Friday, October 30, 2009

It has been brought to my attention that I am an idiot

The return of Standard Time makes it lighter in the early morning, not darker. So Woodbury’s early risers will not be spared the terrible sight of me grunting and drooling my lumpish and creaky way around town. They’ll either have to avert their eyes or get used to the assault on their senses. Or they can sleep later, which would probably be best for everybody.

Wrist watch

I’m trying to get back to regular running. Our morning walks are really, really good (though Paul’s gone off cosmopolizing again), but I need more if I want to remain merely moderately chubby, and a shuffle every-other day before the walk pretty much does the trick.

I have, however, been stymied.

Over the decades, I’ve been kept from regular running in all the usual ways, from sheer laziness to back spasms. My recent problem, though, has been one of those “who’da thunk it” deals. I sprained my right wrist a few weeks ago coming down off Wildcat D, when I fell on one of the slabs. I think my right Pacer Pole collapsed, throwing me off balance at the wrong moment. (If this is so, it was user error for sure, not a problem with the sticks). Since then, I’ve progressed from not being able to shift the car to (triumph!) being able to pour my wine right-handed (though using the corkscrew is still a bit dicey). During most of that time, though, I couldn’t run because my wrist hurt too much, a new and embarrassingly dainty state of affairs. *

I’m ready to roll now, though. Just in time for the return of Standard Time to ensure that it will be pitch dark at 6:30. Woodbury’s early risers will be spared the terrible sight of me grunting and drooling my lumpish and creaky way around town. In the spring, I will emerge from my chrysalis of darkness lithe, smooth, quick, and supple. Or perhaps merely moderately chubby. Either way, I’ll be down with that corkscrew.

* But not as embarrassing as this: Once when I was, I think, a junior in college, my coach sent me to the infirmary to be tested for mono because I was running so poorly. I was actually hoping I was sick. Test negative. I just stunk.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Friday jaunt

We had only a few light sprinkles as we drove the hour or so up to the trailhead Friday morning. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to walk in decent weather, after the fine times I’d had recently hiking in downpours. P and M, however, who had endured some drenched Scottish walking and camping in August, seemed okay with it, so I decided to join the end of the line (P, R, and M) as we headed into the woods just north of the Connecticut-Massachusetts state line.

Our route was a six-mile loop that encompassed Mount Everett (2,624 ft.), a tall peak in this part of the world. Our path took us up Race Brook Trail, steep, rocky and beautiful next to its cascading brook.

The view from the first outlook showed that the New England autumn wasn’t quite over. The flame of maple leaves was gone, but the oaks hadn’t all put on their dull brown winter coats.

It took us a strenuous three hours (stretched a bit by our losing the trail and scratching around for a while before finding it again—on the other side of the brook) to reach the Appalachian Trail, turn north, slab up Everett’s shoulder, and eventually achieve the remains of the old fire tower atop the mountain.

A little further on, we stopped at a shelter for lunch. A snappy dresser with impeccable standards, R decided it was a good time to dry his laundry.

I, secure in my sartorial perfection, simply enjoyed an apple.

A little farther on, we passed this tree. At first I thought some thru-hiking vandal had carved a message, but’s just ink.

We made good time down the gentle Elbow Trail off the ridge, debouched onto the attractive campus of the the Berkshire School, did a little car shuttling, and headed for home to clean up, collect some random hangers-on, and get over to R and MJ’s to enjoy some comfortable lolling about, a spectacular meal of veggie lasagna, and great good-humored conversation—accompanied, of course, by one or two swallows of terrific wine.

Hard to imagine a more enjoyable day.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Not barefoot in the park

Finally, an intelligent article on this whole running shoes-don’t-really-help thing. It’s very true that when you’re fit and light and biomechanically adequate—let’s just say when you’re young and genetically fortunate—that running barefoot is wonderful. As a kid, when I had to run short and fast, I always stripped off my shoes. Picnic and schoolyard sprints, touch football, that kind of stuff. Oh, that wonderful lifting fleetness I now experience only in memory.

But the idea that modern, urban, middle-aged fitness runners—creaky, heavy, biomechanically inefficient—would be better off slogging their miles in naked tootsies is bizarrely absurd. “Three to five miles on the streets of Cambridge, completely barefoot,” might work out for a particular Harvard professor, but would pretty much guarantee a sudden epidemic of strained achilles tendons if the rest of us took it up, not to mention wonky knees and hips and the inevitable cuts, scrapes, and bruises. (Barefoot on city streets? I’m tempted to say, “are you insane?”—but this is a Harvard professor.)

