Saturday on the Trail.
If you’re a hiker, then you know there was no place I would’ve rather been on a beautiful Saturday than on a trail, climbing up to some spectacular views.
I had some commitments in the early morning, so I would not arrive at the Jackson-Webster trail head until around 1:30pm and having seen the parking lot at the AMC Highland Center, the train depot, and the Jackson-Webster parking lot, I knew it would be a busy day on the trail.
It was warm and mostly sunny when I hopped out of the car. Conveniently I didn’t have to worry about parking, as I was being dropped off and picked back up later. I arranged a meeting time of “5-ish” and headed into the woods, starting my Garmin tracking and ready for whatever the day had in store.
“Firing on Most Cylinders”
I’ve been on a strict diet for the last month or so, dropping quite a bit of weight (nearly 24lbs at last weigh in), and the main focus of it has been keto: I consume less than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day, with most of my calories coming from naturally occurring fats and a moderate amount of protein.
What this means is that I haven’t had beer or other alcohol for weeks, apart from a 4oz glass of red wine here and there. Quick tabulation: fairly dramatic weight decrease coupled with a lack of tolerance-maintaining imbibements means that I’ve become something of a comparative lightweight. I really went “all out” on Friday night, having a couple glasses of red wine and a small glass of scotch. It was somewhat humorous how much of an impact that made on me, as my tolerance is usually pretty high.
To say that waking up with a bit of a hangover caught me off guard would be an understatement. Having downed some ibuprofen and lots of water and then completed my requisite chores for the morning, I geared up and headed north for the mountains!
All of this to say, I was firing on nearly all cylinders, but not quite all of them. I felt strong, but not 100%. I really will need to refrain from having a few drinks the night before a hike if I want to lay down better times. Lesson learned, I’m getting old!
Into the Woods
The Jackson-Webster trail is actually quite lovely, featuring a good mix of dirt path, rock-hopping, gravel, bog bridges, and on this day, mud. Apparently it had rained up in the higher elevations in the last day or two, because there was a fair amount of mud and wet rock. There were even little stream crossings that weren’t on Guthook, so there was no shortage of water to be found.
I was making what felt like good time, when I started to hit a wall, which has been an all too familiar feeling in my latest hikes. I have been making a conscious effort to take in some carbohydrates before my hikes, but with my funky schedule that morning I hadn’t really done so. At the beginning of the hike I had inhaled a 220 calorie RX bar, which obviously had been burned off. Still I was near the summit and though my pace slackened a bit, I was still doing okay, though having a few people pass me did not make me happy. I want to be there first!!
I reached the summit in a pretty respectable 1:39, even with the lack of energy that smacked me after around 1,900′ of elevation gain.
To say this hike was worth the effort is an understatement. For a total of 2.6 miles up you are afforded a magnificent view of the Presidential Range with Pierce, Jefferson, Eisenhower, Clay, Franklin, Monroe, and, had the cloud deck been a little higher, Washington, but I wouldn’t be seeing that summit today.
I spent some time at the summit and took a few pictures for people, then had another RX bar and some water to wash it down. Hoping that would be enough energy intake to enable me to get down in a reasonable time-frame. I overheard a man telling a group of inexperienced, ill-equipped hikers that he would help guide them down as they had gotten lost at the summit and were headed over towards Mizpah Hut instead of back to the parking lot. It never ceases to amaze me how often people don’t prepare for hiking in WMNF. I was really glad this good Samaritan was going to make sure these folks got safely down off Jackson. It’s a small 4K, but it’s still no joke and should not be taken lightly, as with any hike in the Whites.
Having spent enough time at the summit, it was time to start making my way down.
A Word About Flow-states
Have you heard the term “flow state” before? Ethan and I have been finding and discussing this effect during our hikes together. “Flow state” is a ‘mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.’ Source: Wikipedia
Today I would settle into a state of “flow” on the descent and it was a glorious experience. I was making excellent time, hopping rock to rock and, generally speaking, making excellent foot placement decisions. I did slip one time while descending, but recovered without incident and carried on a good pace, even sprinting a few time to sub 10-minute mile paces. This may not sound very impressive, but for me it’s a landmark performance.
As I neared the bottom I realized that not only would a sub-3 hour hike be possible, but a 2:45 was entirely feasible.
Ultimately, the trail was so busy that I missed that by one minute, rolling to a stop at 2:46. Had I not stayed so long at the summit and/or fueled myself better in preparation, I have no doubt I could do this hike in under 2.5 hours. I love that I have this data point to compete against myself in the future.
This was a special day in the mountains for me. It wasn’t my biggest day in any measurement, not by a long shot, but I made great time even with all my mistakes preceding the hike itself. I also saw some amazing views and enjoyed being in motion. There was a time when a solo hike was intimidating for me. To some degree it still is, because there’s no one there to count on bailing you out if something goes wrong, but it can be a very enjoyable experience as well. I generally enjoy hiking with someone to have that shared experience, but every now and then it’s nice to get lost in your thoughts as you meander through the woods on a mountainside trail.