All posts by Jason

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Six Months Post-Trail

Wow, I can’t believe I have been off-trail for nearly 6 months now!  The anniversary of my start date is next week, and I have so many mixed emotions, memories and thoughts. A few people have contacted me, asking how things were going now and what I was planning next. While I don’t have all the answers, let me answer what I can…

“Where are you now?”

First and foremost, I am back in Maryland. I spent a good 2-3 weeks with my parents, in Michigan, but knew I needed a paycheck. I was able to obtain a job with my previous employer, similar to what I was doing before I left, although at a slight demotion. But at that point, a paycheck was a paycheck, so I took the job. I don’t know how long I will stay in Maryland, but for now, I am here. I have also continued my membership with the ambulance service I volunteer with, providing whatever level of EMS skill I can to the situation at hand. Unfortunately, that mean the beard had to go.  I do miss it, though.  I am trying to better myself, while still trying to find myself. I will admit that the draw of Colorado, Florida, New York City, Vermont, and Paris have each danced in my head at some point… contradictory to each other, one of these may be my next destination. Who knows.

Bye bye beard

Bye bye beard

My first straight razor shave

My first straight razor shave

 

Back to work

Back to work

“How are you doing?  Are you settling back in?”

Well, the canned answer is “Yeah, for the most part…”  But the reality of it is, no, not at all.  When I got off trail, it quickly became apparent that most people expected me to be “the same” as before I left, fitting back in to my previous lifestyle.   But I wasn’t, I am not, the same, and don’t want that exact lifestyle.  I spend most of my time trying not only to define who I am now, but to figure out how to incorporate who I am now, post-trail, with who I was and the life I led pre-trail, to find a balance of the two.  And it’s hard to talk about to anyone who hasn’t done something like this, because as much as they want to be there to help, they really have no clue what I am going through internally.  Most days, I walk through tasks like I’m floating in the middle of the ocean – I’m treading water, my head is above the surface, but there’s no rescue ship or land in sight… And while I know everyone expects me to have a great “Come to Jesus” ending, it just hasn’t happened that way for me… not yet, anyways.

“What was your favorite part?”

That would be like asking which star is your favorite in the sky. I had so many wonderful memories, and as the physical pain of the trip fades from memory, those positive memories are growing stronger and stronger. I loved our night on Max Patch. Smoky Mountain National Park was beautiful. Vermont was amazing, as was Maine. I will return to the Whites one day, although to hike the numerous other trails in the area. Hands down, my favorite three days were the days hiking with my dad – we didn’t have any terrific views, the hills were a tad monotonous, but hiking with my original backpacking partner again was a great experience. And I am sure as I go through my camera and review photos, I will have a million more “great memories”.

“What’s next?”

Oye. Who knows. I won’t say a long hike isn’t in my future, but it’s not in my immediate future. I have other things I want to do first. I’ve toyed with selling everything off, buying an old sailboat, and sailing the world for a year or some other epic trip like that. I’ve always wanted to earn my pilot’s license. The PCT is something I have been reading up on. I’ve recently become interested in yoga, and have been invited to attend a Yoga Teacher Training course next summer. And I would love to become a Scuba Instructor. But ultimately, all of these take money I just don’t have. Truth be told, my thru hike was far more expensive than I had planned for and it will be a long, long while before I feel financially secure again. So for now, all “dreams” are on hold and I am just trying to stay afloat without losing my sanity… or filing bankruptcy.

For now, Harley Bear and I will settle for day hikes.

For now, Harley Bear and I will settle for day hikes.

Announcement

With that in mind, it saddens me to announce that I will be closing down this website, effective mid-April when my service contract expires. While this has been a fun tool for me to stay motivated, it comes at a cost – an annually recurring cost for which I do not make any money from and do not have the money to dedicate to. I have already copied down all of my posts, and if I ever restart the blog, I can upload them back into the history, but for now, this will be my last post here. I may look into free blog hosting sites, but so far, have not been impressed with any of them.

I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you. For those who followed my blog, thank you. For those who followed along via social media, for those who sent me care packages, financial donations, well wishes, and support, thank you. For those who waited at home and were always available with an uplifting phone call or text, thank you. For all who left me a comment, email, text, or letter in an effort to encourage and uplift me, thank you. You have all helped to form and shape this trip, from planning to completion, and I am eternally grateful for each of you.

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Remember to always Spin the Compass. I hope to see you out on the trail soon…

Baxter Peak, 5.2 miles.

Top 23 Things I Learned While On the Trail

I am often asked what I learned on trail and while I am still sorting out the bigger “life” aspects, here are the Top 23 things I learned ABOUT the trail while ON the trail. Enjoy!

1. The brighter and more frequent the white blazes are, the closer to a road you are.

2. When your boots are wet, just walk down the middle of the trail, straight through the puddle. It’s softer and flatter than the rocks on the side of the trail.

3. There are two general crowds out here: the outdoor crowd and the party crowd. And while there is some crossover, it’s best if the two segregate themselves. Preferably by a mountain or two.

4. Eat your heaviest foods first. Especially if they are high in calories.

5. Taking pictures of views with some trees in the foreground only produces lots of close up pictures of trees.

6. If a rock, log, leaf pile, etc. looks stable, assume it’s not. It will most likely roll over on you.

7. Hiking poles are required equipment, even if only going to the water source. Those that don’t have them quickly acquire them.

8. There is something very unholy about sitting on a privy and having cold wind rush up your bum.

9. When it’s muddy out, take small steps. Otherwise, the trail will become a slalom course as you slide down the trail.

10. When someone passes you on an uphill, don’t watch them. Knowing how steep the trail gets is demoralizing.

11. Stairs are the most demoralizing and depressing thing humans have ever invented.

12. Trail trolls are real. They live under roots and rock crevices along the trail. They grab poles and don’t let go until you do.

13. I don’t like walking in groups. People inevitably slow down or stop to take pictures just as you look away from the back of their pack, causing you to smash into them.

14. Rain is temporary. When it rains, just put your head down and keep walking. Sooner or later, the sun will come out and the views will be amazing. Works the same with pain.

15. I hate being tall. Kneeling over to get under fallen trees. Spider webs in your face, even when you’re at the back of the group. Branches hitting you in the face because the trail maintainers are obviously shorter.

16. Differences are ok. We each come from different backgrounds and educations, and we each have different reasons for being out here. Either accept these differences or move on, but don’t force your reasons on me.

17. Hiking alone is ok. Actually, it’s good. It helps with focus, self-development and reflection.

18. When hiking in groups, EVERYTHING will take more time. A simple “5-minute pee break” will turn into a 2-hour lunch break/nap time/might as well just set up camp for the night.

19. Taking pictures is ok but remember to look at the view too. Too many people live life through a viewfinder and don’t ever experience the world. This was hard for me to learn, or accept, but I am so glad I did.

20. Slow down to spend time with a loved one. It’s the memories, not the miles, that are important.

21. All distances listed in any guidebook are measured on a flat map and in straight lines. They don’t take elevation change into account, nor the never-ending serpentine twists the trail inevitably takes.

22. This trip costs more than just money. It’s emotions, energy, friendships, love and stability, all of which can be washed away like the dust on my boots.

23. Hike until you can physically touch the shelter. When you look up and see the shelter 100 yards off and start to think the day is finally over…  That’s when you will trip, fall, run into something or otherwise ruin a good day.

And there you have it…  Hope you enjoyed my list of learnings.  Now get out there and go hike!

Done.

The Last State

Here it is – my last blog post of my AT2015 thru hike.  Thank you to everyone for your patience, support and guidance.  Without you, I never could have made it this far.  Without further ado, here it is!

Day 188 – DWG
Miles: 0

I slept in until 7 this morning. The boys were loud last night so I didn’t sleep great. I packed up and checked the weather – bad storms are due here in the afternoon. I went to the post office but my resupply box still wasn’t there. I texting my parents, and decided to zero today, to let my legs rest, the weather pass, and my box to arrive. I walked to the Village Farmer for breakfast, texting some friends. Afterwards, I walked back to the church and chatted with one of the young SOBOs, then settled into the couch to read my kindle… a lot. I walked to the gas station later and got some drinks and a new cell phone charger cord, since mine has been going on the fritz. Then back to the church for more reading. The four boys rented a car and went to Stroudsburg for the day, so I had peace and quiet, which was wonderful. I like having people around to chat, but sometimes, the noise is a little overwhelming. I checked the post office again before they closed and the box still wasn’t there. I probably have enough to get to Hamburg, but I’d like the resupply, just to make sure. What a pain our mail service can be sometimes. I called home and then turned in.

