Connecticut, In The Blink Of An Eye

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Day: 53-55 (08/20-08/22)

Miles: 51

The Appalachian Trail goes through Connecticut for about 50 miles. It is not a long state, so this will either be a very detailed or a very short post. I’m struggling to remember what even happened for the 3 days I was in the state. So naturally you can expect a very high quality blog post.

The first day I crossed over from Massachusetts into Connecticut and immediately climbed a steep mountain. I think it was called Bear Mountain. But not the well known one in New York. This was the lesser known Bear Mountain, CT. Anyway I put on some music and powered to the top, at which I sat for probably an hour, enjoying the view over farmland and small towns.

I walked for a while before I stopped to meditate at another view called the Lion’s Head. Right after I was done I met a couple out for a day hike. We talked for over half an hour about the area and hiking and Sweden and other things. Meeting friendly people gives me a burst of energy, like chugging a cup of coffee without the caffeine withdrawal. As I was walking down the mountain I passed another pair of day hikers. I talked to them for a good amount of time and somehow, despite my incessant rambling, managed to inspire them to thru hike in the near future. Bursting with energy I more or less skipped down the rest of the mountain.

A view

At a road crossing I walked into the idyllic town of Salisbury. Lots of people where out at coffee shops or just walking about town. It must have been a weekend. I quickly located the grocery store and did a small resupply before downing a pint of ice cream. When done, I walked back the road and hit the trail.

The following section followed the Housatonic River and passed Great Falls Village. It was all flat but I still didn’t enjoy it much. You could tell that it was well traveled and not very natural anymore. It was only a few miles and passed quickly however. Spirit caught up to me right before a road where her mom picked her up. Sun Chaser was still ahead. I got to a campsite where I was mostly alone and set up. It was still early so I had time to stretch and journal. Things I’d been trying to keep up everyday with varying results.

I went to sleep that evening feeling great, about the people I met, about the good weather and about the trail in general.

The next morning I tried leaving early. That didn’t happen. I left at 8am, which is not terrible, but certainly a late start. The trail was flat for most of the morning, which is how I like to start my day. That didn’t last, of course. The trail went vertical for about a mile and for a minute there I thought I had taken a hard fall, passed out and woken up in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire or Connecticut?

I made it up, not sweating a single drop. Ok that’s a lie, I was per definition swimming in sweat. The area was called (probably still is, I forget that all these places exist regardless of whether I’m there or not) Saint John’s Ledges. It had one view over forest and a lonely house. One that I desperately want to live in, given my life long search for solitude and, apparently, loneliness.

My fortress of Solitude

I camped before Mt. Algo at a shelter where I met a older German man who made a lot of wise remarks of which I heard only half. Not because of a chronically short attention span, but because of the fifty teenagers running around yelling. They we’re from several different colleges and were having their “lets-meet-in-the-woods-and-pretend-we’re-outdoorsy-to-get-to-know-each-other gathering”. I tried going to sleep and sometime around 10pm they fell silent.

The morning was wet and cold, and as the vengeful person that I am, I thrived in seeing the college students loathing getting up as I was already packed and ready. I left and never saw them again.

This day started less ideal than the previous one, seeing that I had to start by moving my legs in an upwards fashion. One they do not recognize before at least 10am. Against the odds I made it up. And down. And up. And down. (Trying to find ways of making what I do seem interesting when most of it is literally just that, up and down, over and over).

After the repeated ups and downs, I took a little side trip to resupply at Bulls Bridge Generals Store. When I got there Cheeto was sitting outside, enjoying some coffee. I ended up spending too much time and money there. But I left feeling great, so I still count that as a win? We were trying to make it across the border and to a road crossing with a food truck before it closed at 5pm. Spoiler alert: We didn’t make it. But hey, we tried.

Cheeto and I crossed into New York, but not before I managed to get one last fall in the mud. And with that I said goodbye to Connecticut.

