I rose before the sun. I looked out the windows of the hut. So dark, so cloudy, so strong the wind. I waited for the sun to rise before departure.
I had cellular reception. I emailed my brother, letting him know that I would not be in Bennington to meet him by the afternoon, that I was about 25 miles away, and hoped to make it before night fall. I told him to meet me at the Catamount Motel.
Then I set off, determined and hopeful.
I am not the speediest of hikers. To remedy this, I did not stop save for a 15 minute break after 18.5 miles. During that break I ate a cup of oatmeal, and changed my wet, mud drenched socks. The break was energizing.
I encountered three snakes. They were quick to clear from my path, save for one. I urged it to move along. There was no way for me to go around it, as we met on a boardwalk surrounded by water and mud and tall grasses. I told them I was in quite the hurry. Finally it slowly slithered by in compliance.
Not long after continuing, a hiker came up behind me. This hiker I had met before in Virginia. We chatted as we hiked. This helped to make the miles pass quickly. We made it to Route 9 at around 7:30 pm, affording just enough daylight to hitch in to town. It took about 20 minutes before a truck with a New York license plate pulled over. As we headed down the road towards Bennington, I beamed with excitement. It had been seven months since I had last seen my little brother, who attends Marlboro College in Vermont. Oh, how I adore spending time with him! When I first set out to hike the trail, we had discussed meeting up when I reached Vermont. Now it was actually happening. Oh, isn’t life sublime!
I tapped on the window of room 8. My brother, who was sprawled sleepily on one of the double beds, weary from a long journey from British Colombia where he had spent his summer, lifted his head and smiled. He greeted me at the door and we embraced. We then chatted and chatted and sat on the floor and ate fruit and black beans and tofu, which he had sweetly collected at the store in anticipation of my arrival.
We laughed and mused and carried on long in to the night and early hours of the morning, until we both fell asleep, reunited and happy.
I woke at 5:30 am, still on the side of trail. I suppose that break was a bit more extended than planned.
I looked forward to the day ahead. It is amazing what difference nourishment can make on energy and outlook.
After just eight miles, the trail led through another town, the town of Cheshire. The town was cute and quiet, with mail boxes shaped like little houses. The breeze blew through the tops of trees, fallen leaves scratched the speckled asphalt. Many trailers and boats sat on driveways and in side-yards. It was significantly hotter, without the full tree cover and cool forest floor.
The day continued through cornfields and meadows, and a gradual climb up Mt Greylock, the highest point in Massachussets.
I stopped for a break just short of the summit. I noticed the weather change. It was so sudden. The sky darkened, the wind blew fiercely. The sun was resigning. I hurried to the summit.
I reached the top of the mountain at dusk. I went round to the back of the Bascom Lodge to collect water from the spigot attached to the building. As I filled my platypus with water, I had to hold my sleeping pad between my legs to keep it from blowing away, coerced into flight by the strengthening wind. A light rain began. There was a great chill in the air. I donned my raincoat, secured my pack, and set out in search of where the trail begins again. I walked in a circle. I could not find it. I strapped on my headlamp, and engaged the light. There was a clap of thunder. I became anxious in my search. I was doubtful of my ability to make it to a suitable place for shelter before the storm raged, before visibility was swallowed by the clouds.
Finally I found the trail. I also found the Thunderbolt Shelter. It is an emergency stone hut. It is not intended for overnight use. A flash of lightning. This is a suitable exception, I thought.
I stepped inside. It was quite nice. I made myself comfortable on a stone plank, trying not to feel guilty for cutting my hike short. I did not mean to be here. I meant to hike in to the night. I meant to make it to Vermont. I am due to meet my brother in Bennington tomorrow afternoon, just over 24 miles away.
The rain pounds the outside of the shelter, blown sideways by the wind; heavy sheets of rain, flashes of lightning, the boom of thunder.
I will certainly have my work cut out for me tomorrow.
Oh, my! I have camped far too close to the shelter. There is a very large group of kids, maybe a school group of sorts, that stayed in the shelter last night. I will not be reveling in the sweet silence of the morning, today.
They passed by me as I drank my coffee, all single-filed, heavy packs slung between their shoulders. Some waved or smiled or mumbled “hello”.
As the day progressed, I felt the pangs of an empty food sack. This is not the first time I have travelled without food. Something felt different, however. My body was gnawing for nourishment. Was it the lack of nutrients provided by the soaked noodles of yesterday? I was not sure. What I was sure of, was my hunger.
I tried to busy my mind with other things: relationships, sex, dance, family, puppy dogs. Puppy dogs worked for a moment. That moment quickly passed.
Character building, that is what this is. This is an inevitable part of a thru-hike, I told myself. I felt I was growing weak.
