Monthly Archives: July 2013

VT 12, Woodstock, VT

As a young boy I would spend time each summer at the home of my grandparents in rural Alabama. My parents would typically leave me on a Sunday. My mom would return for me at the end of the week. Even though I loved my grandparents and knew that I was in for a fun time with them, it always felt lonely when my parents drove away. Today I felt that same Sunday lonely on the Appalachian Trail.

One thing I learned today is that if you want to dawdle while hiking the AT, don’t plan a 22.3 mile day. Still trying to hike happy and enjoy all the sites along the way, I found myself trailing my buddies early in the day. For the first four miles the terrain was about as gentle as any the trail has had to offer. The day began with Fatty and Mike joining Pilgrim, Banzai, and me. At the trail to the Inn at Long Trail where the AT and the Long Trail split, Fatty left us to pick up a package. A little later Mike also turned to head back to the car. He plans to do a little out and back day hiking while serving as our support person.

Early in the day we walked through Gifford Woods State Park. Many weekenders were busy at their campsites. From there we soon passed Kent Pond. I couldn’t resist walking out on the dock for some reflection. Peering into the water, I hoped to see a fish. None were there. Canoes and kayaks lay on boggy grass near the bank. One lone canoe appeared at the far end of the pond. Since I took a long break I had to hustle to catch my friends within the next couple of miles. It was there that the first surprise of the day occurred, and it wasn’t a pleasant one.

I had thought that the AT in Vermont only had three significant mountains, Stratton, Bromley, and Killington. Somebody forgot to include Quimby. Everyone in our group agreed it was the toughest of them all. We ascended almost 1300 feet over just one mile. That’s a climb folks. After the struggle up Qwimby we walked at a steady pace to the Stony Brook Shelter where we stopped for lunch. While there Fatty joined us. It was the last time we would see her all day.

For the remainder of the day I just hiked, seldom even looking to see how many miles were left. Feeling often like the day would never end, I hiked alone for at least three hours. That’s when the loneliness set in. At one point I hummed “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Still I hiked. Even though there were no significant views, the climbs in the afternoon were minimal. I would go so far to call the final nine miles kind of boring. At the turn for the Lookout Banzai and Pilgrim had taken a break to let me catch up.

So for the final three hours Pilgrim and I hiked together as darkness approached. I commented that it was the right time of day to see a bear. We didn’t. We hiked without talking for awhile; we hiked and talked for awhile. Despite a hiking companion, that Sunday lonely feeling continued. I thought about having 465 miles remaining after today and felt lonely. I thought about having already hiked over 1700 miles and felt lonely. It was almost 8:00 when I finished what I can only describe as a day in which I couldn’t get past a feeling of loneliness on the journey to Maine along the Appalachian Trail.









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US 4, Rutland, VT

When my home phone rang on the morning of July 20, 1993, twenty years ago today, I didn’t even know what states the Appalachian Trail went through. What I did know was that a friend was offering me four dugout level tickets to the Braves game that night. It took me about three seconds to accept. I then immediately called my brother to inform him that we would be sitting four rows behind the visiting dugout with our then seven year old sons for the Braves/Cardinals game that evening. I’m not sure why dates stick with some people. In this case it was because of the fire at the old Fulton County Stadium before game time. Fred McGriff made his debut in a Braves uniform as the Bravos overcame a 5-0 deficit to win 8-5. Even though the game didn’t begin until after 9:30 and concluded well after midnight, Don, Brent, Sam and I stayed for every pitch. So as I hiked today I relived that wonderful memory of my brother from 20 years ago today.

The day started a little differently in that our trio now has the good fortune of having a full time driver, at least for the next two weeks. Mike (trail name yet to be determined) drove up from Virginia to offer support for his twin brother Banzai and his buddies. So we cruised down to a local diner for breakfast before hitting the trail at VT 103. With rain in the forecast followed by a cold front, we didn’t even mind the humid start to the morning. After a rock scramble within the first half mile, up the mountain we went, climbing about 1000 feet to start our day. At the time I didn’t know it, but a really good day it was going to be. In fact, before the 18.4 mile day had come to an end I would be hiking happy exponentially.

Shortly after the initial climb we came across a detour predicated by Hurricane Irene. We had been prewarned of the road walk that prevented a potentially difficult stream crossing. Since it had rained last night Banzai, Pilgrim, and I chose to follow the advice of the trail maintainers and take the detour. It took us past several very nice rural homes. At one a Vermonter was tending to his horses. Eventually we arrived at where the trail wound back into the woods. We then walked a short distance to the Governor Clement Shelter. Two southbound thru hikers, Braveheart and Stretch, were taking a break. Stretch informed us that there were a lot of roots and rocks in Maine. Sorry to disappoint you Stretch, but that’s the entire Appalachian Trail.

