My brother John has joined us to hike for five days in New Hampshire. He’s the only person from the “outside” to hike with us… and it just so happens he joined us for the hardest part. Right now he’s sleeping. Sore muscles, maybe a baby blister, scratches and bug bites… all healing, I hope, under the mighty, restorative powers of deep sleep. I am impressed that he chose to use a week of his precious vacation time to sweat and haul himself and a bunch of gear around in the clouds. He is uncomplaining (unlike me… how did all the whining end up in my genes?), willing to speak up when he needs a sit-down break, and probably a little shell shocked.
It has been insightful to observe a non thru-hiker out here. One forgets what an odd lifestyle we have evolved into on the trail. For instance: we sit down for a lunch break, and John pulls out his bag of trail mix… and eats it one or two nuts at a time. My usual caloric handfulling method (to say nothing of Zippy’s direct inhalation) seems suddenly barbaric. And for instance: we are reminded that normal trails are made of dirt or pine needles, and are a foot or two wide, and gradually and methodically ascend and descend to their destinations. Here, in the twisty, steep, narrow, devious Whites, John says that his tango lessons have been as influential as his rock climbing lessons.
He’s done very well. He’s no speed demon, but he keeps on…. and I watch the Trail throw him obstacle after obstacle every day, always something new, just like it does with us and with everyone. The trail’s rude introduction to him was a 2200 foot climb up Wildcat Mountain, with the reward of views back to Mount Washington and the Presidential Range from the ski hill up top. Then came the knee-pounding downhills… the (thankfully unfulfilled) threat of rainy and stormy days… scrambling over wet boulders, walking through a path that doubled as a river and sometimes waterfall… easing down slick rock slabs without handhold… and just when the trail finally flattened out for a few miles, a series of rushing, deafening, rocky, deep streams to ford. I hope the feelings of accomplishment, and our slightly dirty company, more than make up for the tribulations he’s borne!
Meanwhile, he keeps walking with us, seven or eight miles a day. He notices veins in rocks, the red color of the tree roots, the small wild plants. He listens to all the birdsongs, and later seeks them out on his phone’s bird identification app, which tweets and chirps as we sit in the shelter and watch the rain fall. He waits for a trail name to attach itself (Bad Swig?). He pitches his new tent, dressed like a skinny ninja in his black Cap 4s. He has the joy of using privies from deluxe to shudder-inducing. He watches four thru-hikers devour a turkey carcass with their fingers. He asks questions. He is quiet. I wonder how he likes it all. I tell him that someday I will ask him to take me camping on his home turf. Then I will do things his way, and live in his terrain. I hope I will be as open to it all.
Thank you, John, and may your toe blister be but a painless memento of your time here with us!