Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chapter 5 - Arrival in New England, hiking like it's my Job

I hiked out of Bear Mountain, crossing the gorgeous Hudson, the world seeming to be twice a beautiful after the rain the previous day! The Trail follows a road for a couple miles before ascending up a hillside. This section didn't have good water, so as the Trail passed another road I was able to buy some water and get lunch, as well as continue the trend of having ice cream everyday that I had been in NY. There are so many deli's in NJ, NY, and CT that is an easily conceivable goal to have ice cream and soda daily - one day I thought I would only be able to have soda, I went down a state park and found they had an ice cream vending machine!

I was always trying to figure out why, in books and journals about the AT that these states always seemed to be skimmed over, people tales were vividly explained all the way up through PA and then got shy of information until New Hampshire really. I thought the hiking was enjoyable through this region, I was able to eat ice cream daily, and the hills and climbs were sometimes very steep, but always short. NJ had a few sections on board walks crossing over bogs, but that seems to be what hikers remember most about the state - like the rocks of PA, these board walks made up less than 1% of the Trail there.
NY was gorgeous to begin with, and different than anything I had seen, then the Trail lost it's allure and ascended and descended through forest that could have been in Virginia again!
I bypassed Graymoor Spiritual Center - it was early in the day and why would I want to sleep on concrete 1/2 mile off trail? Many hikers seemed to end up staying there with the friars. It was another one of those iconic places along the Trail, shrouded in mist and mystery that I didn't want to visit - some of those places had turned out disappointing! Instead I continued on, over Canopus Hill, a gorgeous tiny mountain with some good views into the surrounding farmland I was now traversing. The day was hot and humid the occasional threat of rain, but as evening neared the day cleared off and became nice.
At Dennytown Rd there is a spring fed water faucet coming directly out of a building, sweet cold water! I had been getting low and was too glad to fill up. I had plans to go 3 more miles to the road crossing I was to meet Flip at the following day, as I walked the 1/10 of a mile over a small freshly mowed field into the cool expanse of woods the forest opened up, the cathedral ceiling stretching above me. And there was a familiar camo tent set up just off the Trail. My good friend Animal was here, I had caught up to him yet again! I decided to camp in this most comfortable spot, the campsite up on a hill overlooking a dry stream bed and further the far view of the forest opening to a pond, the sound of frogs croaking echoing up to the soft flat spot under the trees where our camp lay. Water was close at hand, I had only 3 miles to go in the morning to meet Flip, and I had good company to hang out with this evening. Later more familiar faces showed up, Croc-hunter, Boots, and others also camped near by.

The next morning I made it to Flip at NY 301 - we put our packs on and after reunion and the happy dance we set off - his second AT adventure with me! Less than a mile later around Canopus Lake I insisted we hide our packs and do a side trail to Clarence Fahnestock SP - where we found an open snack bar... with ice cream! After the daily routines, we hiked north once more, catching up on happenings in our lives. Me telling stories of the Trail, he telling stories of the 'real' world, the world waiting to take me back into it's mean embrace the world of work and work and TV and work.
We hiked 10 miles and began looking for a place to stay, we stopped only briefly at RPH shelter, which is more like a hostel that's missing a wall! The water from the hand pump there was red with high iron (rust) content, but tasted just fine. We filled our bottles and headed on up a mountain that had houses on one side and us on the other. I hadn't counted on such a small AT right of way and was concerned we wouldn't find a place to camp and have to continue much further. Fortunately at the far end of the mountain a shoulder opened up and we found a rarely used campsite, though it had been used. There was someone shooting close by, probably a mile or so, in short blasts, anything from 4 shots to 11, obviously from a semi-automatic, and the time between loads was very quick, this continued on for a few hours, we had thoughts of some hill-jack accosting us" 'cause we was on his property".
We set up our hammocks (Flip decided to try the same setup as me) close by, sharing one tree and going off in a 'V'. He used a regular square tarp as the tarp over the hammock. I liked my setup a bit better for head room, but his was a much cheaper and just as effective method to cover the hammock. His setup cost less than $100 and was as light or lighter than a Hennessy Hammock! Not too shabby.
As Flip began gathering firewood I watched as he sawed a piece of wood with his collapsible camp saw (something I would never carry, but the boy loves his fires!!) and as it broke yelped and jumped. I thought he had got himself with the saw, but no, he had stepped in a yellow-jacket nest! Right by the campfire ring too. Damn! Fortunately they weren't as aggressive as some I have seen. They didn't chase us and as long as we stayed on our side of the fire and they on theirs and uneasy truce between our species was had.
Flip, as you may remember, is a gourmet camp cook. And he didn't fail this time either! Bringing back a favorite I asked him and we had backpackers pizza again! Easy, cheesy, and no clean-up, everything I'm looking for in a dinner!
The next morning we woke to rain. Not just a little rain but torrential down-pour rain. Flip dove out of his hammock and sat with me under mine. I took down the hammock and we had lots of room to stretch out and stay dry under the Big Top. We had planned on getting down off this mountain first thing for water, but we decided to wait out the rain. I put my Nalgen under the side of the tarp where the most amount of water seemed to be pouring off - I re-filled all our bottles in no time, fresh clean rain water.
As soon as the rain let up we tore down camp and headed out, the day staying gray and humid, we crossed over pleasant rolling hills, not straining us much. We had no firm plan on how far we were going to hike, just until we were tired! We ended up going 18 miles - not bad for Flip without Trail legs.

