Sayin’ Uncle

White Mountains Lodge and Hostel, NH — When I arrived on the hostel’s doorstep, I knew I was near the end of my rope. I just didn’t know how close to the end I actually was. Not only were my knees screaming, but I also had a full blown head cold. I also couldn’t stand the taste of food and had not eaten anything significant in 24 hours. In short, I was a mess. I just didn’t realize it.

The first night and morning I consumed only water and cola in preparation for sleeping all day. On the second night I still could only sample my dinner. I theorized that my aversion to food might be the result of having encountered a dirty dish somewhere in the hut system.

In short, I need a space and time for respite and recuperation.

As I’ve noted before, it’s impossible to compare hostels one to another. There are too many independent variables. It is fair to say that this time, I was at the right place when I needed it.

There is a slight comparison. White Mountains Lodge is simIlar to Vermont’s Green Mountain House in so far as each is a converted house with similar amenities and a home style feel. Each host is a wonderful person.

I couldn’t have found a better place. White Mountains is a welcoming and accommodating home away from home. Marni, the owner, is a wonderfully attentive and cheerful host who understands long distance hikers and their unique predicament. She should know. Her son hiked the trail two years ago. She and her assistant Eric helped in every way.

In all it’s taken six days to recover. The trip down to see my friend Katie was also a significant part of that process. Tomorrow we head north again. I’m fit and looking forward to it.

About now I’m sure glad I was willing to say uncle.

The next set of blogs should come in a few days.

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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.

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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Is that all you got Pennsylvania?

Delaware Water Gap, Penn. AT NOBO mile 1,289.6, Monday May 5, 2014 — Big milestones today. I’m three tenths of a mile from crossing the New Jersey border and early this morning the odometer clicked less than 900 miles remaining before Mt. Katahdin. Amen!

As for Pennsylvania, it’s one of my favorite states.

At dinner we debated what percentage of the AT within the state is actually “rocky.” The consensus opinion is around 30 percent, meaning that the rest of the state is smoother than a baby’s bottom.

My friend Karma was correct yet again. Some of the rocky sections were rough, but they didn’t last long. They sure did some damage to our boots though.

So, Pennsylvania, is that all you got? If that’s it, you ain’t got nothin’!

Virginia was worse for both rocks and tedium. Maryland wins on total percentage of rocks and gratuitous boulder fields with rock pile traverses.

I love you Pennsylvania and I’m coming back to prove it.

The woods are beginning to transition into spring. The undergrowth is greening up. Soon we’ll be in the green tunnel. I’m posting two photos to show the contrast.

Tomorrow Enterprise car rental is picking me up so I can drive home to swap gear.

Nobody is yet switching into strictly summer equipment, so I’ll set it all up to be mailed as needed. I’ll sent my colder weather stuff forward to my cousin in Hanover, NH. There I’ll snag it as we enter the big boy mountains of NH and Maine.

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Superfund Site

Leroy A. Smith Shelter, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1,269.4, Sunday May 4, 2014 — Zinc smelter in Palmerton operated from 1898 – 1980. The resulting pollution killed the vegetation on the ridge above town and contaminated the water.

Palmerton is a very hiker-friendly town but notable for having an inordinate number of lawyers, numerous medical facilities of various types and two funeral homes on main street alone. I know the rules about correlation and causation, but I’m just sayin’.

During our short visit we heard talk about cancer clusters. Sadly we saw evidence of obviously neurologically damaged people in town.

BUS (Big Ugly and Slow) is a mining engineer with a degree from the Colorado School of Mines. His observations were fascinating. He noted that the plant is operating albeit with new air scrubbers.

The climb up the Lehigh Gap was the biggest one in a long time, but pro forma after more than 1,200 miles.

I’ll let the pics tell the story.

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Underground Railroad

Aside from getting my glasses repaired, one of yesterday’s highlights was staying at the Pine Grove Furnace Iron Master’s Hostel. The mostly restored 1820’s house is huge even by today’s standards. The Iron Master was one of the original one percent.

Whatever else be was or did, his house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The basement actually has three chambers. The normal one is walled off in such a way that you wouldn’t suspect there was more to it.

The entrance to the secret chambers is through a closet floor. The low ceiling suggests a WWII Stalag 17 escape tunnel. The second chamber is entered through a small square opening I tried to capture with my iPhone camera.

One can only imagine the hope, fear, and resolve that passed through those rooms.

What ever else be was, the Iron Master did the right thing.

The iron works lasted until 1894 when it Bessemer process rendered it uneconomical to operate.

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