Arriving back in North Adams after three days of rest and relaxation, I had a nagging feeling of guilt, having spent time away from my long distance mission. The weather had been exceptional over the weekend and the thought of missing great days of fall hiking and southbound progress weighed heavy on me, so I hastily restarted my journey late Monday afternoon. Graciously my mother had shuttled me the three and a half hours back to the trail and we shared a barbeque lunch together in town before I set off hiking.
Standing 3500 feet above sea level, Mt. Greylock provided a steep but rewarding climb that first day back on trail. A large building similar to a coastal lighthouse stood atop the peak and offered views in every direction. This was going to be the last big mountain for the next few hundred miles so I took some time at the summit to survey the surrounding area. Pressing on I reached the shelter around 6:45 and made my usual dehydrated dinner accompanied by a giant crusty baguette I had packed out with me from town.
Eager to make progress and carbo-loaded, up the following morning I set out for what would be my highest mileage day so far. Passing through two towns, Cheshire and Dalton, I stopped at the latter around noon to eat lunch and take advantage of the public showers offered in the community recreation center. Knowing the famous Cookie Lady was closed for the season, I grabbed some Gatorade and snacks at the local Cumby’s before leaving town. After 25.5 miles of moderate hiking, I reached the October Mountain Shelter and was greeted by a group of section hikers who offered me some wine upon my arrival. Graciously I indulged on the fermented grape juice while chatting with them about my southbound east coast adventure and listened to their experiences on the Pacific Crest Trail out west.
The next day on my hike I passed a guy walking his dog off leash. We exchanged hellos and went on our separate ways. Further down the trail I noticed what appeared to be another dog off leash aimlessly meandering along. Something about this large dark furry animal gave me pause, so I stopped and watched. I waited as it emerged from around a fallen tree and, to my surprise, it was a large adolescent black bear. Stunned, I reached for my camera to capture the moment but as I slowly unzipped my hip belt pocket the bear looked up and at once darted off into the woods. The brief run-in with nature elevated my heart rate but luckily resulted in no injuries.
Although I continued on unscathed from my bear encounter, my hastened pace eventually caught up to me in the form of foot pain that started to slowly develop throughout the afternoon. I began noticing my left ankle was getting irritated with each progressive step. As I hiked, on the relentless pounding also migrated up my leg causing bothersome shin splints. With a resupply box and heavy overnight rain in the forecast, I pushed through the pain to reach the next town to recoup.
Emerging from the woods into farmland, I was soon swarmed and surrounded by mosquitoes. The few miles leading up to Great Barrington are bordered by massive corn fields and the highly toxic Housatonic River which make a perfect breeding ground for the blood sucking pests. Even at a slight jog the buzzing bastards left me with dozens of itchy bites as I reached the road leading into town. Thumbing my way to the hotel was a pretty quick process and I spent the night eating a plethora of microwaved meals in my quaint motel room, a scene that would have made my overweight younger self very proud.
While I slept and into the next morning, over two inches of rain soaked the earth and I restarted my hike through puddle filled fields. The warm sun high in the sky heralded me further south and towards the edge of Massachusetts. By late afternoon, wading past the recharged stream in Sages Ravine, a wooden sign announced my arrival in the fifth state on this journey, Connecticut. I stopped for celebratory selfies before continuing up Bear Mountain where a lone rabbit greeted me at the summit. Saying goodbye to my new fluffy friend, I watched the setting sun paint the sky with pink hues and eventually arrived at camp well after dark, aided by the light from my headlamp.
Water, food and shelter are important when spending many days alone in the woods and that night, after pitching my tent, I retrieved water from the nearby Brassie Brook to start my dinner preparations. As soon as I began to filter my water, two holes burst open causing the majority of the collected liquid to spill out on to the ground. Luckily a fellow hiker at the shelter named Captain Crust offered me chlorine tablets to sterilize the remaining water I had to get through the night. In the morning, I searched to see what stores might have a replacement, but finding none I reached out to social media for advice and then started hiking.
Trail angels came to my rescue when a thoughtful stranger named Bridget responded to my post and we arranged to meet up later that day. With help on the way and little time to get there, I picked up my pace to reach a parking area which was over six miles ahead in under two hours. I arrived around noon and was greeted by Bridget and her friend Janet who drove an hour from their homes in New York just to help out. They brought me an entirely brand new filter kit along with freshly picked apples, and a combination of healthy snacks. I chomped away as we all chatted for close to an hour. While talking to them, I found out that Janet’s son attends college in my hometown back in Maine. I marveled at what a small but generous world we all live in.
Saying goodbye and after many appreciative thank you-s I marched on another twelve miles to complete the 23 mile day. The combination of a long day and faster than normal pace caused my shin bone and ankle to become swollen again. I awoke the next morning knowing that I had overexerted myself and hiked with an aching limp for the better part of the day. Running low on Advil and seeing a town coming up on the map I decided to make a detour in hopes of finding anti-inflammatories and ice to help quell my pain. The local pizza shop provided me a bag of ice and I laid down in the town park to elevate my leg on a bench for awhile.
Laying there as my swelling subsided, I met another hiker named Don who was utilizing the warm sun to dry out some wet gear. We struck up a conversation about our thru hiking adventures and he offered to give me a ride back to the trailhead. It was near dinner time and my new friend put on his trail angel wings and suggested we get supper together..his treat. I gladly accepted and we proceeded to munch down some spicy chicken wings and greasy pepperoni pizza. With leftovers in hand, I hiked the remaining mile to the shelter from the trailhead and settled in for the night where I ran into Captain Crust and Mountain Doctor.
Shortly after ten o’clock the next day, I crossed over the state line, saying so long to Connecticut and hello to New York. Entering the sixth state on my journey filled me with joy and added to my sense of accomplishment. It’s hard to describe how good it feels to step over an invisible line that denotes how far you have gone. Each time it adds to my self-confidence and reaffirms my decision to walk away from my normal everyday routine back home and devote a large chunk of life to pursuing a childhood dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail.