Connecticut & Massachusetts

August 29 — 11.4 Miles today, 1463.2 miles from Springer, 711.4 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +15 feet. 
Climbs: 4,4, Wx: 60s, RF, 0%, Shelter: -, Dinner: +, Overall: 2.

As we all tried to sleep, the local guy finished off his beer, and then hit the vodka. I was tired enough that I didn’t hear any of the “scary stuff” he was spewing, but it was enough to send Woodstock off at a bit after 1:00. In the morning. I was optimistic, hoping that he would pass out and I would be able to get some sleep. And after a few minutes he did just that and I settled in for some rest.

Until about 3:00. That’s when he woke up, paranoid and belligerent. This was a problem. He was convinced that someone had come and blown up the shelter (it was in fine shape), killed Woodstock, and knocked him over the head (he fell against a shelter support beam) and that we had to get out of there, because they were going to be coming back for us. He wanted me to come to his house in town which had locks on the doors. Frankly, there are a lot of things I’d do before that. A lot. But my tiredness took over, so I thought I could get rid of him by telling him to go in to town and tell the police. “No, man, that dude will come back and kill you while I am gone! We have to get out of here.”

Damn. Pi and Laces, the two southbounders, were packing up their stuff, and I joined in the party. Pie stayed with me as the local got crazier, and I packed up real fast, especially considering it was still before 4:00. He, Laces and I all left shortly thereafter, and my plan was to actually go south with them a few hundred yards and wait until dawn because the local guy was stumbling north and I wanted nothing to do with him. And cheers to Laces for staying with me, and Pi putting the whole ordeal in perspective (as thru-hikers are so good at): “Wow! 4:09. A new record.”

The access trail to the shelter was about 200 feet long, and by the time we got to the AT I looked back and saw the local bum was only about ten yards in to it with a fading flashlight and had yet to cross the stream. I headed north, with Pie and Laces asking if I was sure I didn’t want to come south, and I told them that since he had made only a few yards I could get away. And I ran/stumbled down in to town, turning off my light and looking back to make sure he wasn’t close behind. And, thankfully, I didn’t see him again.

I crossed the road to Kent and booked across the cow pasture on the other side and, upon finding the trail, up in to the woods. Finally, around 5:00, tired and angry, I sat on a log and waited until sunrise. New blisters from my hasty departure needed some taping, and I just wanted to rest.

At sunrise, with nearly no water (but cool temperatures), I pushed on. With the recent rain, not only were all the labeled streams flowing, but other drainages were filled with water as well, so I soon stopped for breakfast and water at a stream that was surely dry three days before. I used the toilet near a road (in a self-dug hole) and got to a steep drop down to the Housatonic with a ton of steps. The skies were threatening but my timing was perfect — I got to the bottom just as the skies opened. The trail then paralleled the river and I made good time, first along a lonely, dirt road (with beautiful, towering maples planted when it was laid out, probably 200 years ago) and then along a proper trail. I arrived at the next shelter to find a sleeping Woodstock (who had hiked through the night and arrived around dawn) and a relaxing SOBO — no one wanted to hike in the rain — and I joined them for a two hour nap.

As we were waking up, a group of Yalies (on an outdoor orientation trip) was setting up camp in the pouring rain near the shelter. They had tarps, but as we were all leaving, and none of us knew of any other thru-hikers coming our way, we told them to please, please take the shelter and not spend a cold, wet night out in the rain. I was also looking for a friend who was starting Yale Med School and also on the trail, although I had forgotten to find her cell number. Alas, we probably passed each other, and I did not walk in to every Yale-infested campsite to find out.

By a bit after noon Woodstock and I hit the trail, and pushed on north. After about five miles and two slips which bent my hiking pole and left me covered in mud (which was then partially washed off by the rain) I got to the road to Cornwall Bridge, where there was a rumor that the local Packie (Package Store; also known as a place to buy alcohol) gave thru-hikers a free beer. Whoopie! I was informed that Woodstock was down at the local motel, run by the Patels, and I took my beer-feed and went down to meet him. It was around 5:00, we split a room, and settled in for showering, drying, warming up and eating food from the local store. After a sub and the NYT from the store, and some rice from my food bag, we settled down to watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Jon Stewart had the “Ministry of Truth” segment, where he showed the Bushies all denying they ever said “stay the course,” followed by all of them saying “stay the course” over and over again. Seriously, we have a problem when Comedy Central provides better news than anyone else.

August 30 — 26.8 Miles (MARATHON), 1490.1 miles from Springer, 684.5 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +1035 feet. 
Climbs: 4,4,3,3, Wx: 60s-70, 50%, Shelter: 2, Dinner: 5, Overall: 5.