From the shelter we started the climb up Killington, the highest mountain on the AT in Vermont. The actual peak is 0.2 off the trail. Attempting to follow Blue Eyes’ suggestion, I tried to hike happy. For some reason I thought of Fatty, someone with a similar personality to Blue Eyes, that I had not seen since central Pennsylvania. “I’d like to see Fatty again,” I said to Banzai and Pilgrim, “but she’s probably over a week ahead of us.” Just the thought of the positive, vivacious young lady motivated me to keep trying to hike with enthusiasm.

Near the top of Killington the Cooper Lodge Shelter stands. Banzai was already inside the fully enclosed structure having lunch when I got there. Also inside were Roboticus, a 2012 thru hiker, and her friend. Pilgrim arrived shortly after. With a cool breeze blowing through the windows, we took a longer break than usual. Roboticus shared some miniature Hershey’s as we talked about our hikes. Just as we were about to leave, the door of the shelter pushed open. Banzai was the first to see the hiker who was about to enter. He indeed looked surprised. When the door fully opened, Fatty appeared. For me it was more shock than surprise. Bizarre might be an even more appropriate explanation. Only about an hour after I had mentioned her name she suddenly appeared.

So for the remainder of the afternoon I had the pleasure of hiking with one of my favorite people on the trail. She explained that she had gotten behind me when she went into New York twice. One time she did “touristy” things in the city; the other she went rock climbing for a few days in another NY town. With the cooler temperatures after the front had moved through, I hiked with rejuvenation throughout the afternoon. Fatty seemed content to follow me and chat. It was easy to hike happy with Fatty.

When we reached the road Banzai and Mike were standing by a car where some serious trail magic was occurring. Jen, a local resident, had an array of goodies. Most impressive was a cooler filled with Klondike bars. I had two. Fatty had four. We also partook of some cherries, raspberries, and cheese. After having spent the past nine nights in the woods, Fatty accepted our invitation to a night in town. When Pilgrim finally arrived at the road, we gave him time to enjoy a couple of ice cream bars before we headed into Rutland.

Tonight Steady and Spirit joined Banzai, Pilgrim, Fatty, and me for dinner at a local establishment. As we waited for out meal I thought about how fortunate I was to have these hiking friends. From California and Michigan, Oregon, Alberta, and Georgia, we had all set out on different dates to thru hike the AT. Good food and good conversation made this day one of my best. With a starting temperature in the 50’s tomorrow morning, I hope to continue hiking happy on my way to a mountain in Maine at the end of the Appalachian Trail.









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VT 103, Rutland, VT

During the course of this AT hike, my general attitude has fluctuated almost as much as the elevations on the trail. I’ve hiked with enthusiasm and excitement at times. At others I’ve walked with sadness or melancholia. Occasionally I’ve hiked with anger and despair. Yesterday I hiked happy. Today I simply walked with indifference. What little variety the trail offered seemed of little interest on another very hot, humid, uncomfortable day. The weather and bugs make it impossible to truly enjoy the sites along the way. As I write this in the early evening, the temperature outside is still 91. I thought Vermont was supposed to be cool.

There were a few highlights on a tiring 14.8 mile day. Early in the hike we passed another beautiful lake in a picturesque setting. Once again I thought of Don as I gazed into the calm, soothing water. I even took a pic and sent it to Brent in a text. He commented that the fish would certainly be biting. A canoe next to the pond indicated that someone surely had been paddling around. It possibly belonged to the caretaker of the nearby shelter. Spoon, who had stayed at the shelter last night, told me the caretaker hadn’t been in the area the previous evening.

Most noteworthy among today’s highlights were two areas that consisted of some rock artwork. Numerous rock structures of various shapes and sizes have been erected adjacent to the trail. Spoon commented that he wondered if some art students had been assigned the task of constructing the sculptures. I imagine that hikers have been contributing to the gallery, so I took a little time to create my own tiny masterpiece. Spoon was so captivated by the artifices in the middle of the forest that he shot some video. Banzai, Pilgrim, and I also lingered in the area for quite some time, honestly fascinated with all the varying creations.

Eventually we hiked on to VT 140 where we took a lunch break. Spoon joined our band for the meal. I walked down to a stream near the road to wash my face and hands. The cool water felt refreshing on the blistering day. I was always grateful for the occasional breeze that temporarily supplanted the heat. Unfortunately, the wind was often short-lived. Still I appreciated the brief respites. I always offer up a prayer of thanksgiving when they occur.

