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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Taking my lumps

Friday July 25 – Friday August 1. PA72, NY17, Southfields, NY – West Cornwall Rd, CT (Mile 1479.1 since Springer Mountain and only 706.2 miles to Katahdin)

The next morning, I woke to find nothing too sore nor broken, apart from my pride, so I called a cab for 9am and got straight back into it. I was entering Harriman State Park and I found it to be absolutely beautiful, so much so that I posted a few pictures on the My Appalachian Trial Facebook page to prove the point, along with this short video.

Everything was going well and the hiking was fairly easy thus far, when I came to the Lemon Squeezer. This is so-called because of the excruciatingly narrow gap that hikers have to squeeze through. I took my pack off and shoved it onto a rock, then climbed out, only to see J-Rex and her boyfriend, Max, coming along behind. I took their packs as they climbed up. Thinking that it hadn’t been too bad, we saw the next part, which was a very, very sheer wall of about seven feet. Max climbed up, discovering several tiny hand and footholds, then we pushed J-Rex’s pack and mine up to Max and managed to pull ourselves up. I couldn’t help thinking at the time that I would have been unable to do this had I been alone, though I tend to prefer to hike by myself, at my pace. With the tougher New England states coming up, I wondered whether or not a hiking partner might be sensible.

I was looking for water at this stage and ran into the Maine Sisters coming out of a shelter with no water. I told them that their old partner J-Rex was just behind, then I moved on.

I eventually found some water at Beechy Bottom Brook and decided that I’d had enough for the day a few miles later, at Seven Lakes Drive. By this time, I only had about ¾ of a liter left, so I set up my tent just off the road and out of sight, as I wasn’t really supposed to camp there. Diane has never been crazy about me camping alone, but I really enjoy the occasional night like this, as the solitude allows me to think completely uninterrupted. Given the limited water that remained, I had a wrap for dinner to preserve some for the following morning.

That night, at around 1.30am (why do these things always happen in the dead of night?), I was woken by the sound of coyotes baying, presumably, at the moon. While I always feel irrationally safe in my tent, noises like this, with nobody around, tend to make the next thirty or so minutes a touch uncomfortable. After a few “ow, ow, owwwwws” the little blighter decided to give it a rest and I drifted off.

For breakfast the next day, I limited myself to coffee and a Snickers, as I had about 4 miles to go, up and over Bear Mountain, before getting a chance to refill my water bottle once more.

The hike was much easier than I had thought and very much resembled, in my imagination, a walk along the ramparts of Sauron’s castle in Mordor from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. This video shows some of the steps up and you’ll notice that I was talking more Indiana Jones than Lord of the Rings, though I think you’ll get the drift.

Further up, the path ran alongside a lovely view to the left.

I met a Chinese couple near the top, having breakfast on a neatly laid out mat. When they found I was a thru-hiker, the guy very sweetly, and with much solemnity, presented me with a pack of blueberries, which I gratefully accepted and wolfed down when I was out of their sight.

I had assumed I was at the top but, in fact, there was still further, though pleasant, climbing to get to the top. At the very top were restrooms and soda machines (not at all like Mordor) so I gulped down a Powerade and bought some water to top up my bottle. Everything at the top of the mountain is done with the day hiker in mind, as it is the busiest mountain on the entire trail and the path is brilliantly managed and maintained.

The stairs down, over 700 of them, were strenuous, but magnificent and the trail took me down to a park, with families preparing food for a big day out. I refilled with water once more and strolled through the park, trying my hardest to look as pathetic and hungry as possible in the hope they’d throw me a hot dog. Didn’t happen! I’m clearly not as pathetic and hungry as I think I am.

Through the park, I was led to the zoo, and arrived just before opening at 10am. I hurried through the zoo, though the lady who let me in found me some peanut butter crackers, so the pathetic hungry look worked out a little after all. Crossing the Hudson via a bridge was the lowest point on the entire trail, about 124 ft, and the 1400 Mark was passed without any discernible marker.

The climb up again was steep and I ran into a trail maintainer out for the day and we fell into a companionable hike together for a couple of miles before he went off in a different direction to return to his car. It is always good to meet up with these selfless people who volunteer to make my day better.

US9 had a great deli and, as I’d already decided to stay at the Graymoor Spiritual Center less than a mile further, I got stuck into a real, chunky, fat-filled NY sandwich, which is basically a heart attack waiting to happen, and generally chatted with fellow hikers as they came through.

Just beyond the deli, after a brief return to the forest, the road led me to the Friary and I was directed to the ball field, which was an open tenting site for hikers and, despite the recent ingestion of unhealthy food, ordered a pizza. There were many hikers around the field and we all mingled and chatted amiably until hiker’s midnight (sundown), then settled in for the night.

In the morning, I chatted over coffee and oatmeal with No Pain, an older black guy who’d done the trail several times before and he entertained me with several stories of his view of the changing generations.

I set off for the day with the RPH shelter as an 18 mile target. I was really going well until the heavens opened and I got completely drenched. I tried to wring out my socks every twenty minutes or so, yet kept hiking, drying out as the sun broke through. The terrain was excellent, with few rocks and several flattish areas and very few, if any, steep climbs. One exception was the stupendously gorgeous ascent to Shenandoah Mountain and the glorious walk across the rocks at the top. I sat for several minutes by the September 11th Memorial Flag painted on the rocks to record the wonderful view.

The combination of wet feet, wet socks and wet boots gave me uncomfortable feet from about mile 6, yet I completed the 18 miles and got to the shelter, meeting up with several old friends as well as some newer ones. As usual, I was pretty much last to the shelter, so I had to sleep in my tent with expected rain, thunder and lightning as an added attraction.