Day 189 – Delaware Water Gap to Leroy Smith Shelter
Miles: 20.2

I did not get great sleep last night. The hostel was loud and crowded, with a few other hikers coming in later in the evening. I got up and packed as much as I could while I waited for post office to open. My package was there, and was way more than I needed, but I rushed to repack and get on trail, leaving the hostel at 9. It was a cool day, with a slight breeze, but the sky was a beautiful deep blue with barely any clouds in it. The trail was decent leaving DWG, although the hill was a little long. But soon enough, the “rocks of Pennsylvania” showed up and were an ankle-twisting nightmare. There were lots of little ups and downs and side to sides, too. Looking at the rocks, they weren’t that bad, there were just so many of them it was hard to walk. You can’t find a rhythm, a pace, or a cadence. Some are flat, others pointed, some move, some are solid. It’s just mentally exhausting because you have to scan constantly, watching for each step. Somewhere in the morning, I saw a gorgeous blue and gold biplane fly overhead. I heard the big radial engine long before I saw it. It was great. When the trail crossed Wind Gap, the trail clubs must have switched, because the trail became very overgrown and unmaintained, which sucked because the rocks became loose, almost like shale, and with the weeds overgrown, it was hard to see anything. I caught my toe once and the shoe ripped, so my right shoe is a flip flop already. Lovely. But I still got to the shelter by 4:45. I contemplated moving on further, but decided to stay. There was a father, Jeff, and his son, Dan, there, just out for the weekend, but it was good to chat with them. There was a lot of people around, too, because of the three-day weekend. I am not looking forward to tomorrow’s planned 23 miles, though, at all.

This is the trail!

This is the trail!

My new "flip flops"

My new “flip flops”

Loving the color in the trees

Loving the color in the trees

 

Day 190 – Leroy Smith Shelter to PA-873/Lehigh Gap
Miles: 16.2

I was up early, to pack and prepare for the long day. I was slowed a little by talking with Dan and Jeff, but that’s ok. The trail started decent enough, following a fire road for a while. But then the rocks came. And did they ever. Big rocks. Small rocks. They all sucked. But I found my groove for getting through them and charged on. Going through the Superfund was an odd experience. It was not what I expected, but was still beautiful in its own right. While walking along the ridge, I stopped to watch a tow plane taking a glider to altitude, then watched the glider for a few minutes. I would love to get my pilot license, and learning to fly a glider would be amazing, too. I stopped to eat lunch at Little Gap, sitting on a big rock in the parking lot. While eating, Dan came rushing up, trying to catch me. He invited me to his family’s BBQ (free food!) so we hiked to the bottom of Lehigh Gap and waited for his dad to catch up. We chatted a lot about thru hiking and gear, as Dan would like to hike when he graduates college. Jeff came to the parking lot about 5, and we drove to their house. I got introductions to the family, a shower, and then enjoyed an amazing BBQ. Their family and friends were really supportive and curious about my hike, talking for a long time. Dan’s girlfriend came over and they disappeared about 8. Jeff opened his humidor to me and we had a drink while watching football and talking some more. A late night, but quite enjoyable.

Typical Pennsylvania

Typical Pennsylvania

Selfie at Little Gap

Selfie at Little Gap

 

Day 191 – PA-873/Lehigh Gap to Eckville Shelter
Miles: 24.7

It was a short night. We all woke at 6:45 for breakfast. Jeff dropped Dan and I off at the road at 7:30, and we slack packed into the woods. Dan keeps a pretty good pace for someone who doesn’t get out hiking much. We chatted about life, college and hiking a lot. The trail was more of the same. Some good, lots of rocks. I only tripped once and didn’t fall, which was pretty good considering I was distracted by the conversation. The day was beautiful, warmer and clear skies, but the breeze was a bit cool. Jeff picked Dan up at PA-309, and I got my full pack back. We said goodbyes and I continued on. I got to the shelter about 6 and was all alone tonight. I filtered water and cooked dinner, lot in thought. It gets cold quick once the sun starts going down, so I climbed into bed to warm up. Through some odd text messages, my mood has turned a little down, wondering if anyone in the outside world is even interested in this hike anymore. It just seems that life has moved on without me, and I’m not sure where I fit in anymore, if at all.

Day 192 – Eckville Shelter to PA-61/Hamburg
Miles: 14.5

I slept ok, considering the mood I was in. I woke at 6:15 to cloudy skies, and was on trail by 7:30. The trail was once again same ol’ same ol’. I am so sore and sick of rocks. It started raining lightly about 9:30, more of a misty/sprinkling rain, and lasted until noon or so. I got to town around 2, walked to Walmart for my resupply and then stopped at Cigars International to enjoy a nice cigar, a beer and to order a Red Robin burger. Felt good to be “home”, the most comfortable I had felt in a long time. I was supposed to meet some of the club members here, but they had to cancel. I understand, especially given the two-hour drive for them to get here, but it would’ve been a nice afternoon for us to all catch up. I checked in at the hotel and got a long, hot shower. And my new shoes were waiting for me! I relaxed in the room all afternoon, taking care of some maintenance tasks like back flushing my filter and repairing a rip in my pack. I called home, did a load of laundry, and relaxed as much as I could. I am feeling very defensive about my trip and how it’s gone, but am also feeling under attack for the same, like I let people down by taking so long. And the mood sours more, keeping me up late.

Cigars International - one of my favorite stores!

Cigars International – one of my favorite stores!

Day 193 – PA-61/Hamburg to Hertline Campsite
Miles: 18.8

I did not sleep well at all, but that was expected. I was up before the sun, repacked my bag, got my free hotel breakfast and checked out, leaving the hotel before 8. It was a long uphill road walk back to the trail, with traffic whizzing past, but I got to the trail by 8:10. I stopped at the Port Clinton Barber Shop to deliver message for McGyver, then walked on. The trail climbed very steeply out of Port Clinton and made my legs burn. And from there, the trail seemed especially rocky and tough today, particularly with all the leaves that fell in the rain yesterday and now cover up the smaller rocks. My knees and ankles were throbbing by 10, and my feet felt like they were on fire. My hips are starting to hurt, too, due to my weight loss. My pack just doesn’t fit me anymore. More than once, I felt like I was on the edge of tears because of the pain I was feeling. And my head hurt from concentrating so hard on the trail. The woods were dead today, too, with no birds or squirrels or anything making noise, just the cool air and the wind. Remarkably, though, I got to the campsite about 4:15. I wasn’t sure it was the official campsite, with no signs or anything, but I dropped my pack and walked a little further to confirm a trail crossing. While it was still early, I decided to stay. There was good water running nearby, tent pads, and a decent fire ring to sit at. I set up my tent and filtered water, and was reading my kindle before dinner when a section hiker from Massachusetts walked up. He was very talkative, but didn’t listen very well. He eventually gathered some water and then walked back up trail to a smaller campsite in the woods. I ate dinner alone and then gathered everything into my tent, climbing into bed at 7:15. I journaled a little, sent a few texts, and listened to the acorns falling all around me. It started sprinkling at 9, but thankfully didn’t last long.

Day 194 – Hertline Campsite to Rausch Gap Shelter
Miles: 23.1

Today hurt, plain and simple. I woke at 6:30 with the normal stiff and sore muscles, but when I stood up, my ankles hurt. In fact, my right ankle gave me shooting pain with almost every step all day. And Advil and Tylenol didn’t touch it. I got on trail by 7:30 and about 9:30, I heard the bear bell. Star came running up to me, yipping and jumping. It was so cute. Bookie (who now goes by Gator Tater) was right behind her. We dropped packs and chatted, and I was surprised by how happy I was to see them. Before hand, I was nervous that the hostility would still be there, but it didn’t seem to be. We talked for over an hour, and then I realized I still had 18 miles to go, so we said goodbyes and hiked away in opposite directions. That part was a little weird. For a while, the trail was nice, running along a carriage road. There were some rocks but they were manageable. Then there were some big rocks. Then there were tons of smaller, twist-your-ankle rocks. My feet started to scream and my knees started to lock up, refusing to give to the uneven terrain. It was also borderline cold today. I would sweat a little on the uphills, but my arms and hands were almost always cold. Speaking of hills… PUDs. Except for one or two road crossings, all PUDs. I took lunch just short of William Penn Shelter in a patch of sunlight, the warmest I was all day. As I was going under the I-81 overpass, there was a couple of log benches and… A cooler! I nearly skipped over to it. Inside was joyous junk food and water! I haven’t had on-trail trail magic in a long time and it really hit the spot. Somewhere in the afternoon, I tripped on a rock and fell, landing hard on my hands. I’m not sure, but I think I may have rebroken my wrist. I can use the hand and grab things, but I can’t lean on that pole or push off when standing up with that hand, same as the last time I broke it. Joy of joys. I walked into the shelter at 6, as the light was starting to fade. It’s a pretty neat shelter, sunken into the ground on one side. And the spring is right in front of the shelter, so no need to stockpile water. I filtered water and cooked dinner, then tried to relax some. Unfortunately, as soon as the sun went behind the mountain, it started getting cold fast. By 7:30, I was changed into dry clothes and huddled in my sleeping bag.

