Monthly Archives: July 2013

Washington Mountain Rd.

The hiking day is over. I’m sitting in a Friendly’s in Pittsfield, MA. It’s late. Pilgrim, Banzai, and I are waiting for our meal. Pilgrim and I ordered from the senior menu. Our meals include a complimentary two scoop, one topping sundae. The service is slow. We are hungry but patient. It’s been a long day on the Appalachian Trail.

My day began with a ride from Great Barrington back to the trail near Tyringham, MA. Roy Wiley, another AT legend and the husband of the “cookie lady,” has been shuttling hikers for over twenty years. So with an old plan and two fellow hikers for companions, I covered the 18.0 miles in under nine hours. Other than two beautiful lakes, there really wasn’t much to get excited about throughout the day. Still we all hiked with new found energy and enthusiasm, mainly due to lower humidity and fewer mosquitoes.

The picturesque, placid lakes we passed today made me think about my brother. As I stood by the banks of Upper Goose Pond I thought about how much Don would have loved to be fishing here. I could see him casting from the bank on the lazy afternoon. This was the type of day he loved to be out on his bass boat, appreciating an opportunity to enjoy nature. Don would have really liked Upper Goose Pond.

Just past Upper Goose Pond the trail crosses over I-90 and then heads back into the woods toward US 20. At the road we walked the 0.1 mile to a small inn with a picnic table by another lake where we could have some lunch. Pilgrim and I had each packed a couple of burgers from McDonald’s. When we went inside to use a soft drink machine, we also discovered a microwave. This hike keeps getting better. Not only was I able to purchase a Coke, but I got to heat up my burgers.

After lunch the three of us faced only the second substantial climb of the day. Regardless of the elevation change, all continued to go well. Sure, there were some rocks, a good bit of mud, and a few pests, but overall we were only pleasantly tired at the end of the hike. Banzai said he was definitely liking the DBM (Don’s Brother’s Method). With two fellow hikers aboard, I hope to perfect some of the minor issues over the next few days.

Late in the afternoon Banzai hiked on ahead for awhile. When Pilgrim and I arrived at Washington Mountain Rd., and the home of Roy, Banzai was sitting at a picnic table having a cookie. Roy returned shortly with cookies for Pilgrim and me before he drove us to Pittsfield. A little later we checked into a motel, cleaned up, and headed to dinner. So despite the slow service at the restaurant, we eventually were served a good meal. Tomorrow I’ll move closer to Vermont as I hike along with Banzai and Pilgrim northward on the Appalachian Trail.

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Tyringham, MA

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.

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MA 23, Great Barrington, MA

When Fresh Coke asked me how I slept last night, I immediately knew that he and Restless Cowboy had heard my “night terror” screaming. I explained the malady to the German brothers as best as I could. Restless Cowboy replied that he wasn’t sure if he should have come across the hall to check on me. Assuring the two that I always eventually wake myself, they still seemed a little befuddled by the wailing that had awakened them in the middle of the night. It was only my third such episode since the hike began. None have occurred in the woods, thankfully. This one, I think, was also the first that had been overheard by another hiker. Oh well. Maybe it will give the lads from Europe a story to tell when they return to their homeland.

The brothers are leaving the trail for a few days to do some sightseeing in the New England area before Fresh Coke departs for Germany. For him his hike is over. He just points to his head and says, “Mental,” when asked why. Restless Cowboy plans to return and finish the hike solo. With a mid-September visa expiration, he should still have time. Later in the morning I would wish them well before I headed back to the trail. The first leg of their off-trail excursion involves a hitch to Hartford. Both the brothers seemed very sure that they would have little trouble finding a lift.

After again cooking myself some breakfast, I moseyed down to the Post Office to send a few items up the trail. Since Franklin, NC I’ve travelled without a tent. As of today I’m sleeping bagless as well. Since I was still carrying my winter bag and recently hadn’t used it except to lie on, I figured why not trim some more weight from the pack. I also shipped my rain pants and gloves ahead. Andy, the postal worker on duty, found me the perfect size box for the items, which I forwarded to Norwich, Vermont, the last trail town before New Hampshire. With all the towns I’m hitting, I don’t know why I haven’t sent these items ahead long ago.

