For me, the toughest part of hiking isn’t the hiking — it’s the driving. I live on the Massachusetts coast, putting the closest of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers a 2.5 hour drive away. Most are three hours or more up the road. On many day hikes, my time spent in the car exceeds my time on the trail. And I hate driving, so if I’m going to travel a long distance to atrailhead, I want great weather.
So far this spring and “summer,” the weather hasn’t cooperated (My last dry, sunny hike was South Moat in April). After a long week of playing the ‘will it rain or won’t it rain?’ game, I had to decide whether to commit to a Saturday hike. The National Weather Service put the chance of rain and the occasional thunderstorm at 50 percent.
Saturday morning, I tried everything I could think of to talk myself out of hiking, or more specifically, driving: My usual hiking parter was in Rhode Island visiting his cousins. Thunderstorms on an exposed summit are no fun, as I learned on Osceola last year. NASCAR was at Loudon, so traffic on Rte. 93 was bound to be heavy. I was working on only three hours sleep, thanks to a bout of insomnia and crowds of loud, drunken revelers passing beneath my open bedroom window (thank you, St. Peter’s Fiesta).
Quitting is always easier than pushing on, and not starting at all is easier still. I’m still not sure how I forced myself on the road that morning. Maybe it was force of habit, maybe it was fear of falling behind on my 4,000-footer quest. All I know for sure is that at 10:30 Saturday morning, I found myself at the head of the Gorge Brook Trail, one of many paths to the top of 4,802-foot Mt. Moosilauke. It was, of course, raining.
I’d love to say the clouds parted, the sun came out and I danced lightfooted up the hillside like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.
That’s not what happened.
Three hours of sleep followed by three hours of driving is a recipe for a rough hike. When it wasn’t raining, it was muggy, and what should have been a straightforward hike on the easier trail on the mountain turned into a slog toward another cloudy summit. The tired, self-pitying half of my brain kept telling me to turn back and try again another day. The stubborn half wouldn’t listen and kept pushing on. My brain fought itself for the better part of three hours, until I finally entered the alpine zone and spotted the summit ahead. Just a few minutes later I was having my picture taken, having reached the top in book time.
Then the sun came out, if only for a few minutes. The sprawling, bald summit of Moosilauke, with its large alpine zone and 360-degree views, looks like a great place to while away a summer afternoon but more clouds were moving in and I didn’t want to push my luck.
It turned out to be a good decision as a steady rain began as soon as I hit the treeline and I was once again thoroughly soaked. The trip down was uneventful and I even got an unexpected reward at the end, bumping into some folks from Seacoastdayhikers.com who had just returned from their hike. Perhaps taking pity on my bedraggled state, they put the day solidly in the plus column with five simple words: “Do you want a beer?”