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 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 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 50: neverending edition 

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 45: disbelief edition 

Woke up to the sound of birds around 515 this morning. I poked my head up over the bathtub* of my tent and saw the beginnings of sunrise. It felt too soon to be awake, and my bed is so comfortable, so I laid my head back down and fell asleep for a few more minutes. when I woke up around 540, here’s what I saw.

I wasn’t any more ready to get out of bed then, but I knew it had to be done. I gave my feet a quick massage, grabbed my coat and climbed out of my tent to retrieve our food bags. While I was in the middle of preparing breakfast, JD emerged and immediately started talking about something. He can be very thoughtful and he does have interesting stories at times, but lately I haven’t been in the mood to talk, especially not first thing in the morning. I provided the minimum required  responses to not be rude and focused on eating. New favorite thing: freeze dried banana in my breakfast. 

Cog came to the picnic table and joined in the conversation. I found out that he flew helicopters for the army. It felt different to be able to list off terms like JSOC (joint special operations command, a unit my dad worked in for several years) and have someone actually know what I meant. After breakfast, I took a quick look at cog’s pack to see how the hip belt attached because he also has a zpacks arc haul zip. Then I went about breaking down camp. JD actually beat me onto the trail for once. When I left, a guy named hamfist was still asleep, cowboy camping* on a tent platform. 

The sun light filtered through the trees casting shadows of ferns against the rocks. I could see my breath every now and then (mostly on the hills). In trail land we say north and south for directionals, but the trail actually runs many directions. I like to watch the sun travel from one shoulder to the other as it did this morning. At one point I think I was walking southeast. 

About a half mile before I crossed into CT, I came across this bridge with an interesting support system and a beautiful stealth camping site off the left bank (not pictured). Made a mental note for future overnight possibilities. Then came a muddy stretch where I amused myself by analyzing the prints. There were deer prints for most of the section, two different sized dogs, and the deeper gouges of human feet. 

After a road crossing, I came to the welcome to CT sign, which stirred up a lot of emotions. I knew they were coming because I’ve hiked much of the next 40 miles with fp and our dog (and sometimes a dog friend whom I miss because she moved to CA). 

The trail staid close to the forest floor for awhile, and I enjoyed the relative flatness while my mind replayed old hikes along that stretch. I recalled a mixture of joy at getting out of the city and frustration that I could never keep up with fp or my friend. The fringe benefit of being slow at the time was silence because they often talked more than I had the energy for in the woods (sorry, friends). 

Eventually the trail took a left turn and I went up and over ten mile hill, which is neither 10 miles nor a hill. There weren’t any views to speak of because of leaf cover. As I went down the other side, I started to get excited for what I knew was coming. The intersection of the ten mile river and the housatonic river is one of my favorite spots in CT. I could hear ten mile river from at least a quarter mile away. As I rounded the last corner before the two rivers meet and the housatonic slowly came into view, I stopped in my tracks to take in the glittering water and the shadow of the bridge. My heart felt so full and so sad at the same time. I can remember sitting in the river after a sweltering summer hike about three years ago and watching with envy as someone who I assumed was a thru hiker crossed the bridge (top picture). Now I’m about to do the same thing. I’ve walked over 450 miles and it still doesn’t feel real. The bruises and cuts and hiker hobble and loneliness are definitely real, but something about the bigger picture feels like a dream. 

I sat on a rock by the river and ate a snack while my emotions surged. JD came around the corner and took a picture of me in the middle of my daze. He said later that he could feel the magic of that spot. I didn’t loiter for as long as I wanted. I also didn’t get in the water even though it was incredibly tempting. I settled for sticking my wrists in to give the illusion of cooling my feet, which were overheating and sore. Then I climbed the unreasonably steep steel stairs and crossed the river. I took one more look back and then kept moving. 

The trail follows the housatonic for about a mile and then takes a sharp left away from the river. I stopped at a side trail that led down to a better view. As I pulled my phone out to take a video of the raging waters of the housatonic, two great blue herons flew by. One of them swooped back towards the direction it had come, and I got a picture of it against the white water of the river, but it just looks like a blue. They were a stunning sight with their dusty blue feathers and s-shaped necks. 

As I walked high above the river, I received a group text from tai chi saying he had decided to end his hike and head home. Buzzcut replied to the text saying she had decided to head home again. I had been so swept up in the power of the river that I couldn’t quite process what I had read. I decided to text her directly to confirm. I realize now that I don’t think I shared her decision to return to the trail. I was so distracted by my fall and subsequent exhaustion that I forgot to mention Buzzcut’s return to the trail Tuesday evening (the same day I came back from my break). I remember feeling comforted by the fact that she was behind me and saddened by the unlikelihood that we would hike together because of our distance. We had a brief text exchange Wednesday commenting on the relief of sunny weather, and I shared some warnings about the heinous stone steps coming down from bear mountain. And now she’s gone. She found what she needed from the trail and is moving on. Hopefully I can wrangle her into hiking together when I reach the whites. 

