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:

Day 54: fresh eyes edition 

I woke up around 515 to the sound of birds and the occasional rain drop. I knew there was no rushing cotton out of bed (she is not an early bird), and we didn’t need to rush given today’s mileage, so I fell back asleep. I woke up a second time around 630 and decided I should feed the beast. I ate my granola muesli breakfast dry this morning to test whether it was good that way. It felt warmer and humid, and I worried that I would feel nauseated if I ate something warm. I also felt too lazy to heat up water. Verdict: it involves a lot more chewing, but it’s pretty damn good and resulted in no nausea. I could actually taste the honey and salt that I add to it every morning. 
Intrepid joined me at the picnic table. She pulled out a brick of cream cheese, a box of crackers, and an avocado from her bag. I can only imagine how much her pack weighs. She then proceeded to eat them all together. I admit, I felt envious of her avocado, but not envious of the extra weight. 
Cotton began stirring around 730. She was a good sport about not getting to sleep longer. We could have dawdled, but it wasn’t really raining, and it seemed wise to get moving while the weather cooperated. We were out of camp by 830. Made a pit stop at the stream for water. While we were sitting there, we saw intrepid wander by, oblivious to our existence. The trail to the water had basically led us back to the AT, so we took the shortcut and jumped on from there. 
The trail climbed for a bit and then flattened out, eventually leading us to a pond. As we approached the water, I started to get grumpy about what I assumed was coming: slick roots and bugs. Those things existed, but we also got to see a beautiful, fog covered pond with a crane that cotton spotted because she was willing to walk closer to the edge to check out the view (top picture). Had I been alone, I might have grumbled and made my way around the pond as fast as possible. We stood and watched the crane while bullfrogs croaked behind us. Their calls sounded like someone plucking a guitar string that’s being slowly unwound. It felt good to be around someone who has energy for observation. It helped remind me of my goal to see the woods, and not just get from point a to point b. 
The trail crossed the pond and followed the eastern edge of it briefly before easing us back into the pines. There was a short climb to what would have been a viewpoint, but all we saw was a wall of white clouds. Then the trail made the long gradual descent into Cheshire. More road walking. The houses were of a smaller size then dalton, and something about them implied an elderly community, like a car sitting with a flat tire. It made me think of someone who no longer drove, but who knows. 
We wound our way through town, and missed a turn where the trail passes between two yards. I had seen a double blaze but not the turn itself. As I hesitated and began to pull out my phone, a kid of about 10-12 rode by on his bike and said “the trail’s that way” pointing behind us. He said “a lot of people miss it so I like to point out where it is.” Cotton and I laughed about our need for a tour guide and made our way back to the turn we missed. 

We went through a field of baby corn that led us to the intersection of a Dunkin’ Donuts about .2 miles west. I’d mentioned the possibility of donuts earlier, to which cotton replied emphatically, I like donuts! We walked down the busy road and went inside the gas station mart slash Dunkin’ Donuts. Who did we find? Intrepid in all of her disheveled glory. I ordered a chocolate glazed with blueberry and cinnamon donut holes (because I can’t commit to one flavor). Cotton couldn’t get her preferred croissant donut, so she settled on a French cruller and green tea. We brought our packs inside and camped out for a nice long break. I refilled my water at the fountain machine and used the opportunity for a real toilet. We both laughed on the inside as we watched intrepid get settled into her pack for her departure. Then we made our way back to the trail. 

The climb up from the road was steep and felt difficult after all of the sugar. I saw a new wildflower. Well, I actually saw it for the first time on the Wiley property. 

