Walking on the Moon

Tuesday, August 26 – Sunday, August 31. NH25, Glencliff – Lake of the Clouds Hut. (Mile 1851.0 since Springer Mountain and only 334.3 miles to Katahdin)

I’m afraid there are no pics nor videos in this post, as wifi doesn’t seem to be available in these parts of New Hampshire.

I’ve recently been a little jaded about my hiking and have really been ready for the end. While that remains my goal, I have been absolutely knocked out by New Hampshire. Somebody further south said to me that the moment I step above the trees in New Hampshire will be the moment that I’ll realize why I’m hiking the AT. I’m always a little skeptical of such hyperbole, yet they were right.

We had chosen to take the opportunity to slackpack over Mt Moosilauke in order to save our knees, particularly as the Hikers Welcome Hostel was a cheap and cheerful place to stay for a second night. It would be fair to say that we were all a little intimidated by the mountain’s reputation, yet we were carrying packs considerably lighter than usual and the difference when carrying such a depleted pack was so liberating.

We had chosen to hike up the steeper side, from north to south, as the easier south side was likely to be gentler to walk down. As we walked, views started to unfold and we really appreciated our lighter packs.

There were about 20 people at the top, many of whom I knew, and we all sat around in the sun having lunch for about 90 minutes.

Walking down with Lighter Knot, I had my 30th fall on the way down, slipping on a root and, with my bear-scaring whistle in my back pocket, I really hurt my backside.

During the day, I’d remarked to Lighter Knot that it would be great to be able to slackpack all the way to Maine and an idea started to form. I suggested that we could offer to pay somebody, say, $250 each to manage this and that, with a team of 4, it could prove to be an interesting proposition to an impecunious hiker.

We recruited 2 women staying at the hostel that evening, Tee Bird and Trillium, while Trillium came up with Shepherd, a terrific young guy who already spends his time both hiking and helping hikers. Consequently, we were all able to shed some weight to leave in Shepherd’s truck. This wasn’t going to be a complete slackpack, as we couldn’t meet up again with Shepherd for a couple of days, so we needed a couple of days of food, along with most of the rest of our gear. My pack became a far more appealing proposition at 30lbs and, while it wasn’t as great as the day before, it was appreciably more comfortable than my everyday burden.

This was certainly another eye-opening day, with a steady climb up South Kinsman Mtn leading to spectacular views all around.

Trillium was struggling with her knees all day and Tee Bird hiked with her for most of the time, while Lighter Knot went ahead to meet up with some friends and I hiked alone. We finished an 11 mile day at Kinsman Pond Shelter and, to my dismay, the pond itself was the water source and, once I’d collected it, the water looked suspiciously like a urine specimen. Very unappetizing! Mind you, I filtered and cooked with it and everything tasted fine, though I’m guessing my standards may have slipped a touch lately.

The 4 of us were able set up our tents together in a clearing and, New Hampshire being a pay-to-stay state, we had to hand over $8 each to the caretaker.

It had been my best days hiking so far on the entire trip, with plenty of clambering hand over hand, a style that I became quickly comfortable with and one that greatly overcame my fear of the White Mountains.

That record only lasted overnight, as the following day blasted aside everything that had gone before.

Franconia Ridge links a number of consecutive peaks, including Mt Liberty and Mt Lincoln, yet it is something that I have never experienced in my life. As we climbed higher, we suddenly emerged above the tree line and the sight truly took my breath away. I knew It was coming up and I had seen pictures, though nothing prepared me for the sheer excitement that I felt.

It was like being a kid again and I unashamedly giggled like one. It looked like a moonscape and I was an astronaut. In the vernacular of today, OMG. It was harsh, it was spectacular, with 360 degree views in abundance, and it simply overwhelmed me.

On the top of Mt Lincoln, I got sufficient signal to FaceTime Diane, so much did I want to share the moment with her.

On the way down, I was with Trillium, who was getting a little scared and, with the wind gusting so much that it was pushing us into the rocks, it was a tricky climb down.

We were eventually able to reach our destination, a stealth camping site at Garfield Pond that also sourced water from the pond, though this time it was the right color. It was also the coldest night I’d experienced since the Smokies and cooking in the cold and the dark was not a happy moment for me.

The cold night was something of a shock and it was still all cold weather clothing in the morning. We were aiming for another stealth camping site, just after Zealand Hut and first had to negotiate Mt Garfield. This was quite an uphill scramble, though my newfound confidence over the rocks was certainly helping and I could feel my hiking improving with each day.

Once more, I spent quite a bit of the day behind Trillium, who continued to struggle with her knees, particularly after such a hard day the day before. Consequently, we had a fairly slow pace, though managed to achieve our goal. Lighter Knot was also suffering with his knees after the previous tough day.

We got to one of the New Hampshire huts that hikers can, well, beg for food by asking for “work for scraps.” I got there first and the young lad in charge put me to work in scrubbing a filthy baking tin that looked like it had never seen soap before. I really tried but made a scant impression on the grime. He seemed quite happy and gave me cold oatmeal (I’d already had hot oatmeal) with raisins, followed by potato soup, both of which I dispatched with alacrity. I also bought a couple of chocolate chip cakes and woofed them down as well.

We found another great stealth camping site, already with several fellow hikers set up and spent a far warmer evening cooling and relaxing.

The next morning was the easiest day thus far in New Hampshire. It was pretty much downhill all the way and we were only going about 8 miles to meet up with Shepherd again. We were planning to find a motel to clean ourselves and our clothes up.

Straight after we started, I reached into my pack and dropped my Ibuprofen all over the trail. Not wishing to kill any unsuspecting critters, I scrambled around on the trail to make sure each one was recovered.

A spectacular trail magic was set up at the bottom and I enjoyed, among many things, 2 fried eggs. Marvelous!! We found Heike, a middle-aged German hiker we’d seen before and she came with us to find a motel. The three girls shared a room, while Lighter Knot and I had a room each.

Shepherd was so patient, taking us down into the village for a late lunch, then taking us to a grocery to re-provision. Back at the Seven Dwarfs Motel, we set about washing our clothes in the sink, which was something of a new thing for me. I may have over-soaped everything, as it all seemed a bit slimy when I hung it all out to dry, though all was well with it in the morning.