Right after I saw the herons I got a text from buzzcut saying our time together had helped her realize she wanted more company in her life (same goes for me if you’re reading this, buzzcut). I’m sure you can guess what’s coming. Yes! More crying! My emotions were already in full tilt and the beauty of the birds combined with the sincerity and kindness were too much for me. 

The middle part of the day is a hot and hilly blur. The temperature was actually reasonable, but the elevation changes made for sweaty work. We went through a burned section that still smelled faintly of smoke. There were no signs announcing s controlled burn, so I can’t say for sure if it was a forest fire or forestry maintenance.  There was also an unfortunately rocky and long descent from the summit of schaghticoke mountain.

 I had my mind set on getting to Kent this afternoon to get ice cream and hopefully new shorts. My intention was to then go past Kent and stealth camp so that I can make tomorrow a more moderate distance to my goal of west Cornwall road where I’m getting picked up by a Brooklyn dog friend who has a house in Sharon, CT. I was also hoping to stay at Riga shelter the following night so that I can catch the sunrise (it faces east and has an open view of the horizon), but I don’t think I can make it work. The reasoning is tedious to explain (even more than I already have), but I need to be in MA next Friday to meet a friend who wants to join me and the variables just don’t match up with the mail drop I have planed into sharon and my friend’s schedule tomorrow. It’s fine. I’ve seen the sunrise at riga before, and I can make it happen again without throwing off the possibility for company. I don’t have that many friends clamoring to sweat all day and sleep on the ground with me! 

Anyway, JD is planning to join me at my friends house in Sharon, so he followed my hair brained plan for the day. The walk into Kent is 0.8 miles, which makes for a long 1.6 mile round trip detour added to a 13ish mile day. As we were nearing the bottom of the hill that meets route 341, a couple of day hikers that had passed us several times came down the hill behind me. I realized that they were going to get to their car right as we hit the intersection. I rushed down the hill to make sure the timing aligned with asking them for a ride. They didn’t bat an eye when a smelly thru hiker such as me asked if they could take us to the outfitter in Kent. Thank you, college aged looking kids out for a hike on a Thursday afternoon. My feet appreciate you! 

When we got to the outfitter slash ice cream shop slash hiker post office, I browsed the store in hopes of some sort of spandex. Oh what a joke that turned out to be. The floofyiness of the selection was beyond comparison. How can this place call themselves an outfitter?? They didn’t even have a screwdriver on hand to fix JD’s wonky hiking pole. I drowned my annoyance in ice cream. Blueberry honey lavender and peanut butter cup swirl to be exact. JD got a chocolate milkshake. I sat at the table while secretly charging my phone by the soda machine and tried to revise my plan. As previously mentioned, I don’t recalculate well and I felt rigid about wanting that sunrise. JD looked at options for sharing some sort of town stay even though I’d already made it clear that I intended to camp. This and the amount of time it took him to come back from the gas station pushed me over the edge. I feel more and more itchy to be hiking alone. It’s hard to balance the desire to have company at the end of the day with a desire to not have to engage during the day. 

We did not succeed in getting a ride back to the trail. The road walk made my left foot so achy and the prospect of not finding a camping spot stressed me out. I felt aggravated that I was worried about taxing JD with the climb up from the highway. He made his choice so why should I be concerned about it? I had half expected him to retreat back to the shelter on the other side of the road, but up the giant hill we went. We found a mossy spot about 15 yards off the trail near the top of the climb. I’m happy to be up high rather than in a buggy bottom next to a stream, which was my backup plan. 

We set up our tents and I put together a cold dinner because I didn’t feel hungry enough to warrant eating an entire box of macaroni and cheese. Then I hung out bear bags, and I’ve been holed up in my tent writing for the last hour. The sky was a deep pastel pink and blue earlier, but the colors weren’t deep enough to show up in a picture so I had to go old school and just look at it without the excitement of sharing it. Now I’m finishing this to the faint sound of road noise, bugs popping against my tent, and twigs snapping in the underbrush (most likely chipmunks). 

