1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
I take a zero before continuing south through New Hampshire. The trail winds gradually up and down hills, a far cry from the ruggedness of the White Mountains. After getting a late start, I find myself hastily camping atop a dirt patch on Mt. Cube as the sun disappears behind a line of trees.
The creaking of the trees wakes me in the dead of night. 4:00 am. I drift back to sleep. The temperature has only just warmed to an acceptable level of comfort after hovering near freezing all night, and I am eager to get some sleep. Wind whooshes overhead. The creaking grows louder, more insistent.
I suddenly wish I'd inspected my tentsite properly the night before, as Tenacious would do. Stumbling out of my tent, I shine my headlamp into the branches above. My campsite is surrounded by widowmakers. Fallen branches litter the ground. At 4:19 am, I hurriedly throw everything into my pack and move my pile of stuff to a safe clearing about 20 ft away. I lean back against a tree trunk and wait for dawn to bring enough light to start hiking.
I get a rather stiff start that morning, though I do manage to catch sunrise on Mt. Cube.
On my way down, while blasting music from my trail playlist, I see two dogs running north up the path. I turn down the volume, expecting someone to follow them at any minute. No one shows up.
Odd, I think.
Near the bottom of the mountain, I see the dogs again, both in front of me and heading south. One is shaggy, with a black, white, and tan coat; the other is gold. I manage to get hold of the golden dog's collar. There is a Lyme, NH tag, but no phone number. I can't get close enough to the shaggy one to check his tag. I don't have phone service, anyways. The shaggy dog leads, circling back regularly to encourage his companion, who whines as she follows him.
They get to a dirt road. The shaggy dog turns right, but the golden dog sits down, whimpering.
"Well, bye now," I tell the dogs as I cross the road to continue up Smarts Mountain. I've barely gone 50 ft before I notice both running after me.
I've heard of a dog that regularly climbs Dragon's Tooth, part of the trail in Virginia, off leash. Are these dogs intentionally off leash or are they lost?
A little ways up Smarts Mountain, I check for a phone signal to call animal control. Success! I can't find a phone number for the Lyme animal control, but locate one for the neighboring town of Dorchester. There is no answer when I call. I leave a message as the dogs run past me.
I don't see either dog again. Feeling slightly concerned by the time I reach the summit of Smarts Mountain, I do some more digging and find the NH Humane Society on Facebook. I send them a message.
When I get to Trapper John Shelter that evening, I see the Humane Society's response: the area is out of their range, so they cannot come to find the dogs. They suggest contacting the Granite State Dog Rescue. On that page, I find a missing poster that exactly matches both dogs. The shaggy dog is named Beau; the golden one, Pippa. I call yet again to report the sighting, giving as much information as I can recall.
The owners contact me soon after my call. They're going to check the area around Smarts Mountain. I put up a couple posts about the dogs in the Appalachian Trail Facebook groups I belong to, hoping someone will find the dogs soon.
The next morning, the owners message me to say they found Pippa, but Beau is still missing. Much later, I find out the rest of the story while hiking through Vermont. Eventually, both dogs are found.
I enjoy a blisfully uneventful day of hiking, and soon arrive at Hanover, NH. The college town, right on the border between New Hampshire and Vermont, is the home of Dartmouth College. A football field and food co-op lies on one end of town, and after tenting in the woods, I take full advantage of my ability to shop at a real grocery store. Fancy Free, whom I'd met in Maine and in the Franconia Range, will arrive the next day, so I decide to zero in Hanover.
The Appalachian Trail runs right through town. A recreation center allows hikers to shower and do laundry for $5. I head there first thing in the morning.
"You're a hiker," the front desk woman says. "We were starting to wonder whether we'd see any more of you."
She pulls out a hiker's visitor log, where I sign my name. An hour later, I am in a small shower-and-laundry room on the bottom floor. Copious post-it notes from previous hikers line the walls, expressing thanks to the recreation center. The center even lets me leave my pack and charge my battery pack while I explore town!
I follow the trail into the heart of Dartmouth campus, then veer off to explore the college. A series of carved pumpkins on a wooden fence spell out 'DARTMOUTH.' Students lounge about on the campus green. Snatches of conversation reach me.
"I looked really good on paper. That's how I got into Dartmouth," one boy declares.
I locate bubble tea and broccoli for lunch, pick up my pack from the recreation center, then wait for Fancy Free at a local bus stop. Though she offers to let me stay with her - she lives nearby in Vermont - our schedules don't align. Still, I appreciate her offer.
I hike out of Hanover early the next morning, glad for the chance to explore the town.