The Gift of Baldpate
Submitted by Nancy
Mountain: East Baldpate (3,812)
Date: July 5, 2008
Time: 9 hours
Weather: Sunny, passing clouds, light breeze, 70s
Elevation Gain: 2,730
Trails: Appalachian Trail
I'm writing this on Friday morning, July 11th, the day before my daughter, Kelly's wedding. The luxurious hour Pat and I spent lying in the sun on the summit of Baldpate five days ago lies in wait in my memory banks for moments just like this. I am a nervous wreck. It feels as if 100 elementary school children are playing an exuberant game of dodge ball in my chest. My legs are in perpetual motion and my feet have not stopped tapping, even though I have been sitting at my computer for the past few hours. My head is jam-packed with times that I have to be somewhere and things I have to remember to bring to the reception site. My heart is filled with worries about my daughters, Kelly and Jess, who went to a batchelorette party last night in Boston and I have not heard from them. Tonight is the rehearsal and dinner, yikes!
So to ground myself during this incredibly stressful time, I am going to helicopter back up to 3,812 feet to the summit of Baldpate. I'll take you all with me.
We leave Keene at our typical hardly-awake hour of 5 a.m. and drive to Grafton, Maine. By 9:30 we are at the trailhead which is right across the road from the Old Speck trailhead where we collected pocketfuls of mica and acted like little kids finding buried treasure last summer.
We head up the mountain taking our usual pictures of flowers and mushrooms and all things and scenes that fill us with awe. By noon we are on the summit of West Baldpate where we have lunch on a granite slab in an open area sprinkled with mica and surrounded by reindeer moss, sheep laurel and alpine azalea. We have a beautiful view of where we are headed, the summit of the East Baldpate, which is the higher of the two summits and the one that counts on the 100-highest in New England. It is a beautiful day.
Hiking in the White Mountains, like walking through the closet in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, brings those who journey there into a magical realm that has the power to heal humans -- where birds eat out of our hands, the natural world is exposed in all of its magnificence, the spectacular views are earned only through the demanding effort required to reach the summits, and the peace is profound. As Pat and I eat our lunch we are joined by a couple of grey jays squawking for their share of our treats. Pat and I put trail mix in our hands and watch as a grey jay tentatively lands on my hand, takes an almond in its beak and flies away, singing a thank you back to me.
After lunch, we gather our packs and head off to East Baldpate. It looks far away. But another property of the enchanted White Mountains is that distances are deceiving. A summit can look straight up and miles away and we always make it and it is ALWAYS easier than it looks. At 1:10 p.m., in what seems like no time, we are on the summit. We take our packs off, find a relatively flat slab of rock and lay our bodies down on the hot hard surface to rest. There is a light beautiful breeze that wafts over us as the sun warms us. It is PERFECT. It takes me a while to let myself sink into the granite. I giggle as I begin to relax, a response to letting myself feel the sheer joy of lying in the sun on top of a mountain with the world and all its pressures at my feet and my best friend by my side. As time stretches and I am able to let in the feeling of the sun on my face and my legs, and the feeling of the hard rock welcoming my body, I sink into it and let it take me. I close my eyes and I just am.
I just am - how often in my life does that happen? Almost never. Another gift of the mountains. When "I just am" I am nowhere and I am here. Nothing matters but the breeze and the sun and the hot rock I am lying on and my friend. Time doesn't exist - the wedding and all its stress evaporates, my To-Do list disappears, my worries fade away. This is a rare moment on a mountaintop for Pat and me. Most often it is windy on the summits or too cold to linger, or we have miles and miles to go and can't afford to take extra time. But today the temperature is perfect and the hike is short, affording us the luxury of plenty of time to enjoy perfect weather. I have never experienced the incredible "I-am-ness" of just lying down on the summit in the sun quite like we do today. This will go down as one of my favorite moments in life. I can't think of a place that I would rather be than above the fray, in a sunny warm moment. Pat and I linger there for an hour! But it is a gift we give ourselves. I know the hours ahead getting ready for Kelly's wedding will be overflowing with excitement and stress, so I am soaking in the gentleness of the breezes to help carry me over until I am back in the magical realm of the mountains peak-bagging our next summit.
As we find ourselves naturally ready to head down, Pat takes a pee-pee break and notices signs a few hundred yards away. Huh, we thought we were on the summit, but it looks like we have not made it yet. We leave our packs to rest in the sun a bit longer and walk the short beautiful view-surrounded jaunt to the summit sign for pictures. The world stretches out from us in every direction. I take a deep breath, absorbing the beauty, knowing the world is humming down below, filled with life and love and tragedy and stress, and choosing to stay here, above it all for this moment. And the next moment.
Pat and I are so happy. The hike is beautiful. Nothing feels hard to me as we hike down Baldpate, slowly heading back into the real world. Coming down the way we came, gravity pulling us along, our legs breaking the force of re-entry so that we can return to the world of reality at a leisurely pace. We need a gentle transition today after an hour of lying in the sun. The mountains have a way of helping me find "me", preparing me for the hustle and bustle below. And when I am fully in me, not worrying about what happened in the past or what might happen in the future, and not taking on the lives of others, but reacting to the world just as Nancy - life always seems much easier. There is less stress, less drama, fewer worries. That is the gift of a mountain experience.
On the way down, Pat and I hike up to Table Rock on a spur trail for the advertised extraordinary views. I am glad we take the detour. It brings us out above the world one last time for one last beautiful reminder of the peace above the fray. The hike down from Table Rock is steep, straight down a staircase of rock. Wowsers! We get back to the car and our cold Pepsi and Snapple at 6:30 p.m.
Having left the stress and worry on top of Baldpate, I am ready to enjoy the magical experience of witnessing my daughter's wedding tomorrow.
I am off to pick up my mother-of-the-bride dress and then go to a much needed spin class with Pat to use up a little of this frenetic energy, then back to get ready for the rehearsal and dinner. And I know that all I have to do is stay in my heart and be present in me. And if I start to worry and stress and re-engage in all the drama and stories that sometimes fill my life, I will helicopter back up to the summit of Baldpate, take my pack of worries off, and lie on a hot granite slab, soaking up the sun and the peace of the magical realm of the White Mountains for a moment to bring me back to me.
The mountains share their magic with me and I am blessed by the experience.
80 out of 100 Highest in NE