Massachusetts And A Series of (Un)Fortunate Events

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The first day of Massachusetts, or “Mass” as people call it (and I adopted because I think it makes me sound cool) was full of surprises. As previously mentioned, the mud that had been very prevalent in Vermont, suddenly vanished in Mass. Well that was a lie. It was just as muddy, only a different kind of mud. Where as the Vermont mud was deep and dense, the Mass mud was slippery and treacherous.

A possible future residence

Anyway, after trudging through the mud for a while I came upon another southbounder, Dirty Dan. A Minnesotan canoe paddler turned thru hiker. Together we walked into North Adams. Or the outskirts of it. Half a mile from the road crossing was a grocery store. With the promise of fresh food, we headed in that direction.

I walked through the store for what must have been 2 hours, trying to decide on what to get for resupply and for shoving my face immediately. Sometimes the options of a well stocked store is overwhelming, seeing that you’re only able to buy what you’re willing to carry. In the end, I decided on getting too much food.

I sat outside the store with Dirty Dan, Spirit and Sun Chaser, among several northbounders who came and left. Eventually, after eating big dent into the food supply I’d just gotten, it started to rain. Just another reason to postpone hiking out. As we were sitting there, several people came up and wished us good luck.

Here’s where it gets interesting. After a while of sitting outside the store, a friendly looking man comes up to us, stops to ponder for a moment before going: “So here’s what I’m going to do, I’m gonna go in, get groceries for dinner, take you all back to my house and make you dinner. You can stay the night and in the morning I’ll make you breakfast before driving you back to trail. How does that sound?” Naturally we couldn’t refuse an offer like that, so we accepted, gladly. John, as the man was named, gave me $20 dollars to go into the liquor store and get us all drinks for the night.

We packed John’s car and drove back to his house in the next town over, South Williamstown. John’s house was located on a large property with a good view of the surrounding mountains. But get this, the house is from 1760! That’s older than the United States! In awe over the house and the entire situation, we unloaded the car and carried everything in.

In preparation for dinner at John’s

At John’s we met Drop Bear, from Australia, who’s here to hike a bunch of cool trails. She Hiked the AT in 2015

I helped prepare dinner, chopping veggies that John had grown in his garden. We all got to shower before dinner and borrow clean clothes while Drop Bear washed ours.

Clean and happy, we all sat down to have dinner. Beans, bread, veggies, burgers, wine, beer. All of it. We ate until we couldn’t anymore and then we just sat, having more wine, talking about the trail and future hiking. We asked John why he was doing this, helping complete strangers, and he replied: “I have lived a wonderful life, have three beautiful children and now I just want to give back”. I considered myself lucky.

The next morning we woke up from John knocking on the door, calling us down for breakfast. We had blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup and, of course, coffee. When we were full it was time to head out. We said our thanks and goodbyes to John and Drop Bear. Drop Bear then took us back to the trail. Spirit wasn’t feeling well and stayed another day.

Sun Chaser, John, Dreamer (me) and Dirty Dan standing in front of John’s house

We began going up towards Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts. The trail was still muddy and a lot of the walking was not as much walking as it was slipping. Some way or another we made it to the top. In the lodge Sun Chaser and I spent several hours charging things and sitting in real chairs, feeling almost like normal people.We started walking again just before it started raining heavily. Determined to not let it get us down, we sang songs and splashed in the puddles as we walked. Having a shelter to dry out in after the rain was also helpful.

Well in the shelter there was a man who was well in on a bottle of rum. He later finished his bottle and passed out. As everyone in the shelter was falling asleep, we heard a gushing sound standing out from the monotonous tapping off the rain. The drunk man was peeing in the shelter. Luckily it was one with bunks and he was on the lower one. So it didn’t directly… affect anyone. Thankfully those sort of thing are mostly unheard of otherwise.

The following day we made it into Dalton, another town that the trail goes right through. I picked up a pair of sandals to try to hike in, seeing that I hadn’t been fully satisfied with my shoes. Only miles will tell how well they work.

The Legendary Simba

 

A man named Tom lets hikers set up camp in his yard in Dalton. He’s been doing it for 39 years! There are no toilets in the area however (this will be relevant in a little bit). So we set up our things and sat for a while before Simba showed up. Simba who I hadn’t seen since Washington on the PCT last year! He drove 6 hours from Pennsylvania to come visit me. Simba, Sun Chaser and I spent the evening eating pizza and talking about everything hiking. Spirit showed up later and we all did a late resupply run to Walmart. It got late and we went back to Tom’s backyard and fell asleep. At least everyone else did.

If you’re sensitive to poop stories, stop reading now… I couldn’t fall asleep because of intestinal… gases. After trying for hours to fall asleep, I finally gave up and went for a walk. At 2am. In an unfamiliar town. I found a semi secluded spot and managed to dodge an accident last minute. I went back to bed and got probably two hours of sleep.

In the morning Tom got donuts for everyone. Simba, Sun Chaser, Spirit and I went for coffee before saying goodbye to Simba and hiking on.

What followed was the most strenuous day of hiking I’ve ever had. Not because of the terrain and not because of the mileage. Because of my stomach and whatever was going on in there. We started hiking at 11 and slowly but surely my stomach got more and more… unstable. I fell behind the others, having to stop every other hour, having less and less energy with each passing minute. In the afternoon I had to get my trekking pole (I only have one) and use it with both hands to get up hills. It was some of the slowest walking ever. Somehow, despite the unfortunate day, I made it 20 miles to Upper Goose Pond Shelter right before sundown. It’s a legendary place because it is housed by caretakers who often make food for the hikers. There was none left when I arrived and I don’t think I could eat anyway. I struggled to set up my tarp and went to bed, finally.

Upper Goose Pond Shelter

In the morning I surprisingly felt great. For the first time on the AT I slept through the night. I guess the mishaps and hardships of the previous day were due to food poisoning.

The trail went through pastures and fields for the next few days. A field is almost as good as getting a view, because it’s a break from the thick forest cover. Or as they call it on the trail, the green tunnel. Although it can get tiring with the constant cover, the trail is ever changing. You just have to make sure you look. Often it is the sort of beauty that doesn’t simply appear, but rather, has to be noticed. It requires a practice of appreciation that sometimes evades even the best of us. When we do look however, and especially when we see, so many spectacular things are discovered. This is something I’m working on and something that’s usually easier to remember in hindsight.

A field

The green tunnel

Oh and I saw a bear!!

The green tunnel, but different

Spirit, Sun Chaser and I all went in to Great Barrington, a popular tourist town in southern Mass and the last one southbounders can access from the AT. Sun Chaser and I hit up the Rec Center for showers and charging. Spirit had her mom visit and we didn’t see her. After spending many hours in the Rec Center, we ate at the brewery. The beer was good, but the food was meh… You know, if you ever happen to be in Great Barrington.

We slept behind the Center on wooden platforms in the forest. The next morning we procrastinated and didn’t leave as early as we should have. Sun Chaser left before me however. When I finally left I caught up to Spirit and her mom. I continued alone to a campsite by a fresh little spring, about 5 miles from the Massachusetts/Connecticut border. After watching netflix on my phone (a bad habit that’s easy to pick up when you’re in the woods for too long) I fell asleep. Early the next morning I crossed the border and entered state number 5.

Mass treated me well. It was probably my favorite state so far. I said the same things about all previous states, which means I can consider myself lucky. To have the best moment be the present one is an art and often a struggle. In a world where it’s so easy to get carried away, being able to say, and mean, that you wouldn’t want to have it any other way, is a gift.

Massachusetts was a mix of fortunate and unfortunate events and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Vermont, A State of Mud

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To recap: The night of entering Hanover, New Hampshire was not a good one. I was kicked out mid laundry, clothes wet and soapy in the pouring rain. The following day came with a little bit of sunshine and I could sort of dry my things out. Smelling like a bucket of detergent, I went to Lou’s bakery, a place well known among hikers for the free doughnut you receive upon arrival. The sugar rush put me in a better mood for a while.

