Vermud?

Goddard Shelter, Vt., AT NOBO mile 1,617.2, Saturday May 31, 2014 — New York had mud. Connecticut had mud. Massachusetts had mud. It was all warm up. Vermont has mud, real mud.

Vermont reminds me of northern Minnesota. The forest features firs and birch. The glaciers cleaned off the soil. Now there’s bits of soil that becomes black goo slathered on smooth bedrock when it gets wet. The water has no place to go, so you get mud and mosquito breeding habitat until the water evaporates.

It wasn’t long before mud became Vermont’s middle name. That said, the deepest I’ve found is eight inches. It also so far hasn’t been as terrible as predicted. The trail crews use rocks, corduroy wood and duck boards to mitigate the mud’s impact. There’s a lot of Vermont left, so time will tell.

We’re 30 miles from a real treat – a stay at the Green Mountain House hostel in Manchester Center. It’s the third jewel in the hiker hostel triple crown which also includes Woods Hole and Bears Den. Jeff, the owner, sent me an email saying he’d welcome a visit, and I cannot wait.

Meanwhile the temp dropped into the mid-30s last night. My feet got cold! Should never have switched to a quilt. This is not a normal spring/summer transition. I’ll survive, a wiser man for the experience.

Vermont!

Congdon Shelter, Vt., AT NOBO mile 1,602.8, Friday May 30, 2014 — “Green Mountain Leader, this is Green one-five. I have hiker bandits at my three o’clock. Permission to engage, over.”

“One five, this is leader. Permission granted. The flight will follow you in. Green Mountain Flight, this is leader. Turn to two-eight-five. Bandit hiker. Attack.”

The engine whine of a WWII Japanese Zero reached my ears just as the first flight of Vermont mosquitos closed within range. The first wave scored some hits, but I managed to apply Deep Woods Off! before the second could come round.

Thanks to the chemical warfare, the second and third waves took their share of casualties. Thereafter the mosquitos were watchful but kept their distance.

It’s funny. We hadn’t seen a mosquito for our last two days in Massachusetts. Two feet into Vermont they attacked with a vengeance.

This could be an interesting state. A porcupine showed up to take a look, but the cool weather has kept the black flies under cover. This is the first time on this entire hike that I’ve wished for continuing cool weather. Everybody who’s ever met a black fly knows why.

The bigger climbs are returning as the trail runs northward. Yesterday a good glimpse of what’s ahead appeared on the horizon from Mt. Graylock.

We’re joined tonight by the Knoxville folks and three Vermonters out hiking the Long Trail which runs the length of the state. The AT shares the route for the first 105 miles to Rutland where we will bear right toward Hanover, NH.

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Happy ending

Wilber Clearing Shelter, Mass., AT NOBO mile 1,585.7, Thursday May 29, 2014 — At one point, I thought today was going to be a bust, but the ending far exceeded one minor disappointment.

Let’s start at the beginning. I marched out of Dalton at 7:30 am. The temp was a balmy 38 degrees. The objective was Cheshire, Mass. just eight miles across Crystal Mtn. There I would be able to buy some gear at a nearby outfitter, scarf a milkshake and stay at a hostel in the Catholic Church.

Well, both the milkshake and the outfitter boxes were checked by noon. Now what to do? Fortified by a high octane milkshake it was on to Mt. Graylock of course.

Graylock is Massachusetts’ tallest mountain and the site of its veterans memorial and Bascom Lodge. Bascom is a hotel, but also features a highly rated hiker hostel as well.

Best of all, Bascom also has a restaurant. Visions of hamburgers were dancing in my head.

We reached Bascom at 4:30 pm only to find that it doesn’t open til this weekend. There we were, all dressed up in our finest expectations and no place to go except to the next shelter three miles further on. (22.5 miles on the day with a 2,100 foot climb thrown in.)

As we pulled into the shelter area we realized that it was jammed with college age kids. Just our luck, I groaned to myself.

We asked if there was any room for a couple of old tired thru hikers, obviously playing the sympathy card.

It worked! Turns out the students were from nearby Williams College in training to be freshman orientation leaders. They’d realized that all 13 of them weren’t going to fit in the shelter anyway, so they gave it to Swayed and me.

Just after that three young women from Knoxville, Tenn., fresh out of high school, rolled in chaperoned by one of their dads, hiking from Lee, Mass. to Mt. Katahdin. Their hike is in celebration of their graduation.

The context is this. Swayed is a highly successful businessman from London. American young folk haven’t made the best impression so far. Recall the Beavis and Butthead stereotype.

The young folks we’re with tonight have turned that stereotype on its head. These are just like the students with whom I worked at Georgia Tech. You’d bet the farm on them, and I’m delighted Swayed gets to see the difference.

All I have to say is this: Thank heaven Bascom was closed.