The article, in this morning’s New York Times, finally talks sense and gets it right, I think.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Music At Twilight

Before I lost the hearing in one ear in the mid-’80s, I listened primarily to what’s commonly called classical music. My special love was the chamber music of the late 18th and early 19th centuries—roughly Hayden to Schubert. We used to go to a lot of live performances, the memories of which still give me pleasure many years later. Two of the most wonderful were given at Sprague Hall at Yale: a deep and intense Death and the Maiden by the Alban Berg Quartet, and a joyfully friendly reading of the Mendelssohn Octet by a group of superb local players.

After a multi-decade hiatus, we headed for Sprague again Sunday to hear a long-time favorite (and probably the only performer who could have gotten me to New Haven through what has become this autumn’s habitual rain, wind, and low temps), the splendid Emma Kirkby who, with Lutenist Jakob Lindberg, presented a program of “Songs and Solos from Early 17th Century Europe.” Lindberg is no mere accompanist. He took four or five solos, and plays his 500-year-old instrument with immaculate technique and great musicality.

I prefer Emma Kirkby in later music—the Handel and such that I’m more familiar with—but she certainly sold me on Dowland, Purcell, et al. What a voice! As the program said, she “values ensemble, clarity and stillness alongside the more usual factors of volume and display.” “Stillness” in a soprano—a miracle! It is this restraint in the service of the music, along with the remarkable purity and accuracy of her voice that made me a Kirkby groupie long ago.

I remember in the late ’70s listening to the long-time, long-gone, morning classical radio fixture Robert J. Lurtzema (I so miss Robert J.) interviewing Kirkby. On air, he exclaimed that he noticed she was wearing a band on her ring finger. He asked, in evident distress, if she was married. She was. He immediately, on air, went into a little public spiral of mourning. He’d obviously had a terrific crush on her. Surely, he wasn’t alone in that.

Friday, October 16, 2009

An almost walk, a short walk, and a non-walk

The almost walk:
Last Wednesday was flu-shot morning for sweet B, H had a cold, and it was also wet in New Hampshire. Rain came down most of the day, and when it slackened, H and I packed the baby up and bolted for the McLane Audubon Preserve, hoping to get in at least a little stroll in the fresh air before it resumed. Mais non, mes amis. Open car door, pull out Kelty, begin to slide B into it, and—presto!—downpour resumes. We wandered around the indoor exhibits and the cool eyrie (a tower for watching raptors) for a while, but the rain never ceased, and we headed home to Jasper the Wonderdog, who we’d thought wouldn’t be welcome at a bird sanctuary.

The short walk:
Thursday we motored northwest to Mount Cardigan. But poor B seemed to be feeling the effects of yesterday’s shot. She was uncharacteristically unhappy, and cried on and off in her Kelty as we started up the trail. After about half an hour, H and I realized things weren’t going to get any better, and we turned around and brought the miserable sweetie back to the car.

The non-walk:
On Friday, H’s cold was worse, she had scheduled responsibilities at the new house, I knew my creaky knees were facing the haul over the Wildcats on Saturday, and we decided discretion was the better part of valor.

All in all, though, we had a wonderful week together, H and I got out a bit with B, and the New Hampshire wing of the family finally set up housekeeping at their new address.

Which is how sweet B, again under her dad’s CamelBak, discovered that banging these things together makes NOISE!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Winter pokes its nose through the curtains

It’s snowing here in Woodbury...and this during what is usually the crispest, brightest, best time of year. Goody.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Last week’s walk #2

The plan last week was for H and me to get out and walk as much as we could. And we did, but a little less than we had hoped. One day was a washout—we decided not to take sweet B out in a downpour—and one was shorter than planned because of B’s general unhappiness on the trail—probably a reaction to the previous day’s flue shot.

And the new house was ready for occupancy. Last Tuesday was primarily a moving day. H and A were determined to sleep the night in the new house rather than the apartment, so H picked up the U-Haul, the hired muscle appeared, and by noon most of the really heavy stuff was in the South End.