Mile 1454.6 to mile 1468 (13.4) 
Total miles: 464.8 

Creature feature: towards the end of the morning. I crested a hill and noticed a tree with eyes and ears that turned out to be deer staring at me with one leg up in anticipation of a fast escape. After about a minute, she decided to move on. She ran about 50 yards away and stopped to stare at me as I continued up the trail. I also nearly stepped on a toad, but caught myself in time. Oh! I nearly forgot: I also saw a giant black snake on a tree right next to me. 

My eyes couldn’t quite compute the scene and when I figured it out, I took a reflexive step 3 feet to the left and made some amusing oh shit shit shit noises. 

Day 44: mooing edition 

I slept horribly last night because of the cold temperatures. The fringe benefit to freezing is that there were no mosquitoes trying to eat my face in the night. I tossed and turned and supposedly snored a bit (according to jd), thus making it a 3 part harmony with the other two snoring fools. 
After creaking out of my warm sleeping bag, I ate breakfast and thumbed through the trail log. Halfway is about a day and a half ahead of me, according to his entry, which is exciting. I can’t wait to catch up to him. I miss his goofy laugh. I was packed and ready to go before JD, so I left with a wave. We have plans for similar miles today, so I’m sure I will see him later. The trail was very forgiving today, which made it a good day to go long. My head ached and I felt quick to tire on the hills, but those seem to be the only remnants of my fall. Well, that and the cuts. The ones on my hamstring come complete with bruising surrounded the scrapes. 
The sun was out nearly all day and the temperature remained at the top end of perfect hiking weather once it warmed up. The morning started with a leisurely stroll down to this bog next to railroad tracks and past this rushing stream.

I love walking across railroad tracks because I feel like I’m trespassing, and they always make me think of possibility even though most people don’t travel by rail these days. I also saw a lone lady slipper, which I wasn’t expecting. After the stream, the trail crossed a small paved road and climbed up and around nuclear lake. 

No clue why it’s called that, but the mosquitoes were too awake for me to stand around admiring it for long. The trail around the lake was flat and wide. Whenever it gets like that, I stop in disbelief to check my map. Experience dictates that easy walking means a wrong turn of some sort. But not so today. I had a flat, buggy walk around the western half of the lake. Then the trail went through a series of rolling hills, never gaining much in the way of elevation. I ran into Cog, the other snoring man from the shelter last night. We talked a bit, but his pace was too fast for me, so he pulled ahead. I saw him again shortly thereafter as he stood at Dover road admiring the famous Dover oak. 

It’s apparently the oldest known oak tree on the entire AT. We took our obligatory hugging pictures and then cog took a left to head into wingdale. I continued north where the trail skirts a series of pastures. Around noon, I plopped down in the shaded grass alongside the trail because I couldn’t hold out for the perfect lunch rock. Made myself a “deli salad” tuna wrap with cheese, mustard and a smattering of Fritos. I felt tired and achy, but satisfied with getting in a little over 8 miles before lunch. Day walkers passed me sitting by the trail. I can only imagine what they thought, but at least I’m only one day off from having showered. I met a couple going south that was flabbergasted by having met a man coming “all the way from VA” before happening upon me, another weirdo from far away. 

Eventually the trail took a hard left into swamp/marshlands (this view is actually south from whence I came because the light was better than northbound). I sat at one of the benches watching swallows dive into the tall grass and listening to red wing blackbirds whileI rested my feet. They’ve been pretty sore today with little provocation in the way of terrain (the rocks have been practically nonexistent). There’s something otherworldly about walking along a boardwalk surrounded by grass that goes above your head. 

At the end of the boardwalk I crossed another set of railroad tracks and hit route 22. I happened to stop and look at the trailhead sign, which I don’t often don’t. On the announcements, there was information about a hiker friendly garden center just up the trail. Intrigued by a welcoming environment, I decided to stop in for a bathroom and to check out the soda options. Sadly no orange soda, but the woman working at the center was indeed friendly. I passed on the option to fill up on water because there were streams nearby and it meant less to carry. I sat out front for a few minutes resting my feet yet again. 

I left the garden center and accidentally went the wrong way, forgetting that the trail actually takes me past the garden center and hangs a right. Back on track and feeling silly, I followed the blazes across route 22 and eventually to this turnstile: 

Which led me to cows (top picture)! Cows are LARGE, and there were several calves in the field. One of the larger cows was scratching her head against the trail marker directly in front of me. She stared me down and scraped her foot against the ground. Something about her body language and the calf standing so close to her made me wary. I had visions of being bumrushed by a cow, so I turned around and gave her some distance. Then I waited for her to tire of the pole and wander down the hill a bit. I know I nothing about cow behavior, but I’d rather wait around than end up trampled by a protective mother. 