I slept well, for nearly ten hours, trying to reset my internal clock, which is alll messed up from the last few days. As I was leaving around 10, Woodstock was pouring the rest of his Guiness in to his water bottles, not wanting to let a good thing go to waste (and having bought too much the night before). I hiked up the road, down to Guinea Brook, which was a swollen, shin-high ford from the recent rain, and then through beautiful, wet country (in dry shoes) passing more Yalies. Water, which was a major concern a few days ago, was no longer an issue, except that there was too much. It was flowing down everything. The weather just got better as the day went on, with mild temperatures and lots of sun! The terrain in this part of Connecticut reminds me of lowlands in Vermont, which is a major compliment to the Nutmeg State.

I crossed the Housatonic a few more times, including on a one-lane, iron bridge near Great Falls, which were flowing nicely with the recent rain. Great Falls was originally going to be a major industrial center, using the water power from the 100-foot drop in the falls. The town built a major canal to power the mills, and just before the civil war opened the penstocks and let the water flow. The problem was that they had not properly used grout, and the water seeped through the floor and out the walls, ruining their hopes of massive growth and industry.

Upon arriving in Salisbury, I got to a cemetery, in the dark, which had potable water. Wingfoot was completely wrong about the location of the cemetery in relation to the trail, and I wasted twently minutes trying to find the AT. Again, it didn’t help that it was dark, but the cemetery was 500 feet before the Trail left the road, not 500 feet beyond. Have I mentioned how I hate both guide books? I then had five night-hike miles up across Lion Head (not the side of Mount Washington, but there were decent views) to the Brassie Brook Lean-To, which was taken over by Smith College orientation. If it had been raining, I would have demanded they honor the “there’s always room for one more” policy (especially since they had only seven people in an eight person shelter) but it was late, so I rolled out my Therm-a-rest and went right to sleep.

August 31 — 13.2 Miles today, 1503.3 miles from Springer, 671.3 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -1085 feet. 
Climbs: 4,3,4, Wx: 80s, 100%, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 5, Overall: 5.

I awoke just before my alarm went off just before 6. I slept very well considering the fine women from Smith College had hogged the whole shelter, but knowing that there would be a ride at 2:30 got me up and out pretty quickly. As I left, the sky turned bright pink with the sunrise, and I lamented not being able to see more or photograph it at all. It was still stunning.

After only a hundred yards or so, however, I crossed Brassie Brook and realized how to photograph the sunrise. I set the camera for a sixteen second exposure (the longest it will take), and one small pool of water became, in the photograph, a splendid shade of pink and orange. It was fantastic. The lighting was fleeting, and I was only able to take a couple more such shots before the light became too bright and the colors dissipated, but I made off with photos with a pink sky through the field, and swirls of pink, orange and red in the stream.

From there, I went across Bear Mountain, watching the sun come up over the Housatonic Valley, and then down to Sages Ravine. I used the privy, waiting in line with all of the Yalies who had camped there. I overheard them talking about how nice the dorms were there, and I bit my lip to keep from saying “oh, yeah, they are fabulous. But when you wake up, you’re still in New Haven.” Then I sauntered along the stream in Sages Ravine, which is possibly the most beautiful stream on the entire trail. In Massachusetts. I was impressed. The best feature was a stream cascading down the side of the valley which ran across a big slab of bedrock before cascading eight feet right in to the stream on the floor of the ravine. What a treasure, and it is hidden in the hills of Southwestern Massachusetts.

From there the trail goes along the side of Race Mountain, with beautiful streams and views, and up Mount Everett, which I have climbed three times in the past, the only off-road section of the AT which I have hiked more than twice in the past. There is a road to within about half a mile of the summit, and in the mid-90s we took a family excursion there for a day. A few years later, at a house in the Berkshires for Mem Day, I hiked up; and a few days later, I went back to the house to retrieve my mom’s jacket. I then drove down to Great Barrington, parked my car, and biked up the road to Mount Everett. Without a lock, I carried my bike to the summit, careful not to bike on the AT itself. Hungry, I then coasted back to Great Barrington, more than 2000 feet downhill.