After mailing the package, I walked to a cafe on Main St. for a cup of coffee. As I entered “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was playing in the background. I made a reference to Procol Harum, but it quickly became obvious that the young lady behind the counter failed to understand my comment. I, therefore, decided not to get into “while the Miller told his tale” lyric from the late 60’s hit. Not seeming too interested in my small talk, she turned to help another customer with almost a smile. I took my coffee to a table outside where I joined Banzai who was sipping on some juice and munching a muffin.

Old Banzai looked a little down. When we talked about the morale on the trail, he said some people may say they’re still enjoying the hike, but deep down he feels everyone is miserable. Can’t say that I disagree with him. When I offered him part of my shuttle at no expense, he accepted after a brief rumination. So we walked back up to Grove St. for the ride to The AT. Maria was at her sassy best during the eleven mile trip up MA 41 where I had ended yesterday’s hike. She had both of us laughing and cutting up with the delightful lady for the duration of the ride. I said my final goodbye to the AT legend and then began the walk with Banzai.

We hiked together for the first 3.8 miles, a level stretch through a section of untrimmed foliage. The mosquitoes began their barrage early and never let up for the 12.0 mile day. Banzai left the trail at US 7 for Great Barrington. I hiked on to MA 23, which also leads into town. After Banzai’s departure I saw no one else all day. Fortunately I covered the last 8.2 in well under four hours. The trail today was about as nondescript as any over the past three weeks. Mud, pine straw, a few moderate size rocks, roots, and vegetation summarize it well. What made the hike utterly miserable (in no way magnificent) was the merciless mosquitoes. I’ve come to the conclusion that these varmints have a plan. The first unit’s task is to lick all the Deet off of hikers so that the second unit can come in for the strike. Quite frankly, I don’t think any bug spray is effective. Despite multiple applications, I stayed covered and under attack all day.

With no one else around I was left with a lot of time to think about how miserable I was. At one point I felt downright mad, which is a characteristic I almost never display. I used to tell my students that I only got angry twice a year and that I didn’t intend using one of the times on them. Today I used one on the mosquitoes and biting flies. I kept thinking about all the people who have tried to encourage me and other hikers with comments like, “I really envy you,” or “you’re doing great,” or (the most asinine) “you’re almost there.” If anyone had popped out of the woods with one of those comments today, I might be in the Great Barrington jail charged with assault. I hiked mad all day, and actually felt pretty good doing so.
At least I’m being honest with how this hike is going lately.

So now that I’ve vented for awhile, life is good here at the Travel Lodge. You see, I got a text followed by a phone call from Pilgrim this morning. He’s decided he wants to try my plan for a few days. Having lost too much weight and suffering from the heat and humidity, the fellow sojourner needs new direction. Tomorrow he’ll ship some gear home and learn my method for “light pack, big miles, and beds.” The “big miles,” unfortunately, may not be quite as big with the adverse conditions right now. Vermont, however, is only a few days away where the elevation increases substantially. For now, Massachusetts and mosquitoes continue as Pilgrim and I try a little duo hiking tomorrow up the Appalachian Trail.

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MA 41, South Egremont, MA

Ten down; four to go—states, that is. On another extremely humid, buggy day, I hiked out of Connecticut and into Massachusetts with a slack pack and a positive attitude. Like many other recent days, things went well early in the day, but by mid-afternoon the energy level had plummeted. Still I managed to hike 17.8 miles in ten hours over some pretty challenging terrain. Were it not for a hard rain late in the day, I could have finished at least an hour earlier. Nevertheless, I’m not complaining since I again had a room to return to on Grove St. So everything considered, I’d call the day slightly closer to John’s “magnificent” than to my preferred adjective, “miserable.”