There was a lone huckleberry bush here or there. I squished the dark colored berry between my tongue and the roof of my mouth, savoring its sweetness. Then, crabapples! I excitedly knocked a plethora of apples from the tree limbs, swinging my outstretched trekking poles overhead in desperation. I bit into one small, green, tart apple as I knocked down another, and another. I could feel the sugar surging through my body. I filled my pockets with handfuls of apples, as a squirrel fills its cheeks, with frantic excitement, and continued on.
I moved slowly, all the time surveying the forest for edibles.
Finally, I spotted the illusive Chicken of the Woods. I pulled it from the fallen tree trunk and found a spot near the trail to break, and cook the fungus. I shredded its flesh between my fingers and boiled it in water. I added salt and pepper and nutritional yeast, and ate, pleased with my discovery.
Next, blackberries! The forest was providing. I was so very thankful.
It took me well in to the afternoon to cover the 13 miles in to Dalton.
I dropped my pack in front of the Cumberland food Mart and entered. Finally, I thought.
I selected juice and black beans and pretzels and clif bars and sat out front, bare feet and legs shamelessly outstretched along the walkway, back against the building, and enjoyed my meal.
A kind lady engaged me in conversation. This conversation led to a ride to Wal-Mart where I procured some more reasonably priced protein, and batteries. She dropped me off store front, bought me an iced-coffee from Starbucks (her treat), and waited for me to complete my shopping so that she may return me to Cumberland. It was positively amazing!
Back at Cumberland I repackaged my food, and cleared my pack of trash. I stepped inside to use the restroom and, upon my return, discovered a note on my pack. It read: “Yay! You made it to Dalton! I’m proud of you! Keep being amazing!” I smiled broadly. In that moment, I needed that.
I continued the road walk through Dalton and back to the trail. The sky was dappled with clouds and the romantic scheme of dusk.
Perfectly frilled curtains parted elegantly over the windows of large and beautiful homes that lined the street; homes of brick, and richly painted wood, and unfinished log. Sunflowers were vast and brilliant, hills rolling and green. Kids played ball in the park with their parents, running and laughing and catching.
I began the climb out of town. Part way through the ascent I stopped for a break, nearly directly on trail. I would just recline for a moment, I thought.
I rose very early, just as light began to uncover the colors and shapes of the little village. All was still. I stole another hour of rest, relying on the sleepiness of Sunday to keep town-folk within their homes, their beds, safely tucked away and unaware of my parking lot imposition.
I used the portable lavatory in the little park just down the road from where I slept. The playground appeared almost rustic, as if even the swings and slides were rich with history.
I then headed down the road I believed would lead me to the trail. The walk back was beautiful!
Cloud shadows sat atop tree covered rolling hills, just beyond where horses grazed. Signs on the street read that horses were permitted on the road. The homes and barns were quaint and flower filled.
I found myself at Main Road. Wait, what? This is not right. Sure, I was at an Appalachian Trail trailhead, but it was not the one I had intended. I had cut-off one mile of trail.
Darn it. What to do now? I collected noodles that were left at the trailhead and pondered my next move. I reviewed my ideas and goals when embarking on a thru-hike. I chose to press on.
No, no. I could not.
I realized that I could walk south for a mile on trail, to where I began my road walk in to town, then hike back again. I oriented myself by the sun and headed south. It was a gloriously beautiful stretch of trail! After reaching the road and reconnecting my path, I turned north once more. A car passed. As it drove off, a hand was held outstretched from the window, forming a peace sign. I smiled and waved. It felt so nice.
As the day progressed, I struggled.
I passed US Route 20. I was tempted to hitch in to the town of Lee. Dalton was not far, however, and the trail passed right through the small town. To get in to Lee, I would have to hitch 5 miles. I had found some noodles, I should be fine. I stopped part way through the climb from Route 20, and ate the last of the noodles.
Massachusetts is extremely beautiful. There is a wildness, a greenness, a vastness of leaves, a rolling of hills that I greatly admire. A lack of appealing water sources, however, has led me to hike in a state of dehydration.
My body was desperate when I came to the stream just before the October Mountain Shelter. I sat on a rock in the center of the stream and drank through my Sawyer filter. I promised my body I would water it with greater frequency. I gathered water to go and continued.
Just passed the shelter there was a tent site. The space looked appealing, as did the idea of reclination. I stopped there for the night.
I rolled around in my tent, guiding and repositioning the sticks and stones beneath the silicone coated tent floor, for optimal comfort.
I could hear the hikers pass. I could tell the difference between the day hikers and the thru-hikers by their cadence and manor of speech. There were many day hikers. It was the weekend.
