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.

Southern Maine & Little Nowhere Towns Pt. 1

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Okay, so this post will cover the two weeks in southern Maine. Therefore it will either be not detailed or very long. Or somehow both. Lets see how it goes.

After the 100 Mile Wilderness I spent a full zero day (no miles hiked) in the small town of Monson. There was a small grocery store and a gas station with food serving. But where all the action happened was at Shaw’s. A hiker hostel, well acclimatized to the needs and wishes of hikers. Showers, laundry, beds, loaner clothes, entertainment, food serving, resupply options and even a well stocked gear store. A fairly easy place to spend the day.

The Hostel Loaner Clothes Look

 

Everyone made it there and we had a great day sitting around on the grass drinking beer, walking back and forth to the gas station for pizza. It was one big gathering of southbounders. I’m gonna namedrop everyone, even though it means nothing to most of you reading this. Jenni (now Spirit), OTB, Earth Surfer, Kabra, WhiteBread, Barefoot, Sincerity, Marcus, Tinkerbell, Lars (zoomed by us in the 100 Mile) and Tomato.

 

Me, Spirit, Sin and Tomato got on the early shuttle back to trail the next day. It was a full day of flat walking, otherwise unheard of for Maine. A north bounder set up a trail magic station with drinks, food, snacks, fruit and a bunch of other goodies. Thanks for that Conan!

My foot was hurting a lot at this point. Probably from the minimal shoes I wore, combined with the uneven terrain. I was even worried that I had broken my foot. I had a really bad day because of it. Every step felt rough. I made it to the tiny town (might even be considered a village) of Caratunk early morning. Resupplied at the hostel there and left as soon as I could.

The trail crosses the Kennebec River, the widest ford on the trail. But fording it is not recommended because its more like swimming. Luckily there is a guy in a canoe who takes people across.

I made it to West Carry Pond Lean to in the afternoon, went for a swim in the pond (it’s a lake, Maine just likes calling everything a pond) and made a fire. Tomato made it there right after me and we were shortly joined by several northbounders. Spirit got there a little later and suddenly we were a big group sitting by the fire. One of the northbounders sat in the lean to, playing somber music on his ukulele. And just like that, a bad day had turned into a good one. Sometimes all it takes is some good company.

The day after started out great but went south quickly (I’ll try to not overdo it with puns like these, I promise). The first climb of the day had me more or less lifting my legs with my arms to make it up the mountain.

Later in the day, after countless stumbles and sighs, I drank some coffee and began the biggest and last climb of the day. About 2000 ft straight up. And you know what, I’m not sure if exhaustion had turned into stubbornness or if I was just high on caffeine, but I flew up that mountain. The further up I got, the better I was feeling. Until 45 minutes later, I stood at the top of Bigelow Avery peak. Drenched in sweat but with a big smile on my face.

That evening I met a group of overnight hiker who offered us dinner and company. We sat there, exchanging stories as the sun set. The campground is located between two peaks, and tents are set up on wooden platforms. It felt as if we were camping in the sky. Me and Spirit decided to try to get up at 4am the next morning to catch the sunrise on top of Bigelow West Peak.

I decided to cowboy camp (without a tent) and fell asleep looking at the crowns of pine trees, swaying in the mild wind.