I know it’s not usual to talk about what I didn’t see in my travels, but I’m going to start by doing just that: I didn’t see the Old Man of the Mountain. I didn’t see him because he’s no longer there, except on road signs, license plates, travel brochures, and in the hearts and minds of the people of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. But even though I didn’t see the Old Man, I somehow felt that he is still very much alive.
The Old Man of the Mountain was a natural rock formation. When viewed from the right angle, it looked like a profile of a human face extending from the mountainside. But as I said, I didn’t see the Old Man—except in pictures–because after hundreds of years, the Old Man collapsed off the mountain’s edge. Even though the Old Man is gone, he’s still the area’s top attraction.
We started our vacation by visiting the Flume Gorge in Franconia State park. The Gorge is a high, narrow passage cut into the mountain’s granite, through which a raging creek flows over bare, steep rocks, creating a dark, cold, and misty corridor. I found myself fascinated by how the Gorge might have been formed.
Next, we rode to the top of Mount Washington on the Cog Railway, which, we learned, was the first mountain-climbing cog in the world. I was amazed at how this train was designed and constructed. On a section of track called Jacob’s Ladder, the incline is so steep that the front of the train is 14 feet higher than the back. It’s not hard to figure out why cogs are needed to make the climb.
We also spent a day on the Androscoggin River. First, we rafted. My dad says that it’s not a rafting trip until someone falls out. It was a rafting trip! Half way down, my sister fell out when we struck a rock. We pulled her back on board and continued. Then, we kayaked, which meant navigating the river on our own. At the start, my mom’s kayak got caught in a current and drifted down stream while the rest of our group was still assembling. When the river guide caught up to my mom, she was a bit too shaken to man her own kayak, so she joined a rafting group instead.
The next day, we biked along the Kancamagus Highway on a path that weaves alongside mountains and rivers. It’s a refreshing ride—unless you have a “mishap.” My dad learned not to use a cell phone while riding. When his is phone rang he answered it with his right hand, while braking with his left hand, which controls the front brakes. The back of the bike still traveled forward, and he took an awful spill. After cleaning his cuts and scrapes, he trekked on. (He now claims the incident was a bike stunt gone bad. But we know!)
We biked to a vista, from where we saw the Old Man historic site. Even though he’s gone, I somehow felt his presence.
On our last day, we hiked to a spot called Artist’s Bluff that overlooks the lake and valley below, and the mountain where the Old Man once resided. It was a perfect way to wind down and reflect again on the Old Man.
I came to the White Mountains long after the Old Man departed, but I saw his home, and enjoyed his playground. As I left, I couldn’t help thinking, thank you Old Man, thanks for your hospitality.
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