The weather behaved as expected, yet I stayed dry through the night, though the tent, of course, was drenched. It is always more difficult to pack away a wet tent, so getting to your next destination without further rain is always handy, as setting up your tent later in dry conditions enables the tent to dry out quickly.

My plan was to get to the strangely-named Telephone Pioneers Shelter about 17 miles away, yet my first port of call was going to be a deli, at NY52, only 5 miles away. New Jersey, and now New York, offer delis placed quite conveniently to the trail and hikers are always drawn by the lure of masses of calories to assuage their guilt-free eating impulses.

Before going to bed the previous evening, I had started a rather stilted conversation with a young Japanese guy at the shelter. He was a section hiker and by himself with nobody speaking to him, so I tried to make conversation him. Despite living in Queens, his English is very basic, so we couldn’t really have much of a chat. However, the following morning, as I was preparing to leave, he reciprocated and made a real effort to speak with me. As I’ve said before, it can get lonely out here, so I understood why he was making the effort. I gave him my few basic Japanese words and we basically laughed at each other’s efforts. Once I set off, he was soon behind me and trying to chat once more. Eventually, I stopped for a rest and he moved on.

The terrain, like much of this state, was challenging in terms of ups and downs, though not too extensive, while the rocks often served more to decorate the trail than to impede progress; I’ve become a real fan of New York hiking and was loving the morning.

I’d told my Japanese friend about the deli and he told me that he would likely see me there. Indeed, once I got there, he was buying up the shop, with all sorts of goodies to cram into not only his mouth, but also his food bag. As we sat companionably outside, shoveling food into our faces, I asked him why he was in the US and how he had got here. He told me that he had been a worker at the nuclear reactor plant in Fukushima and that, on the fateful day, he had been working in a separate building nearby and had managed to get out quickly. However, his home was in a dangerously contaminated area and he and his family had to move to safety that very day. He also told me that, while it was a terrible day, he had come to terms with it and regarded it as an opportunity to come to America.

I then asked him if he had a trail name and he said that nobody had named him thus far. Of course, the dark British humor in me immediately gave him the name of Tsunami and, to my delight, and relief, he laughed uproariously and accepted the name. So, Tsunami it is.

Several other old and new friends were also coming by the deli and I must have stuck around for about an hour and a half before heading out once more. On leaving, I checked my emails and found one that necessitated a stop in a hotel and access to wifi, so I eventually finished my hike for the day at that point, with only 5 miles under my belt.

I had ordered a cab for 8.30 and, after wasting 20 minutes trying to find where I’d left the trail the previous day, I was on my way by 9am. I had planned to get to Kent by the next evening, to meet up with dear friends, Brian and Dee Scott, so I contented myself on this day with getting to the Appalachian Trail Metro North train station, only about 100 minutes from Grand Central Station in NYC. Right next to the station, the local garden center allows hikers to tent on their grounds, charge their phones, get water from a spigot and use their toilet. Marvelous.

The terrain, indeed, the state, continued to delight, with wonderful hiking that established NY as my favorite state so far. The rocks are never too onerous and the paths are well groomed, while the climbs continued to challenge without defeating you.

Early on, I came upon the Von Trapp family, a family of five from Canada who are hiking the whole trail. They are dad (Toe Salad), mum (Fimby), a calm daughter of about 13 (Padawan), a younger, deliciously intense girl (Tenacious Bling) and a cheerful boy (Otter). They are having a wonderful adventure together and are very positive at the same time as being realistic. I enjoyed chatting to them while they were filling their water bottles and eventually moved on. The problem was that I couldn’t get the Von Trapps, or, more specifically, the Julie Andrews songbook out of my head. I started to sing, rather louder than my voice should ever be heard, “Doe, a deer, a female deer, ray, a drop of golden sun.” and so on. I was just blasting out the bit where Julie Andrews and the kids jump up and down on the stairs in time to the music “doe, tee, tee, la, far, far,” when I realized I hadn’t seen a white blaze for a while and, blow me, I had missed my turning by a full quarter of a mile. After retracing my steps, I contented myself with “Climb every mountain,” and paid more attention.

Near the end of the day’s hike, I was lucky enough to run into some more lovely trail magic which, of itself, is always a terrific component to any day. This one was particularly full of goodies but, to be honest, the thing that made me most pleased was when the trail angel started recounting who had gone through, and said, “and there was this nice Japanese boy called Tsunami.” Oh yes!!

I got to the garden center at about 5 pm and, after finding where to pitch my tent, chatted with the guy on duty in the center to see if there was a better alternative to the deli down the road. Indeed, there was. This young lad offered to take me into nearby Pawling, where there was a tavern. I enlisted J-Rex and her boyfriend to join me and we had several beers, wings and burgers before getting a cab back.

Despite the fact that my tent was about 20 yards from the railroad line and only 15 yards from the road, I again slept well. There had been several latecomers the previous evening and I met up again with Bamboo, Ungerwear, Yeti Legs, Naturally Hob, now joined by his wife, Chickadee.

Off early in the morning, I seemed to be in excellent form, with the trail taking me through a nature reserve that had me reaching for my camera.

I knew I had a long day ahead of me of some 18 miles, hopefully getting to Kent, CT, where my friend Brian was going to meet me and take me back to his home. Despite looking forward to seeing them again, I was struggling a little and, after about 5 miles, I knew I was going to really have a problem making it to Kent by 4.30, our planned time. I also wanted to spend a little more time with them, so I called Brian to see if he could pick me up a little earlier, at Schaighticoke Road, near Bulls Bridge. Ever affable, he agreed and we met at 2pm on the dot. I was pretty much all in at this stage, having only hiked just over 11 miles and I seem to have these days from time to time. I can only assume the fact that I pretty much never have an intentional zero day, I am not fully recovering from the pounding I put my body through.

