August 10 ~ Williamstown, MA at milepoint 594.2 south, 59 days since start of hike, averaging 10.1 miles per day
Day 59. Good God - more rain last night and early this morning! Our prayers for some dry weather - at least enough to dry out the trail - have gone unanswered. My lament is beginning to sound like a broken record, but mud has become the central fact of our days on the trail, and it is starting to get to me.
In a dispirited moment today, I said to another hiker, Smokey, "I hate this mud!" He replied: "You don't have to hate it. Try to make a game out of it - it's a challenge trying to hop from rock to rock. It's fun!" We met Smokey back in Maine, in the 100-mile Wilderness, and he's not a pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky sort of guy. He's simply good at giving life the light touch that it sometimes takes to rise out of the daily muck we are living in. So I tried it - sure enough, I could turn the mud into fun by reframing it mentally.
Another thing that helped me put the past 100 miles of muddy Trail into perspective was hearing about the floods in India and Bangladesh, where millions of people have been displaced by torrential rains. Our difficulties - which we could escape any time we choose to - are trivial by comparison. We have also been saddened by the news of the rampaging wild fires out West in the U.S.; I wish we could share some of our incessant rain with the folks in Montana.
Having a Walkman and listening to NPR news has been a refreshing change, even though some of the news is alarming. For the first month and a half of our hike, I had virtually no exposure to any newspapers, radio, or TV. I had no idea what stories were on the front pages, and I was surprised that I didn't miss it. I don't know whether my lack of interest in the news was a personal failing or just the normal disengagement that most thru-hikers experience. Either way, I now enjoy tuning in. Most of the time, I feel blissfully detached from the news and find much of it amusing. The political conventions, for example, with their breathtaking shallowness and mendacity, seem even more ridiculous when considered from the distance that the Trail provides.
The big news for Jake and me today was crossing the Vermont-Massachusetts line. We pushed hard - in spite of the mud and Jake's ingrown toe nail - and did a 20-mile day in order to reach Williamstown. As usual, the main motivator was food: the vision of some ice cream this evening or maybe a good breakfast in the morning (instead of our usual morning fare, granola bars). What we found was even better than Ben & Jerry's - there was a pizza shop two doors down from our tenting spot behind the outfitter's shop. And not just any pizza shop - it's called Hot Tomatoes, and they make first-rate pizza -- similar to Sweet Tomatoes, it's affiliate store on Cape Cod, which is our most favorite pizza anywhere. Jake takes pizza very seriously, and so do I. So this was a wonderful bit of serendipity.
Why the obsessive focus on food? Well, I think "hiker's disease" is beginning to afflict both of us. This condition eventually afflicts virtually all thru-hikers, who are burning more calories than they consume day after day, except in trail towns. Hiker's disease leaves you feeling hungry all the time, even after you've just eaten. I've started feeling the symptoms during the past few weeks, and they quickened my step today as we approached the road to Williamstown.
That road, by the way, is Massachusetts Route 2, which runs all the way across the state and passes through the center of Acton, my home town, and within a mile or so from my house. If Beth and Lily had been home this evening, I would have hitched a ride east to Acton instead of west to Williamstown, but they are off on a trip of their own this week.
We are enjoying Williamstown, even though the town is a bit fancy for a couple of grubby-looking thru-hikers like us. For example, when I went into the center of town, looking for a public bathroom, I approached a young security guard at Williams College. He sized me up and seemed uncertain as to whether I was a derelict or just eccentric. I could almost hear his mental gears grinding. Giving me a suspicious look, he pointed me to the bathroom inside Goodrich Hall, where some very dressy summer people were getting seated for a concert. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to be treated like a homeless person when, with my two-week's worth of stubble and raggedy, unwashed hair, I am beginning to look like one. I think it's probably good for me to experience the disdain with which the ungroomed are treated.
I tried to clean up my act a little bit by washing some clothes at the laundromat this evening. Only in a town like Williamstown would you find scholarly journals among the magazines on the reading table. Even the magazines were tony: Smithsonian, Audubon, and Natural History. I am finding that I am learning a lot more about the towns we are visiting simply because we don't have a car, and we meet local people when we hitchhike. We are traveling much closer to the ground than I am accustomed to.
August 11 ~ Mt. Greylock, MA at milepoint 600.5 south, 60 days since start of hike, averaging 10.0 miles per day
Day 60, and we crossed the 600 mile mark today. I'm trying not to focus too much on our average miles per day, but I'm glad we're keeping it at 10 for the moment. We need to move that figure up a bit in order to finish our hike before my sabbatical ends on December 1.
Our goal for the day was Chesire, MA - another 8 miles from here. But when we reached the summit of Mt. Greylock, storm clouds were gathering and the weather forecast called for severe thunderstorms with hail this afternoon. Bascom Lodge, a two-story stone building which sits at the top, provided us with a safe refuge, as we watched the rain pour down in buckets. Jake and I looked at our trail maps and the Data Book, and re-organized our schedule a bit. (The Data Book is the one indispensable guide carried by virtually every hiker I've met - it lists all the major landmarks and distances from one to the other, including locations of water sources. Jake and I cut up the book into pieces and put chunks of it in various mail drop boxes to save weight.)
We sat at a picnic table on the sun porch of the Lodge, talking with other hikers and the Lodge crew, while we ate lunch. Toward evening, a very kind crew member brought us soup. The lodge operates like an inn, with meals for paying guests and visitors. Thru-hikers can earn their accommodations by working, or, in severe weather, can stay for free without meals in another stone building nearby, the Thunderbolt Lodge.
We chose the latter. Before retiring for the night, however, the dozen or so thru-hikers staying at Mt. Greylock this evening began congregating around the cavernous stone fireplace, where a fire was drying out our clothes. A spontaneous round of drumming, music, poetry reading (Whitman, "Leaves of Grass"), and discussion filled the evening hours. Jacob recited from memory several of the rhyming riddles he has composed for the Trail registers, and with a little effort the group came up with the answer to each one. I read a parable about long journeys - a Hassidic story I found in the book: "The Art of Pilgrimage." And we went around the circle, with each thru-hiker trying to do a rhyme that included his or her trailname, home town, whether they were a NoBo or SoBo, and anything else they wanted to add. Some of us were more successful than others at rhyming. I can't rhyme worth a darn, much less do it with a yarn, at least on the spur of the moment.
Mt. Greylock, by the way, is the highest point in Massachusetts (elev. 3,491) and for the NoBo's, the tallest peak since Virginia. For us SoBo's, Greylock was a bit of a climb, but nothing to get excited about. It does offer great views when it's not socked in with clouds. The views are even better from the top of the strange-looking war memorial that sits just above the Lodge. Shaped like a gigantic chess pawn, the granite structure has a glass dome on top. Jake and I have been here before when the weather was clear, and it's definitely worth climbing the winding staircase. The memorial was originally designed to be a lighthouse, but when it was no longer needed, the pieces were carted to Mt. Greylock and assembled here, where it looks like, well, a lighthouse on top of a mountain.
Perhaps the most memorable thing that happened today was that the sun came out and warmed us, both inside and out, from morning until about 3 pm or so. Our spirits were lifted by what can only be described as gorgeous weather - unlike anything we've experienced for a couple of weeks. I was hiking, as usual, a good distance behind Jake, and I asked some NoBo's if they had seen him ("tall guy, rainbow-colored bandana"). They said, "Yes, he was practically running up the hill, with a big smile on his face." I was smiling too, even though I don't have what it takes to run uphill.
