I can take great joy in a viewless hike. I don’t hurry as much, so I’m more likely to notice flowers, old campsites or signs of wildlife. I’m more in tune with the way my body feels (generally some combination of hungry, hot and tired). Over the past few years I have learned to feel gratitude, a thankfulness for the chance to be out here at all, no matter the mountain or view.
That was certainly the feeling I had last week during my trip up 4,043-foot Passaconaway via Dicey’s Mill Trail on a humid, foggy, viewless day.
Rarely have I felt more connected to a mountain than I did during this hike.
It was a homecoming. Half of my family is from the Tamworth area; one of my grandmother’s sisters married a Dicey, so there’s a direct connection to the family’s namesake trail. My grandfather was Chocorua’s postmaster for more than 30 years, the post office not more than 200 yards from the home where he was born. Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, helped teach my mother to read in the same tiny library I haunted as a kid. My father met my mother here.
Everything worth doing as a boy I did in Tamworth and Chocorua. Like my grandfather and father, I played Babe Ruth baseball on the Tamworth diamond. I climbed to Chocorua’s summit and swam in its lake. I learned from my grandfather how to help massive snapping turtles cross a busy road in the spring without losing my fingers. I caught my first fish. During a summer spent in a foldout camper along the river, I helped build unnecessarily large fires, then burned marshmallows past the point of recognition (but not deliciousness). I learned cigarettes taste horrible, and that you can blow up a lot of interesting stuff with firecrackers. I discovered the stars are brighter and easier to find when you’re lying on your back in the middle of a field as fireflies dance around you. I climbed my first 4,000-footer, Whiteface, during summer camp.
More than any of other section of the Whites, these peaks — Chocorua, Passaconaway, Whiteface, Wonalancet– feel like the family mountains.
I spent the night before last week’s hike at my grandfather’s house, and it’s still crammed with pictures of my brothers and me as kids. Driving to the trailhead took me past the ballfields, corner stores and campgrounds of summers past, and those memories kept popping up during the hike. It was a trail experience like no other — I felt like I was hiking with my 11-year-old self. For a day, there was no 4,000-footer list, no worry about book time. There were no views at the top, but I didn’t care — I was a kid in the woods. To celebrate, I even took a post-hike dip in Lake Chocorua, something I haven’t done in at least 30 years.
My brother and three of my four grandparents are buried in Chocorua’s cemetery. Someday, I expect to be there too.
I’ve lived a lot of places, but this is where I’m from.