Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Day 48: Buchanan Mountain to Vernon, NJ

Miles today: 23.0
Miles total: 833.3

Currently sitting in St. Thomas' Church Hostel...

Well today in New York was more of the same, like the end of yesterday. I woke up as early as the sun would let me, at 4:30 AM. I knew by the time I started walking, I would at least be able to see. I still haven't tried night hiking, and I didn't plan on starting today. I had an easy six or so miles to Wildcat Shelter. Then I started to have more of these little up-and-down ridge climbs. As soon as I was losing hope, the ground flattened. I started to grin, cruising for a bit. Then the ridges came back. I wanted so badly to get into Vernon and to relax at the hostel with food from Burger King. Every time I slowed down, it was like I could see my destination zooming out. Like when a cartoon character looks down into a valley. I kept looking at my elevation profile, sure I must have misread it. Nope, clear as day, I saw a flat line, floating around 1200 feet. I would go up, go down. The trail was poorly blazed. I kept guessing which way to go, sometimes stopping to scream at a tree with the white blaze painted on it. "GIVE ME A HINT NEXT TIME AT LEAST!"

My mood went back to normal as I neared New Jersey. I climbed a ridge and stayed up high this time. The clear, cool weather had returned. I climbed up to Prospect Rock, the highest point in New York on the AT. I looked to my left, and my jaw unhinged. There was the skyline of New York City. The place I had my layover for my flight up to Maine. I had walked a plane flight's worth of trail! A smile crossed my lips, and I passed into New Jersey. A dog-walker lady brought her pack of dogs up the trail. As I was surrounded by friendly pooches, I couldn't help but laugh like an idiot. Who knows what this lady thought. I thanked her and walked off the ridge, this time for good. It was instantaneous: New Jersey was smooth and flat. I passed a nobo, asking him about the terrain ahead. "Aw, just like this. Perfect," he said. "Thank you," I whispered quietly. I rolled on over the flat hills, up an easy walk to Wawayanda Mountain. I started to get slowed down by day hikers asking me about my quest, but at this point I didn't mind. Almost into town!

I got to the road and quickly got a hitch from a fella whose friend is hiking the AT. He knew right where I was going and dropped me off at the church. The setup here is really sweet. I have a cot, wifi, computer, TV with movies, shower, and laundry. For a modest donation and some chore work. What? Life is good tonight. After taking advantage of the shower and laundry right off the bat, I talked to fellow sobo Squints, who is also in for the night. Unfortunately, the Burger King was closed, so I walked to the A&P grocery store. Outside, between the road and the parking lot on a grassy area, I saw what I thought was a dog. Nope, it was a male black bear, followed by his wife and son. I only see wildlife in town. I had left my phone in the hostel to charge, so I had to satisfy myself with pointing excitedly at the undisturbed bear family as cars drove by to watch. The A&P had a salad bar and a hot food bar. I loaded up on both. Parents covered their children's eyes. Employees started to clock out. Never shop when you're hungry. I know you've heard it before, but when you have a cart full of grocery items to carry back to the hostel, it really rings true. I ate food as I called home, washing it down as I drank from a 2-liter bottle of Code Red Mountain Dew. We all have a monster inside of us; I just let mine out.


Nobo count: 25
Sobo count: 1

Pictures: State line; ensuing celebration!

Day 47: Hemlock Springs Campsite to Buchanan Mountain

Miles today: 26.0
Miles total: 810.3

Currently sitting in my tent...

New York doesn't just let you have miles. I looked at the elevation profile last night and thought it would be an easy day. I was utterly mistaken. Maybe I should take that back. There are miles to instill hope, followed by those that rip it away. I believe Bane from The Dark Knight Rises said something about despair being impossible without hope. I was awoken by a train's horn blowing, since I slept right through my alarm. I had a nice walk down into the Hudson River Valley. The fog from last night's rain was burning off, and it made for some good views of sun mixed with mist. I started a road walk, then came around a corner to behold Bear Mountain Bridge. Being a structural-engineer-in-waiting, my mouth dropped open and I was filled with glee. It's a beautiful suspension bridge that the AT is lucky to traverse on its way to Bear Mountain State Park. The Bear Mountain Zoo, which the AT also goes right through, was closed at this hour. I sadly took the bypass around the walls. In doing so, I not only missed seeing the animals, but I missed the bear cage. At 124 feet, it is the lowest point on the trail. There is some joke to be made here, but the wording just isn't coming to me. I crossed through a tunnel to Bear Mountain State Park, which is actually a bunch of vending machines and picnic tables surrounding a lake. I took advantage of the ice cream machine (two times), and started my ascent of Bear Mountain. Maintained by the park and popular among day hikers, this mountain has a true cakewalk of a climb. I neglected to use my trekking poles because the rise was so shallow and there was a sidewalk. On top I found a closed observatory tower and more vending machines, after which I followed an equally smooth trail back down. Despite the very touristy feel, Bear Mountain State Park and the entire Hudson River Valley made for a beautiful morning.

The terrain started to do some ups and downs, but nothing I wasn't accustomed to. I walked through a quiet forest with red and yellow leaves coating the ground. I crossed the Palisades Parkway, which takes cars the short 34 miles into New York City. I looked ahead on my elevation profile and noticed the ground leveled out ahead. Time to cruise, I thought. It was just a series of 25 foot gains followed by 25 foot losses over rocky ridges. With my plan to make big miles today and tomorrow in order to have a hostel stay in jeopardy, I started to get really frustrated. I stopped at Tiorati Circle for a water refill and a break, then hopped back in the saddle. To be fair, the feeling of walking through a quasi-open space along the ridge was great. I just wasn't going anywhere. My mood was boosted as I reached a famous AT attraction: the Lemon Squeezer. It's really just two vertical rocks that are really close together, making it a tight squeeze, but I managed. 

The end of my day was a similar struggle to make headway, but I still got my haul. That's why I wake up early! No matter what the trail throws at me, I will have time to make miles. My body expressed a little disinterest in continuing, but my mind told it to shut up for a minute. I pitched my tent up here on Buchanan, hoping to keep the mosquitoes away with a breeze, but alas, here they are to help me cook dinner. Still a solid day, and New York really isn't as bad as all these nobos want you to think.


Nobo count: 30
Sobo count: 0

Pictures: Bear Mountain Bridge; sign on the bridge, with which I would have to agree; crossing Palisades Parkway; I did NOT take the easy way down that rock wall; the Lemon Squeezer.


Day 46: RPH Shelter to Hemlock Springs Campsite

Miles today: 23.0
Miles total: 784.3

Currently sitting in my tent...

The nobos were up late into the night, but having my own agenda, I popped in my earplug and went to sleep in the fetal position, my gut full of pizza. I woke, got ready, and left before any of my bunkmates began stirring. I guess we're just on different schedules. The hiking was fast but choppy; I had to pay attention to rocks all over the path. This task was made considerably harder by the swarm of gnats that followed me all day. As I walked, they all flew around my head. When I stopped, they would enshroud my whole body, concentrating right beneath the chest strap on my pack. They didn't bite, but they were just a nuisance. They'd get in my eyes, my nose, my mouth, my ears. "What do you want?" I shouted angrily, "I'll give it to you, just tell me what it is!" I came upon a couple sitting by the road. I asked them why these bugs acted this way. They didn't know but suggested I take a break so the gnats would leave for a bit. Another nobo joined us, and I hopelessly asked him the same question. "I think they want the sweat," he suggested, "See how they concentrate on your chest right there?" At least I had a feasible answer to my quandary. I bid everyone good day and started moving again, immediately rejoined by the gnats. On the nobos' suggestion, I scanned the brush for raspberry bushes. Once I started looking, they were everywhere. I was constantly stopping to pick them. They tasted so good!