I stopped several times today to pick black-berries and black-raspberries along the Trail. It's one of my weaknesses - I just can't pass them up. However, as we rose from the valley, where the berries were ripe, to higher elevations, where they were not, I made fewer stops. I do pause to talk with other hikers, and I enjoyed chatting with a NoBo whose trailname is "Belcher." I asked her how she got it, and she said, "Just as you might expect - one poorly timed burp at a shelter, and that was my name for the whole hike." I said that's tough luck, and she said, "It could be worse - at least I didn't get the name "Backdraft" - that was a guy who had problems at the other end of the digestive track." I shuddered a bit as I thought about what trailname I would have earned if I had not chosen "Pilgrim." It probably would have been "Buzzsaw" - or perhaps something worse - because I snore. In any event, I continue to feel like a pilgrim so I'll stick with what I've got and try hard not to wake my fellow hikers at night.
The toe is much better. I hardly feel it now. We've had a few days where it only rained at night, and yesterday was clear all day. Today it sprinkled a little in the late afternoon, but overall the weather's been great. We did a 20 mile day yesterday to Williamstown because Dad's getting worried about keeping to our schedule. We found a pizza place there called Hot Tomatoes, a relation of Sweet Tomatoes in Sandwich, MA, my favorite pizza place. Evidently, the owners are cousins. The pizza at Hot Tomatoes was also very good. Alas, though, I was unable to finish the large pizza I ordered. To be fair, though, it was very large at 18 inches, and the six tenths of it that I did consume was more than an entire 14 inch pizza. There was a guy from Mountain Goat Outfitters (behind which we were tenting) working at Hot Tomatoes, and we got to talk with him for awhile. He was pretty cool. He comes in in the morning to start cooking the bagels. We slept well - the river runs right behind the Outfitters and makes it very easy to sleep. In the morning, we each got a bagel, I got my pack fixed, and I mailed home my raingear and my fleece jacket. My pack felt so much lighter all of the sudden. It was terrific.
Dad finished up in town before I did, and took off to get a headstart. I got a pretty quick hitch out to the trail. Greylock was a long, moderately difficult climb, but the sun was shining so it was a lot of fun.
I hung around Bascom Lodge for awhile waiting for Dad and watching a thunderstorm roll in over the hills. When he finally got here we decided to stay rather than go on to Cheshire as originally planned.
August 12 ~ Dalton, MA at milepoint 617.5 south, 61 days since start of hike, averaging 10.1 miles per day
Day 61: I wish I didn't have to keep writing about rain. But there's no avoiding the subject this summer in western New England. Last night it was hard to sleep because the rain pelted the roof of the Thunderbolt Lodge where I was curled up on the cement floor. I was trying not to think about the mudsoaked trail becoming even wetter, and my efforts were completely unsuccessful. At 6 a.m. Jake and I had breakfast and began organizing our gear for a day of hiking in the rain.
I still haven't figured out a good way to do it. Putting on a rain jacket even the fully breathable Gortex type does not keep me dry. With any consistent amount of exertion, sweat soaks me and my clothes inside the rain gear. So why wear it at all? That's the question I'm trying to answer.
Our 17-mile hike today went more or less as planned in spite of the initially crummy weather. Jake and I each lost an hour or so by getting briefly lost. Jake found himself on a side trail on Mt. Greylock and later in the day I went on a gigantic wild goose chase through the woods outside Cheshire, MA. I had missed a turn just at the edge of town, and wandered along a trail that evidently used to be the AT, because it still had some very faded white blazes on the trees here and there. What the trail lacked, however, was muddy footprints. When I realized that this couldn't be the real Trail, I compounded my error by turning onto a snowmobile trail that was going exactly the opposite direction of where I needed to go. Instead of bringing me back to the AT, it led me into everdeeper unblazed woods and finally ended at a swamp. I clambered my way through the woods, experiencing only mild symptoms of panic. I somehow miraculously found myself back at the very spot where I had veered off the track. By taking a more careful look at my trail map, I figured out where I goofed and stepped along the real Trail, splendidly blazed, which rose into the woods only 100 yards from the old Trail.
Our hike today was neatly divided into two chunks. In the morning we slogged through the rain and the mud soaked Trail leading from Mt. Greylock to Cheshire. Just before reaching the town we got a taste of sun, as the Trail became pastureland. Dodging "cowpies" occupied my mind, as I looked for berry bushes along the edge of the fields. I found lots or blackberries and my first blueberries of the season! There is almost nothing that makes me happier than blueberries, at least in the food department. So, even though I found only about 20 or 25 ripe ones, the day was already a big success.
In Chesire, Jake and I met at the Post Office where we divvied up the spoils from our mail drop box. (I got the film, batteries, a couple of cassette tapes: Eric Clapton and Bach, some laundry detergent and a collection of protein bars, granola bars, and candy. Half a dozen of us thru-hikers were sitting around the Post Office, eating our lunches and going through our boxes, while the local citizens stopped in for their mail. They seemed accustomed to seeing such a motley crew camped out near their mail slots. Several asked us how we were managing to hike with all of the rain and muck.
During the second half of the day, the weather improved, as did the Trail. We still had to cross swollen streams and the occasional swamp, but we spent most of the afternoon on rolling wooded hills.
I hiked in tandem with a section-hiker named "Purist," who is doing about 150 miles of the Trail each summer. He is a computer scientist who works on supercomputers for the federal government. When the Trail reached Dalton, he offered me a ride - his car was at the trailhead. I declined, because the Trail plows right through the center of town and my goal is to walk not ride past each blaze. He said, "I understand I wouldn't accept a ride either."
Jake and I had planned to rendezvous at the home of Tom Levardi in Dalton. Tom is well known in thruhiking circles as an extraordinary Trail angel. His front porch faces the Trail, and he allows thruhikers to tent in his back yard, or roll out their sleeping bags on his porch. He has a water spigot set up for hikers to use, and a hikers corner on the porch with hiking magazines, bus schedules, menus from local restaurants, and even the Tanglewood concert schedule. There's also a large plastic "hiker's box" - a feature of most hostels along the Trail where hikers can leave surplus food or supplies, or pickup things they need. All of this is very useful, but what makes Tom's halo glow the brightest in the pantheon of Trail angels is the large bowl of ice cream he brings out to you when you arrive at his house. Mine was chocolate chip - one of my favorites - sitting on a bed of fresh peach chunks, with whipped cream and sprinkles on top, and a wedge of cantaloupe on the side. Tom certainly knows how to impress a thruhiker.
Tom sat and talked with us for a little while. He's been making his yard available to hikers for 17 years, and he does it because he wants to support the use of the Trail. He has a sign on his front porch showing the mileage to Mt. Katahdin and Springer Mt. He had only two requests: keep the noise down and don't leave any trash. He has had some complaints from neighbors, and he does not want them to get up in arms about his hospitality for thruhikers.
Jake and I sat at his picnic table chatting with a few northbound thruhikers. One had just returned from a visit with his parents, and he shared some of the bounty they had laid on him: convenience store donuts and filled cupcakes. I tried to eat one or two, but even with my seemingly insatiable stomach, I couldn't eat more. What felt good, however, was the offer, the kindness of strangers. Such kindness is found in greater abundance on the Trail than just about anywhere else I've been in my life.