H, sweet B, Jasper the Wonderdog, and I couldn’t head for the hills until about 2:30, so we chose a short daunder on a relatively nearby target. Belknap Mountain in Gilford is close to Lake Winnipesaukee and lots of other water in what’s accurately called the Lakes Region here in the land of Live Free or Die. When you get away from the tourist traps and strip malls that natural beauty attracts like ticks to a moose, it is—especially at this time of year and on such a gorgeous day—indescribably beautiful. And Belknap—or, more accurately, Belknap’s fire tower—

—lets you see it all: Vast expanses of Winnipesaukee and other lakes as a foreground; then waves of ridges and peaks north to Washington and many of the other great mountains of the Whites (below); off to Maine; Killington, Pico, and others in Vermont; Monadnock in Southern New Hampshire; and even beyond to Massachusetts.

As the book says, awesome.

Our stay at the top of the tower was a little more fraught than it might have been, because B seemed to want to take flight, and restraining her became a nerve-racking chore for whoever wasn’t using Scudder’s to ID the distant peaks (H was much better at this last than I).

We took the slabby Green Trail down, with one slip but no problems. Sweet B was happy and animated from start—

to finish.

The gate at the bottom of the access road closes at 6. We were out by 5:30. At home, B, fascinated by her father’s CamelBak (especially the fastex buckle on the sternum strap) decided she wanted to do some climbing on her own.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

95 percent

Almost. A great day in the hills, regardless. Maybe we’ll try it again in 2109.

The last time my picture was in The D was in 1968, and it was for a much sillier reason.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sweet B and B.B.

More delighted than I can say that, introduced by Sandra Boynton, acclaimed by children, parents, grandparents, and right-thinking people everywhere as one of the giants of American literature, sweet B has become an enthusiastic, dancing, vocalizing fan of the great, great, supremely great, B.B.King.*

“One Shoe Blues”: hit it!

* In the early 1970s. I attended a concert at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, at which B.B. opened for Sha Na Na. He opened for a group that was doing ironic do-wop. A travesty. But in front of a young crowd that thought the blues was (were?) passé, not to mention déclassé, he (and his then-battered guitar, Lucille) brought down the house. We wouldn’t let him go. Sha Na Na? Take a hike. With B. B. in the house, really doing his thing, any other talent can take a hike.

So now sweet B and I are of one mind on this.

Thanks, Boynton.

AT in a Day

Well, we did our bit. Saturday was the Dartmouth Outing Club’s 100th Anniversary attempt to walk the entire Appalachian Trail in a single day. I had originally planned to take one of the sections here in Connecticut, but realized that there were others among the many Connecticut alums who would take care of that. I thought I would simply join A and H on their New Hampshire section. They had signed up for a short, B-friendly walk from Franconia notch to Lonesome Lake. The DOC, however, had other thoughts and requirements. Short, easy strolls were out. A and H were instead assigned the Wildcat Ridge traverse, just east across Pinkham Notch from Mt. Washington.

Much discussion about the best way to handle this with a baby. Simply bring her along? Take her up from the south as far as the ski gondola, with one of us riding her down while the others continue? Someone simply riding up with her at an appropriate time to meet the others crossing the ridge for a rest a a good look at the beautiful fall foliage likely to be at its peak? All of these, and several variations, were eventually rejected for a variety of reasons, and A and I headed for the mountains without H or B, who made their way south to Connecticut instead.

Sad choice.

Good choice.

Heading north to south, as we decided to do, requires a 3.6-mile walk in on the Nineteen-Mile Brook Trail to meet the AT. Counting that, we were looking at total of a little over 9 miles, with 3,949 feet of elevation gain, followed by the precipitous, slabby, loss of most of that back to the notch. We’d walked much of the ridge before, and knew it was challenging (attested to also by the standard guide-book time of 7:19), but we thought we’d probably finish it in six hours or so.

We started at about 9:30, in decent if chilly weather, predicted to become pretty good.

It didn’t, and at the junction of Nineteen-Mile Brook and the Wildcat Ridge Trail, we donned rain gear to head up the steep climb to Wildcat Mountain, crossing the slide, which usually offers terrific views, we were utterly socked in.

We topped Wildcat (a rock on a hump in a clump of underbrush at 4,422 ft, and scuffled along the narrow, rocky, brushy path laconically described in the White Mountain Guide as “fairly steep drops interspersed with level sections”—

—over Wildcats A, B, and C on our way to D, the southern anchor of the ridge at 4,062 ft.