The previous day's effort wore on me, but soon enough I heard the church bells from Graymoor Spiritual Life Center. This friars in the monastery have made their ballfield into a shelter for hikers. Unfortunately, this came to early in my day to be my stopping point. Instead, it served as an alert that I was close to a deli! I really enjoyed listening to the bells being played for their own sake, too. I popped out of the woods at a busy road intersection, spying a gas station across the street. There it was! No side trail, no road walk, just a deli right there on my way. I ordered an eggplant parm sandwich and got a huge container of Powerade. That blue sugar was in my guttiworks faster than they could make my sandwich. I enjoyed scanning through my AT Guide as I ate with the news on in the background. I scouted ahead for delis in my future and planned the end of my day. I was unfortunately too late to get to the Bear Mountain Zoo before it closed for the day, so I was in no rush to get to the next town. After a solid rest, I hoisted my pack again and started up the trail.
At the trailhead, I spotted some fresh trail magic in the form of soda. Already satisfied from lunch, I passed it up. This is considered sacrilegious in the hiker community, but I knew I wouldn't even enjoy it if I took it. After getting distracted and walking down the wrong trail for a quarter mile, I made a quick climb to the ridge. I was taking a break on a log when I heard the longest continuous roll of thunder I have ever heard. I decided it would be prudent to get to the campsite ASAP, and I was right. As I walked into the valley, rain started to fall. It hasn't stopped since, but it isn't especially hard. The TV weatherman was right! He said to expect an evening shower, and in comes a shower! I would like to draft this man to cover the weather on the rest of my hike, please.

Nobo count: 18
Sobo count: 0 but I heard about one in front of me


Pictures: I kind of forgot, but there wasn't much to see. If I had taken one, it would have been a gas station picture to commemorate my first deli. So just imagine a clean gas station.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 45: Ten Mile River Shelter to RPH Shelter

Miles today: 29.6
Miles total: 761.3

Currently sitting at the RPH picnic table...

Today I welcomed another visitor on my hike. This time I met up with Ben, a friend from my undergrad club running team. He's lives in Connecticut, so he made the quick drive across the border to hike with me on my first day in the state of New York. The trail was kind to me on my trip to our meeting spot, so I arrived at NY highway 22 a little early. I charged my phone and ate a snack at the hiker-friendly garden center nearby, but soon Ben arrived. As soon as we started hiking south, we passed the famous Appalachian Trail railroad stop. On the weekends, a train runs into New York City from this spot. The "station" was hilariously small. It consisted of a small platform with about three seats situated next to the tracks. Supply meets demand, I guess.

Ben and I caught up on each other's past year, ticking off some miles in the process. His latest project is getting to the highest point in all 50 states. He's knocked off almost all of the northeast, but it has still been too inconvenient to get to Katahdin. Maine is just really remote. Again, I was really thankful to have an old friend visit. After we said our goodbyes, Ben turned around to run back over the trail we had covered together. My spirit was lifted, and I looked at my trail guide to see what was coming up. At the bottom of the page, I spotted the RPH Shelter. I had heard of this one in particular because it's one of the only AT shelters where you can get pizza delivered. I had a clear goal for the day, my legs were feeling good, and the terrain was cooperative. I cruised effortlessly on the smooth ground and tried to savor it; I've heard New York has some crappy rocky sections, so I have to count my blessings. Basically every nobo I've talked to has mentioned how much New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all suck. Considering that's a collective 400 miles of trail, can you imagine my chagrin? I've been finding joy in the small things (FOOD), and so far I've stayed happy. It also helps to look forward to Virginia and beyond. Also, apparently Maryland has mountain goats.

Being someone who is primarily motivated by food, life is good right now. I am beginning the "deli walk", a stretch through New York and New Jersey where you're never too far from civilization and, as the name implies, delis abound near the trail. This explains the RPH Shelter, which exists in the caretaker's backyard. Being in a suburban neighborhood, pizza delivery is up for discussion. I pushed over the last undulations in the earth, walked under an overpass, and saw the privy. Often, the privy is the first sign that a weary hiker has reached his destination. I let out a whoop then immediately ordered a pizza. I played it safe and got the large, topping it off with garlic to ward off the mosquitoes. As I waited anxiously for my delivery and tried to keep my hand out of my food bag, nobos started to roll in. I've found that the April-start nobos tend to wake up later and hike later into the day. This was a good crew, and I had a good time sitting around the picnic table and talking with them. I ended up eating far too much pizza (SURPRISE), and I retired early, smiling to myself over a successful day.

Nobo count: 32
Sobo count: 1


Pictures: pasture walkin' with the cows; Appalachian Trail railroad; sweet success.

Day 44: Caesar Brook Campsite to Ten Mile River Shelter

Miles today: 22.4
Miles total: 731.7

Currently sitting in the shelter...

Another day, another town. That's how it has become out here. You won't hear me complaining, though. I love the woods and mountains, but I also like town food and social interaction. Today's victim was Kent, CT. Earlier in the day, I bypassed the town of Cornwall Bridge, which has a package store that promises a free beer to thru-hikers. I figured 7 AM was a little early for a brewski. The day's elevation profile looked roughly flat, but the texture of the terrain made for a tougher morning than I had expected. At one point in the morning, I paused to take a drink from my water bottle as I crossed a road. Behind me in the woods, I heard the jangling of metal. I excitedly scanned the foliage, expecting to see a bear that had gotten his paws on some kind of container. What I saw was even more amazing: a thru-hiker running down the steep incline with a full pack. Named after a character in the movie "The Big Lebowski", he is called The Jesus. We said hi before he disappeared back into the woods on the other side of the road.

I was already pretty beat up when I got to Kent, only 14 miles into my day. The town is situated close to the trail, but not directly on it.  I would have felt dumb sticking my thumb out for an 0.8 mile hitch, so I walked into town. This town was definitely not geared specifically towards hikers. There was an outfitter, but Kent is otherwise a rich New England town. Weird artsy stores and upscale restaurants dominate the scene. I quenched my hunger with convenience store food so that I would make more prudent buying decisions during the day, but still went over to a diner. The garden burger I had was awesome, and I guzzled iced tea like a gremlin. I hit up the library and the IGA for groceries, then started walking out of town. A guy who looked like a hiker honked at me and offered to take me the rest of the way. Not being one to turn down a handout, I hopped in. He was recovering from Lyme's disease, so he rented a car to enjoy town. I relished the approximate half mile I saved.

The hike to my shelter was similar to the hike into town, keeping me from picking up speed. I also stopped to talk to a lot of northbounders. I learned they planned to have a party at the shelter near Kent, packing out food and drinks. Based on the number of people headed there, I could imagine it getting pretty rowdy. But that is the April bubble for you! Always down for a party. Consequentially, my destination shelter wasn't busy at all. I talked with some nobos over dinner, but they're all tenting tonight. I had the shelter to myself until The Jesus rolled in with another sobo. PEOPLE!! I love having company; I'll surely be missing it in about a month.


Pictures: last view in Connecticut; hello NY.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Day 43: Brassie Brook Shelter to Caesar Brook Campsite

Miles today: 24.3
Miles total: 709.3

Currently sitting in my tent...