At 5:30 I started the day by cooking myself breakfast in Maria’s kitchen. After my three fried eggs, toast, and orange juice, I walked the approximately half mile back to the trail on Undermountain Rd. I then headed back into the woods at 6:10 and was immediately greeted with a climb of 1000 feet over the first 2.6 miles to Lions Head. This would be the first of several spectacular views throughout the day. After Lions Head I was faced with an additional 580 foot ascent of Bear Mountain. It’s interesting how some names are used more than once on the AT. There have been at least three Deep Gaps, for instance. Today was the second Bear Mountain. I wouldn’t classify the climb as too difficult; however the descent was a “bear.” Pardon the pun. I’m very tired as I write this.

After scrambling down the steep descent, including two times when I went to the seat of my pants, I was near the CT/MA border. Just after crossing into Massachusetts, I was treated to the beauty of Sages Ravine. The trail parallels a fast running stream with multiple waterfalls for 0.3 of a mile. Having expected a bridge over the rushing waters, I must admit I was a bit disillusioned when I realized the manner to cross was over partially covered rocks. Knowing that my feet were going to get wet really didn’t matter. I just didn’t want to fall in and get swept downstream. All went well with the crossing until the last two partially submerged rocks. I had to leap from one to the other and maintain my balance. Prayers must have been being lifted up at the moment because I stuck the landing without any slippage. Breathing a sigh of relief, I looked back thankfully at the beautiful natural crossing that I had fortunately handled.

Shortly after leaving the Ravine I noticed a southbound hiker who looked familiar. Susquehanna Slim recognized me before I did him. We had first met way back in Erwin when we shared a shuttle. Slim is doing a modified flip flop due to some off trail obligations. He started a few days ago on Mt. Greylock and is hiking south to the Delaware Water Gap, where he left the trail. When he gets there, he plans to return to Greylock and keep walking north. I’ve been reading Slim’s journal occasionally, so it was an unexpected treat to see him again.

The best views of the day awaited about a mile after I saw Slim. The trail elevates to a 0.6 mile ridge walk on Race Mountain. Even I would classify the continuous vistas to the east as beautiful beyond description. Although somewhat challenging, I never felt that any part of the ridge walk could be construed as dangerous, that is unless you got too close to the edge. I made sure I didn’t. It was after Race and during the climb up Mt. Everett that I began to droop. I kept downing fluids and consuming fruit and protein bars, which finally restored some energy. I just didn’t need another climb when this one appeared. After the ascent I reached the Guilder Pond Picnic Area where someone had left several gallons of water labeled for thru hikers. With almost five miles remaining, I refilled my bottles before continuing through a swampy segment of trail. Like all recent days, the mosquitoes and various species of flies attacked relentlessly throughout the day.

As I headed toward the final difficult section of the day, the descent of Jug End, the rain began. This gave me the chance to try out my new emergency poncho. The rain also afforded me the opportunity to practice descending wet rock slabs, which would have already posed a major challenge had they been dry. Using caution, and the seat of my pants again when necessary, I managed to navigate the slippery menaces without falling. It just took time. When I reached flat trail again, I picked up the pace to arrive at MA 41 a few minutes ahead of my shuttle. After a rather tiring as well as trying day, it felt good to have this section behind me. Tomorrow more climbs and great views await as I try to stay positive while hiking the Appalachian Trail.

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Salisbury, CT

Maria McCabe has been welcoming AT hikers into her Salisbury, Connecticut home for well over a decade. Alton and I stayed a night with her on our section hike of this area in 2004. Even though her prices have risen a bit, the house on Grove St. is still a bargain. When she picked me up at the bridge in Falls Village yesterday afternoon, she seemed genuinely happy to see a hiker who had stayed with her before. With all the hikers who have passed through her doorway, I obviously didn’t expect to be remembered. Asking me when I had previously boarded with her, Maria said she could barely remember last week, or something to that effect.

Part of Maria’s “Hiker Special” is a ride to the laundromat. On the return trip Maria enlightened me with a restaurant review for the area. One of the more swank dining establishments got a thumbs down from the feisty, 80 something young lady of German stock. “It’s too dark inside,” she stated without malice. “The next time I go I’m going to borrow one of the hiker’s
headlamps.” She did add that the food was pretty good, but expensive. All in all, it was an entertaining ride both going and coming back to her home. She also reminded me that she couldn’t cook breakfast, but that hikers were permitted to use her kitchen to cook their own.