Today was looking to be a rough one, with a very steep climb onto the Presidential range accompanied by a lousy weather forecast. Once more, I was invigorated by the hiking, yet the clouds closed in near the top and all views disappeared. In the end, we were slogging along, in about 30ft visibility and made the Lake of the Clouds Hut by 3.50pm for another satisfactory 11 mile day, albeit I broke one of my trekking poles in my 33rd fall, damnit!!.

The spring has returned to my step and I’m hiking better than ever, though I now expect to finish a few days later than I had hoped. I feel more secure hiking in a group and am looking forward to a few more slackpacking days in the coming days.

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The three amigos

Friday August 22 – Monday August 25. NH10, Hanover, NH – NH25, Glencliff. (Mile 1786.4 since Springer Mountain and only 398.9 miles to Katahdin)

IMG_3349-0Brian and Dee’s son, Stewart, kindly drove me back to Starbucks, where he had picked me up on the Wednesday evening. It had been great to take a zero and I was very grateful to Brian and Dee for their hospitality.

Of course, at Starbucks, I couldn’t resist the chance of a triple grande non fat latte (old habits die hard – I should have had full fat) and a Blueberry scone, so I dallied for 30 minutes before hitting the trail once more. It was spitting with intermittent rain as I started, though I’d been warned by the forecast.

Happily, what rain there was eased off and my first impression of hiking in the woods of New Hampshire was that it was all fairly benign. Something of an uphill to begin with but nothing too terrifying. I knew that this was an entirely false impression but enjoyed deluding myself nonetheless. Until you have to face it, convince yourself it’ll be ok!

I ran into a couple of familiar faces that morning, starting with Voodoo, the witness of my most embarrassing moment on the trail (so bad, that I couldn’t write about it and simply described it in a video), and Lighter Knot, an older guy I’d camped with in CT. Lighter Knot and I talked about possibly teaming up for some of the tougher climbs to come. We said we’d meet later at Moose Mountain Shelter and decide where to end the day at that time.

As luck would have it, by the time we got to the shelter the rain was just starting to take hold, so our day was over after only 11 miles by 3.05pm.  A Japanese guy who Lighter Knot knew, Loon, joined us later and we were all settled in the shelter by 7.30. I don’t normally sleep in shelters, though I make an exception when it rains.

While the rain itself subsided, the wind through the night blew water from the trees on to the shelter, drowning out any mouse or chipmunk activity, which was fine by me. They may have been marching round and poking into our packs, but as long as I can’t hear them, I’m food to go.

I had probably my best night in a shelter and woke refreshed and ready to move on. I was out by 7.50, making excellent progress for the first 5 miles. The real mountains were still to come, yet I really struggled for the rest of the day to make another 7 miles. They tended to be pretty much straight up, with no side-to-side and I took extensive breaks, gasping to regain my breath and the power in my legs. That said, there hasn’t been a mountain I’ve failed to get over, so I take heart from that.

Lighter Knot and I stopped at the kindly Bill Ackerly’s home (just look at the cute sign that he made) at theIMG_3368 promise of free ice cream and water top up. Bill is a real gent, 86 years old and delighted to have hikers cluttering up his porch.  He claimed that it was his 86th birthday, though one of the hikers who had been there the previous evening said that he had said the same thing the day before!  He was a treat to meet.

I got to the shelter, which was a very dreary, closed building and waited for LK before we settled on the tenting site, a few hundred yards before, with a beautiful view.

I had my best sleep in a tent in a long while and breakfasted with a glorious view in front. Lighter Knot left 10 minutes before me and called at the shelter, where he hoped to, and did, find Loon. We had arranged to meet at the tentsite at Ore Hill, about 12.5 miles away, so I tried to make some early progress down the hill.

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It was wet, rocky and very muddy. Indeed, I fell for the 27th, 28th and 29th time, each time slipping on the mud and all the falls occurred within an hour. I didn’t hurt myself on any of the falls, but they still always slow me down and tend to make me more tentative, though clearly not tentative enough, as I continued my fall fest.

I ran into several SOBO’s, many of whom were eager to share their stories of the White Mountains and Maine. It all sounds like a bit of a horror story to me and I feel for the first time that I may miss my September 25th target date. My lovely wife always tells me that she would rather I missed her birthday and stayed safe, so I’m going to concentrate on the safety while still keeping an eye on the miles per day. You never know, I may still make it.

There were two good climbs today, though nothing I haven’t experienced before, and I got to camp at about 4pm, while Lighter Knot showed up about 30 minutes later and Loon rolled in at about 6.30pm, though he probably left about 2 hours after us. I must say, knowing that I won’t be camping alone is quite a pleasant feeling, so I may have found the partners I was previously avoiding.

With my new amigos, Lighter Knot and Loon, around me, I slept really well again, waking after 6.20am and refreshed once more.

We had decided to hike just to Glencliff, only about 8 miles away, for a couple of reasons. First, I had a food pick up from the Glencliff Post Office. Second, Mt Moosilauke is the beginning of the White Mountains and LK and I wanted to slack pack our first mountain in that range. We’ll be doing that tomorrow morning.

Slack packing involves a small day pack, with the hostel taking hikers to a specified point ahead on the trail, then hiking back to the hostel. In this way, we’ll be hiking Moosilauke from north to south which, from the profile, looks to be an easier route.

There are a varying number of attitudes to this type of hiking, some believing that it isn’t somehow “correct.” My attitude is that you take what you need for each day and, when you are returning to sleep at the same place, you only need a small pack, with water and some food with, perhaps, an article of clothing. This is where “hike your own hike” prevails, so I’m happy with our decision.

While the three of us hiked separately today, the three of us got to the end of our morning effort at the same time and headed east. We reached the Hikers Welcome Hostel within half a mile. It was a little like Standing Bear Farm, which was more than 1000 miles back, where nothing looked right but it all worked. A shower, laundry, tent site and shopping trip allowed us all to hang out for the afternoon, chatting with SOBOs and even one guy who is boomeranging. Incredibly, he started on Springer on the same date as I did and has been to Katahdin and is heading back down south!  Nearly 4400 miles in one year!  Extraordinary.

I’m looking forward to Moosilauke in the morning and, with a great forecast for the next 5 days, we look set fair for the Whites.

Bring ‘em on!

Chillin’

Monday August 18 – Thursday 21. Sherburne Pass Trail – NH10, Hanover, NH. (Mile 1743.1 since Springer Mountain and only 442.2 miles to Katahdin)

This is a bit of an experiment, as I’m trying to post using my iPhone instead of my iPad. If it works out, the iPad goes home and I save about 1.5 lbs in my pack. Every little bit helps!

