Day 60: uninvited guest edition 

We had quite the excitement last night,(read: not enough sleep). Camp had been quiet for over an hour, and I had just finished writing the day’s notes. I curled further into my sleeping bag and I was nearly asleep when I heard a loud crash. I thought for sure it was my food bag because i heard a clank of metal that sounded like my bowl. Then I heard a man’s voice doing what appears to be the universal bear scare tactic. It sounds sort of like the same “Haa” noise cowboys make in movies when they’re trying to get horses to do things. I saw a headlamp beam flashing wildly from side to side while leaves crunched in the woods at the bottom edge of camp. I crawled out of my tent to check out the commotion (sorry mom, I really wanted to see the bear). Rookie, who I met the day before, was standing by his tent with his pack near his feet. The bear had tried to drag his entire bag out from under the rain fly of the tent. 
The bear skirted the edges of camp for about 10 minutes. Apparently rookie had his tea mug and spoon in his pack and Weezy had a bag of snacks in her pack. I don’t think she realized that she needed to put all of her food in the bear hanging bag, but now she knows! They had to decide what to do with their smellables (e.g. food bowls, utensils, and anything that has a scent that might attract animals). They were wary about messing with their bear line, so I suggested they lock them in the privy because it has a door and a latch. 
I got back into my tent and waited to see how and when the bear would be back because they always come back. I saw weezy and rookie walking towards the privy. Suddenly they started yelling because the bear was by the privy. I heard weezy say “i cant do this!” but she did. Rookie drove the bear further into the woods while she put their stuff in the privy. I was on edge after that, freezing with every rustle I heard. I pulled my mace out of my pack and had it by my glasses and headlamp at the ready, trying to imagine what I would do if a bear poked his head into the mesh of my tent. 
I slept fitfully. I’ve started folding my right wrist over in my sleep, which makes it achy the rest of the day, especially with the pressure of using a hiking pole. I used to wear braces on both my wrists at night to keep me from folding them. Anyway, I woke up several times throughout the night, my ears straining to hear the rustle of a bear getting my bag. Around 4am, I woke to the sound of Froggy yelling at the bear and banging against the side of the shelter. Apparently the bear had come right to the edge of the shelter to see if there was anything worth stealing. I half attempted to go back to sleep, but I decided to just get up around 430. There’s supposedly rain coming through midday, and it seemed like a good opportunity to get up and over Stratton Mountain before things get slippery. I felt anxious about walking back into the woods to get my food bag in the dim light. I swung my light from side to side while I loosened the knot for my bear line. No sign of the bear. Then I had a quiet breakfast with froggy at the picnic table while other people began to stir. I was packed and on the trail by 6am. So much for sleep. 

The trail was forgettable for the first mile. Then it turned into what felt like a dirt bike track with mud pits spaced out almost uniformly twenty yards apart. The mud was upwards of 10 inches thick in places. I did my best to hike the edges or find rocks to avoid wet feet. One misstep ended with my entire foot disappearing below the mud line but my foot came out much drier than I expected. The woods were dark and I felt edgy from all the bear activity last night. It didn’t help that I’d seen a dark shape farther up the trail that was definitely not a deer. No confirmed bear sighting, but something moved off farther into the woods as I approached. 

I squelched my way through the mud pits, passing warm, thick pockets of air as the humidity rose. The trail crossed a large stream with a nice campsite that I looked at longingly, wishing I could have kept going yesterday because it might have meant a better night’s sleep. The trail across the stream was easy walking with patches of sunlight that helped change the mood even more. Sadly it only lasted about a quarter mile before I was plunged back into the mud flats. 

I took my first break around 8 and decide to eat with the miles and not with the time because I usually wait until about 930 for my first snack. When I get so little sleep, I feel a bottomless hunger, which meant an hour later I ate again. The trail took me within earshot of a large stream then veered uphill towards a more northern crossing point with a footbridge. Shortly after the stream, I came to Kelley stand road. Halfway apparently camped just across the road and had his own bear troubles last night. The trail went through pine groves and forgettable forest for a bit, then crossed another dirt road. I took a short break to massage my feet and my Achilles’ tendons because it seemed like I was about to head up Stratton mountain based on the change in landscape. My feet were holding at about a 6 on the pain scale. Earlier in the morning, I took the metatarsal pad out of my left shoe because it seemed like it was doing more harm than good. I also taped my right pinky toe because it felt hot and squished, which hasn’t happened much on the trail. It’s usually more of a running malady, but maybe my feet are swollen. Who knows. 
The two mile ascent up to the summit of Mt. Stratton was easier then I expected given that it’s the highest mountain yet. It’s all about how much elevation you gain in a given distance. It helped that about a third of the trail was flat pine needle covered sections with minimal roots. After about forty minutes of climbing, I ran into JD who said he’d seen halfway packing up his camp. Given halfway’s need for breaks on hills and my speed, I thought I might have a chance of catching him at any time. I had to stop myself from running up the rest of the mountain. I couldn’t wait to be around someone who feels easy and with whom I have stories, even if it’s just 2.5 weeks of hiking together. I could feel my feet getting tender, so I forced myself to slow down a notch. I had planned to take a break about a mile from the summit, but the threat of JD invading my mental space and missing halfway kept me walking. When I hit the summit, an older woman named jean came out of the caretaker cottage and wanted to chat. I tried my best to not rush away from her, but I felt itchy to look for halfway. Jean told me about the yoga conference happening at the neighboring ski resort (“Wanderlust” if you’re interested). There was the promise of free food at the bottom of the ski lift, which wasn’t much of a draw for me. I had my mind set on another pb frito wrap. Judge me if you will. 