I believe today is the start of my new hiking philosophy: not doing as many miles as I possibly can, thus enjoying the day. I would like to claim that I succeeded. Last night in the shelter, Brightside and I came to the realization that in order to make it to the Sharon Post Office before closing time, I would have to do 22 miles before roughly 3:30. Considering my wake-up time, this wasn't too daunting of a task, but I certainly felt the heat on the back of my neck. When my alarm sounded this morning, I had a tough time getting out of my comfy sleeping bag. There was still a nip in the air, so I got ready with my legs in the bag and started off hiking with my nano-puff jacket on. It was really enjoyable hiking. Smooth terrain again and perfectly crisp temperatures combined to make the miles slide away. I passed by Falls Village, a town that is three tenths of a mile off trail, by 9:30. Because I was ahead of schedule, I went in to check it out. There wasn't much going on, but the cafe was filled with hikers. I got a delicious breakfast sandwich and sat down at a table of at least eight nobos. "What? A sobo that likes people?" they exclaimed. Not having met too many of my kind yet, this group must have still been relying on stereotypes to characterize southbounders. We chatted for a bit, but then it was back to the trail for Rooster.

The following walk was even flatter than the first part of the day. I cruised along until a steep climb slowed my roll. After that, the ground kind of rippled up and down, making me slow down. For the first time on my trip, I had begun counting northbounders this morning. Passing one, I informed her that she was my twentieth nobo of the day. She told my I was the first sobo she had seen, and like magic, she handed me a snickers bar. I ate it in front of her so she could see my joy firsthand.

After passing about seven more nobos, I crossed the road that would take me to Sharon, CT, where I had a package to pick up. The problem: this road had no cars on it. I sat down next to a group of hikers (nobos 27, 28, 29, and 30), who had a ride coming for them. They graciously drove me into Sharon. The trail delivered again. I went straight to the PO and got my package. Inside was my new warm-weather sleeping bag! I used the box to mail home my cold-weather bag along with some stuff I never used (I'm looking at you, sunglasses). With only two miles of hiking left to my destination, I explored the town. When I explore a town, I typically look for a library and a place to eat. I found both. While grabbing a sandwich from Sharon's grocery store, another customer looked me over and correctly surmised that I was hiking the trail. "Do you need a ride back?" he asked. As a matter of fact, I had no idea how I would get back to that seldom-traveled trail crossing. I thanked the stars and quickly purchased some other snacks for the road.

Back on the trail, I sat on a rock and ate dinner. The last two miles of hiking felt easy, but that's probably because I was so relaxed, not having a deadline to meet. I rolled up to the campsite, which contained one last nobo for the day. After setting up my tent, however, I heard him talking on his cell phone. It turns out that there is a Super Trail Angel named Miss Janet who follows the nobos up the trail, giving them shuttles as they go. Wow, I thought April-start nobos had it easy, but I had no idea. They don't have to deal with snow, isolation, hard mountains, or even hitches. No wonder I have seen so many thru-hikers that looked less than "typical", shall we say. Anyways, the campsite is mine now, and I have time to relax. Maybe I'll use the privy, which is actually just a toilet with no walls. At least you get a view!

Nobo count: 32
Sobo count: 3


Pictures: a nice field; the Giant's Thumb.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Day 42: Great Barrington, MA to Brassie Brook Shelter

Miles today: 25.2
Miles total: 685.0

Currently sitting in the lean-to...

Today began sort of late because I slept in after watching TV until 11 last night. I deem it totally worth it. I turned the glowing box on again this morning so I could check the weather one last time...yep, it was still looking good. No rain on the horizon and temps maxing out in the upper 70s in the valleys. I quickly packed up the remainder of my stuff, checked out of my room, and went next door to the gas station to check if there were any small containers of bug spray. No luck. I went to the other gas station and got the same story: all these hikers have been cleaning them out. Mildly annoyed, I walked up the road to the Price Chopper, finding a small container with only a small amount of DEET, but I was satisfied. I was even more satisfied after grabbing a bavarian cream-filled donut from the bakery. I walked to the road leading to the trail and stuck out my thumb. Not two cars passed before someone pulled over. I think these nobos are crazy - hitching in New England has been really easy! I think it might have something to do with me not traveling in a group of six to ten people.

I really enjoyed the hiking today. The terrain had some ups and downs but was smooth most of the way. This combined with the crisp, cool air to put me in a good mood. I tried a new type of Clif Bar, too: cool mint chocolate. I recommend this as a morning snack because it reminded me of the morning, very fresh and invigorating. On a higher section in the woods, I found a turtle hiking the trail right in front of me. His tail reminded me of those I've seen on snapping turtles on TV. I didn't take any chances with him. I stooped down next to him, and he looked pretty defensive and bashful. I stuck my trekking pole near his front to see what he would do with it. And with that, I present my first video from the AT. Please forgive my narration; it was early.

I hiked down from the ridge and completed some flat miles through farmland. I find these walks enjoyable, especially because they're flat. I quickly came to a road that my guide promised to have a deli. In fact, this deli was a mile and a half west, so I took this as a sign to eat the food I had packed for once. I sat and relaxed in the shade as I spread my chocolate peanut butter on tortillas. Soon I was back in action, again climbing up the ridge. This time my destination was Mt. Everett. On my way up, I passed by Brightside, the sobo I met the other day. He had stopped for a rest so I continued on up the incline. After Everett was a ridge walk along Race Mountain. Somewhere in the middle of these two peaks, I got inexplicably bummed out. What is there to look forward to in the next states? What is the challenge? I asked myself. I thought about the southern mountains: Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia. Those are my dream mountains. What do these mid-atlantic lowlands have to offer? Mosquitoes and heat? I couldn't shake my funk, even as I checked out the great views from Race and ate the wild blueberries that grew in abundance near the rocks.

Brightside passed by, hauling tail as he usually does. I walked behind him for a while, sharing my "bummedness" feelings, but let him pull ahead. I caught back up to him shortly after crossing into Connecticut. He was slowing down as he approached the shelter. We again walked together, with him insisting that I should speak up if I wanted to go ahead. I had originally planned to get one shelter further tonight, but I figured I could always do that later. We got to the top of a surprisingly steep climb up Bear Mountain, where there was a stone observation tower (pile?). We sat, enjoying the sun and cool breeze, chatting with a day hiker. The funk began to shake from my mind. I was reminded that the trail is largely about the people who hike it. I decided then that I would take a slightly shorter day to bond with a fellow sobo. We got to our destination and found it empty. We have it all to ourselves! On top of that, the air is crisp and cool, and the bugs are minimal to nonexistent. Brightside's disposition is contagious. My happiness doesn't come from pushing huge miles, as I had thought, but from having a solid day and sharing the company of other hikers. It's amazing the mood swings that can happen out here. Don't worry, I'm not leaving this trail that easily. There's too much good stuff to be found!


Pictures: Shay's Rebellion monument, which I believe led to the Revolutionary War (help me Mr. Stroud!!); view from Race Mountain; misplaced Connecticut boundary sign.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Day 41: Upper Goose Pond to Great Barrington, MA

Miles today: 19.1
Miles total: 659.8

Currently laying in a bed in the Monument Mountain Motel...

