Experiencing Lincoln & Lafayette for the First Time...Again
Submitted by Nancy
Mountains: Mts. Lincoln (5,098) and Lafayette (5,260)
Date: August 15, 2009
Weather: Mostly sunny, breezy on the ridge, 80's-60's
Time: 9 hours
Miles: 8.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,832 feet
Trails: Falling Waters, Franconia Ridge, Old Bridle Path
Dejah: 31st and 32nd of the 48
Pinta: 9th and 10th of the 48
Today is different. Today I am giving an extra gift to me - Sam.
Sam is my nephew and Pat and I are bringing him up his first mountains. I do not know Sam well, but the fact that he is in my life at all is a blessing.
I am adopted. As an adult with a growing family of my own, I searched for and found my natural mother, Marge. (Here is the story). Since that time, I have been playing catch-up, getting to know my birth family -- my mother Marge, my sisters Martha and Anne, and Anne's sons and my nephews, Ben and Sam. It has taken years of getting together occasionally before we could rest in our comfort zones around each other, where we are familiar and comfortable with one another, a family linked by the heart as well as by blood.
We are celebrating Marge's 75th birthday when Sam asks if he could join me for a hike. He is the first person in my family to ASK if he could climb a 4,000-footer with me. I know he is a runner and is currently training in hopes of making the Cross Country Team at college. I say, sure!
We meet at the Falling Waters Trailhead, all of us arriving early. Sam is wearing his running shoes, with another pair in his pack in case these get wet at the water crossing. His backpack is a school pack and has no belt around his waist or chest. I ask him how much water he has and his answer sounds appropriate. I make a note to myself to keep an eye on him, make sure his backpack is not hurting him, that his running sneakers are holding up, that he has water. We give him some bug dope that we all apply before heading up. I forget about sunscreen. We introduce Sam to Pinta, a one-year-old Puerto Rican rescue that looks like a spotted basenji and Dejah, a 4-year-old yellow lab, who are both clearly excited about getting out of the car and bagging another peak, getting them ever closer to their 48 patches.
Together we head up the trail. I hear Sam say, "oh wow," when he sees the waterfalls and I think to myself, if you think this is cool wait until you see the Franconia Ridge! We find ourselves in a line of people, all trying to jockey for the right position where we can go at our own speed and are not holding anyone up. That takes a while to shake out, but eventually we find our place and pant up the mountain chatting with fellow hikers and each other.
I am not sure how Sam is feeling climbing with two old ladies he does not really know. He is a handsome 19-year-old with a beautiful smile and bright eyes, who is about to start his sophomore year at SUNY Buffalo. He looks strong and happy and sure-footed and is engaged in conversation with us all the way up. He is patient with our pace. I wonder if he wants to just run up ahead, but he doesn't, he stays with us. Somewhere in the conversation about Sam's training runs, I realize he runs two miles in the length of time it takes Pat and I to run one. That keeps me humble and puts me in my place. I find myself wondering if this hike will be a challenge for him at all. I know I am sweating and sucking wind, but I can't tell if he is. I can't see if he is sweating and I am breathing so loud, I can't hear him. He is in front much of the time, glancing back to make sure his two companions are behind him. As the trees get shorter and there seems to be more and more room above our heads, our excitement builds. And then we are there -- on the summit of Little Haystack. The Franconia Ridge stretches out in front of us. Sam has his camera out and is taking pictures. There is a light breeze, the sun is out lighting up the trail all the way to Lincoln in the distance. It takes my breath away. For me, there is nothing so beautiful as the Franconia Ridge on a sunny day.
After some more pictures and a bit of trail mix, we start the ridge walk and I am just in love. Really, I don't know how to show it or contain it up here. I am surrounded by the most incredible beauty I have ever seen, the trail ribboning all the way to Lincoln, surrounded by beautiful blues and gorgeous greens, the clouds dancing around the mountain summits. I am actively aware, literally every single second, that this is a blessing. I don't know what to say, or how to breathe, or what to do with myself. I am lost in the magnificence that surrounds me. I am sure I look composed, although I keep saying "God, I just love it up here!" But inside I am emotional and unsteady, as if the beauty were trying to sink into me as I walk and I can't absorb it all. This hike feeds me. I think it is the expanse that I love -- that you can see the trail along the ridge all the way to the next peak in front of you and behind you. I remember loving that same thing on our presidential traverse; standing on top of Monroe and seeing the trail wind its way to Eisenhower. Such incredible grandeur, it feels like I need to stop and honor it somehow, breathe it in. Each step changes the perspective as we get closer and closer to the next summit, until we are on it and I get to turn around and see the trail wind down and back where we came from. Ohhhh God, I am so lucky to be here.
