Last night it sounded like we were sleeping through a hurricane. The rain, driven by the howling wind, pelted the windows of the hut and created a cacophony of noise as a constant reminder of nature’s awesome power. When sunrise finally arrived, it illuminated nothing but whiteness outside as the hut’s inhabitants milled around, packing away their mattresses and sleeping bags, while waiting for the posting of the weather forecast. When the forecast was posted, it was even worse than we expected.
We were currently experiencing rain and 45-55 mph wind with gusts up to 85 mph, and facing likely thundershowers capable of producing heavy rain and hail. The temperature had dropped overnight and it was currently 39 degrees outside with a wind chill of 19 degrees. A short half mile 500-foot climb to the summit of Mt Madison was the only thing standing between me and a descent to below the treeline, but I decided right then and there that I was not going to make that climb today. I might feel like Superman, but I am a Florida Superman and 19 degrees is my kryptonite. Besides, my clothes were still soaked from the pressure washing I received yesterday and it just wasn’t worth the risk to me.
The Croos had set out so much free food throughout the day yesterday that I wasn’t even hungry for dinner, so for my work-for-stay, I elected to do morning chores for breakfast. After sweeping out the bunk areas (difficult because the guests were in no rush to leave), I joined the other thru-hikers to discuss their plans and everyone decided they were going to go for the summit. This was the last leg of the adventure for Malt and Jukebox, and Malt’s dad was meeting them at Pinkham Notch. I told them that I really enjoyed getting to know them and, while I hated to see them go, I knew that their post-graduation section hike was going to provide them with a lifetime of memories. I also thanked Sweetheart for his kindness and wished him safe travels. I heard later that Shiver had become hypothermic near the summit and, refusing to continue, had wedged herself between some rocks to escape the wind. Sasquatch came upon her, made her put on the extra clothes she was carrying, and forced her to keep hiking thus saving her life.
After all the thru-hikers had departed, I went into the kitchen where the Croos were gathered and asked, “What is the safest, shortest, easiest, and quickest way to get off this %$#@ing mountain?” In unison, they responded, “The Valley Way Trail!” Valley Way is the trail that the Croos use to move material to and from the hut, and one of the Croo members pulled out a map and showed me the way down. I put my wet clothes on, packed my stuff, and reluctantly walked out of the door into the raging wind and rain.
The Valley Way Trail begins just a few yards from the hut and within a few hundred yards it descends below the treeline. The transition was so sudden and shocking to my senses that it seemed like I had stepped through a portal into a different dimension. Within a tenth of a mile, I went from the cold rain and blowing wind surrounding the hut to a dry trail with sunlight shining through the leaves of trees swaying in the gentle breeze. This is probably as close as I will ever come to experiencing what it must feel like to step into Doctor Who’s TARDIS, so I allowed it to transport me down the mountain to the Appalachia Trailhead on NH 2.
It was warm and sunny when I reached the huge parking lot at the Appalachia Trailhead and I felt as though the past two days were part of a bad dream. Gorham, NH, is several miles away so I tried to hitch a ride to town on the busy Route 2. After trying to get a ride for half an hour without success, a local man who had been walking his dog took pity on me and kindly called me over to his car. Not only did he give me a ride to the doorstep of the motel, but I also got my puppy petting fix with his cute little dog.
I arrived at the Royalty Inn around 11:00 am and was told that my room wouldn’t be ready until around 2:00 pm. However, they gave me a key card to the fitness center next door where I got a much-needed shower in the locker room. Once again donning my rain gear, I returned to the motel’s laundry room where I washed and dried my clothes. After changing into my warm, dry clothes, I left my backpack with the lady at the front desk and walked to the Cumberland Farms convenience store where I bought enough provisions to get me through the next morning before returning to the motel.
I’m now situated in my room, sitting in bed surrounded by bags of food, and it still feels surreal not to be on the mountain. I suppose that I am more traumatized by the events of the past few days than I realize. My weather app shows continuing rain in the mountains tomorrow, so I’ve decided to take a “zero” day here to get caught up on journals and mentally recover from my experiences. This is an unplanned stop and I must figure out the logistics of returning to the Madison Spring Hut when I am ready to resume my hike.
Date: August 6, 2017
Starting Location: Madison Spring Hut
Ending Location: Madison Spring Hut
AT Miles Today: 0.0
AT Miles To Date: 1,862.6