanted to crawl under a rock. The group allowed me to jump into the front instead of Sweeping.. and I led the group slowly and steadily up to the ridge. I was so depressed by this... but managed myself well. When we finally made it to the ridge, Chris took the big yellow tarp from my bag to lighten my load... it was perhaps one of the most concerning and humbling moments of my life. I felt terrible.

We all sat down and ate lunch. I was finally out of fruit snacks and fruit leathers, my trail mix was gone. For lunch I ate craisins, whatever gorp was offered, and the rest of the Marshmallows Kel had given me. As I concluded eating, I was asked to give the class a quick history lesson on Peak-Bagging. So away I went, talking about the history of peak-bagging in New Hampshire and New York; what lists exist and the different games to play. I really enjoyed doing this as it is something I am passionate about and I hoped others would be just AS passionate about the same. After my lesson, Robby gave us a lesson on what to do in the event of animal/Bear encounters. I am amazed at how many people don't know what to do in these instances so the information was good to get.

We packed everything up and headed down the other side of the ridge towards MRL. Along the way we stopped at the Carriage Rd where I briefly told everyone some history of the road. I find it neat to share these 2 facts. 1.) The first US Downhill Championship was skied here on the Carriage Rd and 2.) When the US Government was looking to a new ATV to have in the field during military operations.. the Jeep motor company won the competition with their First JEEP which was test driven for the government by driving the prototype up the Carriage Rd. Yes yes... more useless info.

We arrived at MRL with 2 hours to spare. We instructed the class to use their time as they see fit, and we all seemed to do the same thing. We made our way to the lodge where we showered for the first time since Friday. It was heavenly. The water was hot and the towels soft. It was nice to peel some grime off me and freshen up. We then went upstairs where I purchased a chocolate brownie and we all drank coffee or cocoa. I'm a cocoa drinker myself. I then went to the pay-phone where I got to call Sarah and let her know I was still alive.. though barely. Whatever is wrong with me whopped my butt on the ridge today, I'm starving and haven't really slept well all week. All of us returned to our bunkhouse where Robby gave us a crash course in stove assembly and repairs. He had our MSR Whisperlight stoves in various states of disassembly and explained possible problems with the stove and how to fix them. The lesson was rushed but valuable information. I am amazed at how much information Robby knows and was pretty grateful he was willing and able to share it all with us.

We then made our way to the Ravine Lodge for dinner. The menu... well... for those who know me, was not a list of things I eat.. EVER. I'm a meat and potatoes kind of guy.. ok well... a Chicken Tender and Grilled Cheese kind of guy really. BUt here is what I ate: Beet and Barley Soup with cabbage and mushrooms. Followed by Rice and Lentils in a mushroom cream sauce, green beans and walnut and raisin biscuits. Whatever biscuits remained on the table, Spencer and I put in our pockets for tomorrow. The Dartmouth staff came out and tried to entertain us for 5 minutes while dessert was prepared. All of the tables had to stand and participate in an activity called "The Knot." Each group had to join hands with two different people in your group. Then we try to untangle the knot and make one unified circle... WE LOST. The waiter said, "UNH you lose so no Dessert for you." I replied, "We did your trail work.. and showed Carl how to do it too... We WIN." He nodded approval and we got our dessert... which we were getting anyway. We then sat down and enjoyed pudding cups with whipped cream and cinnamon sprinkled on top.

We then return to the bunk house where I engaged the group in my activity. Skits and acting things out are an effective way to educate others. I took the opportunity to not only get my group thinking, but to engage them in some acting of their own. I asked them to answer a few questions first: 1.) Dick Clark said, "Music is the soundtrack of our lives." What is your theme song? 2.)If there is one movie that you think closely resembles your life.. what movie is it? and 3.) If your movie were to be remade, list the first 3 people that come to your mind.. then fill in actors names next to those names and one next to you. Who would play these parts? And who would play Kel? It was fun and neat to hear everyone's answers. Then I had everyone write some kind of scene on a piece of paper that they'd like to see played out. It was exactly like "Scenes From A Hat" on Whose Line Is It Anyway? It was a fun activity and we all had good laughs. My favorite was, "What Sherpa John says to Sarah after running 100 Miles." Interesting acting... sorry for me that the kid was DEAD ON with it. Hehe

After my activity we turned the lights off in the cabin and sat around as Kel read us Dr. Seuss's: The Lorax. Following his reading of the Lorax, he read aloud an article The Watermans Wrote titled,"Why The Lorax Lost." We then discussed our varying opinions on the Watermans piece and how we felt. It was a stunning reading and even better conversation. As a group we did a great job discussing the important issues effectively and being respectful to one another. In fact, previously in the day; Kel and Robby made mention of how amazed they were by the melding of our group of hikers. It was no Thursday and we had yet to have ANY kind of disagreement or negative interaction. So Chris and I wanted to play with this fact a little bit and tried staging our own little altercation. Chris's acting was good... TOO good. I worked wonders at getting under his skin, he was a great "annoyed" actor.. I couldn't stop laughing though and had to spill the beans of our plan. It was funny though. And no confrontation in our group continued... We also all sat down and had a debriefing session where everyone gave us feedback on how we did as LOD's. All of the feedback was positive and great, but we also learned of things we as a class should continue to build upon.