It finally rained! After staying dry all the way from Glencliff, NH, I finally had to deal with the stuff today. Or really, last night. I had to keep my sleeping bag away from the side mesh on the tent, as the pounding rain had moistened it. Technically my sleeping bag isn't supposed to get wet, but we are in the woods. I performed the rainy day version of my morning routine, getting all packed up before I went up to the cabin. Inside, there was already a line for pancakes. Oh, but they were so worth it. They were just slightly crispy and so good. I knew today would be a good day from the start. I said goodbye to the hoard of nobos and was on my way. My legs were feeling pretty heavy after the past several days of high mileage. I began to reassess my plans for the day. A couple days ago, I told my friend Sami that I was walking through western Massachusetts. He volunteered to come visit me! So we made plans to meet up tonight in Great Barrington. Last night, hubris took over and decided I could cover another 30 or so miles today. Luckily, there were shorter options for getting in to Great Barrington. I quickly decided I would take the first one, making the day's haul a still-respectable 19 miles. Soon, I passed a couple of nobos who were just coming out of town. They told me the Monument Mountain Motel had reasonable hiker rates, and my interest was piqued. Over the past few days, the influx of nobos filling up shelters, campsites, and the trail in general has been overwhelming me. Believe it or not, I never feel like I have alone time! I knew a motel stay would be a cure for that itch, so I made a plan in my head. I hiked the rest of the way, dreaming of a fluffy bed all my own. And TV. And a shower. The deal was sealed. It's hard to be thrifty when things are so convenient and you're tired. I think back to the days of the hundred-mile wilderness and remind myself I have had it both ways. Anyways, I got a hitch right off the bat from a guy who is heading up to Pierce Pond in Maine tomorrow. Pierce Pond that's right on the AT! We were kindred spirits. He dropped me off at Price Chopper where I bought my town food on the cheap, considering my other expense of the day. I walked the short distance to the hotel, cream cheese pastry in hand, and secured a room. So now I lay, scantily-clad, in a surprisingly nice motel room with the weather channel on as noise in the background.

After a few hours of motel room relaxation, Sami pulled up out front. It was surreal to see someone I knew from the real world, let alone someone I hadn't seen in over a year. He came into the room for a show-and-tell about all my gear, chuckling at my stories from the trail. We then drove to the bustling (just kidding) downtown of Great Barrington, where we found a mexican place for dinner. We caught up on each other's lives and just shot the breeze. I can't overstate how nice it was to relax and laugh with an old friend. After dinner, being a real person with a real job, Sami had to hit the road to get back home for work in the morning. We waved goodbye and just like that, he was gone. I was sad for a moment until I remembered that there were 50 channels of TV to watch. I settled into bed and watched Tosh.0 just as if I were at home, sleep unable to catch hold amidst the stimulus from the glowing box in the corner of the room. All is well.


Pictures: Woops! In the first half of the day, I was dead-set on getting to town, and in the second half I was engrossed in conversation. But Sami was really here!!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Day 40: Cheshire to Upper Goose Pond Cabin

Miles today: 29.4
Miles total: 640.7

Currently sitting in my tent...

AHHHH I wrote everything and then it got deleted. What follows is a very abridged version of a good day.
I walked smooth miles from Cheshire to Dalton, meeting another sobo named Brightside along the way. He's pretty fast, so I think I will see him again. In Dalton, I ate a veggie burger, a foamy hot beverage, and resupplied, then hiked back out. The next miles were smooth as well. I stopped at the Cookie Lady's house. She lives 100 yards from the trail and makes cookies for hikers. You can also buy lemonade and pick blueberries. I met some hens that she had on her farm. The rest of the miles to my camping spot for the day were smooth as well, meaning I could squeeze a lot in. I crossed I-90, the Massachusetts Turnpike, and raised my arms in the air triumphantly. A car down below beeped its horn excitedly, which made me happy. I had to walk a half-mile side trail, but I arrived at the warm Upper Goose Pond cabin, which was packed. All the bunks and tent platforms were taken by these April-starting northbounders, but I was fine setting up my tent on the ground. This shelter is unique because it has volunteer caretakers who make PANCAKES in the morning. So in the end it is all worth it.


Pictures: my ladies, the Cookie Lady's house.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Day 39: Seth Warner Shelter to Cheshire, MA

Miles today: 21.6
Miles total: 611.3

Currently sitting in the auditorium of St. Mary's church...

Chocolate chip pancakes are not mountain climbing fuel. I gave my sobo section hiker a 30 minute head start to the Friendly's in North Adams, then I started off myself. I got to the Massachusetts border in about an hour, celebrating with a few pictures and my theme song. Boy did I have a morning face on. The forest immediately changed character. I don't know how to explain it, but Massachusetts was clearly different from Vermont. My first steps in the new state were down a rock slide. As I carefully picked my way through the jumble, I heard thundering steps from behind me. I turned to see Pink Leprechaun powering down the slope confidently and without trekking poles. I was as dumbfounded as the day I saw the moose. He disappeared ahead of me as I subconsciously tried to quicken my pace. Pink Leprechaun was waiting at the road crossing that led to North Adams, so we walked to Friendly's together. When we got there, the section hiker had already ordered food and we quickly did the same. I got a stack of 3 chocolate chip pancakes. These came with a side of meat, which I subbed for another chocolate chip pancake. The section hiker, who is a pastor, blessed the food and we ate. After breakfast, we went to Price Chopper, and I got a couple pieces of fruit and ate them outside.

The flat road out of town was even a struggle. Once I got to the trail and it turned upwards, I began to have to take breaks, being as full as I was. I would sit on a log with my head in my hands, then continue walking for a while. After a few cycles of this, I walked off the trail and was sick, which made me feel a little better. Unfortunately, immediately following this slight relief was a climb up Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts. I took plenty of breaks, then stopped at a shelter for about 45 minutes to get water and sit around feeling miserable. A Dutch tourist appeared, looking for a waterfall. I couldn't help him, and his shaved arms, legs, and armpits were threatening to make me sick again, so I headed out. I felt stronger for a while, until all of a sudden I felt shaky and weak. The trail became hard to focus on, and I sat down on a protruding root. I passed a summit but didn't care to look. Finally, about 2 miles from the summit of Greylock, I sat on a log, removed my pack, and began making plans to get back to North Adams for the night to recover. I began shopping hotels, getting sort of excited to sleep in a bed and watch TV. This is something worse than over-eating, I thought to myself. I noticed North Adams had a medical center, and I planned to stop by the following day. I turned my phone on, getting full coverage from up high. It just so happened that a few college buddies were starting a Google hangout, so I joined in from on top of a ridge. It was pretty weird to be so technologically attached, but it was nice to see everyone's faces. After an hour, I signed off and was ready to get off the mountain, but I felt miraculously better.

Long story short, I had just eaten too much of that sugary goodness. My body had basically gone into shock, I think. Feeling good again, I flew up and over Greylock and down into Cheshire, cruising along the smooth, well-graded trail. The town looked small and inviting. I knocked on the door of the church hostel and, getting no answer, naturally went to the pub for some pasta and a beer. Not having eaten since 10 AM, it felt good to see food again. I tried one last time at the church hostel, and this time a pastor answered. He set me up in the auditorium with Pink Leprechaun and some section hiker whose name I didn't catch. Too tired to journal or chat, I quickly got ready for bed and jotted down a few notes about the day, to be transcribed later (by me in a coffee shop in Dalton).


Pictures: Welcome to Massachusetts; tower on top of Greylock; walking through a cornfield in Cheshire.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Day 38: Kid Gore Shelter to Seth Warner Shelter

Miles today: 25.9
Miles total: 589.7

Currently sitting in the shelter...

Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't have it all. I started hiking this morning, saying bye to my to Long Trail friends. I got to another mountain with another observation tower whose name I forget. The hike down to the next shelter was pretty uneventful and fast. I got there around 10:30, having completed over 12 miles. I talked to a couple of early Long Trail northbounders who thought about where I had come from this morning. "Wow, you really are a [redacted] rooster!" Caveman said. I then decided that I deserved a treat and that I should go into Bennington for lunch. I just knew that I could still make it to my goal if I just focused and didn't get distracted in town. I got to a good spot and got a hitch quickly. My driver didn't know that the AT existed, which really made me surprised that he stopped. It gives me a kick when I get a ride from someone who doesn't know I'm just going a few miles. With the idea of fresh(-ish) green vegetables in my mind, I rolled up to Subway and went to town. I got a little too full and needed a break before starting my hike again, so I went to the library for a few minutes and burped and used the computer.