Artwork under I-81

Artwork under I-81

There's a trail under those leaves somewhere... a rocky trail.

There’s a trail under those leaves somewhere… a rocky trail.

The Blue Blaze trail into Rausch Gap Shelter.

The Blue Blaze trail into Rausch Gap Shelter.

 

Day 195 – Rausch Gap Shelter to Clark’s Ferry Shelter
Miles: 24.7

I slept ok last night, considering the pain I was in all night. It was a cold night though, but thankfully I was warm enough in my long underwear and zipped-tight sleeping bag. I woke at 6 and started packing in the dark, being ready by 7. It was still pretty dark, and I didn’t feel like hiking by headlamp this morning, so I waited until 7:15 for a little more light to be cast. The trail was decent, and I was able to let my mind wander, so the miles ticked off pretty fast. But most of the day was very cold. It was semi-warm from 11-1, but only if you were in the sun. My right ankle still gave me issues, especially on the downhills. The trail has been fairly empty lately, too, adding to the solitary feelings I have been fighting. I had lunch about 12 miles in and then kept hiking. The trail got bad after crossing PA-225, about the last 4 miles of the day, with lots of rocks and PUDs. It figures the last 4 miles would be that tough. I got to the shelter about 5, and found a few people there so I set up my tent. Later, even more weekenders showed up – noisily – so I was glad I had my tent set up. I filtered water, cooked dinner while socializing at the shelter, then retired to my tent. I texted home a little before falling asleep, glad I had my tent as the shelter crowd was very noisy until almost 10.

Day 196 – Clark’s Ferry Shelter to Darlington Shelter
Miles: 15.6

I slept in until 6:30 after a restless sleep, due to my sore legs, and the hill I was on. I was packed and on trail by 7:30, glad to warm up by hiking. The trail seemed rough to start, or maybe the cold had my muscles not wanting to work properly. I wore my long pants and rain jacket while hiking for the first time in a long time. My right ankle is still super painful, feeling like a nail is being driven into it with each step, but I still made good time, getting into Duncannon at 9:30. I stopped at Goodies for breakfast and to charge my cell. I sent some texts while there, too. After breakfast, I walked out of town and up a monster hill. The guidebook said there was a real rocky section but I didn’t think it was too bad, certainly no worse than the past three days. Just shows it’s a guidebook and not the gospel. It stayed cold all day, although I did take the jacket off as the day went on. I arrived at the shelter at 3, and immediately checked for water, as there were reports it was dry. Thankfully, it had a small trickle and I was able to get what I needed for the night. There’s another SOBO here, named Whitsel. He just started at Lehigh Gap and is going to get as far south as he can. I gave him some menu planning tips and some extra food I had. He seems like a nice kid but doesn’t have a ton of experience. We made a campfire and each smoked our own cigars and talked all afternoon and evening. He’s a real talker, though, doing most of it since I was contemplating my hike. It got super cold as soon as the sun set, so as quickly as I could, I got settled into my sleeping bag. Not really the way I wanted my last night on trail to go, but it was too cold to argue!

The Doyle

The Doyle

Walking out of Duncannon, you can see the hill you have to climb.  Torture.

Walking out of Duncannon, you can see the hill you have to climb. Torture.

This tree was trying to hide the trail.

This tree was trying to hide the trail.

A mini celebration of my final night on trail.

A mini celebration of my final night on trail.

 

My last night on the A.T.

My last night on the A.T.

 

Day 197 – Darlington Shelter to Boiling Springs
Miles: 14.3

It was a very very cold night. I slept in until 7:15. Whitsel was ready long before I was, but waited for me for some reason, getting on trail by 8:15. It was still a cold day, so I wore my long sleeve shirt for the first time while hiking. We hiked together all the way to Boiling Springs. We talked some, but my head was lost in thought. I wasn’t sure how to feel about today being my last day. The trail started rocky but once we were off the mountain it was mostly decent and flat. We made good time, although it was a somewhat boring hike. It also sprinkled a few times but only briefly. I walked into the parking lot of the ATC Regional Office at 1:10, tossing my trekking poles to the ground and raising my arms in triumph! Just like that, my hike was complete. My mom, my dad, my sister, my niece, my girlfriend, and nearly all of my chapter from the motorcycle club were there, waiting, smiling and risking a broken camera by taking my pic. My mom had “Paula cake”, aptly named after the very talented baker-friend who makes it, which I eagerly cut into, and not so eagerly passed around. I got AT Passport stamped (again) inside, and talked with an ATC worker named Autumn. We took a bunch of pics, nobody really thrilled about being so close to a smelly hiker. After a while, the club headed home and we were using the bathrooms before heading to my parent’s campsite, when Older Dog walked up! He was visiting his sister nearby and stopped to say hi. We chatted with him for a bit, then headed to the campground. We had lunch when we got there and then I went for my shower, which was less than hot. We all sat around campfire being entertained by my niece until it started to rain, then sleet, and we had to duck into the camper. Dad cooked burgers and dogs on the campfire and we all ate inside. After dinner, we sat around talking more, and then I headed to my apartment to officially end my hike.

Walking into Boiling Springs

Walking into Boiling Springs

Done.

Done.

 

And with that, my thru hike has come to an end.  I am filled with mixed feelings, both happy and sad, content and yet yearning for more.  My next post will be up sometime (hopefully) soon, bringing you all up to date on where I am, what I am doing, and how I am feeling about things once it all settles in.  Thank you, again, for all of your support.  Each and every one of you are amazing!

PA, here I come!

Massachusetts to New Jersey

**  WARNING  **

This post is picture-heavy.  Don’t complain to me if you go over your data limit.  Carry on…

I have the last few blog posts written, and am just working to get pictures selected and uploaded.  Once that happens, the final entries from my trip will be posted, along with a “What I’m doing now” post, as many have requested… thanks for your support!

Day 172 – Williamstown
Miles: 0

I slept in a little this morning, after yesterday’s extensive traveling. I had breakfast at hotel, which was surprisingly good for such a small hotel. I walked to Dollar General for resupply, then rested at the hotel for a while. Today was going to be a very restful zero day, if nothing else. Early afternoon, I decided to walk to the campus of Williamstown University and explore with my camera for a while. I also spent a lot of time today trying to find a shuttle to Mt. Greylock for tomorrow. I walked back to campus to swap out some holey Darn Tough socks, and stopped at the Purple Pub for dinner. For such a nice looking place, I was severely disappointed with the service. I sat at the bar, which was probably my first mistake as it turned out that only the “locals” got served there. When I was finally able to place my order, I was never offered a drink refill, checked on after my food was brought out by kitchen staff, and generally ignored, all while the THREE bartenders stood and chatted nonstop with the 5 or 6 locals sitting at the other side of the bar. I understand the “college bar” scene and all, but don’t give me a sour look when I only leave you $1 for a tip – you have to EARN that tip. Back at the hotel, I packed up my food bag, finalized my shuttle plans (calling a cab from the next town over was actually cheaper than any of the shuttles!), called home and watched tv. It was a long day, but fairly productive as far as town days go.

Getting my "architect" on.

Getting my “architect” on.

Love this quote!

Love this quote!

 

Day 173 – Williamstown to Mt Greylock to Dalton
Miles: 17.2

I was up early to make the final call to the cab, then got breakfast. I dealt with some last-minute financial issues before the taxi arrived. Within half an hour, I was standing at the top of Mt. Greylock again. It was odd to “jump” back to Massachusetts again like this, and even more weird to be a SOBO now. Even though it was still rocks and roots, the trail was very different than up north and it took me a while to find my groove. The forest is nice, though, full of oak trees, squirrels and chipmunks fighting over nuts, the ground a blur of yellow, brown and red leaves. But it was a long day, mentally. My pack is heavier than ever, and my energy levels just aren’t on par for the hike. I walked into Dalton about 5:15, and got permission from Tom Levardi to set my tent up in his back yard. Tom lets hikers stay for free, providing water and a picnic table. I set up, snacked a little while relaxing in the grass, then cooked dinner as it got dark. A SOBO section hiker named Engineer stopped in and set up his tent, as well. Tom brought out ice cream and chatted for a while, then went to bed. I cleaned up and headed for my tent, texting home a little.

