Mile 1367 – 1747
August 4 – August 26, 2017
The next few states had their share of adventures, but they are dim in my memory compared to what came before and after. New York was beautiful in its own way, but it felt touristy. The number of day hikers we met increased, and at times they clustered the trail so much that it felt claustrophobic. Though being in such close contact with them daily made me realize something:
We smelled. Really bad.
Depending upon the frequency of our hostel visits, we typically went 1-3 weeks without a shower. That meant 1-3 weeks of hiking in the late-summer heat and humidity in the same clothes every single day. Walking side-by-side with day hikers at the summit of Bear Mountain, we were drawing some looks. Although, as much as I didn’t notice our smell, they didn’t notice theirs either. I was struck by the aroma of hundreds of different perfumes, lotions, shampoos, detergents, and body washes, all combining in a cacophony of scents that turned my nose up at them as much as theirs at me.
There was one benefit from the close proximity to civilization: easier access to gourmet food options. Nearly every day an opportunity presented itself to stop for ice cream, hot dogs, or a deli sub, and we took full advantage.
One of my favorite delis we stopped at was Mountain Top Market Deli, which sat about 0.3 mile down road NY 52. The road walk wasn’t the easiest, but to be able to sit in the cool shade with a few other hikers and a fat sub in your hands was well worth the trip.
We had found ourselves caught in a bubble again, so most of our campsites were filled with thru hikers. Many hikers had found at least a few others to travel with by this point, and some of the groups had grown quite substantial. One called themselves the Locusts with pride, a group so large they ‘swarmed’ when they arrived at shelters. Though despite being surrounded with the other thru hikers, our numbers were growing noticeably smaller. Even the Locusts had shrunk in size from their about ten person group in the south to half that number. The amount of us left on trail would only continue to grow smaller the further north we went.
With its well-manicured trails and easy rolling slopes, we progressed quickly through New York. Our last day in the state, Markus slept in, so I spent the day crossing cow pastures alone. Many of these pastures had side-by-side wooden planks built up to keep hikers from sinking into the mud and cow filth. They are helpful in keeping your shoes dry, but, after slipping and mildly twisting my ankle on a wet one, I don’t trust them anymore.
Striding north toward a 500-foot climb and a road crossing, I watched the pine trees on the hill whip and crack in the wind. The smell of rain blew in on sharp gusts, signaling a storm was approaching. After clambering over the pasture fence, I moseyed down the road to the hiker-friendly Native Landscapes & Garden Center. Delaying my departure to wait for Markus, I purchased a few snacks and sat outside to munch on them. I thought he had been right behind me, but after sitting on the front patio for a half hour, he still hadn’t arrived. A little worried he hadn’t caught up yet, but eager to beat the storm, I abandoned my vigil to climb up the winding switchback. It was another hour before I reached Wiley Shelter and quickly jumped inside to avoid the rain thundering from the sky.
Time passed slowly as I waited for Markus and my anxiety started to build. It was abnormal that he hadn’t caught up with me yet and my head buzzed with the possibilities. About an hour later though, he arrived, drenched and cold.
“Hey!!!!!” I called over the babble of the other hikers in the shelter.
“Hey sorry—Slept in a lot later than I intended,” he explained, dropping his pack with a wet smack on the shelter floor.
The rain passed and we set up our tent in the little camping area behind the shelter. A mile into our hike the following morning, we crossed the New York/Connecticut state line, entering New England.
Connecticut contains about 50 miles of trail and I notably don’t remember most of it. One of the memorable moments was staying at Toymakers Café in Falls Village, where Markus and I met our first SOBO thru hikers. They seemed just as excited as we were to meet them: they, still bright eyed with 700 miles behind them, edging closer to the half-way point and us, battle worn with 1500 miles, nearing the end. We equally passed along warnings of the trail ahead, while simultaneously reflecting on our journey up until that point.
Massachusetts has about 90 miles of trail and we entered the state just before mid-August. Upon crossing the border, Markus again was caught up about finishing. Perhaps after engaging with the south bounders, he was starting to seriously consider what stood between us and the end. With my pace, albeit faster than it was when we started, he was concerned that we wouldn’t finish the trail before snow arrived on Mount Katahdin. With the decreasing odds of potentially good weather and more challenging conditions yet to come, he began to press for us to skip ahead. At the time, I didn’t fight him much on it. I didn’t feel good about it, but I rationalized it as a necessary sacrifice. I wasn’t a fast hiker and a flip-flop didn’t seem feasible to us. What other options were available?