After lunch we were faced with a 1100 foot climb up and over Bear Mountain. This is the third Bear Mountain we have encountered. New York and Connecticut each have one as well. Were it not for the heat, this climb would have proven rather insignificant. With the heat it was tough. I stopped often to drink and at one point almost was walking in place. When we crested the mountain and started down the other side, we took one final brief break at the Minerva Hinchley Shelter. While there Banzai noticed a posted message on the wall offering rides to hikers needing to go into Rutland. I put the number in my phone before we resumed the hike.

The final highlight of the day occurred on a rock outcrop with a view of the Rutland Airport. From there I called the ride number. Tom said he would meet us at the road in half an hour. On the descent over soft, minced pine straw, with an occasional slick rock blended in, Pilgrim fell twice. There’s always a potential fall around every corner on the AT. After we crossed Clarendon Gorge over a suspension bridge, we easily made our way to the parking lot. Tom arrived a couple of minutes later.

We drove into Rutland, got two rooms, cleaned up, and went out for a good meal. Tomorrow our plans take a new turn as we will have a full time support person for a few days. Banzai’s brother drove up from Virginia today to lend a hand. With a car at our disposal we will have more options for better planning where to end each day. Cooler weather is also in the forecast, so with better hiking conditions, light packs, a car for shuttling, and a team, all looks positive for further advancement up the Appalachian Trail.










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Danby-Landgrove Rd.

Blue Eyes, a pretty section hiking physics teacher from Minnesota, told me last night at the Green Mountain House that I needed to hike happy. She suggested I take more time to essentially “stop and smell the roses.” Or according to AT lingo, sit and enjoy the view whenever one occurs. Banzai doesn’t like to do “extra credit.” Blue Eyes thinks we always should. Today I tried to remember what my new friend said. I hiked happy, or at least I tried to. My newfound positive attitude carried me through a moderately challenging 17.8 mile day.

After a quick stop for breakfast, Jeff shuttled Banzai, Pilgrim, and me back to the trailhead off VT 11 at 7:00. One of two major highlights of the day occurred during the first three miles. The trail travels up a ski slope on Bromley Mountain, with supposedly a view of five states from the tower at the top. The morning was reasonably clear; however, I wasn’t sure which distant mountains were in which states. Remembering what Blue Eyes had advised me, I did take some time to actually “play around” on top. I walked out on the gondola platform for some pics and spent some time talking with Jamie and Marcia, section hikers from Tennessee. Banzai eventually informed me that it was time to continue the hike.

A little over two miles later we reached Mad Tom Notch. No one seemed to know who Mad Tom was, so I decided I would equate him to Pilgrim in song. The tune is to “Big John.”
He stood 5 foot 10, weighed 135;
Had to change his plan, just to stay alive, Mad Tom
Came from California across the great divide
To hike the AT before he died, Mad Tom. Mad Tom, Mad Tom, Old Mad Tom. Pilgrim seemed to be a good sport about my unpoetic drivel. It sometimes amazes me to think of the depths to which we have sunk to find ways to entertain ourselves on a hot, humid, sweaty nine hour day of hiking. Mad Tom?

The next view of the day at Styles Peak required a climb of about five feet. It took me approximately 20 seconds. When I tried to persuade my buddies to join me on the outcrop, both opted to remain on their perches below. I fear that Pilgrim may be adopting the “no extra credit” philosophy as well. As for me, I was hiking happy, and getting some nice pictures to share with friends. While the morning passed into afternoon I continued to embrace the “hike happy” theory. It reminded me somewhat of “serenity now.” I hope the final results are more positive.

A final spectacular section of trail greeted us at Baker Peak. Although the elevation was lower, the gorgeously clear views were the best since Race Mountain in Connecticut, at least according to this happy hiker. Northbound thru hiker Spoon had been hiking with or around us all day. On the slanted jagged rocks of Baker Peak I followed him and Banzai to the top. Pilgrim followed. Again I took my time to just enjoy and appreciate. With the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the not too distant future, I was actually glad to have a mildly technical section for practice. Exhilaration describes the fifteen minute ascent well. I was grateful it wasn’t raining. That would have definitely been a dangerous climb in wet conditions.

During the final five miles of the day, the trail passed three shelters, two of which were directly on the AT. We took a short break at Lost Pond Shelter. At Big Branch Shelter I remembered the night Alton, Ponder, and I stayed there on a section hike. The gushing stream in front of the shelter made for some good sleeping. I had wanted to continue hiking happy by taking off my shoes for a soak; however, since we only had a mile to the road and a ride, I kept going. Sorry, Blue Eyes.