Oldest Tree on the Trail
Fortunately, as our water situation got desperate again, a Trail Angel lives 100 yards down the road for the above oak. She provides a hose run out to her fence, where hikers can refill. Thank goodness for the wonderful kindness of people through this area. NY has terrible water, black puddles, and stream running out of shallow beaver ponds.

Are we back in Virginia?! I can't tell

We continued on into the gray evening, passing the much vaulted Appalachian Trail Railroad Station, the only such thing on the Trail. As the next train wasn't scheduled for 4 days in the future we continued on! At NY 22 a garden center allows hikers to setup their tents in the backyard, get a shower, and have access to water. Occasionally a guy sells pizza right by the road as well. We decided to head up the Trail a bit further and find a good place to hang. The Trail passed thru some fields before beginning to ascend Hammersly Ridge - beforehand I had imagined the woods opening up and finding a good camping spot. Instead the woods looked like Shenandoah all over, a jungle-like oppressiveness drove us on and up, Flip was exhausted after the long day and was ready to be in camp, but there were no good spots! Finally as the evening grew dim the woods opened up a bit and we decided that open woods was what we needed, not flat open woods! We setup right off the Trail and Flip cooked directly on the Trail as that was the only flat spot around. We sat and ate dinner in the middle of the Trail by headlamp as it was getting so dark! One of our finer moments, as far as I'm concerned - when presented with difficulty we overcame and still had a really tasty dinner!
The next gorgeous day we made great time, through the Nature Reserve we had been on the edge of and down to the NY/CT border! Another state done!
Thru the hot day we marched, up several very steep inclines. Sonic passed us, and that was the last I saw of him (tho he finished after me). We continued on with the thought of finishing either near Kent, or, if we moved fast enough at Kent - then I could get a zero and we could go watch Batman! Woohoo! The day was very hot, and soon enough, as with these hot days, thunder rolled from far out west. The heat was really getting to Flip. Athletically he is much more inclined than I. He runs all the time, kayaks, rock climbs, and it comes easy to him. I didn't really give a thought to me having been on the Trail in the heat and becoming acclimated to it better than he. Climbing these steep hills in this heat, I was able to keep pace and not over-heat much if at all. Flip was struggling, he was drinking more than I was and having to stop. Hiking every day for 3 months really does do wonders for your body!
Over the final hill and we descended to CT341 and the 9/10 into town. At the bottom a guy offered us a Hard Lemonade and a ride into town - YES! Very nice. I never hitched on this trip, but I did get rides! As we drove into town, the sky opened up, so we dodged that too. Good end for Flip. He went and got his car and we drove down to Danbury.
NOTE: Kent is not a good Trail town. They claim there is an Outfitters there, however they sell over-priced ice-cream, art, and designer clothing. There is one back closet that had barren shelves and nothing a backpacker would want. Do not make this a planned stop for items you might need like fuel, Aquamira, new boots, socks or food. When asked if they had Aquamira they said they were currently out (later I found they had been out all year). When asked where I might get some the guy said in Danbury there's a Walmart and a Dick's Sporting Goods (neither of which ever carry water purification). He FAILED to mention that in the same mall as the Dick's there is an EMS AND and LLBean!!! dude, thanks for looking out. Also of note the cheapest place to stay in Kent is over $200 a night. We drove an hour south to stay in a decently priced hotel.
After a nice zero in Danbury, filled with movies, buffets and laziness, Flip dropped me back off and headed home. Back into the wilds by myself. Parting and going at it alone was always tough. It was hard, sometimes, to accept I was being dropped off by the side of a road by myself in an unfamiliar state with just what I had on my back.
CT is a short state, and I think it might be a fun state to aqua-blaze south-bound. The Trail follows the Housatonic River, then goes up and over a small mountain or two before coming back down and following the river for miles and miles again. The bugs were terrible, there is on type of gnat that continually flies in ones ears, the only way to stay sane was to put a bandanna over my ears. The gnats then moved to fly under my chin, if I looked down there they were.

