Update #8 – Pennsylvania Rocks!
Rocksylvania they call it. “Where boots go to die,” they say. As I hiked north from Carlisle, PA, I wondered when it would start. For some reason, it seemed like no matter how far we got, the severe rocks never showed up, and people ominously warned us “oh, they’re coming.” Pennsylvania features short steep climbs followed by long ridges that eventually drop down into gaps, only to be repeated. With all due respect to other people’s perceptions of trail, I personally feel Pennsylvania was the most overhyped section of trail. Was it rocky? Yes. A bit more rocky than other sections? Perhaps. But I felt the ridges featured short rocky sections followed by long stretches of smooth dirt path. I felt Pennsylvania flew by, but offered a number of highlights: a visit with an old college roommate, a stop in at an old-fashioned barber shop in Port Clinton, PA, trail magic just south of Lehigh Gap when a friend came with pizza and beers from The Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, VT (some of the best in the country), and a climb up the rocks north of Lehigh Gap the next morning. Lastly, descending into Delaware Water Gap was something I had wanted to do for a long time, and I finally got to check it off my list. Not to mention that Boiling Springs, PA and Delaware Water Gap, PA were two of my favorite trail towns on the entire AT. While we had some sections of cold rain and had to constantly pluck ticks off ourselves, Pennsylvania was a pleasant surprise, as far as I’m concerned.
Update #9 – I ❤ New Jersey
Although Pennsylvania is of course the north, crossing the Delaware River was the first time I felt truly back in north and close to home. Immediately upon reaching New Jersey, the energy changed. I began to see diverse groups of people recreating, picnicking, and walking in Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. I began hearing slang I’m used to hearing at home in Connecticut. I was truly back in the New York metropolitan area. With seemingly every mile, I felt more and more at home, running into delis and pizza joints in towns and near the trail. Stopping in for an egg and cheese sandwich on a hard roll was a taste of home. Despite a seemingly incredible rise in the abundance of ticks, New Jersey was a top 5 highlight of the entire trail for me. I thought the trail through New Jersey was spectacular, from great footing along beautiful ridge lines with frequent views and a number of fire towers to lowland marshes with boardwalks. While people love to poke fun at New Jersey, I felt it could not be more beautiful.
Update #10 – To Catch a Thief
Upon reaching New York, I was excited. Southern New York was another sign that I was getting close to my home of Stamford, CT. Once again on the way to familiar ground in Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks and the onset of June, what could bring me down?
Having hiked pretty hard between Virginia and New York, fatigue was beginning to set in. Pair that with some strangely difficult trail in New York, I was getting worn out and was looking forward to a few days of rest in Connecticut with family. In wet and cold weather, we climbed to the top of rocky outcroppings, slippery from rain. We struggled to keep our footing on these rocks, and it was a slow and frustrating process. Headed northbound in southern New York, a lot of the climbs feature short but steep climbs over rocky outcroppings, that seem to consistently have steep, eroded dirt trail on the backside. I felt a lot of the trail in early part of New York was poorly marked, steep, and eroded. As I entered New York tired, any stoke I had built up after a great time through Pennsylvania and New Jersey was being taken from me, and my excitement for New England was being sucked right out of me. But it certainly wasn’t the nail in my coffin.
As we approached Fingerboard Shelter in Harriman State Park, we caught word of a smart bear that was stealing people’s food out of trees. This left us in an interesting position. We weren’t in a place that we could go much farther than Fingerboard to camp and avoid the bear. However, we also couldn’t stop short, because camping outside of designated sites is illegal in Harriman, and we wanted to obey all regulations and try to be good stewards of the land. Our only option was to stay at Fingerboard, near the bear, but try to set up a bomb-proof bear bag system. I take pride in my bear bagging abilities, and this would be the ultimate test.
Long story short, I failed. The bear snatched down our food in the middle of the night. Thankfully, another hiker heard it happen, and we rushed out of the shelter to scare the bear away, clean up the mess, and reset the bear bag. We did so without further any further problem. But this was one habituated and intelligent bear. Of course, it was a shot to my ego and backcountry skills, but I was mostly upset my bear bag failure had contributed to affirm the bear’s behavior, which is unhealthy for the bear. Not only was it eating bad food, but if this behavior continued it would most likely lead to the relocation or even death of this bear. Although the behavior was well entrenched before I had arrived, I was upset that I had contributed to it.
The next morning, I left the shelter to dig a cat hole and “take care of my business,” so to speak. Upon finishing up, I stood up and looked left. There was the bear, watching me, no more than 20 yards away. I yelled and clapped my hands. The bear could not care less. I persisted. After a few minutes, the bear stumbled off.
At that point, I was over New York. Whatever high I was on after New Jersey was gone, any stoke I had for New England was gone too. I just wanted to get to Connecticut, go home, and get some rest.
Update #11 – Home State
Upon entering Connecticut, I had to say goodbye to “The Gruesome Twosome.” At that point we had divergent plans, and I was headed home to Stamford, CT for a few days of rest. It was good to visit with family and recharge before my push into New England. After a few solid days at home, I was back on the trail out of Kent, and Connecticut came and went in a flash. Despite living there my whole life, I had never hiked the entirety of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut. It was a privilege to do so, and I was reminded once again of how beautiful my home state can be. From the beautiful riverbeds to the treasured view from top of Bear Mountain (Connecticut’s highest peak), it was a pleasure hiking through my home state. It was surprisingly hilly, but great none the less, and hiking beside the cool rushing waters of Sage’s Ravine just before the border of Massachusetts was the perfect coda as I left my home state.
Update #12 – Massachusetts
When I think back to Massachusetts, a few things come to mind. First and foremost, my rest in Connecticut did not rejuvenate me for as long as I had hoped. I think by this point, fatigue due to the length of my trip was starting to set in. Everything was fine, but I was mostly hiking alone and generally more tired. But just when I needed it, I stumbled upon some old friends and some great info. The info mostly consisted of this: “Upper Goose Pond is dope.” And so there I went. Upper Goose Pond is a donation based shelter operated by the Berkshire Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club. It sits on, yes, you guessed it, Upper Goose Pond. It offers bunks and opportunities for swimming and canoeing, and a free pancake breakfast with stay. I spent a hot but tranquil day at Upper Goose Pond swimming, relaxing, and catching up with AT friends I had not seen in a good while. UGP also falls into my top 5 highlights of the AT.
The other highlight out of Massachusetts for me was Mount Greylock. Greylock is the highest point in Massachusetts. At 3,489 feet, it rises up just enough to create the right conditions for boreal forest. As I climbed Greylock, it began to feel like I was in the upper elevations of New England, surrounded by spruce and fir. The trail felt similar to the Franconia Ridge Trail in New Hampshire. I began to get excited, knowing I was truly getting into the heart of New England and back to the big mountains. With a perfect view from the top, Greylock was a treat to all my senses. But soon enough I was down from Greylock, and just about to enter Vermont.
Update #13 – Green Mountains Got Me Blue
Upon reaching Vermont, I began realizing a trend for me in both a mental and physical sense. Through the south and mid-Atlantic, I mostly felt pretty energized and was able to maintain a stoke. However, now in New England, I found myself on a roller coaster ride of emotions and energy levels. Despite feeling great on Mt. Greylock in the morning, by the time I hit the border of Vermont by 12:30 pm, I was in a lull again. I had lost my friends again and was alone. It was hot, humid, muggy, and buggy. I was tired. While I’ve traditionally felt that Vermont is one of the most beautiful states in the Union, throughout most of my time in the state, I just wasn’t feeling it. It was either hot and buggy, or cold and rainy. And always muddy. Unlike Pennsylvania’s rock, Vermont’s mud was not oversold, I felt. None the less, except for a few great moments (I especially enjoyed the summit of Killington), I felt down through the entirety of Vermont. I also got some most excellent trail magic from a friend of mine who invited me to spend a night at her summer camp, where they welcomed me and fed me. I must admit, the food I ate at their camp may have been the best food I ate on the entire trail. Not exactly what you expect from a summer camp, but it was absolutely incredible. Nonetheless, through Vermont I kept telling myself just to get to New Hampshire, where I’d get to see more friends and hike shorter miles. Along I chugged.
Update #14 – Death of a Thru-Hiker
I originally wanted to entitle my time in New Hampshire “a vacation from my vacation.” Thru hiking is a vacation, but a difficult one at that. As I entered New Hampshire, I was looking forward to hiking short miles each day and visiting with friends each night, and therefore it would be a bit of a vacation. Immediately upon crossing the border of Vermont into New Hampshire, I got to enjoy some time with a friend in Hanover, NH. A warm welcome back to the state I dreamed for so long of reaching. I then hiked for a few more days. If I had forgotten how difficult the terrain is in New Hampshire, I was quickly reminded by the steep, rocky ascents (particularly Smarts Mountain). But after a rude awakening, I was then treated to a most excellent zero day at my former place of employment, Camp Walt Whitman, where I got to catch up with old friends and co-workers, and enjoy the camp grounds such as the waterfront and the ropes course. It was a nice change of pace, that’s for sure. After two nights there, I plunged into the heart of the White Mountains and Appalachian Mountain Club (my other employer) territory. Long story short, I spent a few nights at Lonesome Lake Hut, Mizpah Springs Hut, and Madison Spring Hut helping out my friends on the ‘croo.’ Some people might think I had it made by having an “in” with the hut system, which other thru hikers do not. That’s true, I did. But not for a minute should anyone think I just sat my feet up across the Whites. In fact, I worked my butt off across the Whites, cooking and cleaning all over the huts. But I did it because I love it, and it was my own little version of “work for stay.” But as I continued to have more fun each day through the huts or with my friends living in the valley, I found the idea of leaving New Hampshire less and less attractive. I was tired. All my friends were in New Hampshire. I was having fun again and alongside people I love. So instead of a vacation from my vacation, I worked super hard. But I had so much fun that I (almost) didn’t want to hike anymore, resulting in the (near) metaphorical death of a thru-hiker.
Leaving New Hampshire was the hardest thing I had to do on the entire Appalachian Trail. Or so I thought…