Another town visit successfully behind me, I walked to the edge of town and stuck my thumb out. Everyone in town must have thought I was giving them a thumbs up, because I had trouble hailing a car. A couple on the sidewalk asked me how far I was going. I told them Georgia, and they were flabbergasted. How do people in trail towns not notice all these dirty hikers? I was happy to explain my journey to them. The woman showed me the upcoming weather on her phone, telling me to be careful in the heat. She offered to buy me food and then said she'd be happy to take me back to the trail. On the way, she told me about how her house was haunted by a 5-year-old girl who caught on fire. She said it was a good thing though, because she could play with her daughter's toys. We got to the trailhead, and she got out of the car to take a look for herself. She looked really intrigued, asking where the trail went and saying it looked really nice. I hoped that someday she would take a drive down the road and go for a hike herself. She gave me packages of mini chips ahoy and oreos. She even gave me 5 bucks to help me along. I tried to refuse, but she set it on the ground. I'm coming to find that it is the people who have the least who give the most. I'm more optimistic that a beater of a car will pick me up. A BMW, an Audi? Forget about it. '96 Honda Civic? Most likely.

I hiked up the steep (by Vermont standards) incline from the road, bumping in to nobos as I went. One gave me a tip to stay at a specific campsite in Virginia. I tried to tuck it away in some safe place in my brain. I came through a big group of nobos, about six at once. I asked them where they were relative to "the bubble", the big swell of northbounders. One of them piped up, "We're probably in the first 50 or 75 nobos you've seen." I couldn't contain my reaction. My head was shaking before he had finished his sentence. That was just absolutely so wrong. I've been seeing nobos since Monson, ten days into my hike, and I've been seeing over ten a day since the Whites. I sadly informed him he was closer to 200. He was sure that people were cheating or doing something sketchy. I kept on moving, getting to the next shelter, where a sobo LT'er sat. He told me my two sobo friends had decided to push on and finish up their hike tonight. I got a little sad but then I made some Gatorade and my mood improved. I decided I would still push on the the remaining 7.5 to the shelter. It threatened to rain the whole time and I really believed it would pour as I pulled in to camp. It never really came to anything, though. I am joined tonight by 5 million nobos (all good-natured), Pink Leprechaun (a sobo like myself), and a sobo section hiker. The atmosphere here is very festive and, most importantly, positive. The section hiker, whose name I have of course forgotten, and I have plans to stop at Friendly's in North Adams tomorrow. I love breakfast food and company. Boo-yah.

Everyone talks about their reasons for hiking the trail, and they are typically hard to define. I always wished I could put mine into words, and today I think I had a realization. I don't want to jump the gun and say anything before I've had time for my thoughts to crystallize. I'm mostly writing this here to remember this day. I think with this in mind, I'll have an easier time on those tough days. But today was a good day. I got my big miles in, and I got into town. Yeeehaww the Rooster flies again!


Pictures: these cats were everywhere in Bennington; some sort of cool bog.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Day 37: Manchester Center to Kid Gore Shelter

Miles today: 25.7
Miles total: 563.8

Currently sitting at the Kid Gore picnic table...

I gotta finish up talking about last night before I move on to today. The hostel was very quiet, like quiet hours were in effect. Four people sat in the living room, reading and sitting silently. I never thought I'd be one to say this, but I come to hostels to talk and watch TV!! I couldn't do either, and I felt like I might as well be on the trail. At least when I'm hiking, I get to walk and make progress while I don't talk to anyone. When it gets quiet and I'm not on the trail, my mind gets to worrying. I started to wonder about what the trail had in store for me. I worried I would get lonely, that I would get too deep inside my own head and have to quit. It's not productive at all, and it's especially not something I want to be doing on my rest day. Luckily, Don's Brother looked over and asked me where I was from. Thank you God. We got to talking and then his hiking buddy, Banzai, joined in as well. He asked me some insightful questions about the Whites. I asked him what I had to look forward to about the trail ahead, and I shared my fears. He's one of those guys that are easy to talk with. He shared a story about a day when he felt like quitting, as well as why he is able to keep going when he's down. Everyone out here has to find their own reason and have it at the front of their mind for those bad days. So in the end, I guess I wasn't worried. I was worried about worrying.

Jeff the Ohioan hostel owner was set to drive us to the trailhead at 8:30 this morning. I made sure I got the most out of my extra morning time. I ate three bowls of cereal, hastily packed my bag, and plopped down in front of the TV. I quickly flipped between channels of interest for 45 minutes. I got my Sports Center, news, and local weather on the 8s. It was really nice. Then Jeff loaded us in the car and I was hiking once more. Early on, I passed a couple families and then their collective group of kids. I'm always amazed that kids aren't creeped out by me. I guess they see through the dirt and beard. I'll be fine as long as kids don't judge me; people staring out from the windows of United Colors of Benetton can think whatever they want.
I had lost my terrain profile for the first part of the day, so I was flying blind. Luckily, the trail was extremely nice to me. The miles flew by faster than ever before. Maybe it was because I wasn't obsessively checking my guide. Whatever the reason, i wasn't complaining. But in general, Vermont is very soft. It feels like everything is cushioned. The climbs aren't too steep, and the descents are smooth enough to allow you to pick up speed. I got to Stratton Pond and really needed to redo my horrible packing job from the morning. The bag was slumping off, pulling hard against my shoulders. In general, you want most of the weight coming through the hip belt to your hips. This awkward positioning made it a pretty painful first ten miles, but I didn't feel like stopping. After re-packing my pack, all the weight was low and against my back. It must have been my best packing job ever. The pack was so compact and it felt great to wear. I was ecstatic. I went up to the top of Stratton, the mountain where Benton MacKaye originally conceived the idea for the Appalachian Trail. I climbed to the top of the lookout tower and snapped some pictures before the wind threatened to blow me out of it.

The rest of my day was pretty easy as well. I did meet a couple of southbound Long Trail hikers who are pounding out miles, even more than me. They're on a tight schedule, so they have to get to Massachusetts by Sunday. That coincides with my plan, so I hiked with them for a while until I got to Story Spring Shelter, where I stopped to make an early dinner as a break before I continued on to the next shelter. They pushed straight on, and I met them here after an hour. My longest day yet! I see how these northbounders can cruise when the miles come this easy. Massachusetts is on my horizon!


Pictures: Stratton Pond; view from the Stratton lookout tower.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Day 36: Styles Peak to Manchester Center

Today's miles: 7.6
Total miles: 580.1

Currently sitting at the Green Mountain House computer...

Today was one of those days where it seemed like absolutely everything went smoothly. I fell asleep so quickly last night that I don't even remember laying down. I woke up to my alarm, presumably never having woken up in between. It was the perfect temperature on the peak, and I was completely undisturbed by bugs. That set me off on the right path. I was on the road before 6, making miles down to Mad Tom Notch, where I checked my watch and was amazed by my pace. The terrain must have been very forgiving. I made the next gentle climb up Bromley, a ski mountain, with no trouble. On the summit, I found a ski gondola system just like the one I saw on Wildcat. The trail abruptly turned right, and I was walking down a ski run. The trees parted and I saw piping on either side of the trail. Who knew you could ski the AT?? The trail dove back into the woods soon and I began seeing northbounders. I said hi to Don's Brother and Pilgrim, who asked if I was blogging and shared their sites as well. I flew down the gentle slope and arrived at a gravel parking lot just in time to see two southbounders walking onto the road to get a hitch. Not wanting to crowd their spot, I walked a bit down the road to grab my hitch. They got theirs, and a couple minutes later I was sitting in the back of a car myself. The driver dropped me off by the town park, telling me there was a waterfall there. "It's not natural, like I mean it's man-made, but it's cool." I shook his hand and went to check out the 1000th waterfall I'd seen on this trip, still slightly intrigued nonetheless.

