Wednesday, November 21, 2012

NH 4000 Footer Essay (Pt. 3): A Northern Presidential Traverse

What follows is part three of the five-part essay I'm writing for the NH 4000 Footer Club.  You can find part one here and part two here.

Sitting in a late-night Starbucks in Queens, my northern presidential traverse in New Hampshire's White Mountains couldn't seem further away... with required-Santa-headgear-tasseled baristas,  purposefully tacky holiday decorations and sombre Elliot Smith tunes pumping over the stereo speakers, the coffeehouse seems wrapped in a warm snuggie of self-aware commercial melancholy.  It's entirely self-reflection inducing and largely familiar in a city that seems dead-set on exuding just that feeling in anticipation of a long, cold winter.

On the presidential range in the summer of '07.
If one hones in though on that notion of reflection in the face of cresting anticipation, my tramp over Mount Madison, Mount Adams, Mount Jefferson and Old Man Washington two summers ago was quite similar.  The seven years between my first summit of NH 4000 footer on Mount Pierce and my day on hadn't treated me that well.  Then a starry eyed high school grad burning with optimism, I had grown into a weathered hospital chaplain.. while my college years at the George Washington University in Washington, DC were largely good ones, near the end of my time there the clouds had certainly rolled in.  My mother and I had been diagnosed with cancer roughly at the same time during the spring of 2008, and while I would eventually receive news of my misdiagnosis with relief, my mom wouldn't fair so lucky... she ended up passing away soon after Christmas that year.  On top of these problems, facing a job search during the worst days of the Great Recession proved difficult, although I eventually was able to a land a less than enjoyably but fairly well paying financial position.  Eventually I figured out I'd like to attend seminary and become a Lutheran pastor, thus beginning what I'd consider a recovery period after the troubles of '08.

Zealand Trail, 2012.
As my brother and I pulled into Dolly Copp campground to prep for our hike two summers ago, it felt like that "recovery period" was ending... I had slowly regained my confidence in the intervening three years and began coming to terms with the anger I felt at the Divine for everything inflicted on my family and I in 2008.  My renewed sense of confidence had emerged in a quieter, calmer manner than that of the innocently joyful days of my youth, but that didn't mean I had lost my playful sense of competition at all... which meant that although my brother Darren had never hiked in the White Mountains before, I was taking him on an introductory march over one of toughest trails in the state.  Darren was probably in better shape than I was, so I knew he could handle it, but I also knew he had no idea what he was about to get into.  Since he seemed to always think himself tougher than me, I figured it was about time to put his notion to the test.  On the other hand, I felt deeply satisfied to be spending a long day hiking with my brother.  We had only become close after my mother's death, so I considered the trip a celebration of our new found closeness... the dynamics of brotherly relationships are interesting, right?

Near the summit of Mount Guyot, 2012.
Starting out around 6:30am, we made okay time up three and a half miles of the Daniel Webster Scout Trail, although Darren was lagging a bit more than I expected.  Once we got out of the trees near Osgood Junction though, he quickly picked up his pace.  Although we had hiked fairly quietly (the stoic awkwardness of two brothers who have not been close still lingered between us), once we attained the ridge, that quickly changed... It was a bright sunny day, and having never been above treeline before, Darren absolutely loved it, yelling out that he couldn't wait to tell his buddies back home in CT about the trip.  The bummer though was that he thought this was near the peak of our adventure, so when I pointed across the Great Gulf at Washington and told him we were following the whole horseshoe-shaped ridge-line all the way around to its summit, Darren wasn't too happy we had that long to go.

After quickly bagging Mount Madison, we headed down into the col to rest awhile and had a late breakfast at Madison Hut.  As familial awkwardness retook us, there was some brief talk about the views, a conversation to which my vain attempt at sounding like an expert about the AMC hut system made a grand addition.  Heading out of the col we passed by Star Lake and joined a large number of hikers heading up to bag Mount Adams.  With Darren once again lagging near the summit, I finally came out and asked him why he was going so slow... that's when an amazing blessing came in the form of a heavy gallon jug of iced-tea Darren thought would be a good idea to bring along on the hike.  As he pulled the jug out of his day-pack and dumped the full gallon out on the side of the trail, swearing his head off all the while, I immediately started chiding him about his mistake, as any good older brother would.  He remained pretty upset with me for the next hour or so, but event completely broke the ice between us- we realized it was okay to be vulnerable around each other for the first time in years, and our relationship has never again descended into silence.

Mount Washington, 2006.
We proceeded to the top of Mount Adams quite quickly, and after descending into Edmunds Col for a short rest, we hastened to summit Mount Jefferson... the ice-tea had definitely slowed us down, and I was increasingly worried we might not make it out to Pinkham Notch before sunset.  I don't remember much about the mad-dash across the final 2.5 miles of ridge line from Jefferson, past Mount Clay and up to the summit of Washington, outside of all the brand new curse-words I learned as Darren yelled most of the way.  We eventually made it to the final summit, and astounding all the motorists who had came up on the auto-road, triumphantly pointed across the Great Gulf toward Osgood Junction to indicate where we started.  Luckily I picked up a flashlight in the summit gift shop, as making our way down Lionhead's as it got dark without one (Tucks was closed for restoration work) would have been less than ideal.  With the awkward gulf between us now gone, on the ride home we were able to reflect about our mom, our emotional recovery process after her passing, and how much we greatly looked toward the future.

God's peace,

Dustin is currently a vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.


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