19.6 miles, 1527.7 overall (Mt Wilcox South Shelters)
Around 5:45 I wake up and start packing. I know today is going to be a long day. I plan to do almost 20 miles and it is supposed to be hot. Still, it isn’t going to be as hot as it has been and I am thankful that I have been able to get further north so the hot days are 85 and 90 degrees rather than 95 and 100 as hikers who are still in Virginia are having to deal with.
I don’t get out of camp until 6:30. It is a later start than I wanted and will likely mean I’ll have to hike some during the hottest hours. This immediately puts me in a bit of a bad mood and it doesn’t get much better as the day goes by. The trail begins with a steep downhill off the ridge and into a valley. I do enjoy the trail this morning and Massachusetts has been great so far. In addition to cool ridge walks and picturesque streams it has tons of moss growing on all the rocks that give the forests a sort of ancient feeling, and the forests are now much more of a mix of evergreens and deciduous trees, making for some new smells and, when walking through the evergreen portions, soft trail.
The enjoyment doesn’t last long. At the beginning of the valley I walk through a pine grove that seems harmless enough but as I’m walking through it I get terrorized by mosquitoes. I see no reason for it. Mosquitoes are typically worst when there is standing water nearby such as a swamp but I can’t see any water at all. Still, they are so bad that I take my hands out of the wrist straps on my poles and I carry them in one hand, alternating which hand I’m carrying them in so that with the other I can brush the bugs off my arms and neck. Finally I’ve had enough and for what may be the first time all trip I take out the bug spray and apply it liberally to my exposed skin. This seems to do the trick and I am able to return my hiking poles to their proper positions.
Over the next few miles the trail winds through the valley, passing through stands of forest, then around fields, and across roads. I pass a monument that marks the final battle of Shay’s Rebellion. What I don’t pass is any good water source. I pass several sketchy-looking streams but opt to pass on them and hope for better sources up ahead. I reach the road leading to Great Barrington and for a minute consider hitching into town. It would allow me to find some lunch and get a break in some air conditioning, as well as fill up on water. The only thing that prevents me from doing it, other than my aversion to hitching, is that it is still early in the day and it would leave a large number of miles to be done in the afternoon when I return. I decide to press on, reminding myself that tomorrow will be a shorter day again.
A short time later I pass a parking lot and as I’m walking through a woman gets out and asks if I’m a thru-hiker. I respond that I am and she asks me which way on the trail is south. They are doing a day hike and don’t want to start in the wrong direction. Once I show her the correct direction we get to talking and I discover that they have been doing sections from NY up to here over the last month or so. They name some of the thru-hikers they’ve met but the only one I recognize is Dundee. They also ask if I need anything. If I had thought longer I might have asked for a Sherpa, but water was the first thing that came to mind. The man heads to the car and brings me a full liter of ice cold water – perfect! I drink some and pour the rest into my bladder while I talk with them. Eventually I move on but with one less thing to worry about thanks to Putt Putt Turtle, Black Feather, and I forgot the last name but it begins with S (sorry!).
It is time to climb out of the valley but it is also reaching the hot part of the day. I make my way up most of the climb but I spot a rock that looks ideal for laying on. I decide that this will be the location for my siesta today and I make myself comfortable. I roll out my thermarest and grab a quick snack. Then I begin to nap.
I only notice a few hikers pass by while I’m siesta-ing, all on their way up the mountain. As I’m preparing to leave around 2:30 I see them all return and wonder how far they went before turning back. I pack up and head the remainder of the way up the mountain. There are a few ups and downs remaining but nothing too serious. I put The Count of Monte Cristo on and start chipping away at the miles.
As I’m cruising along I notice a rumble in the distance that seems to be thunder but the skies are clear. I take out an earbud and hear the unmistakeable sound of thunder and as I hike it is growing closer. I’m not far from a shelter
so I pick up the pace to try to outrun the storm. It is just starting to sprinkle as I reach the side trail for the shelter and I get inside before any downpour begins.
I wait a few minutes but no downpour ever arrives. It seems to have just missed me. I am having incredible luck with rain recently and I hope it continues. As the thunder fades into the distance I start hiking again with only 6 miles to go to the shelter. As I hike the trail becomes wetter indicating that the storm passed just to the north of me.
The rest of the hike is uneventful and I’m able to get in around 5:30 leaving plenty of time to set up and get to bed. There are actually two shelters at this site, an old one and a new one, as well as tenting spots. As I set up I can hear people at the newer shelter down the trail so I drop in to say hi. It turns out to be a family and I deduce, using the methods I have learned from listening to my Sherlock Holmes stories, that they are from Quebec. It is really elementary my dear readers. When I arrive they are speaking French, however they also know English to varying degrees, the father seeming to have the best grasp of the language. On the way to the shelter I noticed a van with a Quebec license plate in one of the parking lots. Knowing that Quebec is a French-speaking region and noting my proximity to Canada I determine that it is probable that these are Canadians. Of course I can’t confirm my deduction because I never ask them, so let’s just assume I’m right and that the audiobooks are paying off. Although I’m not alone at the shelter this is the second day in a row in which I have seen no thru-hikers and I’m starting to wonder what has happened to them all.
I have to backtrack a quarter mile on the AT to get water because the spring at the shelter appears to be dry. I cook my dinner and am in my tent before 8:00, a much more common occurrence now that I am hiking fewer miles each day. A tick check, baby wipe shower, and some writing are all that stand between me and sleep. Today was a long day but tomorrow will be shorter and will have a payoff at the end in the form of a great shelter called Upper Goose Pond Cabin which has a caretaker, a pond to swim and canoe in, and is rumored to have pancakes for breakfast! That should give me some good motivation as I hike north on the Appalachian Trail!