After staying overnight at the excellent Inn at Long Trail, I had to hike for 0.5 mile to get back to the AT. I knew that I’d be crossing the 1700 mile barrier within a mile or so, though physical markers had been missing for the past 400 miles. Of course, this time, there were 2 markers, about 200 yards apart and I snapped pics of them both for Facebook.

The magnificent Kent Pond was my companion for about 30 minutes early on this day, as the trail curled around it, affording me some glorious shots of what the Brits would call a lake. I have constantly been struck by
how the beauty of everything is magnified by sunshine; it’s like nature’s own Windex, washing everything to a sparkle.

Leaving the pond and starting to climb, I ran into a young guy, Dude, having a cigarette on the trail. He started June 9th (yes, that is 78 days after me!) and is averaging over 25 miles a day! You’d be surprised by the number of smokers (both fragrant and non-fragrant) on the trail; it is an oddity that surprises me every time I see somebody light up.

We were spared a boggy walk soon after by a magnificent, clearly fairly new, wooden path through fields. These can be of dramatically varying degrees of disrepair, but this was almost pristine and very welcome.

Shortly after, I ran into Stardust, a young woman I’d met a few days before, crying on the trail. She sobbed that she is homesick and wants to go home, having lost her group and is scared to hike and camp alone. She thought she may have contracted Lyme Disease and had gone into Rutland to check. That had proven to be negative and now she was scared and alone. I really felt for her and tried to help her think rationally about it.

I talked to her about heading back to the Inn at Long Trail and waiting for another group of friends to catch up, while she asked me which shelter I was heading for that day. I told her, yet she was still undecided on what to do as I left. I doubted if I’d see her again.

Towards the end of this excellent hiking day, during which I covered 18 miles, I stopped to get some water from a stream and couldn’t find my filter. Panic quickly set in, as the water looked a little doubtful and I searched my entire pack before finding the filter precisely where it was supposed to be! Everything has to be in its place and, when something seems to be missing, my reaction is immediate and negative.

I reached Wintturi Shelter and met a section hiker, Papa, who started hiking the trail in sections on his retirement at 60. He was very chatty and eager to ask about doing the whole thing at once. There was another thru-hiker who’s name I can’t recall, and we were all chatting amiably when Stardust turned up, grinning, about 15 minutes later. She was clearly much happier and thanked me for “talking me off the ledge.” We were all happy for her continued adventure.

I slept far better than I had of late and woke to my 5.35am alarm, yet I was still last out of camp, as usual. I had a chatty breakfast with Papa and we were joined at the shelter for breakfast by Giblets, a section hiker I had met the previous evening, camping about 3 miles before the shelter. He’s a vegan and he showed me his breakfast, a combination of hydrated dried pineapple and bananas from Trader Joes. Over 1100 calories!! He and I left the shelter together and saw each other several times through the day; indeed, he even managed to catch up with me as I was filming another beautiful panorama.

There were some great breaks when the trail passed through such meadows, though I was pretty much unaware of how far I’d gone, so different did the terrain seem compared to my guide.

I stopped at a farm shop, which was just 0.2 miles off the trail, where I ran into three SOBOs and Giblets. I had a blueberry and pecan pie with ice cream after a breakfast burrito. I also bought some cheese for later. My hunger is constant and never fully satisfied. In speaking with others, it seems this lasts for about a month after the hike, so I expect to be a fat bloke again by my birthday at the end of October.

Soon after lunch, struggling up another hill, I ran into two familiar faces, Songbird and Bypass. I had last seen them about 1000 miles ago and here they were, coming towards me. They had flip-flopped, which means they had reached halfway, then gone to Katahdin and hiked south. They assured me that, while they were tough, Maine and New Hampshire were eminently “doable” and glorious to hike. It was great to see them again and reassuring to hear their assessment of my finishing states.

Soon after meeting the two of them, I left the woods onto yet another meadow and, even though I’m now not sure that this is actually Thistle Hill, it is still gorgeous.

I got to the Thistle Hill Shelter, after a less than 12 mile day, to meet more SOBOs, Spot, Chin Up and Pickles. We were later joined by Giblets, Sonic and Froggy Fellow, with his dog, Rocket Dog.

Everybody enjoyed a friendly evening and Giblets, who seemed to cater like a Puerto Rican (carrying more food than he could ever eat), gave me a meal of black beans and rice, as well as his breakfast combo of bananas and pineapple, which I gratefully accepted and hydrated overnight.

It was a gorgeous following morning, as the sun slowly, and blazingly, lit up the east facing shelter. As usual, I was awake and out of my tent first, while the others gradually came to. Astoundingly, once we were all awake, we noticed that Giblets was still snoring in the shelter, with everybody, laughing, talking, cooking and packing around him. Indeed, he only woke just as I was about to leave, this time second from last.

Without going into too much technical detail, my hydrated fruit breakfast decided that it wanted no further part of me after about an hour and I quickly lost 1100 calories in the bushes. Enough said!!

I got to West Hartford, a tiny Hamlet directly on the trail, and was crossing the bridge, when a woman pulled up in her car, pointed out her house across the bridge and told me I could get coffee there. Never one to refuse, I walked up to the house, to be greeted by a jolly guy called Randy. He and his wife, Linda (the lady in the car), welcome hikers to their home for coffee and breakfast if they’d like. Of course I would!! I stayed for about an hour, while Randy told me that his village had been hit devastatingly by Hurricane Irene a couple of years ago when the river burst it’s banks and Randy’s house was under 5 ft of water. It was a dramatic story, imbued with hope by Randy and Linda’s kindness to hikers.

I now had to pick up my pace in order to get to Hanover, NH in order to meet the son of my friends, Brian and Dee Scott. Stewart had kindly agreed to meet me there and take me to their house. While still undulating, the terrain proved to be reasonable and I got to the appointed place in good time, even finding more trail magic of a cold coke on the way.

There was one spot at which the trail closed in on me quite dramatically, so I took the chance to film it.

I have now moved into the second from last state and know that the challenge only increases from here, so it was great to be able to chill out for a zero day today with close friends while preparing for my resumption tomorrow. It has been a blessing to spend the day not walking and I’m raring to go again. Thanks, Brian and Dee.

