Woke up to the sound of birds around 515 this morning. I poked my head up over the bathtub* of my tent and saw the beginnings of sunrise. It felt too soon to be awake, and my bed is so comfortable, so I laid my head back down and fell asleep for a few more minutes. when I woke up around 540, here’s what I saw.
I wasn’t any more ready to get out of bed then, but I knew it had to be done. I gave my feet a quick massage, grabbed my coat and climbed out of my tent to retrieve our food bags. While I was in the middle of preparing breakfast, JD emerged and immediately started talking about something. He can be very thoughtful and he does have interesting stories at times, but lately I haven’t been in the mood to talk, especially not first thing in the morning. I provided the minimum required responses to not be rude and focused on eating. New favorite thing: freeze dried banana in my breakfast.
Cog came to the picnic table and joined in the conversation. I found out that he flew helicopters for the army. It felt different to be able to list off terms like JSOC (joint special operations command, a unit my dad worked in for several years) and have someone actually know what I meant. After breakfast, I took a quick look at cog’s pack to see how the hip belt attached because he also has a zpacks arc haul zip. Then I went about breaking down camp. JD actually beat me onto the trail for once. When I left, a guy named hamfist was still asleep, cowboy camping* on a tent platform.
The sun light filtered through the trees casting shadows of ferns against the rocks. I could see my breath every now and then (mostly on the hills). In trail land we say north and south for directionals, but the trail actually runs many directions. I like to watch the sun travel from one shoulder to the other as it did this morning. At one point I think I was walking southeast.
About a half mile before I crossed into CT, I came across this bridge with an interesting support system and a beautiful stealth camping site off the left bank (not pictured). Made a mental note for future overnight possibilities. Then came a muddy stretch where I amused myself by analyzing the prints. There were deer prints for most of the section, two different sized dogs, and the deeper gouges of human feet.
After a road crossing, I came to the welcome to CT sign, which stirred up a lot of emotions. I knew they were coming because I’ve hiked much of the next 40 miles with fp and our dog (and sometimes a dog friend whom I miss because she moved to CA).
The trail staid close to the forest floor for awhile, and I enjoyed the relative flatness while my mind replayed old hikes along that stretch. I recalled a mixture of joy at getting out of the city and frustration that I could never keep up with fp or my friend. The fringe benefit of being slow at the time was silence because they often talked more than I had the energy for in the woods (sorry, friends).
Eventually the trail took a left turn and I went up and over ten mile hill, which is neither 10 miles nor a hill. There weren’t any views to speak of because of leaf cover. As I went down the other side, I started to get excited for what I knew was coming. The intersection of the ten mile river and the housatonic river is one of my favorite spots in CT. I could hear ten mile river from at least a quarter mile away. As I rounded the last corner before the two rivers meet and the housatonic slowly came into view, I stopped in my tracks to take in the glittering water and the shadow of the bridge. My heart felt so full and so sad at the same time. I can remember sitting in the river after a sweltering summer hike about three years ago and watching with envy as someone who I assumed was a thru hiker crossed the bridge (top picture). Now I’m about to do the same thing. I’ve walked over 450 miles and it still doesn’t feel real. The bruises and cuts and hiker hobble and loneliness are definitely real, but something about the bigger picture feels like a dream.
I sat on a rock by the river and ate a snack while my emotions surged. JD came around the corner and took a picture of me in the middle of my daze. He said later that he could feel the magic of that spot. I didn’t loiter for as long as I wanted. I also didn’t get in the water even though it was incredibly tempting. I settled for sticking my wrists in to give the illusion of cooling my feet, which were overheating and sore. Then I climbed the unreasonably steep steel stairs and crossed the river. I took one more look back and then kept moving.
The trail follows the housatonic for about a mile and then takes a sharp left away from the river. I stopped at a side trail that led down to a better view. As I pulled my phone out to take a video of the raging waters of the housatonic, two great blue herons flew by. One of them swooped back towards the direction it had come, and I got a picture of it against the white water of the river, but it just looks like a blue. They were a stunning sight with their dusty blue feathers and s-shaped necks.
As I walked high above the river, I received a group text from tai chi saying he had decided to end his hike and head home. Buzzcut replied to the text saying she had decided to head home again. I had been so swept up in the power of the river that I couldn’t quite process what I had read. I decided to text her directly to confirm. I realize now that I don’t think I shared her decision to return to the trail. I was so distracted by my fall and subsequent exhaustion that I forgot to mention Buzzcut’s return to the trail Tuesday evening (the same day I came back from my break). I remember feeling comforted by the fact that she was behind me and saddened by the unlikelihood that we would hike together because of our distance. We had a brief text exchange Wednesday commenting on the relief of sunny weather, and I shared some warnings about the heinous stone steps coming down from bear mountain. And now she’s gone. She found what she needed from the trail and is moving on. Hopefully I can wrangle her into hiking together when I reach the whites.
