Monthly Archives: June 2012

My New England town

June 27

13.6 miles, 1471.5 overall (Silver Hill campsite)
I get a great night of sleep as expected. When I wake it isn’t extremely early but the other camper is still asleep. I pack my things, break down the tent, eat my breakfast and leave before I hear him stirring. In some ways I envy the overnight hikers who have no distant objective forcing them to get moving every morning. I look forward to the days when I can plan <10 mile days again without worrying how it will affect my average miles or when I will get to the next town. At the same time, I still enjoy the feeling of getting out of camp earlier than others.

Today I plan to stop into Kent, CT. I have a maildrop there waiting for me at the outfitter and I’ve read in the blogs of other hikers that it is a cute little town. I only have 3 miles to go to reach the road crossing. On the way I run into Breezy who is hiking southbound. I’m confused by his direction since he is a NoBo (northbounder). He informs me that he has been called home to Florida for some sort of legal matter and will be off the trail for a few days. His best way home was to hike back to the Appalachian Station and catch the train into NYC this weekend. We catch up for a few minutes and I find out the fatigue and nausea he had back in Shenandoah (last time I saw him) passed in a few days so it was likely some sort of flu bug. We eventually part ways and I wonder if he’ll catch me somewhere up the trail.

I reach the road crossing to Kent and, still averse to hitchhiking, walk the 0.8 miles into town. The outfitter is on the way in and I see Jihad et al there. I pick up my mail drop and ask them about food in town. They have already eaten at a place called The Villager and they highly recommend it. Once I move the contents of the box into their appropriate places in my pack I head down the street to get second breakfast at this Villager.

Kent looks just how I would expect an upper class New England town to look. On the way into town I passed what appeared to be a boarding school with pristine sports fields. On the way to the diner I pass a bakery, an antique shop, and a coffee shop, among others. At the diner I find outside seating in the shade and it is a nice day so I take advantage with the added benefit of not imposing my smell on others. Pretty soon I have a western omelet in front of me with coffee, toast, and home fries. I shovel them all down while watching life pass by on the town’s thoroughfare.

Once I’m done I head back to the outfitter. I know I should get going but I’m lacking motivation so I head inside and buy some ice cream from the attached ice cream shop. While I eat it I plug in my backup phone battery to get some juice and I take advantage of the free wifi to download some more audiobooks. I add some full-length Sherlock Holmes novels to the short stories I already have and I get some more chapters of the Count of Monte Cristo.

Around 1:00 I finally get moving out of town. On the way out I see Tipsy and Fetch who are on their way in. I hadn’t seen them in a while and hope I’ll get to catch up with them soon. They are a nice couple of a similar age as me and I enjoy their company.

The trail out of town has some uphill climbs to it so I listen to one of the new Sherlock Holmes novels while I hike. It is so interesting that I continue to listen for the rest of the day. The trail comes down off the ridge (making the uphill pointless) on some very steep steps called St John’s Ledges and follows the Housatonic for several incredibly flat miles. The river is picturesque despite the gnats and mosquitoes and I appreciate the views of a gravel river versus the more sandy type I’m used to in the south.

Around the time the trail heads back up into the mountains I finish the novel. I’m really enjoying listening to audiobooks. They make me feel like I’m doing something somewhat productive during my hiking rather than thinking about the same things over and over day after day. However I remind myself not to get carried away and decide that in the morning I’ll have to hike without one for a while to make sure I also experience the sounds of the trail.

I head up the ridge and pass lots of recent blowdowns. They all have fresh green leaves so they can’t be from the hurricane last year, but they are already cut with chainsaws to clear the path – the wood chips are still fresh on the trail. It seems the CT trail crew is really on their game! I make my way up to another campsite for the night rather than a shelter. I’m the first to arrive so I choose what I consider the prime tent spot and set about dinner. Pretty soon Jihad, Easy Turtle, and Tittie Sprinkles all arrive with a friend who is hiking with them for a few days. A bit later Tipsy and Fetch also arrive, giving me a chance to catch up with them since the last time I saw them I fainted. I relate my hospital visit to them and they relate to me how they hiked naked for 3 hours on Hike Naked Day.

