The whole of summer 2017 had the feeling of an impending deadline: when it came to a close, we would be leaving New England for the foreseeable future. When we went out to restaurants and coffee shops and parks and places I had a hard time pushing the finality out of my head. It was always last time I’ll eat there or last time I’ll run these trails or last time I’ll see that person. For the most part, I’d had my fair share of New England experiences: I’d eaten lobster rolls, stood in line for Treehouse beer plenty of times, walked the Freedom Trail, hiked Mt. Monadnock, visited Acadia National Park, seen lighthouses on Cape Cod…the list goes on. One of the few remaining items, however, was to hike Mt. Washington.
I did plenty of hiking and running in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. I’d hiked several other Presidentials along with a dozen or so 4,000 Footers. Washington remained a hazy goal on the horizon, always looming in the distance behind a veil of clouds and wind. In late August, when our time in Boston was coming to a close, we decided to knock off a final hike of Washington. We picked the morning of August 21 and drove to the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. After struggling to find parking, and listening to a patient volunteer explain to would-be hikers that based on their experience level and choice of trail they would not make it to the summit and back down before dark (“but we’ve done Tuckermans before, we don’t want to do it again!”), we headed out.
Moving to Boston in late 2013 was tough. I was more or less on my own, living in a city that I had visited a few times but did not know. I had never lived in an apartment before, or driven in snow, or done any of the “adult” things that I was forced to do right after moving. At the same time I was adjusting to a new college and different style of learning, I was learning the city and learning to juggle work with school with writing and existing. I had to grow up, fast. I joined too many on-campus organizations and I worked on way too many projects. I wasn’t running yet and I wasn’t riding my bike anywhere, either. My roommates were garbage and my apartment was tiny, but I was rewarded with what everyone in the Northeast holds out for: magnificent New England spring.
Unlike the family at the visitor center we were fine with taking the Tuckerman Ravine trail. It was both of our first hikes on Washington, so the classic route seemed appropriate. The first section of the hike, a wide wooded trail littered with boulders, was a bit of a green tunnel. It was steep almost immediately and Sam had a bit of trouble getting motivated for the rest of the hike (“this fucking sucks,” to paraphrase). Seeing the summit emerge from the trees near the Hermit Lake Shelters proved plenty of motivation, though, and after a short break and photo op we trucked on.
The summer of 2014 changed things for me. I was frustrated with the fact that I didn’t have time to write what I wanted to and was focusing on school. I was unhappy with the friends I’d made and the fact that I was already starting to feel stagnant despite having just moved across the country. So, I bought a short-notice plane ticket to Spain and spent a week exploring and drinking wine. I met people from around the world and wrote and had fun alone, staying up too late and swimming in the ocean and doing all the things that I felt like doing. Going home was uncomfortable and unwelcome but I got a taste of life outside of school. I picked up running again when I returned and had my eye on a spring 50k.
Just beyond Hermit Lake Shelter, the trail takes a steep turn up Tuckerman Ravine. Wet rocks made for a fun climb, while a nosy, over-talkative hiker on our tail encouraged us forward. Recent rain meant that water was cascading down the ravine and over the trail. Late summer flowers were still in bloom and everything was green. By the time we reached the top of the ravine and the summit came into view, the sliver of solar eclipse that was to be visible from New Hampshire was starting to come into view. We brought along a big bag of (NASA approved!) glasses, and started passing them around to families nearby. I knew that my family back home in Georgia (and in our future home of Nashville) were in the path of totality, but our little sliver still made for a fascinating view.
The winter of 2014 into 2015 was one of record-breaking snow. It was my first full winter in New England, so I didn’t know much better and kept training. When the snow melted, I ran my first 50k. It was a moment unlike anything I’d ever experienced: my hard work from the past few months paying off in the form of something I was proud of. I didn’t do too well in school that semester and had to take summer classes but it was mine and Sam’s first summer as a couple and we spent the warm evenings riding bikes and skateboarding around town. I went out for my college cross country team and made it, then was hit by a car while riding my bike to work one day. I ran my first college meet the next morning, and had a cast on my arm for the entire season. I met my best friend during that time and became a much stronger runner.
Clouds were gathering at the top of Mt. Washington and it was getting cold. We layered up and continued the climb, a seemingly endless haul up a typical-White Mountains boulder field. The weather observatory was in sight and the valley below had disappeared into the clouds. Once up top, we stood in line with the folks from the auto road and took a photo: our last New England summit for a long time.
I didn’t run much for the first half of 2016. I was writing my thesis, and studied abroad in Cuba. We moved to a nicer house where I was able to walk to work, and I did a lot of hiking by myself. I was done with school and ready to leave Boston but knew it wasn’t time yet. I spent the fall trying to back back into a running habit and decided to sign up for Yeti 100. I immediately dove into base building, and then started my training plan in the spring. At that point, Sam and I were discussing a move, but it didn’t become definite until late spring…then the countdown started.
We spent a few minutes up top and I mailed my dad’s birthday card from the Post Office at the summit. We decided to head down so we could do so in full daylight. The day had been fantastic, though I was a bit disappointed in the lack of wildlife. I’d seen my first bear in July and was hoping to see a moose before we left for good, but with the crowds on Washington I felt that my chances were slim. We took our time descending and talked a lot about the move. We’d spent all summer spending time with friends, saying “yes” as much as possible and eating at all of our favorite restaurants. We drank local beer and we stayed up late. We rode bikes and did a lot of just driving around. It was a time of reflection and of slowly letting go. I would be leaving a job I’d had for nearly two years, and the family I had there. We would have our going away party that weekend and then start driving the next week.
When the trail ended, I complained about the lack of moose. “I guess we’ll just have to come back,” Sam joked. We crossed the still-full parking lot and headed towards the car, only to be greeted by a crowd across the street. “Maybe it’s a moose!” I said, and Sam insisted on going back to the car. I told him I’d meet him there and went to investigate. Sure enough, a cow and baby were swimming across the bog. I snapped a blurry picture and watched in awe as they approached. The crowd shifted and the moose climbed out of the water, munching on vegetation near the shore. If there was going to be a sign that it was time to move on, that was it. All of my doubts about moving were erased, and I knew that it was going to be okay.