Jean finally wandered back to the cottage (the building in this pic) and I walked toward the fire tower. I looked up and saw the telltale kakhi hiking pants and rust colored shirt of halfway’s up the stairs. Halfway looked over the railing and smiled wide while he pointed down at me and said “you.” I called up “excuse me sir, you’re not allowed to be up there.” He laughed and kept the joke running. I walked up the 5 or 6 flights to the top where we had a fist bump hello (I would have insisted on a hug, but I’ve worn the same shirt for 4 days straight). 

We left the tower as JD arrived and then we all sat below it in a swarm of black flies. I couldn’t take the bugs any longer, so I left before they did. 

The descent from stratton was beautiful and milder than I expected. The first half mile was much like Glastenbury with an abundance of yellow lilies, evergreens and bright ferns. The path ranged from soft to rocky stream-like conditions. I heard the familiar clicking of halfway’s poles behind me, and I felt both comforted and aggravated that he’s so damn fast. My feet felt tired and sore. I’d found out earlier that halfway planned to stay at Stratton pond, so I let go of any inkling to go farther (thus making tomorrow a very short day). I tend to do better with evenly spaced mileage anyway, so I will just get up early and try to get to the road crossing for Manchester center at a decent time (the hostel I’m staying at tomorrow requires a pickup in town between 1-7p). 

Stratton pond shelter is a huge structure that holds 16 bunks and has a large covered porch. I ate my classy lunch wrap while I listened to treebeard and halfway catch up. I waited to choose my bunk until JD arrived so I could ensure some distance from his snoring. Then I laid around and wrote the first half of this entry, very nearly falling asleep in the process. I kind of wish I had. 

Halfway and I took the longer than desired walk to the pond to get water at the adjacent spring. Then I laid around with my feet up against the shelter wall, basically being a tired lump. Everyone started slowly putting their dinner together around 6. Around 630 halfway suggested we walk back to the pond to see about sunset, which we had discussed earlier. It felt way too early to go down, but he said he probably wouldn’t stay awake long enough to see the actual sunset, so I went with him to take advantage of the unfettered catching up time. I couldn’t keep up with him on the walk down. How does he walk so fast?? 

We sat at the edge of the pond and stared into a wall of gray clouds. Not a promising start. We talked about people we’d met. I whined about feeling alone and unsatisfied with my social experience the last few weeks. He agreed that it was hard to find people he connected with and he lamented losing two people he’d really enjoyed just a few days ago. We also discussed the absurdity of the intensity the trail brings to friendships. He had also felt like he was greeting an old friend today even though we barely know each other. It’s like the steroidal friendships of summer camp for adults.  

Halfway left around 7, and I remained, waiting for a phone call from my steady. I finally got fed up with the bugs and asked the nearby tenters if I could borrow some from them. Around 730, the sun broke through and the wall of clouds shifted about to form this view: 

I watched the light shift as I attempted to have a planning conversation with my steady, but the cell service was terrible. I was exhausted and frustrated, which is a terrible combo for feeling close to someone. We are attempting to plan for her to visit me in VT. Easier said than done when I’m hiking with terrible service and she’s in a time intensive post grad program. Anyway, we didn’t get very far and ended the conversation so everyone could get sleep. I made the trek back up to the shelter in the waning light feeling out of sorts. 

I tried to get into bed without making much noise. The shelter was pitch black, as to be expected because hiker midnight hits anywhere between 730-8 depending on the crowd. I settled into my bag as the rain started and wondered how many new bug bites I would get in the night. 

Mile 1629.6 to mile 1640.1 (10.5) 

Total miles: 636.9 

Creature feature: I have to admit I’m finishing two days later so I can’t remember what I saw that day. 

Day 59: moping edition 

I woke up around 430. How does this happen on sunrise mornings? I felt drugged as I grabbed my phone and put it inside my sleeping bag to dampen the sound of the alarm. One of the NOBOs from last night decided to drag her stuff back up the mountain and camped under the fire tower as well. I half slept for the remaining 7 minutes until the samba noise rang in my ear. I thought about snoozing, but then I remembered the 5 flights of fire tower steps and how creaky I feel in the morning. I grabbed my raincoat for extra wind protection and my phone charger to make sure my phone lasted through the obsessive picture taking (I usually charge it in the morning right after I wake up to prevent myself from running down a newly charged battery at night). Then I ducked down into the ferns so I wouldn’t have to pee in the middle of sunrise (mostly to prevent walking up and down all those stairs again). I saw a headlamp coming up the path as I used the bathroom. I figured I wouldn’t be alone for such an opportunity. It’s not often you get a 360 degree view above treeline. 

It wasn’t as windy at the top, but it was still really cold. Three other hikers came for the show (2 from last night, but not the pot smoking duo). One of them went back down to get her sleeping and then stood like a puffy worm watching the sun rise. I was envious, but not enough to go get my own. 