Sam is taking lots of pictures while I ooohhhh and ahhhh, and I am hoping that he is ooohhhhing and aaaahhhhhing too, even if the feeling is staying inside of him. There are not that many people who get to experience what Sam and Pat and I are experiencing at this moment. (Although I bet there are 200 people on the ridge today.) I wonder what the world would be like if everyone could experience this. I wonder if the beauty would melt away our anger and differences and just leave us all feeling bonded together and grateful. It feels like that to me. It is impossible for me to be angry or to hate when I am surrounded by this much beauty.
We get to the summit of Lincoln, and we sit down in the sun on a warm flat rock to enjoy our lunch. Pat is struggling today, having difficulty breathing due to exercise induced-asthma, and tired legs due to lots of recent exercise. I am wishing she were feeling better, but that worry doesn't add to my experience or hers, so I try and let it go. I take my boots and socks off and wiggle my toes - one of the most exhilarating moments in hiking. I lean back and let the sun hit my face and look off into the mountains, Owl's Head and the Bonds and more mountains behind them, and still more behind them. I am aware that I don't have the words to express what I am seeing or feeling in my heart. It overwhelms me in these moments and all I can do is hold it, knowing these moments are precious and letting them soak in to my core. This is the grace wave.
After a good half hour, maybe more, I reluctantly put my boots and sock back on and we take summit pictures of the dogs. Then we head off to Lafayette and I am once again in the moment, loving the ridge and its ability to drop me right into my heart. I just shake my head as I walk, as wordless emotion floods into my eyes. It is a bit hazy today, so the mountains fade into the distance a bit quicker. But you can still see that they go on forever. There are clouds on the top of Lafayette, but I am sure they are going to clear by the time we get to the summit. They do. The top is filled with lots of people chatting and all I can do is breathe, barely containing my grateful heart. The experience is intense for me. I can't find the words to describe how it gets me; it catches in my breath when I look out. It hurts it is so beautiful. And I get to see it with Sam.
We are sitting on the Lafayette summit, a kind fellow hiker is taking our picture. I glance at Sam. What a gift to be able to give him his first 4,000-footer experience on Lincoln and Lafayette. But it is more than giving him this opportunity to see the Franconia Ridge. This hike gives Sam an opportunity to see if hiking is in his heart like it is in Pat's and mine. This hike opens the door to a world of mountain summits that are just waiting for him to explore. It invites new possibilities. And it gives a new life perspective, from 5,000 feet up, looking down.
We head down the Old Bridle Path. There is a visible line of people descending and we join the line. Pat and I are not the fastest hikers, so lots of people pass us, and Sam is very patient and holds up for us. We arrive at the Greenleaf Hut and take a bathroom break and eat a few snacks, take some pics and then continue down. Maybe a mile from the bottom Sam asks to take a break, and tells me he is out of water. We give him more water - we have plenty - and he shares some of his goldfish. This is really the first time that Sam has said anything about being tired and I am secretly glad that he is feeling SOMETHING!
Revived by our break, we head back down the rest of the way. We arrive at the cars, take out our cold drinks - I'd bought some lemonade for Sam - take our boots off and sit on the curb with our drinks and breathe a sigh of relief. Once the drinks are out of the cooler, we take turns freezing our feet in the icy water. I notice that Sam's face is red from the sun and the back of his neck is covered with bug bites - they will help him hold the memory of the day a bit longer.
We hug Sam, say goodbye and get into our cars. I turn to look at Sam as he gets into his car. He sits down behind the wheel, lets his head fall back on the seat, closes his eyes and lets out an audible groan. I laugh. He is tired! Whoooo Hoooooo!
I want my birth family to know me, to see my heart. I let Sam see the whole real me today. Me filled with the beauty of the mountains, me hiking strong and confident on the trail, me loving each moment on the ridge. It is as if I am saying, this is what I love...this is who I am. It is a gift to be seen.
And it is an honor to be with Sam on his first hiking experience in the Whites. The experience changes me. Seeing Sam, sweating, breathing deeply, smiling, saying Oh wow when he sees the waterfalls and gets his first glimpse of the mountain summits and the trail winding along the ridge in the sunlight is like getting to experience Lincoln and Lafayette again for the very first time. What a blessing.
Thank you Sam. It was stupendous!