We passed through a few open meadows that eventually led us back into the woods for an even longer climb. Thus began Mt. Greylock. We climbed for the better part of a mile and then the trail flattened out. The weather held, never doing more than short bursts of sprinkles for the whole day. It was incredibly humid, so we still weren’t dry, but sweating is better than walking in the rain. 
We talked about books (namely self help, which I not so secretly love) and our various relationships. We ate a late lunch on a large rock just off the trail, which involved a peanut butter cup that cotton brought me as a present. The trail for the shelter surprised both of us. I thought for sure we’d have a steep climb at the end according to the elevation profile, but it never arrived. We stood at the side trail and looked at each other, flabbergasted by the early hour. I haven’t finished at 230 in weeks. Intrepid had mentioned her intention to go past the shelter to a lodge that is 3 miles farther up the trail, and thus mostly up the mountain. But it costs $35 and we both agreed that it might push us over the edge of physical comfort. So I did what is nearly impossible and stopped. 
We rooted around the shelter for a decent campsite and finally found flat spots tucked above the shelter. Cotton helped me set up the tent and we both set up our beds. There’s no rush in doing these things, but there’s something easier about just getting them out of the way. We sat around doing our respective internet/texting stuff. I heard a new bird sound and looked up just in time to realize that it was coming from a small woodpecker. Then we made the trek down to the stream to filter water. It was a nice stream, so cotton decided to go back down to meditate while I worked on finishing yesterday’s post. Around 530, we went down to the shelter and I made a very gummy but edible macaroni and cheese dinner. Sadly not my best showing for sharing, but cotton managed. She was, however, too squeamish to drink her dish water. Can’t say that I blame her. We talked about camping and Cotton’s life in Brattleboro. Then she played a song on her harmonica and we lamented our lack of instruments in light of all of the extra time we had this afternoon. There’s a guy here doing an overnight trip with his daughter and their nervous dog. He came down to the fire pit carrying an armful of firewood whinging about whether he felt like going through the effort of making a fire for his kid. Something about his brusque demeanor was off putting to me, so I didn’t stick around for the fire. Cotton felt similarly, so we sat up by our tent and talked for awhile. We have a lot in common when it comes to depression, anxiety, and self criticality. Combine that with a shared interest in music and the outdoors and I’m pretty sure we could never tire for subject matter. But we also know how to be silent, which is key for my social stamina. It feels good to be around someone I know, but it also makes me feel preemptively lonely for the days when the hikers will be even more spread out and I’m alone more. I overheard intrepid say to a friend the other day that she had so much fun swimming and canoeing at upper goose pond that she wondered why she was hiking and not doing those things all summer. I wonder the same thing. I also know that I still want to say yes to this, which means saying no to those things for awhile. Now I’m going to lay around talking to cotton to the sound of evening bird song and sporadic sound of water dripping from the leaves in the woods around us. 
Mile 1572.9 to mile 1582.6 (9.7) 
Total miles: 579.4 
Creature feature: sometime in the middle of the day, I heard a sharp intake of breath and cotton say “snake!” as she recoiled. About two feet from her lay a garter snake. I assured her that it wouldn’t hurt her and nudged it with my hiking pole so it would move a bit farther into the brush. I had a good laugh to myself because it reminded me of the day buzzcut reached down and touched the garter snakes, which made me squeamish at the time. I think now I might be willing to give it a shot. 

Day 53: dalton edition 

Woke up around 515 and then again at 5:30 when I remembered that it’s supposed to rain. Best to get up and see if I can make it to dalton before the weather hits. I heard fearless let the air out of her sleeping pad and begin crumpling things back into their respective bags. Before I did the same, I hobbled to the bathroom. My right Achilles’ tendon transforms to concrete whenever I stop hiking, so first thing in the morning it doesn’t really allow for much ankle flexion. The bathroom in the decrepit house has pale yellow and blue tile with a single row of black tile at the top. There are holes in the ceiling and various gaping, sagging points in the corners of the shower. I had visions of a snake coming out of the wall while I was on the toilet. Thankfully it didn’t happen. 
I packed up my tent before having breakfast. The wind made it difficult to manage at the picnic table, and Hippo nearly knocked his pot over getting up from the rickety bench. That man is a walking disaster. I don’t know how he stays upright, but he just keeps going. I let him borrow my windscreen for his stove while I ate my hot breakfast. I’m officially out of cinnamon, which is a sad day. It feels ridiculous to say that when I know there are outrageous things happening in the world. Real things with will real impact. 