When Pilgrim and I reached Danby-Landgrove Rd., Banzai was already at the SUV talking with Jeff. We had picked up some soft drink trail magic just prior to the road, so once again, I enjoyed an ice cold Mountain Dew on the trip back to Manchester Center and the Green Mountain House hostel. On the way Jeff stopped for us to pick up some groceries. I purchased the ingredients for spaghetti and cooked up a pot for the group. We invited southbounder Rooster to join us. After supper I just relaxed, anticipating another “hike happy” day tomorrow as I work my way through Vermont on the Appalachian Trail.











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VT 11, Manchester Center

In July three years ago I spoke with my brother several times a week. We talked about baseball, our families and our futures. He took his bass boat out regularly and spent hours walking in the woods. Life was good. Two years ago in July Don and I rode bikes we had bought after his ALS diagnosis. He said riding made him feel like a kid again. We hoped progression of the illness would be slow. He talked of death and dying. I listened. Last year on July 17 I sat with my brother after he had lost his ability to talk. I spoke of life and death. He listened. Six weeks later he was dead. Today when I walked past Stratton Pond, quite possibly the prettiest lake on the AT, I thought about my brother.

Our day began with another shuttle back to the trail from Steve. Banzai, Pilgrim, and I walked back into the woods at 8:00, beginning a 19.5 mile day. Like the first two in Vermont, isolation dominated the day. Banzai chose to hike ahead for much of the morning, and I also put space between Pilgrim and myself. I suppose we just didn’t have much to share with each other. Even when hiking with companions, sometimes it feels good to be alone. Today I hiked in a solitary mood, contemplating on various aspects of what waits ahead, on the trail and in life.

The trail remained the same. It consisted of mud, rocks, mud, roots, mud, rocks over streams, footbridges, mud, leaves, mud, and dirt. There were uphills and downhills. As Pilgrim stated yesterday, it’s the sameness that gets to you. Other than Stratton Mountain with its lookout tower and Stratton Pond, there was nothing noteworthy the entire day. The gentle terrain made for a reasonably comfortable day even though the heat, humidity, and biting flies detracted from any potential enjoyment.

The climb up Stratton Mountain in the morning highlighted the day. At the crest we met the caretaker Hugh who enlightened us on some of the history of the Long Trail. It was here that Benton MacKaye conceived the idea for the Appalachian Trail. Pilgrim and I climbed part of the way up the lookout tower for a view of Greylock to the west and Killington to the north. Banzai chose not to do the climb. He has decided to avoid what he calls “extra credit.” Past the mountain we stopped at Stratton Pond Shelter, another nice one, for lunch. Then we passed Stratton Pond. I paused and took some pics before moving on.

Throughout the afternoon we continued to hike alone. Banzai stopped at Prospect Rock to let Pilgrim and me catch up. From there we steadily made out way to VT 11 to Manchester. Needing to hitch a ride into town, we were fortunate to get a lift from Walter, a day hiker from the area. When we reached town we ate at an Italian place before getting a ride from Jeff to his Green Mountain House hostel. Other hikers are here including Spoon and Blue Eyes.

So after today I have 538 miles remaining on my AT thru hike. If all continues to go well, I should finish my hike in around six weeks. Six short weeks. Six long weeks. Six weeks of beauty and grandeur. Six weeks of potential distress and loneliness. Six weeks to define existence. Six weeks to realize the fulfillment of a promise. Don lived six weeks after that hot afternoon last July 17. Six weeks to reach a goal, a destination, an end. Tomorrow starts the final push. Six more weeks on the Appalachian Trail.








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USFS Rd. 71

I’m tired. Really tired. Too tired to write tired. It’s been a long day on the Appalachian Trail. Banzai, Pilgrim, and I are waiting for a shuttle at Forest Service Rd. 71, essentially “in the middle of nowhere.” It’s the first road we’ve crossed all day. It’s the only “out” if we want to continue with Don’s Brother’s Method. Knowing that a shower, meal, and bed are in our immediate future, we are happy to wait. It’s 7:40. This is the latest I have been on the trail the entire hike. Hopefully, Steve will arrive at the pre-determined time. I didn’t bring my head lamp. Pilgrim has his. Darkness is still an hour away. Biting flies and mosquitoes have infiltrated our space, or are we the interlopers? I’m really tired.

Earlier this morning Banzai asked, “What state are we in?” “It’s the damn sameness of this thing that kills me,” Pilgrim grumbled, as we took a short break after about five miles of a planned 20.6 mile day. We could still be in Georgia based on the redundancy of the terrain. With only twenty-five percent of today’s hike complete, we’re all already a little edgy. It’s hot and humid even though it’s still morning. Isn’t Vermont supposed to be cool? What state are we in?