Before bed, we all do our own thing. Greg and Martha were planning and plotting the next day as it was their turn to be LOD. Tory worked with Robby on disassembling stoves and reassembling them. Chris, Spencer and I went to working on our knots knowing that tomorrow we would be tested on our knowledge of them and other things we learned. And Kel waited patiently for Robby to be done with Tory, at which point they went off to debrief one another of how they thought the day went. While they talked, the rest of us settled in. I skipped playing the Harmonica tonight, slid the earplugs in.. and quickly dozed off in my comfy cozy bunk bed. Ahhh... a mattress, and no bugs to crawl on me. It was a great night. My stomach was re-filled and I am finally comfortable for some sleep.

Day 7: MRL Over Moose to Mud Ponds
We woke up early on Friday morning to head back into MRL for some breakfast. While most of the other groups made what they had bought for breakfast... Spencer, Chris and I paid the $5 to get breakfast served to us by the crew. For the first time in my life I ate Oatmeal... something I swore to myself I'd never have. It wasn't half bad except terribly bland. I had to add a ton of Applesauce and Raisins to it for some flavor. After pigging out on that, the scrambled eggs and sausage came out followed by lemon scones. You guessed it, spencer pocketed some scones to eat along the way today. After breakfast we all packed it up and got ready to roll. Greg and Martha were our final LOD's of the week and had a hell of a day in front of them. They led us out of the main lodge area and onto the Gorge Brook Trail, a trail I've hiked many times before. Once in Spring, Once in Summer and Once in Fall with Winter Conditions. We were heading up Moosilauke which would be my 6th time summiting this peak.

We ambled our way steadily up the summit. Spencer and I had finally eaten some food, so our energy was rather high today, but I was till having trouble at times. I can't wait to get home to go see the doctor. We got to the first major outlook on the trail and here we had another lesson on map and compass. We used our skills to identify a few peaks off in the distance. I'm not sure what the second one was but I do know one of them was Kineo. I guess the Osceola's but was WAY off. Oh well! We continued up the trail stopping a little while later for snacks and something to drink. While we stopped on the trail, I had the opportunity to give the class a short lesson on Alpine Zone Etiquette. The alpine zone is a tough pace to grow, where the only place on earth that the environment here is replicated is the arctic tundra. I stressed the importance to stay on and keep everything on the trail to lower our impact here. We packed up and continued on, reaching tree-line and taking another shor break before we ran out of places to pee.

The weather on top of Moosilauke was almost as good as I've ever had it. Temps in the mid to upper 60's with a very light breeze. The clouds danced and whirled about. Now it was my time to give my lesson for the week on Mountain Weather. Everyone sat around eating their lunch while I cracked out some small diagrams and pictures I had prepared at home to talk to the class about mountain weather.. and more locally, the worlds worst weather. We talked about the Orographic Lift, lightning, clud types and how they form, New Hampshires unique weather, storm tracks and Rime Ice and the Alpine Zone. I had a great time teaching the class as they all remained engaged and asking questions. This is why I've chosen Outdoor Education.


After completing my weather lesson, we turned our attention to more map and compass. We all really enjoyed the number of these lessons we engaged in because its an area we all stated (pre-trip) that we wanted to hone our skills on. While on the summit of Moosilauke we perfected the skills of orientation, declination, triangulation and back-bearings. Everyone had a great time trying to name surrounding peaks and properly locate each one via compass. It was great. But soon we had to pack things up again and keep moving on another high mileage day. We bid farewell to a few thru-hikers and began hiking down towards the Benton Trail.

As we began to leave the summit, I noticed a couple I had recognized form somewhere. They asked if my name was John in front of the group and I replied, "Yes." Turns out these folks met me in 2005 at Bryant University in Rhode Island. They came and saw my film showing at that particular location. We shared smiles and pleasantries before taking off down the trail. About 200 yards further and I was stopped by another hiker, "Sherpa John?" It was GlennS. We talked about the last time we saw each other being a winter trip to Isolation. So nice to run into a familiar face. As we continued on down the trail, it was fun to see the reactions of my classmates. "Well excuuuuuseee us!" I had a huge smile from ear to ear. I love when people say hello.