Maria also noted that she couldn’t shuttle me back to the trail this morning until 9:00. Since I had only planned the short 8.3 mile stretch between Falls Village and Undermountain Rd., leading into Salisbury, the late start was fine. What I didn’t realize, however, was that apparently most of Salisbury slept in on Sunday as well. When I walked the two blocks to the center of town, not a person was stirring at 7:00. As I walked around, I determined that no businesses opened before 8:00. So I found a comfortable weathered wooden bench under a shade tree and just sat. For a while there I thought I was in one of those “Twilight Zone” episodes where an entire town has disappeared. Finally, a car pulled up and a young man entered a bakery across the street from my bench.

When a local church’s bell tower eventually tolled eight, I walked the block to the bistro and ordered a bacon and egg breakfast. I wish I had thought to bring a package of the grits Jimmy left with me. I wonder if my waitress would have supplied me with a bowl of hot water. I’ll definitely give it a try sometime. Just as I finished my meal, Colin walked in. Having hiked in from a campsite, he chose to dine outside. I asked for a third cup of coffee and joined him. After a short chat, I ambled over to the market around the corner before heading back to Maria’s. As soon as I retrieved my pack, we were in her car on our way back to the AT.

Starting at the bridge, I had barely walked into the woods when I stopped to view the falls cascading into the river. At the next road crossing I met for the first time Miles From Nowhere who was hiking the same section as I was today. After these two short breaks, however, I just took off and hiked at a steady, fairly fast pace all morning. Again today, I walked up on another deer grazing on the trail. She moved over to let me pass but really didn’t seem too affected by my presence. There was a fairly good view from 1475 foot Mt. Prospect and an even better one of the field called Rands View. Despite missing my buddies, I felt OK hiking solo today.

When I arrived at Undermountain Rd., I walked the approximately half mile back to Maria’s home, ending my trail day before 1:00. For the remainder of the afternoon I have just been relaxing. The two brothers from Germany, Restless Cowboy and Fresh Coke, are also staying the night. Fresh Coke is having a lot of trouble with the humidity. He looks a bit whipped, so I hope the town night will restore some of his energy. As for me, I’m about to head back down to the bistro for another opportunity for some fine dining in Salisbury. I need all the calories I can handle so that tomorrow I can hike northward strongly on the Appalachian Trail.

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Falls Village, CT

Sometimes we take friendship for granted. We go through our day to day lives aware of who our friends are; however, at times we fail to grasp the significance of the bonding process that has occurred over a period of years. I first met Jimmy when we trained together for the Marine Corps Marathon in 1995. John and I became acquainted when he started running with a group of my buddies a couple or so years later. Over the years, we’ve shared many a mile and story on the roads of Columbus, but none may have been as significant as those we shared over the past three days on the Appalachian Trail. As I sit at a laundromat in Salisbury, CT, I’m already remembering how important and special those past few days have been.

For the second consecutive day I was able to start my day with grits, thanks to Jimmy. Mary was reluctant to serve them with her blueberry pancakes, at least until we assured her the combination would in no way offend us. Having been told that we were seven minutes late for breakfast yesterday, we hustled to arrive in the dining room six minutes early today. I continue to be astounded by what irks some people. I suppose we all have our shortcomings. Nevertheless, starting the meal thirteen minutes earlier than yesterday meant that John, Jimmy, and I could begin hiking a bit earlier as well. So after the ride back to the trailhead, provided by Cooper, we were walking at 8:00.

From the outset, the hike went smoothly throughout the day, that is if my slipping off a rock in the first five minutes can be overlooked. After I stepped about ankle deep into a stream, Jimmy suggested that I just wade across rather than try to get back up on the wet rocks. I took his advice and paid no attention to my wet shoes and socks. John chose to tightrope a blowdown. This was only the first of several water crossings we would encounter throughout the day. Fortunately I did not step in again. In addition to the streams, a “lemon squeezer” type rock formation added a little variety to another rather mundane trail.