Flash, bang, wallop, what a picture!

Monday August 11 – Sunday August 17. VT9, Bennington – Sherburne Pass Trail. (Mile 1698.9 since Springer Mountain and only 486.4 miles to Katahdin)

Look at that miles to Katahdin figure!! I’m now down to less than 500 miles, albeit those miles are pretty much the hardest of the entire trail. That said, it is certainly encouraging to see that number tick down. There is a saying that once a Northbounder has done 80% of the miles, he has only expended 20% of the effort, so I’m still in for a tough time over the remainder of August and most of September.

Monday was a very quiet day, with very little extended contact with other hikers, though more and more Southbounders are passing by, with warnings and praise in equal measure for New Hampshire and Maine. Additionally, hikers of the Long Trail, a 260 mile hike through Vermont to the Canadian border, are joining the rest of us hobos. There was quite a bit of climbing, with the 3,748ft Glastenbury Mountain the highlight. I met a funny old woman at the top who was all doom and gloom about, well, pretty much everything. It was going to pour with rain before I reached the next shelter (it didn’t), it was going to pour with rain all night (it didn’t) and “hundreds” of people get killed in the White Mountains every year in August (I hope they don’t!).

Leaving her as quickly as possible, I headed down to Kid Gore Shelter, where I hoped to tent, yet the official tent site was about 50 yards further on. Checking that out, I ran into an older guy, section hiking, with his dog. There were no good sites other than the one he had tented on, so I set up camp in front of the shelter and started to prepare dinner. The old guy came to visit with his dog and a flask of scotch “for cocktails,” as he said. I declined, as scotch isn’t my drink, but we had a few laughs and were eventually joined by two young hikers, Chip (one of the young guys who had been treated for rabies) and Denali, who I hadn’t seen for several hundred miles. Denali previously wore a long bird feather in his hair and, amazingly, it was still there. It had been a 14.4 mile day that had also contained my 23rd fall.

It didn’t rain in the night (crazy old woman), so I was able to pack up nice and dry and set off early, expecting to get at least 15 miles in, though hoping for 20. The past 2 days had been rather tough, with the miles harder to complete and I can’t really explain it, other than to say that I’ve got really tired and am worrying a little about hitting the tougher mountains further north. My weight may have dipped again and I may be losing a little strength.

It was really a day of trudging through a very dense forest, with few, if any, incidents or views. The big push of the day was up and over Stratton Mountain, at nearly 4,000 ft. I spoke with Diane prior to this climb and must have sounded a bit fed up, as I was taking a break and about to have some lunch. I had slipped a few times that morning and felt that the climb was going to exhaust any remaining strength that I had. However, once I had spooned about a third of a jar of peanut butter down my gullet, along with a wrap with mayo, sun-dried tomatoes and tuna on it, I was instantly refreshed and got stuck into the climb, making the top in a good pace. This was partly because I was concerned that the rain may be closing in and I wanted to get to my stop for the night sooner rather than later.

I had over 3 miles to go and really started moving on the way down. I had to remain aware of my propensity to fall when hurrying, yet outrunning the rain was a bigger attraction, so I got to Stratton Pond Shelter in just over an hour, with the rain having held off. It was only about 3.30pm at this time, but I decided that my luck was holding and I called it a day.

Luckily, a great group of people accumulated in the shelter that evening. Already there were Mike and Emily, a young couple section hiking in the early stages of their relationship, which seemed to be a bit of a risk though working out well. Later, we were joined by a couple of savvy young female hikers out for a few days, then Yeti Legs, Tumbles and, a little later, Breaktime. We had one of those convivial evenings that make this trail so great and eventually settled down in the shelter to see out the impending storm.

Before settling down, Mike and I went to get water from the advertised spring, trying to follow directions from the two young girls yet, as men do, we got lost, went the wrong way and ended up filling our bottles from Stratton Pond. This was a mistake, as it smelled like sweat and was appropriately warm, which we only discovered on returning to the shelter. Thinking about it, many, many hikers must have swum in that very spot, so we restricted use of the water to cooking. It certainly gave my pasta a certain something.

It rained intermittently during the night, though not too extensively, so we all knew that there was more rain likely throughout the day. The calculation therefore became when to leave and where to head for. My inclination was that there was little point in expecting the weather to get much better, so heading off straight after breakfast seemed sensible. I decided to head for Manchester Central, about 10 miles away, in the hope I could get into town, stock up on a few things and get out if the weather was OK, ending up in a shelter a few miles further down the trail.

The wind was really wild, piercing through the trees and blowing the previous rain from the leaves and all over me, making it feel as if it was raining, though having only a dampening effect. As the miles passed, however, the wind got stronger and the rain started to fall, gently at first, then a little stronger. I was only about 3 miles from the road into town when it started to really fall down. Luckily, there was a shelter 5 minutes ahead of me and I made it before getting too wet. Yeti Legs and Tumbles, the other two guys who had been treated for rabies, joined me 15 minutes later, wet, but happy to get respite from the rain. The third member of their group, Breaktime, had obviously ignored the shelter and continued to the road so, after lunch and about an hour, they put on their waterproofs and headed out into the pouring rain and high winds to try and catch up with him. I stayed to see if things would ease off.

After another half an hour or so, part of which was enlivened by a crazy mouse careening around the shelter in constant “laps,” I took the plunge and made my way carefully, though fairly quickly, down the mountain. I had managed to find a place to stay and headed off in high hopes of getting a shower, generally cleaning up and getting a bite to eat.

Unfortunately, my phone didn’t get a signal at the road, so I was unable to call the motel for a shuttle when I got there. So, there I was again, with my thumb in the air, though with an increasing urgency, as I figured my chances of getting a lift were decreasing with every additional raindrop that fell on me. Happily, a lovely old French couple screeched to a halt after only about 3 minutes and delivered me to the Red Sled Motel.

The motel is run by an Englishman who has been in the States for 50 years, though his Brit accent remains strong. He gave me a hiker rate of $70 and offered to do my laundry for another $7. The room was clean, though a little dated, yet he provides Netflix, which was certainly a first for me on the trail.

For only another $5, he ran me a couple of miles to the outfitter in town and returned to collect me from a restaurant/bar a few hours later.