After the sun crested the ridge in the distance, I went back to bed. Woke up once around 630 and considered getting up, but laid still long enough to fall back asleep until 8am. A new trail record I think. Even then, it took some effort to get out of my tent to retrieve my food bag, which survived the night! I ate cold breakfast from the warmth of my sleeping bag. Then I slowly packed up, trying to do as much as possible from inside my tent. The incessant bugs that I thought were gnats are actually the infamous Vermont black flies. They are THE WORST. When I finally had to, I crawled out of my tent and packed the rest of my gear. While I did that, a gaggle of NOBOs arrived from the shelter to climb up the tower. I bummed some bug spray off of one of them and went back to packing. I could hear their glee and awe as they climbed above the treeline. I left my campsite pessimistically wondering when they would catch up to me. 
The trail was lined with ferns and those blue beaded yellow lilies that I’ve come to love. It smelled of pine, especially when passing downed trees. As I slowly dropped in elevation, the terrain became rockier. It took about 20 minutes for the first NOBO to blow by. The rest came in waves. I felt envious of their pace but even more so their camaraderie. They’re mostly hiking alone at their own pace all day, but they get the joy of familiar faces at the end of the day. I think that’s one of the hardest things about being out here alone. I can handle the hours of solo walking in the woods. Sure, it’s more enjoyable to have the right company for that too. It’s not seeing someone I know or who knows me at the end of the day that makes me the loneliest. Of course I’m totally projecting this fantasy joy these people are feeling because for all I know they’re just as lonely as I am. Anyway, it’s a pretty harsh transition from the life of coming home to a long term partner. But I suppose it’s good practice for when I get back to Brooklyn and that pattern remains my reality to some degree. Some people thrive off of the unpredictability of who they might meet. I enjoy it at times, but when I round the corner to a new shelter and hear people there, I can feel myself bracing for the social effort that I’m about to expend. 
It’s hard to articulate, and I don’t have the energy to rework that section, but the gist is that this morning I felt alone and sad and thoughts of going home to the comfort of people who make me feel good kept flashing through my head. I actually don’t remember much of the terrain from this morning because I was so far in my head. My mind also strayed towards blaming myself for not having a trail family, as they’re called. I kept trying to find the pattern between the trail and my friendships. Read: what am I doing wrong? But I know that’s not the answer. Timing has so much to do with it. I tried to let go of the fantasy alternative hike in which I have a close knit group of friends to share the insanity with. At one point, I got so overcome that I cried. Looking up at the sky helped. It was bright blue with puffy clouds and something about it made me reflexively take a deep breath. It’s a little embarrassing to share this, but it’s part of the experience as a self critical solo hiker, so I will leave it as is. 

I made it to kid gore shelter around 1140. My plan was to use the privy and take a short snack break since I’d eaten lunch so late. when I arrived there were 2 friendly long trail hikers eating lunch. In light of my morning of self pity, I decided I should take advantage of what the trail had thrown me and ignore the monologue about them wanting to be left alone. We had an enjoyable break together that was capped off by meeting flip phone, a Canadian guy in his mid twenties. He had apparently been at Seth warner with the older group of women and he knew my name because they’d asked about me. I hope I can run into them again somewhere down the road. I feel too fast for the older people I enjoy and too slow for the younger people I connect with. Excuse me while I whine a lot today. 
After lunch, I set out for story spring shelter with my lunch company, Weezy and Rookie, neither of whom have ownership over their trail names yet. You can tell when a trail name is new or someone is new to trail names because there’s hesitation when people introduce themselves. Sometimes (as in their case) people will give both their real name and their trail name. As it turns out, they walk a very similar pace to me, so we were together for about a mile until Weezy needed a break. I kept going because I felt self conscious about their desire to be around me. Then I went into over analyzing mode once again. Theme of the day, but it was less intense this time. 

The trail was a bit of a tunnel after lunch, with rolling hills and thick forest around me. The weather could not have been nicer. There was one more open view about 3 miles from the shelter. Then back to rocks and mud pits, of which there were many today. I couldn’t bear the thought of wet feet after having dry ones for the better part of a day and a half, so hopped and twisted my way around the muck. My feet were sore from trying to hop too far from rock to rock to keep my shoes dry. When I wasn’t dodging puddles, I was hobbling over rocks and roots. I also felt drained from the eleven hours of hiking yesterday combined with a late bedtime and an early rise. Going back to bed didn’t do much in the way of restful sleep. 
I made it to the shelter around 4. The tent sites are rocky and lopsided. I wandered around for a few minutes eyeing them all multiple times hoping they’d be better upon closer inspection. I finally settled on one with a slight downward slant but the fewest lumps and rocks. Weezy and rookie arrived as I was finishing my tent set up. After bumming some bug spray, I gave them space to be exhausted. I went into the woods well beyond my tent, and ran a bear line. Then I filtered water and finished setting up my bed. I decided to soak my feet in the stream because it had the perfect set up. I plopped down amongst the moss and roots and dunked my feet for as long as I could stand the ice water. So basically 20 seconds at a time. VT stream water is significantly colder than MA! When I was done freezing my feet, I came back to my tent and went about sewing my shorts. It was tedious and I almost gave up, but I forced myself to finish. Here’s the end result. 

By that point my stomach was rumbling, so I grabbed my food bag from the bear line and made myself dinner. I felt good about my decision to stay here instead of pushing ahead to a campsite about 3 miles up. I needed to be around people and there were a few good conversations. Weezy asked me if I was a teacher because she felt like I had that vibe. When I told her I’m a therapist, she felt validated in her read of me. A couple who sound as if they’re from the Deep South, or possibly West Virginia, talked with Flip phone and a French guy about the Camino trails in Spain and Portugal. As I finished my dinner, I heard JD’s voice say my name behind me. I had mixed feelings about seeing him because I am not ready for his droning on, but I figured that mean halfway wouldn’t be far behind. As it turns out, Halfway actually passed the shelter sometime when I was in my tent! Or possibly when I was hanging my bear line. I don’t know, but I’m so disappointed that I missed him. Chances are high that I will run into him tomorrow, but it’s so ridiculous that he walked right past me. Timing. 
After dinner, I hid out in my tent, half involving myself in weezy and flip phone’s conversation. I feel guilty for not being more engaged with JD, but we are just not compatible. Now I’m finishing this to the sound of frogs in the distance, the squeaking and rustling of hikers shifting about and the odd twig snapping. This shelter has had some notorious bear activity in the last few days, so I’m curious to see if one surfaces tonight. I think I will get an early start to get some miles in before the rain. 
Mile 1621 to mile 1629.6 (8.6) 