Day 174 – Dalton to Upper Goose Pond Cabin
Miles: 20.6

I slept great, considering there were cars going by most of the night and a street light shining nearby. I woke to a virtual rainstorm inside my tent, though, with condensation dripping everywhere and the outside of the tent wet from dew. I woke up to the sound of Tom and Engineer headed off to breakfast, so I didn’t get to say goodbye. I packed as quickly as I could, getting on trail by 7:30. The trail had much more rocks and roots today than yesterday, and it was tough to find a rhythm. But the forest was beautiful, full of colorful oaks and maples and aspens instead of the pine and spruce of up north. It was a cool day, never really warm but not really cold either. I had lunch at the Cookie Lady’s house, although she wasn’t there. Her husband, Cookie Man, brought out cookies and then collected apples from a nearby tree for us. Tom showed up, bringing Engineer’s gear from his slack pack. Oh well, that’s what I get for leaving early. Regardless, I hiked on. The trail seemed rough today, with lots of little ups and downs. I got to the Upper Good Pond Cabin at 5, and my legs and feet were spent. The cabin is absolutely picturesque. It’s larger than it first appears, with an informal sitting and dining area with a large stone fireplace, and a small kitchen on the first floor, and a decent sized bunk room upstairs. There are stairs inside, and a set of stairs outside, direct from the bunkroom down to grade. It has an old hunting cabin feel to it, and would make a wonderful weekend family cabin. I met Peter, AKA Shepherd (2001), the weekend caretaker. He was a really nice guy, welcoming me in, showing me around and generally making me feel at home. I grabbed a bunk and spread my sleeping bag out to dry a little, then walked to the pond to relax for a minute before cooking dinner. Two section hikers, Solstice and Kick the Rocks (KTR), were here and very talkative. Again, really nice guys that I wish I could spend more time with. As I was eating, Shepherd offered me some leftovers from his dinner – steak, onions and mushrooms. Uhh, yes, please! Engineer showed up after dark, and was a mess of confusion trying to cook his dinner in the dark. I can’t place my finger on it, but I’m not completely sure he is who he says he is… According to him, he did 1,900 miles last year and is just finishing the section he missed, but he doesn’t know to not shake hands with other hikers, doesn’t know what a PUD is, etc. It just doesn’t line up, but whatever. At the pace he’s keeping, I won’t see him much anyways. It was a cold night again, and as I cleaned my cook gear, I wondered how cold the cabin gets.

Upper Goose Pond

Upper Goose Pond

Harley Bear enjoying the view

Harley Bear enjoying the view

 

Day 175 – Upper Goose Pond Cabin to US-7/Great Barrington
Miles: 27.5

I got a great night’s sleep last night. I woke at 7, and did a little journaling while waiting for pancakes and coffee, a perk of staying at Upper Goose Pond Cabin. I would like to have zeroed here, but I have a goal in mind, and let’s be honest, I’ve taken far too many zeroes at this point. It was a decent day to hike, but there were a lot of PUDs. The temps were cooler, almost cold, but walking through fields let the sun warm me. There were lots of day hikers and weekenders out, and I stopped to chat with 4-5 different groups as the day progressed. Apparently, the smelly thru hiker is a bit of a novelty. At first, I worried about the time constraints of stopping so much, but each group renewed my spirits and made it a good day. Then I met a family who shared a deli samich with me and chatted for half an hour, and it really pepped me up. However, the acorns are becoming dangerous, from both the air and the ground. I have been bombed for the last few days, and almost slid down a hill on a pile of acorns, just like the ball bearing scene in classic cartoons. I made it to Great Barrington by 6, and was picked up at the US-7 road crossing shortly later by Nora, a sweet old lady who loved to talk. She lives life every day, though, always smiling and laughing, and reminds me of my late Aunt Helen. She drove me to Price Chopper and refused to take me back to trail so late in the day, insisting that I stay at her house tonight. She treated me to a steak dinner in town, telling me stories and flirting with the waiter to see if she could get him to blush, which she successfully did… numerous times! We stopped for ice cream on the way home, “because you only live once.” Then she took me to her house and set me up in the guest suite. I showered and planned out a few days, and assumed Nora had gone to bed by this point, until she knocked on the door and brought in freshly made chocolate chip cookies and a bottle of Pepsi as a snack. This woman is an amazing trail angel! It was a late night, but it was worth it.

Have to keep reminding myself, I'm a SOBO now...

Have to keep reminding myself, I’m a SOBO now…

Day 176 – US-7/Great Barrington to The Hemlocks Shelter
Miles: 8

I didn’t sleep great last night, the house being too warm for me, but I still slept in a bit. Nora cooked me a couple egg, bacon and cheese on English muffin sandwiches. With good coffee and conversation, the morning flew by. I was planning a short day, so I relaxed with Nora in her sunroom and just enjoyed the morning. She dropped me back at the trail at 11:30, both of us sad to say goodbye. I am always amazed how quickly strangers become friends out here. The trail was rocky today and I felt sluggish, probably from all the town food. But I got to the shelter at 4. Water was hard to find, but I did find it, at Glen Brook shelter 0.1 miles north. After so much conversation in town, I was feeling a little lonely, but tried to make the best of the short day. I set my tent up to dry and collected some firewood. I also looked ahead at the guidebook to try to plan a little more. I planned to build a campfire later and watch the eclipse tonight, which gave me something to look forward to, but did little for the loneliness. I cooked dinner and ate alone, thinking of home and the future. About as it was getting dark, another hiker walked up. He’s doing a section. His name is Brew – and after some length of conversation, he confessed that he’s the husband of Jenn Phar Davis!! We had some great conversation around the campfire while he prepared and ate dinner, then we both went silent and read our respective books. It really helped ease my loneliness having him in camp, though. I watched the eclipse as best I could through the trees, realizing how the day had been amazing, even with the loneliness aspect.

The (new) Hemlocks Shelter

The (new) Hemlocks Shelter

Day 177 – The Hemlocks Shelter to Limestone Spring Shelter
Miles: 17.5

I slept good last night, waking refreshed and ready for the day. I chatted with Brew as I packed up. There were lots of uphills early in the day, which left my knees a little sore, but I made decent time, even with all the rocks. The trail feels very lonely today, compared to the crowds of yesterday (Monday vs Sunday hiking…) Looking at shelters and the forecasted weather, I decided I couldn’t make it past my planned goal of Limestone Shelter, but was going to get there plenty early, so I walked into Salisbury for lunch to use up a little daylight. I ate at the grocery store deli, which was perfect because I could get a sandwich, a box of cut fruit from the produce section, and a Gatorade and, of course, a Pepsi. They had some little tables outside to sit at, so I ate out there, enjoying the fall weather. A lady doing yard work brought me a “local apple” as a gift, and talked for a few minutes about the trail. Then I slowly made my way to the shelter. The wind picked up some as the afternoon progressed, making the forest a tad dangerous – acorns were falling everywhere! Numerous times I had to cover my head, because I could hear the acorns falling through leaves somewhere nearby. I took a short break and watched a woodpecker for a good five minutes before it flew off – I think it was a downy but need to verify. I got to the shelter about 4:30 and immediately searched for water. The LONG walk DOWN – always down – to the shelter was next to a dry river bed so I was worried, but I did find decent water. After filtering water, I read my kindle to relax a little. The loneliness is always worst when I’m alone in camp but I guess I’m starting to get used to it. I cooked dinner and ate while reading, and as it got dark, two other SOBOs walked in. They were very talkative and unorganized, but at least I’m not alone all night.

Detour around Iron Mountain Bridge... 3 miles of road. Ugh.

Detour around Iron Mountain Bridge… 3 miles of road. Ugh.

A view with a "Brew"

A view with a “Brew”

Into Connecticut!

Into Connecticut!