We arrived there, just above the creaking machinery of the running but unused ski-lift gondola, to truly awful weather: rain, fog, and high winds that pushed the wind-chill well below freezing. I stopped in the lee of the ski-patrol shack for a quick exchange of wet base layer for dry. There was a trio of other hikers on the mountain, celebrating the fact that one of them had just—there and then on this nasty, viewless day—completed his full round of all 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers. They obliged with a photo.

Shortly after we left the summit of D, we had our first views of the day, as the mist lifted and the sun peeked out.

The section down off the ridge’s south end is well-known as one of the roughest of the routinely rough White Mountain trails, pretty close to 2,000 ft., pretty much straight down over slabs, broken slabs, and rubble—

—including this short stretch of some artificial aid of a type neither A nor I had ever seen before.

Remember that six hours we thought it would take instead of the Guide’s 7:19? Not even close (though A would have been if he hadn’t had me as his sea-anchor). We finished in almost exactly...7:19.

Late afternoon in the notch, it was brighter than it had been most of the day, but it was still 43°F with a very stiff breeze. We’d had a great day despite the lousy weather and a few slips and dings, but the entire walk and every possible permutation we had considered to bring the baby along at least a part of it had proven to be absolutely not B-appropriate, or BA, as we started calling it.

So we’ve done our bit, and we are waiting to hear how other Dartmouth walkers, stretching from Georgia to Maine along the 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail, managed. We hope most of them had better weather.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sweet B inspects packs and poles

Back in a day or two with more on this past week.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Galehead guest post

This is the guest post for the trip up Galehead Mountain that Mark mentioned a few days ago. My name is Paul and if you have read this blog over the months you will recognize my name. Mark and I have known each other for almost a half century and during the past few years, I have been his walking companion most mornings—rain, shine, snow, sleet. You have also seen my picture a few times including one from our hikes in the White Mountain two years ago. And 43 years ago we took a traverse across the Whites, staying at several of the huts that he has mentioned.

As you know from Mark’s post, I invited myself along when he decided to add to his list of 4,000-footers, especially when he blamed it on me that he couldn’t count our 1966 trip to Galehead. (Of course he could have kept notes himself but that’s another story.) Since I am not the expert, knowledgeable hiker that Mark is, I let him plan the event and provide me with some of the equipment that I lacked. For example, when I decided that my daypack was a little small for the trip, he said that he had eight packs (beside the Osprey that he took) from which to choose!*

I had been watching the weather forecasts and they were not very good: sunny for the morning as we drove north to the trailhead and then rain for the time we were to walk up and also for the following morning as we descended. Unfortunately, they were correct--although as Mark has indicated they underestimated the amount rainfall for the morning.

Paul at the sunny start.

This is not a trip to be undertaken for the great views. Except for a couple of places where we could look down upon the valley of the Gale River, there was nothing to be seen. Almost all of the trail is in the deep woods: fir, hemlock, birch and mountain ash. The “peak” of Galehead Mountain is totally wooded. (There is a cairn to mark the spot). The one outlook near the peak looking out over the Pemi Wilderness was completely fogged in! 

Mark at the soggy summit.

So, what were the positive parts of hike? Obviously reaching the summit. (Incidentally we did this the following morning since it was getting dark and we were very wet by the time we reached the hut.) And more importantly, our time staying in the hut.

 Galehead Hut

Galehead Hut was completely rebuilt less than a decade ago and is a very nice place to stay. It is most isolated of the huts but the accommodations are very good. They had a very friendly staff of three who provided great food and also a lecture on the “fir waves” of the White Mountains. There were six other hardy hikers staying there that night, along with a thru-hiker who arrived a couple hours after dark.

Galehead interior
I cannot end this post without mentioning the one really negative event on the hike. On the way down in the morning, it was raining quite hard. The trail was covered with large rounded rocks. As we descended into the deciduous forest, we found that the rocks were covered with wet leaves and about halfway down, my feet went out from under me and I ended up with a twisted ankle—along with a few other smaller complaints. Obviously, the last couple of miles went rather slowly. Perhaps if I had a pair of Mark’s Pacer Poles, I would have not had my problem!

* Paul used an early version of the Cold Cold World Chernobyl. Great, simple, tough pack...New Hampshire made!