My new British friend drove me back to the trail and I was back at it by 8am the following morning. Bromley Mountain was the first peak of the day and I started off like a train, devouring the 3 miles to the top in just over 75 minutes. I was going so well that, on the way up, I followed a sign that promised a vista, so I followed it and sat on a rock and had a snack.

It is also a ski mountain and the last 400 or so yards were through a meadow that is doubtless a ski run. At the top, the wind was blowing spectacularly, so I ducked behind a shelter and caught the sun out of the wind for 20 minutes before moving on. This video shows the meadow and the rather futuristic-looking ski lift, though my voice is pretty much drowned out, which is probably an improvement.

The descent was initially very steep and rocky (not a favorite combination), yet I managed to negotiate it without any problems. I had lunch a while later at the top of Peru Peak, which had a lot of difficult rocks to negotiate on the way up. At the very least, it was good practice for the upcoming spectaculars further north.

I reached Big Branch Shelter at 5pm and thought I was going to have a quiet night to myself, when Chip and some friends turned up, including the appropriately named Viking, who looked something of that breed, yet turned out to be very articulate and knowledgable about the whole camping experience. Not for the first time, I was reminded how wrong it is to judge a book by its cover. Viking set a fire and we all sat around together. In the meantime, Chip decided to set up his hammock between two trees that put part of the hammock directly over the rushing, and very loud, river. This river was our water source and you can see by this video how lively it was.

A very cool night in the tent left me happy that my woolen hat was going to be with my mail drop that day and I set out for the road, which was only about a mile from my shelter. When I got there, I realized that a ride was out of the question, as it was simply a mountain road that had virtually no traffic. My book had said that it was only one and a half miles into Danby, but a quick look at Google Maps had it at nearly 4 miles. I was not happy.

I walked the whole way and was joined by a boxer dog, rather worryingly named Chomper. I heard a neighbor call his name, but he seemed eager to follow me; maybe it was my rather developed odor. At the intersection with a main road, I met a girl who had been at the shelter the previous evening. She had been able to get a lift behind me from a woman, who had refused to stop for me, as I was guilty of the crime of being a man. At the road, we checked Chomper’s collar and found a number of a veterinarian and called him. The vet asked us to take him to the nearby gas station and the girl took him there, leaving me to cross the busy road without a potential dead dog on my conscience.

I got my package and went to Nichols Country Store for coffee, donut, two egg, cheese and bacon sandwiches plus two slices of French toast, butter, syrup and bacon. The very happy owner kindly asked a guy if he minded dropping me back and he agreed, even though it was clearly out of his way to the tune of about 8 miles. Another dollop of Tail Magic much appreciated.

The trail took me over a couple of mountains, but I was hiking well until I took yet another wrong turn down the mountain and was lost. Again!!! I trudged back uphill to where I should have been but couldn’t find the trail for about 40 minutes. I got back on track and went up and over another mountain for 3.6 miles in 90 minutes, eventually getting to the Minerva Hinchey Shelter, where there were 3 Long Trail hikers. I was feeling a little sorry for myself at this point, having wasted the 4 miles earlier in the day, as well as several more miles by getting lost. My rational self redressed the balance by realizing that I had still done my 13 miles, so I went to sleep happy.

I slept a little better than of late and woke to the alarm, ready to get up and over Mt Killington. I’ve been aware lately that the hike is becoming more and more lonely for me and I’m ready to move on as much as possible in order to get to my destination. This adventure has, so far, mainly been about the journey, but I now think about finishing more than anything else. I really want to enjoy New Hampshire and Maine, though I suspect they will become a grind as I struggle up and downhill. All I can do is continue with my plan to do about 13 miles a day and I should get there in time to return home for Diane’s birthday at the end of September.

I had another day that was marked by a lack of energy almost right from the start, yet I kept feeding myself to give myself a boost, but to no avail. My immediate goal was Cooper Lodge at the top of Killington, maintaining my 13 miles target, yet I stopped so many times during the climb that I began to doubt I would achieve even that. However, with stops at the two intervening shelters, as well as a 20 minute nap at the second one, I eventually got there after about 9 hours on the trail.

There was a good crowd developing, but I really wasn’t in the mood to mingle too much, so I had a quick dinner of rice, burning the bottom of my pot in the process, then set up my tent and climbed in. Of course, it then poured through the night and completed my day!

Unfortunately, I had forgotten to fasten one clip in the tent and there was a pool of water at one end when I woke. My pack was soaked, so I decided fairly early that I would get into town and get a room as soon as possible. Latecomers had tented next to me, including Nobo Hobo and Caddyshack, 2 middle aged women I had last seen about 200 miles back. “Great,” I thought, “I’m hiking at the pace of a middle aged woman. Bloody marvelous.”

The walk down the mountain was easier than the previous day’s uphill, yet often precipitous and, with the rocks and roots dramatically affected by the previous night’s rain, it was important to take care. I booked into the Inn at the Long Trail, an absolute bargain at $58, including wifi, laundry and a full breakfast. The fact that there is an Irish Pub downstairs did nothing to harm the Inn’s credentials as far as I was concerned. So, I’ve brightened up again, having lunched, dinnered and drunk a few pints of beer, while still completing 8 miles.

I’m aware that I could stop at any moment and return home to the woman I love, yet I’m driven on by a fierce desire to have that celebratory picture on the top of Katahdin. Hopefully, that desire will push me on anew.

What a bloody mess!

Friday August 8 – Sunday August 10. The Cobbles – VT9, Bennington. (Mile 1607.1 since Springer Mountain and only 578.2 miles to Katahdin)

I’m in Bennington with decent wifi, so thought I’d do a quick post to update the last three days, none of which have moved me on too far, though I’m set to get back on track tomorrow.

If you recall from the last post, I made a complete cock up of my exit from the mountain after the Cobbles and ended on the completely wrong side. Consequently, the following morning, after a wonderful breakfast from Eva, my hostess at the super Harbour House Inn, I was dropped at the place I should have emerged from the woods and retraced my steps up towards the Cobbles. On the way up, I ran into a guy called 3 by 5, a southbound hiker, who was also lost. It made me feel infinitely better that I wasn’t the only idiot in the woods. Eventually, I found the spot where I went wrong and hiked back down to start my day.