 

Day 178 – Limestone Spring Shelter to Stewart Hollow Brook Shelter
Miles: 21.4

I slept horrible last night. One of the guys who came in late kept screaming about mice running around him all night, so I got very little sleep. It started raining on and off about 2am, but by the time I got up, it was just the leaves dripping. When I got up, I saw that the two SOBOs had their food spread out around them, inside the shelter, and the one who was screaming all night had trail mix all over the place. No wonder the mice were scurrying around him. So glad I will out walk them in one day. Today was all PUDs… painfully so. It was warm, but very humid, and I’m not sure what’s worse, the rocks or the acorns. I almost fell twice because of acorns, but I did fall once because of a wet rocks. But the acorns fall and hit me – twice today! So it’s like walking through a bomb field. I ate lunch at Pine Swamp Brook Shelter, and shortly after, caught up with Brew. We hiked together for a while, sharing some good conversations, but he stopped for a snack break and not wanting to self-invite, I kept going. The last couple miles were along the Housatonic River, and I’m sure it’s beautiful, but I was so tired, I just kept plodding along until I was done. I got to the shelter totally exhausted at 5:45. I had to walk back 0.6 miles to get water because the brook was dried up, but it felt good to walk without a pack on. My legs are shot, though. I cooked dinner and ate while watching the light fade from the sky. Brew showed up with the last bit of light, and quickly ate, then we both sat reading our books before bed. It started raining just after Brew arrived, and was pouring within half an hour – good timing on his part!

Day 179 – Stewart Hollow Brook Shelter to Ten Mile River Shelter
Miles: 15.7

It rained all night, which helped me sleep great. Both Brew and I slept in a little, because of the rain. I woke at 7:15, and was on trail by 8:15. Brew had left at 8, but I caught up with him pretty quickly. There was more river walk this morning, but with the rain, it wasn’t worth stopping for pictures. However, refreshed from sleep, the view was beautiful. When the trail left the river, it went up a steep hill with lots of rock steps, to The Ledges. Brew caught up with me on the uphill. About half way up, Brew slipped and fell bad, cartwheeling and summersaulting down off a large rock ledge. He hit his face on dirt – thankfully missing all the rocks, but still causing him some neck pain as the day progressed. Other than some scrapes and bruises, and the shock factor, he was ok, though. We walked together most of the way into Kent, arriving at 11:30, where I walked to the IGA to resupply, then got lunch at the Villager. Brew had some errands to run so we parted ways as we entered town. It stopped raining about 9 or 10, I guess, but it was hard to tell with all the tree drippings. Somewhere before town, I witnessed a tree come crashing to the ground. It scared me at first, because it was loud and I didn’t know which tree it was! But it was neat to watch, in a weird sense. In town, I called home briefly to check in. It was so good to hear their voices though. It’s times like this that I realize how alone I am out here. I headed back out of town at 1:30, while Brew went to the library for a bit. The trail was a lot of ups and downs after Kent, with a couple big climbs. Altogether, though, they didn’t seem so bad, except the chaffing started after town. That sucked. And today was “return of the orange eft” day. Those little buggers were everywhere! I tried not stop step on any, but I can’t promise I didn’t. I took a wrong turn at one point, and it took me about 100 yards to realize it. I turned around and started back up the hill I had climbed down, but slipped on the rock and slid down almost 30 feet. For a second, I was scared I wasn’t going to stop! It didn’t hurt me really, but I checked my pack to make sure it was ok. It seems the scare was the worst of the damage. I got to camp about 5:45. The shelter is on the edge of a field, and has a water hand pump. If it were nice weather, it’d be a nice place to stay. Brew arrived about 6:30, again as it was getting dark. We seem to have a lot of good conversation, and I’m going to be sad to see him go tomorrow. He’s meeting a friend and getting off trail for the night.

Day 180 – Ten Mile River Shelter to Morgan Stewart Shelter
Miles: 20.6

I woke up a little early, and tried to not wake Brew, so was a little slower getting ready. He woke before I left, and we said our goodbyes. I most likely won’t see him, so it’s a little sad walking out of camp. But the trail changes every day. The trail had an immediate uphill which winded me. I crossed into New York, and stated a string of rocky PUDs. So far, I am not a fan of New York. The trail is rocky, overgrown with briar berry bushes, covered by blow downs and the bog boards are all rotted out. And trash everywhere! It was a cold day, with wind on and off. The sun tried to pop through a few times, but it was mostly cloudy. I stopped at the Appalachian Trail railroad station briefly, snapped some pics, then kept walking. I had a quick lunch at the side trail for Telephone Pioneers Shelter. I enjoyed the view at Nuclear Lake, sitting for a break along the bank, listening to the gun fire from a nearby range. I filled up water at Whakey Lake Stream and decided to carry 2L extra, for the 3 miles to the shelter, in case the shelter was dry. Sitting there, I realized I like small streams for water supply, but prefer larger rivers for sitting and relaxing. Random thought, but made me smile at the comparison. The hike up to the shelter was tough with extra water, but bearable. My mind was all over the place today, from home to the bike club to airplanes to the future. I got to the shelter at about 4:45. I collected firewood and started a small campfire, although it took forever for it to really get going because everything is wet. The caretaker stopped in to place a new logbook and chatted for a few minutes, giving me some advice for the upcoming trail. I ate dinner as it got dark, letting the campfire die out, then climbed into bed to stay warm.

Me and Brew

Me and Brew

The A.T. train stop

The A.T. train stop

Nuclear Lake

Nuclear Lake

 

Day 181 – Morgan Stewart Shelter to Graymoor Spiritual Life Center
Miles: 27.8

What a long day. It drizzled all night, and was freezing cold! I woke up at 4:30 shivering. I tried to get warm, but couldn’t, so I just got up and started my day. I left camp at 6, using my headlamp. I never really did warm up, as the day progressed. It was slow going until the sun came up, and even then it was still slower than normal. The trail was a little rocky at times, but mostly it was good and quick. The uphills are still winding me a little, but not as bad. I stopped for water at RPH Shelter and kept going. I got to Fahnestock State Park and decided it was too early to stop, so pushed on. The day was mostly a daze, trying to avoid acorns and rocks from tripping me, while trying to keep moving to stay warm. It rained on and off most of the day, getting worse as the day went. Somewhere this afternoon, I brushed against a branch and something stung/bit me. At first, I just swatted it away and kept walking. Then it started to really hurt. Shortly later, my body started to itch all over. Then my face felt like it was on fire, heat radiating from it (the only heat of the day!). The sting site was a little swollen, but there were no hives anywhere on my body (I checked) and I never had breathing problems, but this was the first time I’ve ever had a reaction to a sting. So I popped some Benadryl as a precaution and tried to stay focused to finish walking. Got close to the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center and called the number to Stony Point Center, a conference center whose business card was in the shelter last night. They came and picked me up, getting me to their faculty around 8. I showered, did a load of laundry, ate some food that they graciously warmed from the kitchen, called home and laid down, completely beat. My legs are still numb as I write this, but my hands are warming up. Hope this rain ends soon!

Day 182 – Graymoor Spiritual Life Center to Bear Mountain Bridge
Miles: 6.9

It was not great sleep last night. My arm was itchy and I couldn’t relax. I finally did get some sleep, though, and slept in (for me) before getting up and going to breakfast. My arm is still itchy from the sting and slightly swollen, I think, but I can’t just stay here. Well, I could, but I don’t want to take a true zero, so I arranged for Stony Point to give me a slack pack. The shuttle took me back to Graymoor around 9:30 and I was on trail within half an hour. Once again, it was very cold and drizzled all day, but slack packing is much nicer. I made ok time, but my legs feel heavy. I got to Bear Mountain Bridge just as the shuttle arrived to take me back to Stony Point Center. We stopped at a grocery store for resupply on the way back, and I grabbed a few snacks for the afternoon. I showered, took a short nap, called home, and then headed to communal dinner. Afterwards, I went back to my room to plan out the remainder of the trip, turning into a late night.

The meditation center at Stoney Point Center

The meditation center at Stony Point Center

Day 183 – Bear Mountain Bridge to Island Pond Rd (Stealth site)
Miles: 17.7

I finally slept great last night. I slept in again and then rushed to breakfast. Today looks amazing – warm, dry, sunny. I was not impressed with breakfast today, the food was cold or “old”, and left me feeling underwhelmed. I finished some last minute packing and got a shuttle back to Bear Mountain Bridge. It was hard to leave Stony Point, though The place just has a good atmosphere and the people are very comforting. I walked out partway on the bridge to get some pics, since it was rainy yesterday, then hit the trail, starting at 10. I walked through the Trailside Zoo, which was neat. It made me miss the Detroit Zoo, though. And then there was Bear Mountain and it’s bazzilion steps. It was a long climb, but I made it in decent time. I took some pics, and kept hiking. The trail after Bear Mountain was often steep and full of rocks, many of them loose. It was tough on my ankles and knees, for sure. Bear Mountain was crowded, too. Even on the trails around it. I had lunch at the side trail to West Mountain Shelter, then continued, crossing the Palisades Parkway. The forest changed on this side of the parkway. Here, it was very sparse, almost fake. I’ve seen yards with denser woodlands. It was very odd. And hard to follow the trail at times, since the leaves were down and there’s no distinguishing trail features. But the crowds disappeared and I was left to my thoughts. I again carried water for three miles, in case the shelter was dry. I got to Fingerboard Shelter at 4:30, finding three day hikers there, partying. There were empty beer cans sitting everywhere, peanut shells in the floor, music blaring, incense burning in the shelter, and two dogs growling at everyone. They were friendly enough, but when I discovered the water source was dry, I decided to push on. I made real good time, even though the terrain was a lot of ups and downs, and included the Lemon Squeezer. About 6, I got to Island Pond Road and cooked dinner. I decided to find a stealth site nearby and quickly set up my tent before it got dark. I ate in the dark, then climbed into the tent to get warm. My legs are sore but considering the late start, I’m happy with today’s progress. As I was settling in for the night, coyotes started singing. Hope they stay away!