Last night was terrific. We chilled out in a major way at Bascom Lodge, hanging out with our fellow hikers and the croo. In the evening there was "open mike night" on the schedule of events. There didn't seem to be anything specific planned, so one of the NoBos got things started. Everyone grabbed a table or chair or something to make noise on, and we got a bit of a beat going. Two guys did a bit of impromptu rap. Then these two fellows Gilligan and McGruff read some poetry from a book of Whitman they had just gotten in a maildrop. Dad recited his story from "The Art of Pilgrimage" about the rabbi's dream and I recited some riddles. It was a ton of fun, in a very laidback, chill sort of way. I really love these gatherings that have a way of happening when a lot of hikers get together. They all have such a different character, too, depending on who's there at the time.
Today we set off early in a cold drizzle but I had an inexplicably great day. The trail off of Greylock was ludicrously wet. You could tell whether you were going up or down by the direction the trail was flowing. The trail was literally a stream for most of the way down. I got lost on a blue blaze for a while with Rockhopper, and had to back track a long way uphill.
I got to the Cheshire PO well before noon and picked up our maildrop and even dried out my boots a little. After that the day was just fantastic. The trail was much drier, and the terrain was easy. I also had Abba's "Dancing Queen" stuck in my head, which made me very happy. I read in a register that many of our friends who had gotten way ahead of us now were only a day in front.
When I got to Dalton I had a lot of trouble finding Tom's house, but met some very nice folks at a church along the way, one of whom offered to buy me supper at the chicken barbeque they were holding. I foolishly declined, thinking there would be naught but chicken. Later Dad pointed out that corn on the cob was probably also involved. Oh, the folly! Anyways, we had a decent dinner of couscous and Tom brought us ice cream, so we did alright, foodwise. Oh, and a fellow hiker had a ton of extra snack cakes from a maildrop and gave us some. It's been a good day.
August 13 ~ Lee, MA at milepoint 636.5 south, 62 days since start of hike, averaging 10.3 miles per day
Day 62. A skunk prowled past my tent in the early morning hours, and I tried not to bother or offend it. My brother tells a very entertaining story of an encounter with a skunk while camping on the AT in Virginia: he spent the next day in a laundromat trying without much success every cleaning product available. A local person told him the only thing that works is a certain brand of feminine hygiene product (was it Masengill?) and sure enough it did. At least it removed enough of the skunk's aroma for him to use his tent again. Fortunately, this skunk left me alone.
We packed up our gear quietly - after all it was Sunday morning. The neighbors here in Dalton were still sleeping, and so was one of the northbounders on Tom Levardi's porch, when we left.
Jake and I hiked past the last few homes on the Trail in Dalton which end at a busy railroad crossing. We heard freight trains passing through the evening. There's a special warning sign for hikers: "Trains come very fast, especially from the East. Cross tracks quickly!" That got our attention.
After the RR tracks, the Trail rises into the woods, and Jake and I got started on a 19 mile hike to Route 20 in Lee, MA. Our plan was to hitchhike from there to Lenox, where we would be staying. The Kripalu Yoga Center in Lenox had graciously offered to put us up for the night, and we were going to try to make it by supper time. (Visions of their vegetarian buffet kept our pace quick all day.)
I worked hard, trying to keep pace with Jake, and I managed to stay within half a mile of him all day. There were even a few brief moments when I was ahead of him, because he had stopped for one reason or another. I was trying to maintain an average pace of 2 to 2.5 miles per hour - this is at the low end of the scale for most thruhikers, but relatively fast for me. An average walking pace on the street might be 3 miles per hour, or 4 if you're trying to catch a train. On good terrain, I can maintain a 3 mph pace, but not on uphill sections. And then there are breaks.
Today we took a lunch break at the top of Warner Hill, next to a stand of wild blueberry bushes. If you've never folded a handful of wild blueberries into a PB&J sandwich, I strongly recommend it. But the best break of all came a couple of hours after lunch, when the Trail crossed Pittsfield Road near Beckett, MA. A few hundred yards from the Trail there's a farm where a woman who calls herself the Cookie Lady offers thruhikers not only cookies but also free access to her well-groomed 34-acre patch of U-pick blueberries. I love picking (and eating) blueberries, and this orchard was outstanding. The incessant rain this summer has evidently been very good for blueberries because the bushes were covered with berries.
I felt a little selfconscious as Jake and I picked because several U-pick customers were harvesting berries along side us. It is probably not unexpected that customers might eat a few berries as they pick. But Jake and I were putting only the occasional berry in out buckets - most were going straight into our mouths, and at a pretty good clip. I doubt that the paying customers knew we were thruhikers with a special dispensation that allowed us to gorge ourselves without going through the formality of weighing the berries first. They probably assumed by the looks of us, that we were shiftless ne'erdowells taking advantage of the berry farmers. So I picked my berries in the less populated corners of the orchard and had a grand time. I felt like a bear preparing for hibernating; I knew that this might be my only opportunity this summer to eat blueberries in such an unrestrained manner.
Perhaps this would be a good place to say a word about the eating habits of thruhikers. My journal has been filled with references to food, even more so than references to rain. This thruhike has been a novel experience for me foodwise. I usually have to watch my weight, and even when I watch it, I put on pounds. Out here on the Trail, I keep losing weight. I'm down about 20 pounds from the beginning of our hike, two months ago today. I can eat anything candy, ice cream, huge portions of pasta and it makes no difference. For someone who likes food as much as I do, and who normally has to watch the calories, this is like living in a fantasy land.
This unusual situation reminds me of a trip to Nicaragua where I was part of a lawyers delegation in 1985. Our goal was to be helpful to the people of Nicaragua, but I never felt like more of an imperialist because our U.S. currency was worth a fortune there. The best steak dinner in Managua cost a dollar or so. Handcrafted items cost next to nothing. Again, it was like fantasyland.
In our society, food and money have a moral dimension. We feel guilty if we overeat or overspend. So it feels strange on this thruhike to have those internalized rules suspended, just as it felt strange in Nicaragua to be suddenly rich. There is virtually no such thing as overeating on the Trail, because our bodies are burning it up so fast. It's going to take some adjustment when the hike is over and I'm not burning 5,000 calories per day, but for now my dieting habits are somewhere to the left of "whoopee."
So, back to our break along Pittsfield Road, it is hard to describe what it felt like to be turned loose in a 4-acre blueberry patch unrestrained by concerns about calories or cost. When I told Jake I had reached my limit and could not eat another blueberry, he tested me by handing me a blueberry and I ate it. We spent an hour at the Cookie Lady's farm before rolling back onto the Trail, thanking our lucky stars for yet more Trail magic.
We reached Route 20 in Lee at about 6 p.m. With dinner ending at Kripalu at 7: 15 p.m., we had little chance of making it in time. I stuck out my thumb and had no luck. Jake was trying to dry out his feet, which like mine, were quite pruney from a day of hiking through the mud. But I persuaded him to switch places with me after the 500th car had whisked by me without even slowing down. Jake has much better luck with hitching. And, sure enough, a car pulled over. The driver, a young man, lived nearby, but he said he would take us all the way to Kripalu anyway. He said he had been doing a lot of hitchhiking himself recently. I asked him why and was a little alarmed by the answer: "I lost my license for drunk driving." I glanced at the cup that he was drinking from and he added, "Oh, I'm not doing that anymore." His manner was a little strange, and I was not sure whether to believe him. But his driving was just fine, and we were soon at the front entrance of Kripalu. Thank you, driver, whoever you are, and stay safe.
We had just enough time to get dinner and then settled in. Jake called friends, who plan to visit here with him tomorrow. I called Beth and made plans to visit her and Lily tomorrow. Kripalu is about as close to our home in Acton, MA as we will ever be on this hike, so visiting is an irresistable temptation.