We continued to the bottom of the Benton Trail where we stopped at a stream crossing to refill our water bottles and eat some snacks. We had a short road walk ahead of us and it would be warm on the road even though a layer of overcast was starting to filter in over-head. Would our rainless streak end? The Benton trail was one of two trails I had yet to travel on the Moose.. all that remains now is Snapper. I found the trail to be rather easy, pleasant and the outlook from a ledgy outcropping about 3/4 of the way down was exciting. We turned left onto the road and spread out. Robby and Chris ran ahead as a sort of race while the rest of us hung back and walked relaxed with our huge packs on our back. At the end of the road, we stopped and would embark on our 3rd solo hike of the trip. The plan was to leave in 1 minute increments and all meet up at our second river crossing on the Tunnel Brook Trail. We were on our way to Mud pond for the night.

Martha led and I fell in second. Spencer and I weren't too interested in a solo hike, so I waited on the trail for him to come behind. Once he caught up we continued our journey together, eating lemon scones and thinking of tonight's pot-luck dinner. At one point i looked up and realized we had caught Martha. We stopped to give her some room when behind us we heard Chris Catch up... we were now a party of three. After a short while we continued on, caught Martha again and had to wait... thats when Kel showed up... now a party of 4. We waited once more and spread back out... but some 00 yards down trail... we all met up again at what was our meeting place. I'm not sure anyone actually HAD a solo hike. From here we continued on together headed for our camping location for the night. The trail led us to a campsite and we soon found ourselves on what I recognized as a herd path to nowhere. We consulted the map and discovered the need to cross the stream. We crossed the stream and stopped on a small island. Our lod's devised a plan to spread out and try to find the actual trail and our campsite. Two people went one way, two the other, the rest hung out. In what could have been a stressful and sticky situation; we al held true and remained calm. Greg and Chris found the trail, Martha and Spencer returned.. and off we were once more... until we found a campsite along the ponds.

We all voted to set up camp quickly and then get right into our testing.. this was a class after-all. While setting up camp I over-heard Greg tell his cook partner Chris, "We need to find food for the pot-luck." And chris responded with some less than exciting words about that idea. Spencer and I damn near starved all week... and the whole time we had a box of Kraft, 4 cheese Mac N' Cheese in our pack that we saved just for pot-luck. We could have eaten it.. but we opted to save it for the group. Greg and Chris had a version of Shells and Cheese with Dried Tomatoes they opted to eat on Wednesday. This was supposed to be their pot-luck meal, but because they were hungry, they opted to eat it. They were now thinking of serving us PB&J on Bagels, leftover fig newtons, leftover cheese and Grasshopper pie they decided to name "Giardia." This pissed me off.. especially since Spencer and I saved our meal.. so I jokingly said something about them feeding us gorp and Chris replied with, "Shut up you ungrateful Prick!" Now... usually I would haul off and give the kid a piece of my mind. But this is a classroom where one of my goals was to be patient and the other was to be positive. After a few minutes passed, I waited for Chris and I to be alone and I told him, "Chris, I think you calling me ungrateful was uncalled for and a bit over the top. Its not that I am ungrateful, its that I think you are unthoughtful." And he apologized and we went about our business. The groups only confrontation and it was solved in less than 30 seconds. I wish some of the older hikers I know could be so mature.
(Spencer at Camp)

After we set up the tarps, Robby and Kel split up into two stations and the testing began. We were tested on our knots first. We each had to perform the clove-hitch, taught-line, truckers hitch, figure 8 with a bite and a bowline. After knots, we had to do Map and Compass where we oriented a map, took a bearing, and took a back bearing from and un-named peak on the map. We then moved on to stoves. Stove safety was first where we had to "teach" our instructors the proper way to safely set up a stove as well as to light and operate a stove safely.
(Mud Pond and I)

After testing completed it was time for the Pot-luck dinner. Spencer and I brought our Mac N' Cheese, Tory and Martha brought shells and cheese in some kind of sauce. Kel and Robby had tortellini's in pesto sauce with sun dried tomatoes, and of course Greg and Chris had their PB&J Bagels, Cheese, Fig Newtons and Grasshopper Pie. Spencer and I had munched on our biscuits all day and thank god we did. Everyone tried everyone else's meals, we all shared... but after everyone had firsts of our mac N' Cheese.. we asked if anyone wanted more. Everyone declined an I immediately yelled, "Get it!" Spencer and I shared the last bit like the scavengers we'd become. And it was DAMN good!