In 2017, my thoughts weren’t to achieve a Triple Crown or even a pure thru hike. After college, I had been working in a field I didn’t enjoy and I wasn’t feeling satisfied with the direction my life was headed. I wasn’t into backpacking or trail running, and wasn’t a part of the trail community. Mentally, self-doubt ruled my mind and my anxiety caused me to painfully second-guess every decision. Physically, my self-discipline was weak at best, I had no endurance and my pain tolerance was obsolete. So, why did I decide to thru hike the Appalachian Trail then? Honestly… At the time, the decision felt like a whim, but I think subconsciously I knew I didn’t like the person I was. In my heart, I knew who I wanted to be and I yearned for the opportunity to become that person. So, I provided myself the chance. I signed up to undertake the most challenging thing that I could think of. For good or bad, I walked away from that trail irreversibly changed and it taught me a lot about the expectations I hold for myself.
Retrospectively, I sincerely regret yellow-blazing from Great Barrington to Dalton, Massachusetts. Reviewing our circumstances, we weren’t running out of time and, had we pressed forward rather than riding a bus from one town up the trail to the next, we would have summited Katahdin in beautiful weather. With my current mindset and new goals, I have highlighted that section I missed and will not call myself a Triple Crowner until I have revisited the AT. As much as I feel like I cheated a bit, I try not to allow that to diminish my own Appalachian Trail thru hike. Everyone goes to trail for different reasons, with a range of goals and expectations, so it is very important to not allow others to dictate the terms of your hike. If I have the opportunity to thru hike it again (which I sincerely hope I do), I would go SOBO and ensure I travel every inch of that trail. But for now, all I can do is apply what I learned from my first thru hike to my next: to hike in a manner that I can look back on with no regrets.
When we crossed into Vermont on August 16, the mountains began to grow. After cruising over little 500-foot climbs, we returned to 2,000+ foot ascents in dense coniferous forests. We ended up missing the mud and incessant black flies the state is known for. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with it.
I adored Vermont. The entire state smelled of pine and was lush with dark, fertile earth. The ground was spongey from pine needles and moss, the trees sharp and prickly with pine and fir, and we had some beautiful sunny skies while traversing the state. My average daily mileage had reached its peak of 18-22 miles a day and for the first time on trail I felt like I was flying. I was able to hike faster and for longer, and the pain I had been dealing with nearly the entire trail was ebbing away. Even Markus seemed impressed by the sudden change to my pace. Vermont was some of the hardest trail we had crossed since Pennsylvania, but it didn’t feel like it. Those ancient forests breathed new light into my soul and I felt powerful.
I believe we first met Brave Happy in Vermont. He was a slender older guy with a thick white beard, and none too fond of people. We got along well with him though and spent large parts of Vermont catching each other on ascents up the slopes of countless ski hills. The first time we met him, it was growing dark as we raced down a ridgeline to the next shelter. The sky was deep red in the sunset, and threw long shadows across the trail. The three of us were headed to Peru Peak Shelter for the night, but we had a few miles yet to go and the sun was setting behind the mountains. Whipping through the trees, dancing from rock to rock, then rushing the steep descent, we pulled up to the shelter in the dim light just after sundown. Brave Happy arrived not too long afterwards and we welcomed him into camp.
We went into Danby the next day as I had a job interview, so we woke early and managed to get a hitch into town. I went into the library for the Wi-Fi password and learned there was supposed to be a solar eclipse that day. They offered us some special sunglasses to watch it and we laid out on the library lawn eating snacks and watching the “Great American Eclipse” pass across the sky. The interview I thought went well, though they weren’t prepared to give me what I was asking for, which ended up working out for me in the long run.
My favorite climb of Vermont was our ascent up Mount Killington. We had stayed at Governor Clement Shelter with Happy Feet, who was part of the Hooligan trail family, which sat nestled at the foot of the mountain. It was growing late, and we agreed, rather than risk ending in the dark, to summit the following morning. It was lucky that the three of us did stay the night at the foot of the mountain because a cold rain passed through that evening. At 2,000 feet, there was a slight chill to the air, but the shelter was big and kept out the wind. With the forest newly saturated and coated in fog, ascending Mt Killington the following morning was magical. Sunlight streamed through the pines, reflecting off the water vapor and bathing the forest in an almost purple glow. The higher we climbed, the colder it became and a chill set in on the air. When we reached the summit, hikers were just stirring from a rough night in the Cooper Lodge summit shelter. The rain, which was little more than a cool sprinkle in the valley, was icy cold at the peak, the lodge leaked all night on the hikers crammed into the bunk beds. We stopped for a moment to eat a snack in the dim, dank lodge, teeth chattering in the gloom, rubbing our legs and setting off down the mountain.
After Mt Killington, the remainder of Vermont became more level, though the terrain suggested there was worse yet to come. A day out from leaving Vermont, we met up with Brave Happy again at the VT 12 road crossing. We went with him a quarter mile down to On the Edge Farm, and sat out in the garden waiting for the shop to open. It was well worth the wait, we all agreed, after splitting a sour cherry pie between the three of us. It was a great celebration to mark the end of our journey through Vermont. The next day, we crossed the Vermont/New Hampshire state line and entered the state that would end up mentally defeating me.