I made it down off of Jug End, where the trail goes back down to cross the Housatonic River. James, fresh off Mount Rainier, picked me up a bit before three and we blew back in to Boston. I showered (ahh) and searched in vain for my jacket and Canada hat before we made for Anna’s, and then took the T to Fenway. We got there too late for O! Canada! but went to our seats, courtesy of my lovely sister, which were in the second row down the left field line near the monster. They were great seats. It is a shame we were watching the Pawtucket Red Sox take on the Toronto Blue Jays. Seriously, the team is beat up. I pointed out to James, who had made the Paw Sox remark, that I knew more players on the Blue Jays than on the Sox. Without guys like Ramirez and Ortiz, it was not anything like recent games I’ve been to — much more subdued. Perhaps that’s because I wasn’t in standing room. In any case, the highlights of the game were an Alex Cora “home run” to put the Sox ahead which he hit to the edge of the warning track, upon which the Toronto right fielder tried to catch it in his glove, had it fall out, and then, while trying to catch the ball with his hand, wound up flipping the ball in to the seats, a great double play started by Dustin Pedroia from his knees, and a diving catch by Kapler in right. Also fun was Papelbon coming in to wild cheers to “Wild Thing,” Sweet Caroline sung by 30,000 drunk fans, and just generally being in Fenway. Since the seats were free, James and I bought overpriced Sam Adams, which we enjoyed in the alcohol free family section. Funny thing was that everyone else there seemed to be enjoying beer too. One guy a couple rows up from us constantly jeered Youkilis (Yooooook) for no apparent reason, and Youkilis turned quite a few times and told him, in as many words, to shove it. James at one point yelled to him, very loudly, “SHUT UP!” and when the perpetrator turned around our whole row smiled quietly to ourselves.

Still, it was one of the least rowdy Sox games I’ve been to in a while. The whole everyone-injured thing has the team down, and the day after the game it came out that John Lester has non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. That’s sort of been a theme for the season. Everything that could go wrong has. As my dad pointed out, at least I won’t have to worry about them any more.

September 1 — Zero Day

A bed! A glorious bed! My bed! I slept in, and in the afternoon got off my duff and went out to do errands on my bike. First, trying to cross a street, someone slammed on their brakes for me. In Minnesota, people slow down, but never actually stop. Here they do. And then curse you out. Well, then don’t stop, moron. A few minutes later, I almost got killed by a Hummer making a turn through a stop sign. I waited for him to slow down and pass before I yelled “watch where you’re going!” He rolled down his window and gave a cursory apology, and I managed to get in a “and drive a smaller car, moron” as he drove away. I’m back in Boston.

Then had dinner (two whole milk yogurts, my mother’s doting cooking, including fresh corn from Maine, pie from Maine, and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s) and managed to stay up too late, depressed that the forecast for the weekend was for rain, rain and more rain from the remnants of Ernesto.

September 2 — 16.7 Miles today, 1521 miles from Springer, 653.6 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +1185 feet. 
Climbs: 4,4,3, Wx: 60s-70s, RW, 20%, Shelter: -, Dinner: 5, Overall: 4.

I woke up (in my bed) and showered and then went to open the door of my room, which has a tendency to bind. The wind was blowing and it had slammed shut, and was not about to open. Usually, a lean down on the handle will dislodge the top of the door (pulling the handle simply bends the door, putting more torque on the top part which is binding) but this time it was especially stuck. It took several tries, especially once I realized that I didn’t want to have all my weight on a glass door knob, to open the door, and the better part of an hour. I was discouraged, and I jumped up and down a lot on bare feet — feet which have taken enough of a beating already.

I finally headed out to the trail, and I would be driving myself to the trailhead, a new experience. My parents were in Springfield at a friend of the family’s pre-wedding “aufruf.” I passed. Still, I didn’t hit the trail until a bit after 2:00, although the weather held off, and it was just cool and breezy during the day. There was nothing particularly spectacular about the hike, but it was mostly very nice, and I made good time, completing 18 miles in six hours, without a heavy pack, of course. I also met some folks who were carrying in a couple of toddlers to the shelter. I was very glad I was not going to be staying there, and I think there should be an age limit, because I could barely imagine my reaction if I was kept up all night by crying children. It would not be kind. I met my parents and we drove out of Beartown State Forest very, very slowly, because the road was not really meant for automobile travel. Plus which, the trees had shed across the road in the strong wind which blew all day (although the dire forecasts of rain from Ernesto did not come to pass and there were only a couple short, light showers), and at one point my dad and I had to pull away a tree from the car so my mom could drive through. Good old Massachusetts, keeping up its roads. And we have to go back there tomorrow! Dinner was at a decent place in the cute-but-somewhat-useful-looking Great Barrington and sleeping was in a bed at a local motel.

September 3 — 24.4 Miles today, 1545.4 miles from Springer, 629.2 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +195 feet. 
Climbs: 3,3, Wx: 60s, R, 10%, Shelter: -, Dinner: 4, Overall: 4.

With the long drive in from the state forest last night on bad roads, we didn’t get in until after 11 and I slept in until nearly 8. Then it was time to hit up the breakfast buffet (cereal and not much else) before my dad drove me on a much better route, one I had suggested last night, to the trailhead. There was only about a mile on the horrible, ungraded dirt road — the rest was on nice dirt roads or pavement. So I hit the trail around 9:30, jogging through more unremarkable, but quite pleasant, Massachusetts forest. Except for the stunning Sages Ravine and the climb over Everett and along the cliffs of Race Mountain, Massachusetts has been a pleasant but unremarkable state.

