We are really enjoying our several days off in the Ludlow ski resort area. The weather has been so cool and the sun shining during the day while we are running our resupply errands. The only tricky part is that town is at the base of the hill and we are not! More climbing practice for New Hampshire. I will be back with updates when we get back on Trail in Wednesday but until then I hope you like these two short videos.
Stratton Pond is a really special place. It is a peaceful large mountain pond that can only be reached on foot. It is remote, quiet and cold. A perfect place to recharge after a long hot day of hiking. We started off a little earlier than usual and we had a big climb up and over Stratton Mountain. We climbed the fire tower at the top and the views were incredible on such a clear bright day.
After descending off of the mountain we stopped for a nice long swim at Stratton Pond. The water was 70 degrees at the surface and it felt so good especially on my feet and sore calf muscles. The best part about it is that we got a break from the relentless black fly invasion. As soon as I got out though, those guys were waiting on me and I made quick work of getting my back organized and headed back down the Trail.
We’ve covered over 80 miles in the last few days and apart from being hungrier than usual I feel pretty good. I’ve never done anything for such an extended period of time like this and it’s interesting to watch how my body is adapting. I thought I would reach some sort of plateau but I still think my legs and feet and getting stronger each day. We are going to be taking a few days off starting Sunday and I think that will be perfect timing before we hit New Hampshire.
We passed a lot of beaver bogs today and this one had a huge beaver den built right in the center. I am always on the look out for a beaver sighting but I haven’t spotted one yet. The cute orange newts are back. I saw several today and it has been a blast to track them all along the Appalachian ridge line.
Just as soon as I stepped over the state line, Vermont lived up to its nickname – Vermud. I found myself at the edge of a muddy part of the Trail that was full of frogs. As I was trying to snap a picture, I lost my balance and had to catch myself by stepping my right foot into a foot deep section of the dark mud. I was stuck in way deep and couldn’t get my shoe out without backing my foot out. As I was trying to maneuver that, I almost tipped backwards and just barely kept from falling by grabbing a tree limb. Now, I was cracking up. I sloshed around in my sock foot and rescued my shoe.
It took a good while to get myself sorted out and I continued down the hill enjoying the forest service road part of the Trail. After a few minutes, I realized that I had gotten off course a while back and didn’t see any white blazes around. I turned around and headed back up the hill to discover that the Trail cut off to the east. That’s right – just before the big mud pit that tried to eat me. All that drama and I wasn’t even on the dang Trail.
It was that kind of day. I picked a nice spot next to a beaver dam for lunch and dumped everything out of my backpack to settle in for a long lunch and a cup of PG Tips tea. As soon as was settled in I was swarmed by black flies. These guys are way worse than mosquitoes and they leave tiny red welts everywhere they bite. I grabbed everything and held it in my arms and went stumbling out of there as quickly as I could and had to go a pretty good ways down the Trail before they let me eat in peace.
The rest is the day was much better. I got to retrace some steps on part of the Trail that I’ve hiked before. I took a long weekend and flew up here to Bennington to hike this section. That was two years ago when I really got serious about wanting to thru hike. I had such a blast on that trip because I got to meet a bunch of thru hikers that really got me excited. I couldn’t see a way back then how this was going to happen but dreamed about it anyway. And here I am. I’m so glad a listened to those hikers and let their funny stories encourage me.
There is a full moon tonight and we are camping right in the border of Massachusetts and Vermont after a much longer day than we expected. We all have the same approach to how we read our AT maps. We follow the line maps only and never ever look at the profile. The profile maps can really get you down if you focus too much on them. I just want to look at distances and the cool spots to check out along the way. So, we had no idea that we had a six mile climb up to Mt. Greylock. I guess the name should have tipped us off that something was up.
The slog up there was totally worth it. The trees turned to huge firs and the wind was coming up the mountain just strong enough to keep the day feeling cool in the sun. On top of the mountain is a huge war memorial but my favorite part was this sweet cabin on this clear pond. It is so peaceful and quiet at this spot and it would be an wonderful place to spend a week or two reading and hiking all of the great trails in this area.
Massachusetts has been such a treat to hike through and I am already missing it. Not to worry because Vermont is on deck next and I know this part of the Trail from some hiking I did out here to get ready for Grand to Grand. It is muddy for sure but the terrain is so special. The Long Trail starts in Vermont and intersects with the AT for a while and was the inspiration for creating the full distance Trail from Georgia to Maine. What an inspiration it is. I can’t wait to share some of my favorite spots.
Low Branch Wins
You may have been placing bets against me but I pulled one out of the hat. All three of my packages were in Dalton when I arrived! It was like Christmas morning. Wait, there is one more for you to open. I had a huge box of food that I had mailed to myself from Delaware Water Gap, new shorts from Chubbies and a new merino wool hiking shirt that Bryan bought for me. The shirt is supposed to be smell proof. We will see about that.
