Day four broke as another gorgeous day and we rose early for our ascent up Puzzle Mountain. We had maybe a mile to hike and and the uphill began to feel a bit easier...or maybe it was the knowledge that it would be followed by almost 3 miles of downhill that made it seem bearable. Puzzle Mountain was different than the other mountains we summited. Instead of a clear, distinguishable peak with a marker, Summit Mountain was topped by several Appalachian Trail Survey Markers pounded into various boulders.
Dave and I had decided to skip a hot breakfast (really, I couldn't take anymore oatmeal, bleh) so we breakfasted on nuts, dried berries, and granola bars at 8:30 atop Puzzle Mountain. We attempted to check in by cell phone, but, although we could look below and see the road we had driven in to the Grafton Notch State Park, and although we were quite high with incredible visibility, our reception was rather spotty. We hung out for about 30 minutes, resting, eating breakfast, enjoying the view, and attempting some photographs.
Moving on, Puzzle Mountain had a descent of about 3 miles down to the road and the first mile consisted of hiking down boulders and small scrub passages leading to more views. About forty five minutes later we stopped at "the Ledges" for one of our last views before heading into tree line. It doesn't look like we've descended much as the photo angles are pretty much the same, but we could look up the hill behind us and tell we were making progress. Also, the clouds appeared higher and the colors below became more saturated.
Heading down the next two miles we began to pass day hikers heading up to Puzzle Mountain for a Saturday hike. I feel like I asked each one, "when did you leave the parking lot?" The road-trips equivalent of, "how much further???" Finally, we hit the road around 11:00 with the sun blazing hot above us. 0.6 miles along the road we had driven in to Grafton Notch Park trying to stay in the shade and saying hello to a lady with goats and a child trying to coax a German Shepherd through a hoop into a baby pool. Oh, I wish I'd begged her for a diet pepsi as that's what I was craving at that point! Iodinized water was becoming a thing I only craved after intense heat and activity...
We re-entered the trail plowing our way across an open field to a large river crossed by a snowmobile bridge.
The weather was hot and the water looked inviting so we decided to take our lunch down to the stream. I had great intentions of bathing in the water but, stripped down to my underwear I found the water much too cold and satisfied myself with a dip up to the waist. I sat on a rock and Dave said, "Uh, you might want to stand up." "Why?" I said. "Nevermind. No reason," he responded. "No. Why?" I could sense something was up. "Nevermind." I began to scan my surroundings and to my horror there was giant water spider the size of my giant palm sitting on the boulder right next to me! I shrieked, threw myself to the water and managed to get to David without submerging myself in the frigid stream. "What the hell! Why didn't you tell me! Where is it? Where is it now?" Did I mention spiders make me hyperventilate and behave irrationally? Especially super large ones? I can handle little wispy spiders and have been known to pick up granddaddy long legs but these meaty ones or giant ones quite literally take my breath away! His defense was, "well, I thought it would just go on by you so I decided not to tell you." Jerk! Hahaha! I succeeded in cleaning my underwear and returned to my clothes...my underwear hanging to dry off the back of my pack.
Back on the bridge I had to re-duct-tape my feet and was again assaulted by three wolf-spiders of increasing size. Each time they approached me I had to jump up from the planks I was sitting on and finally I had to throw myself down in the dirt to complete the job so we could be on our way. The trail followed snowmobile trails through the sun until we finally returned to the trail and the cool, cool woods where we found the trail crisscrossed a gorgeous moss-covered stream uphill for a couple miles and an elevation change of 2000 or so feet. At this point we met and were surpassed by a guy we grudgingly called "Speedy Gonzalez" because he carried a light pack and trekking poles and surpassed us very quickly. He asked where we were going and we said to the Sergeant Brooks Campground a few miles ahead. His response? "I was planning on going further, but it is hot...." He passed and we stared at each other reassuring ourselves that HE probably hadn't hiked in from the Stuart Campground but had picked up the trail at the road....plus he had big calves and wasn't carrying 50 pounds like us! Right. We continued on along the stream which occasionally yielded beautiful little swimming pools or slip-n-slide like sections that seemed a cruel and taunting message to drop our packs and go for a swim. We hiked on.
I have to admit, the energy I'd had earlier in the day yielded to a lazy urge in me to stop and break every five minutes at this point. After eleven miles or so we finally arrived at our campground, complete with bear box to put our food in and settled in for the night to rest our weary bones. Oh, and "Speedy Gonzalez" was there with his tent long before us. Only two more days to go with two more incredible views up ahead!