Mountain, Pristine, Journey
The White Mountain Auto Road is only open a few months of the year. They don’t bill themselves as having “The World’s Worst Weather” for nothing. The conditions are so unpredictable that the road is only open from mid-May to mid-October. Usually. The road seems barely wide enough in places for two cars to pass, and the two car theory is particularly frightening when one of them is a big honkin’ SUV.
It starts out innocent enough, a dirt road, disappearing up into the trees. I follow it along and you know what…? I guess my first warning should have been that everyone on the passenger side in the cars coming down is as white as a sheet. Children with iron grips on car seats and mothers saying, “it’s okay Johnny, you can let go now…” as the vehicles speed past on their way out.
It doesn’t register with me until we get up above the tree line (the last time I came here I was a child and my Dad drove), and I begin to get a little worried. I try to look over the edge and of course I can’t, because I’m on the inside lane. This is the only road in or out. I have to drive back down too! There is no guard rail and that’s the scariest part. I would much rather hear the screech of metal against the side of my car than the sound of my own voice screaming as I plunge down the side. But I’m on the way up so I don’t have to worry about that yet. We’re going to the observatory at the top, to see what we can see.
Halfway to the top I realize that there won’t be any pristine views to look at today, it’s snowing. We will freeze our tails off if we stay outside in this wind, so no hiking either. I flip on the heater. We park at the top and sit there a moment. My daughter is watching me, watching the windows, looking at the sky.
“Uh, Mom. Are we going out there?” Says she of southern sun and deep fried catfish. It’s very flat where she comes from, so to be on a real mountain, with cold howling wind and snow, it’s.. another planet. The car is our spaceship and safety. She doesn’t want to get out.
“Well, it’s not far to the door, and it’s warm inside.” I have to bribe her to get out of the car. “Come on, let’s do this and I’ll let you get something from the gift shop.” Her hat gets blown off her head right away and sails for parts unknown. It was 75 degrees at the base of the mountain. It’s a chilly 42 degrees today at the summit, with light snow flurries and 40 mph winds. I never could figure out the wind chill.
“The weather changes quickly up here,” the ranger tells us after we get in. The run inside wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be and I figured he would say that since it wasn’t freezing that the snow would melt and not stay…”The wind is picking up so most of the snow will get blown off of the mountain before it has a chance to stick,” he informs us. I‘m wondering if I should tie my daughter to me when we come out so we can make it back to the car together. Great.
No really, it’s great. I knew to expect all of this, it’s exactly as I remember it. I grew up about an hour south of here, near Laconia, N.H. I’ve brought my daughter to N.H. this summer, while she’s a teen and old enough to remember it all. I want my lovely Georgia peach to see the White Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean that I grew up with. I want her to dig her toes into the sand at Hampton Beach. The water was 65 degrees Farenheit yesterday. I’ve taken her on this epic journey, back to my roots to show her where I went to school, where I lived and where I spent my time. It’s all as wonderful as I remember and it’s fantastic to view it, all new through her eyes.
I love going to the summit of Mount Washington. Going up isn’t so bad. Coming back down is very different, since we’re on the outside – but we squeeze past (I’m pretty sure I popped a lung back there on that last turn). We made it, no one has ever fallen off of the mountain. I look over – my daughter is very pale and is still squeezing the door handle (she got a good look outside her window all the way down).
“Oh honey,” I say, as I lift her chin to close her mouth. “It’s okay, you can let go now!”