Right after I saw the herons I got a text from buzzcut saying our time together had helped her realize she wanted more company in her life (same goes for me if you’re reading this, buzzcut). I’m sure you can guess what’s coming. Yes! More crying! My emotions were already in full tilt and the beauty of the birds combined with the sincerity and kindness were too much for me.
The middle part of the day is a hot and hilly blur. The temperature was actually reasonable, but the elevation changes made for sweaty work. We went through a burned section that still smelled faintly of smoke. There were no signs announcing s controlled burn, so I can’t say for sure if it was a forest fire or forestry maintenance. There was also an unfortunately rocky and long descent from the summit of schaghticoke mountain.
I had my mind set on getting to Kent this afternoon to get ice cream and hopefully new shorts. My intention was to then go past Kent and stealth camp so that I can make tomorrow a more moderate distance to my goal of west Cornwall road where I’m getting picked up by a Brooklyn dog friend who has a house in Sharon, CT. I was also hoping to stay at Riga shelter the following night so that I can catch the sunrise (it faces east and has an open view of the horizon), but I don’t think I can make it work. The reasoning is tedious to explain (even more than I already have), but I need to be in MA next Friday to meet a friend who wants to join me and the variables just don’t match up with the mail drop I have planed into sharon and my friend’s schedule tomorrow. It’s fine. I’ve seen the sunrise at riga before, and I can make it happen again without throwing off the possibility for company. I don’t have that many friends clamoring to sweat all day and sleep on the ground with me!
Anyway, JD is planning to join me at my friends house in Sharon, so he followed my hair brained plan for the day. The walk into Kent is 0.8 miles, which makes for a long 1.6 mile round trip detour added to a 13ish mile day. As we were nearing the bottom of the hill that meets route 341, a couple of day hikers that had passed us several times came down the hill behind me. I realized that they were going to get to their car right as we hit the intersection. I rushed down the hill to make sure the timing aligned with asking them for a ride. They didn’t bat an eye when a smelly thru hiker such as me asked if they could take us to the outfitter in Kent. Thank you, college aged looking kids out for a hike on a Thursday afternoon. My feet appreciate you!
When we got to the outfitter slash ice cream shop slash hiker post office, I browsed the store in hopes of some sort of spandex. Oh what a joke that turned out to be. The floofyiness of the selection was beyond comparison. How can this place call themselves an outfitter?? They didn’t even have a screwdriver on hand to fix JD’s wonky hiking pole. I drowned my annoyance in ice cream. Blueberry honey lavender and peanut butter cup swirl to be exact. JD got a chocolate milkshake. I sat at the table while secretly charging my phone by the soda machine and tried to revise my plan. As previously mentioned, I don’t recalculate well and I felt rigid about wanting that sunrise. JD looked at options for sharing some sort of town stay even though I’d already made it clear that I intended to camp. This and the amount of time it took him to come back from the gas station pushed me over the edge. I feel more and more itchy to be hiking alone. It’s hard to balance the desire to have company at the end of the day with a desire to not have to engage during the day.
We did not succeed in getting a ride back to the trail. The road walk made my left foot so achy and the prospect of not finding a camping spot stressed me out. I felt aggravated that I was worried about taxing JD with the climb up from the highway. He made his choice so why should I be concerned about it? I had half expected him to retreat back to the shelter on the other side of the road, but up the giant hill we went. We found a mossy spot about 15 yards off the trail near the top of the climb. I’m happy to be up high rather than in a buggy bottom next to a stream, which was my backup plan.
We set up our tents and I put together a cold dinner because I didn’t feel hungry enough to warrant eating an entire box of macaroni and cheese. Then I hung out bear bags, and I’ve been holed up in my tent writing for the last hour. The sky was a deep pastel pink and blue earlier, but the colors weren’t deep enough to show up in a picture so I had to go old school and just look at it without the excitement of sharing it. Now I’m finishing this to the faint sound of road noise, bugs popping against my tent, and twigs snapping in the underbrush (most likely chipmunks).
Mile 1454.6 to mile 1468 (13.4)
Total miles: 464.8
Creature feature: towards the end of the morning. I crested a hill and noticed a tree with eyes and ears that turned out to be deer staring at me with one leg up in anticipation of a fast escape. After about a minute, she decided to move on. She ran about 50 yards away and stopped to stare at me as I continued up the trail. I also nearly stepped on a toad, but caught myself in time. Oh! I nearly forgot: I also saw a giant black snake on a tree right next to me.
My eyes couldn’t quite compute the scene and when I figured it out, I took a reflexive step 3 feet to the left and made some amusing oh shit shit shit noises.
omg snakes can climb vertical???!!! and remember when paco jumped off the top landing of the bridge? thinking of you! xoxo
Reading this made me pull up our text conversation (did I say that I’d had to ‘reset’ my phone and I lost all my previous conversations with tribe/tramily? f*cking A!) and re-read. I think of you often (but don’t pester you with texts) and I am still realizing all I learned. You are going to have soo much more growth and gratification than I did…ah well, good for you for hanging in there!!!
Texts are no pester to me. I’m always happy to get them. We should compare notes about our many lessons someday.