The Tale of the Garbage Drop
Our seven-day hike across the White Mountains of New Hampshire was about to begin. I was excited, anticipating the sublime adventure that lay ahead. As Ryan and I heaved our backpacks out of my car at the Bridle Path trailhead, I realized with horror that I had left a bag of garbage in the trunk.
“I left the trash in here. I forgot to dump it this morning.” I opened the trunk and peered in at the smelly black pouch.
“Bummer.” Ryan seemed not to appreciate the danger.
“No, because the bears will smell it and come and destroy my car.”
“Really.” I stared at the trash, at the time, at the road. “Ah, well, leave it.”
As we hiked over the Franconia Ridge and along the Appalachian Trail, the bag bothered me. It pushed into the front of my brain in my worst moments, when my spirits were at their lowest. Images of bears overturning my car, ripping through the trunk lid attacked my mind. The rotting heap of trash brought me back to the cold and dull minutiae of life.
Ryan and I stopped at Zealand Falls for an extra day to recover. This delay required taking a shuttle to the next trailhead, ruining my fantasy of completing the journey on foot. The grand adventure had become ordinary and full of the disappointment that comes with reality.
This change of plans presented an opportunity to rectify the trash bag mistake. Instead of getting the shuttle to the trailhead immediately below the Lakes of the Clouds hut, we took it back to my car and drove to the parking lot by the Mount Washington auto road. We’d drop the trash along the way. This was extra time and effort, but I wanted peace of mind.
The hiker shuttle came for us at the Zealand trailhead, then stopped at a turnout on Route 302 and waited for another shuttle to meet us and switch passengers. We stayed in the first shuttle and headed west to Lafayette Place. From there we walked under I-93 and back to my car, holding our breath. There it was, miraculously unharmed, except for raccoon claw scratches on the roof and trunk lid. I inspected them. “Could’ve been worse.”
We picked up a stranded hiker and deposited him at the Gale River trailhead near his car. This act of kindness put me in a good mood, but I watched the clock with uncertainty. As we backtracked across northern New Hampshire, I searched for good dropping places. None appeared until Gorham, where a KFC with a large dumpster appeared.
We pulled casually into the lot. I braked and popped the trunk, while Ryan jumped out stealthily and quickly heaved the bulky bag into the monstrous green can and hopped into the car. We peeled out and zoomed down the road again, pleased.
By the time we reached the parking lot at Mount Washington, it was three o’clock. There was no way we’d be able to hike up to the Lakes of the Clouds hut in the next few hours, and certainly not in time for dinner. Our good spirits died and failure swelled in our hearts.
At the auto road, we discovered we had to take a shuttle up and leave the car. The small bus wound us up the mountain. At the top we took photos, though I felt like I hadn’t earned them. Then, we trundled down the rocky path to the next hut, nestled between the five thousand foot high Lakes of the Clouds.
Reaching the hut, Ryan and I found that the Lakes of the Clouds, or crowds, swarmed with day hikers and overnighters. Could nothing go right? We checked in and deposited our equipment in the last room on the left. Dinner followed, bland and tasteless. I felt my lowest. The day had been anything but epic.
Later we headed out to Star Lake to wait for the sunset. Our mundane day slowly became an adventure as we recounted the events. “And then…” “And then…” Smiles turned into laughter. The sun began to set steadily over the distant mountains. The sky blossomed purple and pink. Clouds became cities of fire – lakes of orange peel – spaceships landing. I had only seen two or three sunsets to compare with this one.
Sitting there, gratified and astonished, I realized that the fantasies and expectations that had made this day a disappointment had been less than the reality.
The sun peeped its last over Vermont far away. Lesson over. I understood that the only way to live free and true was to turn the ordinary into the sublime and the sublime into the miraculous. To see something as simple as tossing rubbish as a crusade. And as the tale of the garbage drop became legend, the next day bloomed with the endless possibilities of beauty and adventure.