Day 131: Great Barrington to Beartown Mountain Road // 14.4 miles. Woke up in the motel, watched more HGTV. 44 came to pick us up and take us back to the trail. He offered to slack pack us (slack pack=hiking with only food and water for the day). My knees are an issue lately, so we took him up on it. He also let me have a knee brace. I’ve just been using KT tape, so we’ll see if some more robust support helps. Actually, I should say I do love my KT tape. It works surprisingly well considering it’s tape, and you can apply in different ways, whereas a brace is always the same. And, I discovered, a brace is always hot and itchy and gets full of sweat. Ugh. I joke that I should have been sponsored by KT Tape, because I answer questions about it from day hikers all the time. I need a t-shirt that says “It’s KT Tape. Yes, it helps. I don’t know how it works. You can buy it at Wal Mart or CVS.” Some days that feels like a mantra, and once, as my bright blue knees came down the trail, a day hiker start shouting, “Injury! Injury! Injury!” Thanks, dude. Anyway, when we met 44 at the road where he was going to give us our stuff back, he offered to let us stay at his house that night. Yes! So we took him up on that too. Another shower, frozen pizza AND we finally got to watch Return of the King (they rented it on Amazon for us!). We’d seen the first two movies when we zeroed at Maureen’s house and had been looking for the third for some time.
Day 132: Beartown Mountain Road to Finerty Pond // 17.6 miles. We found Jay in the morning and he joined us. Lots of people on the trail, all heading to Upper Goose Pond. We decided to go past that to avoid the crowds and also because there was a hotel where you could order Chinese food delivery. We sat by the lake eating until stuffed, then left there and headed up the next big climb to look for a campsite. We looked and looked and there was nothing for a long time. We were all demoralized and despairing, even Jay, who is usually cheerful. We ended up camped on an awful, rocky old roadbed.
Day 133: Finerty Pond to Dalton, MA // 16.1 miles. Midmorning we came to the road to Cookie Lady’s house and found Animal and Jay talking to a guy with a big white van filled with drinks and snacks. We popped some sodas and chatted, and the guy, Rob, told us he had a lot of extra food back at the campground where he was staying and that he would pick us up at the end of the day and take us back there. We agreed. He also offered to slack pack us but we were reluctant about handing all our stuff to a guy we just met, so we said we wanted to carry it. We still wanted to check out the Cookie Lady, so we walked up the road to her house. The cookies were just alright, but she also sells hard boiled eggs and THOSE were delicious. Normally people who are institutions on the trail love to talk and hang out with hikers, but Cookie Lady just wanted to give us the cookies and then get back to her own business. Her house is also a blueberry picking place, so we picked a little bag of those for the road. I asked if they had a bathroom, and then regretted it–it was in an abandoned house on the property which was halfway reclaimed by nature, the floors and walls all slanted like a fun house. You threw toilet paper into a bucket and “flushed” by pouring water in from one of the jugs. Freaky place, should have just waited to get back in the woods. The terrain leaving there was easy and soon we were meeting Rob at the road into Dalton. Mad Max, whom we hadn’t seen since Woods Hole in Virginia, was also at the road. I’d thought he was off trail so it was cool to see him again. Unfortunately his mom had come to pick up his kitten, so I didn’t get to play with it again. Rob took us somewhere (no clue where) to a campground and we feasted on burgers and leftover potato salad. Also, another shower, in one of those campground shower buildings that remind me of my youth, car camping with my family at the beach. I felt a little uncomfortable with Rob, who kept making inappropriate jokes and trying to convince Eric and I to sleep inside his stuffy, cigarette-y trailer with him. We graciously declined and were glad to get back to the trail the next day.