I left the Wiley property at 650 and was back on trail by 655. The first section was a continuation of dense forest with evergreens, poplars, and thick ground cover. There were periodic boardwalks, some of which have seen better days. I like the ones that look like they were handmade from a tree rather than the 2×4 wooden planks. I patiently picked my way through the roots and tried not to get upset with my pace as people passed me. I can’t fail at hiking just because I walk outrageously slow, right? How do other people seem to be undisturbed by their feet rolling over roots and pounding down hills? I’m talking about people wearinf trail runners as well as boots, in case you’re thinking, well get different shoes, dummy. I’ve historically had trouble with sore feet no matter what type of shoe I wear, so I don’t know why I expect this to be any different. 

Anyway, I came to a road crossing and found the perfect rock for putting my feet up on my pack. Intrepid came out of the woods with her wild eyed gaze checking for traffic before she crossed the street. She asked if I was okay, and I told her I was just taking a quick break. 

The trail eventually made a small uptick towards warner hill, which afforded this view of Mt Greylock in the distance. A thick layer of ferns covered the hillsides with unruly raspberry bushes scattered about. 

As I descended warner hill, I saw two birds fly by to my left, but I couldn’t catch their colors because of the angle. As I turned back to continue north, I saw a flash of red among the white raspberry blooms. I took a few steps forward and confirmed that it was a scarlet tanager. Here’s a terrible picture of it that I got while it hopped to higher and higher branches as I crept towards it. 

I finally heard it sing, although the tune has of course gone from my head now. On the way down the hill, I ran into a woman and her dog heading south. She called out that her dog was friendly and I replied, that’s good because so am I. Gave her dog a hearty back scratch and moved on. 
The next few miles were unremarkable. More evergreens, a few small stream crossings, and a gradual down hill that got annoyingly rocky at points. I tried not to be alarmist when my feet twinged more than usual. They are without a doubt more tender than I’d like, but I’m not experiencing the nerve pain I was two days ago. I’m considering taking a zero day in Williamstown at my friend’s house. The prospect of good company, epsom soaks and finding new spandex shorts without having to rush around doing everything Sunday evening is pretty tempting. And ice cream, which Mama has made a requirement of my stay in her apartment. 
With about a mile to go, my mind wandered to lunch. I googled the menu for the pub I hoped to get a burger at and realized it wasn’t open for lunch. As I tried to recalculate, I heard a rustle off to my left. I looked up, expecting to see a squirrel or a chipmunk, and instead found a juvenile bear galloping down the hillside. I did a quick scan for mama bear, which came up empty. I then attempted my own gallop out of there, but I could only go so fast on the roots. I relaxed after a few hundred yards and never did see any sign of the mother. That makes two bear sightings, both of which have mostly involved their backsides. 
A church announced the noon hour as I descended into town. Car horns and a weed whacker greeted me as I came to the railroad tracks marking the beginning of the road walk through dalton. It started to drizzle as I approached the corner where the housatonic flows through town (top pic). 

I gawked at the old houses, one of which had a sign marking the mileage to ME and GA over the porch. Perhaps I should move to dalton and live on my street? 

