Day 51: Pride before the fall.
“The greatest danger could be your own stupidity.”
That was my fortune yesterday; I should have taken heed to the warning.
I stayed up late, my mind and body enjoying the warm bed and I couldn’t just turn off “Remember the Titans”… It was hard getting out of that bed and trying to upload this blog, I did not get back to the trail until nearly 10am. Mistake #1.
Maybe it was a bit of hubris that convinced me to put my trekking poles up. Crossing over the Vermont border into Massachusetts, there was a sharp rock descent. My left knee has not hurt that badly in days. I was hobbling for miles. And, I never did take out my trekking poles. Mistake #2.
I had spent most of the afternoon hiking with Josh, a young kid that hiked the AT SOBO last year and was just out for a weekend hike as he lives relatively close to Mt. Greylock. Nice kid and living a bachelor hiking lifestyle. He has a $200 a month “apartment” with a bed, wood stove for heat, two windows, and some isolation. He’s working at a paper mill to save up for possibly the PCT AND CDT next year. He has no sheets; he sleeps on a blanket with his camping quilt. Every ten dollars he saves he considers another day of hiking. To do the AT, he skipped the last year of his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He might eventually go back.
Anyways, back to my tragedies. We reached the first road in Massachusetts. I knew there was a Chinese buffet about half a mile to the east on Route 2. Josh was confident that road was Route 2, “I live here, yeah, this is definitely 2.” It wasn’t Route 2. Trust but always verify. Mistake #3. I added an extra mile or more of roadwalking (which, admittedly I like more than trail walking, I think) and burned more valuable limited daylight (see Mistake #1).
After dinner, I had to rediscover the trail to get back on course. At the Appalachian Trail parking sign, there was an event with $10 tacos and all you can drink beer, which I would have seen before dinner had I gone the right way… I was offered a beer, but light was already fading. Then I was offered a pavilion or porch to sleep on. Beer and cover. I declined and continued on my way. Never pass up beer (and sometimes shelter). Mistake #4. Ironically, that parking lot was not near the trail, either, and the first two guys I was talking to had no idea how to even get to the AT South trail.
So, as I had already burned most of my daylight, I had to hike about three miles up towards Mt. Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, in the dark to reach the shelter. I knew I should’ve replaced my headlamp…but I am getting more comfortable with night hiking after the last week. Once I reached the campsite, the shelter was another .3 off the trail. I could tell by the number of tents that I was in trouble. The shelter was occupied by a college orientation group of 12 snooty college kids. The ones the other day were willing to help everyone get comfortable and sheltered. I just got snubbed. Remember when I said not having a tent was going to come back and bite me? Today was that day. And, it’s supposed to rain all night and all day tomorrow. Mistake #5.
Marching the .3 back to the trail (lots of bonus miles today), there was only one route left. Up and over the mountain. In the dark. I startled something big in the woods and it wasn’t a bear because it was making some crazy noises. Fortunately, it ran from me. It was a long climb, another 3.5 miles or so.
Then my bad choices were absolved by a bout of luck. As I neared the summit, it was getting very windy and a few raindrops were beginning to come down. More than 3 miles to the next shelter, which was also likely to be full…my odds were not good. I saw a sign for Thunderbolt Shelter. Not in the guide book, I was intrigued. It had a heavy door, but it wasn’t locked, and there were four big wooden benches splayed around a big wooden stove in the center of this enclosed structure. I didn’t know if I could sleep there, but I figured nobody was coming out in the weather to check! I tried googling it — all I could find was that you could sometimes go there to warm up while you’re skiing, but that was several years ago. Whatever, it’s already after midnight and I have 25 -trail miles- on the day. I did later find out it’s an emergency shelter. Well, I was having a personal emergency.
Now, there were some highlights today, too. New long distance (25 on the trail and multiples not in my AT distance). Breakfast was at the hotel, lunch was leftover pizza I packed out (and need to do more often!), and dinner was at the Chinese buffet! And while I was climbing the mountain at night, I had some amazing views of the areas below all lit up. So cool!
Day 52: Rain, rain, pain.
Today was tough. I slept surprisingly well in the emergency shelter. I intended to get up and out before I got caught in the historic building, but the weather looked terrible. And I was comfortable. Who was even going to come looking when the weather was that bad? After using the alarm on my phone several times, I heard voices outside around 8am and that was my cue to get moving.
I was grateful that I stopped near the summit; unfortunately, there were no views from Mt. Greylock, including minimal visibility of the war memorial atop the mountain. The trail was difficult to follow as I had to follow disbursed signs rather than blazes (which I definitely wouldn’t have been able to follow in the dark). I went into the lodge on the summit to see if I could get some food. That didn’t work out for me, but I did get to start my day with indoor plumbing!
