Last Day on the Road

Last Day on the RoadAfter seven hot hours, I made it from Pittsburg village to Sportman’s Lodge. It was much more comfortable, not to mention faster, to be walking without a tent or pad or several days’ worth of food.

I slept like a baby last night. No matter how I try, there’s just no way I feel as secure in a tent as I do in a place like a cabin with a lock on the door.

I decided to spend some of my fast-dwindling cash supply on a really, really good breakfast. I went to Dube’s Pittstop (yes, an extra T), where the lone waitress was cheerfully attending to a nearly-full house. I ordered my plateful of food along with coffee & OJ, and then heard a cheerful greeting from the next table. I looked over and there was Armand, sitting with 5 or 6 buddies over coffee. A small town, indeed.

When I finished up, I bought a couple of bottles of some kind of flavored non-carbonated water-type stuff (couldn’t they just carry Gatorade??). Armand called out “May it all be downhill.” Surely, there’s no finer farewell for a hiker! We were laughing as I stepped outside for the last leg of the trip.

I took Rt. 145, & when I got to Clarksville Pond Rd., I took one look down Old County Road & decided to stay on 145 until Creampoke Road. When I got to the 45th Parallel marker, I hung my hat on its corner and propped my pack & trekking pole against the sign’s support pole & then took a picture. It occurred to me then that I should have been using that hat as a photographic prop throughout the trip.

145 climbs a bit leaving Pittsburg and heading through Clarksville. I cheered when I got to the little signs warning trucks to use low gear, knowing that meant a downhill stretch was coming up. On Creampoke Road’s long eastward run, a truck slowed down beside me & the driver said “Didn’t I see you in Pittsburg this morning?” Darned if it wasn’t one of Armand’s breakfast companions! We went our separate ways after a brief cheerful chat.

I packed 40 ounces of drinks & should have packed more. I packed 3 energy bars, & I could have done with one. Solid food seemed an unnecessary distraction.

After turning from Creampoke to Haines Hill Road which becomes McAllaster, I came to a fork that puzzled me. There was a logging cut on the left with a path through it, and a path like a snowmobile trail off to the right. I remembered going past a logged area when I came up here, but I hadn’t seen the fork from that direction. I used the 10-minute rule that has served me well on the trip, and I didn’t even need the full 10. About 3 minutes of walking into the log yard showed me a dead end on a little knoll.

Suddenly, I heard my phone buzzing. That little hill brought me into cell range, probably pinging off a Canadian tower. I was receiving a text my daughter had sent the night before. I texted her back with an update on my location.

Out of the logging yard, onto the other path, out of cell range: right back where I belonged. My compass confirmed I was heading SSW, close enough to south to be reassuring. The path gradually widened. I came around a curve and saw a massive tree down across the road. Suddenly, I remembered the tree from my northbound walk, and I knew where I was. The tree had been leaning over the road quite precariously when I last saw it. Once past the tree, I recognized the farm ahead, and soon I reached Bear Rock Road. The route was a piece of cake from there, with nothing ahead but signed town roads. By the time I got to Diamond Pond Road, I was dragging, but I knew I was almost done.

Coleman State Park at last! It was just a mile away from my goal, and I was more than ready for water when I got there. The park was deserted except for me and a lone motorcyclist. I dropped my pack & trekking pole on a picnic table & made a beeline for the nearest faucet. I filled my bottle & drank it straight down, savoring shade & water. A faint cell signal let me text my family that I was nearly done. My daughter sent a joyous message back a few moments later. In the patchy world of cell phone service in Coos County, there’s a faint signal at Coleman and no signal at all at the lodge a mile away.

Twenty minutes later, I was at Sportsman’s Lodge. I let Roger know I was back, told him I needed no dinner service, and went straight upstairs for a shower, clean clothes, and some rest. I felt utterly exhilarated.

We’ve had a good evening here, watching the Sox game. Linda and Roger treated me like an honored guest. Corey, a neighbor whom I met at last year’s CT gathering, greeted me like an old friend & wanted to hear about the hike. We all chatted, criticized our pitcher (Buchholz tonight), & put up with dogs & cats vying for attention. I called it a night after 5 or 6 innings, as did Corey.

My inventory of bodily damage from this escapade actually amounts to a short list.
Blisters: healing.
Toes: A few discolored toenails. Nothing I haven’t seen before.
Sunburn: during one stop along the way today, I was alarmed to see little blisters in patches on my shins. I’ve got sunburn over sunburn. I didn’t bother with sunscreen today because I figured I’d only sweat it off within the hour. I now have a painful reminder to USE it hourly, if necessary. I intend to lecture my kids about this. (They’ll ignore me. At their age, I didn’t want to hear it, either.)
Left knee: An arthritic joint, to be sure, now sore to the point where I need a pillow under it when I lie down. Nothing new. Naproxen & rest will help.

Tomorrow: laundry, reading, review my photos, and maybe do some kayaking (with lots of sunscreen) on Big Diamond Pond. The day after that, my husband will be here to pick me up and get his first look at the area.

Let’s see: 17 to 19 miles for today, depending on the relative accuracy of Google Maps & my own calculations. Actual one-way CT mileage from lodge to border, including spurs to lodging, & including 2 miles between Coleman SP & Tumble Dick Notch, comes to 51 miles. That excludes the work on the trails with Lainie, since it was road walking on US 3 that got me to the border. These calculations are for the benefit of all those people in my life who will only want to know how far – how many – how long. It all amounts to 85 miles altogether in 8 days of walking, if anyone asks.

It’s been three years from idea to fruition for this trip. From here, right now, it seems that it all went by in a flash.

Celebrating An International Trail

Celebrating An International Trail(Pictured above, celebrating the CT’s connection with the trails of Sentiers Frontaliers: Kim Nilsen of the CT Association, Gloriane Blais of SF, and Richard Andersen of the International Appalachian Trail.)

I saw a magnificently starry night last evening through the mesh of my tent. Awesome, in the original sense. It occurred to me this is the first time on the trip I’ve seen such a clear night sky. I’ve fallen asleep too early most nights, & it’s been cloudy on some others. I’ll treasure the memory of last night’s view, with so many more stars than I can ever see at home. I started identifying constellations, but quickly decided to forget that. I just stared up at the sky like a kid, with a silly grin on my face. I couldn’t even articulate a prayer of thanks beyond “…this is soooooo cool.”

Pete & Lainie picked me up at 8:25 this morning, accompanied by Kim Nilsen, who first came up with the whole idea of a Cohos Trail. Today’s official celebration of the joining of the CT with a Canadian trail is something he’s wanted to see for a long time.

The press conference turned out to be quite an event, with a wonderfully festive tone. About 70 people were there. Half were hikers, there to begin a 6-day hike arranged & sponsored by Sentiers Frontaliers. Of course, every Canadian there was bilingual, while we few Americans were trapped in English. There were no NH or US VIPs, but our hosts welcomed a mayor & a prefect & provincial deputies. So now we have an international trail! It was a happy morning.

I have taken my trip during the year’s first official heat wave. Here at Robie’s Cabins, back in the land of satellite TV, channel 9 is reporting that Nashua hit 96 today. I know I had two mighty hot days on US 3 yesterday & the day before. Today, I’ve been driven everywhere, so the temperature hasn’t affected me much.

Here in Pittsburg village, I’m in a comfortable little unit here on Main Street.  I’m catching up on news & sports & weather. There’s a DVD player & a selection of discs, and I’ve picked one out for the evening. I’ll be able to call home tonight. I’ve hand-washed the bulk of my laundry, & pieces are draped here & there to dry. I shipped off the tent & assorted gear at the post office down the street. This has been a pretty productive afternoon.