Total miles: 626.4 
Creature feature: several garter snakes (which now make me think of cotton jumping back) and a dragonfly that I haven’t seen before by this beaver pond: 

Day 58: fire tower edition

My tent site was more comfortable than I expected, but I tossed and turned from about 4 AM until 545 when I decided that even if I went short today, I should probably get up. There’s a chance the trail will be nicer and I might want to go longer so best to give myself daylight. I slipped my warm dry feet into my spongy shoes and went to the privy. On the way there I spied my food bag securely hanging from its branch, which was a relief. Then I broke my rule about food in the tent and ate breakfast on my sleeping bag because I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting at the shelter wearing my soggy, cold shoes and socks. After dragging ass in my tent (another reason not to eat in there: it’s too easy to stay in the warm cocoon), i stood outside and brushed my teeth. It began to sprinkle, and I felt so done with being wet. I packed my tent before it got any wetter. Thankfully the rain stopped almost as soon as it started. Then I filtered water and signed the trail register. I left around 745. I realized about 5 minutes up the trail that I’d forgotten to say goodbye to disco, but no backtracking for me. 

The trail had mud with better structural integrity for much of today. However, after the first half mile, it turned into a root filled stream bed for about a half mile. It’s hard to find a balance between trying not to cause erosion while not hurting my feet jumping from rocks and not falling on my ass with the slippery roots. Then there was a beautiful dry section that lasted about half a mile after which I had to walk through a downhill stream where the best I could do was try not to step in actively following water. Sometimes the seemingly solid steps turn out to be ankle soakers, but I poked and prodded the mud with my hiking poles in vain hoping to make good choices. 
I ran into the older gentleman named cosmo that I met yesterday. He let me use some extra toxic bugspray which I felt grateful for because the gnats were abominable. Shortly after leaving him sitting on a rock, I walked and talked with an old friend with whom I’m trying to coordinate hiking together. Sadly it doesn’t seem like it will work out, but it was nice to catch up. As I talked, Ozzie and his owner, Free, caught up to me. 

Nothing makes me happier than seeing dogs. Ozzie stuck by my legs, matching my pace, which made it impossible to take a good picture of him. Free hikes faster than me, so they weren’t around for long, but we leapfrogged all day because of our various breaks. The trail felt so different today. There was space and light where yesterday felt hard to breathe. The walk up to harmony hill was open and green. I didn’t stick around long because I was on the phone and didn’t want to disturb people, but here’s a quick shot of the view. 

The trail remained mostly dry with small mud sections that weren’t as saturated, so they were easy to navigate. There was a long, rocky descent down to route 9. The boulders and steps were set far apart which involved a lot of large steps for short people. My knees and feet were pretty cranky by the time I reached the road, so I took a break in the sun by the stream with Ozzie and free. 

I took my socks off in an effort to keep air flow to my pruned feet. I considered staying there for lunch because of the sun, but I didn’t want to have to make the upcoming climb on a full stomach. So I ate a snack and said bye to my company. Free is doing a section hike of the long trail, which currently overlaps with the AT until it takes a left turn about 100 miles up (I might have that figure wrong). 

The climb up from the brook was long but manageable. Much easier than coming down on the other side of the road. The wind gusted through the trees and the clouds periodically blotted out the sun, giving the impression of an oncoming storm that never materialized. Instead, it was a cool, beautiful day for hiking. 

I took a lunch break at the stream by the first shelter turn off. I didn’t really have plans to stop there because I had my sights set on Glastenbury mountain fire tower, but I hadn’t expected it to take so long to get there. I considered staying, but I decided to keep moving and plan for enough water to stealth camp if necessary. Ozzie and free arrived in the middle of my peanut butter frito honey tortilla making. A lunch ode to buzzcut, if you will. And it was damn good. Would have been even better with some of cotton’s salt and pepper chips on the side. 
I filtered more water after lunch and put on my slightly less wet socks and my silty shoes. The first few minutes after leaving the stream were more painful than I expected. My feet protested in ways they hadn’t yet today, but I kept going, hoping it was just the post-break stiffness. They did start to feel better, but then around 4, they went downhill without ever bouncing back. I wish there had been an option to go like 11 miles today AND get to Glastenbury because that was about the distance in which i felt present and in minimal pain. Everything after 11 miles was drudgery and I was back to staring at the miles on my phone every 10 minutes. 
The trail remained relatively easy to navigate with the exception of the rocky, muddy descent down to hell hollow brook. I saw this giant pile of what I assume is poop, but from what animal?? Is it a bear? Is it a deer on steroids? It set me on edge for much of the next two hours, imagining a bear trundling towards me at any moment (my dad told me later that it was probably a mule deer). 

The brook itself was beautiful, and I thought about stopping to rest my feet but it felt too close to the poop scene, so I kept going. The trail did a lot of gradual climbing throughout the afternoon that I didn’t really notice until I considered how I would write about where I was. Hills remain my comfort zone and they actually hurt my feet the least. As I went up one section of the many hills, I heard a loud crash and saw a flash of something dart across the trail. My mind had been on bears, but the clatter sounded more like a deer. It left my legs wobbly and didn’t do much to settle my nerves. Not long afterwards, there was a quick rustle to my left and a little black and white bird popped out of the underbrush. It had a black body with white underparts and a flash of white at the end of its wings. It seemed like some kind of warbler based on the size, but I’ll have to wait for a better signal to look it up. 