The first building I spotted was a Polo Store. Many similar establishments peppered a shopping center, and I walked a different direction in search of some food. It became quickly apparent that this was a rich Vermont town, so I went to the gas station for sustenance. It's not that I frown on towns like this, it's just that I'd rather not feel awkward in an upscale brunchy-type place and throw down fifteen dollars for eggs. I walked around town after getting an egg salad sandwich and some juice, in search of the grocery store and the McDonald's. I just wanted an unpretentious place to sit and check my phone. At Mickey D's, I ran into the two guys who had hitched into town right before me. Turns out they had reservations at the same hostel as me. They were headed south on the Long Trail, a path that runs the entire height of Vermont from Massachusetts to Canada and is concurrent with the AT in the southern half of the state. I did my grocery store resupply and met them outside to get organized at a picnic table. We called the owner of Green Mountain House for a ride and he picked us up in a half hour.

This hostel is like no other one I've experienced, and probably not like one I'll see in the future. It takes about seven guests a night, and for $25, you get an amazing setup. We sleep in the guest house, which is immaculately clean and well-stocked with breakfast supplies. The sheets are so white, the floor so free of dust. Maps of prominent long-distance trails adorn the walls. Appalachian Trail memorabilia tastefully adorns the space. It's great. I took a long shower then went on the computer to order a warm-weather sleeping bag; a fifteen-degree bag is just too warm these days. Then I watched "The Goonies" for the first time with my sobo Long Trail friends. It was great to have a long day of doing nothing. Soon other guests arrived, including Don's Brother and Pilgrim, who I had spotted going north earlier. I was baffled, until Don's Brother informed me that he likes the hiking aspect of the AT, but he doesn't like sleeping in the woods. For the entire trip, he has been arranging ways to stay in towns, slackpacking by day while returning to a nice bed at night. Pilgrim joined him in his plan in an attempt to gain back some of the weight he had lost. Three square meals a day really helps that goal. There are so many ways to complete this trail. Don's Brother cooked dinner for us, which I topped off with a free pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream from the fridge. This place is too good to be true. It's back on the trail tomorrow, and I hear some scattered thundershowers might bring the temperatures back to regular New England levels. Very Nice!


Pictures: watchin' The Goonies, Green Mountain House entrance, AT mileage, free Ben and Jerry's.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 35: Minerva Hinchey Shelter to Styles Peak

Miles today: 22.6
Miles total: 531.0

Currently sitting in my tent...

I have to start off by talking about last night. The mosquitoes were torturous. In Maine, the little black flies go home to their families after dark. Mosquitoes have no such morals. They stayed up all night buzzing in my ears and biting through my clothes. I had to duck in to my sleeping bag for protection, but I woke up drenched in sweat. I think I'll be staying in my tent more often unless something changes. But you live and learn. Despite waking up throughout the night, I didn't feel very tired when it was time to wake up. I hit the road and made great time over Bear Mountain. Since I was ahead of schedule (and also because I didn't really have a schedule to begin with), I stopped to have a look off of White Rocks Cliff. It wasn't anything particularly special, just a view down to the valley where farms stuck out between the trees. I like looking at stuff like that, even if it doesn't really merit a picture. The next miles came even faster and before I knew it, I was eating lunch next to the Big Black Branch River. I bought chocolate-flavored peanut butter yesterday. I'm still not sure if it was a good decision, but I'm eating it.

Next came a long, steady climb up to Baker Peak. The incline was so gradual that I wondered if I was even getting any higher sometimes. The heat of the day had kicked in at this point, but the cool air coming off the river kept it pretty comfortable. I stopped at Griffith Lake and sat on a log, just taking it in (another thing I like to do) for about 20 minutes, then I hiked the half mile to Peru Peak Shelter. I sat at the picnic table and talked to Chuckles, an easygoing but fast-paced nobo. Like many nobos ahead of him, he sang the praises of the Green Mountain Hostel, my destination in Manchester Center tomorrow. After he left, I relaxed for a couple hours and made dinner, escaping some of the daytime heat. Some section hikers passed through and I asked them if there were any good camping spots along the trail over the next two peaks, Peru and Styles. They could only think of one a mile ahead,  which was a little less than I wanted to tack on at the end of the day. I thanked them and headed up Peru Peak, keeping my eyes open for well-worn spots. Sure enough, I spotted one and marked it with an "R" in the dirt just in case I couldn't find one farther down the trail. I got a little worried as I got towards Styles Peak and hadn't found another good spot, but as soon as I reached the top (or what I think is the top), a beautiful spot appeared. I snickered and set up my tent, happy to have just a short 7-mile walk in to Manchester Center tomorrow morning. Ice cream here I come!


Pictures: a bajillion rock cairns near White Rocks Cliff, the view of Griffith Lake from my log.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Day 34: Cooper Ridge Shelter to Minerva Hinchey Shelter

Miles today: 13.8
Miles total: 508.4

Currently sitting in the shelter...

Just a reminder that "miles today" refers to net miles traveled correctly on the AT on this day. Moving on. I started today off by deciding not to go up to the peak to watch the sunrise. The first thing I did in the morning would have been getting out of my comfy, clean sleeping socks and into my mud-hardened hiking socks for a trip up the steep slope, so I decided to just go ahead and get ready for the day as usual instead. I started off with my oatmeal jostling in my belly on the way down Killington. I considered just sticking with pop tarts from now on. I was moving along at a good pace to have a lot of time in Rutland today when I saw a sign that said the trail ahead was washed out. I figured this must have been the re-route all the nobos were talking about. I decided to take the detour, hiking for about 35 minutes before realizing there were no human footprints, only those left by vehicles. Cursing everything in sight, I turned around and stormed up the stupid dumb gravel road. Returning to where I was, I saw an inconspicuous white blaze on a tree. I cursed at the absent trail maintainer and took the trail, with over an hour of wasted time to my name. I finally came to the real re-route, a result of Hurricane Irene a couple years back. Frustrated, I just walked on the "closed" section of trail. Washed-out bridges had been replaced by tree trunks and everything was hunky dory. That was, until I came to a stream crossing. I bent down to fill up a water bottle when I heard a plunk in the stream. I saw my phone in its plastic bag floating away, and I sprang across the rocks, retrieving it after a few seconds. Luckily it was fine. I finished with my water and looked to find the trail once more, but I couldn't. For twenty minutes I stormed around in circles, loudly swearing my brains out, until I found where the trail continued. Trying to make up for lost time, I hurried along it, tripping over every available projection. I made it up and over a small climb and by the time I made it into the hot, humid valley, it was almost noon. I discovered that I had lost the cap off one water bottle and the other bottle entirely, so it was a good thing I wanted to go to town anyways. I made myself look "presentable" and soon had a ride in the back of a pickup headed towards Rutland. 

