“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” – Hebrews 13:16
“Keep learning about the world. Use your mind to the hilt. Life passes quickly and, towards the end, gathers speed like a freight train running downhill. The more you know, the more you enrich yourself and others.” – Susan Trott
“I’m your ice cream man, stop me when I’m passin’ by, oh my my…” – Van Halen
Today was a record day for meeting SOBO hikers. I greeted all of them and spoke a bit longer with a few of them. They were glad to have survived The Whites and offered me some key tips that would pay dividends later. After a fairly tough climb up Holts Ledge, there was a turnoff for the Trapper John Shelter, apparently named in honor of the MASH character. Some day I hope to have a dilapidated, porcupine-infested privy on a blue blazed side trail named after me. It will be called The Fob Pot.
At mile 1764.6, just passed Dorchester Road, I took a short side trail to the home of the late Bill Ackerly. Mr. Ackerly, who passed away just a few months ago, was known in AT circles as The Ice Cream Man. After filling hikers’ bellies with ice cream, he would then beat them at croquet on his perfectly manicured backyard croquet course. According to a note on my AT Guthook app, his family plans to continue the ice cream tradition for one more year. It also said hikers could get water, use the outhouse, access the free WiFi, and ask about camping in the yard. When I arrived at about 4 p.m., no one was home and there were no cars in the driveway. I debated what to do. Should I stay or hike on? I asked myself, what would The Ice Cream Man want me to do? So, I set up my tent in the backyard at the edge of the croquet course, got water, accessed the WiFi, and made myself at home. I suppose I was technically trespassing, but it seemed like a risk worth taking. As the sun began to set on his still perfectly manicured croquet course, I regretted that I was not able to meet Mr. Ackerly, eat his ice cream, or lose to him at croquet. If it’s possible to miss someone you’ve never met, I suppose that’s how I felt about The Ice Cream Man.
Prior to entering The Whites, hikers are presented with a couple of 3000′ appetizers known as Smarts Mountain and Mount Cube. It is New Hampshire’s way of saying, “Welcome suckers! If you think this is bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” The climb up Smarts Mountain runs along quartzite-covered Lamberts Ridge and is tough to navigate in a few places. It also lacks water for eight miles, so I was glad that I had cameled up at the spigot at The Ice Cream Man’s house. After descending the mountain, I stopped and got water at South Jacobs Brook and talked to a couple of SOBO Aussies for awhile.
After climbing over rocky Mount Cube in the heat of the late afternoon, I was drenched in sweat and exhausted. I finally reached NH 25A at mile 1780.6 with about 30 minutes of daylight remaining, after a 16 mile day. I happened to see a hiker’s note in my Guthook app that said there was a sweet elderly couple nearby who take in hikers. It said they have a sign to that effect at the trailhead and that they were .3 miles west up a hill, then a right on East Cemetery Road, and then the second house on the right.
At the trailhead I looked around and there was no sign. I debated what to do. I could drop my tent right there at a soccer field by the trailhead…the safe, easy option. Or I could follow the directions of some unknown hiker and try to find an elderly couple’s teal home about .3 miles away, in the hopes that they still take in hikers. I decided to go for it and headed west on 25A in search of elderly people who may take in hikers. After a fairly steep, .3 mile climb up the paved road, I came to…absolutely nothing. No neighborhood. No humanity. Nothing. Maybe it was bad Intel. With the sun starting to set, I decided to continue on for just five more minutes before returning to the soccer field defeated. Two minutes later, I spotted a sign indicating a right turn ahead! Could it be East Cemetery Road? I quickened my pace and, sure enough, it was East Cemetery Road! Just like the seemingly dry ravine of a prior post, the seemingly road to nowhere would also bear fruit, thanks to a little extra effort late in the day.
I turned right and walked up to the teal house, the second one on the right. I rang the doorbell and got no response. I rang it again and suddenly the second floor window opened and a little grey-headed woman stuck her head out. “Can I help you?” she asked. “My name is Fob and I heard that you and your husband might take in hikers,” I replied. She said, “We normally do but we decided to take this week off. We took the sign down at the trailhead.” “That’s okay, no worries,” I replied. “I’ll just set up down at the soccer field. I’m sorry to bother you.” “No, that won’t be necessary, just come on around to the porch, we’d love to have you,” she said. After apologizing for even being there on their week off and confirming that it wouldn’t be a problem, I made my way over to the porch and met her at the door.