I then had something of a bizarre incident that I still can’t explain. I had been hiking for about an hour after my return to the trail when I turned over my arm to check for bugs or, more particularly, ticks. Neither were there, though the down-facing side of my right forearm was completely covered in blood. I was shocked and stopped to see where it was coming from, getting a sterile gauze pad from my medical kit. After wiping it away thoroughly, I was unable to see either a recent cut or even a re-opened old wound. I can only assume that I must have knocked off a scab from a previous cut (I’ve had many) and that it had bled then stopped.

Strange as that was, later in the day at the shelter, I had been speaking over dinner with a couple of girls section hiking and another southbounder, then went to bed, only to discover when wiping my face with a baby wipe (my only cleaning system), that I had dried, crusted blood on the left side of my nose. Nobody had mentioned it and, with no mirrors, I had no idea it was there. When I cleared that blood off, there was a small nick on my nose that had caused it. I only mention these things because they occurred on the same day and seemed a little odd to me.

Today was a significant day for us northbounders, as we were going above 3,000 ft for the first time since Shenandoah National Park, with the glorious Mt Greylock as our highest point. This meant a fair amount of uphill trudging on my part, so I took my time and trudged away.

I eventually made it, despite the apparent reluctance in that video, and was rewarded by the fact that there is a lodge at the top, serving soft drinks, several of which I downed gratefully. I also took the opportunity to recharge my phone and even dropped off to sleep for 20 minutes or so on a bench. A young child pointed me out to his father, asking him if “that man is alright.” I stuck my hand in the air and waved to reassure him. Mt Greylock is absolutely spectacular at the top, with panoramic views, shown below, though the sound is muffled by the wind. It is the highest point in Massachusetts and well worth a visit if you’re in the area. Of course, you can drive there, which I would heartily recommend.

I intended to stop at the Wilbur Clearing Shelter, so set off reluctantly from my somnolent position to reach my goal before dark and in good time for dinner. It had been a 13 mile day, so just a shade under my target. Given that I’d gone over Mt Greylock, I was pretty pleased with the day and tented just behind the shelter, cleaning the blood from my face before sleeping.

I set my alarm for 5.15 on the Saturday morning, intending to do the 3 or so miles into North Adams in time to find a place for a second breakfast of the day (silly not to) while I charged my phone and, hopefully, linked up with wifi to listen to my soccer team, the real Mighty Blues, play their first game of the season.

It couldn’t have worked out better, as I got into town, consulted Yelp on my iPhone to establish a nearby good breakfast joint, then pitched up to Renee’s Diner just in time to plug in, get onto wifi and order the Super Hungry Man breakfast, which, of course, I was. A plate full of eggs, bacon, corned beef hash, French toast and syrup, several coffees, plus a toasted blueberry muffin and a victory for my team, left me a happy man, as I waddled from the diner after a two and a half hour detour.

This now necessitated finding somewhere to stay for the evening, as the nearest shelter was too close, while the next one was too far away. There were more extensive climbs and, by about 6pm, I came across a father and his 2 young kids camping out for the weekend in a little clearing by a dried out pond. This seemed to fit the bill, so I spent a nice evening chatting with him while I prepared and ate a bowl of pasta. It had been another day a shade under my 13.3 mile target but, given the earlier detour, not too bad on the whole.

My tenting companion had mentioned that the previous evening, when he had been camping in the same spot, he was sure that a bear had passed through the camp, yet he seemed sanguine about hanging his food in a tree. This is the normal practice when tenting, so I hung up my two food bags and went to bed. Sure enough, at about 2am this morning, I heard an animal moving about outside. I don’t think it was a bear, as it didn’t make much noise. Indeed, I thought it may have been the guy getting up to relieve himself but, when I asked him this morning, he had thought it was me for the same reason. Nothing happened, yet it affirmed my practice of placing my food outside of my tent, just in case an animal should decide to come and join me in my tent in search of food.

This morning, after another early alarm, the father and his kids left early and left me to have a deliciously quiet breakfast by myself. It really is gorgeous to wake and prepare your breakfast in silence with only the waking birds as company while the sun gradually and lavishly lights up the day. I shot this little video to show you my camp.

One of the toughest things to show in these videos is the depth and angles involved in our climbs, though I shot this early today to show you some of the obstacles that we have to negotiate in order to find the best way through our pathways. This is significantly tougher than it may seem, as the path shown is quite eroded and jumping down from the rocks often necessitates a leap of faith that the earth won’t give way.

Some of you may know that I am a big golf fan and may recall that I have been able to watch the last day of each of the major championships this year and today, the last day of the US PGA Championship, was going to be no exception. Another rocky, mucky Massachusetts hike got me to VT9 by lunchtime, with a hair-raising descent down to the road in the last half mile. These are spectacular downs that really stress your knees, with a combination of rocks and tree roots combining to cause havoc. Fortunately, I was able to negotiate the path and called a shuttle to get me to another rather sad motel that, at least, had decent wifi and a laundry facility. I should also point out that I passed the 1600 mile mark within my first two miles today, an achievement that I regard as awesome in itself yet, with the finish less than 600 miles away, only finishing at Katahdin will now do for me.

For some of my fellow hikers, the journey is what this is all about, yet, for me, while the journey is crucial, the destination has now taken on greater significance in my thoughts and it is only by reaching that destination that I will be happy with what I’ve done. It also signals my return to my lovely wife, a thought very much to the fore all of the time

With a rain delay in the golf, I was able to shower, do my laundry and get to the micro brewery pub before the leaders teed off. Once more, I ate like a man condemned to death and enjoyed Rory McIlroy winning his second consecutive major championship.

It has been a weekend of self indulgent sports watching and listening, so tomorrow, at the beginning of another week, I have set myself the target to return to a 100 mile week in order to pass 1700 miles by next Sunday. This is going to be difficult with the increasing height and severity of the mountains ahead, yet I’m sure, with all the encouragement that I get from readers of this blog and the visitors to my Facebook page for photos, I’ll be up to the challenge.

Lost and found

Saturday August 2 – Thursday August 7. West Cornwall Rd, CT – The Cobbles. (Mile 1572.8 since Springer Mountain and only 612.5 miles to Katahdin)

I was eager to put the leg to the test and ordered a cab for 7.30. I’m not sure if cab companies can tell the time or not, but pretty much every one I’ve used has had a very casual acquaintance with being on time but nothing more precise than “he’s on his way.” After I’d called twice, a very unenthusiastic guy turned up, determined not to converse with me if he could help it, a feeling that turned out to be mutual.

