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!

 

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3 thoughts on “Lost and found”

  1. Hi Steve
    Amazed by the number of places along the route where you can get food, charge the phone , get a bed gift the night, etc.
    Certainly must keep you sane given the amount of time you spend alone on the trail.
    New football season has started here this weekend, good away win for the Blues on the first day .
    The first of my two friends , a bloke called Elliot from Dorset, currently on amazing adventures – ( you on the A.Trail and Elliot rowing the Atlantic west to east in a two man boat !) , has just completed his journey. I just need you to keep up the great work and I’ll be able to have breakfast each morning without needing to read amazing accounts of the epic journeys !
    Steve G.

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