So Wet and So Wild

Carrying Cole down the ladder on Hi Cannon trail

“Everyone thinks their dog is the best; and they’re all right”. This quote rings true in every aspect since I’m convinced Cole is the best dog in the world (for me). His untaught ability to navigate any terrain, sense of adventure, stoic nature, and undying trust make us a team I won’t ever replicate. When we began hiking I knew he was special, but I never anticipated we would accomplish so many things as a pair.

Myself, Andrew and Nate

On April 22, 2017 I decided to complete the Northeast Ultra 8 list with Andrew, Nate, and Cole. This is a list that a couple of guys from New York informed me of which consisted of the “toughest day hikes in the Northeast”. The hikes are as follows:

Mahoosuc Traverse: 32 miles through Maine and New Hampshire on the Appalachian Trail. To this date: myself, Cole, and 5 of the strongest men I know (Nate, Andrew, Dan, Jeremy, and Jason) are the only people to successfully complete it in a single winter day.

Pemi Loop: 34 miles in New Hampshire and 2nd toughest day hike according to Backpacker Magazine.

Presi Traverse: 21 miles through the knee jarring rocks of the New Hampshire Presidential Range.

Great Range Traverse: 28 miles in the heart of the Adirondack High Peaks Region.

Taconic Crest Trail: 39 miles through Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York.

Devils Path: 26 miles in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

Saranac 6: 36 miles in New York to complete the peaks surrounding Saranac Lake.

Cranberry 50: 55 mile loop circumnavigating Cranberry Lake, the 3rd largest lake in the Adironacks of New York.

The only hike that is missing from this list is the Hut to Hut which links the 8 huts in the White Mountains of New Hampshire totaling 48 miles. This is the only hike I did twice before getting Cole and we have not done this one together, so I’m relieved it’s not on the list.

Cole, Nate and I have completed 6 of the 8 hikes on this list in winter and I have completed all of them in non-winter conditions. In order to scout the trails for our remaining 2 winter ultras (TCT and Cranberry 50) we decided to complete these hikes in April.

While April sounds fantastic to a non-hiker since the snow has melted back home and warmer temperatures are more common, it’s actually one of the worst hiking months of the year. There is punch through, wet snow that snowshoes can’t even handle on the monorail. Also, conditions vary in a single day from shoe sucking mud to crusted over snow to ice to rocks and roots. Your brain and wardrobe are in constant flux, which can wear on someone by the end of a 30+ mile day. Thankfully, my good friends Nate, Dan, and Luc all were willing to do this for 39 miles on the TCT on April 8, 2017.

So, with one final 50 miler on the docket we made plans to head to New York the night of April 21 to stay with my friend, Jaryn, who warned us of the wet, knee deep water conditions for the trails in that area. Figuring we could withstand the misery we prepared ourselves for a day of pruned feet and beautiful lake views.

We started the first 12 miles off with fast moving conditions and dry feet. While there was on and off rain throughout the day, we managed to use our rain shells effectively and stay relatively dry. We were moving with ease and figured this would be a cake walk. Then, the Beaver dam sections started. Every mile or two we were trying to float on water to get across a section of wet mud and ponds without losing a shoe. By mile 25 we were all soaked from the knees down.

Around the halfway point Andrew’s cough turned into an official flu. He was achy and his head was pounding. It’s a helpless feeling to watch your friend become ill and know the only way to rest is to get back to the car, which is 25+ miles away. As a team we pushed forward. Happy that our packs were getting lighter (carrying 7 pounds of food for Cole certainly is not enjoyable at the start) and knowing every step was getting us closer to the car kept our spirits up.

As Andrew became more ill I started to feel tightness in my hips and glutes. I’m not used to flat conditions since I’m naturally a climber, so my stride had caused some serious muscle fatigue. The guys commented that it looked like I had just gotten off a horse, lovely. Nate seemed to be going strong, which was relieving. Cole, as always, was fine. He never even laid down when we would stop.

