Day 55: Greylock editionĀ 

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 50: neverending editionĀ 

Let’s return to last night, shall we. I went to sleep around 10. I left all the flaps on my tent open because of the warm temperatures and dry forecast. This makes for a wonderful, airy feeling because the doors on either side of me are huge. It also makes for an incredibly vulnerable feeling when you hear a four legged creature definitely larger than a chipmunk crunching it’s way over the dead leaves towards your tent in the middle of the night. I awoke to that sound around 130 and went rigid in my sleeping bag. My only weapons short of my hiking poles, which were holding up my tent, are a 2 inch pocket knife and a can of mace. Both of these things were in my pack, but I was too afraid to make noise and draw attention to myself to get them out. I lay frozen, listening to the creature get closer. I kept expecting to see the large shadow of a bear in the moonlight, but nothing appeared. The footsteps stopped just to the left of my tent. My mind was racing to remember if I had left anything smelly in my bag and wondering if my snack pocket smelled enough like food to entice a bear. I could hear a small clicking noise, which I guessed belonged to a porcupine. Funny enough, I had researched porcupines earlier that day on a break because the notes for the last shelter discussed a very pesky porcupine, and I wanted to know if they tend to eat through tents. I didn’t find an answer to that question, but I did read that they are attracted to salt and you should not leave anything outside your tent including your shoes. I had broken my no shoes in the tent rule expressly for the purpose of protecting them from hungry porcupines. 

Once I realized it wasn’t a bear, I relaxed a bit, but I was still worried that the porcupine would puncture my tent somehow. Judging by the footsteps, it was moving towards the shelter. I could hear annoying noise shortly there after, a few minutes later, there were multiple porcupines making a disturbing mewling noise that I’ve been told is part of their mating ritual. They eventually moved on, but I had trouble falling asleep after such a scare. 

That brings us to 19.6 miles yesterday after too many other miles and not enough sleep. Again. I sat like a lump on a rock in front of the shelter and ate a cold breakfast of an oat bar covered in peanut butter and honey. I felt nauseated after my usual warm breakfast yesterday, so I am experimenting with something different today. The hike started on the rocky steep hilly mess from yesterday, which eventually flattened out to a rooty mess.

It circled the eastern half of this pond (read: mosquito misery) and eventually crossed a road that led me into a pine forest. I found a stream that didn’t involve getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, so I sat on the little bridge and took a break. Goddess and boss passed me at the road crossing. I made a comment about seeing them on the uphill because I still tend to do those faster than a lot of people. Boss and goddess section hiked 1200 miles last year and are doing the rest of the trail this year. They bicker and amuse themselves like sisters. They also talk really loudly. While it would have been fun to walk with them, it was much quieter alone. 

My goal today is upper goose pond cabin, which is 15.8 miles away. When I set that goal, I still intended to hit North Adams by Friday. As I walked, I couldn’t fathom how I was going to do several more 17ish mile days in a row. I finally decided to risk letting down my hiking friend and told her that I would not make our date in time. Then I texted the friend I plan to stay with and changed my arrival time yet again. She of course was very understanding and doesn’t seem to mind when I show up. As for my hiking friend, she was also wonderful about the change and told me to take care of myself. Pretty good advice for somebody who is adept at ignoring red flags when I perceive my integrity or strength to be on the line. My hiking friend, whose trailname is Cotton, is actually a music friend from Swannanoa. She suggested that she could meet me wherever I am Friday, so I agreed to recalculate and get back to her. Then I called a hotel that is 2 miles north of the pond and made a reservation for tomorrow. I decided that I would take a really short day (aka “nero”) after staying at the cabin. If, for some reason the cabin had electricity, my backup plan was to take a total zero there because I need to rest, but I also need to charge my devices in light of my extended timeline to North Adams. 

Around midmorning the trail passed by a wall of large moss and fern covered boulders. This wouldn’t have been remarkable except for the blast of cold air I felt as I passed the boulders. It was as if someone had flicked on an air conditioner. I felt so confused and also relieved at the brief (oh so brief) respite from the humidity.