Looking down from Bear Mountain Bridge

Looking down from Bear Mountain Bridge

Looking up at Bear Mountain Bridge

Looking up at Bear Mountain Bridge

My first bear "picture".  This guy was camera-shy though.

My first bear “picture”. This guy was camera-shy though.

Bear Mountain... from the bottom.

Bear Mountain… from the bottom.

The tower atop Bear Mountain

The tower atop Bear Mountain

The Lemon Squeezer.  I barely fit.

The Lemon Squeezer. I barely fit.

Island Pond

Island Pond

 

Day 184 – Island Pond Rd (Stealth site) to Warwick Turnpike (Meadow Lark Farm B&B)
Miles: 23.2

I slept great last night, enjoying my warm sleeping bag in the cool air. I got up early, around 5:15, and was on trail by 6:15 using my headlamp until after 7. The headlamp makes for a slow start at first, but then the trail turned decent and I was able to pick it up some. It was a cool morning, but warmed up decently. The wind made it chilly if I stopped for a break, though. Today was all rocks. Some sections would give the Whites a run for their money. There were some brutal ups and downs, mostly PUDs, with some very steep sections. All in all, it was a long day. My ankles and knees are sore but my feet are killing me. I had lunch just past Wildcat Shelter, sitting along the trail next to a small spring. I only saw one person, a section hiker going north named Frogger. She took my picture for some reason. Guess I look like a wild animal or something. I crossed into New Jersey today, although I know I’ll zig zag back and forth for a while. I got to the road crossing at Warwick Turnpike about 5 and called the B&B, with no answer. I left a message and tried to (illegally) hitch, with no luck. I called again, getting the owner, but she seemed irritated to have to come get “another hiker”. Apparently, she had just picked up brew! After 45 minutes, she finally came and got me. I quickly showered and set up my tent, then cooked dinner in the dark. Brew and I sat at a table in the grassy yard and ate while talking. I am so glad I caught up to him. I climbed into an already wet tent at 9. The dew is going to soak everything…

IMG_2552

Jersey!

Jersey!

Day 185 – Warwick Turnpike (Meadow Lark Farm B&B) to Murray Property
Miles: 19

I slept good, although I was on the border of being cold. The dew has the tent soaked, and there’s condensation on the inside. I woke up at 5:45, packed quickly and was ready for breakfast by the agreed upon 6:30, but the caretaker wasn’t around. I had to wake Brew up, too. I went to the bathroom and charged my phone while waiting. Breakfast was served at 7 and was delicious. Eggs, red potatoes, toast, great coffee and donuts. We loaded up the car and stopped at the grocery store so I could resupply, dropping us off at trail by 8. I had to repack my food bag, so Brew walked on without me. It was decent hiking at first, but then there were a bunch of uphills that drained me. My knees seem sore from yesterday, too. My left knee hurts at the area of the surgery… Odd. I caught up with Brew and we hiked together to NJ-94, where we walked the road to Heaven Hill Farm for some baked goods and a jug of apple cider. It was a great break. We hiked together for a while, chatting, and parting ways at the swamp footbridge. He wanted to sit and take it in for a while, reflecting on his hike through here with his wife. I hiked on, getting lost in thought. The trail walks through the Wallkill Wildlife Reserve and it was absolutely beautiful! I’ll have to go back with my big cameras to take pics of all the birds. The day just seemed to drag on, though, and my pack seemed to weigh 150 pounds. By the time I got to the Murray Property, my back and shoulders were aching and I was spent. I got there about 4:45, with a little daylight left to explore. I set up my tent, so it would dry in the breeze, then took a quick shower at the outdoor shower. I settled in to relax and just enjoy being there. This property is beautiful, with a few structures that appear to be decades old, although the insides of the ones I could see in were remodeled with modern materials. I can just imagine coming to this property on a weekend and spending a few days off-grid, reconnecting with the world and disconnecting from the digital network. The thought made me smile. Brew came in at 6, and we had more good conversation over dinner. We watched a pair of deer eating grass as the sun set, then moved inside to stay warm, lighting some small candles left inside to throw some light down. Tomorrow is Brew’s last day and I’m more than a little sad to see him go.

Day 186 – Murray Property to Brink Shelter
Miles: 25

The stars were beautiful last night when I got up to use a tree. I slept decent, although it was almost too warm in the cabin. Brew was ready before me and hiked on, with me trailing behind about 15 minutes after enjoying breakfast on the porch of the cabin and watching the woods come alive. The trail today sucked! It had some areas of good terrain, but it was few and far between the massive rock sections. That said, I still made good time. I caught up to Brew and we hiked together to the High Point State Park Headquarters, where we got water. Prior to the park HQ, we passed two ladies walking north. One was from Frederick, the other from Thurmont, the small little town I live in! What a small world. A while after that, we stopped at a view and had lunch, but Brew asked to hike alone after lunch, so we said our goodbyes and I hiked on. Almost immediately, I felt lonely again, and sad to see such a good hiking companion part ways. But I know we’ll see each other again… Or I hope so anyways. The afternoon seemed to drag on, but emotions make you push harder than expected and the miles ticked off one after another. I passed Gren Anderson Shelter, my initial goal for the day, at 3, and decided to push on to Brink Shelter. But it was a rough 6.6 miles between the two, with Culvers Gap providing some nice steep and rocky hills. I got to the shelter at 5:30, though, so even in my pained stupor I was able to make decent time. I immediately went for water, as I was out. There was an older female section hiker named Flatlander at the shelter when I got there, and we had some nice conversations while I ate dinner. A “hippie” family stopped in briefly, to allow their child to breast feed, but left before it was fully dark. I climbed into my sleeping bag after dinner to stay warm and texted home briefly.

Day 187 – Brink Shelter to Delaware Water Gap
Miles: 24.8

I slept decent enough, and woke up at 6:15. I quietly packed up my stuff and moved out to the picnic table, so I didn’t wake up Flatlander. I ate and repacked my bag, and she came out to chat, delaying my departure a bit. Today sucked, though. There were lots of rocks. Lots of PUDs. And I was still sore from yesterday. I just couldn’t find my pace all day, but somehow, I still made miles… but at a cost. I tripped twice, once with a nice summersault and once almost face planting into some rocks. I got up and down Rattlesnake Mountain and thankfully didn’t see any. On top of Kittatinny Mountain, I saw some birders that I saw yesterday at the pavilion. I wish I had more time to sit and chat with them longer, because I am really interested in what they are doing, but I can already smell the end. I crossed into Pennsylvania and was in town by 4:45. I had to call to get the hostel opened up, and ran to the post office to check for my package, but it wasn’t there yet. I showered and went for pizza, treating myself to a large pepperoni. A trail angel gave me a ride to a gas station for snacks and then back to the church hostel. A group of four SOBOs I had passed earlier today arrived at 7, loud and obnoxious. Two are from Israel and I am not impressed with their rudeness. I called home, then set out to plan my last week on trail. It was a late night, watching the weather report to find a forecast of possible severe rain tomorrow. Joy.

PA, here I come!

PA, here I come!

I am finally into Pennsylvania, and the end is in sight!  Thanks for your support and patience as I get these last posts up.  And remember to always Spin the Compass!

Success!

The Hundred Miles Wilderness

I told you I had another post coming soon!  I know I have lost most of my readership, but my trip isn’t complete until this blog is complete… so here is my take on the Hundred Miles Wilderness.  Enjoy!