After dinner, the clouds continued to roll in. Tomorrow we planned to wake up at 5:15 for our walk to the bus. But tonight, a special reading from Kel about what we could learn from our trip. HERE IS A COPY of what Kel read. After he finished... camp was quiet and reflective... I broke the silence asking if I could read my journal entry from the night before. Everyone sat silently as I read aloud what I wrote during the reading of the Lorax. My journal is not handy as of the writing of this report... but know that I wrote about the exceptional group of individuals I had the pleasure of spending 8 days with. Seven strangers who helped re-inspire, re-motivate and reshape my life. I often times forget why I do the things I do... why I hike, why I run.. and on this trip I was reminded. Per my goals on the trip.. I learned to be patient, I learned to be humble and I learned how to spread knowledge. I learned that in the outdoors.. THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG, even though most folks will do all they can to shove their own theories down your throat. As I ended my reading, I stopped and thanked them all for being so positive on our adventure. And then I paused and looked towards Robby...

Robby and I work at EMS together and we got off on the wrong foot. I wouldn't say that I didn't like Robby, but I didn't necessarily have a positive opinion of him either. And as we sat in the darkness, and as i tried to gather my words, I couldn't help but to sit there and cry a little.. I got choked up. All I could say was, "I don't know why I am crying.. this is no big deal and is kind of ridiculous." Camp remained quiet and for more than a minute, I tried to gather myself. I looked toward Robby finally and said, "So many times in my life, I was judged upon before anyone got to know me. I judged a book by its cover... and its wrong. Robby... I respect you and your knowledge... and while I may not have thought fondly of you previously.. I'm sorry."

Its amazing how the world turns. We show up on a trip expecting things to go a certain way, expecting to learn a pre-determined set of lessons. But I learned more than just lessons on this trip. I learned a lot about myself, and others. Robby is one amazing individual with greater knowledge than most of the experienced "peak-baggers" I know. But what was beautiful about our trip was our ability to bury the hatchet, and get off on the right foot. I gained a new sense of hope for the world in which I live and the people I know. I gained a level of skill and confidence that no one can take from me or my peers. It was amazing.
(The Clouds move in)

We then began our peer evaluations for the trip. We had to evaluate everyones performance from the trip including our own and proved effective feedback to them as well.It took quite awhile to fill these forms out properly, but it was part of the learning process. As soon as I was done with my evaluations, I broke out the harmonica for one last song.. only this time I played it louder and for longer. I played from my soul, and played a tune which to me was the song of the trip. As I finished it up, my classmates thanked me for playing and bringing the harmonica along. Our final night together in these great woods I call home. We nestled into our sleeping bags.. slid in the ear-plugs.. and nodded off one last time.

In the middle of the night, I woke up to a small downpour. Kel was sleeping under the stars. We woke him up and he ran for cover under our tarp. Poor guy.

Day 8: End Game
We woke up at 5:15 am and began taking down camp. The only food anyone had left was gorp or snacks for a quick snack. We had a 3 mile walk out to the fun bus locale. We strapped it all up and hit the trail. We walked briskly down the tunnel brook trail, all along the brook through a magical hardwood forest. Remnants of old and new remained in these woods and provided us with some wonderful last minute scenery. There wasn't much talking as we all walked like zombies. We cam out on the road and walked a short ways to our pick-up spot.... where there was no bus. After 20 minutes of waiting, Robby and I ran up High Street to see if it was at The Glencliff Trailhead on accident.. no dice. We ran back to the group. The plan was to have the group hike with our packs and poles down the road while Robby and I ran to 25C where that river crossing was 2 days ago. We ran down the Town Line Trail and sure enough... there was the bus. We hoped on board and directed our driver to head up High Street where we found the rest of the class. We loaded up and headed for home.

About 45 minutes later we turned off towards Rumney and stopped to eat at a local General Store that made immaculate breakfast sandwiches. I ordered a ham, egg and cheese on a white bagel... extra meat. And it was ike heaven. I drank 2 chocolate milks as well. So good. We continued to UNH where the Freshman were having their move-in day. We made our way to the Gray building for the de-issuing of gear. We made sure everything was clean and folded nicely to be stored away in our majors "supply closet." From here it was back to the Browne Center where we had a group de-brief about our trip which was filled with thank you's and farewells. We then each had a one on one debrief with Robby and Kel where our performance for the week was evaluated and we could also talk about what we want to work on moving forward. My meeting ended and I called Sarah. Her and our friend Bekah came to pick me up where I returned home to the land of stress and negativity. I all ready long to be back in the woods, living the simple life... but perhaps another time.. where I can learn more than originally planned once more.

Good to be home!