Day 134: Dalton to Mark Noepel Shelter // 13.9 miles. After Rob dropped us back in town we stopped at a coffee shop to get breakfast sandwiches. By now we know the deal: you get one to eat there and another to pack out and eat later. While there, a whole group of people we liked came in: Honeybun, SoCrates, Rottman, Walter White. We didn’t really want to hike on, but did. On the way out Walter White said conspiratorially, “Have you noticed how everyone has these pentagrams on their houses?” I laughed, because we was referencing the metal stars I’ve seen hanging on houses a lot in Texas and PA. Decoration, not indicative of membership in a witch cult or something, the way “pentagrams” makes it sound! It was just a short while through the woods before we walked through another town, Chesire. We got sodas and ate lunch, then started up the climb toward Mt. Greylock. I’m slow on climbs, so I put in some good music and enjoyed the (inaccurate) feeling of being alone in the woods once everyone else had pulled ahead. At the shelter we encountered a large group of Yale kids out on a pre-orientation bonding experience. We tented away from them and their boisterous energy and slept well. Seeing them made me feel like it was a long, long time ago that I was that young and all overexcited about starting college.
Day 135: Mark Noepel Shelter to Williamstown, MA // 9.6 miles. In the morning we finished hiking Greylock. On the way up we came across a pond with a tiny cabin at the far end. It looked pretty quaint, so we went to check it out, and found Mad Max there. It was a dingy thing on the inside, smelled kind of like gasoline and the floor was stained with oil. Mad Max said he’d spent the night there. Yuck. We climbed on, and the summit of Greylock was beautiful. While we were taking it in Honeybun, SoCrates and crew hiked up and told us the lodge was serving breakfast. So we went over there and feasted on omelets and coffee. Eric accidentally sent the cashier into tears when he asked how her day was–apparently a customer had been very rude to her earlier. We left there much later than intended. At the bottom of the descent was town, which we’d planned to roll through, because just a few miles north was the Vermont border. But it was late and everyone else was staying the night. Also, there was a rumor of free food for hikers at the Mexican place. So we stayed too. And yes, the Mexican place just gave us our meal for free. We purchased many margaritas as thanks. Also, we stayed at a motel run by the loveliest Indian family. Their brother owns another hotel in town, so there is friendly competition between them, and the results of them trying to outdo each other included a wonderful breakfast spread of strawberries, oranges, banana, mango, plus breads and spreads and coffee, tea, juice, the works.
Day 136: Williamstown, MA to Congdon Shelter // 14.1 miles. We hiked out eager to get into Vermont. Mostly uneventful hiking all day through nice forest, no grand views. At the shelter were more college kids, this time from Cornell. They were pretty loud. Eric went to Cornell and also did the hiking trip they were on, back in the day. It was on that trip that he first learned about the AT and thought about doing it someday. So he felt a little responsible for protecting their reputation as it got later and later and their noise more and more inappropriate. He went and asked them to be quiet at 10 pm, and they did. It started to rain that night and everyone woke up in puddles. Our tent was dry inside but practically a waterbed as we had set up right in the path where all the water was draining into the creek.
Day 137: Congdon Shelter to Goddard Shelter // 14.4 miles. It was still raining in the morning. We laid around drinking coffee and hoping it would stop. It let up enough to pack up. We walked past the Cornell kids in the shelter, and they looked miserable. None of them had the gear to deal with rain; they were in yoga pants and cotton hoodies and with plastic ponchos and cute moccasin boots. I was glad for my rain gear! It started raining again heavily once we were hiking. All day it was wet and muddy and awful. Vermont showed us the Ver-mud right away. We got to the shelter and found a decent spot. Then it started raining again.
Day 138: Goddard Shelter to campsite on the North side of Stratton Mt // 18.3 miles. We packed up our wet tent and put on soaked shoes again. Perhaps the worst thing about rain for me, though it’s hard to pick a worst, is shoving your arm down into the stuff sack full of cold wet tent material over and over again while your fingers get numb and then start to sting and burn, trying to get the whole tent in there. Ugh. Another day of cold and wet and mud. We felt pretty miserable and thought we would stop before Stratton Mountain, but we were going to town the next day and didn’t want to have to do a big day to get there. So we pushed on. I “entertained” myself by taking pictures of all the various types of shit we had to hike on: the slick board walkways, the deep trenches of mud, the wide flat plain of mud with no clear way around, the long stretches of hopping from tiny rock to stick to tiny rock… There comes a point each day when you slip and one foot or the other gets a nice soaking with thick muddy water, and then, even though it sucks, it’s also kind of a relief because the game is up and you don’t have to try to stay clean or dry anymore. The only marked camping was a shelter with a $5 fee and no tenting allowed. Animal and Jay went there. I finished sleeping in shelters a looooong time ago, and I just couldn’t handle the thought of having to share space with a bunch of stinky people and all their wet muddy stuff. Luckily we found a spot to set up the tent before that shelter. It rained again all night.
