julie came to pick me up at 8am to go to mount monadnock in new hampshire, a 2 hour long drive. before we even left, she was grilling me in the car, making sure i had all the necessary equipment. what i took to be a leisurely walk up a mountain on a relatively warm autumn day was starting to sound like a serious expedition. i knew the fact that i was wearing jeans (not hiking pants) and my sneakers (not hiking boots) was a sticking point, but i'm from the school of thought that hiking should be simple and anyone can do it, not just reserved for people who have the latest and supposedly the most proper equipment. while new hampshire may seem like a second home to julie, i've never done any hiking in that state, so i was curious to see what interesting new things it had to offer.
the first thing we noticed right away when we entered new hampshire were all the political signage. at nearly every intersection signs pop up like wildflowers, urging citizens to vote for this or that candidate. as many mccain signs we spotted, there were just as many obama signs. obama supporters also seem to be more creative, and we saw a few homemade obama banners hanging from houses and buildings. there were also plenty of signs for the new hampshire senate race between republican incumbent john sununu and democratic challenger jeanne shaheen. normally folks living in massachusetts wouldn't know about the political battles of our northern neighbors, but this year the election has been particularly nasty as both candidates have been airing their negative ads in the boston television market.
approaching jaffrey we could see mount monadnock rising high up in the far distance. and we're supposed to climb up that thing? wouldn't it be easier just to drive it? we arrived at the checkpoint, where we pay our $4/head admission before being subjected to a lecture about what equipment we should have, condition of the mountain, and things we should be aware regarding personal safety. it was 10am but already the parking lot was starting to fill up. on a nice weekend day so close to peak foliage, is it any mystery that monadnock would be busy? people were getting ready outside their cars, putting on their equipment and checking to see if they anything. the air was definitely brisk and i put on another layer of jacket. while some people were decked out in hiking gear, there were others dressed more like me, the jeans and sneakers crowd. i could sense the disdain of the gearheads towards the amateurs.
after a short bathroom visit, julie and i started our ascent. at first it was okay, a wide clear path, nothing difficult, although we were walking fast enough that i started to sweat a little bit and feeling somewhat out of breath from not having exercised in several months. then it started to get rocky, until we reached a point where it looked like just a vertical rock face going straight up. this wasn't walking anymore, this was climbing, with hands and feet. it wouldn't have been too bad if there was no one else around, but the was crowded with people, especially family with noisy children, so there was the added pressure of quickening the pace to avoid the crowd but also to not hold up the line. my energy drained away quickly and i sat down to rest. i felt light-headed and nauseous, grimacing from the strain. months of not exercising finally catching up to me combined with the fact that i only had a banana for breakfast. we climbed a little bit more before i had to rest again. julie gave me some trail mix to boost my energy while i took sips from my water bottle. i wanted to give up at that point, or at least tell julie to go ahead without me. i felt like i let "the team" down, made worse by the fact that all around me were these children scrambling up the rocks effortlessly. i rest one more time before we cleared enough of the rock face that it was back to simple walking again, albeit on some rocky trails.
in terms of skill level, monadnock is a moderate. i'd hate to see what difficult looks like! there were a few times when i stepped awkwardly, and at one point i thought i re-aggravated my healed left ankle/foot when i felt an unnatural twist (nothing seemingly damaged at the time, but days later it felt slightly tender). i was back to normal by the time we got high enough to see some scenery, getting close to the bare summit. in the early 1800's, settlers set fire to the top of the mountain for various reasons until the summit was completely stripped of vegetation (originally it was all forested). although everyone gathered up at the mountain top, it was still big enough for get away from the crowd. the weather was definitely more dramatic: warm to the point of hot in the sun, but uncomfortably cold underneath a cloud's shadow.
from that elevation (3165 feet, verified by my gps) we could see the landscape, and see that it wasn't yet peak foliage yet. we ate lunch. julie brought some mashed up chicken looking thing stuffed in a used peanut butter jar while i tore open a package of beef jerky and finished a three musketeers bar.
coming up we took the white dot trail (1.9 miles) but going down it was the white cross trail. although less strenuous hiking down, it was no less dangerous, with many areas to slip and fall and break a limb or two. sometimes i'd sit on my ass and slide down, or maybe using a nearby branch for support. julie was in the final stage of several costume changes, with her bandanna and gloves and poles that made her look like she was skiing (i saw some other people with the same outfit, apparently it's a popular look).
besides my thigh muscles and a bit of my calves, the only other part of my body where it hurt was in the tips of my shoes where my toes dug into the sneakers. julie was ahead of me for most of the way, while i lagged behind, occasionally stopping to admire the scenery or take a photo.
as far as naturing goes, it was more about geography and foliage than actual animals. when we got high enough we watched a turkey vulture gliding in the sky. from the summit we watched a group of crows playing high overhead (their distinctive cawing calls gave them away). mountain sandworts were the only alpine flowers i saw. i was surprised to find fields of cotton grass, which i usually associate with bogs; later i found out there are indeed alpine bogs on monadnock.
once we made it back to lower elevations, it felt great walking on flat ground again. getting into the car, we drove north to find a place to eat until we hit peterborough, where we discovered harlow's pub. i got a pastrami on rye and a root beer. driving home, we made it back to town around 6pm. i asked julie if she could drop me off at my parents' place, where i then proceeded to eat some more.