But like yesterday, it wasn’t the trail, but the fellowship among friends, that made the hike enjoyable. Neither the heat nor the humidity nor the various biting bugs could detract from our time together. I again talked at times of Don. My thoughts today seemed even more poignant since today is his birthday. And again John and Jimmy listened with heartfelt compassion. We continued to reminisce about our running pasts and share stories about our many running friends. It was such a satisfying way to conclude my buddies’ brief visit to the trail.

Today’s 14 mile hike concluded in Falls Village, CT. John, Jimmy, and I walked the short distance into Main St. and the Toymaker Cafe. We shared a final meal before the two headed toward the train station for a ride into NYC. John even offered some sound advice for the remainder of my hike. Then they were gone. I momentarily turned to wave before walking the 0.2 miles up the road for a lift to Salisbury and a night in the home of Maria McCabe. So I rode in with Maria, did my laundry, and had supper with Pilgrim at a local bistro. As John would want me to say, it’s been another magnificent day on the Appalachian Trail.

In Memorium

On July 6, 1957 Donald Andrews Stephens was born in Columbus, GA. On August 28 of last year he died at the age of 55. ALS took my brother’s life, but his memory lives on in the hearts of those who loved him. He is missed every day by his friends and by his family. The world is a better place because he lived; it is at a loss because he lives in this world no more. I remember all that we shared with happiness that we did. And I celebrate his life every day by remembering how much Don loved the outdoors. Happy Birthday, Donald.

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CT 4

Over the years I have always considered myself to be extremely fortunate to have a number of really good friends. Many of those really good friends are my running buddies. Between 1998 and 2006 a group of these buddies would meet me at the high school where I taught for a 5:30 AM run every Wednesday. A certain camaraderie develops when runners meet before dawn to pound out 8-12 miles before a busy work day. As I’ve gotten older and slowed down considerably, the long Wednesday runs have ended for me. The friendships, fortunately, have not. So at a time when despondency was creeping into my everyday psyche, two of these really goods friends arrived to again pound out miles of a different kind. Today I hiked with enthusiasm, and without a pack, as John Teeples and Jimmy Brooks took an 18.3 mile hike with me on the Appalachian Trail.

I was still a little stunned this morning over the late night arrival of Jimmy. I knew of course that John was coming up to hike with me for three days; however, Jimmy’s arrival was truly a surprise. Actually, it was a shock. The second surprise came at the breakfast table of the Cooper Creek B & B (note the name, my Columbus friends) when Mary placed a bowl by my plate. Staring in disbelief, I asked, “Are those grits?” Jimmy had not only arrived to hike but had brought grits with him. I quickly dubbed Jimmy “Grits” for his time on the trail. Along with the scrambled eggs and cheese, sausage, toast, and coffee, the breakfast has to rank among the top five I’ve enjoyed since the hike began.

After breakfast Cooper drove the three of us back to Bulls Bridge Rd. What made today’s hike a little different was the opportunity to hike without a pack all day. We carried only one, stocking it with food and water. I should say my friends carried one pack. My two buddies insisted on alternating carrying it, so I got to hike packless. With some fairly challenging climbs and high humidity again, it certainly felt good to have the weight off my back.

Throughout much of the day I shared some of the best conversations I’ve engaged in on the hike with John and Jimmy. At one point I found myself talking about Don. Both of my friends listened compassionately as I shared aspects of his life, illness, and death. For me, I guess one could say, it was kind of therapeutic. Regardless, I appreciated their understanding. We also talked about John’s businesses, Jimmy’s practice, our families, running, and of course my hike. It was all good.

The trail today posed a few more challenges than yesterday. There were several water crossings that required some rock hopping, an occasional series of rocks to negotiate, and some mud. My buddies wanted me to hike in front; however, I’m sure both could have easily increased the pace at any time. Not having seen any other thru hikers yesterday, I hoped that John and Jimmy would at least get to meet one of my fellow Maine bound pilgrims. That finally occurred at a stream in the early afternoon. Colin, a hiker I’ve been around many times since early in Virginia, was taking a break by the water. We would see him again throughout the day.

