Location: Hanover, NH
I left Trapper John’s at a decent hour this morning. I planned to hike into Hanover, NH as quickly as possible and hoped to get a place to stay at one of the fraternities on the Dartmouth campus. I felt well this morning after hiking my longest mile day. I even set out to hike my third longest day at about 16 miles. There were a couple of mountains to climb, but nothing significant when compared to the Whites. The heat, though, took its toll on my body once more. I heard temperatures were supposed to reach into the 100’s today, and I believe that they did. I drank half a dozen liters of water today. Sweat poured off my body faster than I could put water into it. I continued to push myself though because I needed to get to Hanover, I thought. I stopped for lunch after seven miles uphill to the summit of Moose Mountain. The remaining nine miles to the highway were downhill mostly. I tried to complete the nine miles without taking a sit down break, but my feet started to hurt so badly from slapping the ground as I braked downhill that I had to stop a couple of miles before the highway. I questioned whether or not I should camp short of town at the Velvet Rocks campsite. When I got there though, the bugs were so bad that I kept walking to town.
I emerged from the woods on the far side of the practice fields at Dartmouth College. I followed the white-blazes down to the road and then I followed them a mile down the road to Hanover. The trail runs right through the streets of town, and blazes have been painted on light poles and lampposts. I wasn’t sure where I was going when I got into town.
I knew that the first thing I needed to do was find a place to stay. There are no hostels in Hanover. The hotels here charge hundreds a night and most people, I have heard, aren’t friendly towards thru-hikers. I went to a few fraternity houses and knocked on the front door. I asked each if they accepted thru-hikers for the night. Some said no and told me where to try next. Others said they did but not on the weekends. Everyone greeted me nicely but no one offered me a place to stay. I continued to wander the campus town. I stopped into Maruno’s Brick and Brew and received a free slice of pizza after signing the register.
While I was in the restaurant, another hiker came in for her free slice of pizza. She told me that there were many thru-hikers at a bar down the street. She said I should ask them about a place to stay in town. After dinner, I made my way to the 5 Olde Nugget bar in the basement of another bar. I walked down the narrow alley to a flight of stairs around back of the building. I wondered what I was getting myself into just before walking down the stairs. I walked hesitantly into the dingy bar. There was only about fifteen feet of counter and the bar was about the size of a large kitchen. It definitely appeared to be the local hangout. The Red Sox baseball game was on the only television and there didn’t seem to be a college student in the place. I found a few thru-hikers through the smoke. They were tucked into a back corner of the bar. Right when I got there they were being asked to leave the bar because although they were all of legal drinking age, all of their licenses had expired. I left the bar with them. They had decided to buy beer at the grocery store and then drink at the edge of the soccer field by the trailhead.
As we walked down the street, I regretted my decision to walk in their group. They were an incredibly obnoxious bunch who kept shouting that they hated Republicans and rich people. They mocked Dartmouth and the people on the street. Of course people looked at us as though we were aliens, but the comments from the hikers were flat-out rude and only reinforced the people’s first impression. Yes, we smell, we are dirty, out legs are muddy and out faces unshaven, so people will look at us. We stand out in a town like Hanover with its high dollar shops, expensive food, and well manicured homes and streets. People draw their first impression from the only thing they know, our appearance. However, when hikers act obnoxiously and try to provoke arguments and disgust other people, how will that help make the situation better? The best way to better the situation would be to act with a character not expected from someone with our appearance. It’s not an act of deference to show a little bit of respect to others, even if those other people consider themselves as better or worthier. The people I walked with simply reinforced the hiker stereotype that some of these people might have had, or perhaps helped the people on the streets believe that we were a band of vagabonds and radicals here to disturb the peace. It angered me more and more as the girls and guys shouted offensive remarks to the people standing on the streets or sitting at the tables outside cafes.
On the other hand, the experience of being negatively judged for my appearance is new to me. It is interesting to witness the behavior from the other side of the circumstances. I cannot remember a time when I was so blatantly ostracized for my appearance. People everywhere stopped to look at me when I walked alone through the streets or with a group, but rarely did they make eye contact. I could tell that people didn’t want me around the town, and that is the first time I have ever experienced that kind of treatment. To have come from a good family, to have gone to good schools, to have traveled to places nicer than Hanover, I have never been resented in any environment to the degree that I was today. Although I enjoyed experiencing a new perspective on life and a new emotion, the position didn’t please me. I didn’t like seeing how shallow and superficial people can be. I have been on both sides of the relationship now, and the ridiculousness of the behavior on both sides is pitiful. Each side judges the other, one for having too much and the other for not having enough. We will see how people treat me tomorrow. I’ll be spending much of the day in Hanover.