Then came a long, beautiful descent down to road crossing. Large springy ferns covered the forest floor and the trail consisted primarily of soft pine needles. I saw a new fern today! 

I laid in a gravel parking spot at the road crossing and put my feet up against a tree stump. I elevated my feet multiple times today to try to relieve some of the achiness and inflammation. It did little for the pain, but I’m sure it was good to take breaks anyway. 

I passed a campground that I later realized I probably should have stopped at for the day. It didn’t occur to me to cut my day short at the time even though I was in nearly constant pain. I need to get better at accessing that line of reasoning. Anyway, then the trail climbed steeply upwards to Tyringham Cobble, which is a section of land protected by the trustee of reservations. I had heard that a portion of this trail had been closed briefly due to a fire that caused timber rattlesnakes to flee their dens. I saw evidence of the fire but no rattlesnakes. At the first overlook I came to, I saw a long flat rock that looked perfect for a foot resting perch. I laid my pack down and stretched out with my feet raised above my heart. I made the mistake of closing my eyes and nearly fell asleep. Naps are not my friend so I rolled off the rock and kept going. 

With electricity in my near future, I threw caution to the wind and listened to music on my phone to help pass the time. After tyringham cobble, the trail descended a bit and followed alongside this field for a short time. 

As I emerged from the woods and saw the farm on the hillside, the song Jubilee came on my playlist. This made me think of camp (aka the Swannanoa Gathering), and all the people I’m excited to see in a little over a month. The thought of good company and music combined with the expansion of the field left me feeling full and lonely at the same time. After returning to the woods, I passed this stream with a large flat rock in the middle that made for a bubble effect that I guess is hard to see in the picture, but it was mesmerizing in person. 

The trail passed through more overgrown fields and wetlands. The smell of warm soil and wildflowers filled the air along with tufts of cottonweed. Dragon flies buzzed and popped around me as I descended to a road crossing. I didn’t hear any cars, but I decided to look both ways because that’s the rule. As I looked left, I saw this wooden shed with a few hikers milling about. 

I walked down and looked inside to find a wall of snacks, including a mini fridge with coldish drinks and an honor system for payment. I had just been lamenting my food situation and dearth of midday snacks. I grabbed the following (and maple brown sugar pop tarts just outside the frame) : 

I asked the names of hikers and proceeded to make my lunch there because I can’t pass up a picnic table in the shade. I also needed to drink my soda so I could get rid of the can. They were a handful of section hikers, one woman is doing what we call a “long ass section hike” or LASH. One of the men had already thru hiked the PCT, AT and some other trail. He proceeded to stand too close to me and evangelize loudly about the PCT. I promptly said yeah I’m not doing that because it’s too cold. I think my certainty made him dig his heels in even more. Honestly, why do people try to change your mind instead of just listening and saying “oh, okay that’s your perspective. I hear that.” This man also kept talking over me when I tried to extol the virtues of my shoes because he was wearing the same kind. I was not sad to see him leave. 

After my soda joy, I walked back to the trail and went through a pasture. The cows were clumped up the hill to my right, their tails swishing in time with each other. The trail went through these woods, crossed that gap and the other side eventually turned to marshland. 

After a road crossing the trail transitioned back into dense pine forest during a long gradual climb. Beads of sweat hung from my eyelashes and trickled down my stomach. I stopped about 3/4 of the way up the pine needle covered stretch to drink water that was still cold from the stream a half mile back. At the top, I passed through a cheerful section of bright green ferns and mossy rock walls: 

Around knee deep pond, the trail turned to a root filled, buggy, rocky mess that eventually ascended back into pine forest with fewer bugs. The last three miles were torture. The trail was littered with small roots hiding under a deceiving bed of soft leaves. My feet felt pulverized, and I wanted to take more breaks, but the bugs were too bad because I was yet again close to a pond.  My steady was having her own endless day, so we whined to each other and she reminded me that it would indeed end at some point. 