The sidewalks were hard on my feet, so I did what would drive my etiquette bound loved ones crazy and walked on people’s lawns whenever I could. I stopped at the gas station and bought food for the next two days. I had no plans to waste energy and time on my feet trying to get to the major grocery store a few miles away. I scored the last box of mac & cheese, Fritos, and various bars to eat as snacks and with peanut butter for lunch. Then I sat out front under the eaves of the store and ate my lunch, which consisted of chips, the last hard boiled egg with pepperoni, and a seltzer. I came pretty close to buying orange soda, but I felt guilty about consuming that much sugar when I wasn’t actually very sweaty or tired. 
After I ate, I repackaged the mac&cheese and peanuts, and emptied what trash I could from my bag. A woman got out of her car and left it running. She said to me, if anyone tries to steal it, let them! And I called back, okay! It might be me! When she came back out with a gallon of milk, she said “you failed me!” Because her care was still sitting there safely wasting gas. I realized a little too late that she would have been a good prospect for a ride to the library where I planned to kill the afternoon. 
Another woman passed me on her way back to her car and told me not to move when I jumped to pull my feet back from the sidewalk. Then she sat in her car, doing what I don’t know. At that point, I was about to leave. I decided that I should stop being such a coward, so I walked up to her car and asked if she happened to be going in the direction of the library. She said yes and I asked if she would mind giving me a ride. I could tell she didn’t really want to by the way she said yes, but that didn’t stop me from putting my bag in her backseat and hopping in next to her. As some sort of consolation, I said “I’m not that dirty right now!” I asked how her day was and she said, “tiring.” She did indeed seem exhausted even though it was only about 1 in the afternoon. She was headed to the grocery store next (guess I could have gone there if I’d really needed to) and she apparently hates grocery shopping. When I asked what she hated about it she said, spending my money! 
As I got out of her car, she said, be safe out there, which made me freeze on the inside because I forget that what I’m doing is considered dangerous in some ways. Then I crossed the busy Main Street and entered the library which is in a quaint brick building that also houses the town hall. I walked to the back where there are remarkably uncomfortable leather couches and dropped my stuff. Then I wandered around the fiction section looking for books on a list from one of my good college friends. Sadly none of them were on the shelves, but I did find a Zadie Smith book. I set my phone to charge and made it about 6 pages in before I nearly dropped the book while nodding off. The couch is definitely big enough to lay down and take a nap, but I already felt like I was pushing the boundaries of the space, so I refrained from taking a full on nap. 

I left the library around 430 to give myself ample time to be slowwww on the roadwalk back to deweys pub. On the way there, I passed the shamrock inn and saw peregrina’s blaze orange cap from a distance. I thought it would be funny to just show up with the dollar she let me borrow so I scurried across the busy street and walked up to her at a table outside of her room. She was amused by my efforts and said, again, that she was so happy to have met me. Her tone made it sound like meeting me was something she had been looking forward to, which felt confusing, but I let it be instead of being sarcastic to defend against this stranger’s enthusiasm. We talked for a few minutes about her group’s trepidation with the weather conditions on Mt Greylock. Then I had to excuse myself because I needed to get to the restaurant to be sure I was done in time for cotton’s arrival. 

I walked back to deweys in the misting rain. Took a table in the front window to seclude myself from the civilians and to be able to put my pack down without tripping the world. I ordered a burger (sorry cows), and decided against a beer, partially because I’m cheap and partially because I knew there would be a hill to climb in a little while. The food came quickly, and I was done eating by 530, which was about 45 minutes early. Typical. But I’d rather be early than rush. I sat at the table trying to plan food resupplies for southern VT, which made me so overwhelmed. The towns are far from the trail and I am going to have to hitchhike to make it happen. I’m also not sure how to estimate my mileage without running into the problem of attempting too much. I made frustratingly little progress, so I gave up and stared at my idiot box.

(I have pictures I want to add but the rest of this post is being written with too poor of signal to upload)  

Cotton arrived a little later than we planned and needed food, so we sat in the restaurant while she ate her takeout burger. Then we headed out into the drizzle and walked about a mile and a half through dalton, my feet screaming the whole time. Road walks are the death of me. We fell into an easy pattern of questions and silence, catching up on major life events while commenting on our surroundings. I tried not to be resentful of her faster pace and reminded myself that she walks faster than me under any condition. Always with the judgment and the barometer for my perceived strength. 
When we entered the woods north of town, the light cut in half and continued to dwindle as we climbed out of dalton. We hit the occasional bright spot caused by gaps in the tree canopy. The climb was long, but not terribly steep, and then it flattened out to a spacious forest scattered with ferns and other ground cover. We eventually reached the power lines, which marked the last few minutes before our campsite. By then the light had gotten so dim that I was tempted to use my headlamp, but it also felt exciting to be hiking in the dark. 