We walk on, still grumbling about the mud, bugs, and humidity. Even Banzai isn’t as eager to lecture today. I eventually mention Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” and the discussion is on.. Miles go by more quickly with conversation. So we hike and talk. Pilgrim lingers fifty yards behind. We pause occasionally and he catches up. He adds a comment now and then. We hike toward the first shelter of three we’ll pass today, three AT thru hikers caught somewhere between happy and miserable. Time passes……time passes…….time passes

At the Goddard Shelter we stop for lunch. We each have a bag of McDonald’s hamburgers that we purchased in Bennington. I have a root beer as well. The shelter is one of the nicest I’ve seen. If it were later in the day and I had all my gear and my gear included a sleeping bag and I had more food, I might even enjoy staying here. We eat leisurely. Pilgrim leans against the back of the shelter with closed eyes. Banzai suggests we make it a long lunch since we aren’t getting picked up until 8:00. We eventually decide to continue the hike before Pilgrim falls asleep. I save one burger and half my root beer for later.

What state are we in? The trail looks the same. We stop at the Glastenbury Mountain lookout tower. Banzai and I climb the metal steps. Banzai reaches the top. I stop two rungs short when a strong wind rocks the structure. Pilgrim waits below. Banzai and I take pics and then descend the steps. This would be our only view of the day. The trail in fact is so remote that there is a six mile section in the thru hiker’s handbook that has no listings. No roads, no streams, no shelters, nothing to write about for six miles. We are definitely miles from nowhere.

We hike on to the next shelter, Kid Gore. This shelter has a reputation as being a haven for porcupines. We see none in the mid-afternoon. James, a section hiker who has only been on the trail three days, plans to stay the night. I warn him about the porcupines. He says no one has mentioned them in the registry. Maybe they’ve moved elsewhere. I eat my final burger and finish my root beer. Banzai thinks we should take a longer break again. We do. I’m already tired and we still have six miles to hike. A rare breeze momentarily replaces the hot, humid afternoon. The biting flies continue to annoy. What state are we in?

We hike over rocks, through black mud, across streams, avoiding roots and swampy areas. As the afternoon diminishes, fatigue increases. My two buddies and I stop at another shelter for a final break. Story Spring Shelter offers a picnic table at which to rest. I’m bordering on exhaustion when I remember a new bag of jelly beans in my pack. I tear open the package and share them with Banzai and Pilgrim. With only 1.6 miles to the road and the end of the day, I pick up my pace. Banzai hikes ahead. Pilgrim maintains my pace. The jelly beans are working. At least temporarily, I’ve regained some strength.

Steve Labombard arrives with a cooler of soft drinks. We head up the gravel road for the hour drive back to Bennington. Steve comments that he saw a moose feeding on the way up. The moose is still there. We stop. I get out for a pic. The moose ambles away. A baby suddenly emerges from the marsh and follows. Steve offers a informative lecture of his own on the drive. Banzai is captivated by Steve’s knowledge of the surrounding area. Agreeing to stop for us to pick up food, Steve goes beyond our expectations. I easily elevate his status to #1 among trail angels I’ve met.

So now it’s late. I feel less tired now, however, than I did three hours ago. My alarm is set for 6:00. We need an early start tomorrow to make Manchester Center, the next town in Vermont. We’re in Vermont on one of the most remote sections of the trail. It’s been a tiring day, but I feel good. Banzai and I decided today that we would start focusing on the miles remaining in addition to those we’ve already hiked. So we now have 557.6 miles left to hike. Tomorrow we’ll attempt to erase 19.5 of them as we continue walking through Vermont on the Appalachian Trail.











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Bennington, VT

I first set foot in Bennington, VT in the mid 90’s. Linda and I had flown to Boston, rented a car, and were doing a B & B vacation throughout New England. We stopped off in Bennington for lunch at the Madison Brew Co. before driving up to Manchester Center for the night. At the time I doubted that I would ever visit Bennington again. Less than ten years later, however, Alton and I ended an AT section hike of CT/MA here the day Ronald Reagan died. Then in 2007 I hitched in from VT 9, just to get a Friendly’s burger, before hiking to the Melville Nauheim Shelter at the beginning of our Vermont section hike. So today I’m walking around Bennington for the fourth time. I like this town.

The day began with another trail angel, Alan, the proprietor of the motel, driving Banzai, Pilgrim, and me to the Blue Benn Diner for breakfast. A favorite of hikers, the Blue Benn looks like it belongs on a 50’s movie set. With a juke box at every booth, I wondered what would happen if multiple people chose to select a song simultaneously. Fortunately only one patron needed to be serenaded on the already hot morning. My friends and I listened along for free. It doesn’t get much better than classic country music during breakfast in a small town America diner. With home made raspberry jam from a jar, bacon and eggs never tasted so good.