We drove back to the trail pretty much in silence and I eventually got started. I was trying to be realistic, though I had an idea that 20 miles was possible, so I really pushed forwards enthusiastically. Unfortunately, the early pace was a little slow, with another Lemon Squeezer type affair, with the rapidly diminishing rock face making for an uncomfortable, buttock-clenching 5 minutes. However, once that was out of the way, I made excellent progress on a well-maintained trail.

The biggest problem was the overwhelming presence of mosquitos, which seemed oblivious to the fact that I had covered myself with “Off.” They were relentless, and really made the day tough. That said, they cut down my break time and I started marking off the miles quite easily. In my regular conversations with myself, I tend to give myself easier targets and often want to stop before doing the miles I need to do. However, the day seemed different and I eventually got to the Riga Shelter by about 6.45 and with a solid 20 miles tucked away.

The shelter has a great view to the east, so I was hoping to be able to get a time lapse video of dawn breaking. However, that turned out to be something of a non-event. When I woke, two minutes before my alarm was due to go off, I looked out of the tent to be confronted by, well, nothing. The entire scene was misted out, indeed, the valley was blanketed in cloud. Later, it started to rain gently, so I delayed my start while the rain passed through and had a very leisurely breakfast by myself.

Packing everything as quietly as I could, I left my two fellow campers sleeping and headed out hoping for another big day, but always having a cop out available for an earlier stop. I was aware that I would be passing the 1500 mile marker within the first mile, and I really looked out for it, yet was unable to spot it. This was disappointing, as I also missed the 1400 mile marker. You’ll just have to wait for another cheesy picture of me by the 1600 mile marker.

Bear Mountain was the first challenge of the day, with the descent being the toughest part, as it is so steep and the rain would have made the rocks slippery. I was extremely nervous climbing up and with good reason. While the climb was fairly taxing, the top of the descent was as bad as I’d been led to believe. I was ultra cautious and took about 45 minutes to cover a very short distance, using small footholds and finger holds all the way, not slipping once. Then, when I was back on the flat, I slipped for the 20th time of the trip, but no harm done.

I was now walking through Sage’s Ravine, a gorgeous trail that followed the river, which was really pushing some water downhill. This would have been a terrific picture and video day, but I wasn’t able to oblige as my battery was dying.

This day was especially bad for steep climbs and rocky descents, with the gorgeous cliff top views from Race Mountain my favorite, while Mt Everett was a lung-bursting ascent, followed by another seat of my pants descent.

Eventually, I’d done my 13-14 mile target and took the opportunity to visit the ATC office that was just off the trail. Nobody appeared to be about, so I walked in and started charging my phone. Eventually, I bumped into a guy who works on the property, though not for ATC. He told me I shouldn’t be there, so I packed up and moved on, eventually completing 18 miles, my original target.

I called a number in my Thru-hikers Companion for Jess Treat, who lets out two bedrooms in her home. She was away, but her friend, the lovely Heath, proved to be a great substitute, even offering me a beer as I walked in. Jess only charges $35, plus $5 for your laundry. For that, you get a clean bed in your own room, a lovely shower, breakfast and shuttles to and from the trail. This is a bargain and highly recommended.

Heath treated us to a great breakfast of blueberry pancakes. She took me and Slow, an older guy from Ocala, back to the trailhead. Slow is recovering from an injury, so we immediately separated and I plunged into the woods.

The terrain was far easier than previously, though I maintained my regular two miles an hour for several hours, passing through the odd meadow, yet mainly under the green tunnel. Some climbs were prolonged, as the day was basically up and over East Mountain, then up and over Mt Wilcox. As a consequence, I took several breaks and my rate slowed somewhat.

I was tempted, at one point, to change the schedule and hang out for a couple of hours at Benedict Pond, that had a side trail leading to a beach However, I’m still over 30 miles ahead of my self-imposed schedule and don’t want to slip back too much. I’m aware that New Hampshire and Maine will claw back some of that surplus, so don’t want to slack off now that I’m back on track.

Another glorious pond sat at nearly 2000 feet near the top of Mt Wilcox and I posted Facebook pictures of this wonderful sight.

After another nearly 18 mile day, I reached Shaker Campsite, where I met a couple of local guys out for a week’s hiking with their sons. We chatted as I prepared and ate my dinner, but the continued onslaught from the mozzies eventually drove us into our tents.

The following morning, I took a short hike into Tyringham to the Post Office for my food package from Diane and consolidated my pack. This is always a moment when the weight of food becomes immediately apparent once the pack is hoisted back onto my back. This was another such instance and the huffing and puffing that followed were entirely consistent with the increased weight. However, once I settle down, the pack seems to become part of me and I move on. It’s a bit like getting an instant, extra 45 lb belly that simply has to be incorporated into your everyday movements.  The only difference is that the belly is now on your back!

I had decided that the mozzies were just too bad to put up with, so I incorporated a trip into Lee to get a face net to at least keep the darn things at bay. Luckily, a friendly old lady, who must have been about 85, stopped and offered me a lift into Lee. She was amazed with the amount of miles I had already hiked and took me directly to the hardware store, where she insisted that they would have what I needed. A face net, a large canister of “Off” and a smaller, more devastating bottle, with 98% deet, completed my shopping and I headed off to a local breakfast joint to demolish their hiker’s special. This is a plate of pretty much everything you might consider having for breakfast and several things that you wouldn’t. That said, I hoovered everything down with relish, charged my phone, then caught a cab back to the trailhead.

It was now past noon and I altered my target to get to the Upper Goose Pond Cabin, which made an 11 mile day. This is run by the ATC and has caretakers, tent sites, the cabin itself, two privies (there’s posh!) and, most invitingly, a large pond to swim in. They also provide pancakes for breakfast, which I only discovered the following morning after I’d eaten my oatmeal, protein powder and fruit concoction. Undeterred, however, I still stuffed down 6 pancakes slathered with butter and syrup. Marvelous.

I took a languid swim in the pond and, even without soap, it felt like one of the finest showers of my life. It was terrific.

On the way to the cabin, I ran into the dads I had camped with the previous evening. One, whose name escapes me, though he bore a remarkable resemblance to Bradley Cooper, was heading back to the road before, telling me that Kenny, the other one, had blown out his knee and was leaving the trail. What a shame, as these two great guys were having a blast with their kids for the week.

That night, with no real prospect of rain in the forecast, it poured mightily. Of course it did!

