1986 was the year I climbed Mt. Lafayette in New Hampshire. It was also my first time on the Appalachian Trail.
This is a story of my first time on the Appalachian Trail. In 1987 I was a Boy Scout in Troop 71 in my home town of Coventry, RI. Never went on a mountain before that day. The love of the outdoors would remain dormant but it came back with vengeance ten years later. This account was originally published in the March-April 2000 issue of Appalachian Trailway News; the magazine of the Appalachian Trail Conference.
Boy Scout Troop 71 of Coventry, Rhode Island is taking its annual Columbus Day Weekend camping trip to Mt. Lafayette in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It is October 1986. I’m part of the troop, twelve years old, all excited that I’m going to get to go on a real mountain! And, to make this trip extra special, Dad’s going to be chaperone.
Dad often works overtime on Saturdays; ours is a young family –money and time are scarce. To spend a whole weekend with Dad is a treat.
Friday afternoon, I come home from school and see all the clothes Mom has packed for the trip. Mom’s afraid I’m going to “freeze up North”. The entire bed is covered with warm clothes: several pairs of jeans, flannel shirts, sweaters, socks, and long underwear. Somehow, it seems like this is too much clothing for a three-day camping trip, but what do I know? I’m just twelve. For this trip I’m going to get to hike with my official Boy Scout rucksack, made of cotton canvas. Dad has even let me have his official U.S. Army pocket knife. With my rucksack, and knife, I’m going to climb that mountain!
Saturday mornings, all the Boy Scouts show up at the community center. I have on my hiking clothes: Sears Toughskins jeans, flannel shirt, long cotton underwear, sweat shirt, work boots. The bus ride to New Hampshire takes more than three hours, longer even than that ride to the big city of Providence. Looking out the windows, I see mountains. “No”, Dad says. “They’re just foothills”. If the foothills are this big, I think, how big are the mountains?
The bus finally pulls up the campground. Several canvas A-Frame tents have been set up, as well as a blue-plastic tarp to cook under. Sunday, we climb the mountain.
The hike begins in the morning. I don’t say anything, but I get tired fast. Dad knows. He takes the rucksack. Why can’t the other dads keep up with mine? Aren’t all Dads the same? We get to the summit. I ask Dad what the white rectangles are for. He says they mark a trail to the other mountains we can see. We take pictures and rest a while. Then troop climbs back down toward the campground.
Most Appalachian Trail hikers recall the first time they stepped on the trail. It’s different for everyone. For some hikers, it doesn’t happen until they take that first step on Springer Mountain. Others recall vacations to the Shenandoahs or maybe a picnic at a state park through which the trail is routed. Mine was as a twelve-year old, excited to be going with his Scout trip on a trip to New Hampshire.
It was not until ten years later that I learned what those white rectangles were. More importantly, I learned what they mean. Those white rectangles mean more than just markings for a long footpath. They mark a trail that can capture a person’s imagination, that make a twelve-year-old wonder, and dream and get excited about being on a mountain. That memory can last, and, when that twelve-year-old grows up, he still wonders and dreams and gets excited about being on a mountain.
A blurry, out of focus picture of me at 12 yrs old. It is the only picture I have from that day, so I’ll take it. Notice the double white blazes by the side of the cairn.