I wish we could stay longer at Kripalu. The yoga center, where many thousands come each year for instruction or simply respite from the workaday world, is the most peaceful place I know. They invited us to stay because of some legal work I did for them five years ago, along with other lawyers from Hill & Barlow. The center was going through a crisis then, but it has emerged and become even more successful. And this makes visiting here tonight even more enjoyable.
No entry for Jacob.
August 14 ~ Lee, MA at milepoint 636.5 south, 63 days since start of hike, averaging 10.1 miles per day
Day 63. One of the benefits of spending the night at Kripalu Yoga Center was taking a early morning yoga class. It was hard work, but my body needed it. Breakfasts here at Kripalu, like all their meals, are in a large dining hall. But breakfast is a silent meal, and this takes a little getting used to. Also, the food here is a little spartan for some tastes. I had some type of unfamiliar grain which had been cooked into a hot cereal, yogurt, granola, and an apple. OK, so it's not Canyon Ranch, but I like it.
One of the administrators let me use his computer to check email, but I spent much if the morning reading Bill Irwin's book "Blind Courage." Bill, who is blind, hiked the AT from Georgia to Maine in 1990 with a seeing eye dog. His account of the hike is the most inspiring book I've read in years. Bill is a born-again Christian who had no great love of hiking even before he became blind as an adult. But he believed God has called him to do this hike and he did it. It took him 7 months. He fell down thousands of times and sustained numerous injuries, including a broken rib. Along the way he met many hundreds of people and talked with them about his reasons for hiking. The book is not a tract. He talks about his religious views but not at great length. I wanted to read the book simply to understand how this Trail, which I have found so difficult, could be hiked by someone who had to find his way through it in the dark. It's an astonishing tale.
One of the pleasures of "Blind Courage" is the light it sheds on the rest of the thruhikers that Bill met along the way. Bill talks about how the weather, which was good only about 20% of the time, ground down a lot of hikers. But, he points out, the real enemy "was not the Trail, the rocks or the weather it was ourselves. All the thruhikers fought a constant battle to keep from hating what they set out to enjoy. Most people who abandoned their thruhike did so because it did not make sense to keep punishing themselves day after day, often in rain and cold." Bill goes on to say, "I don't blame them a bit. Without a clear sense of mission, I couldn't have kept going in the face of recurring hardships I did my best to avoid since I never expected hiking to be fun, I wasn't disillusioned when it felt like work."
For me, this "sense of mission" has to come from within, each day, because, unlike Bill, no one called me to this hike. I started the hike with one set of ideas about why I was out here, and those ideas got revisited, and sometimes, revised, every day.
Shortly after lunch, Jacob's friends arrived and they drove me to a car rental agency, where I had reserved a small car. Soon I was on my way to Acton. Beth and Lily had just returned from a trip and had much to tell me. This was my second visit home during the hike (the first came when Lily was sick), and it did not feel so strange or jarring this time. Everything about being home felt great, even though I knew I would be there for only 12 hours. It was well worth the trip.
Yesterday morning we overslept by an hour. My boots, surprisingly, had managed to dry out overnight, and actually got drier during the first half of the day, as the trail was not too muddy at first. We had lunch on a cute hill with a nice view and Dad found a couple blueberry bushes. We ate heartily but didn't spend too much time, as we planned to stop at the Cookie Lady's and still had many miles to hike after that.
The Cookie Lady was terrific. She let us fill up our water, brought us cookies, and let us pick blueberries on her farm! It was a lot of fun, especially since we were going to miss out on our family trip to the Upick blueberry farm back home. The berries were abundant and delicious.
After that the trail got muddy again and my boots started getting wet again. My feet became very sore from the pounding of long miles and blistery from being wet. All in all I was feeling miserable, and it looked more and more like we wouldn't make it to Kripalu in time for dinner. We got to the road around 6 or 6:15 and had very little luck hitching. This was with Dad standing with his thumb out, as my feet were begging for relief, so I had sat down to take my boots off. After a while Dad mentioned he thought I generally had better luck hitching and convinced me to stand up and do the thumb work. Soon enough, we got a great hitch from a man who had his license suspended for a while for DUI. For a while he had had to hitchhike everywhere, so he was very sympathetic to hitchhikers. He drove us right up to the door of Kripalu and we got there in time for dinner. This is a very neat place quite relaxing and chill. I took a shower and had a great night's sleep on one of the most comfortable mattresses it has ever been my privilege to lay upon. This morning I slept in till the late hour of 8 o'clock before going to breakfast, then went for a short walk and laid in a grassy field to read for awhile. It's been a great stay here. Dad's renting a car to drive home and see Mom and Lily, and Sarah, Dave and Sue are driving out here to visit soon. Stuff's good.
August 15 ~ Mt. Wilcox North Lean-to, MA at milepoint 652.1 south, 64 days since start of hike, averaging 10.2 miles per day
Day 64. It was hard leaving Acton at 6 a.m., but I knew Jake would be waiting for me on the Trail. I just had to stop on the Mass Pike though, and take a picture of the pedestrian overpass with the sign "Appalachian Trail." I knew I'd be crossing that bridge in a couple of hours.
I returned the rental car and hitched out to the Trail. I used a new, lightweight, foldup sign reading "Appalachian Trail" that I made in Acton. I think it helps me look more like a harmless hiker and less like a dangerous miscreant, when I hitchhike.
I hiked a mile and a half (including the Mass Pike overpass) to my rendezvous point with Jake at Upper Goose Pond. There's an AMC-maintained cabin at the Pond, where Jake spent the night, and he was waiting for me on the porch. The cabin, by the way, is known on the Trail for it's canoes (free) and pancakes (donation requested).
As we began our hiking for the day, I immediately fell behind and soon was way behind. I found myself watching my step very carefully. Why? Because when I hiked the previous 20 miles, I tried to keep up with Jake, and I turned my ankles, twice. The first twist of the ankle was so painful that I was sure I had sprained it. This was precisely what I feared might end my hike, and I yelled a few choice words that would have gotten me in plenty of trouble at home. I struggled to get back on my feet and found that I could still walk, slowly. Later that day I was able to get back to a normal pace, and then I turned the same ankle again. More choice words! When I reached Kripalu Yoga Center that evening I put ice on the ankle and that probably helped.
But today, with my ankle still a little tender, I took it slow. I gave every rock and root a suspicious look as I planted my foot and managed to finish the day without a spill.
The Trail is starting to dry out a bit. It's still quite muddy in places, but today was the first day without rain in ages. I dried out and waxed my boots in Acton and felt ready for anything, but was just as happy to keep them mostly out of the swamps today.
Jake found a wonderful spot on high ground for lunch. Near the top of a hill, next to several tall blueberry bushes, we dropped our gear. Again, we were able to fold some fresh blueberries into our PB&J. The sun even came out briefly, though not enough to spoil us.
We crossed several fields this afternoon on our way to the shelter. And, for the first time, we shared the Trail with some cows, who seemed completely uninterested in us. We, of course, were watching our footing - their pasture is studded with "cow pies."
At the shelter, Jake and I were the only inhabitants, if you don't count the mosquitoes. There were several thousand of them. Jake put on his mosquito helmet and climbed into his sleeping bag. The lean-to was large, so I set up my tent inside it - no bugs, no mice, and the tent will dry out a bit. We were advised to hang our boots, just as we always hang our food, because of the porcupines in the area. They love to chew on anything salty.
The sound of the stream in front of the shelter kept us company through the evening and made it easy to sleep - a little night music.