The next morning, over my pancakes, we were joined at the table by Smiles and Critter, two southbound hikers, as well as Triple P and her fellow hiker, Chicka Chee. Triple P stands for Purple Polish Painter and she tries to tag fellow hikers by asking if they will let her put purple nail polish on at least one of their nails. Now this would normally be a ridiculous proposition, yet, there, at that time, it felt the most natural request in the world. Smiles and Critter each had one nail tagged, so I held out my hand and, well, this is the result.

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Not a good look, I know, though, in my defense, the bright purple didn’t seem so bright in the breakfast room.

As I was leaving, the remaining dad (I think his name maybe Scott) called me over and offered me Kenny’s head net, which Kenny had already said was excellent for vision and better than the one I had bought. I gratefully accepted and he was right. Paying it forward, I met up a little later with Green Lantern, another southbounder, and offered him the other net that I had bought. He gratefully accepted it as well.

I was going for another big day, for me, of 18 miles, though I also wanted to pop in to see “the Cookie Lady” to charge my phone and fill up on as many cookies as possible. However that was for later in the day.

Massachusetts will, I’m afraid, be the muddy and wet state for me when I look back on this hike. The hiking would be terrific if it was dry, but it has become a muddy, mucky mess and it has been tricky to negotiate some of the quagmires that I have encountered. That said, I made good progress throughout the day, passing by the beautiful Finnerty Pond, another extraordinary pond at nearly 2,000 ft elevation.

These ponds have an other-worldly feel about them and have become a favorite of the north, for me, in the same way that the balds were in the south. Here is another beauty.

The Cookie Lady, referred to earlier, lives about 150 yards from the trail and I happily took this detour, only to see that her stall was closed and the place looked deserted. I was just about to venture nearer to the house, in the hope that there was an outside power point, when she swung her car into the drive and into her garage. Encouraged, I walked up to her house, only to see her disappear into the house, leaving me feeling somewhat at a loss as to what I should do. However, I shouldn’t have worried, as she returned a couple of moments later with a couple of blueberry cookies in a basket. She sold lemonade and coke, so I bought a couple of cans of the former and asked if I could plug in my phone to charge. She didn’t seem to understand the concept, so I had to point at the vacant power point and she sort of waved her acceptance. By now I was thinking of staying, as she allowed hikers to tent in her field, yet I chose instead to move on and try to make it to the next shelter, Kay Wood Shelter, in order to keep stacking up the miles.

After a while, I caught up with Triple P, as she was trying to make it all the way to Dalton, a few miles past the shelter, so we hiked together until I reached the shelter. As the sun dropped in the sky, I snapped this deliciously green shot of it’s effect on the forest.

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There was a group of young High School volunteers, along with their group leaders, at the shelter, as well as a lady section hiker. The volunteers were doing trail repairs, so the section hiker and I spoke at length with them about the work they were doing and congratulated them on making such a difference for hikers.

After my breakfast, I packed my wet tent – an early morning shower had given it a helpful drenching – and headed into Dalton to try to get a second breakfast. I reached the town in about an hour and, as it passes right through the town, I was wandering along the street when I heard, “Mighty Blue” shouted from a porch. The house is owned by a hiker-friendly guy who allows hikers to tent on his lawn and his porch. In residence were Spider, Yeti Legs, Tumbles, as well as several others whose names I couldn’t recall. Yeti Legs, he of the grey underpants, had bought a black pair, which at least had the effect of revealing a little less, yet he had also bought a shirt, so was dramatically overdressed for him.

Tumbles was providing haircuts for all who wanted them, at that time shaving Spider’s head and revealing why he is so-called. Underneath his hair is a complete tattoo of a spider’s web, a rather startling revelation that became more apparent as his hair fell away. I noticed that most of the guys also had one or several purple fingers, so I knew where Triple P had stayed the previous night. Tumbles kindly gave me a trim and I left to find breakfast. Jacob’s Pub promised to be hiker-friendly, and indeed turned out to be so, as they allowed me to come in and charge my phone while they cleaned up around me. A grilled Reuben sandwich and two Yuengling slowed down my resolve to leave, though I knew that I needed to get moving, intending to reach Cheshire and stay at Harbour House Inn.

The trip was blighted because of constant thunder and lightning, yet only sprinkles of rain fell and I was making pretty good headway when the storm finally decided to give me a good dousing. On top of that, it decided that it would pelt me with hail that seemed to grow larger the harder it rained. To be frank, I was a bit non-plussed as to what to do. The only shelter would appear to be trees, yet this made no difference to the hail and I was getting dramatically colder and wetter by the second. In the end, I chose simply to keep hiking, as at least I’d warm up and so it proved. Unfortunately, I was in such a hurry to now get down the mountain, that I strode purposefully through the rain and hail, only to make a wrong turn about a mile from the bottom. Not seeing a white blaze for a while becomes increasingly worrying, yet I was suddenly on the road and, frankly, happy to be there.

The rain had stopped, but I was cold and completely soaked. I got my phone and found Google Maps to establish where I was, discovering myself in Notch Road and about a mile from where I should have been. I called the B&B and spoke with Eva, the owner. She suggested that I might go back into the forest and try to find the right route then call her again when I was back on track. This turned out to be a laughable suggestion for somebody with my navigational abilities, as I was soon even more lost and somehow bushwhacked my way back to Notch Road. This time, Eva came and found me and my drama was over.

An hour later, I was showered, my clothes were in the washer and I was sitting in the beautiful living room drinking tea and having cookies. Tomorrow, I’ll get dropped where I should have been and backtrack up the mountain to where I took a wrong turn.

It is not the first time I’ve been lost in the forest and it probably won’t be the last but, as before, I’m back on track, I’m fit and healthy, my clothes are clean and dry and my spirit remains strong. The difficult mountains lie ahead with the most beautiful views to come. Can’t wait!

 

Cheese & Wine & Steve

It may be hard to believe, but the Family Partnership Center is holding a “Cheese & Wine & Steve” evening on October 9th and the speaker is yours truly. I did suggest that it might be a good idea to wait and see if I actually finish the hike, but they seem to have confidence in me, so it’s on.

I know this is really only accessible for locals, but it would be great to see as many of you as possible to be able to thank you personally for the great support you’ve given me on this adventure.

The details are below, so all I need to do now is to hike another 650 miles and I’ll be done. Not a problem!

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