Day 113: Make-Up Miles Day

Day 113. After driving all afternoon, I arrived in New Jersey late last night. The whole time I was driving (which admittedly felt very odd to do again), I could only laugh at how quickly I was reversing the distance it took me a month to achieve. Travel 30 days by foot or 6 hours by car … this thruhike experience certainly puts things in perspective.

Over a few much enjoyed brews with my friends, we discussed the options for tomorrow and decided on a day hike in New York, to make up 12 of the miles I skipped in May. It was going to be a long day hike, but would end at Bear Mountain State Park and it’s beautiful Inn and lake. If you recall, this was where Happy and I started our hike together just a few short weeks ago.

The hike was spectacular, and Mikey was step and step with me the whole way. By the end, we were both exhausted and dehydrated, but feeling great. This section of the trail had 3 big mountains to climb up and down, but it was a very well groomed trail (especially the final peak). We scaled Black Mountain, West Mountain, and finally the very popular dayhike destination of Bear Mountain in about 6 and a half hours.

Each summit showed spectacular views of NY, and we even saw a great profile of the Manhattan skyline from Black Mountain since the day was so clear. It’s hard to make it out in the photo, but check out below in the distance.

Early on, we stopped at the William Brien Memorial Shelter briefly and talked with a thruhiker about his trip. I casually reminded him that today is the Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year), and that it is tradition for thruhikers to hike naked today. It’s a very odd Appalachian Trail tradition, but it’s a very odd trail with very odd hikers upon it. He was unaware (and uninterested), but at least now he know’s what to expect if he sees others in the nude! To be clear, Mikey and I were fully clothed. I decided I am a dayhike today and therefore had an excuse not to do it … which just sounds uncomfortable to me anyways, haha. I saw some funny photos on FB from hiker friends, but we were spared seeing any birthday suits on our hike.

At the final summit of Bear Mountain, we were greeted with plenty of other dayhikers, a beautiful tower structure, and great views looking out over the Hudson River. More importantly though, there were cold drink vending machines. It was HOT all day and we quickly drank the water we had earlier in the day, never passing a creek to refill. After 3 bottles of water, Powerade, iced tea, etc. each … we eventually felt good enough to make the 2 mile climb back down. The trail up to and down Bear Mountain is basically paved with stairs, so it’s easier (in theory). But hard surfaces and especially stairs are very tough on the knees, which were really killing me today. By the end of our hike, I was eager to be done and get off my feet. Great hike, but even on a “day off”, I can’t help but put stress my body. Oh well, I now have a few zero days of rest, so I’ll have plenty of time to fully recover.

I wished Mikey and his wifey goodbye, took them out to dinner as a thank you for their gracious hospitality, and jumped back in the car to finish my southward drive. I stopped at a motel outside Philly around midnight and will rest up before picking Dana up at the airport tomorrow. And come to think of it, Jurassic World just came out … so I may just find myself relaxing in the movie theater with popcorn first.

As for the thruhike, that will pick up again on Monday. For the section I missed, All that remains now is to hike from Delaware Water Gap to this Seven Lakes Drive intersection we started from today. In total, I have 97.1 of the 109.3 miles missed now to still make up. I plan to try and knock some out on Sunday or Monday, but we’ll see. I may not post much for a couple days, but want to get the video up from last week at least.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1392.7
  • Start Time: 10:20
  • End Mile: 1404.0
  • End Time: 16:40
  • Miles Hiked: 11.3
  • Miles to Go: 373.1
  • Lodging: Econolodge outside Philadelphia

Day 112: Franconia Notch

Day 112. Regardless of anything else you think you perceive in these daily updates, let me make something abundantly clear … I LOVE the White Mountains. The spectacular views and summits justify all of the strenuous hiking and rock climbing (yes, all 4 limbs were often needed today), and this range of mountains is 2nd to none on the Appalachian Trail.

Of course, that being said, it’s no cakewalk. And today was another reminder of how difficult this trail can be. Moosilauke yesterday was the first big climb in his range, and today’s ascent of Kinsman Mountain was another rough physical challenge. I spent much of today using my hands and feet to scale up or down giant boulders and stony scrambles. Poles are absolutely 100% necessary, but sometimes need to be put aside for literal rock climbing up 10 foot tall slabs of smooth granite. It’s no wonder New Hampshire is nicknamed the Granite State.

But the feeling of accomplishment and rewards at the top make it all worth it. Many times today, I felt like I was in the breathtaking scenery of Montana or California. This is why I came to hike this trail, this is the gift of mountains and hiking I have been waiting to receive. All the crap of Pennsylvania is worth it, to get here and see this. I cannot wait to hike the presidential range next.

Side note, I visited my first AMC hut today. The 8 resorts that sit atop the presidential range along the AT are some of the biggest highlights to this trail. They are full-service resorts with electricity, plumbing, housing, food service, and more. They are costly but also offer many “work for stay” options for thruhikers passing through that cannot afford the $75-100 per night fee. I’ll speak about these huts more when I return, but let me just say this first one (Lonesome Lake Hut) was a stunning work of architecture and lodging up in he mountains. Like Granite Park/Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park, or the Swiss Alps lodges they are styled after … these huts are a magnificent sights to behold and unforgettable sites to visit.