After our meal Alan even returned to offer another ride to wherever we needed to go. I chose a trip to the laundromat. From there I walked to the post office to pick up my packages. Thankfully, I’ll now be able to hike with two poles after finally getting the replacement parts from Leki. They honored their lifetime warranty with a complete new shaft. Since I’ve hiked with only one pole for over three weeks, it may take an adjustment to acclimate myself to two again. Really it should be no issue. I’m sure I’ll once again be grateful for both as I resume the Vermont AT tomorrow.

So with a free afternoon I decided to go for a walk. At one point I asked a pedestrian how far it was to the Old First Church. She said it would take me about an hour and forty minutes if I were a fast walker. I arrived at my destination in twenty minutes. After a brief tour of the 208 year old current structure, I ventured to the cemetery behind the church to pay homage to my favorite American poet, Robert Frost. Frost had owned a home in the nearby town of Shaftesbury and was present at the Old First Church for its re-dedication. While visiting the site, a couple from Manassas, VA engaged me in a conversation regarding my hike. I told Greg and Nora about Don and some of the facets of the trail. Seeming very interested, they asked lots of questions. Before leaving the graveyard, I sat on a shady bench by Frost’s grave for awhile and wrote.

For the remainder of the afternoon I just rested. Much has certainly transpired over the past week. For instance, last Tuesday when I saw Susquehanna Slim sitting on a bench in Salisbury, CT, looking tired and dejected, I shared with him a little about my method of hiking the AT. A few days later he had temporarily left the trail, suffering from exhaustion. So I emailed Slim an invitation to embrace the Don’s Brother’s Method (DBM) for the remainder of his hike. Last night Slim accepted the offer. With a prior commitment next weekend, Slim plans to continue his southbound hike toward the Delaware Water Gap for now. Then one week from today he intends to join Banzai, Pilgrim, and me for the assault on Katahdin. Yes indeed, it’s all coming together. Our trio will soon become a foursome as our motley bunch marches northward up the Appalachian Trail. “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”








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VT 9, Bennington, VT

Time moves slowly on the Appalachian Trail. Time passes quickly on the Appalachian Trail. Time often seems irrelevant on the Appalachian Trail.. Four weeks ago today was Father’s Day. I said goodbye to Linda after her brief visit and took the rest of the day off. There were 996 miles still to be hiked. Three weeks ago today I dined happily in Stroudsburg, PA after a satisfying first day in New Jersey. Two weeks ago today I arrived at the Hudson River, having walked alone all day. Last Sunday I spent a pleasant day in Salisbury, CT after hiking in from Falls Village. Sundays continue to be the only day of the week that somehow seem to set themselves apart from the other six. I remember Sundays.

So today I crossed the state line in the middle of the woods, entering Vermont with Banzai and Pilgrim on a tiring 18.4 mile day. Now in Bennington, VT in the comfort of another “mom and pop” motel, I find myself with a mere or staggering (depending on how one looks at it) 580 miles remaining. If all continues to go as scheduled (if planning is truly possible) I should have six Sundays left of my thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. As I ponder the magnitude of what still awaits, I reflect on “the day that The Lord hath made.” Despite periods of loneliness, discomfort, and fatigue, I try “to rejoice and be glad in it.” Whatever the circumstance, Sundays always seem to offer some semblance of purpose for this endeavor that I have undertaken. I appreciate the Lord’s Day on the trail.

So after another wholesome breakfast at the Chef’s Hat, I joined Banzai and Pilgrim for the ride back to the trail near North Adams. Once again, Steve Labombard provided the trail magic transportation. After crossing a pedestrian bridge, we walked briefly on a neighborhood street before heading back into the woods. And folks, I mean the woods. Our streak of three hot lunches abruptly ended as we didn’t even cross a paved road until we reached the end of today’s hike at VT 9 near Bennington. This was the most isolated section of trail I have hiked since…..honestly, I can’t remember a section this much in the wilderness in some time.

Even though we climbed over 2000 feet during the course of the day, it wasn’t the elevation change that caused the most frustration. It was the MUD. Seeping, oozing, “sucking up a shoe” black mud was everywhere. Although we had been forewarned, my frustration level increased with each new section to navigate. After a while it became obvious that there weren’t enough rocks and sticks to step on to avoid the yucky substance. My blue trail runners now have taken on a new appearance. The only saving grace was that no rain fell on us today.