I decided to treat myself. Over my feet, tired and sore, I stretched a clean pair of wool socks. I extended my legs, arched my feet, wriggled my toes. Oh, what delight! Snug, and clean, and soft. There is hardly a feeling that compares!
I began…at 12:30 pm .
The afternoon was glorious; blue skies and fluffy clouds. This is good. With such a late start, I must travel well in to the night. Clear skies will serve me well.
I did not have much water. After passing a small, dry, gorge the next reliable source was the Tom Leonard Shelter. Collecting water from the shelter would require me to travel half of a mile off trail down a steep hill–not appealing. I decided to hold out for the large stream that flowed another 1.6 miles up the trail.
I was quite thirsty by the time I made it to the trail junction to the shelter. I sat on a rock and poured Propel powder in to my mouth, chasing it with the remaining water in my bottle. It was just enough to coat my tongue. I winced at the tart, concentrated kiwi-strawberry flavor. I think it helped.
Finally, I came to the stream. I sat on the stone slab of a bridge over the water, collected, and drank. There was a slight brown tinge, but it tasted fine.
The murmuring sound of the flowing stream was lovely. Dozens of dragonflies danced and flirted about in jerky yet graceful movements, like some abstract, baroque modern dance. Thin bodied and long winged, in colors of blue and brown and purple, all glinting in the sunlight. Tall grasses grow in the distance, the sun and clouds reflect in the water. I reflect as well. I am happy.
At 5 pm I stopped just off trail, mid-climb, to eat. I was still carrying much of the water from the dragonfly stream. My dislike for filtration was leading to dehydration. I masked the discoloration of the water with a drink powder, and drank without filtering. I hoped this would not prove unwise.
Just off trail, near the South Mount Wilcox Shelters, I was thrilled to come across a spring. There was no flow, but the pool was ice-cold. The sun was setting. In order to see within the little pool of magic, I employed the beam of my headlamp. As I approached, a frog leapt from its depths, a good sign. I collected slowly in order to reduce the upwelling of sediments. This water I would surely not filter. It tasted divine!
I continued on in to the night. The trail seemed to forever twist and turn, rise and fall. Where oh were is the road! Once I reached the dirt Fernside Road, there would be just over two miles left to Jerusalem Road. There I would find Running Stream Farm with a food stand and outlets.
A flash of lightning! Could that be!?
Alas, I came to Fernside Road. I stopped to rest my aching feet but for a moment. Then I heard it, what seemed to be a great rustling through the trees. No, no, it was not wind. I glanced about me, searching for signs of precipitation. The plants that lined the trail were in fact moist. The rain was not hard, though. I seemed to be protected by the tree coverage. Then, it ceased all together. I continued.
Oh, how I adore walking through the open fields of pastures at night! The swishing of dewy grass with each passing stride, the dark sillouhette of trees, the glow of a porch light of a farmhouse in the distance, the grey ominous clouds looming above. Then, a weaving through wooden gates and back into woods.
Under night-fall one surrenders themselves to the trail. With the reduction of sight, one is at the mercy of the blazes and the well trodden passageway of earth, or grass, or stone.
Finally, I came to Jerusalem Road. It was very late. The little trail-side stand was locked. I did not have access to electricity. The little village of Tyringham was only a mile away. I decided to head there, hoping to find some place to sleep and charge my things through the night.
As I followed the road north, it felt as though I was wandering in to the perfect little doll house village; crisp and quaint and ornate and full of flowers. Stately, that is the term. It was oh so very stately. A large water pump stood in the center of town, encircled by red brick. Curious, I pulled down on the old rusty metal. No water came out.
I made myself comfortable behind the post office, next to the Town Hall. A police car was parked in the distance. There was an outlet and faucet on the side if the building. I filled up on water and left my things to charge. I accessed the villages wifi and did a little writing, until, alas, I was overcome with sleep.
I rose early. The clouds were thick with moisture, low hanging, draping heavily over the limbs of trees.
An eerie coolness, a foggy beauty, permeated the forest.
Rain was on its way.
I packed my things in a hurry, hoping to be in motion before the first drops fell.
The climbs and descents were rock-filled. The dampness of the morning, and intermittent bouts of rain caused the stones to be slick and slippery beneath my boots.
I took my first surprising spill on the summit of Mt Race. I quickly rose, thinking nothing of it. My side ached, specks of blood rose to my skins surface through shallow scrapes from rough stone against my calf.
The rain came and left. It would be back. Again I fell, while descending a slanted rock. I was able to catch myself this time– within the gap of two rocks–supported by the heft of my pack on top, my arms to the side, and my legs locked against a stone in front. I lifted myself and continued.
Next was Mt Everett. The steep climb was made easier by wooden steps drilled in to the mountain side.
Finally, the ascent and sumitt of Mt. Bushnell. The fog seemed to be lifting. I could faintly make out trees and pastures and little homes below the line of cloud.
It was yet another challenging descent. Again, I fell. When I reached the bottom, I was greeted with cheers from three middle-aged siblings. “You made it!” They pointed to the flask in the center of the trail. “Want a celebratory shot of whisky!?” I accepted, made pleasantries for a moment, and continued on my way.
I was happy to be on the forest floor, solid ground, stable dirt beneath my boots.
Oh, how everything is so beautiful, so magical in the hemlock forest after a rain! The sun peaks through the leafy canopy, highlighting the green of a patch of ferns, a brown strip of earth, catching in a smear of dissipating fog . A drip, drip, dripping, as little drops of rain gather, and in their collective weight, roll from the very tips of the outstretched, green fringed limbs of hemlocks. A stray popping of yellow and gold catches the eye, a call to autumn.
I crossed US Route 7.
The trail then threaded through pastures and corn fields. Hungry, I gathered ears of corn from the stalks at the perimeter. The wear in the grass showed I was not the first. Some ears were so small, all with an edible cob, all tasty.
The rain fell, softly.
I came to Homes Road by the light of my headlamp. I climbed back in to the woods but a short distance. The fog was thick. It would rain through the night. I found a flat space, pitched my tent, and crawled inside.
I woke to two hikers speaking. They were male voices, they spoke of a friend who was busted for marijuana possession. I looked about me and saw no one. It was 4 am. I fell back asleep. Again, I woke to the speaking, seemingly disembodied voices. It was now 5 am. I spoke meekly, “Hello? Where are you?” There was no response, and I drifted off once more.
Next, two female hikers crossed the grass behind me to collect water from the spigot on the side of the ivy building. I lifted my head and giggled dreamily, smiling at the hikers, and once again returned to sleep.
Finally, a distant gate of the hydroelectric plant lifted, and thus, so did I.
As I was gathering my things I noticed I had broken my glasses in my sleep. Oh, how unfortunate! I was relieved to discover that the arm of my spectacles had detached in the most fixable of ways. I used my small Swiss Army knife to cut tiny strips out of the sticky part of a band-aid, and used these strips to affix the arm back to the frame. There! That should suffice until I get my hands on some super glue.
I set on my way.
I crossed the Housatonic River on a bridge. The mist rose from the river toward the morning light. I watched the water cascade down rock edges, foamy and pursuant in the distance.
I reentered the woods and came across a piped spring, straight from the earth and ice-cold.
Glorious! Oh, how it had been so long since I drank from such a spring! I drank deeply, with gratitude.
The day was full of challenging climbs, including Lion’s Head and Bear Mountain, the highest peak in Connecticut.
After the steep and rocky descent from Bear Mountain, the trail meandered through Sages Ravine. The hemlock forest was magical at dusk, an elemental abode.
At only a quarter past 8 pm, I had to use my headlamp to guide my way. How rapidly the seasons are changing, the days growing shorter with each passing day.
I crossed the Massachusetts border.
I sat beside a brook with a strong flow. I had intended to continue. I stretched out my body on the earth beside the water. My feet ached and my legs were sore. I surrendered to stillness. I did not get up again that night.
A couple of miles in to my hike, I sat beside Stony Brook, alongside the river. I ate breakfast, gazing out at the water, at the ducks playing. I watched as they caused ripples of shimmery, sun-kissed water to encircle their bundled bodies as they dipped their heads and long duck-necks beneath the surface, feathery bottoms up.
The sound of the river, the brook, the breeze through the leaves, so comforting, like a soft audible embrace. I must mind my levels of relaxation. I have many miles to cover, yet.
After meandering through the woods and over brooks by stones and wooden bridges, I crossed over the Housatonic River on a road bridge of US Route 7.
I could not see the river. By that time the land was shrouded in darkness, but the stars overhead were spectacular.
The AT then follows Warren Turnpike, passes in front of Housatonic Valley Regional High School, enters the woods again, and then exits once more and joins Water Street.
I sit, now, in front of an ivy colored building at a hydroelectric plant on Water Street. I can here the humming of electricity about me; so kinetic and fractal. I am here for just that, electricity. There is an outlet here. There are also several trucks parked about. No sign of people, though. let’s hope it stays that way until after I make my departure in the morning.
My eyes opened to the activation of bright artificial lights, from the motion of the lady’s bathroom door swinging open.
“Oh!” A man’s voice proclaimed, startled at the site of my bare feet protruding from beneath the handicap stall.
It was 6:02 am. I had been caught.