I finally made it to the turn off for the cabin after bursting into tears once and yelling F you to rocks and mosquitoes multiple times. The half mile blue blaze trail* felt harder than the last mile of most of my marathons. As I approached the tent area, I heard thunder so I decided to see about the cabin. It would be the more social option too. Figured it would be more social too. I arrived at the main cabin (a 2 story wooden building with actual doors and a bunk room that holds about 16 people) to boss and goddess sitting at a picnic table. They gave me a hearty greeting and expressed relief at mh arrival. Apparently they’d been asking other hikers about me all afternoon because they thought I would pass them on the long ups and I never did because of the frequent breaks.

I felt inconsolable and couldn’t figure out what to do first. Cfunk is here. As are moss and disco! I tried to get disco’s pic, but he wouldn’t have it. I finally decided to go jump in the pond before eating. I ate a snack to stave off complete meltdown and snagged a bottom bunk, so I wouldn’t have to climb with sore feet. Then I hobbled down to the beach/dock area and took a short swim. The water wasn’t ice cold, but my circulation isn’t so great after long days of exercise, so I got out to avoid sad extremities. Then I filtered water and sat with a few women (wiki, Allie & hot mess) who are out for varying lengths of section hikes. Wiki got a stress fracture in her pelvis during her thru hike attempt last year, so she’s continuing northbound from where she had to leave the trail. Her sister, Allie, is joining her for about a week, and their friend, hot mess, is doing a month before she attends medical school. It turns out Allie’s girlfriend and I attended the same college, and she and hot mess have lived in DC, so we had a bunch of things in common along with a very similar sense of humor. It felt good to laugh and quip with people as if we’d been hiking together for weeks. I’m sad that I won’t continue on with them tomorrow because of my decision to nero, but I need to give my feet a break from all the poor decisions I’ve made this week. 

Now I’m finishing this to the sound of various rustlings and zippers from the other 9 hikers in here, voices traveling up from a leisure boat on the pond, and a chorus of frogs. I’m sad that Allie is only out for a short time when I need to be too conservative to follow her group. It would have been fun to spend more time with a fellow gay, especially one with whom I have things in common. 

Mile 1532.3 to mile 1548.1 (15.8) 

Total miles: 544.9 

Creature feature: I didn’t make any notes about animals and I’m having trouble recalling anything besides the usual birds and cows. Oh, there was a short stretch where I saw a half dozen little toads hopping out of the way of my hiking poles.

*side trails leading to shelters, viewpoints, towns, or resources (e.g., water) are marked with blue blazes 

Day 9: the 100 mile revoltĀ 

Another crazy rainstorm last night that woke me up around 145 in the morning. I closed the doors on the right side of my tent and kept one of the left doors open. I think I lucked out in terms of the wind because everything in my tent stayed dry while the rain battered it for at least an hour. I had trouble falling back asleep, but managed to get a few more hours before waking up around 530. I could hear other people stirring and I saw little headlamp below the edge of my tent doors, so I crawled out of my tent and had breakfast with Halfway, Chrissy and Frontpocket. Halfway has worked in park services for a long time and lives in southern Utah where there’s no cell service, so he doesn’t have a cell phone. Instead he uses his gadget, aka iPod. 

It was a brisk and breezy morning, which is lovely for hiking and a little less lovely for packing up a wet tent. But my hands seem to do OK and they warmed up pretty quickly after setting off. I’m going to have to buy some honey or cinnamon for my breakfast because for some reason it’s justkind of  bland.

About 20 minutes after leaving camp, I heard a loud squawking overhead and looked up to find a pair of pileated woodpeckers land in the trees towering over me. They’re so prehistoric looking and have very jaunty movements. I watched them for a minute until they flew out of sight.

The first few miles this morning took me through beautiful, lush section forest. The breeze was frequent and cool, and my favorite white flower stretched to lengths of nearly 3 feet along either side of the trail. This combined with the wet earth from last nights storm made for a very fragrant walk. *apparently that plant is an invasive mustard, which is sad, but I still love smelling it. I also crossed several happy little streams with morning light angling through the trees.

