Twenty-Five Hikes, Ten Percent Traced, Entering August
“A gentle mist kissed my cheeks as I strapped on my pack and headed towards the US/Canadian border. A cold front had blown in overnight and the trees swayed in front of me. It felt like a dream and from the moment that I got out of my car, I smiled. This time I wanted to take it all in, to go slow and stay present. Last time it was about making miles, this time it’s about the experience. The boundary swarth was more overgrown than two years ago when I walked the gap that carves an imaginary line between the United States and Canada. It weaved and climbed through the undergrowth and I followed. Then I retraced my steps and emerged from the forest renewed, revived, back in my body. I ended my 2020 attempt broken in a million tiny pieces and slowly, over the next fourteen months I will put those pieces back together in whatever way I see fit. This isn’t about rewriting the past. This is a whole new beginning.”
On June 19, 2022, I set out to start my attempt at hiking all of the trails in The White Mountains (known formerly as red lining, now called tracing). This has been a goal of mine since 2019, one that I have had to give up twice because of circumstances completely out of my control (the COVID pandemic and a cancer diagnosis). Now, twenty-five hikes into my third attempt, I look back on the above statement which I wrote after day one and feel so far removed from the person who wrote them it hurts a little.
Everything changes and yet so much remains the same. The first twenty-five hikes have been a blur, exactly like the first twenty-five were in 2020. Each hike feels like a race to the finish line, and erases the one before, making it difficult to recall what I did even twenty-four hours prior without referencing my meticulously kept journals. I wanted so badly to remain ferociously present on this, my third attempt, because I remember how easy it was to get swept up in the “go, go, go, hike, hike, hike” attitude. But unless I force myself to sit still and read my journal entries, I become distracted by the pressure to stay one step ahead of the calendar, which dictates whether or not I finish this attempt in the fourteen months I have dedicated to it.
In planning this attempt, I have a wealth of knowledge on how to not plan it now. I’ve learned from the mistakes I made in 2020, and know that there are specific hikes that I have to do in the summer months, regardless of how difficult or scary they may be. I know that I have to hike many of the trails in the northern presidential area which are strewn with loose rocks and look like someone took spaghetti and threw it down onto a map. I know that weather dictates a lot of what I can and cannot do, too, since many of these trails are exposed and above treeline. There is very little room for error, and although it may seem like I have all of the time in the world to complete roughly 206 hikes, we have a very short summer season in New Hampshire. Many of the hikes that I am cramming into my summers are ones that can’t be done in winter safely.
Since starting my attempt on June 19, I have hiked twenty-five out of fifty-two days. On my days off, I am either writing, doing laundry, cooking food and prepping meals, grocery shopping, or trying to relax. My days look very similar, regardless of whether or not I’m hiking, because the hikes dictate everything else.
A Day In The Life
The alarm goes off anywhere from 5:00 to 6:00 am at my house in southern New Hampshire. It’s hours before my hike will begin. After a few minutes of mindless scrolling through various social media apps and a few text messages, I climb out of bed, take a quick shower (or don’t depending on my mood), and throw on the same outfit that I have worn every hike for months. There is a distinct faded strip of fabric on the back of my shorts from my hip belt wearing away at the material day in and day out, and no matter how many times I wash them, all of my clothes smell like hiking (if you know, you know). My pack is already sitting at the door along with my trail runners. I grab a yogurt drink from the fridge, slip on my flip-flops, and am out the door no later than 7:00 every day.
The drive takes at minimum 90 minutes. I put a half a tank of gas in my car, grab a coffee, and continue the drive north. Once I reach the trailhead, I slip into my trail runners, start my GPS tracker, and begin hiking. My days last anywhere from five to eight hours. There is minimal time for stopping to get the miles done. I fall into pace and listen to music or podcasts most of the day. I look a lot like any other day hiker out there, but because I’m hiking three to four days a week, I feel a lot more like a thru-hiker. I’m hardened to the ups and downs of the trail, powering through climbs, adjusting my speed based on the steepness of the terrain. My legs don’t get sore anymore, I have two huge patches of dried skin from pack rub on my back, and my tan lines are a sight to be seen. And I smell. BAD. My pack, my clothes, my skin wreak of thru-hiker. But this is what I do now. This is who I am. I am a hiking machine.
Summer continues to pummel me with rain, heat, intense humidity, and dried up water sources. I finish my hikes by five o’clock daily, drive the 90+ minutes home, sometimes stop for dinner at McDonalds on the way, other times forgo dinner altogether. I’ve begun to drop weight and am always hungry, regardless of how much I eat, but my schedule is such that food is an afterthought a lot of the time. Back at my house, I shower, unpack my bag, repack it for the next day with snacks and water, launder my hiking outfit, and relax for an hour or so before bed. If I have time, I journal. If I have energy, I make a small meal. Days off, I catch up on all of the things I don’t have time or energy to do after hikes.
It’s relentless, hard, frustrating, and demanding. It is beautiful, life-altering, inspiring, and a gift to myself for going through cancer treatment. I don’t know how I am doing it, both physically and mentally, but somehow I am.
Days Hiking: 25
Overall Miles: 257.93
Overall Vert: 86,272’
New England 100 Highest: 12/100
Percent Traced: 10.9%
Miles Driven: 5,600