“Sorry!” I proclaimed. “I will be out of here in just a moment!”
He was less concerned with my occupancy than with my mode of entry. I explained that the door had been left ajar and that it had begun to rain. He was quite nice about the situation. As I made my walk of shame from the stall, he glanced at me from the sink he was tending to. He smiled. He was younger and less authoritative than I had imagined.
I moved around back to the shower. Cold puddles of rain water covered the shower floor, but the four minutes of hot water eight quarters afforded, was lovely. I washed with the array of shampoo and soaps that sat on the plastic shelf, presumably left by other hikers, and dried myself with a swath of terry towel. I then made my way to the little coffee shop across the street to write.
I hiked out at around 8pm.
I made the ascent up Caleb’s Peak and St. John’s Ledges. The climb was not bad, but the descent was rocky, steep, and challenging. I took my time and watched my footing, thankful for the dry conditions and the 300 lumens provided by my headlamp.
After the descent the trail leveled out and travelled alongside River Road. Not long in to the road walk I came to a brook running through a culvert beneath the road. I found a place off trail beside it, and camped for the night.
I did not wish to rise. I wished to sleep. I could hear a dog barking in the distance. I shut my eyes. I did the math in my head, trying to determine for how much longer I could delay movement. I calculated miles per hour, and distance to be covered, and the closing time of points of interest in town.
Kent was just over 14 miles away. It was not far, but things closed early. I had to get moving.
The trail began smooth, and clear of obstacles.
The last miles in to Kent, however, were rocky and my body moved slowly. They did, however, provide nice views.
Finally, I reached CT 341. The town was under a mile away. I was exhausted. I did not care to walk an extra step. I began heading east down the road, sticking my thumb out at the sight of each passing vehicle. Alas, a kind lady picked me up before I had covered but a fraction of a mile. By request, she dropped me off at the grocery store.
With my pack in the cart, I wheeled the metal basket up and down the aisles, looking for dinner and a few items to supplement the packages awaiting me at the outfitter.
I sat outside of the store and ate black beans and grapefruit and repackaged the oatmeal and potatos. I then set off for the outfitter. The space that housed the outfitter was shared with an ice cream shop and a fishing store. It seemed only the ice cream shop was active with employees. I inquired about my packages, and an employee of Annie Bananie Ice Cream quickly and kindly came to my assistance.
What an overwhelming display of boxes! I carted them to the front of the building, sat on the pavement beside them, and slit each box open with great enthusiasm. Upon liberation, I examined each object, sat it beside me, and moved on to the next. It was not long before I was surrounded by mounds of packaging and cardboard. This display made me somewhat self-conscious. I moved quickly to flatten the boxes and other forms of packaging and deposit them in the street-side recycling bin.
My replacement stove and shoes and headlamp had arrived! I marveled at the brand-new pair of Lowa Renegades. They did not even appear to be the same boot! After repackaging the food items and repacking my pack, I strapped on my new boots. I could not believe their rigidity. My feet felt hot within their unworn confines. My ankles rejoiced at the great increase in support, however, and my feet, overall, were far happier and more secure. I sat my old boots by the trash, feeling slightly sentimental as I discarded them.
The next task at hand was laundry. I had heard that the lady who runs the laundry mat was quite particular. I headed to the Welcome Center, in search of a secluded place to change in to my wool undergarmets. Though bathrooms were supposed to be locked by 8 pm, the lady’s bathroom door had been left ajar. I entered, changed my clothing, organized what needed washing, and set off for the laundry mat.
Now with clean clothes, it was time to determine where to sleep. There was no place to camp in Kent, and the only hotel in town was quite pricey. On my way to the laundry mat I had noticed some other hikers had pitched a tent in the grassy shadows behind a bank. I thought that setting up a tent, and in day-light no less, was a bold move. I made my rounds about town. I surveyed the perimeter of the post-office and the grocery store in search of a reasonable place to sleep, preferably with a nearby electrical outlet. It seemed the Welcome Center was my best bet.
I returned to the center and sat on the cool grey tiles of cement at the front of the building and charged my phone and wrote. I grew weary, quickly. I reclined momentarily. This was far too visible a spot to sleep. I rose, gathered my things, and shuffled to the back side of the building. There were squares of pavement that formed a strip of walk way near the outdoor shower. This would do. I laid out my ground tarp and mat and unpacked my sleeping bag.
In the middle of sleep my senses alerted me to a crinkling of sorts, and the rustle of a rummager. I glanced in the direction of sound to see a small mammal investigating the contents of one of my bags. With the light of my headlamp, I revealed more clearly the contours of shape and color of fur; A skunk! It was startled by my light and scurried off. I sat in great relief that I had not been sprayed. I quickly returned to slumber. Then…the rain came. This I had not anticipated.
