Mass Redemption

As an addendum to our post about Great Barrington, it seems the rest of Massachusetts does not suffer from such indifference to hikers. As a matter of fact, we love New England now. So much we're moving quite slowly through it.

First Wife: you're absolutely right. New Englanders have been nothing but wonderful to us since the debacle in G.B.. Apparrently Tanglewood, the usual theatre stuff, and an arts fest were all going on that weekend, so we must've just hit town at the wrong time. It's really our own fault for banking on a shower without calling ahead. We really ought to get a phone.

Many thanks to Rob at the Bird Cage in Dalton, MA, with whom we spent several days and to whom we are especially grateful for the wonderful hospitality. To all hikers: If you're passing through Dalton, definitely check out the Bird Cage, which is Rob's house. Go to the Sunoco station in town and ask the attendant how to get there (Rob owns the gas station, and the folks there usually know how to get in touch with him). Thanks also to Mountan Squid for all the rides and the good company.

And thanks most recently to our friends Jack, Tim, and Irene - though not New Englanders, they are Englishes, so I suppose that's close enough. They came to visit us in VT with their RV, and we camped with them for several nights. In the daytime they hiked a bit with us, then slackpacked us so we could keep the miles up. In the evenings we ate, drank, and relaxed at a number of campgrounds between Manchester Center and Killington. Many thanks for your hospitality and an excellent time.

Where are our photos?

We've had no luck in locating a computer where we can upload our photos to the website. But we have some great shots! We think that the next hostel we stay at might have a computer that would work. So stay tuned for those. As it stands we are plugging our way through Vermont, with the help of Jack, Tim and Irene the Poodle. They just left us this morning, as they travel on towards Maine. As they are traveling in a camper, they will arrive much sooner than we will. However, we have reached the 500 mile mark - that is to say, we have less than 500 miles to go before Mt. Katahdin. We've been meeting lots more Southbounders, as well as those hiking Vermont's Long Trail. Our health and spirits are good, and we are looking forward to the White Mountains, where it snows in July!


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Shout out to those following this blog...

We'd like to say thank you to the staff of the Allison Park Post Office, who help my parents with the mail drops. We couldn't do it without you!

Also, get well soon to First Wife, we were so relieved to hear that you are on the mend!

To those who are reading, don't be shy about leaving comments, so we know who you are. It gives us motivation to continue! Click on "comments" which is at the bottom of the post. If you don't have an account and password you can click the button that says Other or Anonymous, and you don't have to enter one.


Vermont: Slippery When Wet

After climbing the final mountain in Massachusetts, Mt. Greylock, in fog and heavy rain, we crossed another state line and began our journey through the Green Mountains. Here, the AT joins the Long Trail, the grand-daddy of long distance trails. Vermont is lovely and green and lush...and very, very muddy. Several days of rain had not yet soaked into the ground the trail still had standing water, as well as vast, black mud pits that made a distinctive "sploosh" noise as our boots sank in. Last weekend was dry and warm, and in addition to enjoying a marvelous view from a fire tower, we also enjoyed the trail drying out a bit. By Monday, however, it began to rain again...a fine misty rain that seemed to fall from the sky and rise from the earth all at once. My glasses fogged enough to turn Vermont into a blurry, enchanted-looking forest; I half-expected an aged wizard or tiny gnome to appear through the mist.

We began to meet some southbounders this week - almost 600 miles into their journey from Katahdin to Springer. They have endured three solid weeks of rain. We treat each other with equal amounts of admiration - they admire us for the sheer duration of our journey (almost 1,600 miles), we admire them because they have traversed the most difficult terrain of the AT.

We're stripping down our packs again to reduce weight and prepare for the upcoming 4,000 foot climbs, so Mom and Dad, expect to get some more packages of random hiking gear we thought we needed. Some items already discarded include a 16 oz bottle of Mr. Bubbles, a James Brown CD, 200 feet of rope, and a 10 X 12 tarp.

We're about to link up with Jack and Tim (Jack's dad), who will hopefully help us to get moving through Vermont, a la slackpack.


Connecticut - Massachusetts

After we left Kent, we made it several miles up and over a mountain in rather high temperatures (naturally we left Kent at high noon, just in time for the worst heat). Luckily for us, there was a lengthy section of the trail along the Ten Mile River, which was very level and easy walking. When we stopped for dinner at the shelter, we discovered that we could easily make it into Cornwall Bridge, where we stayed at the Hitching Post Motel, and waited out some rain, which ended up being not that bad in that area, but flooded parts of Vermont. After resting in Cornwall Bridge, we really turned on our jets in the hopes of making some noticeable progress through New England. We did two 20+ mile days, including a day from the Plateau Campsite near Salisbury, CT up and over three rather steep and difficult climbs over Lions Head and Bear Mountain, Race Mountain and Mt. Everett, which offered beautiful views over the valleys and towards the Catskill Mountains. We walked past a race track that Paul Newman reportedly used at one point. It was strange to be walking through the forest and listening to the sounds of cars racing around in circles.

