The other day, while perusing Facebook, this post from ‘Lucie’ caught my attention (and made me smile). It said:
After hiking Mount Chocorua 2 days in a row, I feel like I just had a week of Mr. Kelly and Miss Galligan’s suicides (basketball training exercises). I am trying to walk and look good but I don’t think it’s working. LOL
I’ve never met Kelly or Galligan, and I’ve never done a suicide drill, but I thought, yup, sounds about right.
Mount Chocorua, my old nemesis. I knew it well, back in my early 20’s. It’s a craggy, picturesque peak in Northern NH. Not too tall, only 3,500 feet or so, but popular due to its looks and location. And one other thing: it’s tough as nails to hike.
I didn’t know that at first.
I did mostly solo hikes back then, consulting my AMC Guide to choose them. My guide told me there were several trails to the summit, one of the easier ones starting at a restaurant parking lot. Sounded good.
On the day, the weather was promising. For most of the hike, I didn’t see the sun since I was enveloped in deep woods. The trail got progressively steeper as I went, giving my heart and lungs a workout. I vaguely realized that this was the easy stretch, but my mind was in denial about the last part, which would be 100% rock. But hey, I was a good scrambler.
I came to a steep section, still in earthy woods, when I stopped for a break. I noticed something odd: nearby, a young woman lay on the ground, seemingly asleep. I walked over to ask if she was okay.
Her eyes opened. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just needed a rest.” She told me her brief tale. Out with a friend, they decided to tackle Chocorua together. The friend was in good physical shape, she herself was not. She just decided to wait in this spot while her friend advanced to the top.
I got back on the trail. An hour later, panting heavily, I noticed fewer trees above me. Was I approaching the summit, the subject of a thousand paintings and photographs? Was it within reach? Was I there yet?
The cruelty of a humble trail sign told me I was not.
“Summit .5 miles”
I had half a mile to go. I got my first good look at the stony trail. Yes, it was all rock and apparently straight up as well. The fire in my feet and legs told me this was more than I was used to. I’d never been on a football or basketball team. But I’d survived boot camp with its obstacle course and midnight grinders.
I would finish this hike.
Somehow, my legs carried me slowly upward. It helped to catch glimpses of spectacular scenery, but I never stopped for long. Other people bounded past me like mountain goats, eager for the summit. I knew I had to keep going, even in my turtle-like fashion.
Finally, I was there. And here’s the odd thing; I have no memory of it. It must have been a great view, almost 360 degrees of mountains, trees and rivers. But on hikes that really challenge me, I often find a flat spot on the summit to lay down. Like the woman I met at the halfway point, I likely closed my eyes and sought to recharge my battery, and perhaps my soul.
I may have thought about the mountain’s namesake, Chief Chocorua, who lived nearby in the early 1700’s. Due to a misunderstanding with local settlers (the stories vary), he was accused of murder and chased up the mountain. Facing certain death by musket blast, he chose to leap from the summit instead. Ouch.
Once I was feeling like a functioning human, I made the reverse journey. Hikers will tell you that the downhill part is often the hardest, especially on the feet and ankles. I can’t remember. The relief of not having to fight gravity must have blotted out any discomfort I felt.
At the parking lot, the restaurant beckoned. Many hikers dropped in for a hearty lunch after this adventure. But I lacked the energy for that. I poured myself into my car and drove home.
Years later, my son was a Boy Scout. His troop was planning to ascend Mount Chocorua, and parents were welcome. I had been to various events with the scouts as a helper, and I really enjoyed it. Did I want to come this time?
I thought for a moment. “You know what, buddy? I’m sitting this one out. Have fun.”