I was not sure of what to do. It was very late, 2 am or so. I was uncertain of where I could take cover. There was no place to pitch my tent. I remembered the bathroom, and the door that had been left ajar. Do I dare? It was a rather clean bathroom, I thought. The center had just opened the previous month. Everything was shiny and new and unsoiled. It was still a bathroom, nonetheless. It was also still raining.
In the end, I made my way in to the bathroom, and slept.
I was up early, rolled over for a bit, then finally lifted myself from my dew-dampened sleeping bag. The deli had already opened. I noticed vehicles in the parking lot that were not there before. It was my intention to rise before the opening of the store, to spare being spotted. It seemed this did not matter after all; I had not pitched a tent, and beneath the tree, at the angle by which I reclined for that small window of night, was not easily visible.
I packed up my things and drank spiruluna from my nalgene. I wiped the blue-green algae from the tip of my nose and the corner of my lips and entered the store.
I felt welcome, greeted with kindness. I was told that there was a place to collect water and charge my things on the side of the building. So, they had not seen me after all. I thanked them, and wove up and down the aisles examining the goods.
I selected coffee, canned beans, pretzel rods, bagels, and a fresh cucumber and paid for these at the counter. I then tip-toed across the wet grass to the far end of the yard, and sat at a bench to enjoy breakfast.
The sun was shining. I smiled in anticipation of a lovely day.
I headed North down the road and rejoined the trail.
I passed Nuclear Lake, first from a distance, then a stones throw away as the trail weaved around, skirting its shores. However curiously named, the lake was quite beautiful. It glinted and gleamed in the sunlight, reflecting white puffs of cloud on its gentle surface, its welcoming waters fringed with tall grasses and green trees.
I crossed West Dover road. Beside it stands the West Dover Oak. At over 300 years, it is the oldest tree on the Appalachian Trail.
There were three hikers gathered, chatting, smiling, reagailing, in the lot beside the tree. Distracted by their presence I hurried passed and up the trail to where it travels through open pasture. That was not right. I paused, turned back around, and returned to the roadside lot, to the Dover Oak. I stood by its side, shielded from sight by the vastness of its trunk. I pressed my palm against its bark, thick and rough and full of wisdom; then my forehead; then I whispered, almost inaudibly, “hello”.
I continued through the pasture and along the Swamp River Boardwalk.
I crossed the railroad tracks and the little plank from where you can catch the train to New York City.
When I reached NY Route 22, I veered from the trail and walked East along the road towards Tony’s Deli. I purchased coffee and a Clif Bar and some fruit. I sat and ate and listened to the joking and jesting and sarcasm between coworkers. They certainly appeared to be enjoying themselves. I was gifted expired grapefruit juice and a cup of ice.
I returned to the trail at dusk.
The trail traversed another sloped pasture, and then back in to the woods in the region of the Pawling Nature Reserve.
There was much mud and roots and wooden planks. I grew tired quickly. I found a flat area near a trail junction just before a stream, and retired.
I had a late start, an all too common occurrence when I sleep within the confines of a tent.
I had travelled but two miles before crossing Dennytown Road. I had intentions of filling up at the water spigot on the side of a building near the roadside parking lot. After the road, the trail crosses a grassy lawn and ventures between the trees and back in to the woods. I stepped out on to the road. I immediately took notice of a man beside a truck. It was not possible to miss him. The truck was parked on the lawn, directly on trail. I inquired about the spigot. He offered me cold bottled water and a single serving of peach flavored green-tea mix in a long shiny plastic pouch. He sipped a bottled IPA beneath the guise of a red bandanna. I shook the water bottle, now filled with the amber colored powder, and watched the colors change with satisfaction. It had a strong and enjoyable flavor. I have always liked strong flavors. He was a local who often came out to the trail and chatted with hikers. Another hiker came along and was offered a beer. I accepted one as well. A Bud Light. A very cold Bud Light, and an apricot.
I headed back in to the woods.
Glancing upward, it seemed the rain filled clouds may be swept away. The giant, grey, wet-wooled sheep of the sky, were coralled and swayed by the shepherding breeze to be wrung out above some distant land. Well done.
I took notice of myself. I laughed. It seemed I had in fact maintained a “buzz” from said Budweiser. My body was giddy with movement.
Another hiker I knew came up from behind. I let them pass. We chatted. They were headed to the Canopus Lake Beach campground for the night. There was a shower there and a restroom and outlets and a food stand. The thought of a shower and electricity was appealing. I decided to stop in as well. We had great difficulty finding the correct green-blazed connecting trail. I quickly decided it was not worth the effort.
