The whole country will have its eyes on New Hampshire today as Granite Staters flock to the polls in the first in the nation primary. The state is very proud of its role in helping to choose our president, and nowhere are politics taken so seriously and politicians scrutinized so thoroughly than in this tiny New England State.
I grew up in New Hampshire and was shaped by this socially-libertarian, fiscally conservative state. The rural state with its abundance of open space, a sprawling national forest and miles upon miles of topnotch hiking trails shaped me as well! I now live and do most of my hiking in the only state named for a president. But it’s New Hampshire where an entire mountain range is named for presidents.
Mount Washington is the highest among them at 6288-feet. There’s an Adams, Monroe, Madison, Jefferson, and Pierce (NH native son who has a county in Washington named after him) among them. Eisenhower joined the ranks in 1969. But Kennedy was snubbed earlier to replace a peak with an offensive name . It was later changed–just not to honor the Massachusetts president. Mount Reagan joined the ranks in 2003 among some controversy. There’s a Mount Carter and Mount Clinton too, but they’re not named for Jimmy and Bill, but for a local and a New York governor. All of these peaks are adorned with trails and all are excellent hikes.
But it is in the state’s far north where I really like to hike. It is here in Coos County (the North Country) with its 1,17o,000-acres, and only 31,600 residents; is an East Coast that many of my Northwest friends can’t imagine. Here you’ll find moose traipsing all over the countryside and dozens of large undeveloped lakes echoing the call of the loon. In the villages and old mill towns you’ll hear French almost as much as English. And you’ll sense a people that are resilient, proud and fiercely independent.
It is in the town of Dixville Notch (population 12) where the first votes are cast (shortly after midnight) and announced. And the folks of Dixville have voted as such since 1960. You need to visit this hamlet for its history and proud traditions and to do some hiking. One of my favorite hikes in New England and one I have returned to a couple of times since settling in the Northwest is Table Mountain. From this precipitous outcropping hovering hundreds of feet over a tight pass in the northern mountains you are afforded one heck of a view of Dixville Notch. It’s a breathtaking scene of one of the prettiest places in America—and one where the residents take their civic duty seriously.
This year Bernie Sanders and John Kasich won the Dixville Notch Vote. And this tiny town has correctly voted for the final Republican nominee every election since 1968. But no matter who wins this primary and later the presidency—I hope they all get a chance to do a little hiking in these parts—and perhaps too be a little influenced by these mountains as I have been–leading to a healthy lifestyle of outdoor recreation and sound conservation principles. Live Free or Die is the state’s motto. And in the mountains and on the trail I am Free! How about you?