After about eight miles I met my mother for lunch and then the hike down towards the Pike (The Massachusetts Turnpike for those of you know speaking the local lingo) which the trail crosses on two separate bridges, both eight feet wide (apparently they were surplus from highway construction) with curvy approaches. And at Route 20, just across the Pike, my dad took over to hike the next six miles with me towards the other car (both are Priuses, even driving two we burned less gas than most people driving one car). Then he let me free, sans pack (just water in my pocket) for the next four miles to Pittsfield Road. All very nice hiking, with lakes, beaver dams and streams, and quite a bit of mud and wetness, which seems to be a theme here in Massachusetts.

I ought to try to dry my shoes tonight. I have a new pair I got in Boston, but I don’t want to get them wet right off the bat, although it may not rain tomorrow (it misted today, but really no rain). We shall see. These shoes do have more than 900 miles on them and are still holding up, although the tread is pretty much gone, which is fine on the dirt trails here and in Vermont, but could be problematic come, say, the Whites. But I will switch in new shoes sooner than that!

My dad and I drove in to Dalton, found a cheap motel, and then took a tour of Pittsfield (hoo hah) before finding a decent burrito place for dinner. No Anna’s, but what are you going to do. It’s (the) Pit(t)s(field). With an earlier start and finish, I should be trail bound a good deal earlier tomorrow, and if I can make it to Williamstown, I have another person with whom to stay. Only 32 miles. Yippie.

September 4 — 32.9 Miles (MARATHON), 1578.3 miles from Springer, 596.3 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -1350 feet. 
Climbs: 3,1, Wx: 50s-60s, RW, 20%, Shelter: -, Dinner: 4, Overall: 5.

After finishing a tub of ice cream and eating cereal, I hit the trail around 8:00, not too late, but not as early as I might have liked. I made seven miles by 10:30, and then four more in to Dalton with my dad, where we found trail magic (cream soda) and walked through town. He had spotted a bike and went back to fetch the car, while I booked on up the path towards Cheshire. In the mean time, my dad dropped my stuff off at Williams with a high school friend, Nick, and I met my dad for lunch (where the owner of the restaurant worked at Williams and knew Nick), a pit stop (too much dairy) and water, before I jogged on up Mount Greylock.

The last time I climbed more than 2000 feet in one shot was in Viriginia. I now had to tackle a climb of over 2500 feet, in to brand new terrain. I met a couple NOBOs climbing north, one of whom planned to go up to Katahdin and flip the next day, and one of whom was planning to start where I was. I continued up the trail, and around 3000 feet (the first time at that elevation since the Shenandoahs) encountered the first sub-alpine forest since the very highest elevations of the south (only near or above 6000 feet). Mount Greylock, much higher than the surrounding land, is quite exposed, and has a low transition to the mostly-evergreen sub-alpine zone. In New Hampshire, I will encounter these trees below 3000 feet, and in Maine, at times, they will extend down to 1000 feet, just because the weather is colder and the hardwoods which dominate lower elevations can’t grow.

Near the top, I saw a porcupine saunter across the trail. Porcupines look like fat, stupid cats, with quills in their tails. Yikes. The summit of Greylock was in the clouds, so I pushed across (after procuring water and buying a Snickers) and even as the light was failing, made good time down to Route 2; it is much easier to night-hike without a pack. You just have to have faith in your poles.

Nick picked me up, we went back to Williams, and found some goings-on in his all-senior dorm, where students sauntered around with beers. Ah, the magical days before classes begin, when you have not a care in the world, except when the liquor store closes. Tired from my 33 miles, and with my stomach still upset from all the ice cream this morning, I was not up for drinking too much, and retired rather early.

September 5 — 14.1 Miles today, 1592.4 miles from Springer, 582.2 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +1410 feet. 
Climbs: 2,3, Wx: 60s-80s, 0%, RF, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 4, Overall: 4.

I got up rather late, relished the all-you-can-eatedness of the cafeteria, went to the Stop and Shop, and hit the trail around noon. It was cool and cloudy to start, and rain started falling later on. The day started out with some rockiness (luckily before the rain) and then proceeded to turn to mud, mud, glorious mud. There were a few bog bridges, but not nearly enough to keep me clean and dry, and some were barely floating above the water spilling over some impressive beaver dams. I finally got to the shelter near dark, and settled in for the evening, as Rama, the NOBO I’d met on Greylock the previous evening, arrived, by headlamp, well after dark. He said that crossing the bog bridge below the beaver dam, part of which had to be relocated then the beavers built their dam over the existing bridge, was really creepy in the dark. But it was Vermont. Two state lines to go.