Solo Hike at the Castle in the Clouds, New Hampshire

Yesterday I left home at 8:31 a.m. for a solo adventure in New Hampshire’s Castle in the Clouds area.Why 8:31 a.m.? Because Earl, who couldn’t go with me, decided the one thing he could do, was make me leave later than my planned 8:30 a.m. departure. The poor man had to work on a beautiful summer day. It just would have been cruel to leave home early or exactly on time. HA HA

I have to say, “Thank goodness for GPS and smart phones.” I was able to find the trailhead without having to stop every little while to check the road map to make sure I was still going the right way. My first stop was the Castle in the Clouds gift shop so I could buy a trail map. ALWAYS make sure you have a map of the area you are hiking.

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At the very least, if you don’t have a real map, snap a photo when a trail map is posted on a kiosk. Zoom in or break the map up into sections so you can see some detail.
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A family of foxes greeted hikers and picnic-ers at Shannon Pond.

I have to tell you… I was nervous and anxious about this hike. I knew it in my gut and felt it in my legs and lungs when I got on the trail. I was walking at a much faster pace than normal. My nervous energy was getting the best of me and I had to mentally talk myself into a better place.

Why was I nervous? It’s still scary for me to think of being out in the woods alone. I don’t know if I’ll run into unscrupulous people. I don’t know if I’ll encounter wildlife that poses a threat. I don’t know if I’ll manage to hurt myself.

I can logically argue that each of those fears is statistically unlikely and irrational. I can also argue that those things can and do happen. So that put my intellect and emotions at odds and while they battled it out, my legs were putting some distance between me and my car. It took about a half mile for me to calm myself down enough to focus on my walking pace.

Shortly after that I saw my first snake of the day. I didn’t even scream! I was so proud of myself. That self-serving pride was short lived because as soon as I turned back to the trail I was startled by another smaller snake about two steps in front of me. I did not scream, but I did squeak.

7105802_origSnake one of four that I saw on the trail.

A few steps farther up the trail and I started seeing tiny toads in the trail. By the end of the day I had spotted four snakes, dozens of tiny toads, four medium size toads, a dozen birds I startled in the brush, and two squirrels. I did not see one dog, Sheba, who ran off on her owner.

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Beautiful “fields” of ferns were sprinkled along the trail.
At one point in my adventure I realized I had taken a wrong turn. I consulted my map and couldn’t quite figure out where I went wrong. But since I was out adventuring, I opted to keep walking forward to the next trail sign rather than retrace my steps. This decision added about 1.5 miles to my trek. It also offered me a view of the “Castle in the Clouds.”

You can barely see it in the picture below, but it’s right in the center of the photo, with a lake just behind it.

8830128_origFunny how you don’t notice somethings at the time they are happening. I hadn’t noticed the whispy clouds until I saw the picture.

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Someone else’s photo of it from the same vantage point. Lucky them with a zoom lens. HA HA

8398826_origAs Bugs Bunny would say, “I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque.”

As I approached the top of the Lower Bridle Path (for the 2nd time), I discovered my mistake. Even though I had known I was supposed to go left to pick up the Upper Bridle Path, the sign confused my brain. I saw the trail name on the right side of the sign and turned right. Obviously, the arrow is pointing left. Lesson learned. I hope.

4990543_origThis was a fairly steep section of trail. 4278110_orig

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 Several trails were grassy like this. It was a bit disconcerting walking through grass. It felt weird beneath my feet.
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 The blue sky, clouds, and trees caught my eye. I stopped to admire the beauty for a few moments before continuing on my journey.
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Gotta work on taking selfies. Perhaps the best reason to have a hiking buddy is being able to turn over the camera to him/her. HA HA
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Did I mention these trails are in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region?

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The picture doesn’t do this stream justice. It was lovely.

At 10.66 miles, my phone’s battery was getting low so I turned off my GPS app. I was mindful that I might need that last 10 percent of battery life to call for help if I met up with those unscrupulous people or wild animals I had worried about. And for the record… until I met up with Sheba’s frantic owner within the last mile or so of my hike, I hadn’t seen anyone all day long! No one. Not a single person!

After I turned off my phone, I hiked an additional 3.5 – 4 miles–totalling just around 15 miles for the day. I started hiking at 10:30 a.m. and got off the trail at 6:17 p.m. I was pooped!

It made me really glad that I had opted to NOT hike to one more summit within the trail system. Turtleback Mountain was within striking distance, but I was getting tired and it was getting late. So before I reached the turn-off to Turtleback Mountain, I created a decision making process in my mind. I decided that IF the distance from the trail to the summit of Turtleback Mountain was .5 miles or less AND the remaining distance back to the trailhead was 3.0 miles or less, I would hike to that summit.

I got to the trail sign and found that both conditions were met EXACTLY. 0.5 miles to the summit AND 3.0 miles to the trailhead. Sigh…

It was like flipping a coin. When you get the answer and then decide to go best two of three, you know you really didn’t like the answer.

I started up the trail to the Turtleback Mountain summit. But after a few weary steps I started talking to myself. “Time should have been factored in there,” I thought. “I should have said it also needed to be before 4:30 p.m.” Notice I did not decide it could be 4:30 exactly! HA HA

I looked at the time. It was 4:43 p.m. Woot! One of the conditions was NOT met, therefore I HAD to abort this mission!

I immediately turned around and headed back to the main trail. Turtleback Mountain would have to wait for another day!

What had started as a day of feeling uncomfortable and nervous ended as a day of feeling confident and excitedly exhausted. I could have called it quits after a few miles or a few hours. Instead I stayed out on the trails for 8 hours. I hiked 15 miles. I saw snakes and leaping toads. I peed in the woods and filtered drinking water–not at the same time or locations!

Yesterday I took many steps toward being an independent hiker. I think I will always prefer to have a hiking buddy. I am not a great talker in the woods, I prefer the silence and sounds of nature. But I do like the quiet companionship someone else brings to the experience.

I will continue my solo adventures in the hopes that I will never feel restricted by the need (rather than desire) to have that company. I will know that if I want to hike, I can hike. I am a hiker.

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