The evening was great, with Dee cooking roast pork and making much more than usually necessary, knowing that I would likely hoover up most of the left overs, which, of course, I did. I also had a couple of glasses of wine, the first wine I had taken since I set out on my adventure, in March.

Brian took me back to the trail the following morning, via the business premises that he owns, at which he showed me round like a VIP! It was really interesting to see my friend in a different environment to that in which I normally see him and he was very informative about the hydro electric turbines on which his company works.

I got back on the trail by 10.30, hoping to really get cracking and knowing that I had a very tough uphill to start the day. A scout troop was hiking ahead of me and I fell in about 30 yards behind them. Perhaps I should have taken note of the size and shape of their scout leader to ascertain how much he knew about hiking and directions, for we continued to march along a flat road when I knew that we should have been climbing. Eventually, I called ahead to see if they thought we were still on the AT and they thought that they were. However, I was now convinced that they were wrong and decided to turn back. I told them that I would whistle (my entirely unused bear defense) if they needed to turn round. We had gone at least a quarter of a mile past the turn, so I prepared to give them a shrill blast, only to emit a pathetic squeak, due to my rusting, untried whistle. I then had to shout as loud as I could, “You’re going the wrong way,” though I have no idea if they ever heard. For all I know, they could still be marching in a straight line, as I never saw them again.

Despite the fairly late start, I was able to make camp at the Stewart Hollow Brook Shelter, after over 14 miles, so I was very happy with my effort and set up camp alongside another vintage hiker, and a new friend, Lighter Knot. After a friendly chat, we retired to our tents and I fell into a deep sleep.

The walk into the camp was a long, flat path beside a fast-flowing river and I took the opportunity to anticipate New England while enjoying the easy hiking.

This morning, Lighter Knot and I set out at about the same time, though I was planning to get to a road only 4 miles away, where I was planning to meet Bassman, the section hiker I’d got on so well with a few weeks ago. He had texted me and kindly offered to meet up for breakfast, then run me around to pick up any gear or food that I may need. Such a thoughtful gesture and I was looking forward to meeting him again. We arranged to meet at 10am and I was there on the dot, while he drove up about 10 seconds later. Perfect.

imageBassman knew of an excellent diner in West Cornwall, so we went and had our fill of eggs, bacon, home fries and pancakes, the normal hiker fare when given the opportunity. After that, Bassman was as good as his word and drove me to several places, while I bought food for the next 3 or 4 days and a pot in which to cook my rice, after a bit of a disaster cooking rice in my Jet Boil Flash the previous evening. Don’t ask!!

Back at the trailhead, there was a notice about the difficulty of fording a stream just ahead, with a detour offered that would have added about half a mile to the hike. “It can’t be that bad.” I thought and decided to go for it. One of my problems is that, despite strong evidence to the contrary, I always think I can do pretty much anything and I always go for it. This was such an occasion and, while I managed to get about 3/4 of the way across, my tumble into the stream was something of an inevitability, which duly occurred.

Amazingly, while I ended up with my knees and some of my pack in the water, my phone stayed dry and I quickly scrambled out, only to see a little blood trickling down my leg. I wouldn’t have worried too much about that, had it not been for the egg-like protuberance that accompanied the blood. To be honest, this was alarming and, after walking for about a half mile, I decided to seek yet another Urgent Care facility, as the swelling was spreading rather expansively. Alone, in the woods, such things aren’t quite as easy as that yet, as so often, the Trail provides. I soon ran into an AT volunteer, who offered to take me to Torrington, some 20 miles away and I got to the clinic about 20 minutes before it closed.

imageThe doctor told me that there wasn’t a particular problem and that the swelling would go down with a night’s rest and some icing. The nursing assistant was a hiker and he not only cleaned up the wound, he arranged a room for me at the Quality Inn and ran me down to the hotel in his car. As I say, the Trail provides.

So here I am, back in a hotel, with another chance to blog and an injury to imageaccompany my 19th fall of the trip. I have a cab tomorrow morning at 7.30 and I’ll be back, trudging along soon after 8am. This has been a tough week again and I’m aware of the worry that I keep putting Diane through, yet I keep seeing those miles count down. By Sunday. I’ll be passing the 1500 mark and tomorrow, I’ll have less than 700 miles to go.

This is going to happen, I’m going to finish and, when I do, nobody, apart from Diane and me, will know quite how much of a trial this has been for us both, yet I wouldn’t change the next couple of months for the world. So, hold onto your hats, we’re into the last third, wish me well and cheer me home.

Keep on Keeping On

Sunday July 20 – Thursday July 24. PA72, US206, Culvers Gap – NY17, Southfields, NY (Mile 1379.9 since Springer Mountain and only 805.4 miles to Katahdin)

There really ought to be a law that, when a motel or a hotel advertises that it has wifi, then it really ought to have a working version of wifi. The fact that it may work in the office of the motel isn’t really cutting it for me; I need it to operate in my room, not fade away with every step I take from the office. While I accept that a room for $41.45 a night isn’t likely to boast every modern convenience, the rash statement that it has wifi should be at least moderately accurate. You are probably getting the gist of my complaint that this particularly spiffing motel both boasted and lacked anything that could conceivably be regarded as working wifi. As luck would have it, the owner told me that it always works and that I was the only person who had ever been unable to get access to it. How unlucky am I?