After crossing another turnstile, I left the baying cows behind and walked through a field surrounded by tall grass. I saw a new bird that I haven’t had a chance to look up yet. It’s black and white with either a yellow cap or a white one; the lighting made it hard to tell. Because of my bird watching and general lollygagging, JD caught up with me as the trail headed back into the woods. I wasn’t in the mood for chit chat, so I gave monosyllabic answers for a bit, but I felt rude and tried to engage more with little success. I eventually let him go ahead of me while I got water at a less than ideal stream. Nothing like drinking water the color of Pinot Grigio. It actually tasted better than the water I got from the pipe at last night’s shelter. 

Much of the next two miles was a shoe eating muddy mess. There were long sections of boardwalk that seemed to drop off into quagmires that could also have used boardwalk. I nearly lost my shoe twice and definitely did some cursing as my feet kept getting half submerged in brown water. Thankfully the last mile and a half were much drier. My feet were very sore at that point, and I felt exhausted. Last mile crankies + a headache = snack attack. Is this why my regular clothes don’t fit?? Or is it my buns of steel? (Really, I had to switch into shorts for my dad’s birthday dinner because the jeans I brought were painfully tight.) 

I made it to the shelter and rejoiced in the fact that it’s literally on the trail. Powered through my tent set up and felt grateful that the ground was relatively soft, which meant far less digging around for desirable stake spots. Then I walked 0.1 north up the trail to a little stream and filtered 2.5 liters of water. Put together a dinner of chili Mac by Mary Janes organic farm and listened to jd talk about I don’t know what. At that point I just wanted silence, but he’s a space filler. Polished off half a snickers and forced myself to not eat all the yogurt covered pretzels, which is easier said than done. Then I brushed my teeth, and jd and I hung our food on one bear line. Now I’m writing this with the moonlight shining through my tent, the sound of a train in the distance, and the texting glare from my steady because she thinks I’ve stayed up too late. She would be right; it’s way past hiker midnight. 10p. Gasp. 
Mile 1438.0 to mile 1454.6 (16.6) 

Total miles: 451.4

Creature feature: cowwws, woodpeckers galore and mystery bird 

Day 43: man overboard edition 

Today was hard in all the ways. I woke up to the chirping of Petey, one of my cats that my former partner (fp) is taking care of. Fp and I both dragged ass out of bed at 5am, her for work and me for a shower and breakfast. I had designs on catching a 745a metro north train to cold spring, but my sleepiness and difficulty leaving the dog made me late. The commute into the city was crowded, but early enough for my giant bag to take up space without being too much of a nuisance. When I got to grand central, I sat in the passageway near my train platform and wrote yesterday’s post. Had to stop a few times to avoid completely falling apart in public versus stealth crying (a skill you must learn in nyc). 
I grabbed a seat on the western side of the train so I could watch the Hudson go by. As the train got closer to my destination, I went from stewing in my old relationship sadness to stewing about leaving my steady after such a short visit. I hesitate to talk about her much on the blog because I fear that people who know my life with fp won’t accept that I can be sad about losing her as a partner while also excited about my steady. But I know it’s possible, so I suppose that’s what’s important. At any rate, it’s hard knowing that I’m walking away from Brooklyn and away from someone who’s so supportive and loving and does things like surprise me with tater tots and chocolate covered figs. 

Needless to say, by the time I hit cold spring I was experiencing a jumble of emotions. My cab driver was a chatty one, which was difficult because I just wanted to be in my head. I got out at the vacant beach area and made my way to the blue blaze trail through a gaggle of protesting geese. It felt like no time had passed because I could remember everything about getting off the trail last Wednesday, but it also felt like it had been months. My hiking poles didn’t seem connected to my arms and my feet felt like useless slabs. It was a stark contrast to the smoothness (albeit slow) I’d felt less than a week ago. 

I picked my way around the northern edge of Canopus lake and returned to the AT around 10:45. A late start for my 14 mile goal, but I’m stubborn. The morning passed in a misty daze. About an hour after lunch, the rain fell, sounding like a stream in the distance that never materialized. The cool temperatures and soggy skies meant very little in the way of breaks for the rest of the day. I can’t stop in that combination of elements. As it was, I had to put on my hand warmers. 

The specific order of terrain is a little lost at the moment (I’m writing this the day after, which I avoid for exactly this reason). I know I went under the taconic parkway and got a nice view of the surrounding mountains. 

Then I went up hosner mountain and was rewarded with a couple of views. I also managed to take the worst fall I’ve ever experienced. I’d been hiking alone all day, seeing only 2 southbound hikers for hours. Around 230, a tall gentleman with a white beard came up behind me. I stood aside to let him pass and watched him choose the rocky half of the trail. The other side of the path looked muddy and a little banked, so I picked the rocky side as well. 