I stopped at a flat spot above Canopus Lake and ate a small serving of potatos and a Clif Bar. I was very low on food. I was lower on energy, however; eating seemed to help.
I was determined to make it to the Mountaintop Deli half of a mile South of the trail, off of NY Route 52. I had read of hikers camping in the back of the deli, on the lawn. They also had an electrical outlet and water spigot on the side of the building, and a selection of goods for a light resupply.
I hiked on in to the night. I stopped for another break and ate the small bit of dehydrated potatos I had remaining, and examined the Chicken of the Woods I had found at the base of a tree. I had read that you should not consume it without first cooking it. Without a working stove, I pondered my options. It was not worth it to build a fire, nor did I have the time or desire. I pulled out my small blue lighter, ignited it, and held it to the corner of the fungi. When the flame began to cook my finger as well, I paused, let the metal cool, and sparked the flame once more. I repeated this process a few more times, sitting beneath a tree beneath the darkness of night, until I was satisfied. I then nibbled on the scorched corner of the mushroom. I had never identified, picked, and consumed any sort of wild mushroom before. I ate cautiously and with focus on my senses. All was well.
Eventually I made it to the dark, winding asphalt of Route 52. I headed South along the road. I was pleased with my arrival. The road was surprisingly busy for such an hour. A truck dissonantly hummed North. I noted the sound of its engine fading in to the distance. I noted the sound of said engine turning and strengthening, growing closer. It was 2 am. I glanced behind me, clenching my trekking poles, imagining what various forms of harm they might bestow. The truck pulled up beside me, it’s passenger window disappearing in to the rubber lined slit at its base.
“You looking for the trail?” the driver asked.
“No. I am heading to the Deli.”
“The Deli is closed right now.”
He squinted his eyes, shielding them with his hands and withdrawing his head a little. I covered the beam of my headlamp with my palm.
“I know. I heard they let hikers camp there, and I am looking to charge my things.”
“You want a ride? You can hop in the back of the truck. You’re really close. It’s just to the right of the stop sign there.” He pointed ahead.
“I’m alright, thank you. It’s not far.”
He smiled, turned his truck around, and drove off. I felt great relief. Though an uncomfortable hour to be approached, I appreciated the gesture of kindness.
I soon came to the deli.
I surveyed the area. I found the outlet and plugged in my things. I then found a grass-free patch of earth beneath a tree behind the deli and out of sight, and slept for the night.
I rose with the sun. As I descended Bear Mountain, I had amazing views of The Hudson River.
I passed the Bear Mountain Recreation Area. Hessian Lake was a lovely sight to behold, but the surrounding area of recreation was not well cared for. There were countless pieces of trash strewn about, and large buzzards hovered over scraps near vacant benches. The taste of water from the fountains, was not pleasant.
I paced back and forth along the sidewalk trying to find where the blazes continued. A man came up to me and asked if I knew of a store nearby. He had forgotten a lighter and was unable to start his grill. I glanced over. There was his large family huddled around a picnic bench, bags of food spread across its surface. I told him I was uncertain, but that I had a lighter he could use if he just needed one briefly. I walked over, removed my pack, and fished out my tiny blue Bic. I told them I had come from Georgia, that I was thru-hiking and headed to Maine. I was offered hot-dogs. I drank two bottles of cold, tasty water instead. I was told that I was welcome to join them when I returned. I suppose they did not truly grasp the concept of what I was doing. I thanked them for the waters, they thanked me for the fire, and I departed.
Finally I found my way and crossed under US Route 9 via a pedestrian tunnel.
The Appalachian Trail passes through the Trailside Zoo. It was just after 9:00 am, however, and zoo hours are 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. I was forced to take the blue-blazed alternate trail.
I then crossed the Hudson River on the Bear Mountain Bridge.
The Hudson River. It was beautiful .
I had grown very hungry, and was excited to come to the Appalachian Market.
I sat by the curb near the air tanks and ate pretzels rods and black beans from a can and charged my phone and battery pack.
I watched as people pulled up in their vehicles to fill their tanks with gasoline or to buy something from the store. Some of them watched me as well. Some glances were curious, some encouraging and knowing and supportive, some baffled or confused, some creepy or lewd.
I reentered the store to resupply. It was pricier than I had hoped, but it was convenient.
The rain was coming. I crossed the road and reentered the woods. I came to a stream with a tent site near by. I decided to set up before night fall. I was pleased with my decision. It began to sprinkle as I fetched water, and continued to rain harder and harder as the night grew deeper.
Oh, how it has begun to turn dark so early! The seasons change before my eyes.
There was much magic today. Water caches and snacks and more water and first aid cabinets affixed to tree trunks.