Going down the mountain was arduous; mud and puddles in everywhere. I passed some race officials though; there was an eight mile race that had started going straight up the mountain. An eight mile day sounded really good. The first runner hadn’t come through yet, but I heard some cheers behind me a short while later.
Going down the mountain, I never did see the other shelter that I was planning to go to before my good fortune the night before. I didn’t pass any other shelters all day. There was nowhere to hide from the rain and the cold.
The first town I came to was Cheshire. Opting for the Dollar General over the gas station was a mistake. After walking around stupified for several minutes, I got my Vol State combo: orange juice, chocolate milk, and chips. The OJ was adopted because all the potassium helped with muscle cramps and it’s good calories. The chocolate milk was adopted because it provides good energy, it’s high calorie, and recovery value with protein. The chips are just tasty calories. At Vol State, the sodium helps, too. Not needed in the cold rain. Unfortunately, the problem with Dollar General was finding a place to sit. I ended sitting between the two sliding doors at the entry literally up against the carts. Cold, wet, and unhappy. If I moved, one of the two doors would automatically open. Obnoxious. The gas station had a canopy (and I later found out, tables with a Dunkin Donuts)!
As I was leaving town, Homeward caught up to me. Apparently, he and Peeps got caught up in Rutland, too. Homeward was moving much quicker than me so I only saw him for a few minutes while Peeps yellow blazed up to the next town rather than playing in the rain. He’s still in a section of the AT he’s previously completed.
The next stretch of trail was filled with mud and bonus water crossings from the rain. I was in a poor mood due to being cold all day long. I could barely feel my hands. Everything hurt, especially my knee. The miles went slow.
If I made the next shelter, would I actually have a place to sleep? The cold and wet became too much… I was finding a hotel at the next town. I was in luck and the Shamrock Motel was right down the road from the trail in Dalton. Even more fortunate, I discovered my sleeping bag was soaked. Probably should’ve kept that trash compactor bag. Had I been at the shelter and discovered that, I would have froze the night away. (I do have another bag on the way now.)
I’m clean, warm, and entered a room with the same Irish blessing on the wall that we put on my grandmother’s prayer card at her funeral a few more than earlier. Trail karma at work again?
I’m also wondering why I packed food. I’ve had the good fortune to eat only a couple bars and a pack of poptarts from my pack in two days. I’m still carrying plenty of food to make my next planned resupply in three days. All that extra weight! Maybe I need to ditch the food next! 😉
Day 53: Easy Does It
I woke up this morning feeling every bit of the last 114 miles since leaving Rutland. Sore and moving gingerly, I finished resetting my gear which I was too tired to do the night before. A little dawdling, and I didn’t leave the room until nearly 10am.
Not one to spoil the opportunity for town food, I stopped at a local coffee/sandwich shop. Still emotionally damaged from the cold, I got a good size hot chocolate along with my bacon, egg, and cheese croissant and everything bagel with cream cheese. While enjoying that big breakfast, I also responded to some email. It’s now 11am.
Back on the trail, I was walking down the street and came across the house where Homeward, Peeps, and another female (we’ll call her “Red” for her hair). The owner allows hikers to tent in his backyard or hang out in his porch and had some sodas out for hikers.
So, of course I stopped to talk… After about 30 minutes at least I had the thought to put my still damp sleeping bag in the recently emerged sun. The group of us collaborated for about an hour to barely make a dent in the NY Times Sunday Crossword. To be fair, though, Red was reading off the clues without much of a system and frequently the number of spaces and it’s a lot harder to do a crossword without seeing it! I was impressed with myself though, I managed to remember Rip Van Winkle was written by Washington Irving which I was thinking about what seems like a few days ago on the trail. Strange.
Peeps and Homeward departed the house to stay at the Inn that I was in last night while I talked to Red for a little bit awaiting my sleeping bag to dry. By 2pm, it was mostly dry, and I figured I really needed to go. I wanted to get 20 miles today. No way without a lot of night hiking, and no assurance I’d be able to get in the cabin I was shooting for.
My hike started doggedly. I couldn’t get into gear. At one point, I was being self-congratulatory on improving at following the trail from when I started in Maine. Only to walk off the trail and spend the next 15 minutes figuring out how and what just happened and then ensuring I chose the right direction of travel. I did, after about a minute or two of the wrong way…
Mentally broken, I sat down for a coffee cake I bought at Dollar General yesterday, put in my head phones, and off I went! It seems like all the trail that followed was the type of trail I dreamed of when I thought of the AT. Soft, smooth, and fast. Picking up the pace I made a quick 12 miles as I went by the last shelter for the next nine miles.