The most challenging part of today’s hike was hiking down St. John’s Ledges. I should say it was a bit of a challenge for me. John and Jimmy had expected something more technical. Near the end of that section we came across two rock climbers. Dave and Lacey had affixed a rope to a tree at the top of a rock face. Dave began the climb up as we watched. I sensed that John would have liked a turn, having done a little rock climbing himself. Unfortunately the hike needed to continue. And so we hiked on toward the Housatonic River.

For much of the final six plus miles the trail parallels the river. At one point my two companions decided a swim was in order. So for the second time in two days John has gone for a swim during my hike. I watched from the bank as John and Jimmy cooled off in the rippling water. After their swim we picked up the pace until a final climb commenced. I needed a short rest before we completed the last mile. Just before we reached CT 4 near Cornwall Bridge, we spotted Cooper walking up the trail to meet us. After a stop for a Mountain Dew, we headed toward the inn.

After cleaning up we ventured into Kent for a little grocery shopping and a meal. Good conversation resumed over supper. Like so many times throughout my hike, someone special has helped to make my day less difficult. With good friends to accompany me on today’s hike, I barely thought about the miles. My buddies, however, have real jobs in the regular world, so tomorrow will be the last day they will hike along with me. As John would say, I know it’s going to be another “magnificent” day on the Appalachian Trail.

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Bull Bridge, CT

July 4th has always had special meaning for my family. As a child I remember my dad grilling on Independence Day. After I started running, I regularly competed in the Peachtree Roadrace 10K in Atlanta. When my kids were teenagers, our family, along with Don, Lisa, and Brent, would spend a few days at the beach. My brother always enjoyed setting off fireworks as darkness approached. Three years ago Don and Lisa joined Linda and me at our downtown condo to watch fireworks over the river. Two years ago we did the same; however, the occasion warranted little excitement since Don had received his ALS diagnosis only a few weeks earlier. I think we all knew it could be our last Fourth of July celebration. At this time last year, Don had lost use of his arms and legs, and he could barely speak. It was a somber Fourth.

So as I hiked today, moving from New York into Connecticut, I thought often of my brother. Having my good friend, John, along to share the hike was truly special. John’s travel day reads like an odyssey of its own. After a cancelled flight in Atlanta, a change of itinerary to land in Newark rather than LaGuardia, a cab ride through Times Square, a mad dash to catch a Metro North train, and a taxi ride from Pawling, he arrived at the Wingdale motel after 11:00. So when we walked up the highway for an early morning breakfast, it was on very little sleep. Still we knocked out 18.8 miles in just over ten hours which included an additional 1.2 mile round trip road walk for lunch.

For the most part, John’s first day on the AT proved rather uneventful. Other than a few minimal climbs, the boggy areas with an abundance of black mud dominated the hike. We saw a few day hikers but no thru hikers all day. I suppose most are at the nearby July 4th hiker bash. An accomplished ultra-marathoner, John easily adapted to the rigors of the trail. I suspect there were times he would have liked to run rather than walk, if not for the pack. Today, however, was as much about good conversation as it was miles. Among the topics we talked about were Big Dog, Iron Bank Coffee, and the Run Across Georgia. And of course we talked about the running buddies. I told John I had heard from Jimmy, Kevin, Reynold, and Cecil, all good running companions over the last several years.

With good conversation and a friend with whom to share the hike, for at least today, I didn’t even seem to mind the humidity and mosquitoes. John discovered his greatest appreciation for the trail near the end of the day, when we reached the Ten Mile River. After crossing the Ned Anderson Memorial Bridge, John decided that a swim was in order. I chose not to join him, but I must confess, it looked refreshing. After the swim we hiked on to Bull Bridge Rd., where I had arranged for a taxi to take us to Cornwall Bridge, CT. I had given John the option of a shelter after his first day on the trail, but he said he’d prefer my “find a nearby bed” method.