Channel 9 forecasts storms tonight and maybe early tomorrow. That should break the heat for now. Unless we’re in for all-day rain, I plan to put in however many miles it takes to get all the way back to Sportsman’s. I’ll get a good breakfast at the diner up the street, and then I’ll be off. I’ve already called Roger at the lodge to tell him I’m coming in a day early. I’m eager to get going. As my husband would say, I can smell the barn.

Fourth Lake & A Glimpse of Quebec

view from Fourth Lake trail to U.S. Rt. 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

2020 update: Since 2009, the U.S. border station has been rebuilt into a much more imposing installation. For anyone who drives to the border to discover the Fourth Lake trail, there’s designated parking and excellent signage. Hikers approaching the border via the Cohos Trail will come by way of Sophie’s Lane, also known as snowmobile corridor #5.  

The day was indeed uncomplicated, & sleep was untroubled until the first logging truck roared onto the dirt road just across from my campsite at 5 a.m. I’ve changed sites for tonight.

I woke up to find everything in the tent damp from condensation. Very unpleasant, but not surprising. This muggy weather stays overnight, even though the heat takes a break for a few hours. Tonight, I’ll cram into a plastic garbage bag all items that will fit.

The heat really took a lot out of me today. I was such a sweaty mess when I got back from the border that I got cleaned up & changed as soon as I returned to camp, even though the day was far from over. T-shirt & shorts & the indispensable socks are hanging to dry after a good rinse in spring water.

I MADE IT!!! I’ve reached the northern end of the Cohos Trail. I crossed into Canada long enough to enjoy a snack on the hill overlooking Chartierville. I got here with NO northbound shuttles past Sportsman’s Lodge, on my own two blistered feet, through rain & heat & pavement & rocks & weeds. I did it, I did it, I did it. I’m 50 years old, and I’ve just had a dream come true that would never have occurred to me at 40. And I have had so much fun in the process that it’s just plain ridiculous.

Amid all this lofty prose, the tent ceiling is drooping AGAIN. That’ll keep me humble.

Conditions for today’s hike were the same as yesterday’s, & the moose are still avoiding US 3 in the heat of the day.

As I passed Third Lake, a coyote howled over & over from somewhere on the other side. I heard a loon somewhere out there as well. These were the only sounds – no traffic at those moments.

U.S./Canada border marker

U.S./Canada border marker

The border crossings were quick & uneventful. I stopped on the US side to confirm that I could get back in with my passport. I then walked to Canadian customs, stopping to photograph the boundary monument. I’m sorry no one was around to take a picture of me standing there. This was not a place to seek help from the border agents. Very serious men, every one. I can usually elicit a smile from people. Not these guys.

At the Canadian station, I discovered – oh, the letdown! The disappointment! – that they had no need to stamp my passport. The document therefore still looks unused. Stamp or not, though, I couldn’t have entered Canada or returned to the US without it. Glad I brought it. Upon seeing my lunch bag & my trekking pole, and probably getting a whiff of my unshowered body as well, the Canadian agent nodded at my request to cross over for a short walk. Looking at the posted list of prohibited items, I quickly added that I was carrying a jackknife. That almost drew a smile from the agent – a ghost of a smile was in there somewhere. He saw no need to inspect my little bag, and he sent me on my way.

I have been told that it’s amazing to cross into Quebec from NH because of the abrupt change from forest to farmland. Turns out that’s absolutely true. The view from the border is really quite striking: US 3 becomes Rt. 257, and it heads straight north to Chartierville, three miles away – downhill all the way in one gentle rolling drop after another. The day was too hazy for any good photo of this scene. Little town, lots of farmland, lots of signs in French: welcome to Quebec.

I decided after seeing that downhill road that I was not going to check out Chartierville. The trip back would have been time-consuming and, quite frankly, a drain on my legs, and I still had 4th Lake on the day’s agenda. Instead, I found a picnic area in a small meadow just past the border station, with three shaded picnic tables & a tourist kiosk & view to the north. I took out my water & my snack & enjoyed my 15 minutes of international travel right there.

The meadow was full of energetic cedar waxwings, flying from trees to meadow to picnic tables in search of worms or insects or whatever it is they live on. The heat wasn’t slowing them down a bit. They kept me quite entertained, though I was too slow to get good pictures. I never knew they could hover, but hover they did when examining a promising patch of ground.

Back to the USA. I told the agent I wanted to go on the 4th Connecticut Lake trail, and he waved me toward it. Within about 2 minutes, I was very glad I hadn’t gone to Chartierville & back. This little trail went up a few hundred feet in seven-tenths of a mile. One of the photos attached to this post shows the view down to the border station from about halfway up the trail. Wherever it wasn’t rocky, it was muddy. I needed the trekking pole, especially on the way down. But … I got there! Fourth Lake is a peaceful, unassuming little bog. It’s a marvel to think of the lakes I’ve seen on this trip all starting out here.

The walk back to camp in the afternoon was anticlimactic. I was hot & lethargic, & I went through my water much too fast. There’s a little unmarked pullout at 3rd Lake where small boats can put in. I stopped there to sit by the shore & cool off for awhile. I soaked my bandanna in the chilly water & then tied it around my neck. Heavenly. (That bandanna has been really good to have on this trip.) A couple from Florida sat nearby with their 3 dogs. The largest of the 3 was Mick, a boisterous creature who liked chasing his little Frisbee into the water. With the owners’ OK, I tossed the toy into the lake again & again, & Mick splashed right in to retrieve it & dog-paddle back to shore for another round. He would shake off cold water all over me after every retrieval. I loved it.

Back to US 3, grinding it out one step at a time. I promised my kids I’d do no hitchhiking, and never was that promise more sorely tested than today. I behaved myself, though, and returned to Deer Mountain under my own power. I stopped at the spring at the park entrance to refill my water bottle, and I drank a third of it down in one long pull.

No rest for the weary just yet. I was determined to change my campsite to avoid another 5 a.m. logging-truck wakeup call.  I’m now just a stone’s throw away from the ranger’s office & house. I’ll bet logging trucks don’t wake HIM up at 5.

Relocated & freshened up by 3:30 in the afternoon, I dropped onto my sleeping pad & slept for an hour. A breeze blowing through the tent was a big help. When I woke up, I felt thoroughly refreshed, though really hungry. I put a good dent in the contents of the bear box, washing it all down with water. Delightful.

It’s 7:30 p.m. now, & I miss having a book, & I’m picturing my family watching Jeopardy. Today’s reading material has consisted of tourist brochures too bland to keep as souvenirs. If I can’t read, I can write, & this keeps me occupied in camp.

Ooohh, I can feel the air mucking up again. Tent fly off, mesh wide open: let’s hope that keeps the humidity at bay.

NH’s Northernmost Park

2020 update: the store known as Treats and Treasures is now better known as the First Lake General Store. It’s a must-stop for me whenever I’m back in Pittsburg. The breakfast sandwiches and the fudge are not to be missed. As for the road walk between Danforth Road and the border, the Cohos Trail is now completely off of U.S. 3. 

I figured I’d be out for six hours today, & I was right. That included stops. I scurried out this morning without much breakfast, and I paid for that later, as five minutes’ thought would have warned me. No matter. I’m here, at Deer Mountain State Park, five miles from Canada.