All caught up with my trail friends and fed, I head to my tent earlier than the others. I have my nightly routine and though I hate to miss out on good conversation I like to stick to it. I can hear the others though and it isn’t long before they head to bed too. Being in another campsite on a flat tent site I expect another great night of sleep on the Appalachian Trail!









Categories: CT | 2 Comments

The hiker caravan

June 26

18.2 miles, 1457.9 overall (Schaghticoke Mountain campsite)
As predicted I don’t sleep like a baby, but it isn’t so bad. It was a cold night and the bigger problem than the slope of the ground I slept on was the problem it caused with my sleeping bag. Since it was cold I had to zip up the bag. I have a mummy bag. Rolling over in a mummy bag is difficult and often results in a position in which your face is not in the hole for which it was designed. As a result I struggle more with keeping my face in a position where I can breathe than I do with keeping myself from rolling down the hill.

I take my time getting up. Although Fresh, Wonder, Squidword, and Dora all plan a 20+ day I only plan to do about 18 and they appear to be easy miles. I’m in no rush to get out this morning. I pack up and move my stuff to the shelter to find that Wonder and Fresh are the only 2 thru-hikers still here. There are 3 section hikers, all women, one of which was the source of the shelter tent. Two leave as I start eating breakfast while the third is taking longer to get ready. She strikes us as a bit weird though, responding to a discussion of honey buns with a derisive “I’m from Vermont, we don’t eat that kind of stuff up there.” As she gets her stuff together she is constantly reminding us of stuff that is still out – “Is this yours? Ok, I didn’t want you to forget it.” It would be a kind gesture and we’d think nothing of it if she only did it once or twice. Instead she seems to do it with everything that isn’t in a pack. As a result we spend the rest of the day reminding each other not to leave stuff behind.

I’m ready before Wonder and Fresh so I head out. I soon pass the Dover Oak which holds the distinction of being a very large oak tree. A couple miles later I reach the Appalachian Train Station which on weekends provides a way for thru-hikers to get into NYC. I’m amused that the “station” is really just a bench. I cross a road and head uphill into a nature preserve, then a long gradual downhill to the next shelter.

At the shelter I catch up to Dora who is eating her lunch. There is a large group of campers there who are preparing to head out. Also there are Jihad, Easy Turtle, and Tittie Sprinkles (no, I don’t know yet how he got the name), three hikers who I’ve been leapfrogging with lately. The large group leaves as Wonder and Fresh arrive. The other 3 hikers follow soon after, leaving Wonder, Fresh, Dora and myself to eat lunch. I enjoy taking a lunch break with other hikers and savor their company. As we finish lunch we discover a makeshift bow and arrow hanging on the wall of the shelter. Fresh decides this is his chance to try archery and plays with them while I catch the event on video, something I want to do more of in my last few hundred miles in order to better capture the thru-hiker experience.

We all leave together in a sort of hiker caravan and hike quickly downhill to a road crossing that is unmarked but designates our first entry into Connecticut. Over the next several miles we will briefly re-enter NY again before entering Connecticut for good, and with a lack of signage denoting the occasion we don’t bother celebrating.

The next shelter is located on Ten Mile River, a pretty gravel river that flows along the trail for about a half mile before merging with the Housatonic which we will be following for the next few days. Wonder and I stop off at the shelter for a quick break but afterward catch up to Fresh and Dora at the confluence of the rivers. They all stop for a break but it is getting late and I’m anxious to get to camp at a reasonable hour so I push on.

Today when I’m no hiking with the others I continue listening to some of the short Sherlock Holmes mysteries that I have been enjoying but I also start listening to The Count of Monte Cristo. I can’t get very far because I only have the first 3 chapters downloaded but I am engrossed and make a note to download more next time I have wifi access. When I’m not listening to books lately I find myself contemplating the end of my hike. With a full third of it left it may be too early to start thinking about this sort of thing, but increasingly I am thinking about my hike in the past tense. I have been hiking for so long now that the beginning seems like last year, complete with a soundtrack of songs that were constantly stuck in my head at the beginning but no longer. They have been replaced with either new songs or no songs at all. More often now I find that there is no song playing in the back of my mind, and I wonder whether having a song stuck in your head is a symptom of societal overload or whether the lack of background mind music is caused by listening to audiobooks.