There was black electric tape in the first-aid cabinet. I decided to try to tape up my shoes. I also pocketed some Triple A batteries, tampons, and aspirin.
…the shoe-tape worked wonders, at first. It was not long before it lost its grip and was added to my Ziploc of trash.
I successfully made my way through “Lemon Squeeze”, a notoriously narrow corridor between two boulders, without removing my pack.
I then came to a sign with a blue arrow and the words “Easy Way”.
I scoffed. What fun is there in that? I confidently approached the normal route of the AT. I paced in front of the large smooth-surfaced stones that guarded the trail, trying to find the best way to pass. I started at the far right. I could not maintain proper footing. I moved to the far left, tried to pull myself up, but could not manage. I paced once more. This has been done before, which means I can do it. I then thought to remove my pack. I heaved it overhead, then stood on my tip-toes and scooched it forward to make room for myself. I then pulled myself up by stubby tree branches, swung myself around and between the two trunks, and crawled on to the surface above. Success!
Next, it was time to climb: Black Mountain, West Mountain, and Bear Mountain.
I enjoyed these climbs as night fell. I relished in the cool breeze as I gazed out at the lights of New York City, below. The orange moon, half hidden by billowing clouds, peering down from above.
Then, as I was making the somewhat rocky ascent up West Mountain, a snake! It spotted me first. It was not small, but not exceptionally large, either. I thought to scare it out of my path of travel. I banged a trekking pole on a stone near it, expecting it to slither off. I was so very wrong. It, in fact, did quite the opposite. It darted toward me, aggressively. Shocked, I took two steps back. Still, it hurried towards me. I have never been chased by a snake before. At this point, I was frightened. I turned and moved from it as quickly as I could, cutting below the trail into trees and brush. I then made a large half-circle down and around and back up, to reconnect with the trail at a safe distance from the snake. When I looked back down, it had turned to face me. It sat there staring. Brave little thing. I continued on, glancing quickly behind once or twice.
As I ascended Bear Mountain, I could make out the dark curves of the mountains that stood in the distance. Soft, mysterious pockets of hazy blue-grey light shone upward from the valleys between each slope. The large, undulating formations were backlit by a night-sky petal pink with moonlight.
I was greeted by a wide-eyed deer as I reached the summit.
Bear Mountain is popular. It has road access, a parking lot, observation tower and toilets and vending machines. It was past 3 am, however, so all was silent. I plugged in my external battery pack behind the vending machine and spread out my mat nearby, on a patch of dirt beneath a tree. There I would sleep, for a couple of hours at least.
Oh, the feeling! The sweet seductive feeling of reclination. Oh, how long it has been, dear Earth, since I have lain myself flat upon you!
I had thought to go further, to journey in to the night. The moon had only just begun to wane away towards its phase of darkness, of newness. These last 5 miles, however, made me question such notions. The weaving of trail, between and up and over and down large boulder piles and fallen trees was both challenging (navigationally and physically), and thoroughly enjoyable. There was something so fun, so exciting, so worthy and satisfactory about it all.
I reconsidered my late start of the previous evening; how I only made it 16 miles by sunrise. I viewed it in a less critical light, now. No wonder it took me so long…it is difficult enough to navigate in sunlight! I recalled getting lost amongst rock piles and turning back for blazes. It all seems so long ago, now.
I travelled in to Greenwood Lake Village this morning. I took the steep .09 Village Vista Trail to get there. As I completed the descent in to the village, I was overcome by a strange yet pleasurable scent. Then I observed what appeared to be very large piles of cedar chips engaged in what seemed to be a light burning process(?). Fragrant smoke stretched and loomed out from select corner piles of charred black edges. Curious. How very curious.
I moved passed the middle school and playground courts and down a main street to a Rite Aid where I procured batteries and overpriced oatmeal.
A kind local took an interest in me and my journey. He spoke of how he had housed hikers for a night in his home, and had received Christmas cards from them every year for seven years thereafter. He asked if I needed anything. If only I had travelled further to get there! I would have loved to stay with him and shower and do laundry and get to know him and get a feel for this little village. He was a sweet older man with a hint of knowing in his eye and a certain quirk that I have come to identify as the East Coast Variety.
I climbed back up the trail.
I crossed NY 17A and crossed the rocky Eastern Pinnacles.
The area was very dry. The sources that were running, were often unappealing or swampy. I was very thankful to come across a water cache just before crossing East Mombasha Road.
I filled up with water, crossed the road, and travelled a short distance before coming to a nice flat spot. There, I removed my pack, unfurled my ground tarp, then my mat, then my body; all against the cool, solid, beckoning silence and stillness of the ever moving Earth.