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. Must.listen.to.body.
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