A few miles later, I hit Pinegrove furnace State Park, which is a beautiful little park with wide green fields, two different’s piped water sources, dozens of picnic tables, and a flat shady walk towards the eastern end of the park where I hit 100 miles. It was a long gradual climb leaving the state park boundary. Thankfully today involved a lot of shade until the last couple of miles. I accidentally took the wrong trail to get to the overlook at pole steeple, so Jimmy (“moving target”) and I bushwhacked our way towards the proper trail using the guthook satellite option. Moving Target is part of an existing trail family that I’ve been hanging out with the last couple of days. He has chickens! At home in southern Illinois. Anyway, we got to the overlook and were rewarded with jagged rocks and this view: 

After the overlook, we stopped for first lunch. The breeze was phenomenal today and there were fast moving clouds against a bright blue sky all day. Perfect hiking weather. And also the day my legs decided to revolt. I noticed a tiny twinge in my left shin, near the front of my ankle when jimmy and I were heading to our lunch spot. Shortly after that, the twinge turned into a knife and stayed sharp for the remainder of the walk, which was an unfortunate 4.5 more miles to the road crossing where we planned to get picked up for our town stay. I’ve had that pain during runs so I wasn’t worried at first, but it kept getting sharper. I stopped to massage my shin muscles and the muscle that lifts your foot. I stretched my calves. Eventually I got smart and put kinesiology tape on the muscle. That helped more than I expected, but not enough to walk at a regular pace and not enough to stave off the misery. So THIS is what happens when you don’t take a zero (aka a day of no hiking in trail lingo) and you walk 100 miles in 9 days. I tried really hard not to judge myselfand to let go of the failure thoughts with varying degrees of success. Breathing and engaging my core and imagining lifting my foot with other muscles in my leg also helped a lot. The magic of imagery. It also helped that Chrissy, another member of the trail family, slowed her pace because of her own foot issues, so I had her in sight for most of the last 3 miles. Here’s her stylin way of drying her tent during the day: 

After what felt like FOREVER, we reached the road crossing where one of the caretakers for the inn came to pick us up. 5 smelly hikers piled into her mercury grand marquis and somehow the tallest guy ended up in the middle front seat. When we got to the inn, we all set about exploding our packs in search of laundry and things that need organizing. There were showers (oh showers. how I love you) and I iced my shin and took aleve and started to reconcile with the idea of leaving this fun little band of misfits so I can actually rest, whatever that means. Then came the plate of nachos the size of a football. I didn’t drink any beer given the muscle revolt already in progress. The woman tending bar talked to us about how much she admires what we’re doing, and I said that she (and the inn) were part of what make our experiences better. I asked halfway what he thinks about while he’s hiking. He said he has a running soundtrack in his head and often thinks about all the people in his life who are making this possible while trying to pay attention to how he’s moving his body. He has issues with his Achilles’ tendons. 

Before the cheese coma fully set in, we took a rousing trip to family dollar where I bought a “boonie hat” (aka a dweeby wide brimmed hat) for $6 and important interim items until we get to a real grocery store (aka peanut butter and Fritos). Then we had dinner around the corner. I ordered a salad that was gigantic and cost a whopping $8 including the added avocado. There was a lot of silliness care of too much sun and the happy exhaustion of walking for hours. Now I’m laying in a bed the size of Oklahoma and trying to accept the message I’m getting to slow down. 
*real time update in case this post sounded too sad: the majority of the group also took a zero day, so I have gotten rest and will continue to enjoy their company for the foreseeable future.  

Mileage undisclosed for the moment 

Creature feature: the pileated woodpeckers mentioned above were really the highlight of the day. Oh! And what I believe was a pair of goldfinches in pine grove furnace park. They were sitting on a branch and it looked like the male was feeding the female something. I supposed they could also have been a type of warbler. I’m bad at this game.