Nevertheless, there I was on Sunday morning, trying to watch both the German Formula One Grand Prix and the last day of the British Open Golf tournament. There are few things that can really rile me, but I think I found one last Sunday. Every 45 or so seconds, just as Rory McIlroy was about to take a shot, or Lewis Hamilton was on the verge of pulling off a thrilling passing maneuver, the screen on my iPad would freeze and, once reset, the action had, of course, moved on without me. You will not be surprised to hear that my language became increasingly earthy and louder, so much so that I simply turned off the iPad, checked out and got the owner to shuttle me back to the steakhouse I’d gone to on leaving the trail the previous day. They actually had working wifi, so I got online until they opened, then got a seat underneath the TV, with the golf on, and spent several happy hours eating like a greedy hog and cheering Rory to victory. Happy Days!

Unfortunately, this didn’t do much for my hiking for the day and I limited my ambition to the first shelter, Gren Anderson Shelter, at only 3 miles away, as it was the only shelter that offered water for about 15 miles. As you’d imagine, getting water, whether from a stream or a spring, is one of the critical reasons for being at a shelter, and New Jersey has been a little lacking in water. Happily, several Trail Angels continue to go out of their way to provide water at road intersections, so we’re getting by.

As I say, it was only supposed to be a 3 mile hike, yet I managed to turn it into more like double that distance, as I completely missed a change of direction (double white blazes) and ended up going down a precipitous descent that landed me on a road which shouldn’t have been there, according to my guide. I instantly knew I’d gone wrong and also knew that I’d have to slog back uphill just to get back to my missed blazes. Eventually, I found the right route and got back into top gear, only to completely miss the blue blaze that indicated the shelter and I hiked at least a mile past the entrance. Realizing I’d messed up yet again (I used stronger language at the time), I had to turn round once more and waste yet more miles and calories in getting to the right place. I was thoroughly ticked off when I eventually got into the shelter and couldn’t even shout at anybody, as the place was deserted. I couldn’t be bothered to cook, so made myself a wrap and cup of tea, only to drag the entire cup into my lap. Not having anybody to shout at, I made do with the forest and unleashed a few choice words.  Shouting at trees can be marvelously restorative.

Despite my outburst, it was eerily quiet and I started to prepare myself for a lonesome night and found a spot to pitch my tent. A few people came in a little later, though just to collect water. As a consequence, and I’m sure it was because I was alone, I needed to use the privy at about 3.30am, so donned my camp shoes, my fleece, my underpants and my nightlight. I must have looked like Wee Willie Winkie, carefully padding over the rocks and trying to identify the path to the privy. With nobody else around, the darkness and the quiet eat into you and I made it back to my tent, now fully alert and listening to every noise that assaulted my ears for the next hour or so. Happily, there were no incidents and I fell back into a deep sleep, before gloomily waking and drinking my coffee and chomping my oatmeal in silence.

I was on the trail at 7.45, planning a 20 mile day, as I needed to make up for the measly 3 miles (6 walked, but only 3 official), the day before. The plan was to get to the High Point State Park HQ for lunch, charge my phone at their office, then move on to Unionville, where the mayor has started to allow thru-hikers to stay in a local park. Everything worked out as planned and the state park even had free sodas for thru-hikers. A cold Coca Cola Is always welcome. The hiking was still fairly tricky, with several rocks to slow our progress, but I found, as I often have, that the further you plan to travel, the easier it is. If you know you need to do 10 miles before lunch, then 10 miles after lunch, then that seems to be more achievable than having no real plan or aiming low. I even had time to shoot a short video at the High Point Monument.

Earlier, after about three hours on the trail, I saw my 9th bear and my first in NJ. It suddenly ran through the undergrowth to my right, it’s thick fur gleaming in the intermittent sunlight. Bears don’t worry me now and each sighting is a bonus gratefully received and enjoyed.

I made the road crossing into Unionville by about 6.30 and walked towards the town, which was only about 0.4 of a mile off the trail. Going past one of the gardens, I spotted Spider, one of the guys I’d been hiking with recently, sitting in a chair, talking with the owner as if they were life-long buddies. The owner, Blake, motioned me to join them and I could tell straight away that he was several Jack Daniels on the wrong side of the optimum amount. That said, he was perfectly affable, introduced me to his wife, Joy and young Blake, then divided their grilled meat into five, as opposed to their anticipated three. Once more, generosity seems to come to hikers out of all proportion to the normal actions of folks.

Once we’d had our fill of steak and chicken, Spider and I left Blake and his family and made it to the park, where several old friends were already set up, including Naturally Hob, along with his wife, Dos Lekis, Yeti Legs, Flea and several others, including a newcomer, Rogue, who I’d met earlier in the day. There was a very cordial feeling in the park, with all of us grateful for such a good facility (port-a-loo, free water and free tent site), so it was a little sad to hear the youngsters call a “safety meeting”, inviting the older hikers as well, before they sat around strumming a ukulele and relaxing fragrantly once more. Given the public circumstance, I thought that was a little thoughtless and could have jeopardized the park for future hikers. Nothing happened, but it could have. Funnily enough, this video the following morning mentions the event but I don’t appear to be too unhappy about it. I suppose I’ve thought more about it since.

As always, the park cleared out quickly in the morning and I was the last to leave, once I’d charged my phone at the general store, eaten two donuts and had two coffees, all of which was after I’d eaten my regular breakfast. I retraced my steps, listening to a podcast on my phone, and, yet again, totally missed the trail head, going a good 300 or 400 yards past. Cursing at myself again, a reasonably regular occurrence in the last couple of days, I got on track at last.