Once in Massachusetts, we intended to stop at Great Barrington, and I'll let M tell the story of why it is now known as Awful Barrington. Needless to stay, we did not get a shower there, as we wanted. It all worked out in the end, though, because we ended up taking two shorter days to get to Upper Goose Pond Cabin, where they actually cook you pancakes for breakfast! At the cabin, we were reunited with a hiker, Golden Boy, who started from Springer Mountain the very same day we did, but we haven't seen since Port Clinton, PA. He convinced us to do a 20 mile day into Dalton, MA, and I'm really glad this is the town we ended up stopping in. We are staying at the famous Bird Cage hostel - not published in any official ATC books, but well-known by trail folk, nonetheless. The owner of the hostel, Rob, is a great guy - very cheerful and funny and he knows exactly what hikers want. We got a fantastic shower, clean laundry, clothes to wear while our laundry was being done (because who wants to wear rain gear in 90 degree weather while you're waiting for your undies to dry?), and a comfortable bed. Rob has a very large lab/pit mix named Tinker, who is very friendly.

Our plan is to take a few days to get into Vermont, where we will meet up with our friend from Pittsburgh, Jack and his dad, Tim.

The AT is definitely getting harder, and I have to admit that the thought of coming home now crosses my mind more than once a day. After all, we've already walked 1,554 miles over amazing country, met wonderful people, and had the adventure of a lifetime. Do I really need to see Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine? Whenever I see thunderheads piling up on the horizon, and we are about to head over a ridge, I think, if I were at home I would not be so concerned about getting struck by lightning. When it has been five days since my last shower and my hiking clothes are stiff and white with salt streaks, I remember a time when I put on clean clothes...every day. During lunch breaks of hummus or peanut butter on tortillas - which we have been eating every day for almost five months - I dream of salad. And when I'm going up a mountain that seems to last forever, sweating so profusely that my eyes sting and my nose starts to bleed from the salt I am inhaling, I think that it is not possible for me to be doing this. However, it is really hard to quit hiking on the side of the mountain. No place to go...you may as well just go over the stupid thing and quit on the other side where there is a town or a road. Luckily, by the time I summit the mountain, my spirits are lifted and I no longer want to quit. I want to keep going. I want to get to Maine.

Not-So-Great Barrington (and points north)

"Sorry Hon, It's the Berkshires".

I never thought that sentence would pass my ears, let alone break my heart. As it were, we'd hightailed a couple of long, tough, high-mile days out of Connecticut in the summer heat, all in the hopes of obtaining inexpensive laundry, shower, bed, and maybe even some continental B in the heart of western Massachusetts as a lowly reward. Up and over Lion's Head, then Bear Mountain (CT), then Mount Everett and on through the mosquito clouded boggy mess below. Down treacherous slick rock descents and through ankle-deep mud. All we thought of was the rest and satiety that was to come from food and sleep. In town.

Alas, Great Barrington was NOT 1.8 miles from the trail crossing, as our trusted Thru-Hikers Companion instructed. Perhaps the very edge of town, but there wasn't much there until at least 3 miles or so. Perhaps it just seemed farther from the sun-induced fatigue, or the ample quantity of blood so lovingly donated to New England's burgeoning mosquito population. No affluent Berkshire-visiting New-Englanders so much as slowed down for the outstretched thumbs of what must have looked like a couple of smelly vagrants with really nice outdoors gear. Was it possible our beloved book could lead us so astray?

Upon reaching the 'town' part of town, we waited patiently for the man at the counter of the Days Inn to berate a customer on the telephone, and for two other cleanish parties to check in. We asked hopefully if there were any rooms left, to which the reply was, "I've got two rooms left, they're double-queens, and smoking. By which I mean SMOKING.". Clearly we were not welcome. Perhaps our rude appearance had been interpreted as an affront. "How much?"... "$185. Plus Tax.". My heart sank for the second time (first being the longer than anticipated road walk). The whole reason we'd made the non-inconsequential trip in was that the book quoted rates in town from $55 to $70. No mention of multi-hundred dollar Days Inn was made. We left to seek out better options.

Fortunately, our saving grace was within sight. A kiosk! For Visitors! We were certainly these. I went inside, waited for some overweight retired-looking men to finish discussing cigars, wine, and theater with each other, and approached the operator of the kiosk. Was the Days Inn an abberation? It seemed not. Was there anywhere else? The whole town was full, except maybe one motel, way on the other side of town. The Kiosk-operator kindly phoned the hotel's owner, explained the presence of two weary, light-pocketed hikers, and he asked how much we wanted to pay. Not knowing what to say, I stared blankly. Lowest he could go would be $125. Cab fare to and from the other end of town, plus paying for breakfast would certainly make up the difference between this and the other lodging we had already declined. And that's when the kiosk-er uttered the abhorrent and unexpected sentence.