Day 139: Stratton campsite to Manchester Center, VT // 11.7 miles. We woke up on a mission to get to town and practically ran there. I even did break into a bit of a limping gallop on some flat stretches. No stopping. We even got there before Animal and Jay, who’d gone a mile or so further than us to the shelter the night before. We hitched a ride easily enough, picked up new shoes for both of us and a winter sleeping bag for me, and ate delicious Thai food. The town was cute but it seemed kind of fake, and everyone seemed very rich and fancy, and I was very aware of being dirty and smelly. We were walking along the road after resupplying when a man riding his bike went out of his way to come over and say, “You guys are kind of late aren’t you? Are you sure you’ll make it?” We’ve been getting this comment from town people (never thru-hikers) for a long time now, and it’s getting pretty old. Plus, it’s ridiculous. We have plenty of time to get to Katahdin, and there are plenty of people still out all around us. We are by no means the last people who can make it. Just a tip, if you see some hikers in your town undertaking this big and difficult thing, just say something nice, or say nothing. Why go out of your way to say something discouraging to them? Okay, got that out! We got a motel room and set to drying and washing everything. It was such a relief to be dry and warm. Vermont is a bummer so far!
Day 140: Manchester Center to campsite just past Lost Pond Shelter // 15.3 miles. We really didn’t want to leave the motel room so we stayed in and watched a few more episodes of Under The Dome until it was almost checkout time. This is a new show we discovered with my Amazon Prime trial, about a small town that suddenly finds itself trapped inside an invisible and impenetrable dome. Chaos ensues, etc. The owner drove us back to the trail and we hiked in spite of really just wanting to stay inside watching TV. By “we” I mean “me”. I just felt super angry. The past days of rain had been tough, my knees and left foot were giving me a lot of trouble, and I just felt like I’d hiked so, so far to get here, to the grand finale of Vermont-New Hampshire-Maine, and it was just getting so hard. I may have thrown a stick or two. It was a hot day and a lot of people were on the trail. The first climb out of town ended at the top of a ski lift, and it was strange to see all the ski slope signs on a grassy hilltop. We ended up going further than planned twice, saw a great view from Baker Peak, and then passed up the very crowded shelter for a decent tent site away from the crowd. It was the first night in Vermont that it did not rain and we slept comfortably with the tent vents open thanks to the new sleeping bag–Eric used my summer bag since he had been hiking without one (just a felt liner coupled with his silk one) since Waynesboro, VA. The nights are definitely calling for some warmer gear.
Day 141: Campsite to Clarendon Gorge // 17 miles. We had perfect timing in the morning–we were just puting on our bags to go when Animal and Jay walked up. They’d stayed back at the shelter. We fell in behind them, and almost immediately crossed a river into what seemed like a new state. For one, it was sunny. We walked by large clear-water ponds on dry trail. I can’t tell you how nice it is to just walk, not hop, not constantly stare down and try to navigate the mud. We saw several rock cairn gardens. Jay’s trail name is sort of “Cairn”, but when he pronounces it it sounds like “Karen”, and it confuses people, so everyone just calls him Jay. He was called Cairn because he disapproves of unnecessary rock cairns, and knocks them down when he thinks they’re gratuitous. But he left these alone because they’re famous. We took breaks to cool off from the hot weather and cooked our first hot lunch of the trip, hiker pad thai. It was so good to eat something new. Then we did a tough climb over Bear Mountain and took a break overlooking the Rutland, VT airport. Suddenly a swarm of yellow jackets buzzed angrily from the ground around Jay who was stung five times trying to grab his pack while we all ran away. We descended steeply into the gorge and set up a stealth camp near the river. While Eric and Animal hitched to a nearby deli, I walked upriver a bit and did some trail-laundry, then sat in the river in my underwear and soaked while I talked to my mom. It was so, so nice and the cold water felt like a heavenly ice bath for my sore feet and legs and knees (and everything, really). Eric and Animal brought back sandwiches and soda and ice cream(!) for my early trail birthday.