The 20 mile day I’d had the previous day had really sapped me and, in conjunction with some very tricky rocks, I stopped for lunch after only 5 miles, completely resetting the day for me. I had intended to get to the lusciously named Wawayanda Shelter, some 17 miles away, but settled instead for the church hostel in Vernon, NJ, after only an 11 mile day.

For a suggested donation of $10, you get a shower, laundry, a bed (or Tent site) and a recreation room. I found several fellow hikers, but only one, Senator, wanted to go for sushi. We had a great meal and finished off with a Blizzard ice cream at Dairy Queen. Guilt-free eating is going to be a tough habit to kick!

However, the day wasn’t over, as I showered and laundered my clothes back at the hostel and we had a late visit by a lovely couple, Dori and Tom, who asked if 3 of us would like to join them in the morning for a swim in their local lake, followed by breakfast and return to the trail. Me, Spider and Voodoo shot up our hands, so we arranged to be ready for 7.15 the following day…….

………which we were. Dori came to collect us and took us to her lovely community, giving is something of a guided tour on the way. She was utterly charming and everything was as she had suggested. The lake was gorgeous, though unveiling my new, fat-free body was a little embarrassing for me! We all swam for about 20 minutes and then headed back to Tom and Dori’s log cabin home. Ever the teacher (her profession) Dori gave everybody a task and put together a wonderful breakfast that included eggs, bacon, toast, fruit and yoghurt. We were back on the trail by 10.30 and marveled once more over the kindness of others.

Usually, I hike pretty much on my own, but Voodoo, Spider and I started the day together and eventually ended the day together, meeting up with the Maine Sisters, Navigator and Toots, along the way. Once more, the rocks slowed everybody’s pace, allowing us to trek as a team. This was the largest group I had hiked with since starting and it certainly helped the day as we chatted throughout.

I briefly left them to try to join a board meeting for the Family
Partnership Center, hoping to FaceTime the board for a quick chat, yet, while my signal in the mountains was fine, they couldn’t muster more than a single bar between them, so we had to make do with a telephone chat! By the way, please consider my Last 2000 Mile Challenge on this site, as I’ve only got about 800 miles to go and you can join in at any time.

It was getting a little dark in the forest by the time I restarted, so I chased down the group I’d been with and eventually caught them at NY17A, where they were heading for the creamery, a local ice cream shop. $6 each and huge banana splits later, we set up tents on the parking lot nearby, hopeful that this wasn’t a teeny bit illegal. The rain was coming and we hoped that might work in our favor if somebody spotted that we shouldn’t have been there. Nothing happened, other than rain and fairly spunky winds, so everybody got a decent night’s sleep.

Today, I got out fairly early and hiked alone for quite a while, though ran into a few new and one or two old faces. I also wanted to record my impressions of NJ and NY.

I was aware that I was running low on certain supplies and, with my speed still rather slow over the rocks, I asked Diane to book me a motel room after only about 11 miles. I’d just spoken with the cab company who was going to pick me up, telling them I’d be at the pick up point in 5 minutes, when I realized that the descent was very severe and over sharp rocks. Stupidly hurrying, I fell and, fearing the worst, I shouted out in an effort to mask the pain if and when it came. Amazingly, despite being virtually upside down on the rocks, I was relatively unhurt, with just a few scrapes and the odd laceration on my arms and legs. I got myself the right way up and continued on my way. I was very lucky.

Keep on keeping onTonight in my room  I had Chinese delivery and thought I’d share the fortune cookie with you. Believe me, sometimes you really appreciate a fortune cookie and this one couldn’t have come at a better time!

Falls Rush In

Thursday July 10 – Saturday July 19. PA72, Swatara Gap – US206, Culvers Gap (Mile 1318.0 since Springer Mountain and only 867.3 miles to Katahdin)

I haven’t posted for quite a while and have access to wifi at last, so there is quite a bit to catch up on. You can see from the mileage above that the distance to Katahdin is certainly ticking down and I continue to get through about 100 miles a week.

When I last posted, I was staying at the Days Inn, near Swatara Gap and, if you recall, I found it hard to find a cab driver who could get a great deal of enthusiasm about either taking me there or returning me to the trail. As a consequence, I dawdled a little the following morning, getting a few necessary items from the Hess Garage across the street. I had called the cab company from the previous evening, ordering, at about 7.30, a cab for 9am. The bloke at the other end was having none of it, telling me that I should call when I was ready to leave. “I’ll be ready at 9am.” I replied. “Well call me then.” was his response. I couldn’t be bothered to get all British on him and hung up the phone, fuming, and resigned myself to hitching the 3 or 4 mile return journey.

As luck would have it, the second truck to pass my way contained a human being with a love for hiking. He stopped, told me to lob my stuff in the back and we chatted about the AT for a very pleasant 5 or 10 minutes as he drove and deposited me in exactly the right spot. Sometimes it’s your day and sometimes it isn’t. I was so much more cheerful this morning and I shot a video of the early hike with news of earlier hiking pals.

Just after I’d finished the video, Bassman, who I’d met several days earlier, came upon me and we started chatting and hiking together for most of the rest of the day. He is a section hiker and we had got on well previously, so it seemed natural to team up with him once more. Indeed, he led us up a very hilly climb and, with the back and forth chit chat, the morning went by very quickly, yet pleasantly. We followed the ridge and replenished water at a shelter, then he reached his destination and I was back on my own. He did talk about hiking again in Maine in September, so we may well have the chance to meet up again.