Day 163 – Historic Route to Monson to ME-15/Monson
Miles: 3.3

I did not sleep well, at all, last night. The room was far too hot for me, and someone was snoring. It rained most of the night, so we weren’t able to open the big window for the room, which just made the heat even worse. I got up about 7 and headed next door to Pete’s for breakfast. I ordered the “100 Mile Wilderness” – a meal consisting of 2 eggs, 3 slices of bacon, 3 pancakes, a pile of home fries, 2 pieces of homemade toast, and a bowl of Cream of Wheat. Plus coffee and OJ. I ate it all in under an hour – just barely – and was awarded a pin! If you ask me, it should come with some Pepto, too. After last night’s poor sleep, I made arrangements for a private room for tonight, and moved my gear to the room as soon as it was ready, while waiting for a severe downpour to end. I walked over to Shaw’s hostel, to grab a few items for resupply, and then stopped at the post office to mail home extra food and unneeded gear. I hiked out to the trail and completed the section I missed yesterday, so that I can start at the official trail head tomorrow. It also turned today into a nero instead of a zero, which makes it feel a little less wasted. When I got back to the hostel, I took a shower and relaxed the rest of the day. Later in the afternoon, the weather turned nice – sunny and breezy, but a bit cold. It probably would’ve been a good day to get some miles in, but it felt good to relax for a day.

Day 164 – ME-15/Monson to Long Pond Stream Lean-To
Miles: 15.1

I slept good last night, although I woke up a little earlier than I wanted. I got up, packed, and got a small breakfast from Pete’s. I took the shuttle at 7:45, getting on the trail by 8 or so. Getting dropped off at the trailhead today was a lot like getting dropped off at Springer Mountain, in that both had a “well, this is it” feeling to it. Today was the muddiest day on trail yet, too. It was everywhere and most of it was bottomless! It really slowed me down in places, and the roots and rocks just made it puddle up more. Between the mud, the puddles, and the fords, my feet were wet most of the day. But the weather today was absolutely beautiful. Sunny, just warm enough you sweat a little, a nice cool breeze, birds and squirrels chirping away all day. It was a good one. I saw a couple of SOBOs and passed on NOBO who looked like a section hiker, but otherwise, I was alone all day. I am guessing I will spend most of the 100MW alone. I made it to Leeman Brook Lean-To by 9:15, and kept going. The trail passes tons of ponds today, but still no Bullwinkle sightings. I got to Wilson Valley Lean-To at 1:15, and stopped for about 25 minutes for lunch. I had heard rumors of a trail magic cabin somewhere near here, but it must only be on weekends. I got to the shelter at 4, and decided to not push farther. My legs were feeling a little sore and extra miles today won’t help me tomorrow since there’s not really alternative camping sites listed through the 100MW. Taco and Shell, two NOBOs, were just leaving to move on to the next shelter. I filtered water and then changed out of my wet clothes. I was having some chaffing on my hips and the top of my butt from the weight of my pack. Now I know why Bookie hated her heavy pack! I cooked dinner and as I was finishing, Pilgrim walked into camp. Pilgrim was another NOBO hiker, one I had heard a lot of from Bookie. Later, another NOBO named Blue Kazoo came in and set up her tent nearby. I journaled some until it was too dark, then climbed into my sleeping bag to read. It was interesting to watch the light play on the trees and through the trees as the sun sets, making me smile as I settled in for the night.

Entering the 100MW

Entering the 100MW

Day 165 – Long Pond Stream Lean-To to West Branch Pleasant River Campsite
Miles: 15.2

I slept good last night, getting up around 6:30 and getting on trail within an hour. Today was a rough day, though, both mentally and physically. If yesterday was mud day, today was rock day. Steep rocks. Slippery rocks. Bouldering rocks. It was slow going, for sure. And don’t think there wasn’t mud and roots, because there was, but the general ache in my knees and feet says the rocks were worse. Or the ups and downs. Mentally, I couldn’t get my head in a good place, so I couldn’t find my rhythm, which just let my head focus on the pain of the trail… and more chaffing. I was sweating so bad today that everything was dripping wet by 10. Thighs. Top of butt. Ouch. It wasn’t all that warm, but just warm enough I guess, especially on the climbs. I got to the final campsite at 5. I set up my tent, then walked to the river and simply sat down in it. Sweet, cool relief. I watched the sun sinking behind the hill, casting beautiful light on the stream. Fortunately, I didn’t have a camera, I didn’t try to capture it, I just enjoyed it, soaking in the warmth of the sun as my legs went numb in the water. I went back to camp, filtered water (from a different portion of the stream, just in case!), cooked and ate dinner. Taco and Shell came into camp and set up nearby, although they kept to themselves. Pilgrim walked by and set up somewhere else. There’s an older couple here, section hiking, in a single-tarp double-hammock setup. Interesting way to create a nest, I suppose. But they went to bed while I was eating. And two others came in just as I was climbing into my tent. So while I was not alone tonight, I was alone. But I camped right next to a stream, which was rather loud and soothing, helping me drift to sleep.

One of the many beautiful views

One of the many beautiful views

Day 166 – West Branch Pleasant River Campsite to East Branch Lean-To
Miles: 16.4

I slept great last night, although I woke a couple times due to the moisture in the air. Everything was damp this morning, including my clothes that were hanging to dry. Starting the day with wet clothes usually is a recipe for disaster with me, but it wasn’t. I got on trail early, but had a slow start with a ford immediately after leaving camp. Made decent time but the hills were killer today. I feel like I’ve gone soft since the Whites… or they just wore me out. There were lots of big climbs, rocks, roots and mud. I know I sound like a broken record, but the trail has been about the same lately. I was sweating within 30 minutes of leaving camp and never truly dried out all day, but the chaffing was mild today so it wasn’t too bad. The first couple hills had no views, but the view from White Cap Mountain was great. And on the way down, I saw Katahdin for the first time! It was too hazy to get a picture but I saw the golden egg. I ate a late lunch at Logan Brook Lean-To, then hiked the 4 miles to East Branch Lean-To. I would’ve liked to hike farther, but there aren’t any confirmed campsites near water for a while, so I called it a day at 4:30. Still, it was a good day of hiking today. I’ve come to realize I have “get there-itis”. I skip side trails and don’t like to just sit and observe during the day, knowing I can’t truly relax until I get to camp. But then I get to camp early and just sit there. I’m going to have to work on that down south. The mosquitoes were killer at the shelter, so I set up my tent and filtered water. When I got back from the stream, a section hiker named Terp was there. He’s from Germantown, Maryland, (near me!) although lives in Boston now. He gave me a lot of good info on catching a bus back to Mt. Greylock, and then he hiked on. While cooking dinner, Pilgrim and Blue Kazoo came into camp. While eating, Big Brother and Pink Panther came in. We had some good conversation while we all ate, which was a nice change from the solitude the last couple days, but the bugs were bad, so we were all in our tents by 7:30.

Pilgrim fording a river

Pilgrim fording a river

Perhaps the 100MW is more isolated than I realized!

Perhaps the 100MW is more isolated than I realized!

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Sunset at the stream

Sunset at the stream

Day 167 – East Branch Lean-To to Nahmakanta Stream Campsite
Miles: 23.8

I slept like crap last night. It was too hot and uncomfortable. I got up to use a tree at midnight and ended up reading my Kindle for an hour. I was finally able to sleep some, but it was restless. I woke up fairly early and got an early start to the day. Literally just outside of the camp, I saw my first moose! She was about 30 feet off trail, in some brush, but she was beautiful! And more gangly than I expected. But finally!! I’ve seen a moose! The trail was fairly easy and mild, with lots of decent trail. Just as I got a rhythm going, a section of mud or roots would appear and throw it all out of whack, but I guess I’m getting used to it. Surprisingly, the chaffing wasn’t bad at all this morning, and I made very good time. I got to Antler Campsite about 1, and ate lunch along the pond shore with Two Bad Dogs, an older couple from Colorado who had lots of stories and comparisons of the AT and the PCT, which they did a few years ago. Just as we were packing up, a lady walked up and said she and her husband had hotdogs and soda and homemade cookies, if we wanted any. Umm, thru hikers here! We packed up and walked over to chat and partake. And it was wonderful. Dawn and her husband, Gwen, were a nice couple from New Hampshire, visiting their cabin on a pond next to this one. Their son, “Red on the Head”, hiked in 2005, and when Dawn beat her cancer a year ago, she said giving trail magic was on her bucket list. And here they were. A hot dog, two cookies, a handful of chips, and a Pepsi later, and I was all smiles. And as I was leaving, Dawn insisted I take a beer for dinner. Amazing. It was an honor to meet them and share their celebration. But the trail called, so I headed out. And right away, I was in pain. Apparently, I had stopped long enough for everything to dry just enough that things were “tacky” and the chaffing flared up immediately. I got to Potaywadjo Spring Lean-To about 3:30, and quickly decided I could do more, so I headed for Nahmakanta Stream Campsite, even though the chaffing was telling me to stop. But my legs felt great so on I went, setting my new longest daily mileage. I made it to camp at 5:30, quickly set up my tent and then waddled to the stream, where I once again waded in and sat down in the cool water, drinking my beer as I relaxed. Cold relief. Anywhere else, this would be horrible, but after hiking, the cold water feels wonderful. I sat there for a good 15 minutes, giving myself a little bath of sorts, then got up and filtered water. The mosquitoes were horrible, so I cooked dinner and ate while walking around camp, trying to not provide a stationary landing platform for the thirsty blood suckers. If I stopped, they attacked, so I added some “unofficial miles” to the day. As soon as I was done, I hung the bear bag and took shelter in my tent, which is fine since it gets dark about 7 now anyways. I was all alone in camp tonight, but I didn’t seem to mind. Hopefully I can get a good night’s sleep.