But not yet. I’m on a break. After my short day today, I hopped off trail at Franconia Notch and starting my side trip to Allentown for our good friends’ wedding. Not much to say here except the Planes, Trains, and Automobiles that will got me there. For those who care … when I reached Franconia Notch, it was a 1 mile walk to The Flume Visitor Center for Franconia Notch State Park. From there, I called for a $10 shuttle to the town of Lincoln, 5 miles away. Then I bought a ticket on a coach bus to Plymouth, 20 more miles south. Then, once in Plymouth, I rented a car and drive to New Jersey. A friend from college lives here that almost did this whole hike with me, so he graciously offered to put me up for the night and hike some of the NJ missed miles with me tomorrow. After that, I’ll drive down to Philadelphia on Friday to pick up my wife and then drive to Allentown. It’s a long commute for a wedding – But that’s what you do for people you love, even if they decide to wed each other right in the middle of your damn life’s goal. Jk Sarah and Jack, can’t wait to see you crazy lovebirds tie the knot!

I’ll post more on my day hikes this weekend if/when they occur, otherwise I’ll talk with you all on the official progress early next week.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1809.0
  • Start Time: 06;45
  • End Mile: 1817.8
  • End Time: 12:15
  • Miles Hiked: 8.8
  • Miles to Go: 373.1
  • Lodging: Friends’ home in NJ

Day 111: Eliza Brook Shelter

Day 111. I really need to stop letting other hikers intimidate me with what they say is difficult. Was Moosilauke easy? No. But was it a big scary mountain that would be so difficult that it would take up my whole day? Definitely not. A hiker a couple days ago said he would have paid $1000 to slackpack Moosilauke, had he known it was an option. That almost scared me into doing the same, but after some soul searching this morning, I decided to just take it on head first per usual. And I’m glad I did.

Climbing up was not that bad, just a slow steady ascent with a few sections of rocky stairs and scrambles. Nothing I’m not used to by now. But, I will say this … going down was steep as hell, and unfortunately slick from rain and very slow going. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but going up and back down the other side took me almost 5 hours. At 1.5 mph, this was much slower than my usual speed, and let me tell you about the fun that awaited me at the top.

Reading the weather report this morning, today was supposed to be in the mid 70s with clear blue skies by 11am. Of course, we all know the joke mountains make of “weather reports”. When I reached the nearly 5,000 foot summit at 11am, Moosilauke laughed at my predicted forecast. Instead of warmth and sun, I was met with clouds, cold, and WIND. Oh that wind!

About 1 mike from the top, the trail comes out from the tree cover and onto a grassy bald with a winding rock path to the top. I kid you not, when I stepped out, the temperature instantly dropped 20 degrees. With no trees to block the wind, it came barreling over the top of the mountain at speeds of at least 30 mph. I was knocked over multiple times as I scrambled to layer up, afraid I’d lose hold of my rain jacket and watch it fly out of sight in a matter seconds. I had some windy balds in North Carolina, but this was far worse.

Fortunately, I loved it. Hell, it was fun to climb that last mile, with minimal visibility and bitter cold air biting at my face. There were huge rock cairns to lead the way (meant for when the summit is covered in snow), and I finally reached the iconic orange signpost at the top. Another hiker named Speedy was with me, so I was able to get some photos from a distance that expressed my true feelings at that moment (above).

A couple hundred feet after the summit, we entered the tree line of cover again and the wind immediately stopped. It’s such a crazy phenomenon, weather in the mountains. Then, as if mocking me, about 15 minutes into my descent, the sun came out. Within a half hour after that, the clouds were burned away, the clear blue skies took over and the day heated up. A little late, but still welcome.

The very steep climb down was strenuous, as the rocks were mostly still wet. I fell for just my 2nd time since March 1st, trying to walk down the wet steps, but fortunately I landed softly on my hands behind me. I’m going to call that just half a fall, since I caught myself in that crab-walk position without hitting my butt. The rest of the way was done very slowly and meticulously, though a few more close calls and slips took place. The trail fallows a beautiful stream of waterfalls down nearly the entire way to Kinsman Notch at the bottom. I stopped a few times to marvel at it, and if the temp was a bit warmer, saw plenty of nice pools that would be great to take a quick dip in.

About 100 feet from the bottom, I smelled the sweet aroma of BBQ’d meat and knew what was likely waiting for me … Trail Magic! Yep, a canopy was up and a 2003/2006 thruhiker named Whispers was grilling up burgers and dogs. There was beer from the local brewery, snacks, grilled meats, and chairs to unwind in. It was a very welcomed surprise and hit the spot.

Originally (due to the scary intimidation stories), I thought I’d only do Moosilauke today. But it was only 2pm when I left the magic, so I decided to hike on and officially enter the White Mountain National Forest. The next 7.6 miles were a tough climb up and down Mt. Wolf to the Eliza Brook Shelter. It is not a steep mountain, nothing compared to Moosilauke or the upcoming Presidential Range, but it was tough nonetheless. My going was slow again, as I traversed huge rock boulders, giant mud pits, and countless fallen trees (new from last night’s storm, by my guess). There were sections I could not get up without using my hands, and sections I could not get through without walking far around. I nearly went calf-deep in a mud pit that looked like a 1 inch puddle from above. Nope, tested it with my pole to be safe, and it just kept sinking and sinking. I hope this is not what the entire white Mountains bring, but if so, it certainly will be a new chapter in the adventure.