Around 2, I took a break at an overlook with this picture window view through the trees. I had hoped to rest my feet and eat a snack, but a swarm of gnats hovered around me, darting at my eyes and ears. I had to move on almost immediately. I came to another overlook, but it was full of chatty hikers. Large groups of mid 20 somethings make my social anxiety kick up. I intended to pass by without stopping or speaking to them, but one of them called out a cheery hello, so I slowed down. Then another one asked me what was on my arm, which brought up the fun “guess what my tattoo is” game. One of them got it right away. Another one asked me if I needed food, to which i replied that I had too much food at the moment. Then I scurried away, tired of feeling 10 pairs of eyes on me. I wish I had stuck around to give them a chance, especially because I’m 90% sure one of them was queer. Alas, anxiety wins again. 
The trail led me higher up the mountain through filtered sunlight that made the woods appear polka dotted with bright spots. I felt sick after eating a slim jim for a snack. I know, they’re disgusting, but they’re salty and light, and the majority of my snacks are sweet. May have to rethink that one though. The gradual climb became steeper and the bugs got even worse. Gnats glanced off my face three or four at a time and flies swirled around the tops of my ears. This did little for morale. I tried to focus on the good things: the weather, my nearly dry shoes, the amusement of making a video of mud squelching for a friend, and the fact that I’m out here at all. That helped to a point, but the pain made my pace slow even more, which made the miles stretch beyond reason. 
Ozzie and free passed me around 5. A NOBO also passed me and walked around a fallen tree as if there wasn’t a thick layer of saplings slapping against his bare legs. It’s like they’ve lost all feeling in their bodies. I plodded on, forcing myself to wait 20 minutes in between mileage checks. The trail finally took a steep tilt towards the shelter. The last .3 miles felt like at least a mile, but I finally made it to my pausing point. You see, my destination is the fire tower .3 miles past the shelter where you can get 360 degree views for sunrise and sunset.

I dumped my bag, said hello to free and laughed and how pathetic Ozzie looked sacked out in the grass. Apparently he’s been shivering at night, so free tucked him into his sleeping bag while he cooked dinner. I ate a snack on the porch of the shelter and filtered 2 liters of water to get me through dinner, breakfast and to the next water source for tomorrow, which isn’t for several miles. Then I shouldered my even heavier pack and walked uphill for .3 more miles. 

I set up camp under a grove of pine trees and nearly lost my mind because of the hordes of gnats. I boiled water, set up my food to rehydrate and then I put together my bed in my tent, taking as much care as possible to keep gnats from getting in every time I got in and out of my tent. Little bastards are relentless. I put on my puffy coat and my long johns to cut down on the surface area for feeling gnats against my skin. That actually made me less appealing to them in general, which made my dinner on the fire tower steps slightly more enjoyable. I eyed the forest around me expecting to see a bear at any moment. Then I brushed my teeth and hung my food bag in a pine tree far away from my tent. The branch seemed high enough until it sagged under the weight of my jumbo food bag, but I decided to leave it as is. I thought about hanging it on the fire tower, but I wasn’t sure about a bear climbing the steps. 

The wind howled increasingly louder as I walked up the fire tower steps. The view was incredible. Mountains for miles in all directions. I took a few pictures then sat below the wall of the tower to block the wind and wait for sunset. Two younger guys out for a month of hiking came up to see the sunset. They smoked a little pot and then said silly things about how the trees all looked alike. We were also joined by two NOBOs who hiked 40 miles in the last two days. Here are a few more pictures from the tower (including the top picture for today). 

I was the last one to leave the tower (shocking). I peed off in the distance not far from my bear bag and then I hunkered down in my tent. Now I’m finishing this up with numb fingers to the sound of an airplane in the distance (the first I’ve heard all day), bugs plinking off my tent, the wind rushing through the trees. It’s cold up here! 3500 feet. Tomorrow I am absolutely required to hike a shorter distance. I don’t care how nice it is. 
Mile 1606.3 to mile 1621 (14.7) 

Total miles: 617.8 
Creature feature: nothing beyond what I already discussed. 

Day 57: 600 mile edition 

* an alternate title for this post could be “attack of the shoe eating mud pits edition” 

I woke up to the sound of my alarm at 6:20. I hit snooze, but I know how slow I am to eat, so I didn’t actually wait for the next alarm to go off. I crept into the kitchen and made coffee. Only drank about half of it while I ate breakfast. Rejected by my body, which knows it has to head back into the woods today. After breakfast, I poured the rest of my coffee into my friend’s cup and went about rounding up all of my gear. I managed to cut about three quarters of a pound by sending a few things home, but I gained 6oz because my new phone charger is bigger. It hurts to carry something twice the weight of the old one, but I know it will be easier in some ways. We will see. 
Sciacca drove me to the intersection where cotton and I left the trail. We hugged goodbye and she offered her assistance once again. I feel so grateful for how much she helped me. This morning she even put together a needle and thread for me so I can try to sew my old shorts. (I decided as I was walking today that I’m going to attempt to sew on a duct tape patch. I think it will work.) Sciacca drove away, and I crossed the busy street with my fully loaded pack. It’s too heavy for my feet, which are still tender. 

The trail crosses the hoosic river over a footbridge covered in painted handprints. 

Then it takes a right and follows the road for about 5 minutes before heading left up someone’s driveway.

There are no parking signs, which imply crankiness, but then I saw a hikers welcome to take water sign by their outdoor spigot, so my assumption was off the mark. 