Lunch on the shore

Lunch on the shore

Trail Angels Dawn and Gwen provided an amazing lunch

Trail Angels Dawn and Gwen provided an amazing lunch

Day 168 – Nahmakanta Stream Campsite to Hurd Brook Lean-To
Miles: 25.4

I slept great last night, thank the sweet lord of sore muscles. I woke up at 5:45 and was on trail by 7, with clear skies and cool breezes for a few hours, which was wonderful. About 20 minutes from camp, I spooked a bear, and almost had to stop and change my underwear! I didn’t see him until he went crashing through the brush running away from me. Perhaps I need a shower more than I thought. The trail was monotonous today, and definitely a “root day”. Big, gnarly masses of roots that you had to pick your way through, hoping you don’t slip and fall (which happened twice…) But the day went on ok, even though my legs and feet were sore. The chaffing seemed to be under control most of the day, mostly because it was warm and I was sweating a ton. Today ended up being a mentally tough day, with aches and pains, boredom, and just “being done”. I hit my wall early and just wanted to be done hiking. But after a short break, I was able to hike on. I got to Rainbow Lake Campsite, my intended destination, about 3:15 and decided to push on. And before I knew it, it was 6 and I was walking into the shelter, once again resetting my distance record. Hardware and White Wolf were there but nobody else, which was odd considering this is the last shelter before the Birches. We’re guessing most people pushed the extra 4 miles and then hitched to town for the festival this weekend. I filtered water as it got dark, cooked dinner and headed to bed. Talking with Hardware and White Wolf, I realized how much I was going to miss the group of hikers I had met the last week or two, once I traveled back to Massachusetts. My legs and back were already aching as I cooked dinner, so I hope I can sleep.

Day 169 – Hurd Brook Lean-To to The Birches
Miles: 13.4

Unfortunately, I got no sleep at all last night. My back and legs kept cramping up, I was hot in my sleeping bag, then cold without it, had to get up to use a tree a few times, etc. Needless to say, it was a rough night. It started raining at 3, and was still drizzling when I got up at 6:30. We were all slow to get moving, especially since it was very cold. Once I hit the trail, I found it to be a mix of rocks and roots but not too bad. I got to Abol Bridge at 9, stayed for 30 minutes eating a breakfast sandwich, cinnamon roll and a Pepsi, then hiked on, with a mix of nature trail and “normal trail” until Katahdin Stream Campsite. I got there at 1:30. It just seemed like a very odd day, leaving the 100MW and reentering civilized camping. I got a couple views of Katahdin and every time, my breath caught in my throat a little. It has been years of planning to get to this trip and tomorrow, with luck, I will summit Mount Katahdin. But I don’t really know anyone I am with. Hardware and White Wolf are going to town tonight, but they’ll summit tomorrow, most likely later in the day than me. The campsite is supposedly full tonight, but so far, I don’t recognize anyone. It’s an odd feeling being surrounded by hikers and feeling totally alone. There wasn’t cell service at all at the campsite, but I did have it for a minute earlier today to be able to receive some texts from the past week. The group of us hung out around the campfire, trying to stay warm. I filtered water, cooked dinner, and enjoyed a Pepsi with dinner – I feel like an addict with Pepsi. We sat up around the campfire a little while talking. Burl and Tree Beard showed up at dark, a nice couple I wish I had met sooner.

Mt. Katahdin as I crossed Abol Bridge

Mt. Katahdin as I crossed Abol Bridge

Finally, Baxter State Park.

Finally, Baxter State Park.

Walking to the Birches

Walking to the Birches

Trailside waterfalls

Trailside waterfalls

Tomorrow's goal - Mt. Katahdin.

Tomorrow’s goal – Mt. Katahdin.

Day 170 – the Birches to Mt Katahdin (and back to Katahdin stream Campsite, then to Milinocket)
Miles: 5.2 (plus 5.2 back to Katahdin Stream Campsite)

I slept great last night, even though it was super cold! I woke up before sunup, though, excitement in the air. I walking to the ranger station at 6:15 with Five. We set up our slack packs and hit the approach trail at 6:45. It was bitter cold this morning. My hands were freezing from climbing on the rocks. I hiked up with Tree Beard, Burl, and Five, talking most of the way up. We summitted at about 10:30, with amazing weather – cool temps (although it warmed up nicely once the sun peaked), a slight breeze and clear skies. The summit was full, too. Tons of people didn’t summit yesterday due to the rain, so they were climbing today. I saw Pilgrim, Papa Oats, Hardware, and White Wolf at the top (or as I was headed back down), and we all congratulated each other on reaching the summit. It feels very odd to be at Katahdin but not be done. I got back to KSC at 2:15, along with a large group of other hikers. I repacked my backpack and tried to hitch, but didn’t find any cars leaving, so just decided to wait for the scheduled shuttle. I got a little reflective while waiting, looking around at everyone giving high fives, laughing and relaxing. All of the people sitting at KSC are done. They are thru hikers. They are headed home. I’m not… not yet, anyways. And I will probably never see any of them again. That saddens me. I look at the short list of deep friendships I have developed while on trail, and I wonder what affect it will have on me in the long run. I have never made friends easily, always keeping a part of me reserved and protected, and as much as I had hoped this hike would bring some of that out, I am seeing that it isn’t. It was an hour drive to Millinocket, but the van was full of laughter and discussion of future endeavors. I checked into the hostel, called my dad, then went to the AT Cafe for dinner. But nobody else did, so I ate alone. I walked to a market for snacks, and texted my mom a little, although she was out of town so I didn’t want to interrupt her too much. Back at the hostel, I showered, made a call home, and tried to embrace the day. I feel very down, though. This is not how I imagined Katahdin being. I did laundry and generally kept to myself, knowing that others were celebrating and I still had hiking to do. I was also a bit stressed about trying to find a bus to Greylock. It was a late night, for sure.

Baxter Peak, 5.2 miles.

Baxter Peak, 5.2 miles.

Success!

Success!

Words cannot describe the "high" from being so high!

Words cannot describe the “high” from being so high!

Just one view... you wanna see the rest, go for a hike! (and take me with you!)

Just one view… you wanna see the rest, go for a hike! (and take me with you!)

Burl and Tree Beard.  I wish I had met these amazing souls much earlier.

Burl and Tree Beard. I wish I had met these amazing souls much earlier.

Mt. Katahdin

Mt. Katahdin

Day 171 – Millinocket, Maine, to Williamstown, Massachusetts (via bus)
Miles: 0

Surprisingly, I slept great. I got up at 6:45 and putzed around until the shuttle to Medway left at 9. From there, I caught a bus to Bangor, Maine. I texted friends all day, on and off. From Bangor, I got a bus to Boston, then another to Springfield. I almost missed my bus transfer to Pittsfield because of an accident coming out of the Boston area. Thankfully, they held the bus until we could transfer. I called Kamikaze during my hour-long layover at Pittsfield, chatting about how the trail had been for each of us so far and giving her some tips for the 100MW. Then I took a bus to Williamstown, Massachusetts. Walked the mile across town, got a room at the Willow Motel, wandered to the gas station next door to get food, made a call home, and tried to relax before turning in, completely exhausted.

Cities are a bit overwhelming after the 100MW!

Cities are a bit overwhelming after the 100MW!

Overwhelming, but beautiful nonetheless.

Overwhelming, but beautiful nonetheless.

I am still working on the final few weeks of my trek, but hope to have it out soon.  Thank you, again, for patience.  And remember to always Spin the Compass!