I crashed here in Dalton at a pretty sketchy hotel. Well, the only hotel. I went to Wal-Mart and then got myself reorganized and all my gear cleaned. I love washing out my pack and doing laundry. It makes me feel ready for the next hundred miles of Vermont. Astronaut, NC’Ice and Jellyfish camped about five miles down the Trail and I am going to hike the next few days solo and meet up with them again in Wallingford, Vermont. I’ll miss their company but I think the alone time will be nice too.
I am sitting outside on the sidewalk waiting for my breakfast and for the post office to open. The locals here in Dalton treat thru hikers like celebrities. So many friendly people are stopping to hear about the hike and give recommendations on the town. I love these little trail towns and they love their hikers. The businesses are really missing the normal rush of hikers they would get around this time but I told them they should be getting twice as many next year.
I heard from Jitter yesterday and she is back on Trail! She texted me from Dragon’s Tooth. I’m so glad the is back but I’m too far north to have any chance of hiking with her again. I didn’t have the heart to tell her about Pennsylvania. I am headed out know for a particularly pretty stretch up to the Vermont border. Massachusetts has been wonderful and looking forward to the beautiful but muddy section through Vermont.
During the hike today, I was reminiscing about all of the trail magic that we had in the southern states and thought we wouldn’t see that again before we finish. Right on cue, a gentleman came walking southbound on the Trail and asked me whether I was a thru hiker. Here was our sweet trail magic again!
This is Spineless Cougar and he drives over from Albany, New York to help out hikers. I used to be so polite and demure at these magic spots but I have changed over the last 1,000 miles into Mr. Bungle. Mr. Bungle is the villain in the 1950s educational filmstrip about lunchroom manners reintroduced on the Pee Wee’s Playhouse series. Check it out for yourself here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9nml8ddJpg
When I stumbled out of the woods and met Spineless I was a lot more demanding. I downed a Coke and Gatorade and then asked if I could take more to go. I asked him to take my trash and ate half of his cookies. Mind if I pee next to your car? No small talk for this guy. I had 14 more miles to go and grabbed my goodies and headed back to the Trail. It was so sweet of him to do this and it is really appreciated. I’ve just become a little more “food aggressive” as the miles pile up.
The hike today was perfect. The temperatures stayed in the low 60s and we had sunshine all day. I took a really long lunch break near Knee Deep Pond and picked several ticks off of me. It is getting that time of the year and I am being more careful to use Picaridin wipes and make sure I don’t have them on me for long. I also ran into a botanist from the National Science Foundation. She was out collecting samples in this part of the valley that she says has never been logged. It was so interesting to talk to her about all of the plants she is studying. I could have talked with her all day.
Tomorrow is an easy day into Dalton, Massachusetts to pick up all (yes ALL) three of my packages that have been spinning around in the postal service system over the last few weeks. It will be great to have a new hiking outfit and a fresh supply of Outdoor Herbivore to carry me through Vermont.
The Deli Problem
Ever since we hit our first deli in New Jersey we started to develop a bad habit of going into town for lunch even when it isn’t convenient. Isn’t that the definition of an addiction? Repeating a behavior that isn’t good for you even when you know it isn’t good for you. Today was low point and we need help! We were dead set on going into Great Barrington today for lunch but town was miles away.
We found a great bagel deli and sat outside in the grass and ate our sandwiches in the cool breeze. After the cold front came through last night, today was clear, cool and windy. The wind kept the mosquitoes and gnats down and the cooler temps made for ideal hiking weather. We are in the Berkshire mountain range for the next few days and it is so beautiful right now. The Trail is dotted with clear ponds and tiny gorges filled with swimming holes. Western Massachusetts is in a close second place to Virginia as my favorite part of then Trail.
We also saw Pancho today! He was up here over the weekend helping out some of our hiker friends. He has stayed really busy this year all up and down the Trail helping people resupply. I am trying to talk him into making this a full time gig. He needs to clean out the van and take out that huge pair of subwoofers that take up most of the van space. If he gets a little more organized, he could really do well at next season. He is great at what he does and now there are thru hikers asking for the “Pancho Experience.” Most of that entails digging through the piles of stuff in one of his many boxes and bags of hiker food and gear scattered all over the back of the van. The other (and best) part is listening to Pancho retell all of the thru hiker gossip. He knows where everyone is, who is dating and who is injured and he loves to hear what we’ve heard on the Trail. I can’t imagine what he will do next year with a normally crowded community of 4,000 hikers.
Connecticut in a Flash
It seems like just yesterday that we entered the beautiful state of Connecticut and she is already behind us. I woke to a light rain coming down on the tent and it ended just before I needed to get up and on the Trail. Our first stop was just six miles out of town in the picture perfect town of Falls River for breakfast at the Toymakers Cafe.
