In 1994, only 9 months into our relationship, Tom and I booked a romantic weekend at a quaint B&B in Franconia, NH. The goal, hike up Falling Waters trail, cross three peaks with the Franconia Ridge Trail (Haystack, Lincoln, Lafayette) and come down Bridle Path. This 9ish hike brings you up to 5200 ft with amazing view through Franconia Notch, back across the Presidentials and west toward Vermont. On a clear day…which isn’t a guarantee.
That was when we were 25 and were pretty outdoorsy. Skiing, hiking, rollerblading and mountain biking were our typical dates. I was barely 95 pounds and thought I was in pretty good shape. Still, that hike kicked our butts. We had to take breaks on the way up and I cheered/grumbled when we hit “natural stairs” – those blocks of granite some amazing soul helped to stack together and create the stairway to the top. On the way down, Tom’s Achilles was killing him as we stepped down the rocky path. At the bottom our legs ached, my hips were sore, and we were spent. All told, I think we took about 8 hours.
Fast forward to this 23 years 2 months to this weekend. At 48, Tom and I are no spring chickens. We’d been pouring over pictures from our Franconia hike for years wistfully thinking we would like to do it again. There is a picture of us sitting in front of the sign at the Greenleaf Hut that is framed and always sits out on our bookcase as a constant reminder and medal for our accomplishment. Well, we had made reservations for the Columbus Day weekend in Franconia and low and behold, Saturday was the day to do the hike again.
I was worried. We were old – okay older. I’d only just become my skinny self, but certainly wasn’t as little as I was back then. I run, but I didn’t’ think I was anything near in shape compared to back then. Yet, Tom and I knew that we wanted to do it, and do it we would. Even Matthew, our 14 year old son, was excited to join in.
Falling Waters was as I remembered it. Beautiful waterfalls, gorgeous forest, and a brutal number of “natural stairs” before you got to the tree line. I was the turtle. I slowly and methodically put on foot in front of me and didn’t look back. Crossing a couple of water points left me almost falling in and even loosing my water bottle, which I was able to retrieve. After the first hour, Tom was starting to give me the, “we need to get moving faster” talk. He was worried we wouldn’t get to the top and down fast enough before the sun came down. I shot him the icy stair and kept to my pace. Matt was gleefully bounding up the trail like a true trail runner – show off!
Getting past the tree line and Haystack was in view. The easy crawl hike up to the summit was where I got my mojo back. I knew that after this, the hiking part was going to be easy. The only issue is that at the top, we now hit cold temperatures, fog, and same insane wind. I put on my shell, hat and gloves on and quickly adjusted. We went over to the trail sign and took our picture for history.
Moving across the Franconia Ridge Trail was an easier hike but the wind was whipping. Tom stopped a few times for some spectacular views. The foliage was amazing and sweeping vistas took my breath away – along with the wind. I was trying my best to keep my footing as gusts up to 40 mph tried to push me off the ridge. When we got to Lafayette, the weather was so challenging that Tom suggested we keeping moving rather than take a historical picture. I was all for that and Matt was too. While there wasn’t any rain, the fog was wet enough and the wind just pushed the dampness right into us. My hair was wet, my gloves were wet, my hat and jacket were dripping.
If we thought it was bad on Lafayette, going down and across to the Greenleaf Hut was worse. I could barely keep my footing and balance due to the wind. The trail had been moved to conserve the ridge but this created challenges to know where the trail was. We weren’t the only ones having difficulty. Normally cheerful when passing, all us hikers were heads down and focused on moving through. There was little more than a head nod for a greeting and often we all were just focused on pushing forward.
Getting back into the tree line was so much better. While the wind was still whipping, the trees kept us sheltered and our hike became much more enjoyable again. The trail itself was also easier and we made our way quickly to the Greenleaf Hut for lunch. At the hut we squeezed into a table and pulled out our lunches. We’d started at 7:45a and it was now 12:00p. We were starving. Out came the cheese, sausage, tuna fish sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, apple sauce, and nuts. Never did a meal taste so good!
Half an hour later we packed up and headed to the Greenleaf Hut sign for our historical picture. It was still cold and damp, not too unlike what it was like 23 years earlier, but being able to document that we did it again was amazing.
The hike down Bridle Path was easy. We stepped down the rocks quickly. On the sections that were less rocky we all jogged our way down the trail – Matt in the lead, then me, and then Tom taking up the rear. The way down was exhilarating. With only 2.9 miles left, we realized how far we came and how good we felt. Stopping a few times as the weather was clearing, we took in some views from the bluffs over looking the notch and even chatted with a few hikers coming up to the hut.
About 1.5 miles left in the hike the rain came. Under the trees we didn’t feel it much, but it was definitely coming down. At this point the trail was much more even and a slight slope. We picked up the pace and mostly jogged our way out. Reaching the parking lot, our hiker’s high was turned up, smiles on our faces, and congratulatory high fives were in order.
Time – 6 1/2 hours. Not too shabby for a couple of old people!
No real aches and pains compared to the last hike. Although we did take an ibuprofen at lunch as insurance and popped another in the evening and the next morning. But, Tom and I did go out for a hike and even climbed up Artists Bluff for the views the next day. Back today, the most I can complain about is tightness in my calves and the usual hip aches when I do a long run. All in all, not a big deal.
As for the really good part? For two days I didn’t not really think much about my diet. Wine, cheese and crackers were pulled out when we got to the RV. Dinner after the hike was hot Italian chicken sausage with Arrbiatta (sp?) sauce and pasta, a bottle of wind, and a hunk of dark chocolate. The next day was chilly cheese fries, buffalo chicken tenders and a bacon swish burger. Oh yeah, and the really big beer at Oktoberfest at Loon Mountain. Gluttony? Oh yeah. Did it matter, NO!
Got on the scale today, I’d lost a pound. 🙂