Yesterday I had a great time hanging out with Sarah, Dave and Sue. I hadn't realized how much I had missed my friends out here. We took Dad to the car rental place so he could get a car to drive home, then went back to Lenox. The four of us were all very indecisive and we wandered around aimlessly for quite awhile deciding where to eat. Finally we decided Chinese food would be good. So Dave went and asked the town librarian for directions to a good Chinese restaurant. I had deepfried portabello mushrooms in a tangerine sauce, which was stupendous. We then returned to the center of Lenox to consume ice cream at Bev's and check out this neat little Judaica shop that Sarah knew. From there we went to the healthfood store so I could get some Genisoy bars and some Pemmican, a food Dave had suggested would be good for the trail (Indeed it was). Then we went to explore Sarah's old stomping ground at the Tanglewood summer program, and saw many architectural oddities in the midst of a beautifully landscaped lawn, slowly falling into ruin. There were balconies to nowhere, a pool with trees growing though it, and a fountain which actually made quite a bit if sense right where it was. We wandered around the grounds for awhile, happily idling the day away and admiring the wildlife which, after many days of rain, consisted largely of slugs. Sue discovered a remarkably lively one on one of the balconies, which we watched for a little while. It was smaller than an ant, but was moving quite rapidly. I've never seen a slug move so fast. After that my friends drove me back to the trailhead and said goodbye. It was hard leaving them, especially as Sarah had asked to try on my pack and was rather reluctant to give it back. I was sad to see them go, but we had a good time and I'll get to see tham again in just three and a half months!
The hike to Upper Goose Pond cabin was short, although it got dark and I had to hike by flashlight. When I got to the cabin, the caretaker and his family were sitting around the fireplace chatting. I said hello and went to bed rather soon.
August 16 ~ South Egremont Rd, MA at milepoint 667.4 south, 65 days since start of hike, averaging 10.3 miles per day
Day 65. Jake and I planned to rise at 6 and leave the shelter by 7 a.m. Since I have a watch and Jake doesn't, I am usually the one to announce that it's time to get up. I don't mind - I wake up every hour or two at night on the Trail, probably because of the thin sleeping mat and lumpy sack that passes for a pillow. This morning, however, when I called out the 6 a.m. alarm, thunder was rumbling in the distance and rain was beginning to fall. "Jake, do you want to get up or wait out the storm?", I asked. "Let's wait it out", he said. I needed no persuading, as lightning crackled nearby.
Rain can make even the darkest, dankest shelter feel cozy. So, I enjoyed having the excuse to stay curled up in my sleeping bag until 9, when the rain tapered off.
The hiking was easy today. We crossed a couple of peaks that are called mountains on the map - but how seriously can you take a summit at 1,800 feet (East Mountain) or even 2,100 feet (Mt. Wilcox), after hiking through Maine and New Hampshire. The path was well maintained, and I set a record: two consecutive days without a fall! (I knock on wood as I say it.) We also had a good deal of sun today, after the morning rain blew by. I hung out my wet clothes on my pack and for the first time in recent memory, they actually dried out.
We made 15 miles worth of headway today. We were hoping for 19 but two things slowed us down a bit. First, we've been passing more and more berry bushes. I should probably put a bumper sticker on my backpack that reads, "Caution: This Hiker Makes Sudden Stops for Blueberries.” Growing side-by-side with the blueberries are a close relative: huckleberries. They taste a little bitter but in combination with a few blueberries, they are quite good.
The second thing that slowed us down was a sign reading, "Hikers: Food, Lodging - .1 mile" on a tree at a road crossing. We followed the sign to a large, rustic resort complex called Seven Stones, which had just opened this summer. With numerous cabins, a small lake, tennis courts, and a large dining hall, there was room for a medium-size law firm retreat or a mega-family reunion. But we were the only ones there. For a modest price we ate a buffet lunch with the staff, all of whom come from England for the summer on an exchange program. The food was good and chatting with the chef was fun – he sometimes cooks for 400.
We eventually made it to South Egremont Road, our goal for the evening, and set up our tents in a field of tall grass. A full moon lit up the field and cast mysterious shadows on the walls of our tents.
Yesterday was great. The sun was out nearly all day, my boots stayed dry, and the trail was easy. For awhile we walked around the edge of Upper Goose Pond, which was very pretty. The trail in that section was flat, padded with pine needles, and relatively free of roots, which made for very easy walking. By a happy coincidence, right before I stopped for lunch, I ran into a local out picking blueberries with his dog. He pointed out a very nice bush right near the trail, so I picked blueberries and waited for Dad. We had a nice lunch there with blueberries, and I moved on while Dad stayed and picked more.
I met a couple of nice folks named Pippi and Snowman, and talked with them for quite awhile. Pippi told me about this thru-hikers t-shirt she had picked up in Damascus. It had answers to the questions thru-hikers are most commonly asked like: 1. Mac n' Cheese 2. About 15 miles 3. Yes, I've seen bears Etc. It sounded both amusing and functional. Unfortunately, with those questions out of the way, I would not know what to talk about with people I meet in towns.
After meeting them, I went through a long swampy section with lots of boardwalks. It was really, really beautiful. All the flowers were blooming so the air smelled great, and the vegetation was low so I had a clear view of the mountains in front and behind me. Also the boardwalks were fun because they wiggled back and forth as I walked, and it felt like I was walking on Jello.
We arrived at Mt. Wilcox North Shelter fairly early and had it to ourselves all night. Around 7 o'clock we were surprised by a couple of mountain bikes and their riders. Even so, it was a rather unusual sight. Bikes are disallowed on the AT itself, but the shelter was on a side trail at a good distance. Also last night I got to re-waterproof my boots since Dad had brought the stuff from home.
Today we've had more or less great weather. This morning it rained heavily and there was thunder and lightning so we just slept in. Rather, I slept in and Dad sat around reading and writing and generally being productive in his tent. He had set up his tent inside the shelter to escape the bugs and critters. Did I mention all the critters, I heard scurrying around last night? I think that I did not. In any case, there were a great number of small critters scurrying around the shelter last night. Fortunately, they did not get any of our food. This morning we left around 9:30 and had a delightful hike. Close to noon we stopped at a place called "The Seven Stones" to have lunch. This place is a sort of resort/retreat center, but they're very hiker-friendly. We had a fantastic buffet-style lunch with the manager and the kitchen crew. Evidently they had recently been host to the musicians and crews from the Berkshire Music Festival, but everyone had left so there were not many guests.
The kitchen crew was delightful to talk to, especially the head chef. They were all from a British culinary school – the students were on a foreign exchange program, and the chef was their instructor. The lunch was great – various types of bread for sandwiches, with lettuce, tomatoes, and sliced pickles. There were some lunch meats and tuna fish also, but that didn't much interest us. Then there was egg salad, rice and beans, hard-boiled eggs, and a chocolate cake for dessert. It was very relaxing, eating lunch on this huge airy porch with perfectly mowed lawns all around. We had a hard time leaving that place. On the way out, there was a soccer ball and a miniature net, so we kicked the ball around a bit. After that, it was more hiking, although there were some nice views. Also, I was struck by how much the character of the trail has changed since the Whites. It now feels more like a stroll in the woods than a trudge through the forest. The trees are farther apart, the trail is less heavily used so it is not in such a deep rut as it is elsewhere, and overall the trail is gentler. We are also closer to civilization, although it is of a very rural character. Today there was a section where we walked through a lot of cornfields and along the banks of the Housatonic River that was very beautiful. I find I almost like this kind of quiet beauty more than the grandeur and majesty we observe from mountaintops. Tonight we are camped in an unused corner of a farmers field. The mosquitoes are bad, but there are none in my tent, so I am happy.