We changed out plans during the ride, however, since there was no place to eat near the motel in Cornwall Bridge. Instead we retraced out route to Kent, where we found a hiker friendly B and B. After getting to Kent we had a meal at an Italian place before calling the inn for our complimentary shuttle. Exhausted from the late night and hiking day, I fell asleep shortly after getting to my room. When I awakened about an hour later the real surprise occurred. Standing next to my bed was Jimmy Brooks, another running buddy from home. John had managed to keep Jimmy’s arrival a secret throughout the day.

So as I end this Fourth of July I feel truly blessed. So many people care about this hike. From strangers I’ve never met who have taken the time to write, to two good buddies whose friendship I’ve cherished as we have put in the miles over the years, folks are concerned about me. At one point today, John said I needed to replace the word “misery” with “magnificent.” He’s right. This is in all respects a magnificent trail and I’m being given the magnificent opportunity to hike it. And more importantly I get to share it with two special friends when tomorrow John and Jimmy join me for a jaunt on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: AT Hike | 4 Comments

NY 55

Maybe I need to rethink my “no tent” philosophy. When I arrived at the RPH Shelter last night, I thought I was getting the next to last bunk. When I turned in for the evening, however, only Johnny Walker had decided to tough it out in the shelter. After the mosquitoes made their presence known, everyone else set up their tents or hammocks in the grassy area adjacent to the cinder block building. With both ends of the structure open, JW and I were fair game throughout the night. With the night too hot and muggy to fully get inside my bag, I opted for a long sleeve shirt and another coating of bug spray. I’m not sure how many bites I had this morning, but I actually slept quite well. After awaking at dawn, I dozed until my watch alarm sounded at 6:00. As I began packing up those who had tented followed suit. The humidity had to be 100% as I hit the trail at 7:12.

Even though I was the first to leave camp, within the initial hour I was passed by Misery, Johnny Walker, Tugboat, and Chickadee. The young folks always smile and speak respectfully as they leave me in their dust. They hop over the rocks as if the obstacles don’t exist. I pause and calculate my next step to try to ensure I won’t fall. Speaking of which, I had five consecutive “no fall” days until about half an hour before today’s hike concluded. Oh well. It wasn’t a bad one, and I suppose I can start a new streak tomorrow. At least the fall didn’t involve a rock or mud.

Since I had only dined on leftover pizza for breakfast this morning, I walked the 0.4 miles up the road to the Mountaintop Market Deli when I reached NY 52. Even though it was mid-morning, I ordered a breakfast sandwich and drank two chocolate milks. The proprietors had placed a plastic lawn chair next to an outside outlet, so I was able to charge my phone as I ate. I also refilled my water bottles and bought a root beer and Gatorade before leaving. I also must confess that I napped for about fifteen minutes. It made for a nice interlude to battling mosquitoes. All in all I hung out at the little market for well over an hour.

Before leaving I ran into Torch, a young hiker that I had last seen on McAfee Knob when he and his buddies, Rango and Half and Half, had taken some pics of me. Torch is farther north on the trail; however, he’s back in the area for a big 4th of July thru hiker bash sponsored each year by a local fellow named Bill. Unfortunately, however, he said his two buddies have gone home. When I got ready to return to the trail, Bill gave me a ride. I thanked him for the invitation to the party, but explained that I had a friend from home joining me for the next few days. Bill is shuttling hikers around all day to allow some slack packing, especially for those who skipped this section, knowing that they could hike it when they returned to the area for the 4th. When I resumed my hike I met two of them, Bulldog and Trucker. The last time I saw Bulldog, he was returning to the Super 8 in Erwin with a bag of a dozen cheeseburgers. It was at Cowboys in Damascus that I had last seen Trucker. Both hikers immediately recognized and remembered me. It was definitely good to catch up with the two.

In the early afternoon I took another break at the Morgan Stewart Shelter. Funnybone, Tugboat, and Chickadee also were hanging out there. Funnybone wasn’t sure what his plans were for the day; however, Tugboat and Chickadee were utilizing Bill’s trail angel generosity to get in a slack pack as well. I remembered staying at this shelter on my section hike of NY. After about a ten minute break I headed back onto the bug infested trail. For some reason they didn’t seem as much of a nuisance at the shelter. Perhaps the varmints prefer moving hikers over stationary ones because once I began walking, they attacked again. At least with my continued one pole hiking, I have a free hand to swat.