It took half an hour to walk from the Bungalow down to US 3. I stopped at a store a little north of Happy Corner, Treats & Treasures, to buy (& drink on the spot) a bottle of Gatorade. I knew I’d need the calories as well as the fluid. At 2nd Lake dam, about two-thirds of the way to Deer Mountain, I stopped for about 20 minutes because I was bonking. My no-breakfast decision caught up with me. I nibbled on a Powerbar & drank some water, then nibbled some more as a few minutes’ rest revived me. I lay on the grass in the shade, leaning against my backpack, feeling better by the minute. The spray from the dam was a treat.

Route 3 was hot and shadeless at midday. I saw no moose – not a one – though to be fair, any self-respecting moose spent today by a shady brook.

It’s the end of a summer weekend. I saw a fair number of out-of-state plates. Lots of day trippers came north with their kayaks, I presume for East Inlet. I saw so many motorcyclists that I worried they were all headed to Deer Mountain to camp, leaving me without a site. They weren’t, meaning they must have been Quebecois heading home.

I stopped at a spring on the roadside a bit north of 2nd Lake. While I was filling my bottles with that wonderful cold water, two people drove up to fill a pair of five-gallon jugs. They’re regulars here. They caught me up on the forecast for the next couple of days, and it sounds good, meaning no rain.

Humid, sticky day. I’ve been disappointed about not being able to hike up Magalloway, but that doesn’t bother me so much now. This may sound like sour grapes, but it’s been so muggy & hazy the past few days that visibility from the fire tower must be lousy.

It’s 5 p.m. now, there’s a soft breeze coming on, and the sun is becoming less harsh. Families are pulling into camp to claim their spaces. I saw the reservation sheet, and at least two sites have been rented for the week, starting today. It’s very peaceful here. I can see the attraction.

The attendant here, whose office is a little patio adjoining his cabin, recommended an out-of-the-way site for me. It’s right on Moose Flowage, as the Connecticut River is known in this stretch. I love the sound of the water, & while the site is buggy, I have DEET. Good enough. I actually have a couple of spots within the park that I can go to get away from the bugs. One is here, at the 2-table picnic area out front on US 3, beside the campground’s flagpole. The pole sports the most faded NH flag I have ever seen, and a somewhat less beaten-up American flag. Maybe a VIP coming to the Sentiers Frontaliers/Cohos Trail press conference Tuesday will be moved to spring for new ones.

ALMOST there. Third & Fourth Connecticut Lakes are just a few miles away. My goals tomorrow are to get to 4th Lake and thus reach the current northern terminus of the CT, and to get over the border long enough to get my passport stamped. Lainie pointed out that bringing my backpack through Canadian customs, as I had planned to do, would be a headache. She’s right. I’ll try for the border tomorrow while my heavy equipment stays here.

The park attendant says the spring water here is fine, and I guess I believe him. He looks hydrated enough. He also said my bear canister was OK but probably not necessary. He hasn’t had a bear pester anyone here for three years. Fine. Let’s make it four. I’m using the canister. It’ll foil the raccoons, at any rate.

I’m sponging down my aching feet with my bandanna soaked in cool spring water. Ahhhh. The daily routine has been to soak my feet in cold water after a long day, dry them off, and put fresh padding around the nearly-healed blisters. (Another lesson from this trip: do not ever hike in wet socks.) That’s working well. My left knee was the day’s chief troublemaker. After 13 miles, it’s entitled to protest – just not for long.

A pair of hummingbirds entertained me for awhile when I arrived. I can hear plenty of other birds with unfamiliar songs. Sunburn & all, it’s been a glorious Sunday. This really is a lovely little piece of God’s creation.

Snug and dry as this tent was at Lake Francis, I’m still annoyed that I am never able to pitch it tight enough to keep the already-low roof from drooping. Also, I’m on a platform, and I’m still figuring out the best way to pitch and guy out my nonfreestanding tent. This trip is a learning experience. I’ve rolled back the fly and hooked it to the low side of the tent to keep ventilation going on this muggy evening. If it starts raining, I can have the fly up in a minute.

I can hear voices from nearby sites only faintly. I’m far from other sites but actually close to US 3.

I’ve put the bear canister a short distance from the tent platform. No bear is going to come after me, but I am concerned about a bear wanting my food if the food is tucked in with me. Perhaps I need a tad more fortitude.

OK, so I have fortitude of a sort. I’ve walked a fair chunk of the Cohos Trail alone. No one can ever take this away from me. I’ve also had some wonderful encounters with other people, & no one can ever take that away from me, either. This relatively inexperienced hiker is on top of the world.

For all the concerns expressed by family & friends as I prepared to take this trip, the most dangerous part of my walk so far was probably today, walking along Rt. 3. Drivers were very friendly as they zipped past me in their fast little cars. But here I am, thank God, with no injuries but the ones I’ve inflicted on myself. My feet really do look like a podiatrist’s nightmare.

My husband wondered how I’d get by without reading material. He knows me well. I brought a magazine with me on the trip, and I decided to leave it at the Bungalow for the next occupants. I dropped every little thing I could spare to cut the pack’s weight, & I’m glad I did. But oh, I could go for something to read right now!

This trip is over the hump, & my husband & kids & home are coming in sight. It’ll be good to see them again. As soon as I get back home, it’ll be time to help my daughter pack for her departure to UNH. That seems awfully close now.

It’s nearly dark, and I’ve written enough. God grant me untroubled sleep & an uncomplicated day for tomorrow!

My First Old Home Day

2013 update: Pittburg’s Old Home Day had nothing to do with the trail. The festival’s date, right in the middle of my trip, made the celebration too tempting to pass up. This was great fun.

 My First Old Home DayI’m very happy I made a point of being in town for Old Home Day, even though it extended my stay at the Bungalow. My dad used to say that fish & company stink after 3 days, and I’ve been here for four & a half.

Pete got a call just a few days ago, requesting that he march with the North Country Community Band in the parade. Thus I learned that he plays cornet – and not badly, either. He said he didn’t play often nowadays. But there he was in the parade, with about 20 other musicians. It takes people from 4 or 5 towns to make up this little band.

Floats abounded, many of them pulled by tractors. There was that Pittsburg HS baseball team, waving to the crowd & tossing candy to the kids. Sign on their float: “We told you we’d be back.” Loved it. There were one or two politically-themed floats; let’s just say this isn’t Obama country. Beecher Falls & Colebrook sent fire trucks to augment Pittsburg’s little contingent. They were all noisy & flashy, as fire trucks in a parade should be.

I think the entire town (population 800) came out, along with plenty of folks from neighboring towns. Pittsburg’s 4th of July festivities were rained out, I heard, and everyone seemed determined to make up for that.

After the parade, the town green was filled with tents & booths & food & games. I had a pulled-pork meal at one of the tents, and every bite was a tribute to God’s providence (so THAT’S what pigs are for!) — even the cole slaw, of which I’m not usually a fan. I had to check out the book sale table. It had maybe 50 books, most of them romances. Nope. I had better luck at the bake sale table, where I found brownies nearly as good as my son’s, and his are awesome.

I walked to the south end of Main Street to photograph the last of the town’s 3 covered bridges. I stopped at Robie’s Cabins to confirm my reservation for Tuesday night, & the proprietors, Mr. & Mrs. Dion, showed me where I’d be staying. Amazing day, and a fascinating look at a town very different from my own. I’d never have had this without the Cohos Trail.

