The Calm Before the Storm

Sorry I didn’t get this posted in a timely manner . . .

I live near forest road “FR9” (that is to say, a dirt road maintained by the Forest Department) and it is only seasonally maintained.  At the first sign of winter, its entry and exit are sealed to motor vehicles (hikers, horses, and snowshoers are permitted) with swinging metal gates that are locked until late spring or early summer, depending on how fast the snow melts.  Usually at the end of July, if their budget permits, they will lay a new layer of gravel, re-grade it, and so it is maintained until the following late fall or early winter.

With the coming storm, I knew the forest road would be closed, and once it’s closed, they never reopen it until May or June, even if the weather improves in the meantime.  So this was our last chance to meander along FR9, and I wanted to take full advantage of it since the sky was clear and the temperature was warm.  There are several hiking trails off of FR9, but I wanted to reach Rte. 113, which is the paved road that winds up and down Evans Notch, crossing several times  back and forth from New Hampshire into Maine.  Evans Notch is arguably one of the most beautiful notches in the White Mountains, and probably the least traversed, although its road (also only seasonally maintained) is always in excellent condition.  But it is out of the way for most tourists who visit New Hampshire, and they often visit only Franconia Notch, Pinkham Notch, or Crawford Notch on their way to Mt. Washington.  By going on a scenic drive through FR9 and 113, it was a sort of  last hurrah to summer and early fall, and I wanted to make the most of it.

After you drive north through Evans Notch on the 113, you come to Rte. 2, which is a main highway.  If you go right (east), you enter Maine, but if you go left (west), you enter New Hampshire and eventually Vermont.  Several times in the past I had passed a small parking area off of Rte. 2 that looked intriguing.  A small sign said it led to the Appalachian Trail, the famous hiking trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine.  The library is full of books by people who have hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, and the pages are filled with adventure stories both funny and sad, and lots of complaints about sore feet.  I had a hankering to walk a tiny part of the AT just for fun.

So Rattle River Trail was our destination.  A sign had been posted at the trailhead warning hikers not to attempt hiking during Hurricane Sandy, but that was several days away and for now, conditions were perfect.  A 1.6 mile walk took you to an Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) shelter, where we planned on picnicking.

Note the warning at the bottom of the message board, posted by the Forest Service about Hurricane Sandy (click to enlarge)

What I wasn’t prepared for was just how easy and beautiful it would be.  The very very gradual incline made the walk (I would not even call it a hike ) a pleasure; it was suitable for anyone ages 2 – 92.  In only took 40 minutes to reach the shelter, which was cabin-sized.  Inside was a notebook filled with thru-hikers’ comments and tales, and some hikers had left unwanted camping accessories that they no longer needed or were sick of carrying in their backpacks for the benefit of others (part of a book; some sterno fuel; a knife sheath without the knife; a laundry bag).

The AMC shelter at Rattle River

The AMC Shelter

At the bottom of the knoll where the shelter sat was Rattle River, a magnificent cascade, with swimming holes, rushing waters, small waterfalls, and a flume surrounded by  huge boulders and woods.  Our dog Spencer had a great time running around alongside the water and in the fallen leaves.

Stupidly, I had neglected to bring my camera, but I did borrow my husband’s inexpensive point-and-shoot camera and had some pretty good results.

Water cascading down boulders leads to a deep, clear swimming hole at the bottom

If there was any lesson learned by today’s walk it is this:  while it’s great to be challenged and achieve victory (completing a difficult hike, or getting through a trial by fire), we don’t always need difficulties to nevertheless overcome tribulations, to  appreciate and value the important things in life.  I didn’t enjoy today’s trip any less because it was easy.  Don’t underestimate the small victories in life just because they are “mundane.”

When we returned to our car, we decided to take a scenic route into No. Conway, and went down Pinkham Notch past Mt. Washington and the Ellis River.  Once in No. Conway we went to the supermarket to restock our dwindling supply of fresh produce and whatever else we might need before Hurricane Sandy hit our neck of the woods.  Since most people in these parts are well prepared for emergencies due to our oft-challenging weather, there was no panic buying whatsoever, and there were plenty of flashlights, batteries, bread, milk and toilet paper to be had.  I only saw one guy who had loaded up his cart for the storm, and it was full of ice, water, and booze, but no food.  I guess we know how that fellow is going to ride out the hurricane!

Today we went to the library, checked out some books and dvds, and picked up our mail at the post office.  We’ve filled our cars with gas, brought firewood into the house, put yard tools in the garage, taken down our flag and bird feeder, ensured that our phones, computers, and house batteries (which control our house’s electrical power when we’re off the grid) are fully charged.  Our well pump will work off the batteries or generator, so water isn’t a problem.  We have plenty of food.  The one thing I forgot to do was get money out of the ATM (credit cards will not work if there is no electricity and cash talks) but there will still be time tomorrow morning.  Not that I’m planning on going anywhere in the next several days, but you never know.  Actually, CNN has a pretty good disaster checklist that I found helpful.

Right now, it truly is the calm before the storm.

Postscript:  Sandy fizzled by the time it reached Maine.  We had a lot of rain and wind, but not more so than any other mountain storm we experienced in the past.

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