Monday, October 5, 2009

I’m back in New Hampshire. H has the week off, and we’re planning to walk together in the mountains every day we can. Of course, this means sweet B, too, not to mention Jasper the Wonderdog.

This bright and gorgeous autumn morning, we headed north up I-93 from Concord to Franconia, then swung west up to Sugar Hill and breakfast at Polly’s Pancake Parlor. The high mountains to the east were still obscured by mist, so the stunning view was absent, but the food was as good as usual. I’m not sure, but I think B is saying, “Whoa, dude, Amazing pancakes!”:

At any rate, like us, she was a satisfied customer:

Our Monday walk was a short, sweet classic, Artists Bluff and Bald Mountain in Franconia Notch. H carried B in the Kelty and handled J the W, who really resents the indignity of being asked to carry his own water.

Artists Bluff is a sharpish but short climb to a ledge that offered the 19th Century painters who infested the White Mountains spectacular views of mountains, notch, and distant ridgelines. We, of course, carried a digital point-and-shoot, which another tourist was kind enough to point in our direction.

That’s Cannon Mountain ski area behind us, a typical rough and tough Eastern hill (much steeper than it looks—it’s a 4,000-footer), where you can be assured—it faces north—of finding more ice than powder. Gotta be good to ski smooth at Cannon.

After a woodsy traverse, reaching Bald’s peak requires negotiating some awkward slabs. The view opens up more to the north and west. I hope you can make out, right over H’s head, Mt. Mooselauke, Dartmouth’s mountain, eight miles away.

B also tolerated a grandfatherly hug, for which I was grateful.

Shortly after H snapped that photo, she noticed dark clouds quickly heading our way. We repacked baby and dog and made our way back down the slabs just in time to avoid one of those awful greasy descents. We got soaked, but only after we were down and safe.

Of course, when I say we, I mean H, J the W (who couldn’t have cared less), and me. The Queen of the May rode perfectly dry, mistress of all she surveyed. And why not?

We were on the trail for just shy of two hours, and it was wonderful. More to come.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I was supposed to go to an event this evening. I didn’t. We had a guest (well, it was Paul, but...), there was great, superb, transcendent cooking going on, the pre-dinner wine was excellent (we’ve become big Navarro fans), and it was raining (so wussy). I stayed home. So sue me.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dancin’ in the rain

Forty-three years ago, Paul and I walked across most of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s belt of huts in the White Mountains. Our favorite was Galehead, the most remote. Paul had never been back, and I hadn’t been there since a long, family-famous hike with the young H, 20 years ago. Recently, though, I’ve become semi-serious about climbing the New Hampshire 4,000-footers I haven’t more or less inadvertently tagged over the past 40-odd years.

On our original trip, Paul kept a journal. He neglected to note whether or not we climbed Galehead Mountain (4,024 ft.) near the hut. I don’t remember topping it out, and we might not have, since it has been added to the list since 1966. (What once was “the New Hampshire 46” is now the “New Hampshire 48”—Bondcliff has also been added).

Anyway, to make sure, I wanted to visit its uninteresting, wooded, viewless summit, for the admittedly pathetic reason of wanting to make a check mark on a piece of paper. Paul decided to come along for the stroll, and we walked in on Tuesday, spent the night at Galehead hut, and splashed up to the summit before swimming back out on Wednesday. (Memo to self: don’t just think about bringing a small umbrella on these wanders. Pack one. Then you can do your Gene Kelly imitation.)

Paul’s promised a guest post sometime soon, so I won’t go into the details I’m sure he’ll cover in greater and more interesting detail. But I do have two quick, entirely subjective, equipment reviews. This was the first chance I’d had to put my new Pacer Poles through their, er, paces, and I can report that I liked them very much. I’ve been strongly skeptical of poles, but I’ll probably be using these regularly from now on. They were comfortable and helpful on the steep, rocky trails, and stream crossings. I also finally had a chance to test the Osprey Stratos 32 I bought last year when they were being sold out cheap. The notorious “Osprey curve” that constricts the bag to accommodate the mesh anti-sweat backband makes the sack hard to pack, but once everything is stuffed and stowed (inside a waterproof liner!), the load rides very well. It’s an excellent day or day-and-a-half pack if you’re not carrying sleeping bag, tent, and much food or cooking other words, perfect for walks involving huts, refugios, or hostels.