Early in the hike Banzai continued to fascinate Pilgrim and me with his wealth of knowledge on such a wide variety of subject matter. For all practical purposes, Banzai is a walking encyclopedia. From Roman history to Greek philosophy to Christian theology to classic literature to the NBA, Banzai can conduct a walking lecture while scaling rocks or attempting to circumvent mud. Whatever subject I broached, Banzai immediately began a diatribe that left me admiring his intelligence and Pilgrim shaking his head in disbelief that the young man is so knowledgeable. We both suggested Jeopardy.

About four miles into today’s walk we passed the sign welcoming us to Vermont. For the next few days the AT and the Long Trail are the same. Eventually, the Long Trail will bear off to travel northward until it reaches the Canadian border. After stopping for some pics at the state line, we hiked steadily until noon when we took a lunch break on some rocks under a power-line. A cool breeze kept the bugs away while we ate. In the afternoon we met three southbound thru hikers, Danko, Four Meals, and Righteous. All had started between May 31 and June 6. It should now be a pretty regular occurrence to see southbounders on their way to Georgia.

As the afternoon waned Banzai hiked ahead, leaving Pilgrim and me to walk quietly for the last three hours. Other than the mud, nothing else stood out except for the dangerously steep descent to the road at the end of the day. Even though there were rock steps for much of it, the final mile required a concentrated effort and extreme caution. Pilgrim followed as I tried to select the least perilous path to the highway. When we finally reached the road Steve was waiting with a cold Mountain Dew for me and chocolate milk for Pilgrim. Banzai was already there, sitting on the tailgate sipping on a coke. We quickly drove the five miles to town and a motel. After sharing a room the past three nights, we decided to each get our own today.

It’s almost dusk. My buddies went for an early meal. I wanted to write first, so I’ll be dining alone tonight. A little solitude can be comforting at times. After all, tomorrow I’ve planned a zero day. After hiking 18 consecutive days, I feel like it’s time for a break. I can’t think of a better place for a respite than Bennington, a town with some nice shops, cafes, and a good bit of history. So tomorrow I’ll rest. Then on Tuesday Pilgrim, Banzai, and I will continue the journey through Vermont on the Appalachian Trail.











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MA 2, Williamstown, MA

The story goes that when he observed the slope of Mt. Greylock in the winter, Herman Melville was inspired to create the 19th century novel Moby Dick. The eventual classic, published in 1851, would be one of only two that I did not finish reading the semester I took The American Novel. I have a theory that only a handful of people in the entire world have ever read every page of the prodigious masterpiece. So today when I made my assault on Mt. Greylock I took about fifteen seconds to pay homage to Melville. Those were the only seconds I could spare on what turned out to be an almost relaxing 14.7 mile day. With varying weather patterns to contend with, my two hiking companions and I not only scaled Greylock but did so at a steady pace and without a break.

The day commenced with another hearty breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon, and coffee at the Chef’s Hat outside Williamstown, MA. Banzai, Pilgrim, and I were then transported back to the trail in Cheshire by Tom Levardi. We greatly appreciated Tom taking the time to do a rather long shuttle. Longskirt also joined us for the ride.

We all began today’s hike together from where we had left off yesterday at the post office.The trail continued through the sleepy town of Cheshire for a short distance before turning into the woods. Then the first of several climbs confronted us. Banzai and I hiked ahead as the elevation increased from 1007 feet to 3252 over five miles. This was the first time the trail had been above 3000 feet since Virginia. With the higher elevation, mosquitoes suddenly became non-existant, at least for the day.

After passing the Jones Nose Trail, we braced for the ascent of Greylock. What we had anticipated as being strenuous actually turned out to be just another moderate climb. When we reached the summit we found ourselves in a cloud and light mist. The highest peak in Massachusetts, Greylock is also the home of Bascom Lodge. Banzai, Pilgrim, and I had the good fortune to eat a hot meal right on the trail for the third straight day. Lots of folks were hanging out at the lodge. Most, however, had driven up. There was even some kind of Native American drum presentation underway. We just had our lunch and walked back out into the fog.

As we started our descent the cloud cover came close to concealing the blazes. In fact, we wandered briefly before finding the correct direction. When we did get going Banzai quickly hiked away from Pilgrim and me. With only 6.3 miles to walk in the afternoon, we had high hopes of finishing much earlier than the last two days. Knowing that we still needed a shuttle from the trailhead at MA 2, I called Ellen McCollum from the ATC list. What a terrific surprise it was to discover that Ellen was not only a former thru hiker (2000), but that she had been reading my trail journal. Bagel was happy to provide my buddies and me with a ride.

After a very steep, time consuming descent to 660 feet, Pilgrim and I walked the 0.5 miles on Phelps Ave. to MA 2 where Bagel was waiting. Banzai had already arrived and was enjoying an extra large cookie and a bottle of juice. Trail angel Bagel had cookies and juice for Pilgrim and me as well. After some brief getting acquainted, Bagel drove us back to our motel. I continue to be humbled by the fine people I am meeting along my way. I can’t thank Bagel enough for her kindness and generosity.