A fast moving stream named Sherman brook runs behind the property. The trail crossed the brook twice and then followed it as the elevation gradually climbed for awhile. 

The mud began almost immediately and I spent a lot of effort trying to keep my feet dry. Little did I know what a waste of energy that would be. I stood admiring the raging brook and realized as the mosquitoes buzzed around me that I’d forgotten to buy more bug spray at Walmart. Guess I’ll be walking all naturale until I get to my next resupply in Manchester center, VT. The trail eventually led me west and the sound of the stream faded behind me. The mountain laurel alongside the trail were on their way to full bloom. It took a lot of effort to remind myself to keep walking and wait for better light to take a zillion pictures. The woods were on the dark side at that point and the pictures were coming out flat. Here is a shot from higher elevation with better light: 

Then came a steep rocky climb upwards that must have been what a cranky southbound gentleman described the other day as a scrambling miserable section. 

Heading north, up the rocky mess, didn’t take much more than a few uncomfortably large steps and a hand hold or two. At the top, I saw a different mountain laurel with dark pink blooms about the size of my thumb nail. 

I also came to what’s called the rock garden in my guthook app. Funny enough it just looks like the northern half of Pennsylvania, so I’m not sure why it gets a special name. I took a break in the “garden” and ate a snack. An older gentleman passed me and we lamented the climb. I was also passed by an ultralight hiker who complained about the climb, which made me feel good because I hadn’t found it that bad. But maybe my legs are fresher than his. 

After my break, the trail transitioned from rocks to subtle rolling hills consisting mostly of dirt and leaves. My left foot remains unhappy. I think walking around my friend’s apartment really aggravated it for whatever reason. I bought metatarsal inserts at the grocery store, so maybe those will help. 

About a mile past the rock garden, I hit the Vermont state line. My stepfather sent me a text saying the woman at the post office can’t believe I’ve gotten so far and that she’s following along. I found this both comforting and frightening because of the pressure to succeed. Whatever that means. Anyway, I said goodbye to MA and hello to even more mud. Granted, after the rainfall we had yesterday, just about anywhere on the trail would be muddy. But VT has a special shoe eating quality of mud that I have yet to see thus far. I nearly lost my shoe a dozen times today as I tried to make it through the muck. 

Before the real mud whomping started,I had lunch sitting next to this giant boulder. 

Tuna special, once again, with thin mints for dessert. I realized the other day that maybe I shouldn’t be eating so much tuna fish because of the mercury. Is that a real thing? Should I spread it out more? After lunch, I started thinking about how far to walk. If I stopped at the first shelter, I would be done at like 130. If I kept going, my estimation would be finishing around 430 after doubling the mileage. I know the answer is to stop short. But I arrived at the turn off for the shelter and felt too cagey to stop. I also wasn’t in the mood to be caught by a certain chatty older gentleman who is sadly traveling with halfway whom I really want to see again. 
I sat on a log by the shelter trail and debated my options. I didn’t feel rushed or manic and my feet felt a little better than when I started, so I pushed on. I felt bad about missing halfway another day, but it seemed like the right choice at the time. Little did I know I was in for some of the most tedious miles yet. They never got steep, but the next 7 miles felt like one giant mud pit with brief relief in the form of wooden planks and the odd dry section. I regretted my choice almost immediately, but I also knew that if not today, then tomorrow. Flawed logic because if I wait until tomorrow my legs will be less beaten down and I will have more mental and physical endurance for the task at hand. 

After awhile, I gave up on trying to keep my feet dry. It wasn’t working and it slowed me down so much that I was making horrible time. It also involved a lot of long steps and root/rock hopping, which aggravated my feet. So I sloshed and squelched my way through the miles, laughing every time I nearly lost my shoe. Towards the end of the day, I lost my patience and the laughing turned to cursing. But before that I passed two beautiful ponds and another giant stream that roared off to my right for about three tenths of a mile. 

I know the distance along the stream because I was obsessively checking my end point at that point with about a half mile to go. I really wanted to stop at a stealth campsite that also happened to be in the exact spot I turned 600 miles (top picture).

But I didn’t have enough water to stop for the day. I sat at the site eating a snack while trying to figure out if I could stop anyway. but I’d already skimped on drinking water more than I should have throughout the day, and it seemed unwise to eek through the night with not quite half a liter. 

I can’t seem to keep this entry very linear. Forgive me, I think I dropped my brain in the mud and can’t seem to get it clean. I got to the congdon shelter around 630, which is FAR later than I had hoped. The area in front of the shelter was a sloppy mess and the tent sites were spread all over the place. There was a large group of tents dotting the area to the left and right of the trail. I found a mediocre spot right next to the shelter and could not be bothered to look harder because it started to sprinkle. I set up my tent while wondering if my feet would ever feel dry again. One of the guys at the shelter came over to ask me questions about my tent. I was about 20 seconds away from telling him to leave me alone before I have a hunger meltdown, but he stopped of his own accord. I dropped my food bag and cooking stuff at the shelter and went to the stream for water. The one upside to this place is that it’s very compact and it’s literally right on the trail. I didn’t have to wander all over the place to get my chores done. As I filtered water, I got to meet Ozzie, a white pitbull mix with the most pathetic resting face and ears I’ve ever seen. He broke my heart. he also leaned into me trying to play up the pathetic card to get closer to my trailmix later when we were hanging out at the shelter during dinner. Sneaky dog, but I know that trick and I resisted. 