So Great Barrington turned out to be not-so-great. Or perhaps Awful, as I shall heretofore refer to this pricey little slice of yuppie hell for all time to come. Awful Barrington. I blame the wealthy, for the sheer economics of being willing to pay $200 to hang out in a glorified air-conditioned truckstop motel in the Massachusetts hills. I blame the Thru-Hikers Companionfor it's misleading mileages and rate-quotes (how was I supposed to know that 'higher weekends' meant 'triple-to-quadruple price'?).

But mostly I blame myself, for putting so much stock in a town stay. Showers and laundry are overrated anyhow. You're dirty and sweat-drenched within 20 minutes of hitting the trail. And in the end, it all worked out well... The Corn Crib, Upper Goose Pond Cabin, and Dalton are fantastic. Many thanks to all. Except you, Awful Barrington.


Some Special Events

There are some special events going on at home that we celebrate from afar. First, a very Happy Birthday to both Jamie and Danna. It would be hard for us to be any farther from you physically and still be in the same country, but we are thinking about you!

Congratulations to my cousin, Ryan, who graduated from high school recently. Have a great senior summer and good luck in college!

Also, congratulations to M's sister Mary, who just got her first post-college job. We know you'll do well!


Shout Out...

Thanks to No Worries for the "trail gossip" phone message - we miss you and Blazer, and hope to run into you again sometime.

I Know We Said NYC Was the Last Diversion, But...

My long-lost cousin Logan lives in Connecticut now, and he drove to the far reaches of the state to bring us from the trail to civilization. When I think that we could be sitting on a rock somewhere in 95 degree heat, mosquitoes drowning in our sweat (after they bite us, of course), but instead are in an air-conditioned apartment in Hartford (after spending the afternoon in a swimming pool), I am even more grateful than usual for my wonderful family.

I think Logan takes the cake for making the longest drive to the trail to get us. This is sort of our fault, as we thought Connecticut was a rather small state. However, we did not realize that Hartford is pretty much as far as you can get from Kent, and still be in Connecticut. Upon arriving in Kent, CT, Logan exclaimed, "this is all Kent has to offer?!" This of course, in reference to the giant cow statues at the main crossroads of the town.

Despite the lengthy drive, we had a great time catching up on the way here, and it was wonderful to hear all the exciting new things that Logan is doing. We are about to go eat some Italian food with Logan and his girlfriend, Shannon. Stay tuned for more adventures.

Officially in New England

We made it across the border into Connecticut yesterday on a very long, very hot, 20 mile hike over every blessed mountain this region has to offer. The trail in Connecticut is pretty similar to that in New York. The mountains are not terribly tall, although we did make a 1,000 foot climb yesterday. We have not seen as much wildlife. The trail is rocky in places, but we have also enjoyed some flat and soft footpath as well. Yesterday we saw the Dover Oak, the biggest tree on the AT with a 2 foot diameter. The biggest difference is that we are walking through a lot of wetlands areas, and the trail clubs have sunk boulders to walk on or laid planks through these areas. Another interesting thing we saw yesterday was Bulls Bridge, a covered bridge that dates from the early 1800s. The trail followed the turbulent Housatonic River for a ways, and there were plenty of people out enjoying the water, since the temperatures soared into the upper 90s yesterday. The last 7 miles of our day were the most difficult, with extremely steep sections, but we made it into the Mt. Algo Shelter with enough time to enjoy a dinner while watching a group of young teenagers on their first backpacking adventure. We noticed this morning that their tent appeared to collapse overnight, but they were in such good spirits yesterday that I'm sure this will not faze them in the least.


One More Excursion

The trail passes pretty close to New York City, so we decided to spend the Fourth there with our friend, Thom. Highlights of the excursion included satisfying my craving for falafel at several Middle Eastern restaurants; a visit to the Strand, a well-known bookstore that advertises 18 miles of books; and a trip to the banks of the East River to watch fireworks. While in town, we also got to hang out with Alex, another friend from college. In this photo, M and Thom are enjoying a knish at Zabar's, a Jewish deli that was absolutely packed (like everything in this city).

We're headed back out to the trail to bang out some miles through the remainder of New York. The weather is a bit drizzly, but no severe storms are in the forecast.