An unfortunate result of leaving the others behind is that they are not with me when I finally cross into Connecticut for good. It occurs at the top of a ridge just after I pass Jihad, Easy Turtle and Tittie Sprinkles. There is a sign at this final border crossing and I wait for several minutes to see if the hikers I just passed will catch up but there is no sign of them and I want to get to camp. I take a few quick pictures – one serious and a few fun ones – and push on. Before long I’ve reached the campsite where I plan to stay. In CT camping is only allowed in designated areas but it seems that to encourage this there are campsites, complete with water and privy, in addition to shelters. This one couldn’t be in a better location. It is on a piece of flat land in the forest right next to a cascading mountain stream. When I arrive I have the place to myself and can pick my spot freely. I choose a spot close to the stream so I can hear it well during the night. The spot also has some flat rocks that make for easy cooking. I am thoroughly impressed with the site and decide to look for others to stay at while I’m in CT.

By 7:30 I have cooked dinner, eaten, and am ready for bed. Another hiker has arrived and sets up somewhat near me but he is quiet. We exchange greetings but not much more. I climb into my tent and catch up on some writing before I go to sleep to the sound of rushing water on the Appalachian Trail.













Categories: CT, NY | 3 Comments

The rain avoidance

June 25

17.7 miles, 1439.7 overall (Telephone Pioneers shelter)
I wake up just before 6:30 to the sound of thunder. It hasn’t begun raining yet and my tent is still dry. As I listen I can tell it is going to be a fast-moving, intense thunderstorm. Each successive clap of thunder is louder than the last and the wind is picking up. I decide to prepare for the worst and I leave my tent to retrieve my food bag, knowing that if it rains all day I will not want to get out. I get it down and get back in my tent just in time. I can hear the heavy rain coming and minutes after I get safely inside it pours. Not wanting to start packing up in a downpour I go back to sleep. When I wake up around 7:30 the rain has mostly stopped. I eat my bagel and peanut butter as I contemplate what to do for the day. I check the weather report and the radar in order to make an informed choice. It looks like if I pack up immediately I will stay dry while packing but might get wet just after when another line of thunderstorms rolls through. Other than that it looks safe and the 90% chance of rain today seems to be attributable to these quick thunderstorms. The day seems hikable so I start packing and pretty soon I’m on the trail.

It doesn’t take long to reach the next shelter only a mile away. I arrive around 9 and I’m surprised to see Fresh is still there. He is taking his time this morning. Apparently I missed a nice shelter. It is right next to the road and the pizza boxes on the trash can betray what it is possible to do here.

I leave first but Fresh isn’t far behind and we end up talking while we hike. We don’t get far before we see Dora. She should be far ahead having left early and being a quick hiker. She is sitting on a log and I ask if anything is wrong. She’s not sure how but somehow she backtracked about a mile. She is understandably upset by it and has only been here a few minutes so she hasn’t yet worked up the willingness to get back up and re-hike the section. We try to make her feel better and I offer a snack. Unfortunately I don’t have any chocolate which I’m sure would go a long way in this situation.

She pulls it together pretty quickly and the three of us hike on. I resume the conversation I was having with Fresh, knowing that it will be an entertaining topic and help get her mind off the backtrack. The question at hand is one I’ve already mentioned here: who would win in a fight, Bruce Willis or Liam Neeson? We discuss for several minutes before Dora chimes in that it should be settled via an episode of Celebrity Deathmatch. We both love the idea. Of course this leads to another matchup that apparently Fresh has already contemplated with Squidword and Wonder: Yoda versus Gandalf. Of course Yoda wins because of advanced weaponry and because the force is at least equal to any sort of magic. A better comparison, we decide, would be Gandalf and Dumbledore, in which case it is unanimous that Gandalf wins.

Before long we reach a road on which there is a deli. We hike the 0.4 miles to it and I’m surprised to see Lonestar there. Apparently he didn’t get as far as I thought he would, or maybe I went further than I had realized yesterday. I go inside and order a sandwich with chips, a soda, and a Sobe. We eat outside on a picnic table and watch as one by one it seems all of the workers at the concrete factory across the street come to the deli to pick up lunch. I watch as today it is Critter who is subjected to Lonestar’s non-stop stories.