While my food “cooked” I set up my sleeping pad and washed my legs, socks, and feet in the stream. My socks had clumps of mud in them and my feet were a white wrinkly mess. Today would be a good day to have camp shoes. Then I ate my chili Mac next to Ozzie’s owner, Free, and tried to recover from the near meltdown. Free said that he had taken a break at the previous shelter with a few older women, which I found out were the same crowd that I spent time with at the cookie lady’s. I was sad to miss out on more people that I know, especially after such a lonely day of hiking. My phone signal was shit for most of the day, which combined with the muddy tunnel made for a very claustrophobic hike. 
As I ate, who came walking up but disco and moss! The dogs greeted each other and then got themselves going barking at nothing. Hopefully they will keep the bears away because my food bag is poorly situated on a low branch after having fussed with it for nearly 40 minutes. The first branch I picked broke under the strain of my 4.5 days worth of food. Then I couldn’t get a good toss on my next choice and when I finally got it, it seemed like it was too close to the trunk of another tree so I pulled it down. Then I got my tossing bag stuck in a smaller tree while trying to get to a branch above it. I finally spied a lower branch on a different tree and said F THIS. If the bear can get my food, fine. What a shit show. 
Now I’m finishing this to the sound of rushing water and the occasional snapping sound that makes me think my food bag is definitely a goner. 
Mile 1592.2 to mile 1606.3 (14.1) 

Total miles: 603.1 
Creature feature: a little slate gray bird with a light grey underside chirped and followed me from tree to tree for a few minutes. He looked as if his underside had been dipped in light paint. Heard a short sharp caw that came from a woodpecker. Getting to the point where I can hear that call and actually know what it is. Those 2 silly dogs. Oh and a hummingbird landed on a branch while I was brushing my teeth before bed. I still find their presence out here confusing and magical. 

Day 56: salad edition 

In the interest of my stamina for editing and writing hiking posts, I’m going to skim through the rundown of my zero day. It started with my second favorite breakfast of yogurt, banana, and my trail granola mix. I could see the mountains Cotton and I had climbed the day before to my right… 

and the mountain I have to climb tomorrow to my left. 

Then my friend left for work and I had the space entirely to myself to make a mess, lounge around, and work through my to do list. I did a small pack shakedown, trying to find ways to lighten the load on my feet. I also weighed my food to see where the weight sinks are (trail mix is the worst offender), and I finally did my laundry. For lunch, I had another incredible salad along with farm eggs (over medium with avocado and mustard), and a few Fritos so my body didn’t go into shock. There were intense thunderstorms on and off all day, making me feel even better about my decision to zero. I nearly had my toe eaten by the neighbor kitty. 

I soaked my feet in the tub and apologized to the gods for running water during a thunderstorm. Sadly I think walking around barefoot on the wooden floors aggravated my left foot. It actually felt worse by the end of the day, which was perplexing and frustrating. For dinner, sciacca and I went to pedrin’s, which is a food stand across from the north Adams Walmart. We got grilled cheese, French fries (regular and sweet) and ice cream. Before dinner, we went to Walmart in search of new shorts for me so I can wear something above my knees (to let my “knee pits” breathe as sciacca puts it). Sadly, no knee length spandex to be had in the entire store. Why are they so hard to find?? But after dinner, we went to optima sports and found something very close to what I wanted. About 2 inches shorter than desired, but they will do! Breathable knee pits for me. Now on to a hiking post since my signal is finally good enough to upload pictures. 
Miles: 0 

Total miles: 589 

Creature feature: a starling like bird eating a soggy tortilla by the wheel of Sciacca’s car in the parking lot of pedrins. 

Day 55: Greylock edition 

The sound of rain met my ears when I woke up around 530 this morning. The bottom half of my sleeping bag felt clammy, as did all of my limbs. I slept fitfully last night, and I had no desire to get out of my tent into an even moister environment. (I know, I said the m word). I lay with one eye open, checking my stories on my phone until I could take it no longer and made my way to the privy. Then I sat under the eaves of the shelter and ate the cold version of my breakfast. It didn’t sit well again today, which is curious. I might have to switch to something else for a few weeks to give myself a break. 
I went back to the tent and laid next to a sleeping cotton while I tried once again to plan my resupply for VT. This time, the answers seemed so obvious and within minutes I had my next 2 stops roughly sketched out with a third in mind. I went for low mileage estimates and backup options to keep me from forcing myself to go too far. Cotton stirred around 730, and I said, you have to get up soon. Sadly she slept worse than I did, but we had to get moving because we needed to leave extra time for a potentially glacial descent down a steep, soggy mountain. I assured her that the rain sounded worse than it actually felt, which is true. Inside the tent, it sounded like a steady rain. Outside, it felt like barely a drizzle. We busied ourselves with packing up our bedding. This was surprisingly easy to do at the same time despite close quarters. 
Cotton went down to the shelter and ate breakfast while I packed up a very soggy tent. A few weeks ago, I finally got wise to the fact that I should put my contacts in before I pack my tent because my hands are exponentially cleaner at that point in my morning routine. I met cotton down at the shelter where the father and daughter were working their way through a breakfast of fruit and peanut butter. I couldn’t bring myself to engage with them, so I sat in silence waiting for cotton to filter water and eat a few more bites of cliff bar. Then I said a perfunctory goodbye and up the hill we went. 

The drizzle petered out almost immediately after we hit the main trail. Within 20 minutes of walking through the thick air, we had both stripped off our raincoats. The trail led us up for a short distance. Then it flattened out into a mossy section of forest that smelled of Christmas and was filled with glossy ground cover and slick tree roots. Thankfully the terrain was relatively easy on my feet because the roots were spaced far enough apart. I finally got to see the flowers that go with these leaves. Someone on my instagram let me know that they’re called clintonia borealis, or yellow blue bead lily. 