Except for my breakfast & my water bottle, I’ve packed everything to move on to Deer Mountain SP in the morning. Tomorrow will be the last day with a full pack. I’ll leave the park on Tuesday, with a shuttle ride to the village. On Wednesday, I’ll mail home my tent & pad. Goodbye, dead weight.

Now, it’s back to the village for fireworks at Murphy Dam to cap off the day.

East Inlet

2013 update: I’m sorry that Armand, the wonderful guide who accompanied me on the East Inlet expedition, is no longer in the guide business. 

East InletMy bungalow room is 85º, if the thermometer on the wall is to be believed. I’m sitting in what is more or less the living room, kitchen windows open, table fan blowing at top speed. I packed for cooler weather. We’re getting 90º days & mid-60º nights. Dew point? Hanged if I know. Sticky weather for sure, and the details are irrelevant. It looks like I have only two nights in my tent coming up. If rain holds off, conditions will be fine.

I am nursing sunburned legs after an unforgettable kayak trip. About me & kayaks: I don’t own one. I rent or borrow one on rare occasions, for use on some nice flat body of water. I avoid embarrassment only by traveling alone. Today, I put aside my reluctance to look like a fool, just because I wanted to see East Inlet from the water, not from a few glimpses off East Inlet Road.

At the East Inlet Road boat launch, Pete, Lainie, & I put ourselves in Armand’s capable hands. An easygoing man with a dry wit, Armand knows this area well. He brought a kayak for each of us, so no one was subjected to tandem-kayaking with me. My last experience with a kayak was a few months back when my son and I rented a tandem kayak at Silver Lake state park. I never could manage to find a rhythm, and my poor son endured repeated whacks from my paddle.

I was candid with everyone about my relative inexperience. No matter how awkward or downright wrong my paddling style became, Armand never raised his voice except to call out something encouraging. I suppose that’s what guides are supposed to do, but since I never took a guided trip before, I was relieved not to be taken to task by a stern local with no patience for out-of-towners who can’t paddle a boat properly.

The area we were in has several names, each referring to a specific spot, and I’m not sure which ones we were in: Norton Pool, Moose Pasture, East Inlet. We went across a big pond and then into a narrow stream that wound in what to me seemed like a hopeless maze through the trees. All are beautiful, regardless of name. Eventually, this water all flows into 2nd Lake.

The blazingly sunny day was moderated by a breeze on the water. We paddled out with the wind but against the current, and came home with the current but against the wind. I found paddling upwind to get back across the big pond much easier than trying to push through an opening in a breached beaver dam, against the current. I believe that maneuver took me five minutes, compared to the 10 seconds or so achieved by each of my companions.

Pete had the best free show in town as he paddled behind me, watching me maneuver clumsily but persistently around the many curves. We had the maze to ourselves. When we first hit the pond on the way back, we saw one kayak after another heading out. Armand remarked that most of the people heading onto the pond would probably not continue into the stream – certainly not as far upstream as we went. Their loss.

I was able to paddle very close to a great blue heron too intent on fishing to pay any attention to me. I saw a bald eagle, huge in comparison to the tiny bird harrying it up in the sky, probably defending her young against the eagle’s depredations. I saw the eagle’s nest. There were many Canada geese that appeared to be unaccustomed to people, unlike the geese back home that have become suburban pests. Armand the guide and Pete the hunter told me which ducks were which, since the only ones I could identify were mallards. Cedar waxwings were abundant.

Kim Nilsen has written in the official CT guidebook about the never-cut stand of black spruce we saw today. Spruce budworm damaged the stand some years ago, but the trees rebounded & this one little area has somehow never been logged.

Perhaps today didn’t count as hiking, but without my CT hike, I never would have found this place or the people who accompanied me. Much of this “hiking” trip, in fact, has been spent doing things other than hiking. I am loving almost all of it. I remain opposed to rainy hikes punctuated with insect stings.

The payment assessed by my hosts for use of the Bungalow is an unspecified monetary donation and/or some trail work. I am going to be donating more than I had originally budgeted. I tried to imagine the bill for everything if this were the “real” world: 5 nights’ lodging, shuttle service, one very important load of laundry. Nothing but the lodging was expected.

I walked to Young’s store today, and they had a pair of padded insoles, which my torn-up feet needed. I snatched them up. When I got back to the Bungalow, I dropped into the swing on the lawn to catch my breath. Lainie returned from errands a few minutes later, and she spied me on the swing. “I have something for you!” she sang out. From her shopping bag, she triumphantly produced a pair of insoles. I burst out laughing. She’s a far more experienced outdoorswoman than I, and she could tell that my blisters were getting the better of me. I accepted the insoles with thanks. Her pair is now in my boots, and I am cutting up the pair I bought to make little doughnut-shaped blister pads.

A fine day, despite my stinging legs. I’m draping my damp laundry over my legs to cool the burn. Sunburn seems a fair price to pay for a day like this.East Inlet

Day Off

No travel scheduled today. I’m comfortably holed up in the Bungalow on a hot summer day, listening to the Sox game on the radio. My remaining blisters are freshly padded & bandaged. I’ve had time today to look at the field guide on the table in here, trying to identify some of the birds I’ve seen this week. I had a wonderful nap this afternoon, though it cost me a few innings of the game. I’m sorting and re-packing all my things. A lazy day, though not a wasted one.

The remainder of my trip is firming up. Tomorrow, we have our kayak trip. Saturday is Old Home Day down in the village. I’ll catch a ride down there. Weather should be pushing 90 degrees, with no rain forecast for the weekend. The next day, I’ll hike to Deer Mountain SP, where I’ll stay for two nights. I’ll hike to the Canadian border & 4th Connecticut Lake one of those days. Next Tuesday, there will be a press conference just over the border to celebrate the linking of the CT with the trail network of Sentiers Frontaliers (SF), a hiking group from Quebec’s Eastern Townships. I’ve arranged a ride to Pittsburg village afterward, where I have a place reserved for Tuesday night. Wednesday, if the weather’s good, I’ll get back to Sportsman’s Lodge in one long haul, walking on Rt. 145 & Creampoke Road instead of the CT. Less favorable conditions will result in a break at Rudy’s. Either way, I’ll be finished ahead of my original schedule.

While I’m in the village, I’ll mail home my tent & sleeping pad & whatever else I don’t need to carry once I’m done camping. A light pack will help me get to Sportsman’s in one day, as will sticking to town roads (longer route but smoother path). Light load + good weather = excessive optimism.

This is all sounding manageable. Setting my own pace (slow) and schedule (flexible) has worked.

Trail Work & Road Trip

Bee balm everywhere

2013 update: Maintenance of the Cohos Trail is ongoing. I heartily recommend planning a day of trail work as part of your Cohos Trail trip. The Facebook page for Friends of the Cohos Trail is a good place to check for information on planned work days.

2020 update: the routing of the Round Pond trail turned into a years-long project, as landowners and trail lovers came to terms. The resulting segment of the CT is graced with a three-sided shelter now, the Tillotson Hut, suitable for camping.

The trouble with full days is that I get tired in the evenings when it’s time to record the day’s events. Not a bad problem to have. Today was tiring, but in total, quite satisfactory. My aching body is aching less, which is encouraging.

Today, I worked on a new segment of the CT, which we all hope can soon be formally dedicated. Lainie & I started at Round Pond, where the proposed Round Pond Brook trail begins winding its way to US Rt. 3. As of now, the CT is on US 3 from River Rd. in Pittsburg to the Quebec border. Alternate routes & spurs are slowly being designed & approved, and will be developed piecemeal. The RPB trail was flagged by CT volunteers last spring, and state approval is pending, with a walk-through by a state official needed eventually.

