When a truck pulled into the driveway around midnight, I knew we'd made a big mistake. Papa Monkey had to move his car so the truck could fully get into the driveway, and also move his tent away from the front door.
There was some conversation between Papa Monkey and the new arrival, who clearly lived in the house, but since it seemed that things were under control, I just stayed in my sleeping bag, not wanting to cause more problems this late at night.
We had planned to get an early start today, though, and now, that likely wasn't going to happen: we were stuck here until the resident got up in the morning to allow us to get our cars out of the driveway.
I quietly fumed on our decisions yesterday, but went back to sleep, knowing there wasn't anything to be done about it until morning.
It turns out that the person living in the house was a renter, who clearly didn't want hikers camping at the house. In deference to Ackerly's legacy, he was fine with hikers continuing to get water, or use the port-a-potty, but no one else should camp there. (We were requested to relay that message up the trail.) Also out of deference, the renter didn't want to put up "no camping" signs so as not to appear unfriendly, though I think such a sign was clearly necessary, if for no other reason that to help keep honest people honest. (Sign or no sign, we still shouldn't have camped there. The only reason we did, through tortured logic and groupthink, was because of the ambiguity present in the situation.)
We were able to get our cars out around 7:30, by which point the four of us were all packed and ready to go.
Today's hike was 16.1 miles, to the NH 25A trailhead. But first, Clo Bear had a package to pick up from the Hanover post office, so the two of us drove back to Hanover. We got there before the post office opened, so we stopped at Lou's Restaurant for breakfast. (Second breakfast for me; I had already had pop tarts by that point) They gave each of us a free doughnut (awesome!) but my breakfast, a fruit, yogurt, and granola salad was still too much food, despite being the lightest thing on their menu. (Damn you pop tarts!)
After taking care of what Clo Bear needed to do at the post office (and getting Rainbow a postmarked stamp for his AT passport), we returned to Grafton Turnpike and hiked north. (Papa Monkey also hiked north, with Lou and Julie, who were thinking about joining the slackpack crew and going for a trial run today; Rainbow drove Papa Monkey's car to 25A and hiked south.)
After about a mile and a half, we passed a concrete milepost, marking "412 miles" to go. (From that point, it was actually closer to 422.)
After a long, slow uphill, the two of us took a break at the fire tower on Smarts Mountain, which provided us with some nice views. Continuing on, after defending Smarts mountain, we climbed Mt. Cube, home of the Hexacuba shelter (the only six-sided shelter on the AT) and its five-sided "Penta Privy". (We were running late, so we stopped for a snack break on the trail, rather than going to the shelter.)
Early on in the hike, I mused that it would be nice if there were signs indicating that a shelter was nearby. In New Hampshire, the trail has such signage, though for a different purpose. In NH, they don't allow you to camp within a quarter mile of a shelter, except at designated campsites. Thus, a quarter mile (direct line, not trail distance) from each shelter, there's a sign indicating you've entered the shelter's "Forest Protection Zone".
The last couple of days, Clo Bear and I talked more or less constantly. Today was quieter and more subdued. That was fine; we can't talk all the time, and I needed time to process what happened last night and what I wanted to do about it. She also said that she was only going to stick around for the next four days, through the section involving Carter Notch Hut (as a result of what happened yesterday). I wasn't terribly excited to hear that, but it also wasn't unexpected, given what I knew of her, so I was also coming to terms with losing a hiking companion I rather enjoyed in a few days.
We made it to the trailhead late — around 6:30. Papa Monkey was there, but, surprisingly, Rainbow wasn't yet. In the time we were late getting there, Papa Monkey had already given Lou and Julie a ride to the Mt. Cube Sugar Farm (more on that later), and given another hiker a ride into town, before we finally showed up.
Thus began a series of events that threatened to destroy our slackpack crew.
Rather than wait at the trailhead for Rainbow, the three of us went to a nearby gas station (whose pumps were all out of service for "unknown" reasons) that had a large convenience store and a nice deli. We made a wrong turn on the way, delaying us.
During the drive, I told Papa Monkey (and I'm paraphrasing here) that I was disappointed in what we (the group) did last night at the Ackerly residence, and that while I was sure we wouldn't so such a thing again, if something like that did happen again, I was out of the group, because I didn't want to be a part of a group that did such things. (Frankly, we were being disrespectful, even as some people tried to claim that we "didn't intend any disrespect".)
Only, I used far more words than that, and (perhaps unnecessarily) stronger language. Papa Monkey didn't particularly take well to what I said, and while he didn't actually respond directly, the response he gave was somewhat childish at best, mocking what I said.