All of a sudden everything seems to be going great again. Another potential trail angel, Steve from Bennington, VT, sent me a message today offering any help we might need while we’re in his neck of the woods. When I called him about a ride after tomorrow’s hike, he suggested he pick up our gear here in Williamstown so that we can slack into Bennington tomorrow. Things are really coming together. Banzai and I have gone so far as to declare this “The summer of George.” Pilgrim has no idea what we’re talking about.
So in the morning my two buddies and I will hike out of Massachusetts and into Vermont, state number 12 on the Appalachian Trail. It’s all coming together, folks.







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Cheshire, MA

Tom Levardi asked, “Are you having fun?” I paused briefly, remembering the same question posed by Mary the librarian in Greenwood Lake, NY. “Yes, I’m having fun again, at least for now.” With cooler weather, good companionship, and fewer mosquitoes, life once again is good on the Appalachian Trail. At least it was at Tom’s home on Depot St. early this afternoon when Banzai, Pilgrim, and I walked into Dalton, Massachusetts. For the past 35 years Tom has been allowing AT hikers to tent in his yard. So as we strolled by just before noon, we were greeted by Colin and Misery.

The day had started five hours earlier with a shuttle back to Washington Mountain Rd. When I arrived back at the Quality Inn from McDonald’s, the silver Subaru had already pulled up in the parking lot. In place of Roy, however, Marilyn “the cookie lady” Wiley was behind the wheel. It was a real pleasure meeting the somewhat famous lady known for her delicious treats. So as soon as Pilgrim and Banzai made their way to the car, we headed out of Pittsfield and back to the trail. Before starting our 18.3 mile day, Banzai snapped a pic of me with another AT legend.

Today’s hike went quickly. With only a minor climb and few challenging sections, we hiked into Dalton right on schedule. When I spotted Misery sitting at the picnic table in Tom’s yard, I was surprised that he wasn’t a couple of days up the trail. The young man from Buffalo may have acquired a new reason for his trail name. Earlier today Misery explained that he had undergone a root canal. That’s not something one expects while hiking the trail. So since he needs to return to Dalton for a follow-up appointment in two weeks, Misery was getting ready to bus to Lincoln, NH and southbound back here.

Also at Tom’s was Nomad and his van. After having to end his thru hike attempt at 400 plus miles, the former youth pastor from Austin said he felt God had other plans for him. So for the past three months he has been helping out hikers up and down the trail. I chatted with Nomad about Don and his faith. Nomad asked me to sign his van, a tradition that other AT thru hikers are following. He provided Banzai, Pilgrim, and me with cold soft drinks as well. It’s people like Nomad, who give unselfishly of their time and resources, to help hikers reach their goal.

While my hiking buddies and I were hanging out at the house, Tom offered to drive us from the corner where the AT turns up High St. to the Dalton Restaurant for lunch. He also made a stop at the post office so that Banzai and Pilgrim could pick up mail drops. After a nutritious meal, Tom drove us back to where we left the trail. For the next mile we walked by quaint New England homes on High St. before following the white blazes back up into the woods. When we reached the woods, we were again greeted with a climb. That was followed by more mundane terrain until the final mile of the day.

Late in the afternoon Banzai hiked on up the trail ahead of Pilgrim and me. Just before the final descent into Cheshire, Pilgrim and I encountered him resting on a rock chatting with Long Skirt, a section hiker from Indiana who plans to hike all the way to Katahdin. Just past this outcrop a blue blazed trail led to the Cobbles, another marble outcropping with a view of the town of Cheshire. Long Skirt and I ventured up the short side trail for the view while Banzai and Pilgrim kept going. After Long Skirt and I retraced our path back to the white blazes, we hiked together at a steady pace into Cheshire. When we arrived at an ice cream shop on the outskirts of town, we joined Pilgrim for a refreshing treat while we waited for the Wiley’s and a shuttle to Williamstown.

So tonight I’m in another “mom and pop” motel in Williamstown, MA with Banzai and Pilgrim. Pilgrim just declared, “I’m going to keep the bathroom door closed because the sink drips and the toilet runs.” Banzai responded, “Why can’t we just have one problem?” Ah, such is the life of the AT hiker on the DBM plan. As I’ve been saying about this hike since Georgia, “You can’t always get what you want.” Hey, who’s complaining. We’ve slack packed 18.3 miles on a cooler day, had three restaurant meals, and are sleeping in a room tonight. Considering all things, life is pretty good these days on the Appalachian Trail.










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