Alright, the extended vacation report I was mulling isn’t happening. I’ll just touch on the highlights.
The White Mountains are lovely. A nice mix of green, wooded slopes and sharp, craggy rock outcroppings. We spent a lot of time exploring the Franconia Notch area, parts of which are simply breathtaking. I hope to post photos eventually.
I joined some of the other FSPers to hike up Mt. Liberty. It was, by far, the most challenging hike I’ve ever attempted. It is described as “relentless” by a NH hiking guide we bought, and that’s a fair description. Unlike most mountain trails, which have switchbacks, the trail we took goes straight up the mountain. 3000 feet of elevation gain in 4 miles. While I am a lousy runner, I can ordinarily hike until blisters or hunger stops me. This hike had me panting like a dog, and pausing frequently to catch my breath towards the end. But the summit was worth the effort. It was a beautiful clear day, and the view was spectacular.
We met a woman named Gaia who has one of the coolest jobs in the world. She’s the caretaker for the campground which is situated near the summit. She checks backpackers in and out, and does trail and campground maintenance. She lives in an army-style tent on a wooden platform anchored to the rocky hillside (there is no flat ground), gets her water from a actual mountain spring, and wakes up every morning to a view you can only get if you live a half-mile from the summit of a 4400 ft. mountain.
I spent a day shooting with the free-staters. Got to shoot a .357 pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun, and an AR-15 (the civilian version of the M-16). The instructor had set things up as a sort of semi-tactical excercise: pick up the pistol, hit three targets at least twice while moving, pick up the shotgun and hit several targets (again while moving), then pick up the rifle and hit a bunch of cans and bottles from a standing posture. By the end I was feeling just how out of practice I am (not that I was ever really IN practice). It was surprisingly tiring, and I felt I had far too little control over the pistol and the shotgun. The AR-15 was the big surprise, though: it had almost no recoil at all. One envisions a battle rifle as a fiersome monster of a gun, but the M-16 is, as one of the shooters described it, a “pussycat”. No wonder soldiers in Vietnam called it the “toy gun” or “mattel gun” when it was first introduced. It also makes a funny sproinging noise after every shot.
I came out of that session with a renewed determination to get thoroughly gun-educated and take up shooting regularly.
I also spent one rainy day just hanging out with a bunch of shooters who were waiting for the rain to stop, which was entertaining and informative. The shooters at the festival were an interesting bunch. These were men and women who take the rights and responsibilities that go with owning and carrying a gun very seriously. Many of them were openly carrying at all times. They don’t talk about the size of the rack on the last deer they shot, like a gathering of hunters would. They are geek-philosophers. They discuss the intricacies of of weapon construction the way Linux nuts talk about UNIX, and then debate questions of individual liberty, responsibility, and ethics with equal vigor.
The demographics were solidly middle-class. The gathering was very white, but I understand that’s not terribly out of place in the middle of New England. There a lot of aging-hippie and mountain-man looking types around. Lots of long hair and beards. But there were almost as many women, too, lots of kids, and a few teenagers. Wandering around the campsites I saw plenty of pickup trucks, SUVs, and sedans. Notably absent were any luxury cars or SUVs. Although I didn’t talk to that many people, I understand there were wide range of religious points of view represented: Jews, Christians, Pagans, Athiests, and Agnostics at least. I didn’t make it to the polyamourists party, but I understand they had around thirty people in attendence. It’s nice to be somewhere where the conservative christians and the polyamorous pagans get along just fine.
There were some pretty good talks on Saturday. Dr. Jason Sorens, founder of the FSP, turns out to be remarkably young – he looked no older than me. Bureaucrash put on an entertaining presentation. And Katherine Albrecht gave a highly informative and somewhat scary talk about RFID, a subject I’d been meaning to get educated. I recommend that everyone take a look at spychips.com. No matter where you stand on them, it’s important to at least be educated about the tracking devices that will be embedded in just about everything in coming years.
All in all I had a great time. Besides for all the activities, it was just nice to be camping again. Although I think we may opt for a different campground next year. I’m not used to camping at “family” campgrounds, and I was not expecting the lack of privacy or the proximity to a busy highway. Still, it was good dust off some of the old Boy Scout skills, building a tripod for our lantern and things of that nature.
We opted to drive home Saturday night rather than Sunday morning. Sadly, this meant I didn’t really get a good look at southern NH, as it was getting dark and I was trying to get some sleep when we drove through it. But I’m sure we’ll be returning bfore too long.