Spirit called me and told me that she stayed with a trail angel the previous night and that he had room for me the following one. The relief of finally having dry and clean clothes made the rest of the day more enjoyable. I met up with Spirit and we spent a few hours at the library, writing blog posts.

As it got later in the day, we made our way to the trail angels house. The trail actually goes straight through Hanover and crosses the border into Vermont. Bill and Betsy’s house is located a little further up the road. Well there, I got another shower and Bill even did my laundry for me!

In the morning, Bill and Betsy made us breakfast before it was time to hit the trail again. Miles don’t walk themselves after all.

New Hampshire/Vermont Border

Bill & Betsy’s house

In Vermont I made a new friend, Sun Chaser. A tall, wavy haired hiking machine from Texas. Slowly but surely I am trying to bring him down in to the world that is thru hiking and eventually triple crowning (hiking the PCT, AT and CDT). We have several similar interests. A few of which are hiking (obviously), photography, film making and just the outdoors in general.

I, Spirit and Sun Chaser camped together in a field. A great spot, although a little wet.

Sun Chaser like a cheetah in the high grass, capturing the moment

A beautiful but dewy camp

The next day everything was wet with dew. We packed up and started the walking for the day. At a road crossing not far ahead a family had set up a snack stand on their back porch. Being hungry hikers we naturally stopped for a while to have ice cream sandwiches. As we were sitting there, Rabbit from South Korea came rolling in. None of us had seen him for weeks and we all thought he was miles ahead. After spending too long on the back porch, we headed out together.

Vermont was all up and down, up and down. Over green hills and scenic farmland. Through dense, vibrant forest we came out into the open and sat down to dry out our things.

As we were taking a break, I saw two familiar faces coming up the hill in the other direction. It was Russ and Emi! Two of my best friends from the PCT and a part of my first trail family. Now going by Krafty and Blackbird, they’d been hiking northbound on the AT from Georgia. We sat for at least an hour, catching up before heading in different directions. It’s a wonderful but sad thing, these long trails. The strong connection you make with people also means having to say difficult goodbye’s.

Reunited with good friends 

The rest of the day was relatively uneventful, as some days are. The following day however, was full of events. We began with Thunder Falls, a nice spot for a break. Thereafter we had decided to go in to the city of Rutland, driven by the hiker hunger.

Thunder Falls

Well in Rutland we made our way directly to The Yellow Deli, famous for delicious sandwiches, among other things. As we entered, we were greeted with cold drinks before being seated. Shortly we sat down and ordered. I got the veggie burger without much expectation. Our food arrived and what happened next was euphoria in my mouth. In a perfect mix of salty, sweet and spicy my taste buds were dancing from having probably the best veggie burger of my life. I won’t add a picture because it simply will not do it justice.

After savoring every single bite, we all left to resupply for the upcoming stretch.

Rabbit outside Walmart in Rutland

Resupply in action

 

We all hitched out together, our little group of four nationalities. Spirit from Canada, Sun Chaser from the US, Rabbit from South Korea and yours truly from Sweden. It had started to feel something like a trail family.

 

The trail worked out in a way where you could hitch into Rutland from several different roads. So we did only a day after hitching out, definitely not driven by the superb food of the Yellow Deli. They also run a hiker hostel and do it well. A lot of people recommended it so we stayed the night. Now the people who run the deli and hostel are a subject of controversy, but I won’t go into that. You’ll have to look it up. Regardless, the place is one of AT tradition and we couldn’t pass it up.

After spending a bit longer in Rutland, the city’s issues became more apparent. An opioid problem hiding behind the facade of old, impressive buildings, to name one. Therefor, finally leaving the city behind felt good.

I can taste the miles

So here comes the reason for the title of this post. The southern half of Vermont is mud. Forget your idea of a trail. There is none. It’s mud. All of it. Feebly we’d hop from rock to rock, avoiding the mud. Eventually however, one slip would render it all useless. Days of hopping are surprisingly more strenuous than days of walking.

