The summers of my childhood were defined by the great, triangular car trip my family made each year to see our scattered kin. We’d leave our home in southern Virginia heading west on I-64 to my maternal grandparent’s cattle farm in Kentucky, then northeast to my other grandparents’ house on the coast of Maine, then home down I-95. On the way, we’d usually stop for a day or two in the tiny town of Pike, where my Uncle Doug lived with his family in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Doug was, and remains, an inveterate organizer of expeditions on foot: from the thirty-minute circuit-hikes he plots from every doorstep he’s ever called home, to the rare “epics,” which require not only great ambition in their intention but disaster in their execution. (To wit: the time in Morocco when Doug took me and my buddy Chris in a taxi from Marrakech to a village in the High Atlas Mountains where we could hire a donkey for the hike into a remoter village where he knew a Peace Corps Volunteer we could stay with and with whom we set out to blaze a trail up a 14,000 foot peak only to get lost in the dark and separated from each other and spend hours wandering across the mountainside before we stumbled over the trail was, in Doug’s final judgment, “almost” an epic.)
So of course, when we came to Pike on our family vacations, Doug would pick a mountain for us to climb, each one higher than the year before. The switchbacks at the base always seemed endless, but eventually the hardwoods gave way to pines, and the pines shrank imperceptibly to shoulder height, then knee, then flat along the ground. Finally we’d step onto granite. The wind blew hard above treeline, and it was always a special moment, for a boy from the Virginia Piedmont, when we threw down our packs and pulled out our fleeces and windbreakers.