The driver of the pickup was a day hiker whose sister was visiting from California. Extraneous information? Maybe. He drove me all the way in to Rutland. Meanwhile, a car full of pretty girls pulled up next to us on the highway to take a picture of the funny hobo in the back of a truck. At least I say they were pretty, but I have been hiking for a while now. I smiled and waved, and my chauffeur continued on to Burger King, where he and his sister joined me for a gourmet lunch. She seemed less thrilled with the idea than he was. When asked the fateful question, she looked at her brother and did the old "toooo gooooooo?" but he insisted that their order was for here. So it came to be that we ate and talked about the hike. He liked my American flag bandana that I had tied to my pack strap. I explained that it normally was on my head, but I wanted to look presentable when getting a hitch. "I got news for you, Rooster," he joked. Then he further drove me to Wal Mart, where we said our thank-yous and good-byes. I walked around the store continuing my trail habit of talking to myself, my pack sitting in the cart like a small child. I visited the library for WiFi and to research how exactly to get back to the trail, since the hitch out wouldn't be easy. I decided to take a 50 cent bus to taco bell, which was at least in the right direction, and figure things out from there.
I happily marched into Taco Bell and got pretty creative with my order. I also told the girl behind the counter how excited I was to come to a Taco Bell after 500 miles on the trail, and she didn't really know how she was supposed to react to that. I set up shop in a booth and called a taxi company, getting a quote of 13 dollars, which I deemed too expensive and said I would take another bus that wouldn't come until 6:30. With time to kill, I walked across the highway to a pretty depressing mall and then down the street to Denny's. I charged my phone and ate breakfast food until I realized that I had had just too much town food for one day. Back across the street to the bus stop and I was on my way to the trail! At the trailhead parking lot, an older couple got out of an RV and offered me a soda. I indulged even though I knew I was overstuffed. Turns out the guy has been hiking northbound, meeting up with his ife every three days or so. I was jealous of his setup. And not only that, but they had kayaked from Key West to Tallahassee, then he walked to the trail in Georgia. After he summits Katahdin, he's going to keep hiking to Nova Scotia to see family. That's a pretty long trip, I think. It's days like this, where I end up all over the place, figuring things out as I go, that I truly realize I'm on an adventure. It hits me all of a sudden that I'm in Vermont. Well that's about enough out of me for today.


Pictures: my child in the shopping cart; buying my baby some tacos; Canadian flag at the same height as the US flag.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Day 33: The Lookout to Cooper Ridge Shelter

Miles today: 23.6
Miles total: 494.6

Currently sitting in the shelter...

This morning, I climbed on to the roof to check out the sunrise. Unfortunately, the sun itself was obscured by clouds, but I found the colors great and the stillness soothing. I packed up and said adios to my fellow sobos, taking my time over the rolling hills. I dropped down to a brook and filled up my water bottles, a task that I've had to do more often as of late. I'm in the lowlands and it hasn't been raining, so it gets toasty during the day. My planned ending point for the day was about 19 miles from the Lookout, but I suspected with my early start, I would be able to get past that. I managed the switchbacks without too much difficulty but my legs had that sapped feeling again. It went away later in the day, luckily. Walking towards Gifford Woods State Park, I passed a parade of a family who asked me all about my hike. I love answering questions from interested people. They just can't believe I'm doing this! They also told me there was a sobo in front of me. I thanked them and turned on the jets to see who it was. It turns out there are two sobos named Smiles this year. I hope Pirate and Smiles catch up to Smiles II and a street brawl erupts.

During the hottest part of the day, I was feeling ridiculously lethargic. I just rode it out, taking plenty of breaks and generally sitting around. I was faced with a dilemma. Three shelters were closely spaced up the ascent to Killington. The first was close to the trail, but I would be done hiking way too early if I stopped. The second was a half mile off trail. The third would put my mileage for the day higher than I'd like, but I'd be on top of Killington for Sunrise Attempt Number Two. After conferring with a few nobos, I knew what I had to do. As I climbed and the shadows grew longer, the air cooled, making the ascent much more enjoyable. With glee, I spotted a hiker going down to get water and knew I had arrived. It's a busy location; there are eight of us inside and around five more tenters. I chatted with the shelter-dwellers, mostly short section hikers, and then I went up to cook my food with the tent people, who were almost exclusively thru-hikers. It's a nice mix and I enjoy interacting with both types.

I've noticed lately that most nobos have been stopping to talk to me as we pass each other. Today I finally figured out why! On several occasions, nobos said I was one of the first southbounders that they had encountered. I'm like a roadside attraction! Not only do they want to know about the trail ahead, they want to size me up. We've finally reached the point where we're equals. For so long, I was in awe of the nobos' accomplishments. Now we can just talk like a couple of people out for a hike, which I guess is true.


Pictures: ski slopes of Pico in the distance; typical Vermont trail.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Day 32: Happy Hill Shelter to the Lookout

Miles today: 23.0
Miles total: 471.0

Currently sitting in the Lookout cabin...

Today started exactly half an hour late because I had plans to arrive at the West Hartford general store at exactly 8 AM, the time it would open. I strolled the easy four miles to the convenience store and sat on the steps for the few minutes before it opened. I was joined in this excitement by Miler, a northbound section hiker. Miler is one of the lucky people who was born with a trail name...Miler is his actual name. He was a chatty fellow so that made my end of the conversation easy, something I enjoy in the morning before I'm totally awake. When the doors opened, I promptly forgot about picking up my mail drop and went straight for the breakfast menu. Miler and I ate and drank coffee in abundance before I realized I needed to resupply there too. I grabbed the typical stuff: instant dinners, pop tarts, clif bars, candy bars, and insect repellant (not for my consumption). I also opened my mail drop and revealed two shiny new shoes! They're the same exact kind as my last pair, just not destroyed by the rugged northern terrain. I bid my old kicks a quick goodbye and tossed them in the trash. Somehow I had lost almost two hours at this small-town convenience store...woops.

I continued walking on the road until a white blaze marked the trail's disappearance back into the woods. I met a steep climb, countering it with a sky-high blood sugar level. I sweated my way up the switchbacks (yes, Vermont has switchbacks!) and looked ahead at the day's elevation profile. A lot of little ups and downs. I always wish someone could just stack the ups on top of each other to make a mountain, but I think that job is harder than I make it out to be. Anyways, my day was mostly a battle to make good time over these little undulations through Vermont's world-famous mud. My new shoes had a rough first day. I quickly sank in up to mid-shin level. "Welcome to the world," I said sadly to my two dirty friends.

Around midday, I chatted with a couple of nobos who brought rave reviews about a private cabin on top of a hill. Apparently, there was a lookout tower on top, and you could sleep in the cabin as a thru-hiker. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to see a Vermont sunrise, I mentally extended my day by 2.6 miles. More of the same tiresome terrain brought me to Wintturi shelter. Since there was no water source by the Lookout, I went to fill up my water bottles at the stream. What I found was a naked man. Unfazed, I apologized for my intrusion into his bath time but nonetheless went upstream to get water. The man was Hardhead, another southbounder like myself. He had been having a rough time since leaving the Whites, which is an odd thing to say. He even found himself on the verge of quitting, walking five miles down the road before going to sleep and thinking better of it the next morning. He just isn't having any fun! I gave him encouragement but ultimately had to push on to the Lookout, leaving the shelter of bad juju behind. The remaining few miles weren't particularly hard, but my body was tired from the rolling hills. I saw the sign for the Lookout and rejoiced. It was even better than I expected, with screens over its windows and everything. No bugs inside with me tonight!! I climbed to the lookout tower on the roof and ate dinner with two sobos from Florida. They'll be hiking until they have to start paying off their student loans, thus becoming real people. But for now we're in Lala land, playing house in someone's private cabin, graciously lent.


Pictures: old shoes and new shoes; the lookout tower.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Day 31: Moose Mountain Shelter to Happy Hill Shelter

Miles today: 16.8
Miles total: 448.0

Currently sitting in my tent...