 

It’s so bad, that people on the AT call the state “Vermud”. I don’t have any pictures of the actual mud because I was probably too busy cursing it.

Cairn garden

For the last day in Vermud, I hiked 26 miles to make it up Bromley Mountain. A scenic ski resort on which you can camp. I got there in the evening and met another southbounder, Cheeto.

Cheeto on top of Bromley Mountain

Sunset gazing

The last night in Vermont was spent watching a spectacular sunset with several other hikers. Sun Chaser and Cheeto among them. Spirit was behind and Rabbit ahead. As the sun had set, I went to set up camp on the platform of the ski lift, looking up at the star spangled sky as I drifted off into sleep.

Early the next day I left Vermont behind. I entered Massachusetts and almost instantly, or maybe because I was imagining so, the trail changed.

New Hampshire And A Whole Different Kind of Dirty

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After spending weeks in Maine, New Hampshire was a welcomed change. It’s a state often mentioned as a favorite among thru hikers. The main reason behind that being the White Mountains, a range of high peaks, many of which are above treeline.

When me and Spirit entered into the state and the town of Gorham, rain was pouring down. A stay at the Rattle River Hostel seemed in place. The first shower after being dirty and sweaty for days felt like coming back to life.

The following day we began our first day in the White Mountains with a range called the Wildcats. Hiking these steep and barren mountains in bad weather proved to be nothing short of treacherous. Having just switched to a new, unfamiliar pair of shoes made for a couple hard falls and countless close calls.

We made it through safe(ish) and went back into Gorham. Not wanting to spend money on another night in the hostel, we decided to camp behind the Walmart. It proved easy enough, but spending that long at a Walmart made me feel dirty in a completely different way. It was an experience I don’t hope to relive anytime soon.

As we were about to leave town to head back into the mountains and the familiar dirt of the trail, we heard someone yelling our names. It was Sincerity and Barefoot who I hadn’t seen since northern Maine! They were joined by Green Machine and were sharing a room at a motel with Marcus and Tinkerbell who I also hadn’t seen for a long time. They invited us back to their room to hang out and catch up. We ended up spending the night and taking an unintentional zero day. We were 7 hikers in one room and it smelled BAD.

Hiker hangout in smelly motel rooms

The next day me and Spirit left for real, this time going up the Presidential Range. Probably the most well known range in the area. Partly for it’s stunning views, partly because of Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the northeast.

Luckily, we got a beautiful day and spectacular views in all directions. Mt. Madison was first up, with the biggest climb of the day, to make it up to the ridge. As soon as I got above treeline, I was bursting with energy and felt light on my feet. Being over treeline has that effect. Maybe it’s the mountain air. Or the sense of being on top of the world. Anyway I made it to the top before I knew it.

Below the peak there’s the Madison Hut. The White Mountains are maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and they’ve built several huts throughout the range. It’s sort of bittersweet for thru hikers. Mainly because the huts cost $130+ a night to stay in and are located at sensible distances between each other. Luckily most of them have an option where you can work for stay where they let you sleep on the floor in exchange for a few chores.

Madison Hut

I just stopped in at Madison Hut for coffee before starting the ascent up to Mt. Washington.

AMC Huts were great for coffee

Between Madison and Washington

The summit of Washington was strange. We were up there on a weekend and the place was full of people who drove up the road or took the train up. Being surrounded by all these deodorant smelling people made me feel like an oddity. I didn’t take many pictures on the summit as the experience was unsettling. We didn’t stay long and as soon as we were off the paved path, the crowds disappeared.

The spine of the Presidential Range

That night we got a work for stay at Mizpah Spring Hut. In exchange for doing dishes and scrubbing the kitchen floor we got dinner and a dry place to stay. Seems like a good deal to me.

The following day we hitched into Lincoln, NH to resupply. It was supposed to be a quick there and back sorta deal, but we ended up spending five hours at McDonald’s.