August 17 ~ Riga Lean-to, CT at milepoint 683.6 south, 66 days since start of hike, averaging 10.4 miles per day
Day 66. As we packed up our tents this morning, slugs were clinging to the ground cloth (a piece of Tyvek) and the bottom of the tent. I hate slugs, but sleeping out in a field with the full moon still hanging in the sky at dawn is wonderful. A slug-fest on your tent is, evidently, the price of admission.
The first order of business this morning was finding a cafe where my good friend Daniel says they serve the best pancakes he ever had. My befuddled memory of Daniel's description of the place put it on Route 41 – but was it east or west on 41? Naturally, I picked the wrong direction. So it took us an hour to reach the cafe. It was worth the trip. The cafe was quaint, with antique bric-a-brac on the shelves and a sign over the mantle: “Ill-mannered children will be poached and fed to the bears.”
Back on the trail, we passed a monument to Shay's Rebellion – a stone marker at the scene of the last battle. I wracked my brain for the details of what happened – I think we were taught in grade school that these rebels of the late 1780's had taken things just a little too far.
The weather was beautiful today, and that made our 17 miles of hiking feel almost easy. I say “almost” because the terrain was steep and rocky much of the time. It was a bit like Maine, in fact, as we climbed Mt. Everett, Race Mountain, and then Bear Mountain, the highest peak in Connecticut. It was exciting to cross another state line, but there’s not much to see from the top of Bear Mountain. The highest peak in Connecticut is not very high (2,316 feet).
As we crossed a series of rock ledges with sensational views over the Housatonic Valley farms and fields, we saw quite a few northbounders basking in the sun. Everyone smiled today.
Of course we all know how much weather can affect our feelings. For me, living outdoors accentuates those feelings and deeply colors everything I experience. I will always remember crossing this ridge as a wonderful experience because there was always at least a patch of blue in the sky today, and it's been a while since I could say that.
We have been seeing new mixtures of plants in recent days. Mountain laurel and oak trees are more abundant. The bunch-berries and clintonia are just about gone. And the rain has brought forth a gazillion different kinds of mushrooms. I never realized how many different shapes, sizes and colors of mushrooms there were. We’ve seen purple ones, orange ones, and a lot of reds and pinks. Some of them crop up overnight in the middle of the Trail, only to have their heads lopped off by the first hiker to pass by. Today I saw a colony of tiny orange mushrooms standing around a rock, like little aliens guarding the mothership.
Several northbounders recommended that we stay at the Riga Lean-to and we took their advice. The shelter faces due east, and so we got to watch a hauntingly beautiful moon-rise, with a bright orange moon hanging over the valley. Once again, Jake and I have the shelter to ourselves, but we're glad that a church youth group, camping nearby, has stopped by our shelter to enjoy this sight with us.
Morning – Gaslight Cafe
A friend of Dad's told him that there was a place in South Egremont that served the best pancakes he'd ever had, so when we hit Rt. 41 early this morning, we set off to find it. Unfortunately, Dad did not know the name of the place or which direction it was in, so we wound up walking the wrong way for a while. Eventually, we found a farmer out in his field and asked him. He said we were probably looking for a place called the Gaslight, and gave us directions. We started hitching in the right direction, and soon got a ride. The pancakes were good, though rather small.
Nighttime – Riga Lean-to
Another beautiful day of hiking. I’m getting spoiled here. Met a bunch of people today – there was an older fellow we passed early on who was feeling discouraged and ready to quit. We did what we could to encourage him, but he was rather determined to be miserable. On top of Everett Mtn. There was a firetower, which everyone said we should climb. Unfortunately the bottommost flight of stairs was missing. I started to climb up the support structure but when I got partway up and looked down at the hard ground, I thought better of it. After lunch I was reading a little when a braver soul than I came along and determined to climb it. I offered to take a picture of him as he climbed and pass his camera up to him on a rope. I did this, and it was fun. A little ways down the trail I met a fellow named Philosopher who hiked in a skirt. He also carried a guitar: a real one, not one of the downsized hiking guitars we sometimes see.
We stopped at this shelter even though we had intended to go farther because some NoBos recommended it to us very highly, saying the view was not to be missed. This was accurate. There was an interesting entry in the register from Mr. Clean, though: “Trees were cut down to bring us this view. Now it's a revegetation area? Hmm…”
August 18 ~ Pine Swamp Brook Lean-to, CT at milepoint 703.4 south, 67 days since start of hike, averaging 10.5 miles per day
Day 67. With its open side facing the east, the Riga Lean-to was an easy place to watch the sun rise. And the sun gave us a lovely show this morning – bands of crimson and orange slowly illuminating the broad valley, where furrows of clouds lay in the low spots like long billowy sleeping bags.
I popped out of my sleeping bag early – around 5 a.m. or so – because I had a morning errand that I wanted to do. The tips of my boots were starting to come apart, and the thru-hikers handbook said I could find a cobbler in Salisbury, CT, or nearby Lakeville. With more rain predicted, I wanted to batten down the hatches on my boots, and it was worth making a side trip to do it. I left Jake a note confirming the place we had discussed as a lunch-time rendez-vous, and was on the Trail by 6 a.m. The Trail is delightfully peaceful at that hour.
I had phenomenal luck hitching. I got a ride all the way to Lakeville. I found my way to Aunt Em’s Restaurant, which specializes in breakfasts and has some extraordinary home-made peach jam. I ordered an extra bagel just to have an excuse to eat more of it. I had no luck at all finding the cobbler, Dave Brown. His business, The Leather Shop, left town when the building he rented was taken down. Some local folks remembered he has been working out of his house in Salisbury, and one of them drove me there, but Dave was out of town for a couple of days.
So I returned to the Trail un-cobbled and thought about solutions to my boot problem. All of them seemed to involve duct tape.
I was listening to some music on my Walkman when I came upon a good spot for berry picking on the Trail. I used to feel a little guilty about listening to my Walkman while I hiked. In fact, I used to be rather judgmental about hikers with radios. Don’t they want to hear the sounds of the woods? Don’t they want to commune with nature? For me 45 days of communing with nature was just about enough, and that’s when I strapped on my Walkman. By the way, anyone who thinks that listening to music detracts from their hiking experience probably hasn’t picked raspberries while listening to the Brandenburg Concertos on the edge of a sun-drenched field. This was one of my best moments on the Trail to date.
The rest of the day went slowly downhill, however. The terrain was relatively easy, but I have developed lower back pain. I have no idea where it came from, but this was my second day of it and it was getting worse. I tried resting. I tried adjusting my pack. Nothing helped – it’s probably time to try some drugs.
Then the mosquitoes arrived – or, more accurately, I reached them. I knew I was in trouble when I passed a northbound thru-hiker wearing one of those bizarre-looking head-nets. I slapped on some Deet, but I still needed to be vigilant every time I stopped to rest.
The terrain was so easy in places today that the Connecticut chapter of the AMC had constructed a wheel chair accessible loop of trail. It runs along the edge of the Housatonic River in Falls Village, and it’s a wonderful addition to the Trail.
I was relieved to finally reach our shelter for the night – 20 miles from where we started. Jake, of course, was already here. So were the mosquitoes, but what would you expect from a place called Pine Swamp Brook?