We hit the turn off for crystal mountain campground at 8:45. We settled on a campsite right by the fire ring and picnic table. There were only 2 other tents there, one of whom was intrepid tucked far into the woods. Cotton ate French fries crouched on the picnic table like a frog. We took turns setting up our beds and then both crawled into the tent. There’s enough room at the foot for my bag, which made me happy because leaving it outside makes me wary of creatures (namely: spiders and porcupines). Cotton was worried about her pack smelling like French fries so we took advantage of a nearly empty bearbox and she put her whole bag in there. Newbie move, but neither of us wanted to deal with company in the night. 

Cotton curled up in her sleeping bag while I stood in the spitting rain next to the last embers of a fire talking to my steady on the phone. The fire was still throwing off heat, which surprised me given there were only a few glowing coals left. I got spooked by noises in the woods and it was getting late, so we said goodnight and I crawled back into the tent. I feel like prospective thru hikers should do yoga because of all the pretzel maneuvers that are involved in camping. I’m finishing this to the sound of rain and feeling happy about how spacious the tent feels because the headroom acts like a vaulted ceiling. 

Mile 1559.2 to mile 1572.9 (13.7) 

Total miles: 569.7 

Creature feature: the bear! possibly cub but maybe just adolescent, the scarlet tanager and that silly creature named cotton. 

Day 52: cookie lady edition 

I woke up around 7 this morning. Better than usual for trail time, but I had hoped to sleep until 8 because I’m only going about 9.5 miles today. There’s no reason to rush, but once I’m up, I’m up. I walked over to the office to check out the breakfast, which was a pitiful display of muffins and fruit. I grabbed a mediocre banana and two muffins that were bigger than my fist. I sat outside my room in the sun and ate one of the muffins with peanut butter. I packed the other one out for my lunch. Boy was that a bad idea. Too much muffin. I felt so sluggish all afternoon. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 
I went back inside and finished writing yesterday’s post. On average, they take about an hour to write, then I add pictures and fuss with editing (although clearly not that much because I can’t always be bothered to deal with punctuation. Typing on a phone is TEDIOUS. Forgive me. I know I’m missing commas and quotation marks). After writing, I went about putting my pack back together and retaping my feet. I iced them again this morning and massaged them. My left foot feels noticeably better, but my right foot has an unfortunate blocky painful feeling under my second toe, as if someone shoved a piece of wood in my foot. 
I left the hotel and was back on trail around 10am. The terrain was dismal today. Thick forest that felt like it was closing in on me with no views to speak of. Exposed roots filled long stretches around several bogs and ponds. Roots are almost as bad as the shit kicker rocks in PA because they make it impossible to get a flat step. On the upside, the temperature was perfect for hiking and the bugs were at half force relative to recent days. I felt lonely this morning and missed the company of buzzcut. She would never have agreed to those long days! Maybe I should use her as a barometer for how long to hike until my feet feel better. WWBD. I also felt fear of injury creeping in one moment and certainty that things would be fine the next. The emotional ping pong continues. 

I took tiny breaks about every hour to rest my feet. Stopped on a nice long rock for lunch and ate the other muffin with peanut butter, which I regretted as soon as I started walking. So heavy. The trail around finerty pond was very overgrown with what I think are raspberries. Someone correct me if I’m wrong. 

I also saw patches of lady fingers around a beaver bog, which I wasn’t expecting. Around 230, I ran into intrepid on one of my many breaks near the overmountain shelter. She also has plans to stay at the cookie lady house (i will explain later). She was so confused to see me because she forgot that I had taken most of yesterday off. She said wait are you still going north?? I laughed and assured her I was. When I passed the shelter, I had a little over two miles left before the cookie lady intersection. My feet were starting to get really sore, which made me frustrated. I slowed down even more and tried to walk with my core engaged, which somehow seems to take pressure off of my lower legs. Maybe I use bigger muscles that way? I also continued to try to pick up my legs at my hips instead of focusing on pushing off with my feet. Sounds like so much effort just to walk. But I suppose I take interest in these things and I like to monkey with imagery and muscles to see how the effort changes. I wasn’t too preoccupied to miss this new little flower: 