Rita Pease, in her 80s and better known as “Toni”, invited me in and told me to have a seat on the couch next to the recliner where her husband was sitting. Her husband, Jerry, is in his mid-80s and very friendly. He seemed like a cross between John Wayne and Paul Bunyan. I felt bad sitting on their couch because my profuse sweating made it seem like I had just gotten out of a swimming pool.
Grandma Toni (as I call her) returned from the kitchen, handed me a ham sandwich, and sat down near her husband. “Fob, here’s your appetizer,” she said. “You can eat this while we watch Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. We have the whole first season on DVD!” “Oh good!” said I, for no apparent reason. Still soaking wet, I sat there on the couch, eating a ham sandwich while watching a very attractive Dr. Quinn administer medicine in 1867 Colorado. If I lived in Colorado in 1867 and Dr. Quinn was my doctor, I think I would come down with the sniffles every day.
As I sat there with my two adopted grandparents, I wondered whether the main course Grandma Toni had planned for me would happen at the end of episode 1 (the sooner option) or the end of season 1 (the later, binge watching option). I also wondered whether all this…being in an elderly couple’s home…in a New Hampshire town I didn’t even know the name of…covered in sweat…eating a ham sandwich…watching Dr. Quinn…was real or just a bizarre dream. It felt like a tv episode that might result if the writers of The Twilight Zone collaborated with the writers of The Andy Griffith Show.
At the conclusion of the quite good episode of Dr. Quinn, Grandma Toni brought me a TV dinner featuring chicken pot pie, green peas, and peach cobbler. It was delicious, although it made my stomach a little upset and I was afraid we might have to call Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, to check me out. After dinner, Grandma Toni showed me my upstairs bed and bathroom and asked for my dirty laundry so she could put a load in. Bless her soul. She told me to come back down after showering because they had a video for me to watch.
Feeling full and clean, I returned to the family room, hoping it would be to watch the next episode of Dr. Quinn. I’m curious as to whether the obvious chemistry between her and the rugged outdoorsman, Byron Sully, will ever amount to anything. Or is my curiosity just the byproduct of wearing women’s earbuds for several days?
Instead, Jerry showed me a 30 minute documentary done by the Discovery Channel a decade or so ago about their family. It turns out Jerry was a 4th generation sugarer, and his son now runs the business in its 5th generation. Sugaring, I learned, is the process used to create maple syrup, and the video shows Jerry walking around the family farm and explaining the process from beginning to end. There is so much more to it than just squeezing Aunt Jemima at your local IHOP. I learned they have 1200 taps across the farm, half using buckets to collect the sap and half using tubing. I learned how they transport it, boil it, and package it. I learned that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of real organic maple syrup. I peppered Jerry with questions and he happily answered all of them. I found it all quite fascinating. He explained some of their family traditions, like the children pouring newly made, still warm syrup over snow to make candy. I wondered if Dr. Quinn ever tapped a tree to make organic maple syrup but didn’t ask.
Grandma Toni then joined us to tell some more stories, of which I’ll share one. She and Jerry were traveling the country by train in 2001 and were scheduled to meet a friend and tour the South Tower of the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11. While on a 4-hour layover at a Chicago train station, they overhead a fellow passenger say that she would be catching a train to New York City in an hour. They went to the ticket window and inquired about changing tickets in order to depart for New York in an hour, rather than four hours. They were able to change tickets and were on their way an hour later. With this earlier than anticipated arrival, they called their friend in New York to see about touring the South Tower the afternoon earlier, on 9/10. The friend agreed and they ended up on the last South Tower tour of the day on 9/10. The next morning at their hotel, they watched in horror with the rest of us as the World Trade Center fell to the ground. They felt like their lives had been spared for a purpose and that they had been given a new lease on life. If their treatment of me is any indication of the way they treat the dozens of other hikers who stay at their home each year, I think they have found that purpose.
As disappointed as I was to never meet Mr. Ackerly, The Ice Cream Man, I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to meet, talk to, and be hosted by Jerry and Toni Pease. When I return home after my AT hike, I plan to send them a thank you note along with Season 2 of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. After I finish watching it, of course.
1,058 total views, 0 views today