With heavy packs we hitched back to the trail. Except the guy we hitched with didn’t drop us off. Instead he took us three miles down the road that we ended up having to walk.

The next big thing was Franconia Ridge. One of my favorite parts of the trail.

Looking back over Franconia Ridge

 

And another one

After the Presidentials and Franconia, the mountains toned down a little. The hiking was still difficult and rewarding, but the ridge walking had come to an end.

The last few days in New Hampshire were marked by a few memorable sunsets and a rainy day on Mt. Moosilauke.

Sunset up on South Kinsman Mountain

 

 

Whiteout on Mt. Moosilauke

Looking out from Mt. Cube

 

 

A reverse rain dance in Walmart

Right before the border to Vermont, lies the town of Hanover, home to Dartmouth University. The trail walks right through the town. I did my biggest day so far into town, with showering and laundry in mind. I made it in good time and got a shower. However, despite throwing my laundry in the machine and paying for it, the rec center closed and kicked us out mid wash. With wet, soapy clothes I went out into the rain, not really sure what to do next.

Southern Maine & Little Nowhere Towns Pt. 2

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At 4 am my alarm went off. Slightly dazed, I got out of my sleeping bag and started packing up. I walked over to Spirit’s tent and shook her it. We had to get going if we wanted to catch that sunrise.

At 4:30 we got moving and made it up Bigelow West peak just as the colors of the sky started changing. It was a windy morning, but we sat there for nearly an hour regardless, watching the world get brighter and brighter.

5 am sunrise

Breakfast on top of Bigelow West Peak

 

Later that day we made it to the old logging town of Stratton for breakfast and resupply. That’s really all you can do there anyway. After sitting around the gas station, leeching off of their wifi, we hitched back to the trail and started walking up another mountain. I guess that’s how a lot of town days go.

The next day, another mountain, this time in pouring rain. It definitely complicates things. But we got up and over without any major mishaps.

That’s really how some of these days go. It becomes routine and day to day life. A lot of interesting things happen, but mostly it’s all walking. Up and down and then up again. One interesting thing that happened was that some day hikers had carried a 9 week old German Shepard puppy to the top of Saddleback Mountain. Cutest little thing ever. Seeing any dog on trail is always a good time.

We hitched into Rangely, a small tourist town. Mainly for the same reason as every other town. Food! After food we hitched back and walked some more. You get the idea.

A couple days later we made it to Andover. A town with nothing more than two general stores, a diner and a library. The Little Red Hen diner lets hiker stay in their backyard for free. So we did. And sat on their porch, watching pickup trucks stop for beer at the general store. At this point everyone previously mentioned was behind. Except for Spirit. And Tomato who was ahead.

We took a zero in Andover, walked down to the river and sat on the porch some more. Spirit introduced me to libraries. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know about them before. But it never occurred to me that they could be so useful in these little towns. It’s a great place to write blog posts, use wifi and just hang out. The one in Andover was an especially good one. It was this beautiful small dome shaped room with dark wood paneling. I should’ve taken a picture. But I didn’t so you’ll have to imagine it.

Random Andover tool shed

 

The day after Andover we went through the famed Mahoosuc Notch. Famous due to being the supposed most difficult (or fun) mile of the entire trail. It took us a good 2 hours of rock scrambling, crawling under and climbing over boulders. It sure was difficult. But also lots of fun. 

 

Luckily we had good weather going through the notch. Those boulders would’ve been slippery. The day after, not so good weather. It rained all morning and I made it to Gentian Pond shelter and decided to stay there, despite only doing 9 miles or so. Just having a dry place to sleep felt like a luxury. It was also the shelter with the best view so far.

Gentian Pond Shelter

 

On a gloomy day, in the pouring rain, we finally made it out of Maine and into New Hampshire. Being out of the first state felt like letting go of a big breath of air. And not until then did I feel like it was real. That I’m actually doing this again. Living this life again. Living simply. Living deliberately.