Someone once said to me that “What makes hiking so great, is that its something you’ll always go back to.” And I must say that there is no better way of getting back to something when you can combine it with your other love… trail running. I’ve been in a pretty big funk lately. I’m always tired, my legs are killing me.. and for the first time in awhile I have some tweaks and twinges in various places. I don’t know what’s up, I hate the doctor, and I am about as close as I have been in many years to calling him t schedule an appointment. I don;t know if the funk is mental or physical… but I knew today was going to be a day of rejuvenation. I needed to get that “spark” back.. that special something that re-energizes me. I needed a re-birth. There has always been one constant activity in my life that has been the trigger of baptisms. And that constant in motion in the White Mountains.
I had various plans materialize and fall apart for the day. I guess I’ll just take you on the journey from start to finish and hope you enjoy the ride today was. I had been kicking ideas around for a while about what to do today. The first plan was to go to Pittsfield, VT and run part of the NE 200/100 course. But with the race falling apart (more on this later), I knew I had to switch my plans to save some sanity. Then I turned my attention to the White Mountains. The MMD 50K is taking place today and I thought about participating in that. But the thought of being out there for over 24 hours didn’t intrigue me one bit given my current mental and physical status. So I turned my attention to “peak-bagging” and decided that I was going to try to bag Isolation and Owls Head in the same day. Something which to my knowledge had never been done. I went to bed last night thinking that this would be the plan.
I woke up before the alarm and felt that tightness and soreness in my legs I’d been feeling for awhile now. I was still very much tired and elected to stay in bed awhile longer and re-adjust my plan for the day. I woke up at 8, showered, ate and packed my fanny pack. I hopped in my car and headed north. But before I left I looked at my list of peaks that I need for the month of August. One stood out like a sore thumb and I hadn’t been there since Memorial Day Weekend of 2006. I was going to hike Carrigain. I decided that I would climb the peak and head down the backside by way of the Desolation Trail. When I got to the Valley I would head to Still Water Junction, a place in the whites I had always wanted to go. Then I’d finish the run by running around the base of the mountain, through Carrigain Notch and back to the car. While driving up I passed many of my favorite swimming holes thinking about how great they’ll feel upon the end of my run. I parked my car and left at 11am with a quick trot, and was quickly heading up the trail.
The Signal Ridge trail follows along the Sawyer river for most of its early stages, crossing over various old logging roads along the way. The legendary Timber Baron J.E. Henry used to log this area heavily.. so much so that the white mountains were nothing more than a barren wasteland. The trail head for this trail starts in the old abandoned and hard to find town of Livermore, where nothing more than a few chimneys remain decaying in the plush woods. The trail today was muddy and wet, as is everything else in the state of New Hampshire providing all the rain we’ve had. The sky was a gorgeous blue with only a few high puffy clouds milling about. Todays forecast called for the chance of Showers and Thunderstorms with highs in the upper 70’s. It was perfect.
Not far up the trail I stopped “thinking” and took to listening and taking in the surroundings. I noticed that the cloud cover was now turning to almost an over cast yet the sun was still shining. What really stuck in my head was the lack of any movement. There was no wind.. and there were no birds. There was nothing.. just a deafening silence. I thought nothing of it and continued moving onward and upward. I crossed the few high river and stream crossings and breathed in deeply the musty smell the woods were giving off.
Its that same smell you may have took in in you grandmothers basement. For some reason I love this smell and I took in some deep deep breaths to enjoy. It was humid for sure!
As I finally really began to climb the switchbacks, the trail became rocky as is the normal here in New Hampshire. And once again I thought of those who live in or run in Virginia who talk about the rocks at Massanutten, these pictures are for you:
As I continued to climb I started hearing a rumble in the distance. It was a short rumble like what an airplane would give off and I figured it was the Green Mountain Boys doing their maneuvers in their expensive F-16’s as they typically do in our area. I continued climbing and went past a single hiker, then later a young couple. It felt like it was raining a bit and as I looked up I noticed nothing more than the sun and some blue sky. I figured it was the humidity leaving dew on the trees and it falling off. But then I started thinking. 1.) The rumble came from the East and the GMB don’t do maneuvers to the East. 2.) This mountain is notorious for making its own weather. 3.) It’s still sprinkling 4.) There was that eerie silence earlier…. I knew exactly what was happening I just needed to get myself to a vantage point where I can look around. Finally, I came to the first outlook where I got a view to the south and east as well as UP. Here is what I shot:
As you can see from the view to the South and East, the shadows were pretty long and the clouds pretty numerous. In the second photo I had looked up and realized the unfortunate and inevitable. A thunderstorm was indeed brewing to the west. Being on the Eastern Slope of the mountain is blocking the sounds of the thunder except for what is echoing off peaks near-by. My plan was now changing. I convinced myself that my day was once again going to be cut short. There would be no Still Water Junction and no run around the base. The plan was now to keep pushing forward and hope to get to the summit so I can bag the peak. As I continued to climb, spurts of heavier rain fell intermittently and the rumbles finally started to come into ear shot. I looked back and saw the gray/black cloud circling around this mountain, but hoped it was far enough away that I could bag the peak.
