There are moments in life that are pivotal and send you down a new path. Others are unforgettable and linger in your mind, as well as those that you simply want to bask in, wishing they could last just a little bit longer. That was how I found myself feeling a few days ago, as my wife (Krista) and I sipped hot chocolate out of a thermos. The year 2020 had mercifully come and gone, showing me how little control I actually have over most of my life. You can plan and plot, but life often has other ideas.
Mother Nature cooperated that day, as we sat 5,089 feet above sea level, along the Franconia Ridge line in the rugged White Mountains of New Hampshire. A gentle breeze worked its way through the Ridge, and the temperature hovered around 20 degrees. Small, wispy clouds floated below us as we looked out at the endless sprawl of trees dotting the landscape. Every direction offered us breathtaking views of the region’s 48 famous 4,000-foot peaks. At our backs, 25 miles to the east, stood a snow-covered and stunning Mt. Washington. At that moment, we were about halfway through our 8.5-mile hike and had found a nice place to stop.
Since 2010, I’ve been running ultramarathons, with Krista joining me in 2016 after her horse accident. Most of our events have been in New England, with the Vermont 100 being at the top of our list. Over the last few years, we settled into a nice training regimen, typically averaging 40-50 miles a week. We were never too strict about intervals or speed work, often letting the hills and terrain dictate our pace. We have two sons, ages 18 and 16, and run our own business, so finding balance has always been a priority. When all of our events were canceled in 2020, our initial sadness was replaced by something else: curiosity.
We stalked the forecast and watched the weather carefully. The White Mountains are infamous for having the worst weather in the world and it’s not uncommon for winds to average 60-80mph on the top of Mount Washington, with wind chills plummeting to 60 degrees below zero. In fact, Mount Washington holds the all-time record for the highest wind speed ever recorded in the world, at 231mph. On this day, our careful planning paid off. Our route consisted of a three-mile hike up to the top of Little Haystack, followed by a traverse over two more mountain peaks (Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette), ending with a three-mile hike back to the trailhead parking lot. We had planned on six hours of hiking time, with a total elevation gain of 4,500 feet. A few inches of snow had fallen the day before, providing a soft cushion of fresh powder that was ideal for hiking.
After our hot chocolate break, we climbed our last summit to Mt. Lafayette, and then started the three-mile descent back to our car. I could feel the weight of my backpack and smiled to myself thinking about all of the supplies we had brought on our journey: extra jackets, 84 ounces of water, food, first aid kit, handwarmers, lights, maps, bivvy sacks and of course, that thermos of hot chocolate. Winter hiking is new to us but will be a huge part of our upcoming training. Back in November, we were thrilled to find out that we had both been selected in the Tahoe 200 lottery, which will be our “A” race in 2021. Our kids think it’s hilarious that we won the lottery, and the prize will be running 205 miles over 100 hours.
As we made our way down the final mile of the trail, I peeked back over my shoulder, seeing a huge smile on Krista’s face. 2020 was a year full of problems and sorrow that none of us saw coming, but it was also a year of adapting to change. While it was also a year of cancellations, for Krista and I, that meant it was also a time to try new things and climb more mountains.