It’s kind of like a real life video game. The first level is steep climbs, the second level is rocky terrain, the third level is muddy trails, and the 4th level is all three at once. I’m on level 4.

Oh, quick side note. I met my first Southbounder today. He started at Katahdin on May 29th and is staying at the shelter tonight too. We swapped advice for the next few days in each direction over dinner. This will become a nice bonus of knowledge gathering in the weeks to come as I meet more.

I will reach Franconia Notch tomorrow morning, a day ahead of schedule for the wedding. Since I have the extra time, I’m going to drive down to NY and do some of the miles I missed back in May on Thursday and Friday. I also have a day on Monday while driving back up as well. I don’t know how much of that section I’ll be able to get done, but I’m going to try and chip away at those 100 miles I skipped over to meet Happy at Bear Mountain on time.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1792.2
  • Start Time: 08:00
  • End Mile: 1809.0
  • End Time: 17:45
  • Miles Hiked: 16.8
  • Miles to Go: 381.9
  • Lodging: Eliza Brook Shelter

Day 110: Glencliff, NH

Day 110. Well, I didn’t wake up at 4:30, but the other fellows in the shelter did, so I was awake by 5am and cooking breakfast by 5:30. In the end, it was for the best, as it was another hot and humid morning and the storm on the horizon was definitely going to hit at some point today. I just hoped it would be after I reached tonight’s hostel.

Leaving Hexacuba Shelter, it was another couple miles up to the summit of Mt. Cube, which had some great views backwards to Smarts Mountain from yesterday. You could just stop barely make out the fire tower on the horizon, which was a nice reminder of how far I’d gone in just half a day. At the top was a nice rock scramble (that would be pretty tough when wet), then a casual descent through the woods.

Even though it hadn’t rained yet, the humidity was so high that some of the rocks were still slippery from moisture. I climbed down slowly, with a couple slips too close for comfort. One section at the top was really impressive though, as it had a 2 foot wide strip of white quartzite running through the middle of the boulder face. And coincidentally, it led you in the right direction for the trail. Whether Trail maintainers designed it this way or not, I laughed to myself … because at 30 feet long, it is the single largest white blaze on the AT! See the photo below.

After coming down from Mt. Cube, my excitement started to perk up. I mentioned to my shelter-mates this morning, that a very famous Trail Angel might be waiting for us at the base of Mt. Cube. Along a dirt path called Cape Moonshine Road, is historically where “The Omelette Man” awaits hungry hikers all summer. A native from Glencliff, he is said to be there every M-F from 8-5 with a large setup of drinks, snacks, chairs, and (you guessed it) omelettes. Ready to order egg breakfast was the only thing on my mind by the time I reached the dirt road at 9am.

But, alas, I was an unlucky Sharkbait. As you can see in my photo above … no Omelette Man. Just a whole heck of mosquitos eager to prey on me while I ate my boring trail mix instead. Reading this, you may think, “awe, he didn’t get eggs but had a nice snack anyways, that’s good.” But let me tell you, those good ole’ raisins and peanuts were eaten in bitter cold spite, solely to fuel me onward. Every handful was looked at with painful sorrow, and every swallow was done with reluctant force. It was a sad snack. And it was even worse 8 hours later when I learned from others that he DID show up, but not until around noon. He apparently has limited omelette hours during non-peak hiker days??

Once my pity party was over, the last 8 miles of the day were fairly flat and manageable. This now being my 2nd day in a row doing sub-20 miles, I was feeling pretty good and reached the Route 25 crossing to Glencliff before 1pm. There isn’t much to this “town”, except for a really nice hostel: The Hikers Welcome Hostel.

This hostel is a very popular place, owned by a hiker named Packrat and managed daily for him by former hikers. This year, the caretakers are Brooklyn and Bisquick, two thruhikers from the class of 2017. When I arrived, they showed me around the facility, which is pretty impressive for a hostel. The main house has a common room with chairs, tables, TV, movies, kitchenette, and tons of food. Mostly for sale, but also plenty of freebies. And the free stuff is just dropped off by random locals wanting to support hikers. A big box of smoked chicken and ribs was brought in yesterday, 2 boxes of hostess apple turnovers a day before, and today I witnessed a random gentlemen walk in and drop big bags of chips and cupcakes on the table for the taking. I’m not big on freeloading out here, but this is everything a hiker needs to have a nice affordable evening off.

Then out back is a shower house and bathroom. It’s sort of a rudimentary setup, with short walls and just a canvas top. In three connecting stalls, you have everything that requires water: shower, laundry, and toilet. As you can see below, it’s nothing fancy, but they all work well and the shower was hot so I had nothing to complain about.

Lastly, the bunkhouse is a brand new and very large barn built next to the main house. The old bunkhouse is in the main house hut only holds about 8 people tightly. This spacious building, though does not have electricity, houses closer to 20 people in new and comfortable beds. Not just a wooden plank to sleep on, but an actual soft bed. As hostels go, this is pretty darn luxurious.

Around 5pm, they shuttle everyone in to the one convenience store in town for dinner and/or resupply. It’s basically a 7-11 but with a small deli in the back. I picked up a sub for dinner, a few random items and a turkey sandwich for tomorrow’s lunch. It’s only 25 miles to Franconia Notch, which I should be able to do in 2 days, so I thankfully don’t need to carry much food.

The only concern, really, is what lies directly ahead of me … Mt. Moosilauke. At nearly 5,000 feet, it is the tallest mountain since Virginia and it is a BEAST. The climb up is nearly 6 miles of steep and rocky terrain, and the climb down is near suicidal. You descent is twice as fast and thus twice as steep. Many people will wisely do this mountain in reverse, getting a slackpack to the other side and hike back here. That way, you can avoid going down the steeper side. But I haven’t decided. It is costly to stay here 2 nights and pay for 2 shuttles. And truthfully, I have the time this week to go very slowly. Even if I only do that 8 mile mountain tomorrow, I will still be on schedule for my wedding break.

Pretty steep, right? Right. I’m leaning towards just going over it normally, but I’ll wait and see what the weather looks like tomorrow, and how my feet feel when I wake up. Oh, speaking of weather. I did beat the rain today, but it hit HARD around 4pm. We even had a tornado siren go off and a crazy heavy rainfall for about an hour. This is by far the worst storm I’ve been in out here, and am very lucky/happy to be indoors for it. I hope everyone else out there is safe, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for anyone hiking over Moosilauke today. Yikes.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1777.4
  • Start Time: 06:30
  • End Mile: 1792.2
  • End Time: 12:45
  • Miles Hiked: 14.8
  • Miles to Go: 398.7
  • Lodging: Hikers Welcome Hostel

Day 109: Hexacuba Shelter

Day 109. Today was a scorcher. High humidity with temps up to the mid 80s, even at the 3,200 foot summit of Smarts Mountain. It was a great day to hike, but you could feel the heat by 7am, and it made today’s climbs pretty tough. But, with my shortened day of distance, I had lots of time for breaks … and even a mid-afternoon nap.

Last night’s shelter was packed, maybe a dozen people in total. But by the time I got out of bed, they were mostly gone. The sun is rising so early now, that people are breaking camp as early as 4:30 in the morning. Yeah, no thanks. And I thought my 6:30 wake up was early these days.

But given the anticipated heat today, I suppose it was understandable. I headed out around 7:30 and felt it almost immediately. The reliable water sources today were every 5 miles or so, but I still made sure to drink at least 1 full liter every time I filled up. I learned my lesson, I’m not gonna let myself get dehydrated on this trail again! And as I write this, knowing I probably drank a total of 6 liters today, I still don’t think it was enough.

After climbing down Moose Mountain, I had 2 more mountains to go up and over in today’s hike; one small, then one big. The first one was an unnamed 1000 foot climb straight up and back down over 3 miles. It looked like an equilateral triangle in the map, and felt like it too. Up up up, down down down. The views weren’t much, but this was just the primer for Smarts Mountain next.

Smarts Mountain was a beast. It’s 3,200 feet high and climbs straight up from a base of 1000 feet over 4 miles. It had some crazy steep sections, but also the most amazing views! Plenty of outcroppings of rock with visibility to dozens of mountains to the North and East … and at the top, wow. The summit has a fire tower that goes another 100 feet in the air, and your reward for the brave climb is a stunning 360 degree view of everything for miles and miles and miles. You could see the Greens on one side, and the Whites on the other. Just incredible. This is a popular dayhike, and it’s now clear why. Climbing this peak today brought back painful fond memories of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.

Side note, when I reached the top, I was greeted by two familiar faces: Soulshine and The Kid. Not sure if I’ve mentioned them in the blog directly yet or not, but we’ve been leapfrogging each other since Virginia and they’ve become friendly acquaintances to hike with throughout most of my journey. Very nice retired couple from Canada, it was great to see them and briefly catch up on “trail news” of others. They were heading further than me today, but I’m sure I will see them again in Glencliff.

Just below the fire tower is an old ranger-station-turned-shelter where I sat and ate lunch. It was cool inside, and felt nice to get out of the heat and bugs for a while. So nice in fact, that I decided a nap was in order. I laid out on the bench inside and took a short but very refreshing siesta. Like I mentioned earlier, doing less miles this week allows for nice little conveniences like this. I woke refreshed after 30 minutes and then began the long march down.

At the base, about 4 miles later, is Jacobs Brook; a great water source and popular swimming hole. It had cooled down by this point in the afternoon, so I decided to skip the swim (though regretted it 5 minutes later). I don’t know why I keep skipping these great swim chances, nothing is more refreshing than a good dip in a forest lake or river! Oh well.

But I continued on, and after a quick 1.5 mile climb partially up Cube Mountain, I was at the shelter. It’s a unique hexagonal structure with room for 8 or 10 people, but only 3 of us are here. I met the other 2 (Red and Shaggy) last night at Moose Mountain Shelter, this being the 3rd Shaggy I’ve met out here. Because of the unique size and shape of the shelter, we all decided to set up our tents inside to escape the bugs and heat. Even with this setup (which I admit is not appropriate thruhiker behavior), 4 or 5 latecomers could still fit inside. But it looks to be just us, and I’m taking up the same space against one of the walls I normally would on the floor, so I’m not too worried (photo above).

No surprise, because of today’s heat, there are T-storms expected tomorrow. It’s only 15 miles to Glencliff, but I doubt I’ll be able to avoid the storm even if I get up at 4:30. Which we all know I won’t.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1759.7
  • Start Time: 07:30
  • End Mile: 1777.4
  • End Time: 16:15
  • Miles Hiked: 17.7
  • Miles to Go: 413.5
  • Lodging: Hexacuba Shelter

Day 108: Moose Mountain Shelter

Day 108. See ya later Vermont, and nice to meet you New Hampshire. Fortunately, the start of NH is the same nice terrain as VT, so I’m not too upset for the change. Soft trails, switchbacks, and some great views in this first day. Not to mention, I’m closing in on 400 miles to Katahdin, and I can’t believe how fast the miles and states are rolling by now. Just a few more weeks and this long journey is done. I still have a ways to go, but New Hampshire … wow, it feels like I’m nearing the finishing line.

I was a bit bewildered when I woke up this morning. Wha? Where am I? What’s that a funky smell, that isn’t me for once? Ah yes, the Blue Barn. I did sleep well, though only after I decided to lay my underquilt below me like a sheet to appease my fear of bed bugs … or worse. And even with that layer of permethrin soaked protection, I still jumped off the dirty mattress as soon as I woke. Let’s just say, I graciously appreciated Linda the Trail Angel’s hospitality, but I won’t be adding this to the list of places to return to.

I cooked breakfast, filled my water bottles, and headed out of town. Today’s hike was great, though during the 20 miles, I walked about 15% of it on town roads. Three towns actually, as the trail goes through West Hartford, Norwich and Hanover in this stretch. The first had nothing of interest, just houses and roads along the river, but the other two were big towns.

Norwich and Hanover lay on opposing ends of the Connecticut River, which acts as the border between Vermont and New Hampshire. Norwich has a few hiker friendly amenities (brewery, general store, post office, etc.), but Hanover is the real score. Hanover is home to Dartmouth College, and therefore is a huge college town. And the AT walks right down Main Street, through campus.

Hanover has everything you could ever want and more. Restaurants, grocery, bars, outfitter, pharmacy, bakeries, hotels, movie theater, you name it. Heck, I even walked by a J. Crew and North Face store. And it’s extremely hiker friendly. The guidebook recommends you to first stop at the Dartmouth Outdoor Club, a campus building that hosts all the outdoor activity student groups, where you can leave your pack while you tour town. However, it is unguarded, and at risk while there. I subscribe to the “never leave your pack unattended” theory, so checked out the building and then walked on.

Also, did I mention that it was PACKED on campus? Apparently this is reunion weekend, and the town is overflowing with alumni. I could barely walk down the street, it was so congested. And I felt bad, because they all looked so clean and well dressed … but were forced to walk next to the garbage can of a man that I look and smell like. However, everyone was very nice. I was asked about my trip a few times, and even offered a free donut and pizza slice just for being a thruhiker (I eagerly accepted both). I reveled in the town a bit, but knew I did not belong today, and exited just as quickly as I entered. Thanks Dartmouth, but I have mountains to climb.

The next 10 miles of trail appear to be maintained by the Dartmouth Outdoor Club, as their bright orange signs helped direct passage for me the rest of the day. I am sure the hiking here is very popular, so the signs help maneuver around the many crisscrossing dayhikes to take. I’m happy to say I did not go the wrong direction today! My favorite sign was at the end for Moose Mountain Shelter. It even had a nice drawing of a moose and a map of the shelter amenities. Nicely done Dartmouth, nicely done.

Tomorrow is another short day, only 18 miles or so with some great views to sit and enjoy. I chatted with two Southbound section hikers today that raved about everything they saw today coming in from the North. Holts Ledge, Smarts Mountain and others. With the nice weather expected, it should be a good day. The view from Moose Mountain today wasn’t too shabby either though (photo above).

Reflective note … I’m not ready for this trip to end, but I’m definitely counting the miles left instead of the miles walked. It’s not because I want this experience to be over, but I believe I am ready to complete it all the same. I find myself looking forward to the end of the day’s hike a bit more than the act of hiking lately, a subtle but important change. I guess life has been on hold for a long time now, and there are things post-AT I’m looking forward to that are just around the corner. Lately, at night, I spend time thinking about that more.

In that vein, this week will be a nice “stop and smell the roses” section. I have some tough climbs ahead of me for sure, before I even get to the Whites, but I’ve also reduced my daily miles average to under 20 a day. This way, I’m sure to get to Franconia Notch on Thursday, and I can get off trail right before the Whites for the wedding in Pennsylvania as planned. It will be a nice break, and I’m looking forward to spending time with my wife and our friends.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1738.9
  • Start Time: 06:45
  • End Mile: 1759.7
  • End Time: 16:20
  • Miles Hiked: 20.8
  • Miles to Go: 431.2
  • Lodging: Moose Mountain Shelter

Day 107: West Hartford, VT

Day 107. Today was my last full day in Vermont, and this beautiful state decided to make it a memorable one. I’m going to miss the Green Mountains and their soft needle-laden paths. And to be honest, the mud everyone complains about did not really cause me much trouble this past week. As the bench above instructs, I did enjoy it! But around noon tomorrow, I’ll pass in to New Hampshire, the town of Hanover (Dartmouth College), and my 13 state of this voyage.

