20.6 miles, 1564.1 overall (Tom Levardi’s house, Dalton, MA)
I seem to be the first to get up in the cabin. I get dressed, gather my things, and take my stuff outside as quietly as I can do I can pack up on the porch downstairs. I am hoping the caretakers are up already and starting on the infamous pancake breakfast but my hopes are dashed. By the time I’m done packing I still haven’t seen them up yet. I start eating my typical bagel and peanut butter and preparing for a pancake-less day.
While I’m eating Instigator and Expeditor also get up, followed by other hikers and then the caretakers. Wendy sees me eating a bagel and reminds me that there are pancakes. I decide to wait around for them since I shouldn’t take too long. An hour later I have had a few pancakes and 2 cups of coffee and am ready to head out.
Since I’m planning a long day I start the audiobooks early. I’m the first out of the cabin and so I expect to get passed quickly by the faster hikers today. I make good time though and soon I’ve passed over I-90, hiked up a mountain, and hiked down the other side past a pond to get to the next shelter. I stop in for a break and find another great MA shelter. The state seems to have only the newer designs with two floors and each shelter has had a moldering privy (preferable for smells, impact, and maintenance) and a bear box. It makes it much easier to move on to the next shelter when you know that the one you’re heading to is t likely to turn out to be a huge disappointment compared to the one you’re at. While I’m breaking Jijad et al arrive and start cooking lunch. They are some of the few hikers I’ve seen who take the time to cook during the day.
Just a couple miles after I leave I reach a road on which the Cookie Lady lives. The Cookie Lady is a woman who apparently started giving hikers cookies years ago. Word travelled among the hikers and soon tons of them were stopping by. She has now become so well-known that she is in the data book. I take a quick detour down the road to see this fixture of the AT. As I approach I see a cute older house with all kinds of flowers out front. I notice a man working in the back but I’m not sure if he noticed me. I get to the porch and find a register and a paper with all the states on it. They’re asking hikers to mark the state they are from. It appears NY is most common but Virginia is one of several that are also popular. I expected by the time I finished the register that the Cookie Lady would probably notice me and come out but nobody comes. I ring the doorbell and almost immediately the man from the back arrives and says hi. He must have been on his way already. He asks if I’d like some cookies and I say yes, asking also for a Coke that they sell. He brings them all out and we talk for a few minutes while I eat. Turns out they have lived in this area for decades and they had a daughter that lived in Harrisonburg, Virginia for a while. Eventually he heads back in and I prepare to leave, filling up some water from their hose, when a car pulls up and I get to meet the actual Cookie Lady! She’s very pleasant and asks if I got some cookies. We talk for a minute before she heads into the house and I head back to the trail.
I had been aiming for the next shelter to make it a 17.6 mike day but I’m making such good time on the flat terrain that I decide to head into Dalton just past the shelter. The miles fly by and I even get some trail magic in the form of grape soda in a cooler next to the trail. While I’m there a southbound section hiker arrives and tells me about a place she stayed called the Birdcage in Dalton. She says it was really great and that the owner even enforced quiet hours, telling some hikers who were still up socializing and playing music at 11:30 that it was time for then to go to bed. Up to this point I was undecided on which place to go in Dalton. The hiker makes my mind up for me with the 11:30 comment. I set my sights on Tom Levardi’s house.
Dalton seems like another typical New England town. On the way in I cross railroad tracks and then walk down a street full of cute old houses. Near the end of the street I see hikers hanging out on a porch and know I’ve found Tom’s house. Tom himself is on the porch talking to them and I introduce myself. He gives me the rundown on his place – no shoes or packs inside, shower and laundry are available, etc. When I go inside the house I find it has been completely dedicated to serving as a hiker hotel. The chairs in the living room have protective coverings, all of the rooms seem to have mattresses in them for people to sleep on, and occasionally I find notes indicating what we should or should not be doing (eg, don’t spray water all over the bathroom walls). The place is amazing and Tom is one of the nicest, most generous people I’ve met yet on the trail. I head into town to get a few snacks for resupply and to grab a beer (Berkshire brewing coffee porter, not bad) and when I get back he has cooked us a dinner of pasta and salad. We eat outside on a picnic table and it is a perfect moment of what I expected the AT to be like.
After dinner I make sure I have everything packed for tomorrow and I find out where I’m sleeping. Others are planning on slack packing down Greylock tomorrow. I am tempted, especially since it would mean coming back to Tom’s for July 4, but can’t bring myself to slack pack this late in my hike. Once I have everything ready I find Tom and some others in the living room watching O Brother Where Art Thou. I grab a seat and watch the rest with them before I head to bed. It turns out to have been about as near to a perfect day as possible on the Appalachian Trail.