Dora and Fresh leave a few minutes before I am ready so I hike out alone but I catch them at the next shelter. As I’m arriving I hear thunder approaching and prepare myself to wait out the storm in the shelter. My timing is impeccable, arriving just as the first drops are starting to fall. Dora and Fresh decide instead of waiting it out that they will push on. It doesn’t take long before I feel really bad for them. The downpour seems at least as bad as the morning’s and those of us in the shelter watch the water pool up on the ground outside, envisioning the rivers that must be flowing down the trail. It only takes 30 minutes for the rain to stop.

I try to hike quickly knowing that there is still a chance another storm could roll through. I cross a railroad track and a couple roads before reaching a really beautiful lake called Nuclear Lake. I figure the name must have something to do with a history of nuclear activity at the site but there aren’t any signs to educate me. The sky is looking cloudy and I still have 3 miles to go. It is an hour’s worth of hiking. I pick up the pace but around the time I’m a mile or so away from the shelter it changes from a drizzle to a steady rain. Luckily there isn’t much thunder and the rain isn’t pouring like it was in either of the two earlier storms. It only lasts about 20 minutes so although I get wet and a bit muddy I don’t get soaked through. Just before the shelter I find a view point and am treated to a view of some wisps of fog encircling some houses below.

At the shelter I find there aren’t many good tent sites and I’m one of the last to arrive. There isn’t much level ground and I’m forced to set up on a far less than ideal spot. I’m not able to find a spot free of rocks and roots that would allow me to point my feet downhill so I opt for pitching the tent such that I will be rolling to my left the entire night. I join the others for dinner before turning in for what is likely to be a restless night despite the fact that I’ll be in my tent. However I still prefer this to the shelter in which I see a section hiker has set up their tent. Some things never change on the Appalachian Trail.







Categories: NY | 2 Comments

My hiker reunions

June 24

24.3 miles, 1422 overall (Stealth camp short of RPH shelter)
I sleep better in a bed but not as well as expected. I wonder if all these nights in a tent are making me accustomed to my thermarest and sleeping bag. Still, when I get up around 6:30 I feel well-rested. I take a third shower because I can, pack my things, and head across the street to the bagel shop for breakfast. A bagel sandwich and coffee later I am ready to get going. I knock on the door of the owners and by 8:00 I am back where I was picked up. Although the motel was a little pricey, it was far cheaper than the nearby Holiday Inn Express, was just as nice, and the owners were incredibly friendly and accommodating. Overall it was a great stay.

My first half mile today takes me across the Hudson River on the Bear Mountain Bridge, a huge suspension span. I take my time getting across, enjoying the scene. On the other side a car stops on the opposite side of the street and the driver rolls down the window and asks if I’m thru-hiking. I reply in the affirmative to which he replies, “Great!” I stand awkwardly for a moment wondering if there will be more to the conversation. After a few seconds he advises me that I have a tough climb ahead. I thank him and head on before the situation becomes more awkward.

The climb is steep but I take it slow and soon I’m at the top. As I continue on I have to negotiate more of New York’s “choose your own adventure” trails. In many places the trail in NY isn’t completely clear. There may be 3 or 4 very close branches in the trail, all of which lead to the same place in 50 feet but one will be harder than the others. There’s no way to tell which branch is the “correct” trail. I wonder what the AT purists think of this, how they decide which way to go, and whether they ever feel the need to backtrack. Although I consider myself mostly a purist I draw the line at backtracking simply because I didn’t walk within a certain number of feet of a particular blaze.

I pass the time listening to an audiobook but not for long. Only a few miles in I hit today’s deli. I see two thru-hikers outside at the picnic tables so I put my stuff down next to them and head in to make my selections. Inside I not only procure a delicious wrap, I also get a soda and I buy some tortillas from the deli since I wasn’t able to find any in town. I eat outside where I spend most of my time while eating listening to Lonestar, a particularly talkative hiker from Texas who started April 7. He is trying to do 25 miles per day so he can get to Maine quickly because he plans to bike home in time to do some marathons this fall. When he hikes on I doubt I’ll see him again.