At one point, cotton stopped abruptly. I thought she’d seen another snake, but when I asked her about it, she said, it’s pretty, referring to the forest around us. I stopped to take in the trees and felt my shoulders relax as my eyes scanned the many greens and browns around me. It can be so easy to create a tunnel within the proverbial green tunnel, as the AT is known. Sometimes it’s necessary to focus on the ground because looking up can result in falling, but other times the shrinking vision is the result of exhaustion. Cotton said later in the day that the woods are therapeutic for her. I expressed similar feelings with the additional realization that it’s hard to access that effect when your attention is consumed by physical pain. Sure, there’s some element of pain in every day. It would be unreasonable to expect otherwise. But last week I pushed myself to the point of constant pain that left me checking my phone literally every 20 minutes to watch the number of miles left inch down by the tenths. 

We took a short break with about a mile to the summit of Mt. Greylock. At that elevation, we could see patches of blue sky, and I hoped for some sort of view at the top. Oh silly me. Sometime after our break (I think?), I heard what I tnkunnt was a. bullfrog, which confused me because there was no water in sight. Or so I thought until a minute later when the trail led us to this misty pond. Cotton took panoramics while I tried to find a good frame to capture the stillness of the space. 

After another half hour of periodic boardwalks and the sharp smell of pine (or fir? probably both), the trail led us to a facilities area that had an aid station for the Greylock half marathon. Yes, that’s right. There are people who run UP the mountain (and down some other mountain or something absurd). They only travel on the AT for about a half mile. The rest of the race is held on neighboring trails. One of cotton’s friends was working the aid station and she gave us some Gatorade. She and a day hiker got into a who knows best match while discussing how dangerous our descent would be. Mansplaining at its worst. 

We moved on and hit the summit a few minutes later. The tower was shrouded in fog and the viewfinders looked out to a wall of white. 

You could just make out the dark edges of the lodge off to the right. We took a few pictures and watched the faster runners round the tower. To keep from getting cold and delaying the inevitable, we moved on fairly quickly. 

As we began our descent, we were met with a slow trickle of gasping runners, most of which were walking up the steep hill towards the summit. Seeing them made me miss running even though I can’t fathom the pounding right now. I said to one runner, you guys are crazier than we are! But he didn’t have much of a sense of humor in that moment. He muttered something about crazy as he walked by me. I admit, a small part of me is tempted to sign up for the race someday because it looked impossible. 
Overlapping with the runners was amusing but also tedious because we gave them the right of way out of pity for their haggardness. I was happy to finally turn left onto the AT and away from the adjoining trail. We made our way down the mountain mostly in silence. I watched the clock and the miles until we reached our lunch spot at a lookout on Mt. Williams. We could see wind turbines off in the distance and the sun had come out enough to drive us into the shade while we ate. 

After lunch, it felt a lot easier to focus on hiking and less on my empty stomach. We continued down Mt. Williams in dappled shade and increasing temperatures. There were a few unexpected climbs, but the trail kept a generally downward trajectory until we hit the viewpoint at Prospect Ledges (top picture). There, we were rewarded with a full view of the valley and the surrounding mountains that we couldn’t see on top of Greylock. We took another break and bid farewell to a southbound couple who had just climbed up from North Adams. They remarked on the crazy climb, which had both of us on edge at the prospect of slippery rocks. In reality, the descent involved a long, occasionally steep, trail with relatively sure footing. Not to worry, I still managed to fall. I took a measured spill when my right leg got caught while trying to step over a downed sapling. I landed softly on my left hamstring, which let me know that the bruise from my big fall a couple of weeks ago has not totally disappeared. Cotton had a few near misses herself, but managed to stay upright the whole way down. 

At the bottom of the nearly 2 mile drop into North Adams, we came to clear stream that felt perfect for wading. With time to spare, we took off our shoes and walked around the cool water. Cotton got down on all fours at one point and we both dunked our heads in the water. Then we sat on the little bridge and reflected on the power of the woods. 
The road walk to route 2 felt like an oven with no trees to provide any shade as we passed through a cute neighborhood. We took a right on state rd and found cotton’s car in tact at the rundown community center parking lot. She was in no rush to get home, so we went to the grocery store so I could buy epsom salt and other town treats (yogurt & banana!). Then we drove to Lickety Split, where we had ice cream with my friend and host, Sciacca (I’ve decided mama feels too strange and people who are reading out of order might be confused). I tried to find new shorts at the small outfitter up the street, but had no luck. Then we drove to Sciacca’s place and sat outside on her gigantic deck while my tent dried in the sun. I gawked at the amount of space she has (her deck is bigger than my old living room) and we talked for awhile. After cotton left, we had a beautiful salad for dinner, and I began the task of opening my resupply boxes and making a list of what I need to get done tomorrow. I’m taking a zero here in Williamstown. My feet have gone from hitting above a 10 on my pain scale to hovering around a 6, which is a vast improvement. I was actually able to walk for a lot of today without cringing at every uneven patch of trail. I think a zero day could make that number drop even more, and I have a wonderful host who will be at work all day, which means uninterrupted productivity! Off my feet of course. I’m writing this to the sound of passing cars and the occasional dog barking down the street. I’m sad to be without cotton tomorrow. She provided the perfect balance of space and interaction, and I will miss sharing the trail with her. 

Mile 1582.6 to mile 1592.2 (9.6) 

Total miles: 589 
Creature feature: haggard runners might be the only thing I can recall from today short of the usual chipmunks and birds. Oh, and this very sleepy black lab at the outfitter: