Worth the Wait–Part I

A few hundred yards before reaching camp tonight, we will cross the 1,881 mile mark. That puts us about 19.6 miles from the Maine border and precisely 300 miles from the summit of Mt Katahdin.

Since our last post we have been thoroughly immersed in mountains and one thing has become abundantly clear: anything and everything we’ve been told about the Whites is true. It is the most rugged section of trail and the most spectacular; it is always 40 degrees on Mt Washington with five feet of visibility and enough wind to take the air out of your lungs; the huts are wonderful, off-the-grid oases but it seems most overnight patrons are paying an awful lot for a plastic mattress and no shower; even 1,700+ miles of training won’t prepare you for the mountains here…

We’ve taken nearly a squillion photos in the past week so for ease of uploading (and to keep you interested!) we’ll do a few separate posts over the next day or so.

On to the mountains!

Mt Cube:

Although Mt Cube isn’t technically in the White Mountains, this type of sheer rock face became increasingly common (and increasingly steep) as we progressed northward.

Mt Moosilauke:

Our first view, from afar.

Getting much, much closer.

Travis takes a shot of honey to prepare for the final ascent.

Cairns mark the trail whenever we are above tree line.

Success! The wind caused a few disruptions with the skirt.

The trail coming down from Moosilauke. A bit hard on the knees…

A cascade paralleling the trail.

Every once in a while we got a little help from stairs drilled into the rock.

Coming soon: the Kinsmans, Franconia Ridge, and the Presidentials. Stay tuned!

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The Penultimate State

After following the Long Trail in Vermont for about a hundred miles, the AT turns east and heads for New Hampshire and the White Mountains. From this point to Hanover, NH we walked on fine trails, leaving behind the mud in favor of drier ridges and better views.

One morning, we waited with several other hikers in front of a bakery until the proprietor unlocked the doors. For breakfast we shared a strawberry-rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream, maple soda and fresh strawberries dipped in maple yogurt. The feast continued through the day as it seemed that every road crossing brought us close to a farm store selling local ice cream and other Vermont products. In West Hartford, VT we were able to tent for the night in the backyard of a hospitable couple. They entertained our group with stories of previous tenants’ misbehavior while we admired their two beautifully refurbished Model T’s.

The following morning we nearly made the it the final ten miles to Hanover before the rain started, and happily found that our hotel shared a parking lot with a large and wonderful grocery. We spent our Independence Day in wholehearted repose and then set out to tackle “The Whites” with our food bags so full that we were burdened by the weight and mocked by our fellow hikers.

Dry, soft pine needles cushioned our footsteps on the much improved trail.

Well, mostly improved trail. I fell into this mud hole up to my knees.

Near grassy and sunny patches we found delicious wild strawberries.

A ladder down a rock face was a first for us on the trail. We were glad that Willett wasn’t there to negotiate it.

On our last day in Vermont, the view of a ski slope seemed to be giving us a high five.

Anne bravely ascending the lookout tower on Mount Smarts.

The view from the top of the tower. There are some tall looking peaks in the distance…

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Vermont, Vermud, Vermoose

First and foremost, a quick update: Willett has lucked into a few weeks of vacation with my brother David in Providence. He will be rejoining us in Maine and, in the interim, can be found enjoying the creature comforts of domestic dog life. We will be entering the White Mountains in a week and anticipate significant crowds and the most challenging terrain of the entire trip. The thought of Willett inadvertently binding my legs with his leash as we both tumble down the back side of Mt. Moosilauke was a bit worrisome. Our interests aside, the poor guy just seemed a bit tuckered out. I’m sure, however, that he has fully rebounded and is already running laps around David’s apartment…

So, back to the trail. As the miles of Massachusetts drew to a close, many fellow hikers expressed a profound desire to reach the promised land of Vermont–a land where the hillsides are verdant, the streams abundant, and Ben & Jerrys grows on trees. Upon reaching Vermont, the AT coincides with the Long Trail–a footpath from the Massachusetts border to Canada–for just over 100 miles. Hikers are asked to avoid the Long Trail in early spring as the abundant snowmelt makes for muddy trail and muddy trail is often widened by dainty hikers stepping off to the side to keep their socks dry.

Four and a half days of rain was enough to produce a quantity of mud the likes of which we had never seen before. Each step required evaluation: tip toe to the next protruding root/rock/stick or brave the thick brush adjacent to the trail. Once, tragically, we chose the latter option only to be thwarted by a patch of nettles.

Vermont has not yet proved the utopia other hikers had anticipated but our visit with David earlier in the week has left us in excellent spirits. We took care of an immense list of errands, ate rice pudding by the jar-full, and received a slew of delightful culinary curiosities. Lately we have been enjoying our nightly couscous ration with berbere, an Ethiopian spice blend, and a handful of crispy dried okra.

Our next stop is Hanover, NH where we will enjoy a full day off the trail–coincidentally July 4, so it seems appropriate. From there, into the White Mountains and onwards to Maine.

Pretty little fungus. I see candied kumquats.

A very large hoof print in the very muddy trail…

Belonging to this very gangly moose! Apparently she resides on this section of trail and many other hikers reported being delayed (and amazed) as she slowly ambled along the trail in front of them.

Willett contemplating beavers.

We spend a good bit of our time these days teetering along boardwalks that skirt marshy ponds like thus one.

It has rained enough that many of these boardwalks go under water once stepped on.

Willett doing everything in his power to stay out of the mud. He’s oddly fastidious when it comes to such things.


A misty day on Stratton Mountain.

Apparently the sun does shine on the AT in Vermont–and how lovely the world is when it does.

The view from Baker Peak.

We came across an area of forest with an elaborate array of cairns.

We especially liked this one.

508 miles to Katahdin!

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At this moment I am hanging in my hammock, inside a shelter partway up Mt. Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts. We are in the midst of what is forecast to be a four-day long rainstorm. I suspect that all the other hikers have found motels and hostels to wait out the worst of it, so we have the shelter to ourselves. We spent last night in a motel in Dalton, MA, but as a popular trail aphorism goes, “no pain, no rain, no Maine.” And as if to buoy our sodden spirits, as we hiked down into Cheshire, MA this afternoon we met a gentleman hiker by the name “Battle Axe,” (his radio handle from the Vietnam War) who treated us to lunch at the local pub before we parted ways – he to a B&B and we to begin the ascent of Greylock. The generosity of strangers on the trail still surprises us and is a habit we hope to take with us when our journey is complete.

We were able to enjoy a few gorgeous days after leaving Salisbury, which produced a number of great photos:

The view from our second “Bear Mountain,” this one the highest peak in Connecticut.

We descended through an area called “Sages,” a beautiful place of hemlocks and cascading brooks.

It was there that we crossed into Massachusetts, although our guidebook claims this sign is “misplaced.”

We walked along a half mile of ledges and cliffs atop Race Mountain.

Anne is posing in front of Mt. Everett. If you zoom in on the horizon over her shoulder you may be able to see saddle-shaped Mt. Greylock. A few minutes after this photo was taken we heard an incredible chorus of coyotes, which was fascinating but also chilling. Willett was hilariously perplexed by their carnival of crying barks.

We followed a gloriously mossy old stone wall in a verdant section of Massachusetts forest. It is always interesting to see these sorts of historical relics. We try to imagine when this land was someone’s farm and needed a wall.

Anne noticed this adorable frog inside the hollow rung of a ladder that was part of a footbridge. Can someone identify it for us?

Some more history; we passed the site of the final battle of Shays’ Rebellion near Sheffield, MA.

A cool and shady stone face.

On the Summer Soltice we celebrated the longest day of the year by hiking twenty five miles, breaking briefly to take a cooling dip in Upper Goose Pond. Willett was particularly delighted.

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Two Thirds!

Today finds your number one favorite hiking trio in the lovely town of Salisbury, CT. We recently passed the two-thirds mark of our journey and have fewer than 700 miles to go. All eyes are on the prize.

Our day began thusly:

6:00 am — Alarm goes off but hikers remain ensconced in hammocks, unresponsive. Dog barks at sudden noise.

6:30 am — Allure of a day in town is sufficiently exciting to rouse hikers. Many unpleasant minutes spent removing slugs from: shoes, backpacks, raincoats, tarps. Tea and breakfast. Pack up belongings.

8:00 am — Hasty hiking along the Housatonic. Dog spends too much time sniffing.

12:00 pm — Arrive in Salisbury after a ten mile hike, locating the house of a very nice woman who rents out rooms in her house to hikers. Secure dog in room.

12:30 pm — White wine and hamburgers on the patio at the restaurant across the street. Bliss.

After such a lovely time with my family last weekend, we worried that returning to the trail might be rather difficult. Many hikers seem to share our sentiment that this hiking business is all well and good, but the lack of creature comforts is getting a bit tiresome. This week, however, we realized that much can be overlooked given a spirited assortment of hiking companions. While we rarely actually walk with other groups, we appreciate the banter and antics of fellow hikers when we reach our daily destination. It also fosters a pleasant sense of community to hear that, for instance, others are now thinking of Willett’s welfare during particularly hot and rocky stretches.

And now, the photos!

The view from Bear Mountain in New York.

Crossing the Hudson on the Bear Mountain Bridge. Our lowest elevation of the trip at 124 feet above sea level. Also, the rumored end of the merciless rocks. The terrain has indeed improved.

We should have known that the stretch in New York would boast both the best hot dog cart and pizza of the trip–each within a ten minute walk of the trail.

We knew we were in the neighborhood of the Dover Oak, the largest on the AT. Foolishly, we thought this was it…

That’s more like it!

Sometimes we make a game of determining which food a given fungus most resembles. This one was a stretch, but we thought Cheetos.

Lemon custard with corn flakes.

Floppy eruption of pancakes.

Obviously the iPhone can’t capture the splendor of all moments. This photo is more of a placeholder to remind us of the evening we spent looking out over an incredible field of fireflies–all different types and light patterns–while the full moon rose behind.

Everything happens for a reason… Willett’s refusal to walk and our resulting early arrival at my aunt and uncle’s kept us out of the storm that wrought havoc on the trail.

Furthermore, this creek was too treacherous for all three of us to cross and necessitated a detour.

This is what we found on our detour. Plus a package store that gives free beer to thruhikers. Thank you for overflowing, Guinea Creek!

There’s a big fat rattlesnake in that crevice. Luckily, a very kind hiker ahead of us left a note held in place with a rock: “Rattle snake within 10 ft —>” We had just come through a torrential thunderstorm, luckily (?), so the snake was ostensibly comatose.

Willett pointing to a patch of Indians Pipe, a plant that functions without chlorophyll.

The Housatonic, falling somewhere south of Salisbury.

Massachusetts tomorrow and Vermont in a week–these middle states have been short hitters. It’s all uphill from here, though…

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Much to Report

A lot has happened since our last update, which I will recount in order, so this is may be a little lengthy. The synopsis is that we have finished rocky Pennsylvania, as well as swampy, buggy New Jersey and nearly all of heat wave afflicted New York.

First, our current location and condition: all members of our party are in good health and spirits as we escaped some brutally hot weather thanks to Anne’s aunt Penny, who drove from her home in Connecticut to pick us up in New York a few days earlier than we had planned. We are spending the weekend with Penny, her husband and Anne’s parents while the heat breaks and Willett recovers from his first trail related ailment, a limp and heat induced fatigue, the subsequent disappearance of which permitted the local veterinarian to deem him fit for further hiking.

And now we rewind back to central Pennsylvania, where we last left our heroes as they entered a notoriously rocky and strenuous portion of the trail:

This scene was not uncommon. Where the rocks were not as great as these, the trail consisted of miles upon miles of loose cobbles.

There were pleasing looking forests, abundant with ferns and hundreds of scuffling and squeaking chipmunks, but this did little to alleviate our troubles with toe stubbing and ankle twisting rocks.

We ascended a difficult hillside at Lehigh Gap, where the ridge has been deforested due to two hundred years of zinc smelting. Willett had to be lifted up some sections, which were harrowing enough to climb with our heavy backpacks.

We couldn’t fathom why the trail was routed through this area, which is designated a Superfund site by the EPA.

It was a horrifying no-mans-land of rocks and carcasses of trees. Grasses and other hardy vegetation are returning in places, which seemed to only provide habitat for innumerable ticks.

With this view of Delaware Water Gap, PA we knew we had finally been delivered from Pennsylvania. We arrived in town to partake of the special at the Village Farmer Bakery, a hot dog and a slice of pie for $2.49. We then crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey.

Jersey started out quite nicely, with improved terrain and views, such as the glacially formed Sunfish Pond, where some cairns had been built on the shore.

My dad met us near Port Jervis, NY on his way to Nova Scotia. He brought Willett a huge marrow bone, the result of which was a completely satisfied pooch, not even roused by a tempting pizza crust.

We were lucky to get clued into the existence of a sort of secret shelter for long distance hikers. A selfless benefactor built a pair of small cabins, with an outdoor shower, well water and a lovely pastoral location. We shared the space with a garrulous ex-Navy medic and his dog, Elvis. He shared many tragic tales with us and gave us advice on subjects ranging from what to do if coyotes attack your dog to proper response and contingencies following a rattlesnake bite.

It was during this period that I noticed the loss the phone charger, so there are few other pictures of New Jersey, which is probably just fine, as the rest of the trail there passed through mosquito infested swamps and wetlands where we didn’t care to pause to record the surroundings. The water sources in this stretch were equally unappealing, and we were lucky to be provided with occasional faucets at park headquarters and even gallon jugs left near road crossings by local trail angels. We soon passed into New York, where the bogs were left behind in favor of hot and lengthy stretches of exposed rock faces.

Wild blueberries abounded here, and miles of bushes laden with yet under-ripe fruit teased us. We only can hope that there will be some tastier specimens further north this summer.

Mountain laurel is in full bloom as well.

Willett and I are seen here passing through “The Lemon Squeezer.” The next few days got hotter and hotter, until we were obliged to stop walking during the middle hours of the day. Even with the siesta, we were quite belabored by the heat, especially Willett, who developed a limp and then to our dismay began to collapse trail side in protest. We were uplifted by a meeting with a trail angel who went by the name “Paddy-O” at Lake Tiorati who refreshed us with cold beverages, snacks and hot dogs. We intended to hike a few days more before meeting Anne’s family, but Willett’s condition did not improve by the morning, so we arranged for rescue by Anne’s aunt.

And that brings us up to date. We intend to be back to finish the last few days in New York after the weekend, and from there knock out Connecticut and Massachusetts in the coming weeks before entering much more challenging and mountainous terrain, hopefully without the debilitating heat.

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Technical Difficulties

I have to keep this post succinct because I lost the phone charger and won’t be able to replace it for a week or so. My bad.

The short of it is that we have happily finished Pennsylvania and are now moving through New Jersey, which is beautiful, contrary to expectation and popular belief. We hope to update the blog soon with the latest of our travels, but for the meantime, please be satisfied with this fine image:

P.S. The sign reads “True Love!”

P.P.S. I subsequently shaved the facial hair; don’t be alarmed.

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