So, what was so special about today? There were some ups and downs (pun intended), and it started with an excruciatingly frustrating down. The rain wasn’t so bad last night, but it continued through the morning. About an hour into the day’s wet hike, I arrived at the Wintturi Shelter for a quick rest and to shed a layer. Even though it was cold and rainy, I was sweating through my fleece sweater and wanted to pack it away at least partially dry.

And then, I did the unthinkable. I did the ultimate thruhiker faux-pas. Coming out of the shelter, I went the wrong way.

I’m sure most thruhikers have done this, in fact you’ll probably meet a hiker or 2 named “Wrong Way” each year for this exact reason. But my mistake wasn’t some cute little slip up, corrected quickly and hiked about afterwards among new friends. No, I went the wrong way FOR 2.6 MILES! Ugh, I was so focused on watching my feet and staying dry, that I accidentally went south on the AT from the shelter side trail. It wasn’t until I reached a familiar looking trail sign about a half mile from the Lookout Cabin that I fully looked up and realized what I’d done. 2.6 miles wasted … or “negative miles”, as we lovingly call it in the thruhiker community. It was at this moment that every person and animal in a 10 mile radius heard me scream.

Damn was I mad. Of course, there was no one to be mad at but myself, but I screamed multiple obscenities at the trail gods regardless. Correcting my error meant redoing those 2.6 miles again … and the entire 5.2 mile round trip wasted 2 good hours of daylight. That is what upset me most of all. Now my breezy 23 mile day plan was a near-impossible 28 miles that would yet again go late into the night.

I decided the best remedy for my attitude was to stop shorter at West Hartford, now 17 miles away, and to take advantage of the two farm stands along the way for food pick-me-ups. And, almost as if on queue, that decision turned the weather around and the sun came out.

About 5 miles later was a road crossing and my first stop to the On the Edge Farm. This wasn’t in any of the guides, except for a few comments in the Guthook app at the marker for the VT Route 12 Road crossing. But it was a hiker haven! Fresh pies and muffins, Hershey’s ice cream, candy bars, sodas, meats and cheeses, eggs, frozen burritos and more … not to mention picnic tables, a port-a-potty, water spigot, and trash cans. I healed my emotional wounds with some junk food and lemonade at the picnic table. And during that calming feast, the craziest thing happened. While I sat there, a mid-sized black bear ran across the road, crossed 10 feet in front of me, and jumped into the woods. It happened so fast, I didn’t even have time to stand up, let alone snap a photo. The bear just ran by, scared of traffic and clearly not scared of me. It was surreal, and I’m not fully sure it really happened. It might have been a ghost bear.

Still bewildered (but now much more alert), I crossed the road and headed onward. About 7 miles later, I came to the other farm with goods for sale. This was the much more we’ll-known Cloudland Farm Market, mentioned in all the books. But it was severely unimpressive compared to the On the Edge Farm earlier. They had some homemade soda, beef jerky, cheese, and pints of ice cream, but that’s it. Supposedly a restaurant opens later but I was not privy to that good fortune. So I bought a homemade raspberry soda and sat on the porch while I ate my boring tortilla and tuna packet lunch. Still, it was a relaxing break and beautiful view on this now sunny day. No ghost bear sightings.

At this point, it’s half past three, and I’m still 7 miles from West Hartford. I had fully made up my mind to stop there now, and reading comments in Guthooks again, found there is a trail angel named Linda who lives right on the trail and opens her barn to hikers for the night. I strolled in after 6pm and saw her big blue barn with a giant AT symbol above the doors just after crossing the White River bridge.

Linda, and 5 year old Alice, greeted me immediately with all sorts of delicious treats. Soda, cupcakes, coffee, dried fruit, pasta salad, and more. She filled me on the setup … a room above the garage with old mattresses, a TV set and a large collection of 80s and 90s movies. Walking in, it reminded me of a clubhouse where kids might hang out after school and learn about human anatomy together. It’s dirty and hoarding all sorts of junk, but it’s quiet and comfortable for an evening. I laid out some gear to dry, pushed thoughts out of my mind of what has probably occurred in here, then popped in Field of Dreams from the VHS collection to unwind to. Good movie.

Tomorrow was going to be a 16 mile jaunt through Dartmouth and to the Moose Mountain Shelter. With today’s shorter stop, it will be 20 miles instead. If I don’t do any more negative miles, it should be an easy day. If I pay closer attention to a compass, that is.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1719.3
  • Start Time: 7:40
  • End Mile: 1738.9
  • End Time: 18:15
  • Miles Hiked: 19.6 (+5.2)
  • Miles to Go: 452.0
  • Lodging: Trail Angel Linda’s Barn

Day 106: The Lookout

Day 106. Man, did I wake up rested this morning! Nothing feels better after a 30-mile day in the mountains than sleeping in late, in a bed. I must have known I’d want to give my feet a break today, as my pre-trip Hike Plan only called for 16 miles today. So I took a much appreciated Nero Day, and pushed my departure time from Killington to around noon. And with that extra time in bed this morning, I finished the latest (week 15) video. See above!

