We wake up about 6 a.m. to two surprising facts: the sun rises earlier (5:11 vs. 5:49) than it does in Northern Virginia and it gets a good 10 degrees cooler overnight. Not that we’re complaining about either occurrence. An earlier sunrise means an earlier start for hiking and a cooler night means we slept with the windows open, something no one with ubiquitous central air conditioning would do in Virginia at this time of year.
We had pored over maps and our White Mountain guidebook last night, finally choosing a short (3-mile, 900 feet of elevation gain) hike up Mount Willard recommended by a friend of Walt’s who has lived and hiked in New Hampshire for many years.
It’s close to a 70-mile, 2-hour drive to the trailhead but we’re on the road by 8 a.m. on another gorgeous day. The mountains and the lakes are beautiful. The towns are quaint. The traffic is blissfully light.
I’m a little nervous about the hike, because it’s so easy to get turned around in the woods and I’ve been to many parks where the guide/ranger says “you can’t miss” the “turn” or “trail marker” but somehow I do miss it. I’ve never gotten seriously lost (to the point where someone had to come get me) but I have been turned around and disoriented enough to know that I really don’t like it and I lose my patience and temper pretty quickly.
Not to worry. The trailhead is well marked and it’s one turn, also well-marked, then a straight shot up a beautiful trail, first along a stream, then veering off up to granite rocks before popping out on a nice overlook of the notch (valley) we just drove through. We actually look a little silly, in our hiking clothes, boots, poles and backpacks with water, rain gear, snacks, bug spray, sunscreen, headlamps, and assorted other gear but I just don’t like to take any hike – no matter how short – without my basics. Besides, I figure even if I don’t need the gear, I’m burning extra calories by carrying the extra weight.
About a quarter mile into the hike, as we rock-hop across a small stream. I am instantly at peace. This is why I hike. I love the feeling of being in the woods, smelling the pine, hearing the stream and the birds, picking my way across the rocks. I don’t have to worry about anything but moving up the mountain.
Walt is happy because even though the rocky trail is reminiscent of the Adirondacks, there are only a few patches of mud and those aren’t very muddy by my standards. I’m a little disappointed; what’s the fun of playing “rock, not a rock” through the mud if you have a better-than-even chance of that next hummock being a rock instead of sinking four or five inches into squish?
On our way back, we are pleased to be able to indulge in our favorite post-hike treat: soft-serve ice cream. We haven’t really earned our ice cream; I’m not sure I’ve burned off any of the cake, champagne, and chocolate calories I’ve put on from M&M’s wedding, but we’re going for it anyway.
I order my favorite, a small vanilla/chocolate twist. Walt opts for a medium. The girl hands out the “small” first but it is so large that Walt refuses to give it to me until he is assured that the next cone out the window is at least as big, if not bigger. I’m a little shocked at his refusal to hand over the cone, he’s really good at sharing normally but he also knows that if he hands it to me, I’m going to start eating it immediately. And we are talking soft-serve ice cream, after all.
Pretty soon the second cone arrives and definitely looks larger than the first so now we’re both happy.