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. 

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