I took a step onto a flat rock towards the outer edge of the corner and the next thing I knew, I was on my back tumbling hitting trees while I rolled ass over shoulder down a bank (red arrow is my trajectory, white circle is my pack where I ended). 

I came to stop about 4 feet from where I’d landed. I stifled the reflex to jump up and instead, I sat still and talked to myself saying okay, check for damages. I still had my left hiking pole because it has a strap. My right pole was nowhere in sight. I unbuckled my pack and gingerly stood up. I had felt my left hip and butt cheek hit the ground somewhere along the way, so of course I was worried about my tailbone. After standing, it became apparent that I was basically fine, and that I had ripped my shorts all to hell. There were two long but superficial scratches on my hamstring, a knot and a scratch on my left elbow (which hurt), my left wrist felt tender, and the left side of my head felt like I’d been whacked with a heavy book. I looked down at my bag and realized that the force of the fall had ripped my hip belt off the body of the bag. It scared me to think about how much worse it could have been. I’m pretty sure landing on my pack before rolling is part of what saved me from getting seriously injured. 

After assessing the damage, I took my pack back up the side of the hill and climbed back onto the path. I don’t know how the guy who passed me managed to not hear the fall. I can still hear the twigs snapping in my head as I went down the hill, limbs flying. I fussed and cursed at my bag as I tried to reattach the hip belt before I got too cold. I also texted fp to tell her what had happened in case I somehow ended up with a concussion and got too dizzy or disoriented to function. I finally managed to get the belt sort of on. I don’t know that it’s attached properly, but it works. Then I hiked 7 more miles, telling myself that I could stop and go to a hospital any road crossing if I started to feel nauseated. My head hurt and I felt tired and wobbly, but I chalked the wobbliness up to the adrenaline of the fall. It just so happens my trail friend JD is a doctor and we had plans to be at the same shelter later. I texted him to let him know I’d fallen and didn’t seem too bad, but I was telling him in case I didn’t show up later. The irony of the fall is that it happened at a moment when I was the closest to another hiker I’d been all day, but he didn’t notice anything amiss. 

I actually ran into the hiker later in the afternoon because he’d taken a break at the deli not far from the trail. His name is ultra and he was shocked when I told him I’d fallen right after he passed me. He turned out to be an ultra runner (hence the name) who is also trying to run marathons in all 50 states. He’s walking big miles because he’s homesick but he has no intention of quitting. I can relate to the sense of urgency and the feeling of divided attention. We had plenty to talk about, but he disappeared around a corner, and I didn’t catch up to him again until the shelter. 

The last mile before the shelter was unfortunately one of the harder miles of the day. My pace slowed to a crawl and my will wavered. I just wanted to lay down, but I knew it was a bad instinct. Thankfully, it wasn’t raining and hadn’t been for a few hours. JD periodically checked on my progress and told me that he had half a sandwich waiting for me. I asked him to stake out a spot for me because the thought of having to set up my tent made me want to cry. I made it to camp around 7p. A new level of late, but I felt happy that I’d managed to make the miles and set myself up for the plans I made during all of my break time travels. 

JD and I sat at the edge of the shelter and split the extra sandwich he’d bought from the deli. It was Swiss, tomato, mayo, lettuce on rye and named the Ralph, after the man who established the RPH shelter (pictured below) that we passed earlier in the day. JD actually met Ralph at the deli (of course, because jd talks to everyone). 

In return for my half, I shared some of my Fritos and yogurt covered pretzels. Then I went down to the water pump and dealt with chores. It’s everyone’s favorite time of the month, which means extra water filtering to wash my cup and sad hands for me because it was so cold outside. I crawled into my sleeping bag and texted with my steady who’d also had a hard day. Then I went to sleep wearing nearly all of clothes to the sound of dueling snores off to my right. 

Mile 1420.0 to mile 1438.0 (14) 

Total miles: 434.8 
Creature feature: was trudging up a little hill when I happened to look up and see what I later found out is a yellow beaked cuckoo (I think). It’s a medium sized bird (catbird or flycatcher size) with white underparts and a white chin with a tawny brown back and head. Also saw several woodpeckers throughout the afternoon. A downy and one with a red cap. I love watching them hop up the side of tree trunks. 

Oh and I hugged this tree because I thought it was the Dover oak. Turns out it’s just a gigantic tree but I still feel good about hugging it (taken with a self timer because I hiked alone forever. You can see the rip in my shorts if you look closely).