Lainie handed me a pair of loppers & told me to follow her & look for flagging tape. Within 10 minutes, she realized that someone had come through & reflagged the trail on a slightly deviated route. Her GPS was only slightly helpful, but our compasses sure came in handy. I did very little lopping, but I helped get the trail’s flags back where they belonged.

A problem that became obvious — far more obvious on the Camp Otter Trail, where we worked in the afternoon – is that the flagging earlier in the year was done in the spring, before summer grasses grew several feet high. Some trail routes along snowmobile trails looked just lovely 4 months ago. Now, it’s midsummer. Grasses & ferns & the aptly-named hobblebush have grown several feet high. The snowmobile clubs won’t be working on the trails again until fall. The routes we checked today would pose a maintenance nightmare. Not an insoluble problem, to be sure, but a challenge.

We were on game trails when we weren’t on snowmobile trails. I saw a bobcat track for the first time. We saw plenty of moose tracks, as well as a spot in the Camp Otter area that’s obviously used by moose as a place to bed down. Bears left the most traces, though: prints, scat, more scat.

Coming out of the woods on the Round Pond Brook trail, before we got to US 3, we came upon a field full of Joe-Pye Weed and bee balm. This area is bursting with summer blossoms.

Camp Otter was an arduous couple of miles of slogging through mud & stumbling over long, tangled vegetation. This is the area where the trail association wants to put in 500′ of badly-needed bog bridging. I’m told that the materials have been acquired but are being stored down in Stark.

Rain began as we started to whack our way through the vegetation along Camp Otter trail. We were already so muddy that we didn’t care. Lainie is fine company, and she is undeterred by such minor matters as mud! Her attitude was contagious. She fed waypoints into her GPS, reflecting the improved trail route we flagged today. I became the first non-CT-board member to hike these segments. With breaks, it took us about 5 hours to walk/bushwhack/slog 4.1 miles. We felt like very wet pioneers when we were done.

We really were filthy by the time we were shuttled back to the Bungalow. Lainie insisted that I get first crack at the shower, and she  was kind enough to put my muddy clothes along with hers right into her washing machine. Once I was cleaned up, I made a double batch of mac & cheese for a late lunch, and that simple little dish was perfect.

As I ate, I thought about some of the things I had planned to do on this trip. After only a couple of days with blisters, I had to admit to myself that Mt. Magalloway is out. I lost it the moment I dunked my feet in the mud on the Lake Francis trail and then didn’t dry them promptly. A steep uphill walk would be torture at this point, leaving me unfit for the other walking I need to do.  There are already unexpected delights on this trip, though, in areas to which I could never have dayhiked from here.

Later, with my laundry hanging to dry, Pete proposed a ride — “bring your camera!” We piled into their beat-up but valiant truck, and off we went.

First stop, Young’s, where everyone had things to pick up. Second stop: Moose Alley Cones, where I reveled quite messily in a double scoop of chocolate moose-tracks ice cream. Good thing I’d bought paper towels at Young’s. This ice cream stand had been on my to-do list for the trip, and I hadn’t told anyone about it, so this was an auspicious start to the road trip.

We proceeded north on US 3, the “Moose Alley” of all the tourist literature. We stopped at 2nd Connecticut Lake, at the boat ramp off the highway. We were the only people there. Once out of the car, I looked around in awe, overcome by profound silence. We were away from the dam at the lake’s south end, so there was no sound of rushing water. At that moment, there was no bird’s song or call, though I’m told loons are frequently seen here. No aircraft overhead, no carloads of tourists, no boats or boat motors – a place & a moment of peace, with nothing in view but the lake & the spruce trees all around.

From there, we drove north a couple of miles to Deer Mountain State Park, a campground with 20-some-odd sites. This gave me a chance to scout my quarters for next Sunday & Monday nights. Pleasant spot, lots of trees, Connecticut River the size of a brook rushing down a stretch called Moose Flowage: all good. The attendant lives on-site; we’re way beyond commuter territory. There’s no rec building or any other community structure. About a third of the sites were occupied, which confirmed my hope that a reservation & its fee would be unnecessary. I love the signs I’ve seen at all three state parks on this trip: “If office is closed, occupy any available site” – and leave the fee at the iron ranger, of course. Lots of honor-system operations up this way. As I expected, there’s no electricity at the park. In fact, we’d left the last US utility lines behind us a few miles back. (Our border station relies on Canadian utilities.) The park also has no water supply aside from a single spring, piped up at a spot near the entrance.

Notes made & photos taken, I hopped back in the truck. We headed back south past 2nd Lake & turned east onto Magalloway Road. I noticed mile markers, and it turned out that all the back roads we were on last night had them. I suppose they’re useful, as long as you don’t expect to use a cell phone to summon help to your broken-down car at mile marker 3 on Magalloway Road. There is no, I mean NO, cell signal there. [2020 update: there’s now a cell tower near the northern shore of First Connecticut Lake, but I still don’t recommend relying on cell service as an aid to rescue.]

These back roads, originally created by logging companies & still maintained in part by them, cut right through thick, thick woods. Spruce predominates. “Great North Woods” is no mere chamber of commerce conceit. We passed a number of small logging cuts that hardly put a dent in anything. The spruce all looked nearly black as the sun began to set.

At a fork we headed right, to Buckhorn Road. There were camps here & there, most of them looking neat & maintained despite the absence of cars in the driveways. The sky to our right was beginning to take on beautiful tints & tones in the last of the day’s light. This was when Lainie made the first remark about not seeing any moose yet. I’d been scanning the roadsides myself, and for all the beautiful sights, I didn’t see any critters.

Another turn put us on Cedar Stream Road – the same Cedar Stream Road I’d found so boring a few days ago. We were miles farther east, though, at mile marker 19. This stretch was wilder, with fewer camps, and still no moose. We drove westward, & the full glory of the sunset was right in front of us. I could afford to enjoy it; I wasn’t the one who had to drive into the glare.

At the intersection where I had veered off to the Bog Branch bridge & the Lake Francis trail a few days ago, we turned left onto the east end of the nine-mile-long Deadwater Loop Road. This was the Wild America stretch, seen by very few flatlanders like me. This would have made a more interesting hike than Cedar Stream Road, coming from Rudy’s. I’ll remember that the next time I’m up this way.

Approaching the village, we turned onto Cedar Stream Road again, then Rt. 145 and then US 3. We drove onto giant Murphy Dam – giant for these parts, anyway. Pete told me this is an earthen dam, built in the 1930s.

Back on US 3, we passed the Pittsburg high school. I’m going to get a picture of the building on Old Home Day next weekend so I can show my son the home of the class S baseball champs. Their tournament victory made the front page of my downstate newspaper a few weeks back — a high school of 37 kids, with 14 of them on the team.

(As I write this, a small plane is passing overhead. That’s unusual here.)

The evening ride’s last leg was around Back Lake, ringed with inns and resorts. As we returned to Danforth Road after three  unforgettable but mooseless hours, I said it would be funny if we drove over 40 miles & didn’t see a moose until 200 yards before the driveway. I was off by just a bit. On the way up Danforth, there was our one & only moose, waiting for us as if hired. Our tour was complete.

A Much Better Day

2020 update: Since this trip in 2009, the exceptional hosts about whom I write below have gone their separate ways, and the Bungalow to my knowledge is no longer an option for hikers. Check the Cohos Trail website and Facebook page for up-to-date information on accommodations. Happy Corner Café is still around. The trail still runs over Prospect Mountain, with its incomparable view of First Connecticut Lake.