With Hanover on my mind, I got ready quickly this morning. The flat terrain over which I travel makes it hard not to try for personal record speeds. My goal was to average 3 miles an hour for the 10.9 miles into town. I took off too quickly and my breakfast started sloshing around in my stomach. Luckily, I came to the stream where I planned to grab some water so I got a break. 7 drops Aquamira step 1, 7 drops Aquamira step 2, wait 5 minutes. My stomach settled and I was off again. In a few minutes I came to a field. It was really beautiful to see so much open space spread out before me with a little farmhouse in the distance. After the meadow, the trail was fast again with flat, pine needle carpeted ground, perfect for walking. Somewhere along the way I crossed the 20 percent complete mark (woohoo!) and soon I popped out of the woods and was staring at Dartmouth's athletic fields. Weird!

I walked out to the road and followed the sidewalk into Hanover. I passed by college students and families walking with children, all of whom seemed accustomed to a hiker presence. Entering town was an interesting experience in the first place because I have been to Hanover before on a college visit. It was really weird to arrive on my own two feet. I felt pretty proud of myself. I immediately got some town food in my system then went to explore town. I went to the Dartmouth Outing Club's main building, where I could store my pack while I was in town and use free WiFi and computers. I got to work uploading and trying to fix the lost blog entries. I knew I'd have a chance to resupply tomorrow, so I just grabbed a pop tart for the morning at a gas station. After that, I didn't have much to do before my 2:00 Man of Steel showtime, so I meandered around town as I made some much-needed phone calls. It was great to be around so many smiling people (not to mention college girls). Without my pack, I was just a dirty guy with a gross neck beard, so I was basically just a homeless guy. In a word, I looked beautiful. At least I remembered to wash the dirt off my face.

After a burrito, I was off to the Nugget to see my movie. I excitedly told the attendant that I had been waiting a month to see this monumental film. She shared my excitement as I bought a tub'o'soda and headed into the theater. As the lights went down and the first preview began, it took everything I had not to clap and shout. I wondered why everyone else was so calm! I decided that the trail blesses you with an increased sense of excitability. It felt like when I watched movies as a kid. I was laughing, tearing up, clapping. I think it was a pretty run-of-the-mill movie, but I couldn't have enjoyed it more. After that experience, I grabbed my pack from the DOC and headed across the bridge into Vermont, blasting my "new state" song as I danced under the overpass. I passed a fair and walked down a residential street that terminated in the trail. I grabbed a bagel from a trail magic box and walked the quick 3.5 to Happy Hill Shelter, where the bugs were bad and I pitched my tent on the soft pine needle carpet. But they're in my tent now! AHHHH!!!!


Pictures: bucolic meadow; the culmination of my waiting; I'm going back down south.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Day 30: Hexacuba Shelter to Moose Mountain Shelter

Miles today: 17.7
Miles total: 431.2

Currently sitting in my tent...

I woke up to a crisp, cool morning. I didn't really want to leave my sleeping bag, so I did every possible part of my morning ritual with my legs still inside the cocoon. It was great not to wake up to rain. The sun was shining! Instead of my rain jacket, I put on my nano puff jacket to start. I left my pack cover stowed away. The trail was still muddy, but at least I could enjoy the sights. I took a gradual climb up Smarts Mountain: 2000 feet over 4 miles. I think I would rather climb all at once and then enjoy some flatness. Instead, it was a little bit uphill for a long way. After yesterday's big miles, my legs were feeling pretty sapped. I kept taking breaks to talk to passing nobos, and I stopped to climb the fire tower on top of Smarts. The view didn't disappoint; it was a clear day and I could see for miles in every direction. At the base of the mountain, I saw a sign for Bill Ackerly's house. Bill is the definition of a trail angel. He lives a couple hundred feet from the trail and loves hiker visits. He wasn't home when I stopped, but a note on the bulletin board instructed me to go around to a screened-in porch to find ice cream. Sure enough, there were ice cream bars to be had in a freezer. I relaxed on his porch, used his WiFi, and ate my treat as two more hikers showed up. I assuaged their worries about the White Mountains a little bit, and we ate lunch together. I was the last to leave of the group, enjoying a nice long rest before the remaining few miles to my planned stop. After a big lunch in which I used up most of my peanut butter and three tortillas, I powered up Holts Ledge until I began to feel a little wonky from all that heavy peanut butter sitting in my gut. I slowed down and enjoyed the hike down to the road then back up Moose Mountain. On my way up, I met a guy who had been resting at Moose Mountain Shelter. He told me the mosquitoes were bad and that some guy was laying in the shelter sick, making my decision to pitch my tent a very easy one. Once at the campsite, I did pay a visit to my sick comrade but kept it short. I want to stay on for the long haul! He's a nice guy but I'm sure he'll be alright without me. I would write a little more but I'm pretty tuckered and I want to get up early to get into Hanover tomorrow. I've heard good things and the trail goes right through town! I'm praying for a good movie in the theater. Wish me luck.


Pictures: view from the fire tower; Bill Ackerly's sign on the trail.

Day 29: Beaver Brook Shelter to Hexacuba Shelter

Miles today: 22.6
Miles total: 413.5

The Whites are over, but the Hunger is here. Hiker hunger kicks in around this time on the AT. I thought I had it before, but that was just the beginning. I woke up last night to go to the bathroom, and all I could think about was how hungry I was. I've been eating the same food from before, but now it's not enough. I made plans this morning to stop at Hiker's Welcome Hostel in Glencliff, around the midpoint of my day, for some microwave pizza I had been hearing about. The first part of my day meant climbing the remainder of the way up Moosilauke. I had mixed feelings. On one hand, the Whites were a beautiful and fun challenge that unified all the thru-hikers I had met. On the other hand, I was ecstatic to be done with the hardest section of the trail and to finally consider myself a real thru-hiker. I looked at the summit sign for a long time, then let out a roar. I haven't really had a reason to raise my voice for the past month, so it came out a little quieter than I expected. It started to rain, so I headed down below treeline. After some inevitable rock-hopping, I found myself cruising along an agreeable slope down to the valley below. Before I knew it, I met the road that would bring me to the hostel.

I strolled the half mile, biting into  crabapples I picked from a tree. Inside, a previous thru-hiker named Legion greeted me and gave me the rundown on available snacks. I put a personal pizza in the microwave and grabbed a Mountain Dew from the fridge. We talked about the sections up ahead. Legion was impressed with my speed coming this far, so he suggested that I could cruise over this flat terrain to Hexacuba Shelter tonight. The seed was planted. I didn't really know where I would pitch my tent anyway, and sleeping in a shelter solved that problem. In the end, I watched Sports Center and mindlessly ate three pizzas, two ice cream sandwiches, and that soda. Some northbounders stopped in and began asking ME questions about the Whites. I told them not to worry and assured them that they would eat well at the huts. I realized it was time to move on if I planned to meet my new ambitious mileage goal for the day.
The miles came fast and easy. For starters, it had stopped raining and the sun was even peaking through. Also, the ground was mostly free of those big hindering rocks. I rolled over the slowly undulating terrain with ease, dealing with the sloppy mud bogs as they came. On the way, I caught up to a sobo from the shelter last night. For some reason, he had just given me the willies, and I could tell my shelter-mates shared my feeling. Maybe it was because he was missing teeth, or how he talked, but I wasn't exactly recruiting him to be my new sidekick. I said hi and continued on, with him hiking behind me. I decided it would be easiest just to quicken my pace for a while, and that did the trick. I crossed a couple more roads then had a moderate 2000 foot climb to Cube Mountain. By the time that was over, I felt pretty sapped and glad that the rest of today's trip would be downhill. I unfortunately arrived to an empty shelter, and it has stayed that way. This is a unique shelter because it has six sides instead of the usual box shape. Why wouldn't a six-sided shelter be on Cube Mountain?


Pictures: a triumphant Rooster atop Moosilauke; a hexagonal shelter.