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On the money

Dalton, Mass., AT NOBO mile 1,565.2, Tuesday May 27, 2014 — Trick question. Guess where the paper for U.S. currency is manufactured? That’s the white rag paper with the red and blue fibers imbedded in it. Right here in Dalton of course.

We figured that out (from a sign) on the way into town foowing an hour’s easy hike.

Unfortunately the ice cream parlor didn’t open until 4 pm and it was 9:30 am, but the coffee shop was open and we settled in for a quick latte and a banana muffin.

Town stops are pretty mundane, comprised mostly of house keeping chores such as collecting boxes as the post office, grocery runs, laundry, showering, and pigging out.

Today we were the beneficiaries of some trail magic when Laura, the Shamrock Inn’s manager, took us along on her run to Price Chopper. We treated her to ice cream in return.

We’ll stay one more day to rest our battered feet. Then it’s on to our next town stop in Manchester Center, Vt.

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The Cookie Lady

Kay Wood Shelter, Mass., AT NOBO mile 1,562.2, Monday May 26, 2014 — The trail is full of treats. New Jersey had its delis, Upper Goose Pond had its pancake breakfast and hot coffee this morning, and today we met the Cookie Lady.

The Cookie Lady lives less than 100 yards off the trail and has been baking free cookies for hikers for decades. Nearly all the hiker biographies mention her warm welcome, free water and opportunity to buy a coke or an ice cream bar.

Tomorrow the town of Dalton features Tom Lavarty who has been welcoming hikers to tent in his yard for free.

These are true trail angels, people who give of themselves to make the trail a special place. Without them, this hike would not be such a special experience.

Today’s weather was sunny and pleasant. The trail was nearly flat and rock free. The forest was verdant and inviting. It almost sounds like a prayer, but that’s the way it was.

We broke for lunch at October Mountain Shelter with Dennis, a section hiker from Florida. Life was good.

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Midnight raid

Upper Goose Pond Cabin, Mass., AT NOBO mile 1,544.6, Saturday May 25, 2014 — As darkness slipped its velvety cloak over the woods last night, the stars twinkled in a clear sky for the first time in three days.

The six of us at Tom Leonard Shelter drifted off to sweet dreamland shortly after hiker midnight with joyous anticipation of a clear day and dry rocks. It doesn’t get better than that out here.

Our sleep was shattered by ominous scratching noises. Now mind you that being inside a shelter is akin to the sound chamber of a guitar. Everything sounds loud.

These were loud. First thought: bear! Second thought: Why would a bear be scratching the walls of the shelter? That’s not where the food is. So we listened and turned on our headlamps.

Nada. We couldn’t see a thing, yet the persistent noise continued. Edgar Allen Poe couldn’t have scripted it better.

Enough already! I slipped my shoes on to go take a look. In the process I made some noise and the Poe-etic sounds ceased.

As my light swept the area around the shelter, the south end of a northbound porcupine could be seen as it waddled away. Mystery solved and drama over, we all returned to snoozing.

The porcupine sighting also explained a number of divots chunked out of the picnic table, the edges of the shelter bunks and the leading edge of the front platform. It appears they like the salt human touch leaves in the wood.

It was a long 20+ miles into Upper Goose Pond where an two story cabin offers hikers safe harbor, swimming and a free pancake breakfast. It’s run by volunteer caretakers and the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Tomorrow will end just short of Dalton where my bruised feet will get a much needed day of rest. The weather was fabulous today and the walking worthwhile.

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Small victory

Tom Leonard Shelter, Mass., AT NOBO mile 1523.5 Saturday May 24, 2014 — Yesterday we got caught in a cloudburst a mere .4 miles from the shelter. We ambled in looking and feeling like drown rats. Of course nothing dried out overnight.

Today the rain held until five minutes after we reached the shelter. Score one for the good guys. I even had time to fetch water before nature’s tears of joy washed over our obscure encampment.

It was nice to eat under cover while the rain pelted everything around us.

Memorial Day weekend has drawn out the expected crowd. So far we have five at the shelter including a young couple who live in NYC who are tenting. It’s early so more may wash in before the night is over.

Ironies of ironies, everybody but Swayed claims a Maryland connection. Seems we are a crabby but convivial crowd tonight.

After two days of rain, I’ve only got one pair of dry socks besides the ones in which I sleep. The wet socks have generated some nasty rubbing under my toes.

The weather is supposed to be sunny tomorrow, so I’ll wear my last pair of dry socks and hang the wet ones all over my pack to dry out. Let’s hope this is the last of the foot issue.

Massachusetts continues to display stunning scenery and trail bed featuring slick slab rock. This stuff is slick when dry let alone wet. The rains also muddied up the trail a lot. Guess that’s good training for the next state – Vermud as it’s known on the trail.

We also passed the site of the last battle of Shay’s Rebellion.

Early next week we’ll resupply in Dalton, MA where my badly worn boots will be replaced by the ones I wore all winter. The new pair has been sent to Hanover, NH where the real hiking begins.

Thinking of my comrades and all of those who have fallen fighting for our country.

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Another state.

The Hemlocks Shelter, Mass., AT NOBO mile 1509.1, Friday May 23, 2014 — The best thing that happened today was crossing into Massachusetts. Everything else was wet.

We met two women of a certain age at the shelter last night. They were up and moving at 0430 which is really early. Later when we passed them on the trail we realized why. They were slow, really slow, but at least they were out here.

The rest of the day was marked by slick wet rock. Toward the end we has two steep climbs in Mts Race and Everett. The climb up Everette was especially brutal – vertical slab rock most of the way.

Both Swayed and I practiced our John Wayne bite the dust impressions several times. It was slow going. We’d planned to reach this shelter by 5 pm. Instead we showed up at 7:30 pm.

I sent my rain jacket and gaiters to Hanover, NH from Kent. I received substitutes, but guess what? They aren’t good enough. Live and learn, yes. Add a week’s worth of rain to the mix and I will learn a hard lesson. My sleeping gear, sans Sleeping bag is working just fine.

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Muggles Awake!

Limestone Spring Shelter, Conn., AT NOBO mile 1,491.6, Thursday May 22, 2014 — At first you can sense it deep in your bones. It’s a primal vibration that our ancestors knew when the buffalo were running. It’s a deep bass rumble that signals the gods of fire are unhappy long before you can actually hear them.

Your cerebral cortex fires and you snap awake just as the big diesel makes reality unmistakable.

Wait a minute, your brain argues. Aren’t we supposed to be sleeping at a shelter deep in the woods. Where’d the train come from?

As you stare into the cloudy night, the Hogwarts Express appears out of nowhere, not even 50 yards from your sleeping bag. After all, out here what else could it be? There are no trains out here.

It rumbles by quickly and then it is gone. Silence returns along with fitful sleep.

By morning you can’t even remember if it was real. Oh, it was real alright. Everybody is talking about it. “Where the hell did that train come from? Scared me to death!”

When you pull out of camp in what’s left of the overnight rain, you expect to cross railroad tracks post haste. After a brief walk you’re left wondering where they are. You can see a quarter mile ahead and there’s nothing.

Then you look right, across the Housatonic and there they are – on the far side of the river. Last night they seemed much closer, but you’re glad they’re real.

It was a dark and stormy day alright. We enjoyed some respite as we hiked. The wispy cloud fog framed beautiful views and we tramped over some fun rocks on our way to a successful 20-mile day.

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You call that hiking?

Stewart Hollow Brook Shelter, Conn., AT NOBO mile 1,470.2, Wednesday May 21, 2014 — Swayed and I punched out of Kent around one o’clock with heavy restaurant lunches snuggling in our tummies.

As I bumped along the trail, my ravioli offered several retasting opportunities. It was good, though not great, the second time around.

Kent has a reputation among hikers for being snooty. It is one of those places where people with summer houses, and perhaps a few of them more elsewhere, congregate. Women named Buffy can be seen walk their dogs named Muffin on occasion. Nantucket red is everywhere. But that’s not the Kent we experienced.

The locals were open and friendly. This morning people in line at the post office told me positive hiker stories. People everywhere were welcoming.

We did pay $70 for two orders of fish and chips an ice tea and three beers plus tip last night. Prices like that may help color hikers’ opinion of Kent.

A merchant told me more of the laundromat story. Seems young hikers last year were stripping to their birthday suits in the store because many only have the clothes they’re wearing. The owner tried to provide a changing room but the kids didn’t use it. IMHO, she should have called the cops.

The hike out of town was a breeze right until we reached mile 1,467.0, St. John’s Ledges in the guide. The note said “steep stairs down to Housatonic River.” That’s an understatement if I ever saw one. It was nearly vertical and covered with slick leaf litter. Bad news.

This wasn’t a hike as much as it was an amusement park ride without the safety features. I think my pace dropped to about an inch an hour. We made it safely, but not without a few scary moments.

Notes: 1. My sleeping bag and rain jacket are on their way to my cousin Deb’s in Hanover, NH. An army poncho liner supplemented with a fleece and down jacket is the replacement. A water resistant running jacket will suffice in the heat.

2. Time will tell with rain on the menu for the next four days. Our choice is 10 or 20 miles tomorrow. All will depend on how slick the rocks are. Safety is number one.

3. WordPress has changed the way photos are uploaded. I can no longer control the file size and the app seems to have been optimized for WIFI, not the marginal signal we tend to get on the trail. It wants to load full size pics every time which eats battery whether successful or not. Therefore some future posts may only have one, or possibly no photos as consequence of this “improvement.”20140521-200933-72573292.jpg