A hiker was descending on his own and mentioned his buddies had gone on to the summit. He, on the other hand, decided it was a dangerous trip and was heading for the car. I hadn’t REALLY seen or heard anything yet so I continued to push forward. My plan changed once again. I was now hoping to run into this guys buddies who I had hoped got a better view of the situation, and if not, I would simply make it to Signal Ridge where I would be above tree line, in the open, and could get a view for myself. As I started to climb I noticed the wind picking up. The leaves rustled and the rain became more constant. The thunder in the distance was becoming louder and louder and more constant. I pushed harder… so hard that I was losing my breath, my heart beating nearly out of my chest and I was gasping for life. I stopped to drink and take in a few gels. I was in the tight switchbacks now and I knew exactly where I was. Signal ridge was just 100 yards away and I was looking forward to seeing the view. The summit is all of .4 miles from there. As I stopped to drink, it happened. The FLASH BANG! But this time it was different. In that split second before the bang and after the flash, I felt a wave of energy thump against my chest. Lightning had struck so close that my ears rang, my chest hurt and I had a small accident in my running shorts. I immediately and Finally made the right decision to turn around and book it down the mountain. But first… a picture of the moment right after the lightning strike.
Its never easy being turned away from a summit, especially when you’re all of a half a mile from it. Here are the views I missed for YOUR enjoyment:
(Signal Ridge looking to the summit)
(The view from the top)
I couldn’t worry about not making it to the summit though. I had quite a challenge before me. I was 4,000+ feet up with a thunderstorm bearing down on this mountain. This mountain which happens to be a huge mound of earth, the highest in its vicinity. not to mention those rocks I showed you earlier… now were they not only moss and lichen covered by they were SOAKED and slick. It’s times like these when I enjoy taking a test. I booked it.. and let me tell you… if downhill running was an Olympic Sport, today I would have won the Gold Medal and set a world record.
Very few times in my life have I run faster down a trail. My ankles twisted and turned. The thunder got closer, louder and more frequent. Now I had to run for my life to the car in the hopes of remaining safe. The rain came down in buckets and soon I was soaked. I came up on those hikers I saw earlier and scared them as I whizzed by.
I wanted to stop but I just kept running. I noticed it getting brighter, the rain let up and the sun was coming out. I slowed down to a fast walk to catch my breath before negotiating the stream crossings. I had a moment to reflect on the day thus far. Here I was, running alone, no rain gear, no long sleeve anything. Just me, my waist pack, some gels, drinks and a camera. I wondered if I could have just waited it out up high and gone for the summit. What if this was just an isolated storm? The wind picked up as chills ran down my spine.. I needed to keep moving. I’ll reflect later. I picked up running again but took it easy along the river sections.
And then… it started to get dark. REALLY Dark… Night time dark. I was having a hard time focusing on the rocks. I was soaked, dripping wet, and it was getting darker. The wind gusted strongly and I heard rain coming in the distance. This is not good. And then… the storm REALLY HIT. Lightning flashed frequently, the rain came down in unthinkable ways. I took the camera and held it in front of me as I tried to concentrate on the rocks. I was amazed I got a picture off, but I think it tells the story of how things were going at this point: (Note: Its 1pm when I took this)
Finally, I reached the car and the skies just dumped the weight of the sky on the world. It was amazing. I asked a hiker packing up under his hatchback to take a picture of me. He asked, “Of what?!” I said, “Of rebirth.”
I ran the 9 miles up and back in 2 Hours 15 Minutes. I got in my car and headed down the road to Route 302. It wasn’t raining here yet by the sky told a story.
I stopped on my way to Conway, somewhere in Bartlett to take a photo of the storm I had negotiated.
I got back in and drove to Conway. As I got onto the back-roads around town I came across Diana’s Baths. I had never been here before but knew it was a popular swimming hole. With the storm still moving in, I got out of my car and ran to the swimming hole some .6 miles in. The falls are beautiful for sure. But I was interested in soaking my legs. I was all ready wet, but its the flow of the river, the clean water, the essence of earth that my body needed. I got in the water and soaked before running back to the car. Total Miles Here: 1.2
I’ve made it “back” to the mountains twice these week and each adventure by itself was full of its own unique challenges. Challenges both physical, mental and environmental. But its time like today where I can put some “zing” back into my soul and understand once again why I’m out here doing what I do. I turned around on Carter Dome on Tuesday and I turned around on Carrigain today. Today was a day where I made some poor decision but continued to push the envelope to see what lies within. I realized that there is still a flame within thats burning bright. While in recent days its felt like the flicker on a wick, I know now that its more like a raging fire. Part of why I, why WE, do the things that we do in running and hiking is because of the risk of failure. Nobody wants to fail and its the action of challenging yourself to succeed, to push beyond what you think the limit is that drives us to success.
I have some great adventures lined up over the next few months. This morning I wasn’t into these things as much as I want to be. But after todays journey. After challenging my mind, after pushing the limit and after washing my soul in the waters of earth, I’m ready to roll. The journey continues, the adventure is new. Life is good and I’m so glad you are all in it with me.
(Oh yeah… I made the right choice to turn around. Soon after leaving Diana’s Baths, a massive hail storm rained down on the area. Vivid cloud to ground lightning was everywhere… I dodged a bullet today. I guess I better screw the cap on tighter because I tell you…after lightning hit up High.. I looked like this running (see below):