We are sharing the lean-to with three northbounders - a fellow named Screamer (even when he tries to talk in normal tones, he’s loud), and two construction workers from Philadelphia. The latter refuse to use trail names – they said that only people avoiding arrest or child support obligations would use fake names. I usually enjoy our fellow hikers, but all three of these guys left me feeling a little unsettled. Well, at least they don’t snore.
So that’s the news for today from the land of roots and rocks, berries and Bach, persistent skeeters and strange hikers.
August 19 ~ Stewart Hollow Brook Lean-to at milepoint 713.4 south, 68 days since start of hike, averaging 10.5 miles per day
Day 68. I heard a rustling noise in the lean-to this morning at about 5 a.m. and assumed it was one of the 3 northbounders getting up early. I turned on my headlamp and saw everyone in their sleeping bags. That meant the noise was a critter. I aimed my light at the ground just beneath the shelter and spotted the very bushy white and black tail of a skunk. It turned to face me, stared directly into the light, and then I looked away, not wanting to get it even a little bit excited. Proactive engagement with a skunk is not the recommended procedure, but doing nothing didn’t seem quite right either. I was relieved when it finally wandered away – I didn’t want to be responsible for getting everyone in the shelter doused with skunk smell. I have to say, though, that the skunk was quite an attractive little beast, with what seemed like a well-groomed, snowy-white and black coat. Big hair must be in with skunks this year.
I left the shelter at 7:30 a.m. with visions of breakfast in Cornwall Bridge dancing in my head. We needed to reach the Post Office by 12:30 to get our mail drop supplies. But a cardboard box full of granola bars, protein bars, and Minute Rice is not enough to lighten the step or gladden the heart. Scrambled eggs with English muffins and homefries – now that’s enough to crank my engines. But not today. My lower back was acting up for a second day in a row. I needed drugs, or a chiropractor, or both. I limped into Cornwall Bridge, a tiny burg consisting of a General Store, Post Office, and not much else, and looked for Tylenol.
Jake and I set up shop at a picnic table outside the General Store, where we bought eggs, bread, cheese, a stick of butter, a tomato, a big bottle of Tylenol, and some Ben & Jerry’s. We cooked up everything but the ice cream and the medicine into lunch, and re-loaded our packs with our mail drop supplies. The local package store provides free beverages for any thru-hiker who signs the Trail register there, so we stopped in. It was there that I learned the story of the town’s bridge – an old covered bridge that’s now gone, replaced by a modern structure. Apparently a rising tide of ice in the river lifted it off its abutments many winters ago and when the ice thawed a bit, the whole structure floated downstream to the next town, where the momentum of the floating bridge wiped out that town’s bridge. That left both towns without their picturesque covered bridges – not Cornwall’s proudest moment but apparently one of its more memorable ones.
One of the most interesting sights today was the AMC trail construction crew we met just outside Cornwall Bridge. A group of five volunteers was moving boulders from the banks of a stream to the stream bed to give us hikers a way to step across. Using canvas straps, a metal cable stretched between two trees, a winch, and several iron pry bars, they moved boulders that probably weighed as much as a small car. We thanked them for their hard, muddy work.
We also saw two upsetting things in the Trail register. Actually one of them was a note sitting next to the register. It was from two northbound thru-hikers, Grumpy and Snow White. It was apparently a letter sent to some hikers: “The day we left Harper’s Ferry we got a message from a hiker to call home. There was a family emergency. We called from the state park… We found out that our son had been killed in a car accident… We are not sure if we will be able to get back on the Trail this year or not. We are going to try.” I was amazed that they would take the trouble to write to other hikers about this, but it speaks volumes about the sense of family that people feel on the Trail.
There was also a register entry from a northbounder named Roar. She wrote: “ Attention Female Southbounders! Beware of the creepy old man in Kent, CT, named Bob who says he has a hostel just for girl hikers at his house. He sits by the Trail waiting to pick girls up.” So, there are human, as well as animal, predators out here.
Jake and I also had our doubts about two of the hikers who shared the shelter with us last night. They were smoking pot in the shelter (a rare occurrence out here), and we even wondered if they were actually thru-hikers or drug dealers.
The trail may be a fairly safe place compared to, say, downtown Boston, but the craziness and dangers of the outside world find their way into this insular world as well. The difference is that I have come to expect more of people out here.
3:00 – Baird’s General Store, Cornwall Bridge
Never got around to writing yesterday, so here’s what happened: Dad rose earlier than I to go into Salisbury and find a cobbler to fix his boots. He woke me at 6 when he left, I planning to get up then about and get moving by 7. Unfortunately I fell asleep again and when I woke up I had no idea what time it was, other than that it was around 7 or 8. I got up and out of bed and was probably on the road within an hour or so. I was very hungry, even after breakfast, so I ate 2 Genisoy bars pretty early on. After that, I was just cruising. I had no watch, so I couldn’t tell how fast I was going, but the miles flew by like they were hardly there. Soon I got to Limestone Spring Shelter, where I had agreed to meet Dad after he had finished in Salisbury. Due to the delay in the morning, I did not know whether he was ahead of me or behind me, so I dropped my pack and went down the side trail to the shelter, even though it was .5 mi. off the trail, and steep at that. I should have realized that, had he arrived there to find me absent, he would have returned up the trail. Anyways, the blue-blaze to the shelter was long but pretty. Evidently the AT used to run that way because many of the blue blazes were painted on top of white ones. I actually missed the shelter, and the trail continued for a little while until it came to a dirt road. I turned around there, and successfully spotted the shelter on my way back. Unsurprisingly it was empty, so I returned to the junction with the AT, where I had left my pack. There I sat and read for a while. While I read I heard scampering and rustling amongst the treetops, then little thumps nearer the ground. I looked up to see squirrels running around dislodging acorns from the trees and dropping them on the ground. I was much relieved when the one harvesting from my tree moved on to another one, as the trees were close to 30 feet high and any one of those acorns might have made an incurable dent in my head.
Dad finally showed up, maybe an hour after I had originally arrived. He had had no luck with the cobbler, but he brought a bagel with lettuce, tomato, and cheese, which I ate with relish (but without relish – that would have been gross). After a short lunch we moved out, and I was still moving pretty fast, although there was one section where I thought a road I came to was Rt. 7, placing me 5 miles from my goal, but after awhile I came to another road, which I figured must be the real Rt. 7, and so on. In this manner, I mentally stood still for some time. After that it was smooth sailing for awhile.
When I stopped for water another thru-hiker came by and offered me a bite-sized snickers bar because he was carrying too many. That was a nice bit of magic. A little later I came to an open spot where I had a view of a racetrack. I watched the cars for awhile but couldn’t figure out whether they were racing or just practicing. When I got to the shelter there were two guys there already – Kurt and Dwayne. I was surprised to hear from them it was only 4:30. Kurt and Dwayne were real characters. Dwayne was a real jerk, but Kurt seemed nice enough. They claimed to have started in May and be thru-hiking. I say claimed because I got an inkling rather early on that they weren’t actually thru-hiking. I think the idea first struck my mind because Dwayne was so disdainful and rude, a stark contrast from other thru-hikers I’ve met, but it was borne out by many smaller clues which I won’t bother to recount here, as it would take too long and would not make interesting reading years from now. It was probably my least pleasant shelter experience though, because I disliked Dwayne so much. At least I won’t have to share another shelter with him.
This morning was a short hike into Cornwall Bridge for a maildrop and town food. We ran into Dan, Old Man Sam, Mr. Pink, and Mr. White here. It was good to see Dan again. Old Man Sam, Mr. Pink, Mr. White were new acquaintances but seemed quite cool. Lunch was scrambled eggs on bread with cheese. It was tasty. Between the two of us we ate a dozen eggs, 10 slices of Swiss, a loaf of bread and nearly a stick of butter. Now for some ice cream!
