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.
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: