What a difference a day makes. With two hiking buddies, a slack pack, gentle terrain, and fewer pests, today came close to being a magnificent one on the Appalachian Trail. I sensed that a lot of folks must have been offering up prayers after yesterday’s journal post, because the mosquito population appeared to be substantially decreased today. Armed with a new supply of Off, I walked behind Banzai and ahead of Pilgrim for most of the comfortable 12.2 mile day. After having covered my arms and legs with the oily substance at the outset, I only re-applied once throughout the five hour, twenty minute hike.
The day started with breakfast at the Great Barrington McDonald’s before we headed up to the intersection of US 7 and MA 23. We had barely stuck out our thumbs when Marty, a local resident driving a van, pulled over. Commenting that we were in a very hiker friendly town, he seemed pleased to assist us with a ride back to the trail. That’s two rides, in an average of about one minute’s wait, I’ve scored in the past two days. Banzai noted how it must be a good sign that he’s now hiking along with Don’s Brother. Pilgrim and I were just grateful for a quick pick up, knowing that we had to finish the hike by 2:00 to meet our pre-arranged free shuttle.
With two hiking companions for conversation and a room to return to at the end of the day, my attitude had improved tremendously. Banzai commented that you can learn more about a person in two hours on the trail than you might otherwise learn in years in the regular world. And so I hiked and talked, following a 31 year old mechanical engineer from Michigan and being trailed by a 66 year young retired systems analyst from Los Angeles. I think all three of us felt genuinely pleased to have fellow travelers to share the day, as we traversed another rather nondescript trail for the duration of today’s hike. Such is the life on the Appalachian Trail.
Able to walk without swatting so much and with the aforementioned almost continuous conversation, the miles evaporated quickly. Early on two northbound hikers caught and passed us, stopping briefly to chat. I literally couldn’t believe that I has run into Puffy again. The young man that I had last seen in North Carolina had taken some time off with an infection but was now hiking strong. His buddy, Pigpen, who hails from Georgia, followed him in stride. Seeing Pigpen reminded me just how significant these brief meetings can be. I not only remembered talking with him also back in NC/TN, but even recalled the day. Pigpen had offered me some water from his Sawyer Squeeze as we took a break at a shelter. I remember clearly it was the day of the Boston Marathon. Also a runner, Pigpen talked about the marathon with me that day. Obviously neither of us knew of the events that were unfolding as we spoke. It was awesome seeing the two again.
When my buddies and I reached the trail leading to the Shaker Campsite, I sent Sub Zero a text to ask if he could pick us up an hour earlier than planned. The section hiker and general contractor quickly responded with an OK. With a little more zip in our steps, Banzai, Pilgrim, and I covered the final 3.1 miles in an hour and fifteen minutes. That included a climb over Cobble Hill, a spot with an abundance of some kind of yellow wildflower and the best view of the day. With impending rain holding off and the mosquitoes at bay, I didn’t even mind all the muddy, swampy sections we had to negotiate the final two miles. I was especially grateful at one point that I avoided stepping in some of the oozing black mud that sucked up almost half of my hiking pole.
Getting to the Main Rd. going into Tyringham a little before 1:00, we waited at an AT parking area where Pigpen was having some lunch. Just after 1:00 Sub Zero arrived. The trail angel who had given me a hitch yesterday was happy to offer the complimentary shuttle today. Pilgrim and Banzai road in the back of his truck while I joined my new friend in the cab. Sub Zero enlightened me on some of the “famous” people who live in the area during the ride back to Great Barrington. It was truly an honor and a pleasure to be driven by a fellow hiker and someone who appeared to be a genuine good guy.
As a conclusion to a really good day, Banzai, Pilgrim, and I enjoyed a meal at Ena, a Greek establishment owned by Tom. Originally from Greece and a former acrobat and nightclub owner in New York, Tom seemed to take great pride in entertaining three hungry hikers. Sharing pictures of his past, a few stories, and jovial conversation, Tom was quite the host while we waited for our meal. Once again, I was treated to a great “town experience.”
So after a tough day yesterday, good fortune surrounded me today. In fact, I’m beginning to understand again why some folks envy me and think I’m doing great. My apologies for the tirade yesterday. I sincerely appreciate all the comments and encouragement. Just remember, however, I’m not “almost there.” There are still 647 miles to be hiked which include the remainder of the Massachusetts Berkshires, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the notoriously challenging White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the rugged 100 mile wilderness of Maine. When I get to Baxter State Park, I’ll “almost be there.” For now, tomorrow offers me another opportunity to hike with companions as the three of us continue northward on the Appalachian Trail.