I was only heading for an 11 mile day, having had such a late start, and I eventually got to the 501 Shelter, which is a bunk room with about a dozen bunks. Despite my fears of keeping everybody awake with my snoring, I opted for the shelter as opposed to tenting, as rain was due and did, in fact materialize. Bassman knew where I was heading, and turned up with some trail magic of his own, bringing Gatorade and other goodies. What a good guy he was.

We were also sufficiently close to the road to allow us to order pizza and pies were duly ordered and delivered. With such a large bunch of people in the shelter there was another convivial evening and, with that and my day with Bassman, my mood lightened considerably.

One of the items we touched on that evening was Lyme Disease, which one of the guys had as well as rabies, which three of the youngsters were being treated for as a precaution. One of the lads had been bitten by a skunk, while the other two were bitten by a sick bat. Chip, one of the bat bitten boys, woke to find that the bat was tangled in his hair and had crapped on his face. Charming!

The following morning, I was determined to get at least 15 miles under my belt, which is quite a long hike for rocky Pennsylvania at this stage. As a consequence, I managed to get myself motivated and out by 6.45am, something of a rarity for me. The rocks were tricky and tiring in equal measure and, by PA183, I was ready for a spot of lunch. I ran into Survivor and his twin brother, along with the enigmatically named James, which is apparently written with all capital letters. James was getting a shuttle to town for a Post Office drop, while Survivor and his brother were just catching a breather. Eventually, they all left me to my tuna wrap and, seconds after James had driven of, a guy pulled into the parking area and asked me If I wanted a cold drink with it. Trail Magic!! I’m normally the one just missing out, so I felt a little smug at my good fortune and tucked in.

There were plenty of people at Eagles Nest Shelter and I found a really nice, relatively quiet spot for my tent. The Maine sisters, Navigator and Toots, were there, along with their hiking friend, J-Rex, as well as Voodoo, Survivor and his brother and the rather under-dressed Yeti Legs. This young guy is very affable and entirely unselfconscious. He hikes in only a pair of underpants that are grey and often see-through when damp with sweat, which is pretty much all of the time. He apparently went to Walmart in that outfit, yet seemed not at all out of place. Extraordinary!

I left Eagles Nest the following morning after what is probably the most embarrassing incident thus far. I can’t even write about it, but I confessed later in this video.

Ugh!!! Say no more!

I was planning to meet up with Fran and Steve Davis in Port Clinton and they were kindly taking me on a tour of the Yuengling Brewery, which was fairly nearby. First, I had to negotiate a rocky hike and an incredibly steep climb down into the town itself. This was one of the steepest descents I had made and I would not want to have done it in the rain; it was really quite scary and tough on the knees.

I was a little early, so thought I’d catch breakfast, in the way that hikers do at every opportunity. Luckily, somebody pointed me to Port Clinton Hotel, which was about to open, so I sat myself at the bar and, with no eggs available, I went for a pint of Yuengling and a cheeseburger. It was bloody delicious and probably the best burger I’d had thus far. Steve and Fran turned up while I was stuffing my face and I could see that Steve was tempted, but settled on a beer instead.

The brewery was certainly worth a visit, though the high point were the free samples at the end. They then kindly took me to Cabellas, a huge sporting goods store, where I ditched my old hiking pants (size 42″ waist) and got something a little more appropriate to my new found figure (size 34″ waist). I haven’t been this size since I was about eleven!! Before dropping me back at Port Clinton, they took me to a food store, waiting patiently as I sprinted around the store in my version of supermarket challenge.

Returning to Port Clinton, I suggested that they take me to the town campsite, wait while I set up my tent, then I would buy them dinner at the hotel. I’m pleased to say that, even under the pressure of watching eyes, I was able to set up the tent in about three or four minutes and we headed over to the hotel. Steve was now able to satisfy his hunger and we all ate well, with another glass or two of Yuengling. Steve and Fran have been absolutely wonderful to me on this trip and lifted my spirit each time that I saw them. Thanks so very much.

When they left, somebody suggested that we go to the Fire Station Clubhouse, where we were informed we could get a drink. It was all a bit cloak and dagger (push the red button, tell the bloke who answers that you are thirsty hikers and were wondering if you could have a drink). I thought I’d buy a round for the two guys and one girl and pulled out a $20 bill to pay. Three beers and a vodka and soda set me back the princely sum of $5.50. Happy Days!!

Several people had turned up late and, by the time I woke in the morning and got up, people were strewn all over the field. I suddenly noticed young Beans, a guy I had met very early on and seen intermittently since then. He was now in tow with a young girl, Kat, which seemed to explain his lack of pace thus far. We chatted briefly and I left, hoping to make another 15 mile day. There were two photo opportunities; one at the Pulpit, which I pasted on Facebook and the other at the Pinnacle, at which I shot this video of supposedly the best view on the AT of Pennsylvania.

The rocks were, once again, terribly annoying, though the hiking after the Pinnacle was very smooth and a blessed relief for my feet, which had begun to feel like hamburger patties. I should also mention that my right boot had by now pretty much disintegrated under this assault and I sent pictures of both the left and right boot to Diane and she successfully argued with the company. Asolo, that this wasn’t down to wear and tear, as “my husband doesn’t hike with a limp, nor does he have any deformity.” This did the trick and Asolo acknowleged that a free replacement was in order, which they quickly sent. Excellent and realistic customer service, aided and abetted by my tenacious wife.

The Eckville Shelter, where I camped for the night, is an excellent facility, with a charging station for phones, a tap with what tasted like spring water and an excellent tenting site. Unfortunately it is blessed by what can only be described as a curmudgeonly attendant, who loves in the adjoining house and is responsible for the site. I noticed that there was available wifi, so asked him if I could have his password so that I could watch the extra time in a World Cup game. “No,” was his somewhat final reply, though he added, “because I’d then have to give it to everybody.” which explained nothing. Once more, I avoided the temptation to become British on him and contented myself by listening on the radio.

We had a bit of a storm in the night, but I stayed dry and snug and reflected once more what a good choice my tent was turning out to be.

I was a little under the gun, as I was hoping to meet up with two friends the following day. Mark Jeffrey had been holidaying in the Blue Ridge Mountains among other places and was hoping to meet up somewhere along the way, while Barry Gates, a more recent friend from Florida, had moved back to Pennsylvania a year or so before and was coming over to meet me as well.

It was a very, very rocky hike and I took on more lunch than usual to allow me to get the energy to put in a hard afternoon to get within striking distance of my planned rendezvous the following day. As often happens, the weather decided that it was going to limit my options, and I saw on my phone that a severe weather alert had been posted, so I had little alternative but to get my tent up quickly as the rain suddenly hit me. Lying sweatily in my tent, with my wet pack keeping me company, the whole place got very steamy very quickly, so I pushed myself into action and set up the tent for an all night stay. I’d been hoping the weather would pass but it seemed set for the night, though it turned out to be less intense than expected.

In my haste to set up quickly, I must have kept the bug net open longer than normal, as I was suddenly aware of something moving on my arm as I lay there, only to see a very large, very red spider making a run for it up my arm. Never a big fan of spiders, I whacked my own arm and squished the interloper, searching furiously for any friends that may have joined him, though found none.

The following morning was foggy and I recorded the rather atmospheric and calm scene.

There was actually an official campsite only about 100 yards away, so I filled up with water and met up again with Gizmo and met a Brit called St Rick for the first time. We chatted for a while, but I was in a hurry to make up some miles and hiked on, only to run into some of the worst rocks so far. I also met up with an older guy, RW, from Chicago and we tackled the infamous Knifes Edge together. He fell at one stage and cut his head, though not to badly and I, not having fallen for a while, had my 13th fall just before the rocks, then, as if to avoid the unlucky 13th, had my 14th about ten minutes later. The first one was innocuous, though the second gave me a whack on the hip.

I had told Mark where I hoped we could meet and was little surprised at how rural the road actually was when I got there. As a consequence, I didn’t hold out much hope that he’d be able to find it but, of course, I stayed there to see if he would.

Just before the road, I discovered a veritable treasure trove of Trail Magic that is replenished every day by a man and his dog (though I’m guessing the dog is more of a spectator than a replenisher). I helped myself to a drink, a banana, an orange and two donuts while I waited.

In the interim, a car drove up and a young couple came out and approached me with a free coke which, of course, I accepted. They were part of a support team for a southbounder who was trying to set a record for the trip and they were responsible for filming part of his journey. He was raising $100,000 for an orphanage in Uganda, after which, he was moving to Uganda with his wife and child and fostering two of the children. Now that is walking the walk.

The young couple who approached me were also interviewing other hikers for their documentary as background, so they asked me a few questions for their film. We were just finishing up when Mark and his lovely partner, Sue, drove up, with Sue’s two daughters. I was so delighted to see them and we had a great chat and had a couple of pictures together. They had bought me some snacks, pretty much most of which had been eaten before the day was over. Mark seemed to have thought that we could pop into a local restaurant and have a nice little lunch, though by the time he got to me, he’d realized that “we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Once more, I was humbled by the time and effort that people have taken in coming to see me and their continuing interest in my adventure. If that doesn’t lift your spirit, then nothing will.

I left Mark and thankfully had an easy journey to my meeting place with Barry at Lehigh Gap, luckily running into him as he and his son, Tyler, were hiking up a side trail that crossed the AT just in front of me. Two minutes later and I would have been past his trail, so things couldn’t have worked out better.

I had decided to stay the night nearby, mainly to get my clothes clean and Barry helped me find the wonderful Inn at Jim Thorpe, where both the inn and the town are named after the great Native American Olympian. We had coffee and a snack across the road, where Barry plied me with questions about the hike and I tried to give him thoughtful answers. It was great to reconnect with two friends and allowed me to think about something other than putting one foot in front of the other for a short while.

Alone again, I did my washing, used the Grille Room and had a few beers and tapas before hitting the sack. It had been a great day for me.

Resuming the following morning where Barry had picked me up, I crossed the bridge and gazed up at the climb out of Palmerton, reputedly the toughest stretch on the AT south of New Hampshire. Palmerton had been a Superfund site, seemingly polluted beyond redemption, yet it was now growing back and providing a challenge to hikers at its very beginning.

I absolutely loved it! There was plenty of rock climbing and hand over hand climbing that involved putting away my poles and simply hauling myself up over rocks. I tried to record as much as I could, but this short video clearly shows my exhilaration.

At the top of this little test, I really got into video mode, as the hike was absolutely stunning, along a gorgeous ridge with open views to the countryside and towns. It even provided me with what I’d always imagined the trail to be, with long, easy ridges, expansive views, plenty of sunshine and smooth terrain. I even referred to it as the trail that I had expected.

Then, yet another view that I had to film, with a new word to augment my normal stock of words. It really was a wonderful morning.

I even got a bit environmental on you all!

Then, of course, it all went wrong.