Confront Your Fears, Before They Confront You

I don't consider myself a particularly nervous or skittish person, but there are a number of things in the natural world that I find absolutely terrifying. Some of those things I'm slowly starting to come to grips with. For instance, I was rather terrified of snakes, mainly because I pictured an agonizing death scene if I were unfortunate to be bitten by one. One way I confront my fears is to do some research to find out more about the real versus perceived dangers surrounding them. Unfortunately, the good old internet only turned up the useless warning to get to a hospital within 30 minutes of a snake bite. While the AT is not too far removed from civilization, this would be pretty darn near impossible. Luckily, I recently met thru-hiker, Green Hornet, a former reptile breeder, who was chock-full of information about venemous snakes. As it turns out, you have a good 12 to 18 hours to get to the hospital, and most bites are not even fatal. Painful yes, but not fatal. For some reason I find this incredibly reassuring. I still watch where I step.

Another one of my fears is lightening. I really hate being in storms, and I especially hate being outdoors in storms. Put me on a ridge in a storm, and I'm pretty much out of my mind. Unfortunately, this happened to us last week while we were in High Point State Park. The temperature was climbing into the 90s, as we climbed rocky ridge after rocky ridge. We finally came out to an outcropping that overlooked the lake where we were heading for an afternoon swim break. All of a sudden a giant lightning bolt struck the lake, splintering out across the surface, and accomplanied with a resounding boom that echoed through the valley. It was still sunny at that point and we had no idea that a massive storm system was moving across the country. Then the clouds started to roll in and the thunder got louder and more frequent. We kept moving, but the trail was taking us higher and higher. Our data book had some incorrect mileage information so we had no idea how long it would take us to get to the ranger station.

As the storm moved in, we made the decision, largely due to my own overwhelming terror, to stop and wait the storm out. We moved as low as possible, which wasn't very low and took off our packs and sat away from our metal trek poles. The storm moved right in over top of the mountain, basically the highest point in New Jersey. The lightening and thunder were continuous, and very close. The rain came down in sheets, soaking us through within seconds, and the air temperature dropped immediately. Another hiker soon joined us. My terror turned to numbness, as I realized we probably should have kept going...we were in at least as much danger sitting still up there. By then, the rocky trail had transformed into a stream and it would be a treacherous descent. After, what felt like an eternity, but was probably about 30 minutes, the rain and lightning let up somewhat, and we headed the rest of the way over the ridge. Shaken and shivering, we soon made it to the ranger station, only to find out similar storms were expected for the rest of the day. No swimming at the lake for us! We ended up checking into a motel, while I sat watching the weather channel for the rest of the evening. Every hiker we ran into over the next few days had a terrifying story about at least one of the storms from that cold front. M and I pay attention to the weather reports, and usually don't hike in severe weather, but sometimes it sneaks up on you. I haven't heard anything reassuring about lightning, though, so unlike the snakes, I still consider it one of my biggest fears.


Gear We Love

It's not the gear that will get you to Maine, but it sure does help to have stuff you like, when you have to live with it, day in and day out.

Darn Tough Socks - These socks are not cheap ($16-$20 a pair), but M and I each got a couple of pairs in Damascus, nearly 1,000 miles ago, and I have full confidence that they will get us to Maine and beyond. Unlike the REI hiking socks that we started out with, these show no wear in the heel area. They don't retain too much odor and they dry pretty quickly in the sun. For some reason, they never seem to get totally dry in the clothes dryer, though.

Alcohol Stove - M made a number of different alcohol stoves out of beer cans and JB Weld before we left, and we are still pleased with this set-up. We haven't had trouble finding fuel anywhere, and, at worst, the stove sometimes needs to be primed in very cool or humid weather. Boiling time for 2 cups of water is somewhere around 6-8 minutes. We don't even lust after the Jet Boil anymore. These stoves don't last indefinitely, but they are cheap and easy to make. We are on our second stove.

Thermarest Sleeping Pads - We each have a pad from the Fast and Light series. Yes, they're heavier than the foam ones, but they keep you dry from wet ground and are oh-so-comfortable. They also have a lifetime warranty, including punctures.

Leki Trek Poles - We didn't start out the trip with trek poles, but we are definitely going to end with them. I have a pair of Makalu Titanium poles that are incredibly light and very strong. When carrying a heavy load over rough terrain, I often feel a little unbalanced, and it's great to have the additional support. In addition, we use our trek poles to fight off aggressive dogs and to pitch our tarp. Why not just use a stick? Leki's are designed with ergonomic handles and straps so that you don't have to grip the actual pole all day long. They are adjustable, and telescope down small enough so that I can strap them onto my pack when we are in town. Using two poles helps you maintain a pace up steep hills. I wouldn't bother with trek poles if I didn't have a pack on - so for post-AT day hikes, I'll leave 'em at home.

The jury's out on most of the rest of my gear. Everything else I carry is either not exactly what I want, too heavy, or flawed in some way. It'll get me to Maine, but I wouldn't advise anybody to rush out and buy it.