After breakfast (provided free with my stay at Mountain Meadows Lodge), I journeyed into the tiny adjacent town up the hill. There wasn’t much, but it had everything I needed. The outfitter is huge, and has great hiking and skiing supplies (fuel canister, check). Then, down the road is a market/deli for resupply with tons of hiker staples (deli sandwich for lunch, check). There’s also a post office, gift shop and visitor center with some neat things to check out. It’s a small skier/hiker town, but it’s a nice one.

With everything acquired that I need to get to my next stop in 3 days (Hanover), I said goodbye to Killington and hoisted my once-again heavy pack for the steep climb out of town.

Side note, on my way to town, I ran into an old friend, Cinco, who I haven’t seen since Hot Springs. He stayed st a different motel, and was getting an earlier start to the day. It’s amazing how people can be within a dozen miles of you for weeks, and you don’t even know it. Like me, he’s been hiking quickly and solo for some time. He also planned to stop after 16 miles, so I said we’d catch up more at the shelter tonight, and said goodbye.

When I finally started, my hike was actually quite nice today. It didn’t rain more than a light drizzle, and the temperature was a low 60 degrees all day. There was a dampness in the air, that kept me just shy of dry while I hiked, but it felt cooling and nice against my normal shvitz. I’m much higher in enervation now, and can feel it in the colder air, so I’m going to get my winter gear back at the Whites as planned: Puffy jacket, long underwear, hat and gloves … nights are going to start to get chilly this high and this far north.

I passed a really nice waterfall (Thunder Falls), and then hiked along a handicap accessible boardwalk for a half mile. These were both great, but were early on in the day, and then it was back to he monotony of the muddy green tunnel. Unfortunately, the overcast sky did not provide any other good views or sights … until the end of my day.

I had planned to go 16 miles to that shelter with Cinco, and honestly would have, if not for the amazing Lookout Cabin I stumbled upon after 14. This is a private and empty cabin that wasn’t really mentioned in the AWOL guidebook (or I would have surely planned on it). Built by the Lookout Farm down the hill, the owners allow hikers to sleep here if they are respectful of the property, and it is amazing. It stands at the top of a tall peak, looking out to the North and East for miles. The cabin is fully enclosed and in great shape (looks newly renovated), and even has a ladder to a lookout platform on the roof. All told, it’s a great place to spend the night! Especially, since the rain is supposed to get worse and pour hard overnight. I am even able to setup my hammock inside from the rafter beams.

So … sleep on a cold, dirty, wet, and exposed shelter floor? Or, hang in a clean, dry, warm, and enclosed cabin? After hiking past so many desirable cabins/shelters in the past, I wasn’t about to let this one go un-slept in. Easiest decision ever.

I’ll make up the 2 miles tomorrow easily, because I have a feeling I’m getting another great and restful sleep tonight.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1705.8
  • Start Time: 12:00
  • End Mile: 1719.3
  • End Time: 17:30
  • Miles Hiked: 13.5
  • Miles to Go: 471.6
  • Lodging: The Lookout Cabin

Day 105: Killington, VT

Day 105. I woke up early this morning, eager to check the weather and evaluate options for the day. The latest update said it would rain starting around 11am, with chance for thunderstorms from 2pm through the night. Not the most encouraging news when you have Vermont’s 4,235 foot Killington Peak ahead of you … climbing the tallest mountain for miles is a brilliant idea in lightning, right?

But luck was on my side (at first), and the sky was clear and blue all morning. In fact, I thought maybe it would stay that way all day. No, I wasn’t that lucky. Around 1:15, just as I reached Governor Clement Shelter at Killington’s base, it started to rain. I hopped in the shelter to rest and listen to the sky. My cell service was out, so without radar updates, I needed to rely on my ears and what’s between them to evaluate the threat of danger ahead.

Side note, just before this break, I passed a sign signifying I was 500 miles from Katahdin. That was my happy moment for the day (photo above).

I gave it 30 minutes, watching, listening and contemplating. During that time, I didn’t hear any thunder, and saw 4 other hikers pass through en route to the summit. I decided staying any longer was silly and cowardly, and ventured upward after the others. The rain stopped as soon as I stepped out, and the next 5 miles to the top were pleasant. Easy peasy, right?

At the top, I got greedy.

I was now 20 miles into the day, and although an old and ugly shelter stood at the top of Killington Peak … I felt like I could make it the 10 miles further to town if I wanted. It was primarily downhill, so I estimated I could get there by 7pm … and truth be told, I still didn’t trust the possibility of thunderstorms up this high.

After 105 days, I should know better. It’s never just downhill. And it’s never simple when you want it to be. The first 7 miles were ok, but slow. The trail on this side of the peak had received more rain and was slick and dangerous to descent. At the bottom, things turned from bad to worse.