I heard my exit road long before I saw it because the trail runs adjacent to it for about a half mile. I met a woman named peregrina at the intersection who also intended to stay in the yard at cookie lady’s house. The property is about 100 yards east of the trail and houses a blueberry farm, chickens, a dilapidated building full of bicycles, doors, and various lawn equipment, and the main house where an elderly couple, Mr. Wiley and Marilyn, live. They sell Klondike bars, fresh eggs (raw or hard boiled), sodas, and they give out cookies. I’m not certain you have to work to get a free cookie, but it seems that way. They also let hikers tent on their lawn. In return, they ask that people help in some small way around the property. Today’s tasks involved mowing the lawn and filling water buckets for flushing the hiker toilet in the dilapidated house. I mowed for about 10 minutes. Intrepid did an even larger section around the side yard. 

Mr. Wiley, who seems to be in his eighties, was patient with the slow trickle of requests to buy snacks and he showed interest in where we were all from. They have a hiker register and a list of the 50 states for people to check off their home state. It was fun to look at the list of international locations written in at the end. Peregrina let me borrow a dollar because I only have large bills at the moment, and I was dying for a hard boiled egg (price: 40 cents). The energy this afternoon was so communal and grateful. I finally met an older woman named Snow White, whom I’ve heard of by name. Hippo is here. He helped Mr. Wiley fix a spigot on the side of the house. 

When Mr. Wiley tried to rise from the ground, hippo picked him up the rest of the way. Later Mr. Wiley sailed by on a riding lawn mower, and I caught a glimpse of what he must have looked like 20 years ago because you couldn’t see the way his left hand shakes or his bad eye. 

As we all sat around the picnic table (horrible candid that I did not warn anyone about), a NOBO named sweet spot arrived. She seemed dejected and frustrated by having to stop earlier than she planned, but she also seemed intent on getting better at listening to her body. Fearless and I had just been talking about how bad we are at taking breaks throughout the day and how difficult it is to moderate ourselves. In comes sweet spot with the same thing on her mind. We talked about her foot pain and I shared mine as well. She said she didn’t understand why she was so sore after a flat 9.5 miles. I said yes, it was flat, but it was full of heinous roots that made the footing difficult. She conceded the impact that had on our bodies. I’d rather walk straight up for 3 days than deal with roots for an afternoon. 

There was a rotating cast of hikers at the picnic table eating dinner. Ramen and mashed potatoes played a prominent role. I made a Mary Janes lentil chili meal (verdict: good) and ate a hard boiled egg while I waited for my food to cook. I finally got smart and started setting the stopwatch for my rehydration time instead of always forgetting what I time I put my food on. Fearless gave me a couple of payday snack size bars when I whined about not having anything sweet. And then came the cookies! I had given up on the idea of cookies after hearing that Marilyn, the infamous cookie lady, wasn’t home. They were oatmeal chocolate chip, so it was basically meant to be because that’s my favorite kind of cookie. 

After dinner, I went exploring for the toilet. When I walked into the crumbling house, a wave of grease and machine oil reminded me of my grandfather who worked for a farm supply store. Fearless and I wandered around the falling down house filled with dozens of bicycles, remnants of a motorbike, a car hood, stacks of doors and windows, and no less than 3 chainsaws sitting next to the toilet in the bathroom. 

Now I’m tented in soft grass underneath a pine tree listening to hikers shoot the shit at the picnic table, intrepid coughing and yawning loudly in her tent next to me, an insistent bird that reminds me of the alarm for the roof door at my old apartment, and the flaps of my tent rustling as the wind picks up. It sprinkled a few minutes ago. I hope Cotton and I don’t end up soggy all weekend.  

Mile 1549.7 to mile 1559.2 (9.5) 

Total miles: 556 

Creature feature: I saw a new bird that was a dark slate gray with white (or light gray?) underside and a long tail. It reminded me of a cat bird but different colors. I also saw another black and white warbler with a different proportion of white to black, which makes me wonder if it’s a female or if it’s a different kind of warbler. Last but not least, here’s one of the Wiley chickens.