Carmel's story is so unusual and inspiring that I asked to be allowed to share it here ... well done Carmel!
I started hiking in Bear Brook in early spring of 2016. I have idiopathic peripheral neuropathy and was out of the hiking world for a few years due to complications from that. When I got back into hiking, I started at Sargent Town Forest in Pittsfield, and then “graduated” to being able to hike the trails at Bear Brook. The hills/mountains in Bear Brook were for me a way to condition myself to begin working on my goal to climb Mt. Washington. I set that goal for myself in 2013, after driving up auto road. A lot of things happened along the way that I thought at the time would be prevent me from reaching that goal. The biggest one being on May 18, 2014 I discovered I had no feeling in the bottom of my feet on my descent from the summit of Mt. Kearsarge. A couple of months later, I developed foot ulcers that took over seven months to heal. Once I was healed from them, I could barely walk to my local library and back. But I kept pushing myself and was eventually able to hike again. And I set my sights on my goal to climb Mt. Washington once again.
I knew I had to start small, so to speak, and the peaks at Bear Brook seemed like a good place to start. So in 2016 I hiked all of the trails around the peaks and the lower trails from the Deerfield Road parking area. As I was doing hiking research I discovered the Fire Tower Quest, and once I finished all three peaks in Bear Brook, I left Bear Brook to work on my Fire Tower patch and subsequently my Belknap Range Hiker patch. I was going to work on Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area next with my goal to climb Mt. Washington in July of 2017. But I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in early July of 2016, and I was going to need a craniotomy to remove it. That was scheduled for September 22, 2016. I still had one peak left for my Belknap Range patch, so ten days before my surgery, I climbed Mt. Major to finish it. During my recovery I had posted something on the Belknap Range Hiker page on Facebook asking if there were any fairly easy trails to snowshoe in the Belknap Range. And that’s when somebody mentioned the Bear Brook Redlining patch. I didn’t go to Bear Brook last winter. I snowshoed at Northwood Meadows State Park.
When I was able to hike mountains again, I started to plan my steps to condition myself for Mt. Washington. I also discovered that there is a redlining patch for the Belknap Range that is different than the one for the peaks. So in my planning, I started doing trails in the Belknap Range that I hadn’t done yet. I also planned my winter hiking and snowshoeing to be at Bear Brook to do the trails I hadn’t done yet. I also did some redlining at Castle in the Clouds to get a start on that. Bear Brook was my winter goal. Castle in the Clouds was my springtime goal. Redlining the Belknaps I knew would take a long time, so I haven’t set a time limit for that one. It didn’t matter how cold it was, I went out snowshoeing at Bear Brook every chance I got. And when it was icy, I just wore microspikes. All of the trails that I still had to hike, I did on snowshoes or in microspikes. I thought I’d have more time, but after a fall snowshoeing on Parker Mountain, I was able to collect a sample of what had been leaking since my first surgery and it tested positive for cerebrospinal fluid and I was going to need another surgery. Just like the sense of urgency I had to finish the peaks in the Belknap range before my first surgery, I had that same sense of urgency to finish redlining Bear Brook before this surgery. And it was purely by the grace of God that I was able to finish it this past Tuesday, February 27, 2018. And that is because my original appointment got rescheduled due to a snow storm. My surgery is scheduled for March 22nd. That is exactly 18 months since my first one. It’s almost like déjà vu the way this worked out.
I will say that I find Bear Brook State Park one of the more difficult areas to navigate while hiking, because it’s not well marked. So it became a mental challenge, not just a physical one. Most of the snowshoe treks or hikes I did were between four and five hours. But when I knew time was running short, especially the last two days I was out, I was out longer. I don’t stop to rest. I just keep going. It’s just something about me. I knew the weather was going to warm up and crate a big mess out there, so this past Saturday I finished the trails between Podunk Rd. South and the campground on microspikes. I had snowshoed Chipmunk Trail after the snowstorm that caused my appointment to be rescheduled. My goal that day was to come back up Broken Boulder tail, but I had to break trail all the way from Bobcat trail and all of Chipmunk trail, so that was tiring and slow going. I knew I didn’t have enough daylight to do my original course. So that lower part of Broken Boulder tail was one of the trails I still had to do besides Lynx Trail and Beaver Pond trail, which I did last Saturday. It took six or so. I knew if I gave myself enough time, I could do the rest of Ferret Trail and Lost Trail Extention in one day, and with the weather warming up I just knew deep inside that I had to get it all done on Tuesday before the weather got into the 60s. It was already a mess of mud, snow and ice on Tuesday, and it took me seven and half hours to complete the only area I had left, but I did it! And before my surgery!