August 10 - 16 Journal Entries

8/10 - Day 153

11.6 to Mt. Wilcox South Shelter - 1506.9 cum

FireBall had come and met me last night at the US7 crossing. We gave shuttle rides into Great Barrington to some of the other hikers and then we gorged ourselves on Italian food and ice cream. I had spotted a pretty little clearing under some pines earlier in the day that was close to a road with packing, so we went there to camp.

This morning we enjoyed a great breakfast, I laundered some clothes, and then picked up some last minute groceries. It was 12:30 by the time I finally finished dawdling and FireBall dropeed me at the trail.

It was a hot, humid day once again and the heat seemed to be bothering Micah more than usual, so it was slow going with frequent stops.

I didn't arrive at the shelter until almost 7. The srping was almost dry, but it had just enough depth left for me to submerge the intake hose on my water filter. There were 2 southbounders and a northbounder by the name of Moses already at the shelter. Micah and I tented off an overgrown little trail nearby.

This shelter is famous for porcupine problems. Many of the hikers take to hanging their boots and packs as well as food bags. Porcupines will eat a pair of leather boots just to get the salt off them. I wasn't disappointed either - at about 3am I awoke to this strange chuckling/ snorting sound near the tent. I could hear sounds of some fairly good-sized animals rustling through leaves and brush. There were at least two of them chattering back and forth as they passed the tent on either side. I had the flaps up on the tent, so I could see the trundling bodies through the mesh as they passed by and made a bee line for the shelter. They never even looked at the tent. I felt like nothing more than a little highway divider to them.

8/11 - Day 154

15.9 mi to Upper Goose Pond Cabin - 1522.8 cum

Sometimes this trail makes me question how much I do or don't need the company of others. It was an uninspiring hike for me today. My legs just weren't into it and it was another hot and humid day. I dragged into Upper Goose Pond Cabin fairly early in the afternoon through because I wanted to swim and I wanted to beat any early evening storms.

That's where my day changed. There were several hikers already here and more and more just kept rolling in until at last count, we'd topped 20. Upper Goose Pond is a beautiful glacial lake. Micah and I swam for a while enjoying the cool waters and then just sat on the dock listening to conversations.

Dingle and HatTrick were here, as well as Moses and Sourwood. The rest of the hikers were either section hikers or southbounders. I met Jingles, Superfly, Turbo, SharpShin, The Will, and Gentle Ben, who is from CA and did the PCT two years ago. We talked quite a bit about what happens when the hike is over, why we hike, and the different things we get from the trail.

Later on in the day I went down to the dock and played my flute for a while. That prompted a discussion with The Will about Native American Indian flute music. He's from Oklahoma and is a big fan of the flute and has a great collection of Native American music.

The caretakers (Tom and his son) were great. They were really laid back and you could tell they just were enjoying everybody's company. Today was only the 2nd day of their on week "tour of duty". They treated us all to fresh fruit, cheese, crackers, and pepperoni as well as a promised pancake breakfast tomorrow.

I'm glad Micah and I got in early to claim a tent site. The place is packed tonight with some people getting the front porch of living room floor for a sleeping spot.

I very much enjoyed the company of the others tonight, but I was glad to retire to my own little tent once the rain began.

8/12 - Day 155

19.5 to campsite - 1542.3 cum

As I was saying goodbye to everyone this morning, Gentle Ben slipped me a piece of paper and said it was something he'd jotted down the night before while sitting on the dock. He said it was the best he could do from memory.

I waited until my first break before I opened the scrap of notebook paper. It was a passage from "Letters to a Young Poet" by Rilke. We had talked about Rilke last night as we spoke about our fears and the thrill of overcoming them to try new things.

"How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples? The myths about dragons, that at the last moment, turn into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us, once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that only wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises before you larger than you have ever seen. If a restiveness like light and cloud shadows passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you; that life has not forgotten you; that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall...."

Gentle Ben is one of those special people that you meet on the trail only briefly, but will never forget.

8/13 - Day 156

10.3 to Cheshire, MA - 1552.3 cum

I read a book last night that I just couldn't put down. It was "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer. It's the story of Chris McCandless, who in 1992 walked into the Alaskan wilderness. Four months later his decomposed body was found. He had died of starvation at the age of 24.

This story distubed me profoundly. There were so may beliefs and emotions that drove this young man to forsake society and wealth, and I feel that I can identify with many of them. There was a constant sense of emptiness within that powered his search for that "something" that would make his life whole and give it true meaning.

As if Chris' story wasn't enough, Krakauer opens each chapter with quotes and passages from a wide variety of literary sources: Jack London, Tolstoy, Thoreau, ... Each selection seemed to hit me again and again. The words and phrases hang with me still. They ran though my mind over and over again - no chance of sleep whatsoever. But what an engergizing sleeplessness!

"Wildnerness appealed to those bored or disgusted with man and his works. It not only offered an escape from society but also was an ideal stage for the Romantic individual to exercise the cult that he frequently made of his own soul. The solitude and total freedom of the wilderness created a perfect settting for either melancholy or exultation." Roderick Nash, "Wilderness and the American mind"

Now what - what do I do? I love and hate books like this that grip me around the gut and then leave me breathless and disoriented. There have been very few books throughout my life that have touched me so deeply, that have stirred up so many emotions from my innermost depths, emotions that I leave untouched and hidden for fear of the utter chaos they can cause.

Is my 7 month odyssey "seeking fellowship with the wilderness" my own personal attempt to find the same answers Chris sought? It may not be as radical as walking off into the Alaskan backcountry with only 10 pounds of rice for provisions, but my journey is a pilgramage nonetheless. A pilgramage to find an inner piece, a direction, a meaningful way to face the world. I hope that my quest is more successful than Chris'.

8/14 - Day 157

15.9 mi to Sherman Brook Campsite - 1568.5 cum

Before I started the trail, I remember hearing about thru-hikers quitting in Vermont, New Hampshire, or even as far along as Maine. At that time, I thought how crazy it would be to give up when you were so close to the end. Now though, I understand. I'm ready to draw my hike to a close. I'm ready to pick up my life and move on.

I've been out here over 5 months now. That's a long time. I've still got roughly 600 more miles to go, which means I'm going to be out here 7 or 8 more weeks.

I'm ready to have a home again. I miss my other two dogs. I want my bed back. I want to be able to take showers more than once a week. I want to be clean for more than a few brief hours at a time. I want to be under a dry roof with four walls around me during a rain storm. I want to have clean dry clothes again...

As I walked down a street that the AT ran on in North Adams, Massachusetts today, I heard a phone ring in a nearby house. A man's excited voice carried through the window as he greeted his daughter on the phone. I got a lump in my chest just listening to this little detail of somebody else's everyday life.

As Micah and I sat atop Mount Greylock basking in the sun, I heard a family nearby talking about their trip back home. The father was commenting to his son that they would be in their own home again by 5 pm. I want to be in my home again too.

Each day now is a mental struggle. I still appreciate all the beauty surrounding me, but it's not the same anymore. I'm not even allowing myself to think about how far away Katahdin still is. I'm trying to just focus on the short term--the next town, the next shelter, making it to the top of the next mountain, or just taking the first step of the day.

I found out the other day how HatTrick got her trail name. When she first started the trail with her husband, Dingle, the thought of walking to Maine was just too overwhelming. Rather than face such a daunting task, she set herself much smaller goals every day--3 per day. The term "hat trick" is used in hockey to mean the scoring of 3 goals. I like that idea.

So I will take my trip day by day, step by step.

Today I climbed the tallest mountain in Massachusetts, Mount Greylock. GOAL 1 SCORED!!

Today I completed the 15.9 miles I hoped to hike when I laid out my schedule last night. GOAL 2 SCORED!!

Today I put myself back on this blasted trail and took one more step towards Katahdin. GOAL 3 SCORED.

I want to close today's entry with a quote that Crispy sent to me. It couldn't have come at a more appropriate time. Thanks, Crispy.

"What lies before you and what lies behind you pales insignificant when compared to what lies within you." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

8/15 - Day 158

16.7 miles to Vt. 9/Bennington,VT - 1585.2 cum

Micah and I crossed into Vermont today---HURRAHHH!! Now we're down to just three more states to go (never mind that some of the toughest sections of the trail lie ahead for us).

It was a cool, cloudy day today. Perfect weather for hiking. We were up and out of camp by 7:15. FireBall is to be picking me up at a road crossing this afternoon and I'll be taking a day off and enjoying a Boston Red Sox game tomorrow afternoon.

I have finally reached one of the most critical decisions of my thru-hike: red raspberries are my absolute favorite trailside delicacy!!! The top of Harmon Hill had large areas of raspberry thickets and I delayed my hike long enough to sample as many as I could. I just love these little red fruits, more than blueberries, more than mulberries, and more than blackberries. Red Raspberries Rule!!

I passed a lot of beaver ponds and boggy areas today. It seems that all of the water sources flow out these murky ponds. I guess this is a true test of my water filter. I remember hearing once that beavers are one of the main carriers of giardia. At one point in time, giardiasis was also known as beaver fever. Lots of Closed Gentians bordered many of these swampy areas. Their dark blue, bottle-like flowers contrasted beautifully with all the greens and browns of these bogs.

Overall, the trail was pretty easy going. An initial climb in the morning and then a series of rolling ridge walks. The final descent of the day to Vt. 9 was quite impressive though. It's a 900 foot drop in elevation over roughly 0.4 miles. The trail maintainers in this area did an absolutely spectacular job of installing stone steps on a good portion of this entire descent. They made it as tolerable as possible, but my knees were still screaming by the time I reached the bottom. There was a crew of workers out installing some more steps near the very base and I was sure to give a heartfelt thanks as I passed by.