Maybe it was due to the calories, for I hiked with renewed enthusiasm throughout the afternoon. The final 3.3 miles passed quickly. I only stopped for one minimal view, the only one of the day. When I arrived at NY 55 I was fortunate to meet two very special trail angels, Cynthia and Todd from DC. Having just finished a day hike southbound from the Dover Oak, they had to return to pick up their car. When I told them I’d like to get to a motel near Wingdale, they kindly agreed to take me. I can’t say enough about how good it feels to be given a ride by strangers. Their generosity sure topped off a pretty good day in nice fashion.

While hiking today I really enjoyed running into Trucker. He likewise seemed glad to see me and commended me on still being on the trail. Many have offered encouragement, both on the trail as well as in the regular world. Not that others’ haven’t been, but Trucker’s words just seemed so sincere. I hope our paths cross again somewhere up the trail. As for tomorrow, my followers are in for a real treat, I think. My good running buddy and ultra marathoner, John Teeples, is coming up to hike with me for a few days. I’m sure all his friends back in Georgia will be eagerly awaiting John’s indoctrination on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: AT Hike | 1 Comment

RPH Shelter

My good friend and hiking buddy, Alton, recently diagnosed my situation with “not having anyone to share the misery.” Today I not only had others around me most of the day, but I met and hiked awhile with Misery, a young man from Buffalo. Just after beginning today’s walk at US 9, I was passed in succession over about an hour by Tugboat, Johnny Walker, Chickadee, and Funnybone, as well as Misery. I wound up leapfrogging with these hikers throughout the day, and am sheltering with them tonight at the RPH Shelter, a fully enclosed structure with bunks. Pizza has been ordered and should arrive shortly. Despite the warm evening and a few bugs, I’m glad to be in the woods with fellow thru hikers tonight.

Early in today’s hike the trail as usual offered up a good bit of variety. Most of the rather flat terrain was forgiving even though muddy portions slowed my movement. There were no rock scrambles, and the climbs were minimal. When I reached Dennytown Rd. I stopped for lunch. All of the above mentioned hikers were also taking a break. Someone commented how rare it was for this many thru hikers to be gathered in the middle of the day. I hiked out while the others continued their break.

Not long after, the rain began. For a brief time it kept the mosquitoes away. When it ceased, however, the critters began swarming again. For the past few days I sincerely say that the pests are more a deterrent to morale than any other factor. I must have sprayed myself at least five times. At one point I paused to talk with a southbound section hiker, Jennifer, from Long Island, who asked to borrow some spray. I happily obliged since the swarm around her seemed larger than mine. The only relief came when the trail gained in elevation.

When I got to the rocks with a view of Canopus Lake, I took another break with Misery and Funnybone. Then I hiked with Funnybone for about an hour prior to Shenandoah Mountain and the 9/11 Memorial. A triathlete from Boulder, Funnybone is only the third hiker I have met in his 40’s. I enjoyed the brief time we hiked together since we talked a little about endurance training. At the memorial I took a brief break but quickly hiked on, leaving Funnybone, Chickadee, and Misery relaxing. From there I made good time, arriving at the shelter a little after 5:00. Fortunately, I was able to get one of the six bunks available.

So once again, I’m spending a night in the woods even though the shelter is enclosed. As I write this entry, I’m trying to hurry because the battery in my phone is at 10%, and of course, there’s no place to recharge tonight. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do so at a deli early tomorrow or my pics will be few. Many of my companions are winding down for the night. It’s muggy and warm, however, the bugs haven’t been too bad thus far. Today was a good day. I met Misery and Funnybone and saw Tugboat for the first time since Harper’s Ferry. There’s also a good chance I’ll get to hike some more with these fine folks as I continue my northward walk on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: AT Hike | 1 Comment

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