I was loving every moment and moving along effortlessly when, suddenly and without warning, I slipped on some mud that propelled me forward and onto my front, shoving my face into the ground but, more importantly, using my elbow to stop myself on the rocks. The elbow took a real thump and I struggled to my feet to see if any damage was done. The elbow had taken quite a cut and it was fairly deep, with mud and grit embedded inside. Fortunately, I have a first aid kit, so I tried to repair the damage as best I could, yet it was throbbing and all the wonderful momentum had been extinguished.

Diane always likes to know what is going on, so I called her to let her know that I had fallen and had cut myself and was a little shaken up. In circumstances very similar to those at Duncannon a week or so previously, I then totally missed a turn in the path while speaking with her and wandered at least a half mile down a hill, only to realize my mistake and have to slog back up the path.

I eventually came to a road and stopped for lunch, feeling a little sorry for myself. Through the trees, I spotted the word “resort” and wondered if they might have some peroxide I could put on the cut. I wandered about 200 yards to the entry, only to see that it was a ski resort and that there was at least a mile walk uphill to the resort itself. Just then, as so often happens on the trail, a guy in a truck pulled up and offered to run me to the top. His name was Jethro and he was an engineer working on the project. I told him what I was looking for and he led me to the first aid room, found peroxide, sprayed the wound, gave me several band aids then ran me back to where I had been having lunch. Wonderful. I was still there ten minutes later when he skidded to a halt and jumped out to give me back my Nalgene bottle that must have fallen out I the back of his truck. The capacity for kindness is found so often on the trail, yet often missing from everyday interaction.

While still eating lunch, I was joined by Wilderness Hawk and his wife, Cinnamon Girl, along with their friend, Tee Bird. They were very engaging and wanted a drink, which was fine by me, so I joined them when they spotted a guy in a truck who seemed happy to take us to find a bar. Unfortunately, we were still in pretty much a rural area and the best we could find was an ice cream shop, which was a poor alternative, though we all took that alternative gratefully.

Getting back to the trail head seemed just as easy, as two of the shop customers stepped up to drive us back and I spent the next three hours hiking with my new friends. I was eager to get to the Leroy Smith Shelter, so moved ahead while they took a break, encountering more trail magic on a road just before the shelter. Once more, just as a drink was needed.

The following morning, my arm was starting to worry me a little, particularly given my brush with cellulitis in late May, so I looked online for an Urgent Care facility to put my mind (and Diane’s) at ease. Fortunately, there was one in Wind Gap, so I bit the bullet and walked nearly two miles into town from the trail. The doctor decided, given that earlier incident, to treat the wound as if it might develop into cellulitis and gave me the same awful antibiotics and bound the wound more carefully. Never one to miss the eating opportunities inherent in a town, I quickly found a pizza joint nearby and indulged myself in this guilt-free pleasure once more.

Happily, I was able to get a lift back to the trail and met St Rick again and hiked for the rest of the day with him until we got to Kirkridge Shelter, just six miles short of Delaware Water Gap and the end of Rocksylvania. The Maine sisters and J-Rex were leaving as we got there and told us that there was a campsite with a great view just a third of a mile ahead. We considered leaving and seeing if there was space, but in the end we stayed and had a quiet evening.

The following morning, I quickly came upon that campsite and, boy, how I wish I had moved on to it. It was gorgeous and had plenty of room for many more tenters.

Oh well, some you win…..

Talking of winning, just outside Delaware Water Gap, we all ran into Sugar Mama, who hosts the best trail magic seen by any of us thus far. She had everything, from hot food, to fruit, to drinks to supplies and all of it was free to thru-hikers. Her daughter had tried the hike in 2012 and Sug, as she shortens her name, does this to give back to those also thru-hiking. It was glorious. However, I had a mission, which was to get to the Post Office and get not only my food drop, but also my new boots.

This turned out to be nearer than I had thought and, less than ten minutes later, I was standing in my new size 14s and pushing yet more food into my two food bags. A quick limeade in an Haitian fusion restaurant enabled me to recharge my phone and I was off into New Jersey, hiking up and out of town, eager to say goodbye to Pennsylvania and hopeful that the rocks would soon fade away.

I should also mention that I recorded my 16th fall of the trip and my 4th in about three days.

However, prior to making the climb, I was eager to let you all in on what I believe to be a very unlikely record that I had been keeping secret for the past 220 miles.

At the top, I came across this gorgeous pond and took time out to record it, as well as take a pic that landed on Facebook.

With my new boots behaving impeccably, I made good time and got to the Mohican Outdoor Center after a 17 mile day, setting up my tent next to a young couple, Mark and Sarah (how strange to be using real names!), who invited me to join them for proper food, as they were only camping for two days. It was delicious after night after night of pasta or rice. They were fascinated by the hike and pumped me with questions until it was dark.

This morning, in my haste to get 18 miles and into a motel to watch the British Open golf championship tomorrow morning, I set out early and discovered the unexpected beauty that is New Jersey. I hadn’t been expecting too much, but the sheer beauty of it all took me by surprise, continuing rocks notwithstanding. Given how industrial NJ is supposed to be, they have certainly kept some wilderness for people to enjoy.

I’m afraid that this post has gone far too long and I will certainly try to post a little more regularly going forward. However, it is a recap of the week or so since I last caught up and I had so many videos to include.

For those of you still reading, thanks for sticking with it. At the end of this trip, I’ll have an imperfect record of my adventure, but will also have my journal to flesh it out more if I need to. What I hope it reflects is an incredible voyage of discovery for me as a person in tackling things that had previously been beyond my experience, as well as giving you, the reader, a chance to see a taste of what I see and meet some of the kind, and not so kind, characters I’ve met along the way.

Until next time.