When I come up to New Hampshire, I almost always stand with my metaphorical eyes north to the White Mountains and my back to the Lakes Region. Sadly lacking the relatives with a summer home purchased for $2 in 1964, which seems to be how everyone else I know has access to a lake/beach house, my New Hampshire heart’s home is White Lake State Park, but I’m generally itinerant. From White Lake, you can look south to prosaic Mt. Whittier with the big ol’ antennae on it, or you could look north to the majestic, mysterious and storied Mt. Chocorua, the jewel in the crown of the Whites (in my opinion).
But this cabin I’m staying in is called the Ring Dike cabin. And inside an overfull white folder, scattered between brochures for train rides and menus from BBQ joints, were a handful of geological and (most intriguingly) astrological printed internet articles talking about the Ring Dike left behind by a 10,000 ft volcano that did a lot of exploding hereabouts 200m years ago. There is, in fact, this bizarrely circular ring of mountains about 10 miles wide where the caldera of this long-extinct volcano once stood. And I, having driven past it dozens of times or more, have never realized (never mind explored) it.
This seems like the world’s most perfect ghost story fodder. (Cabin in the woods. Alone. In a PSYCHIC RING.) And I promise to do more investigation and write a bit about the geologic and loony aspects of this Ring Dike. But first, I wanted to get in it and see it for myself. The morning was bright and clear. The day open and inviting. The hiking boots were already by the door.
But where to go? I have an extensive collection of maps and books to guide my hiking while I’m up here. And not a single one of them looks south of White Lake. So I turned to my trusty ol’ friend, the internet (I sweet-talked the wifi password from the landlord), and found a perfect hike. You’d drive into the heart of the great circle, then climb up to a ridge and look around and then climb back down. Looked great. (Anyone who has hiked with me before is already having heart palpitations.) Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a description of the trail head, but the road dead ended there. How hard could it be. (Really, I should come with a warning sign for hiking.) I emailed my itinerary to my husband and consoled myself that I may not have a map, but I do have a compass!
I never found the trail head. I did have a splendid time driving through increasingly remotish woods on dirt roads, being passed by cars that were cool when I was in high school with tattoo’d men hanging most of the way out of the moonroof. Oh New Hampshire. Never change. But the road was marked private where it should have continued. I drove back to the spot where there had been parking and a private land, public use trailhead. There was a river there, a mighty confluence of three streams, that looked like a slice of heaven in dappled light. As I was debating which random trail to follow, two guys got out of a car and headed up the path. I followed them. They made me uncomfortable. They kept skirting off the path for brief excursions, going from in front of me to behind me then passing me again. I was edgy, until I realized that they were geocaching. Phew! They were friendly and fine.
A little ways in, I met a kind man wearing a music tshirt and walking a dog. He advised me to watch for the cairn and the red blazes, and take the Bayle Mountain trail. I took his advice, and attained a spectacular view for not that much hiking. I watched a rain squall pass over Chocorua lake. I ate my lunch. The wind blew away the flies. The mountain was entirely covered in ripe blueberries, like in Blueberries for Sal, only shorter. A man explained to his tiny, triumphant son that the hill had been scoured by a fire four years ago, and that it brought us the views and the blueberries.
Man. It was everything I wanted it to be. Except my ultraviolet light water purifier ran out of batteries and I couldn’t fill up my thermos when I got back to the glorious river.
I have now purchased a subscription to AllTrails and sent tomorrow’s itinerary to my phone. I think I would be content if I hiked every day, and forgot about the writing book. You can write books in winter.
I was about to wrap this all up philosophically when I remembered the most exciting part! I found a kind of scat I’d never seen before (clearly herbivore) and was wondering what it could be when I also found a tuft of white fur in a nearby pond. I think there must be a mountain goat up there! Very exciting!
Um, philosophical ending. It was really nice to go hiking, and it’s really nice to rest and make my own choices. But I’m still kind of bad at it. Guess I need more practice!