I ordered the peanut butter cup waffles and they were amazing. I don’t think I could have eaten all of this off Trail but it went down quickly being no match for the hiker hunger. The hike out of Falls River was gorgeous and the Trail was lined with tall purple wildflowers that created a colorful tunnel.
The Trail crosses several large fields up over steep Bear Mountain. On the other side of Bear Mountain, I walked into Salisbury to finally retrieve my sleeping pad that I had sent home. It had arrived at the post office in Kent (thank you Bryan!) a day after I left. Bryan called the post office to have it forwarded along to Massachusetts. Instead, a sweet postal employee offered to leave it in her front yard in Salisbury for me to pick up. It was such a kind gesture and got me back to comfortable sleep a few days early.
About nine miles out of Salisbury we stopped at a famous swimming hole with unbelievably ice cold water. It felt so good but I could only stand it for a few minutes. Fortunately, that is all it took for my legs and feet to feel better. Cold water does the trick every time. Then we passed across then border into Massachusetts – my tenth state. I can’t believe that I’ve covered 1,500 miles in just three months.
Our final climb of the day was really steep but the views were worth it. It was so clear that we could see the Catskills off to the west. We didn’t stay at the top too long though because a big storm was moving in and we had to run down the mountain to get to our campsite before the winds and rain started. We made it in time and ate dinner quickly and got tucked into our sleeping bags. It’s going to be a cold night but tomorrow’s weather is supposed to be ideal for hiking.
Your Name In Sticks
You know something good has happened when you see your name in sticks! Way better than lights and so very carbon neutral. My dear friend Betty found out today that her multiple myeloma is in full remission! She battled hard with a full round of chemotherapy and then stem cell replacement and she is finally on the other side. I was so relieved and the tears of joy just came pouring out. I had a wonderful cry and felt so happy for Betty and overwhelmed with how strong she has been through everything. You know Betty – never missed a beat. She juggled all of these complicated procedures, was a wonderful wife and friend, worked full time, exercised and kept a positive attitude throughout. I just shake my head when I think about everything she has been through and on top of all that during a global pandemic. So proud of you Betty and I can’t wait to celebrate with you in person. In the meantime, you’ll have to party the virtual way and laugh at my silly jump selfie. I know how much you like these.
Betty’s wonderful news really helped balance me out today. The events over the last few days have been shocking and I was so thankful for the diversion. I woke up early and grabbed a great coffee at the fancy pastry shop in Kent and then hit the Trail with a pretty steep climb out of town. It was so lush and green today and the birds were all enjoying the warm weather. This picture is from a beautiful and flat 4 mile section along the river and it was a great break from the rest of the day filled with pretty technical and steep climbs on wet rocks.
We are camping pretty remotely today and the owls are already out and making a ruckus. Sometimes I think they are just showing off to the crazy humans hiding in their tents. This is definitely bear country too and Astronaut saw two baby cubs in a tree just outside our camp. That means mom is somewhere close so I am happy that they have a bear box here. I will leave you with a great shot of a wild lady slipper orchid that I found this afternoon.
The Accidental Zero
Yesterday was a long day and when I got into Kent, Connecticut I decided I was going to take a zero. If they would have me. The AT intersects with Kent right outside a beautiful private high school that looks like a college campus complete with an ice skating rink. The Kent School is one of the top schools in the country with an annual tuition price tag that exceeded my entire educational costs. The town itself looks like a Disney version of a quaint country town. Well, one that is washed down in cash every day. The Main Street is lined with fancy bakeries, hip restaurants and public sculptures. Thru hikers are NOT their target market and we stumbled on that pretty quickly.
As soon as I got into town I went straight to the laundromat. It was open but no one else was there so I thought it would be okay to drop my shorts and throw those into the washing machine and then change into my pants. It was not okay. A woman came out of the side office and said “Hey, you aren’t in the woods anymore and you are on camera.” I was humiliated and apologized profusely. It amazing even to me how quickly we forget how things are supposed to work in the real world. She just laughed and said “Don’t worry about it. You aren’t the first one to do that. Today.”
Astronaut, Jellyfish and NC’Ice got it a few hours later and it was after dark. They had hiked into town and found all the restaurants closed and didn’t want to hike all the way back up the Trail to the nearest shelter so they set up their tents on a lush ball ground. It looked like a park but it turns out it was smack dab in the middle of the fancy prep school property. The security guard was very polite about the whole thing the next morning and they got a good night’s rest. We are getting the feeling that we might not be a good fit for Kent.
I was settling into my zero rest day very nicely and it must have looked pretty sweet to those three because they never made it out of town. Their plans kept changing from 16 miles, then 12 and finally they conceded that they were going to spend the night here and we’ll get back on Trail tomorrow. It felt great to rest and get everything reset for our next push in to Massachusetts. We will have to have another go at Kent when we are acting a little more civilized.