I think it was intentional. I had my dinner consisting of three packets of apple cinnamon oatmeal, a pack of tuna, and “some” white chocolate pretzels. I say some because they’d become one in the package. Oh well.
I continued on as darkness quickly descended. I traveled for about an hour again regretting not getting a better headlamp, but probably added another two miles before finding a great place to set down my sleeping pad and make camp. Here I am, lying in the middle of the woods, comfy as can be. I need to enjoy this night because rain has the potential to start in the morning and then will continue through pickup from the trail on Thursday.
My current predicament, based on my low mileage today, is where to shoot for tomorrow. About 20 miles to a shelter and 25 to another town. Town is getting expensive quick, but it’s worth the warm, dry bed. Especially with the doubts about my sleeping bag remaining dry…
Day 54: Bearing Through
I remember being told in Army Basic Training, if you’re going to be dumb, then you’re going to be strong.
Well, walking by that shelter last night was dumb. My weather app said there was a 0% chance of rain overnight; still, I planned to get up by 5 or 5:30am. That is, until I was woken up at 1:15am in the middle of the woods with thunder and lightning. Is that really thunder? Oh shit.
I started consolidating my things, ate a pack of poptarts, and hurried up when it started to drizzle about 1:30. No, I’m not letting my sleeping bag get soaked again! I quickly packed my bag, put on my rain jacket, and started walking. At 1:45 in the morning.
Of course, the rain stopped shortly after. I found another spot right in the middle of the trail. I put down my ground pad and used my pack for a pillow while leaving my shoes and jacket on. 45 minutes more sleep…well, lying down. And then the rain resumed. Oh, here comes the downpour! I strapped my pad back on my bag and resumed walking.
Until it stopped again 20 or so minutes later. I didn’t even put my pad down this time. And, again, the rain came. During the next break, I just decided to accept a certain level of rain rather than continue the up-and-down.
A little before 5am, I gave up and decided to walk into the daylight. Then came the highlight of my day. Something shuffled in front of me; then I realized there was a baby bear five feet in front of me quickly retreating and climbing a tree (and, wow, they climb QUICKLY)! Then I realized I was just within five feet of a baby bear. I had heard what sounded like another cub to my left, but I sprinted away before mama bear got the wrong idea! I’ve seen my first bear!
As the sun came out, it greeted me with blue skies. What the heck, man?
During one of the early sections, I got to cross two pedestrian bridges over I-90 which was cool watching the fast traffic beneath me! By 7am, I had over six miles done. Maybe I should really start my days early, as I daily intend and fail to do.
The trails were again passable, although I was getting frustrated with what seemed like the constant and senseless zig-zagging of the trail (unless you enjoy going up and down every hill for no reason — there wasn’t anything to see). I used my iPod most of the day figuring I could use it all up; it’s not going to be usable once the rain comes.
I decided to take a break next to what looked like a clear pasture. 15 minutes later, I turned back towards the pasture I needed to cross and there was a herd of 30-40 cows and calves crossing towards the water. The calves were shamelessly running, some resembling horses although others were not that…coordinated. Could I cross the pasture through their herd? Would they run me down? Once most had passed the footpath passing through the center of the pasture, I climbed the fence and went for it. They’re docile animals, right? They stared at me, but that was it. I even tried to tell the two cows on the end that were staring me down that I was headed for the exit if they wanted to chance it. They just stared as I exited over a small stone wall. And, I was suddenly craving a steak. Whatever.
The last couple miles were slow and painful. The miles and warm temps were starting to catch up with me. Still, the good weather continued to hold. Last I heard, that storm warning was for 3:15pm. Debating where to stop, I settled on the final shelter prior to the first road leading into Great Barrington. I passed up some lower quality water sources hoping and expecting better at the shelter. The shelter had a near empty spring, and the water at the bottom did not look good. Oops.
I decided then I was going into town. Bear the risk for the reward, right? (And, yes, the misspelling of bear was intentional 😉 As I was departing the shelter, Chef, a SOBO I met earlier that morning, was passing by and glad to run into me. We agreed to go into town and split a room. Three more miles to town and the rain was supposed to hold out until after 5pm. We should have time. About two miles in, the wind started to pick up and the rain started to fall. No no no! Not yet! The first car we saw stopped and gave us a ride into town. Chef ended up going to the community center to set up his tent and shower for a few dollars. As I have no tent, I went to the motel.
For dinner, I went to an Italian place and got…stuffed shells (see, it’s not ALWAYS pizza). Not as good as Mom’s, but I’m full.
The rain has continued to hold off, but it’s going to let loose tonight and the next two days. Oh well, 24 miles to Connecticut and two days until pick-up. As for today, 27 miles done before 5pm. My decisions leave room for improvement, but I was tough (and very lucky) enough to make it a highly productive day after yesterday’s debacle.