At the End of a Much Better DaySun came out 9-ish this morning, so I had a chance to spread out the tent fly and backpack to dry. In the hour before things clouded up again, I enjoyed a walk along the lake shore before I came back to pack up my gear. I blessed every one of those little plastic bags as I re-packed them into the backpack. Dry gear and a bit of sunshine did wonders for me.

I made a mental note of things to do differently if I’m ever possessed to to this again: get a lighter tent; bring fewer clothes for a midsummer hike; find useful rain gear; no more sleeping pads from Target. Pony up the big bucks for a light-but-cushy pad.

Today’s short hike brought me to the Mountain Bungalow, on the property of Lainie & Pete, Cohos Trail board members. The Bungalow is going to be my home for a few days while I do some trail maintenance with Lainie and play tourist in Pittsburg. I’ve lived in NH for over 25 years, but northern Coos County is unfamiliar to me, and I want to see as much of it as I can while I’m here.

The walk up River Road to Rt. 3, with a little shortcut marked with a CT sign, leads to what the map calls Happy Corner. What’s so happy about it? Check this out: Young’s store, a great little restaurant, and a covered bridge, all right there. (Oh, all right, I actually had to walk for 5 minutes to find the covered bridge. Don’t be picky.)

Young’s had the camp shoes I hoped for, lightweight & cheap. The Happy Corner Cafe next door served me a splendid lunch. Let me recommend the Corner Burger, piled with cheese, onions, mushrooms, & green peppers. Two tables over sat the family that camped at the site next to mine last night.

I headed up Danforth Road in a light drizzle, along the south slope of Prospect Mountain. (New Hampshire is littered with Prospect Mountains, I think, but this is the only one near Happy Corner.) It’s an uphill walk, but no killer. The bungalow was at the end of the road, a bit shy of the summit. Two moose, cow & calf, crossed the road ahead of me as I made my way up, but they were gone before I got my camera out. I was later told that I was lucky; moose are apparently an unusual sight on that road.

I knew I’d found the right place when I got to a sign proclaiming “Northern Headquarters of the Cohos Trail.” By the time I got there, the sun was out, and we had a gorgeous afternoon. My hosts gave me a friendly greeting and showed me to the Bungalow. I have the whole place to myself; it can accommodate up to six people. No running water, but there are plenty of jugs I can fill from the main house. There is electricity. There’s a radio, and I’ll check out the reception eventually. The kitchen is tiny but certainly adequate. This all reflects a lot of work & care by my hosts.

A cache that I had mailed a week ago awaited me. It has a few days’ food for my expected 4- or 5-night stay at the Bungalow. Once I emptied the cache box of its contents, I started filling it with things from my pack that I’ve already decided I can live without. Must lighten pack.

I put on my new camp shoes as soon as I got here. My boots will now dry out from their dunking in the bog yesterday. My blisters, every ugly swelling one of them, get TLC by not being jammed back into damp shoes. Aside from the boots, everything has dried out from the bog & the rain.

At the End of a Much Better Day

view of Mt. Magalloway and First Connecticut Lake from Prospect Mountain

Lainie offered me a ride on her ATV to the top of Prospect Mountain with its grand views, and so I added “ATV passenger” to my list of firsts for the trip. No helmet. (I’m in a land of people with a particularly jaundiced view of government regulations.)  The path from the Bungalow to the summit is short but steep and muddy. The views on this sunny afternoon were breathtaking, dominated by big 1st Connecticut Lake just below. Mt. Magalloway loomed in the distance; I could just make out its fire tower. I was too dazed to take in the list Lainie recited of all the other peaks in sight. I took photos galore.

Armand Buteau, another CT board member & the owner of Pathfinder Tours & Rentals here in Pittsburg (note: retired as of 2013), has offered us a kayak trip up East Inlet later in the week. I’m delighted. I had planned a hike in that area, but the best way to see it is on the water. I can barely wait.

Now to review the day’s photographs, read for awhile, and get used to the monster bug that is fascinated by the lamp here in the Bungalow. Tourist injury update: at this point, aches & pains & blisters are manageable. Naproxen helps, and so do dry feet and moleskin.

Rain, blisters, & bites

Lake Francis

Lake Francis

Yesterday was not fun. It stopped short of being miserable, but I’m still glad to be past it. I now have even more respect than before for the folks who set out in June to through-hike the CT and were stopped within days by that month’s relentless downpours. I started whining to myself after only a few hours of rain. Not even thunderstorms, mind you — just rain. Gotta toughen up a bit.

I started the day feeling fine after a very good night’s sleep. A day-long hike is a great sleep-inducer. My first sight as I looked out the window this morning was a loon on Clarksville Pond, silently wishing me good morning.

I might have covered anywhere from 13 to 15 miles today, but it’s impossible for me to tell since the CT map doesn’t reflect the recent re-route through the Deadwater area. I was on the trail 8 hours, including stops for snacks & navigation & one maddening half-hour lost at a confusing intersection. The compass was handy.

I have blisters now. Oh, do I have blisters. I chose not to pack light shoes for camp in order to save space & weight. Bad move.

At least the rain held off for the first 3 hours or so of the day’s hike. Let me state firmly that I hate snowmobile corridor 21, on which the CT now travels for a few miles. Finding it was a cinch. Walking on it was a real pain. There are very few CT blazes, since the trail is “so easy to follow,” according to the CT website. Hmmm.

First big intersection: well-worn dirt road to left. Smaller trail to right. Little CT sign pointing (not facing northbound traffic, by the way) down the smaller trail. I stopped & brought out the compass, knowing that I ought to be heading north. Great: north was precisely between the two trails. I decided to pick one, walk 10 minutes, and if I found no CT sign, back up & try the other trail. Ten minutes brought me to one snowmobile sign, but no CT sign. I backtracked & walked down the larger road, which led to a logging yard & a gate. At least that only took 6 minutes (one way) to ascertain. OK, back to the smaller trail, corridor 21.

I couldn’t expect blazes on trees, with ditches on both sides of the trail. I hoped for a little brown CT sign, though. No such luck. The trail narrowed and became quite overgrown. I was heading in a northerly direction, there were no junctions, & the ridge running parallel to the trail to the east corresponded to a ridge on the map. Corridor 21 was really the only game in town.

Further on, still more weeds, & OUCH! I was hit by two simultaneous sudden attacks – a bee sting on my finger, and a sting or bite on my leg, clear through my sock, that I think must have come from a surprised & angry little garter snake. Are-we-there-yet came to mind, and not for the last time.

At last, Deadwater Loop Road. Go right or left – about 7 miles to the east end of Lake Francis in either case. I went left, hoping to hit Cedar Stream Road along the lake’s south shore within a couple of miles. Five minutes later, the rain started. I had packed most of my items within the backpack in sealed plastic bags, and that proved to be the smartest bit of preparation I’ve done. Neither a poncho nor a plastic garbage bag proved adequate today for covering me AND my pack.

Cedar Stream Road is wide & flat, but views of the lake are mostly obstructed by trees & camps. There was no place to rest other than the ground. Rain continued off and on.