After dark – Stewart Hollow Lean-to
The ice-cream was good. We split a pint of B&J’s “Everything But the…”, then I had a pint of Hershey’s Neapolitan, which was not nearly as good or as expensive. It was a very easy 4 miles to this shelter (we didn’t have to hike the .9 back to the trail because we got a hitch from a guy in a pickup truck taking his son out for an overnight. They were looking for a different trailhead – later I ran into them again just after they had parked their truck and were getting on the trail shortly after where they had dropped us off). We were right alongside the Housatonic River for a long time, and I saw an interesting thing: there was a loud splash and I looked over to see a big plume of water go up and a white bird flying away. My first thought was that I had startled the bird and it had dropped a fish into the river. That didn’t make sense, as I was far away on the other side of the river. Then I thought it had a companion which had dived into the water in search of fish. No, the water seemed too shallow for diving. By this time something brown had resurfaced and was swimming down the river. Aha! A beaver had splashed its tail to warn off someone or something on the other side. But a beaver would have no business in such a large river. Finally I stopped and looked closely at the brown thing. It was a branch! My final story is that the bird landed on a rotten branch and it had broken off beneath him so he had taken flight. And I’m sticking to it. I met Dave the ridgerunner for the second time at this lean-to. Also, it turns out another of the ridgerunners, Kenny Hadden, graduated from ABRHS (Transcriber’s note: Acton Boxborough Regional High School) this year. I would never had realized, but his sister Julia left the register for this site, and it has her address in it. When I mentioned to Dave that I was from the same town as the leaver of the register, he told me that one of the other ridgerunners was also from Acton. Neat. Too bad I haven't run into Kenny on the trail. I think I might have met him at AB.
August 20 ~ Ten Mile River Lean-to, CT at milepoint 729.1 south, 69 days since start of hike, averaging 10.6 miles per day
Day 69. Jake and I passed two small milestones today: We crossed from CT into NY, and we also completed one third of the miles of our hike. It feels good to complete another state, but the 2/3 that remains unhiked seems like a lot.
I left the shelter early, in order to get a head-start on Jake. I was rewarded by seeing two deer, who seem to be out and about primarily near dawn and dusk. I also got to see lovely clouds of mist hovering over the Housatonic River in the early morning hours.
The first part of the day’s hike was a cakewalk – all flat, along the riverbank. This gave me a chance to take out my song cards and learn the words of another tune. I knew the chorus of “Amazing Grace,” but I wanted to learn the verses too. One stanza stood out:
“Thru many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come Twas grace that brought me safe thus far And grace will lead me home.”
Fortunately no one heard me singing.
I had company climbing the boulders that lead to Caleb’s Peak – one of the high points on the Trail today. A mother-daughter day hiking team was going up just as I was – in fact, they gave me a ride to the trailhead in their car when I overshot the trail turn-off. The daughter had just returned from two weeks of hiking in Nepal, and it was fascinating to hear how different the challenges and sights are for hikers in that part of the world. Her mother took a picture of me when we reached the peak and kindly offered to mail it to my wife. Their chocolate Labrador puppy enjoyed the hike more than any of us – she scrambled over the rocks and through the woods in a state of ecstasy.
One of the last things I saw before descending the ridge into Kent, CT, where Jake and I planned to rendez-vous, left me shaken. It was a rock cairn – a memorial for a northbound thru-hiker who died four days ago, apparently from heart failure. The cairn was built on the rock ledge where he died, overlooking the woods along the Housatonic. The hiker’s trailname was “Crash 1960.” He was 40 years old but I haven’t been able to find out how he got his name. Another thru-hiker wrote the following and left it in a ziplock bag next to the cairn: “In loving memory of Crash 1960, fellow thru-hiker who took his last breaths of life near this spot on a gloriously beautiful day, August 16, 2000. May we all be so fortunate as to pass on in such a beautiful place.” This reminder of our mortality gave the entire day a more serious cast.
Jake and I met in Kent, did a few errands which kept us there ‘til almost 5 p.m. and then hitched a ride back to the Trail. The woman who picked us up warned us about Lyme disease. She lives in Kent and told us that 2/3 of the people in Kent have had the disease, even people with no pets. We are apparently at the epicenter of the epidemic, and so now we are watching carefully for deer ticks. I now have something new to worry about – and every little itch becomes a cause of concern. The ticks evidently favor armpits and other warm body crevices, including places that are hard to see without a mirror. I slathered on some insect repellant before we went back onto the Trail.
The last leg of our hike this evening went fast, because we had to really hoof it. We needed to cover 8.7 miles to the shelter, and so we practically ran some of the easier sections in order to reduce the amount of night hiking we would have to do. We did pause, however, to read a sign posted by the Schagticoke Indians. The Trail passes through their tribal lands, but they have not yet been recognized by the federal government. They got a flurry of publicity for their cause when they planned to close this section of the AT to hikers on July 4th. At the last minute they decided not to. But their sign makes the point: “ Welcome to Schagticoke Tribal Nation’s Reservation. Visitors have passed through our lands for generations. In recent years, an area known as the Appalachian Trail, which cuts through our land, has been abused by a handful of inconsiderate hikers. Please help us keep Mother Earth and our Reservation clean and take with you all refuse you bring on our mountain home.” The sign concluded with a dire warning about rattlesnakes in the area – known to be plentiful this time of year. There are only about 100-150 Schagticoke Indians, but I applaud their tenacity.
We arrived at this campsite just after dark. And we had a surprise for our fellow hikers: a two-pound package of cookies – the same kind that a hiker named Montana had brought to share with us at a shelter last night. They went fast. It felt good to be passing along a little bit of Trail magic.
This morning I was drifting in and out of sleep when Dad came over and said “I’ m going to get going. See you in Kent.” So I slept in again and enjoyed it greatly. I wound up hiking into Kent with Dan (who is now evidently called Sweatbox), Old Man Sam, and the Reservoir Dogs. Along the way I met a mother and daughter out for a short day hike with their dog Bessie. They were named Nancy and Nan, respectively. They were very friendly and had been talking to Dad. They took a few pictures, which they said they’d send to Mom, and told me they’d be checking Trail place. Hello if you are reading this, hope you’re both doing well!! They were very nice.
We weren’t able to hitch into Kent, so we walked about .9 miles into town. I found Dad at the Villager restaurant, but decided to go for pizza instead. I had a large, which I just barely finished. Then I talked to a local man with his son and his dog about dogs and Lego’s and K’nex and hiking and seeing the Magna Carta and Giardia and Lyme Disease for a good half hour or so. Then I went to the outfitters, then to IGA’s where I bought a 2-liter of soda, a can of cold Diet Coke for Dad, and a 2 lb. package of off-brand Oreo’s which I hiked up to this site (10 mile Brook Shelter (or rather the campsite thereof)) for dessert. We had a long 8.7 miles ahead of us when we got back on the trail at 5:15, but we made it before dark fully fell. Dad insisted on pulling out his headlamp and Photon long before it could properly be considered “dark”.
When we got here Dave and the Reservoir Dogs were here but Sweatbox and O.M. Sam were nowhere to be found. S.B. was still in town when we left, but OMS left before us. We shared the cookies with all and made short work of them. We’re tenting it because the NoBos in the shelter were asleep and because the SoBos were down here.
Last modified Thursday July 25, 2002