The bugs drove me nuts!
CT was the only state that I wore the bug net my parents had given me. I was rarely eaten by mosquitoes, and the deer flies only rarely buzzed me. It was the none biting gnats that were there to fly in my ears and my eyes and to just hang out and taste the air around me that drove me mad! I hated them, they made me want to go home. Interesting that something so small could illicit such hate and annoyance from me, but they did!
That night I had been told that there were enormous storms in the area so I pulled a bit short and stayed by a shelter, in case things got too real I could hide there. Terrible thunder in the far distance, the wind began whipping, I thought a bad storm was approaching. But then a light rain fell and the wind died down and the thunder stopped. Apparently in NY that night there were tornado watches and Cara was very worried about me!
The state continued to threaten rain, but so far I had been in the tent and dry. I hiked along the river again into Falls Village, the trees in the forest huge along the crushed gravel path leading into the town. Thru more fields of wild-flowers and skirting pastureland the Trail drew closer to MA, though I could still be in Virginia. At some point during the long day I decided to press on and get out of CT! I ended up doing 23 miles and camping just over the border in Sages Ravine. The climb to the highest point in CT was steep but not too long, the end of the day clearing up and becoming nice.
Highest point in CT is a pile of rocks... go figure
Sages Ravine felt more like New England, seconds into another state and everything changed. The Trail followed a gorgeous little creek that was filled with clean clear water, the pines and birch cradled the ravine in soft beauty.
The following day started misty and began raining in earnest once I ascended a few high hills. In one valley a group of day hikers stood waiting out the rain, I waved and continued. I'm going to get wet either way I might as well walk! I took my time on the wet rocks, especially as the Trail descended off the ridgeline down to a long valley walk and one last crossing of the Housatonic. The rain continued and as I got to the road crossing to go into Great Barrington I decided a dry room would be just dandy! So I hiked the three mile road walk into town. At the Days Inn, normally a cheap crappy hotel, I found the "last room" in town. A hikers room with no furniture but for a bed, for the lowlow price of $250 a night. Damn they got me. Other than that, the town was nice, and the food cheap and good. At this point, after the long road walk my right foot hurt so bad. After removing my pack and showering I limped down the street. This worried me at bit.

MA was gorgeous! Finally the trees began changing and staying changed! The purple lupins in the fields, the pine, and birch, taking over. I could finally say I was out of the south! I made good time out of Great Barrington and made it to just beyond I-90, and to a motel that had a drop box for me. The place was so nice, right on a lake, good accommodations - and $55. Right before this I hiked with Passionflower a blogger I had been following leading up to and during the hike. It was almost like meeting a celebrity! We chatted for a few miles, before she decided to go to Upper Goose Pond, and I decided to continue on to the Berkshire Lakeside Inn.
I did a 23 mile day out of the Inn. The paradox of MA for me was I loved it and I didn't want it to end, but it was just so nice I couldn't help but do a 29 mile day followed by a 23 mile day followed by a 20 mile day!
I remember passing through the towns of MA, Chesire and North Adams, but I didn't stop in them. In one side, down a street, out the other side. Many people have memories of the Birdcage or Tom Levardi's, both were hostels, and both I didn't want to stay at, plus I was making such great time! If I continued on I'd make my goal of VT by August 1st!
Mt Greylock was much easier a climb than I thought it would be, a steep section followed by a long flat section before ascending again to the highest point in MA. At 3491 it was the highest the Trail had been since VA! At the top the forest changed to gorgeous hemlock forest. There, upon the top, lay a lodge that sold, you guessed it, ice cream!
Look closely for the 2 hang-gliders in the back ground!

I camped at the Sherman Brook Campsite just shy of the VT border on July 31. On August 1st I hiked into Vermont and then walked into town to Bennington VT. The hotel there said they would pick me up at the Trail, but there was no signal so I walked 4 miles. They did drop me back off the next morning though.
The mountains began getting bigger again, the climbs longer. VT eases hikers back into it as there was nothing too strenuous, just long, and rather boring. There weren't many views and trying to remember back I can't remember specifics of this area too well. My foot was hurting badly in the morning and evenings, my energy level dropped and I dragged myself over Stratton Mt on a gloomy day. There are very long stretches on the map and in my mind that nothing of note happened. I could feel the big days from MA catching up to me, more in tune with my body I knew I needed a day of rest. I could keep pushing for a week until I saw Cara, or more intelligently, I could take a day off. I got a room close to the Trail head at Bromley Sun Lodge one sunny afternoon... that quickly turned into a thunderstorm once I was inside!

The Lodge picked me up at the Trailhead and offered a ride back after the day off, however on my day off I had visited the adjacent ski area and noticed a lift running up the mountain. I inquired and they said I could purchase a one way ticket to the top the next day - I'll take it! The following day I packed up and checked out and found only the lift running halfway up the mountain was running - because of my inconvenience I got that ride for free. I floated on the lift, thinking about all the steps I wasn't taking! Even with half the mountain done, it was still a long climb.

Moose POO!!
I was hiking around a road walk section that had been washed out by Hurricane Irene in 2011. I turned on my phone and got a text message from my brother - he knew I was in VT, he was heading to ME for vacation and would be passing through VT in a few hours. Would I want to meet up, stay in a hotel for the night, eat at restaurants? Well, duh?! I let him know where I was going to be, on Upper Cold River Rd. I made dinner, sat and read and just a bit after dark they found me on the back roads of VT. My right foot hurting worse than ever, hobbling to see him is an appropriate explanation of how I was walking.
After a night in the hotel in Rutland with Kevin and Jen I had a decision to make: get dropped off on the Trail, hike 3 more days to get to Hanover and have Cara come and pick me up (hopefully my foot would allow this) or have Kevin drop me off at Lovett's Inn in Franconia and wait for Cara there and let my foot hopefully heal so I could enjoy hiking again!
I decided to flip a coin and go with whatever the chances told me!