There was a little CT sign at the junction where the CT goes off Cedar Stream Road & picks up the Lake Francis Trail. I knew from the CT website that this boggy & soggy trail had been weed-whacked just a week ago, and I thank the trail volunteers for that much! A pox on any & all ATVers who have come through, turning every little brook & drainage into a quagmire. [2013 update: my attitude towards ATVers has mellowed considerably. It’s worth noting that in June 2013, a Coos County group called Ride the Wilds was established to link 1000 miles of northern NH trails.] At one point, the inevitable happened: one mud puddle couldn’t be skirted, & it was deeper than my boots. Boots, socks, feet – all wet. (No gaiters.) I knew then that blisters would form & intensify within minutes. Sun was out by then, although I was under such a thick canopy of trees on this trail that rain might not have been a problem.

The CT databook I carried said “keep left @ all junctions.” Junctions?? The only one I saw was a signed snowmobile intersection, where I obediently went left. Are-we-there-yet was absolutely consuming me. The wobbly knees were back by this time. The sweetest sound of the day: an internal combustion engine somewhere ahead of me, confirming that there was a road nearby. (I knew that I was parallel to River Road, but bushwhacking wouldn’t have helped – the Connecticut River was in the way.)

At last! A road, a bridge, & a left turn put me on River Road. I’d have kissed the ground, but that would have meant getting up with the pack dragging me down.

Straight shot, about a mile, and I was at Lake Francis State Park & my little tent platform. I checked in & found my spot. Clouds were building again, so I pitched my tent right away, improvising long guy lines to accommodate the tent platform. Then, in order: ice cream from the park store, a shower, & a load of laundry. While the laundry was in the dryer, I used the pay phone to call home & check in. My husband knows not to worry, but my teenagers made clear to me before I left home that I was to call whenever I could. Now they know how I feel when they’re out somewhere! Good to hear their voices, as always.

There’s a loon calling nearby as I write this. My campsite is just a few trees away from the lake, away from the RVs, & I have civilized neighbors – a tranquil setting.

Rain resumed early in the evening, by which time I had everything buttoned up for the night. A neighbor came by with his dog to invite me to wait out the rain with his family under their screened canopy. Nice people. I declined, though, & I was in my sleeping bag moments later for what turned out to be 12 straight hours of sleep. My inexpensive little tent did NOT leak.

There’s that loon again. I’ll always associate that eerie cry with tranquility.

On Taming the Backpack

At Rudy's in Clarksville, NH

At Rudy’s in Clarksville, NH

This is the first full day of moving under my own power for this trip. No cars, no one to bail me out. This is worth noting only because this is the beginning of my first hiking trip lasting more than two days. Thus I celebrate turning 50. Here’s where I find out if my months of preparation were at all helpful.

From Sportsman’s Lodge, I picked up the CT northbound and headed to Rudy’s Cabins & Campground in Clarksville. I called Kathleen Domanico, who runs Rudy’s, a couple of weeks ago to ask about a tent site. She confirmed that she had some, but she quickly added “the weather can be nasty, & there’s no bathhouse.” She told me a vacant camp (meaning cabin) was available for the night at a very reasonable rate. Sounded good to me. I’ll have other nights to use my tent.

The trip from the lodge to Rudy’s amounted to a 6 ½ hour walk, which included several short stops for snacks & water, 10 minutes of befuddlement at one intersection, & 3 very long minutes backtracking to find the map & databook which had fallen out of my pocket. I had sunshine for all of it. Most of the miles were on town roads & well-defined snowmobile trails.

Roger served me up a fine breakfast at the lodge.  I am REAL glad I started the day with that; turns out I needed it. I delayed my departure until 7:45, right after channel 9’s forecast for a sunny day. I shouldered my heavy pack (30 pounds, feels like 40, wish it were 20), fastened a small bag with camera & snacks around my waist, took up my trekking pole, and was off.

An inauspicious start: I barely made it up the driveway. That little uphill slope felt like a mountain to me with that pack. I stopped at the mailbox & tweaked the pack straps to try to get more comfortable. I did that three more times in the first quarter mile. Finally I decided to stop at Coleman & remove the pack for serious adjustments. I found that one side of the sternum strap was misthreaded, and that was a quick fix. It took me a bit longer to adjust the shoulder straps to put the padding where I needed it most. Five minutes later, with the pack sitting more comfortably, I continued on my way.

Any experienced backpacker could have seen that problem coming. I didn’t. For all the hiking I did in preparation for this trip, I didn’t do any of it with a serious amount of weight in my pack. Mistake. I’m very glad I’m not on the mountainous part of the CT. I wouldn’t have been able to manage this load on a serious hill. Today’s travel was mostly along easy town roads, with the last few miles on snowmobile trails.

Heath Road was signed & easy to find. It’s a two-lane-wide dirt road, narrowing after a little bridge to maybe a lane & a half, but definitely a maintained road (though a sign warned that the road was “class V”, maintained only between May & December). I kept the CT map handy, but I was sure I could count on road signs.

Well, for awhile, I couldn’t. I came to an intersection at a farm, with a little gated lane to the right. Map showed a turn at a gated lane by a farm. I turned up the lane, & found that the gate was festooned with no fewer than four No Trespassing signs. I looked carefully for a CT blaze & saw none. I was extremely reluctant to ignore the signs, for two reasons. First, I had no desire to spend any time being dragged down to the state police in Colebrook. (Stewartstown does not boast a police department, & according to Mrs. C, thereby hangs a tale – but I digress.) I’m sure I’m not carrying enough cash for bail or a fine or whatever else they extract from trespassers around here. Second, and decisively, I know that the CT Association has spent years working with landowners, trying to get easements & permissions. It’s a delicate business. One angry landowner could set trail development back five years.

Hooray for timidity & prudence. A few more minutes on Heath Road brought me to the intersection I sought, complete with – yes! — real town-maintained street signs. Bear Rock Road was much livelier than Heath, meaning about 7 cars passed me. Each driver gave me a cheerful wave. Bear Rock is a pleasant road, but not a shady one. I was glad to have sunscreen & a hat.

Flat town roads are all well & good, and certainly better suited to my experience & temperament than mountains, but I knew “flat” couldn’t last. The day’s aerobic workout began on Macallaster Road. That’s where I found the farm-and-gate referred to on the map. I stopped for a few minutes for a snack, and found to my amazement that my cell phone was picking up a faint signal. I texted an I’m-OK message to my daughter back home, and she texted me right back. That, I suspect, is the last communication I’ll be doing via cell this week. The phone’s main usefulness from here on out will be as an alarm clock & contact list.

The snack was plenty. I found I didn’t want a huge lunch. It probably would have made me drowsy. Quick snacks and water stops got me through the day, although I got tired of swinging my pack off to refill my small water bottle. For tomorrow, I’ll rig an easy-to-reach strap for the quart-size Gatorade bottle that serves as my main reservoir.

My trekking pole earned its keep today. I’ve avoided it for most of my hikes in the past. One stiff knee and one persistent case of plantar fasciitis in recent months have persuaded me that I need one. It made my morning hike easier and my afternoon hike possible.

Three cars in caravan came down Macallaster at one point, one of them trailing the acrid odor of overworked brake pads. This drove home to me the fact that whoever put those contour lines on the map wasn’t kidding. I got smiles & waves from the drivers, with encouraging words thrown in. Pressing onward uphill, with breathing & pulse becoming more labored, I told myself that I used to pay Gold’s Gym to move me to workouts like this. I never had such pleasant views on a treadmill, though. There were green hills all ’round, near & far, sunshine pouring down on everything.

I was struck, as I was yesterday, by the variety & vigor of all the wildflowers on the roadside. This area can have very inhospitable weather & it certainly has a short growing season. No matter: the wildflowers, no doubt considered weeds, are running riot here. They’re no less beautiful for being common.