Around mile 32 I went ahead of the guys while they finished filtering water. Somehow, I got off trail while Cole stayed by my side. Confused and searching for the correct section I began yelling for the guys. Suddenly, I popped out on the shore of the lake to notice they were across it! My heart sank. Cole began swimming across the lake to get to them: overachiever. I bushwhacked through the forest to a bridge roughly .5 mile back and crossed the lake. At this point the guys had gone back to the junction that was confusing and were looking for me. Conversely, I was back on the correct trail and Cole found me. I yelled for the guys that I was up ahead. After over an hour of wasting time and burning daylight we finally rejoined as a crew.

Now our smiles turned into exhaustion. It was getting dark and we knew we still had roughly 20 miles to get out. Andrew’s tenacity to continue to the car was so motivating, but he was also requiring several stops to hold his pounding temples and rest his flu-ridden body. Nate did an amazing job of staying with him to keep him safe and motivated while Cole and I marched ahead and did route finding. At this point my aching legs had snapped free and I was back to walking at 4 mph, as I normally do. With 3 miles remaining Nate, Cole, and I pressed on as Andrew gave himself ample rests knowing we would warm up the car and get the backseat ready for him.

My tattoo couldn’t be more accurate

We peeled off our soaking wet socks and shoes and inspected our feet. The only blister from all 3 of us was one on Nate’s foot. We were shocked to have faired so well. Cole immediately jumped in the car and curled up in the back, but his pads were absolutely fine and he was well fed and hydrated. He never even showed signs of fatigue or soreness, even 2 days after the hike. Andrew got to the car and we all curled up in our seats for a 2 hour nap before driving back to Jaryn’s. Surprisingly, we all could walk into the gas station for coffee with ease and were not as worn down as anticipated.

Looking back on this adventure that slammed a week’s worth of memories into a single day I learned a lot. I was so impressed by how well Andrew, Nate and I got along, even when we were moody or felt sick. The camaraderie in this trio is incredible and I feel lucky to know them both. I also love that I was able to use my own sport psychology technique to remind myself that the bilateral fatigue in my legs was not an injury and that I could push through it. Once my brain realized I wasn’t giving up it stopped sending pain signals to my body and I was able to charge on, as anticipated. I also learned that navigating 55 miles in a new area is mentally exhausting and quite the challenge when you want to sleep at 1 am.

The final lesson I learned was how special Cole truly is. Every dog is impressive in their own way and has notable traits, but Cole mirrors my sense of adventure astonishingly well. His ability to be low maintenance on trails, by my side, attentive, and always capable of anything I throw his way makes him a fantastic partner for challenges. He’s my business partner, athletic partner, and life partner.

 

5 thoughts on “So Wet and So Wild

  • Amazing recap of what sounds like an adventure full of, well…adventure! I love reading your posts. As I sit her in my garage, just in from the barns, light rain driving the temps lower, I find great comfort in it and as the visions in my head form, I feel I am out there watching this unfold! (I would love to share this to my Facebook page – with your permission) Anyhow, kudos to you and your crew!!!

  • I have no idea why you just didn’t swim across the lake with Cole! 😀 I have done the Presi Traverse and the Pemi Loop and both are good hikes. I think I will wait another year until I am 70 before doing the hut traverse, then I can have a bit more to brag about.

  • Northeast Ultra 8??!! I didn’t even know this was a thing, my girlfriend and I completed all these over the past few years, with Cranberry and Taconic being our last two in the fall of 2016. We know a few guys who have done these hikes too, there are probably only a small handful who have completed it since the Cranberry and Taconic are the oddball “ultras” on this list. Sounds like these guys from NY wanted to create a list to say they were the first to do it…this just in, everything has been done, people hiked and trail ran before the internet!

    -Susan & Mary

    • I would never assume I was the first person to do these 8 hikes, but we simply completed them on record for the list and I appreciated spending time in areas I would not have otherwise (mainly the Cranberry). Your comment seems rather dismissive and it’s worth reminding you that we are all out there having a great time on beautiful trails. Congrats on your accomplishment and happy hiking.

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