I stay a while longer talking to the other hiker Rhymocerus and contemplating additional purchases. I end up buying a V8 fusion to get some fruit and vegetable servings and a 24oz Dos Equis to drink tonight with dinner. I’m quite excited about this plan.

Just before I’m ready to leave I turn around to see Tamir walking out of the deli. Last I checked in the trail registers he was about a week ahead of me. We catch up for a minute and I discover he took about a week off to heal up some injuries, get some rest, visit NYC, and see some family. His dad is with him for a day hike today. Pretty soon I’m sure he will be flying by me on the trail again, but this serves as another reminder that you never can tell who you’ll get to run into again on this trail.

I continue on and eventually decide to start listening to my audiobook again. Rhymocerus is a slower hiker than I am and falls behind me as we leave the deli. I make it a few miles before I stop for water and realize I’ve lost my data book. It must have fallen out when I took out my water bottle a couple miles back. This has happened before but I usually hear it fall. With the audiobook on I didn’t hear it this time. How frustrating! I contemplate what to do for a minute and end up leaving my things and hiking back to retrieve it. I thought about waiting for Rhymocerus to arrive and hoping he would notice it and pick it up, but I decide that is too presumptuous. After several minutes of hiking back though I see him and he does indeed have my book, informing me it was about 3 minutes back from where I meet him.

Once I return to my things and get my water I am back in business. A few miles up I reach a road and see a couple cars there with some people and a hiker leaving. I try not to get my hopes up but as I walk up the people seem ready to engage me. Pretty soon I have a soda in my hand and I’m talking to Auggie and David who call themselves the “local color.” They seem to know all the trails nearby and give me some info about what is coming up. They are a funny pair and I’m glad I got to meet them.

I don’t stay for too long because I still have a ways to go to get to my destination today and it is getting late. My original goal was to get to an upcoming lake, but I’ve realized that a lake would have more bugs than an area away from a lake. I rethink my plans and aim for a campground a couple miles past the lake. The trail isn’t too hard and I make good time.

As I crest the mountain just before the campground I see two people eating and enjoying the view. It is Wonder and Fresh who I thought were a couple days ahead now with Dora and Squidword. Apparently Squidword’s parents live in NYC and so they all went into the city for a day off. They just returned today and I’ve caught up to them. I hike the remainder of my miles with them, catching up on what they’ve been up to since the Delaware Water Gap. The campground is only a half mile from where I met them but I don’t see it when we reach that area. It soon becomes clear that I’ve missed it. Luckily there is a stream just a bit further and when we reach it I decide this is camp for the night. The others continue on the next mile to the shelter but I’m content to tent here. I put my beer in the stream to chill while I set up my tent, throw my bear line, and collect water. It is late and I end up cooking and eating in the dark. I enjoy the beer, deciding I will have to do this again when the opportunity presents itself. I’m still able to get to sleep around the same time as usual. I should get some great sleep tonight, but I wonder what tomorrow will bring. It is supposed to rain and if it is a depressing, soaking, all day kind of rain then I’m already considering zeroing in my tent. We’ll find out for sure tomorrow when I wake up on the Appalachian Trail.






Categories: NY | 1 Comment

My lowest point

June 23

10.1 miles, 1397.7 overall (Bear Mountain, NY)
I know better than to sleep in a shelter, I really do. Of course I didn’t sleep well. The guy in the bunk above me who came in late is a restless sleeper and it seems like I wake up every time he moves. I also wake up periodically because I’m uncomfortable on the wooden plank of a bed. I’m almost thankful in the morning when I notice Scholar getting up and packing because it means I can do the same without being the one who wakes everyone up. I get out of camp around 6:30.

I only have 10 miles to town but since it is Saturday I need to be at the post office by 12 to get my mail drop. I should have plenty of time. The first priority though is water. I had enough to get me through the night and get me started today but I certainly don’t have enough to get me to town. My options are a stream right on the trail or a visitor center with a spigot that is 0.4 off the trail. Because I’m leaving so early and I figure getting water from the stream would take about 20 minutes anyway what with purifying it, I opt for the visitor center and head in that direction at the road crossing.