Eventually I passed Creampoke Road – I love that name – and saw quite a camp there. A hybrid mobile-home/permanent structure was occupied today by two or three generations of a family having a good visit. A little dog barked at me fiercely, bringing my presence to everyone’s attention. Who should be part of the gathering but one of the women who had driven past me an hour or so before! “You’re making good time,” she exclaimed, and asked me where I was headed. I told her I was going to Rudy’s for the night. Everyone around here knows about Rudy’s Cabins, apparently. The family wished me well.

I turned onto Haines, a rough “class VI” road that gets no town maintenance. Shortly, a bicyclist came into view. I called out to him that he was doing the real work, pedaling on gravel. He asked me if I was doing the CT & was pleased with my answer. He gave me an update on conditions up ahead. Within a couple of minutes, we both realized that we had met at last June’s gathering of CT supporters. I was glad to have his good cheer & encouragement as fatigue began to set in.

CT blazes were handy as the road petered out to a snowmobile trail. I made my left turn at Weirs Tree Farm, just as map & databook directed. There was a scene that stopped me in my tracks: a clear view to the north, hills & mountains a-plenty. The Connecticut Lakes were out there somewhere, concealed by ridges.

At this point, I had to lean heavily on my trekking pole with each step. Just two miles to go – and I’m glad it wasn’t three. I was tired, and I knew the signs: wobbly knees, near-inability to look up since I had to concentrate on where I was placing my feet, repeated sharp jolts to my knee as I stumbled. This is how a person gets hurt on a hike. So much for my “training”! Getting to Rudy’s put some heart back into me.

A re-route last May took the CT a mile or so away from Rudy’s. The short walk away from the trail was absolutely worth it. The camp that owner Kathleen had reserved for me looked ready to fall down, but then I went inside. It was just fine! Comfortable, snug, electricity & running water, and situated right on Clarksville Pond: an altogether acceptable alternative to a night in a tent. I went to the campground’s office to pay for my night’s stay and to thank Kathleen, but she wasn’t there. I tucked my payment & a note into the office.

First thing I did at the cabin was take my boots off. (Ahhhhhh.) Second thing was sit on the porch & relax. I heard a low thrum & quickly looked up – and there was a hummingbird, barely a foot & a half from my face. I barely had time to register the amazing sight before it flew away. Plenty of birds are here along the shore.

So it’s a happy end to my first long day. I am content. I had hoped to get some sunset photos, but it’s cloudy — all shades of gray. Pretty, in its way.

Getting to the starting line

Tumble Dick Notch

Tumble Dick Notch

2020 update: I was well out of cell phone & Internet range on this trip, so my original journal was handwritten. If you are planning a Cohos Trail trip, please note that cell service has come to portions of Pittsburg and the surrounding towns, and WiFi is much easier to come by than it was in 2009. Some of the “trail angels” of whom I write are no longer providing accommodations and shuttles, so be careful of using my posts as a guide for your own trip.  For the most current information about the trail, your best resource is the Facebook page for Friends of the Cohos Trail along with the most recent edition of the Cohos Trail guidebook. Mail inquiries to cohos@cohostrail.org.

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With the help of a Concord Coach bus to Gorham and a shuttle drive to Big Diamond Pond from Debbie & Yvan, two Cohos Trail (CT) supporters, I’ve arrived at Sportsman’s Lodge in Stewartstown [2013 note: no longer in business]. The CT passes about a mile south of here, through Coleman State Park. I could have camped there, and it’s a pleasant enough place, but Roger & Linda Glew run a fine inn at Sportman’s & I always enjoy coming back here. Their support of the trail’s hikers through the years has been tremendous.

While the CT is actually over 160 miles long, my goal for the next two weeks is quite modest: just the northernmost section, concentrating on the Connecticut Lakes. I’m planning to take my time & see all I can manage to see along the way.

We had a beautiful day for our drive up from Gorham, and we took our time up Rts. 16 & 26. We stopped in Dixville Notch, where Yvan & Debbie showed me the remains of an early 19th century homestead – nothing left but gravestones. We also stopped at Flume Brook, which must look heavenly to hikers coming down from Dixville Peak.

As we drove up Diamond Pond Road, Yvan told me about a man who lives on Big Diamond Pond & has a big model railroad scene in his yard. Someone vandalized it a few weeks back, & Yvan wanted to see what was left. Thus began the day’s highlight – better even than the dayhike I took later. We found the house with the train display, next to a boat launch for Big Diamond Pond. I saw what was clearly a labor of love by a real railroad fan. The scene must have been close to 30 feet long. The tracks wound around representations of all kinds of NH & North Country landmarks, including the Magalloway fire tower & the Old Man of the Mountain. The vandals, ignoring the scenery & decorations, contented themselves with tearing up the tracks.

A woman at the house saw us reviewing the damage, and she came out to chat. Her name is Mrs. C, and her husband built the model railroad. She said that when they woke up one morning and saw the damage, her husband was thoroughly disheartened. They reported the vandalism to the state police, and the report was picked up by both local newspapers. The response, according to Mrs. C, was incredible: people from NH, VT, ME & PQ wrote & called, offering help in rebuilding. “Where else in the world could you live where a story like that could make the front page of TWO newspapers?” she laughed, shaking her head at the results. The upshot is that repairs are underway. Oh, she was full of stories about Big Diamond Pond & its families & their histories. She was careful to point out that she’s not a native — “I’ve only been here 25 years” — but she loves this place. She & her husband lived in Maine & loved snowmobiling (still do), & one day their snowmobile outing brought them to this pond. They were smitten. They moved out of Maine and never looked back.

We stopped to look at a wrecked display, and found something being rebuilt instead. It was a totally unexpected delight.

She’s fascinated by my hiking plans. She saw Yvan’s Cohos Trail hat, and she asked about the trail. She had heard of it but didn’t know much about it. We told her about it from our various perspectives. She asked me about the section I’ll be hiking, and I described the route. She nodded and said, “Yup. Most of those are snowmobile trails.” (She sported a Swift Diamond Riders sweater.) This isn’t the first time I’ve benefited from the work done by snowmobile clubs.

Later in the day, I hiked out from the lodge to check out a short stretch of the CT between Coleman State Park & Tumble Dick Notch. The trail was extremely muddy – I mean boot-sucking, thank-you-for-Gore Tex muddy. I had a sunny day with a breeze, so bugs were only a minor nuisance. Moose tracks were everywhere. I was actually quite nervous about surprising a moose, but I didn’t encounter any on the trail. After an hour & a half, I came to the good view at the notch (pictured above), where I stopped for pictures before turning around. The trail is well-blazed & no trouble to follow in this stretch.

I’m enjoying luxury here at the lodge, including a good burger for dinner. I’m the only guest at the moment, so I ate dinner in front of the lodge’s huge TV watching the Sox, who aren’t having much luck today. I repacked my pack and tried to pare down my load, knowing that this was my last chance. I pulled out some odds & ends, but the big heavy things are the tent & the bear canister with food. I can’t do without them. I’m leaving a bag of clean clothes here, along with the aforementioned odds & ends. I’ll return in 12 days to reclaim them. Off to pare more. Camera case is the latest casualty.

One of Mrs. C’s remarks keeps coming back to me: “You have to love it here,” spoken very seriously, with the unspoken corollary: “…because it sure isn’t going to love you.” Winters are tough, unemployment is high, and all the kids leave the area as soon as they graduate (“our biggest export,” she lamented). She does love it, though.