Now it was 6pm, and although I had only 4 miles left, I had to go back up another mountain and down the other side to get there. And, of course, it started raining again. This time hard … and now I heard the rolling thunder. As I stood at the Highway 4 road crossing, I contemplated whether to hitch to town from here, or go back in the woods. I didn’t want to have to come back here tomorrow, to earn those miles the right way, so I stubbornly and bitterly walked on. Oops.

Mother Nature decided this would be her moment to break me. She was going all in on this 4 mile stretch, and she had it in her to take me down.

Over the next 2 hours, the rain got heavier and heavier, immediately liquifying the muddy ground and layering an oily slick on the path of rocks. You see, the pristine Long Trail I was used to was now gone, as it split from the AT on this hill and took its nice groomed path northwesterly with it. I was back to huge rocks, uncleared fallen trees, and unnecessarily steep walkways.

And, as if this wasn’t enough, then the mosquitoes joined the fun. Somehow unscathed by the cold, wind and rain, these insects with a death-wish began their kamikaze attack on my calves, the only exposed limbs of flesh in the downpour. Bug spray was pointless, as it would wash off in seconds, so I settled into a rhythm of half-walking-half-crouching in order to slap/scrape the vile creatures off my legs with each step. I am convinced that this suicidal strain of skeeter was created in a lab somewhere here in Vermont, clearly having been enhanced with the DNA of rabid Mountain Lions.

Eventually, and unhappily, I made it to my destination. It was after 8pm and darkness had set in, but I finally reached the Mountain Meadows Lodge on the edge of town. This beautiful resort is on a lake, right on the trail, and happy to host hikers when not reserved for weddings or other weekend retreats. The owner met me, and served me some wonderful leftovers from last weekend’s wedding reception (which I devoured in seconds), then showed me to my room upstairs. This small venue has a couple dozen rooms above the attractions of the main floor, and I’m hoping to explore the place more tomorrow. For now, I’m too tired to move my feet another step, and will let myself fall asleep to the loud cracks of thunder outside and the gentle whimper of my crying inside.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1676.4
  • Start Time: 07:15
  • End Mile: 1705.8
  • End Time: 20:10
  • Miles Hiked: 29.4
  • Miles to Go: 485.1
  • Lodging: Mountain Meadows Lodge

Day 104: Greenwall Shelter

Day 104. I have decided that Vermont, and it’s overlap with the Long Trail, is one of my favorite parts of the AT. Sure, it has its rocks, roots, and steep climbs, but it is a relatively nice path with some breathtaking views and a plethora of shelters/campsites. Yes, a plethora. I literally passed 6 shelters and 2 other official campgrounds during today’s hike! I finally stopped at the 7th shelter, but they are at most 5 miles apart, so I almost went further!

And the sights today, oh wow. I tried to capture what I could in photo/video, but an iPhone could never do it justice. My day was simply full of natural wonder and beauty. Today’s breathtaking moments consisted of standing at the top of Bromly Mountain Ski Resort, ridge walking Baker Peak, walking along the edge of Little Rock Pond (above), following the edge of Big Branch River, and even walking through a Rock Cairn Garden … which is an area of uniquely colored white rocks, stacked by dayhikers into a big collection of artistic towers (below).

And it’s a good thing I had such a nice hike, because rain is coming for the next 2 days. My attitude will be slightly less chipper, but I’ll also be to Killington the day after tomorrow, so any discomfort could be remedied pretty quickly with beer and burger.

I saw a lot of hikers today. A couple familiar AT thruhikers (Mumbles and Zoom-Zoom), though everyone else was mostly Long Trail thru or section hiking. Also a lot of day-hikers, as many of today’s stops are popular short hikes for locals. At Killington (30 miles away), the Long Trail splits off to the Northwest while the Appalachian Trail continues Northeast to New Hampshire. Although my path leads me into tougher terrains, I am definitely coming back to finish the rest of Vermont’s Long Trail in the near future (add it to the super long and growing list…).

Side note, I heard a couple updates on past friends ending their hikes this week. First, my friend Spice, who hiked in Shenandoah with me, was forced off trail in New Jersey from injury. Unfortunately, she fell and broke her leg and is back in the Midwest. I was very sad to hear this and wished her a quick and healthy recovery.

Second, my old tramily member, Leap Frog, is also back home. Her story is not a sad one, as she achieved what she wanted on this trail and decided to end her walk in Northern Pennsylvania. She’s happy with what she got out of it and so I am happy for her. Maybe someday she’ll decide to come back and finish … though, if she does, I’d recommend jumping up to Delaware Water Gap and skipping the rest of the rocks!!

In better news … tomorrow has a possibility for hot food! I’ll climb Killington Peak, Vermont’s 2nd biggest mountain (and 1st largest ski resort), sometime during the rainy day tomorrow. A snack bar is supposedly open at the top for hikers, though there’s a strong chance it is not yet open for the season (the guide says “mid-June”). Let’s all think happy summer thoughts together and maybe I’ll get lucky.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1651.8
  • Start Time: 08:30
  • End Mile: 1676.4
  • End Time: 18:20
  • Miles Hiked: 24.6
  • Miles to Go: 514.5
  • Lodging: Greenwall Shelter