That put me in a rather sour mood, and it turned Clo Bear off completely; at the convenience store, she said she was leaving tomorrow. I didn't try to change her mind; if I had been her, I'd have left also. (I knew immediately that left us in a bad place with the hut reservations, but that hardly seemed important at the moment.)
Our destination for the evening was the Mt. Cube Sugar Farm, two miles from the trailhead. The owner, Peter Thomson, lets AT hikers stay in the sugar house (or tent in the yard) for free, even providing free pancake mix and maple syrup from the farm's trees. His family has a long history with the AT: back when the trail used to come down Mt. Cube and ran past the sugar house, Emma Gatewood, the first solo female thru-hiker, stopped at the house and, after introducing herself, asked "so, what's for dinner?".
On the way there, we passed by the trailhead; still no Rainbow. Surprising. He should have been there by then.
At the farm, we chatted for a bit with the other hikers that were there, as well as with Peter and one of his friends. Meanwhile, I was starting to get worried that we hadn't seen Rainbow, and, because we all had AT&T phones, did not get a signal. Peter's friend has a Verizon phone that was getting a signal, which he let us borrow to call Rainbow. We left a couple of messages, but the concerning thing to us was that it even rang at all, rather than going directly to voicemail; this seemed to indicate that Rainbow had service, but was not answering his phone.
As it got later, Papa Monkey agreed that we should go back to the trailhead and see if Rainbow was there, and that we would do it at 8:30. This seemed like a long time to wait to me, but I grudgingly agreed.
As the clock ticked on, I grew more impatient, and tried to get Papa Monkey to head back to the trailhead sooner. This proved more difficult than I expected; first, he was eating pancakes; then later he got sucked into a tour of the factory in the sugar house with Peter. As politely and discreetly as I could, so as not to alert or offend our very gracious host, I reminded Papa Monkey that we really needed to go back and check the trailhead again.
The tour finally concluded, and the two of us got in the car and returned to the trailhead, making plans for what to do if he wasn't there. I pointed out that if he was waiting for us at the trailhead, given the lateness of our arrival, he would be extremely upset with us. (This would not be the first time we'd unintentionally tried Rainbow's patience.)
We got to the trailhead, and Rainbow (and my car) were there. I rolled down the window and started to greet Rainbow, but before I could say anything, he was already yelling at us, wanting to know where we were. Caught a bit off-guard, even though I should have expected this, I yelled back, a bit more than I really intended to, that we were at the sugar farm.
The full details of the "conversation" (more, yelling match) are best forgotten. The consequences are more important.
I was not interested in being yelled at, especially after I had been trying for a good twenty minutes prior to expedite our trip to the trailhead. (I'd have come myself earlier, except I couldn't drive Papa Monkey's car.) After already being tired of the logistics (even simplified with two cars), decidedly unhappy with Papa Monkey's earlier response, and now with Rainbow yelling at me over something I had little actual control over, I had had enough. I announced I was out.
I took my key back from Rainbow (I might have waited until later, but I had inadvertently left my copy in my pack, back at the sugar house), and returned to the sugar farm.
Rainbow had (quite reasonably, when he wasn't sure we were going to be back at the trailhead tonight) rearranged everything in my car so he could put the back seat down and lie down between the back seat and the trunk. (This was a novel idea to me; in the same situation, I'd have just reclined the front passenger seat all the way and made do with that.) It took a little while to get everything back in order, mostly because the tension lock on one of the seat belts got stuck as a result of the way the seat belt had been extended when the back seat was folded down.
Once that had been done, I gave Papa Monkey back the copy of his car key I had, and we closed out the spreadsheet of shared expenses (initiated so we wouldn't have to keep trading cash back and forth each time an expense came up).
Since it would be just me, continuing to slackpack from this point would not be feasible. On the drive back, I decided that this would have to be an end to my slackpacking run, and I'd have fm leave my car somewhere safer than the trailhead and then hike on from here with my full pack.
I made arrangements with Peter to leave my car on his property; we'd figure out the details in the morning.
Only a day away from entering the Whites, I really didn't have much of a plan, since the old plan assumed slackpacking. What I needed was time to figure that out. Clo Bear agreed to continue to hike with me for the time being, but she made clear she might disappear at any time (and I got the impression she didn't really want to stick around very long at any rate), so I wasn't really expecting much past tomorrow, by when I should have time to figure out a new plan.
If I was going to call any day on the trail the "worst day ever", it'd be this day.