When I arrive I realize I made a bad choice. The spigot on the wall of the visitor center doesn’t work. It is 7:30 and the center doesn’t open until 8. Since I’ve already made the side trip I decide to wait. That still leaves plenty of time to do the remaining 8 miles to town. At just before 8 the center opens. I take a couple extra minutes to buy some postcards and a soda, then fill up on water with the help of the woman working there who lets me get it from a sink in a back room. Apparently the spigot is broken and hasn’t been fixed yet.

By 8:20 I’m back on the trail, trying to make up some time. I hike up West Mountain where I had planned to stay and pass the shelter side trail. The mountain does provide some good views but I can’t see NYC from it. Down the other side I go, passing Scholar on the way, then up Bear Mountain which also supposedly has views of the city. The trail at this point has stone steps and well-graded slopes indicating I’m getting close to a tourist area. At the top is Perkins Tower, the reason for the tourists, and as I get close to it I see why. In the distance I can finally see the NYC skyline, just visible through the haze. The buildings from this distance look tiny and resemble Legos. I quickly climb the tower hoping for a better view but don’t get one so I head down and take a couple pictures before heading down the mountain. At this point it is past 10 and I’m going to be closer than I want to be to the post office closing time.

On the way down the trail switches from a heavily travelled path over dirt and rocks to a well-constructed stone staircase. A man working nearby informs me that soon the entire trail will be a stone staircase but that the work isn’t completed yet. This trail evidently gets a lot of use from the city-dwellers who come out to enjoy “nature” on the weekends, hence the construction of a more sturdy trail.

The motel that I have a reservation with provides a free shuttle so on the way down I call them, hoping to give them warning that I am close and to find out where they want to pick me up. The woman seems more perplexed by my call than helped and I wonder if I should have bothered. Still, she gives me two locations that I can get picked up from and tells me to call when I get to one. One is at the entrance to the trailside museum and zoo and the other is at the end. Not sure when I will get dropped off tomorrow, I opt for getting through the zoo today while it is open.

I rush through the zoo, looking quickly at some of the signage to determine what is here. Most of the stuff on the signs I already know, so I don’t feel like I’m missing much. Toward the end of the zoo I pass the bear cage, the lowest point on the AT. There is a sign indicating as much and I’m so excited by the sign that I don’t even think to look for the bear in its cage.

On the other side of the zoo I call the motel and ask for a pickup. A few minutes later the woman arrives and whisks me away to the post office. On the way she informs me that her husband likes to pick up and drop off the hikers because he doesn’t trust her driving. This doesn’t put me at ease and I spend the rest of the ride wondering when she’s going to make a turn into oncoming traffic. We get to the post office with plenty of time to spare and my maildrop is there as planned.

Safely at the motel I check in and pay, then head to my room. The motel is a small place with only 4 or 5 rooms but it is very cute and well-maintained. The room is, as far as I can tell, immaculately clean. I take a shower and then start my laundry. While it is running I head across the street to a bagel shop for lunch. I run into Scholar there who has also checked into the motel. She wasn’t planning on coming into town but she has been feeling fatigued and headachey today. We hope it is simply a side effect of 3 days of hot temperatures and nothing more serious. She plans to drink lots of water and rest in her room for the remainder of the day.

Once I’m fed I retrieve my laundry and spend the rest of the afternoon in my room organizing, cleaning, and arranging my food and gear. For dinner I go across the street to a BBQ restaurant. I order a BBQ sandwich with cucumber and tomato salad and an appetizer of potato skins. I also have 2 beers while I am there since they have some local brews on tap. While I am eating the waitress shows that she doesn’t recognize me as a thru-hiker by asking if I need a box. A few minutes after she asks her silly question my plates are clean.

The rest of the evening is spent in luxurious frivolity. I watch an episode of South Park, poke around on my phone, and take another shower because I can. I head to bed early to try to catch up on the sleep I’ve been deprived of lately. I’m not sure what time I’ll get back to the trail tomorrow but it doesn’t matter much as it won’t be hot and I have a short day planned on the Appalachian Trail.












Categories: NY | 3 Comments

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