Open Roads, Open Doors

As the trail began to stretch out unto road I began to experience a great deal of chairity. Many times I would stop into a little café or diner, strike up a quick conversation, and find that some unknown benefactor had bought my meal. I’d heard that these kinds of interactions are somewhat common on the AT during its regular season, but seldom experienced it. I must’ve been quite novel to them, as the NCT is so much less travelled. On occasion I was offered motel rooms, attics, or the bed of a camper van parked on a nearby lawn. It was very striking for me, exiting the woods and receiving such a reception in civilization. At first it made me uncomfortable, and I turned a couple such offers down, feeling that I was undeserving of such chairity when I had chosen and prepared for this lifestyle. In part I still feel that way, but I also no longer reject kindness when offered. One such time I was approached, sitting on the grass median of a big box store, polishing off my second pint of Ice Cream, (gotta jump when they’re BOGO) and was given two $20 notes. I returned them, and the man who had offered seemed taken aback, saying something to the effect of “I dunno what you’re doin’ but buy yourself another meal or two.” His kindness towards me was less predicated on a perception of my destitution, and more upon his ability to see himself in me. When younger he could’ve been me, I see this interaction repeated, and no longer reject such connections. The NCT has its share of dedicated Trail Angels, and while I was not yet dialed into their networks, I crossed paths with them aswell. Staying at Lake Piedmont Inn, and eating with the caretakers and their dogs. (the first of many domestic animal encounters South and East OH, would provide.) Or Shew’s Orchard, drinking cider and camping behind the barn, while very thankful for my tent as the wind howled, funneling between the rolling hills, tossing sheets of corrugated roofing about, yet not quite collapsing my tent with each burst.

Once joined to the Buckeye Trail (BET) the days began to blend together, and I spent many nights bivvied in a roadside thicket. That isn’t to say they were without wonder, and with Autumn’s slow arrival there was yet greenery on the branches. The veil between the natural world and civilization wore ever thinner. Punctuated by nights spent in cool tunnels running beneath the interstate, or following a river to a dammed reservoir, where the waters are still couched in forest. It had its moments however, there is some rugged country in the southeast of OH, and the Hocking Hills area in southern OH is particularly beautiful, with many embankments built into the stone, bridges that span the chasm at various heights, each adding to a confluence of nature and architecture, setting it apart as a major highlight of the eastern half of the NCT. It is capped westbound by Ash Cave, a massive undercut cavern with a tiny dripping waterfall at the center. The day I spend there was overcast, almost foggy, and added a distinct ethereal feeling, but detracted equally from the lighting conditions…

Long Trails, and Road Walks

The first of the road-walks between the AT and the NCT was mostly uneventful, I set myself up to cross NH in a day (up at the skinny point) and it worked pretty well. I even got a sort of pseudo homestay just inside VT, a guy I met at a pizza place pointed me to his cabin and I hitched out to it from near the NH/VT border. Got a little lost and tried to hitch to somewhere I knew where was, and got even more lost. (I wasn’t carrying very good maps for this bit, and no tablet or GPS enabled device yet either) then got righted by some college age kids. (maybe younger?) Even with that misadventure though I put down the road mileage pretty fast.

20160712_221100.jpg

From the LT’s northern terminus, you can see this ten-foot wide swath cut into the woods as the only thing separating the Canada from the US, there are some pylons noting the Treaty of Washington, which without googling, I would guess is the document that formally specifies the border’s location geographically, maybe some other stuff too. Heading south, the LT is about as tough as anything the AT had to offer, save the notches. I was lucky in that I saw little rainfall, which drastically helped the mud situation, even so there were a few deep mud pits. (I was able to stick a trekking pole down to my wrist, and I didn’t try for much farther…) Overall however only one day dropped me below 20 miles per day, and that was because I happened upon a mountaintop wedding, and decided to stick around and watch,which then turned into cowboy camping on the deck of a ski chalet. In a bit of a moment where worlds collide, the wedding was for a friend of a friend of Dosu Kinuta, an AT thru-hiker I had brushed elbows with. (My parents gave him trail magic while they were slack packing me.) I got his contact info and was told he was gonna finish the LT NoBo starting in a week or so. We missed one another, (and pretty narrowly I think) as he was getting back on really close to when I was getting off.

Overall the LT was really pleasant, a nice change of pace from the relative hustle and bustle of the AT, I had a lot of nice simple interactions with folks on trail. Even got a homestay from a couple, Root and Woven, who were almost done with their NoBo and happened to live on a homestead really close to my route, and at a really convenient midway point, enabling me to make it between the LT and NCT without any  stealth camping, which is a plus. Most nights on the LT had a few people around, there were some college outdoor clubs out in force, and my last night I got to spend some campfire time with a few people, including two musical vagabonds, and someone involved in the administration of the LT. Which lent an additional positive light to my memories of VT, and maybe elevated it to my favorite of the eastern states. On my little bit of road-walk between the LT and NCT I also ran into Transplant’s father, whom I had briefly met on Katahdin, I had to decline his offer of a ride, but he gave me some advice on where to find food in Middlebury. I also ate many Maple Creemees on the way, and was able to make Crown Point without too much trouble, though I did have to hurry a bit going forwards.

The Way Back.

Returning to trail after finishing the AT was at once wonderful, and very melancholy. Taking my time and sparing no side trail I worked my way through the hundred mile wilderness much slower than before, taking eight nights to my previous run’s two. I was able to help out a couple south-bounders just starting out, gave one some food after he ran out near the end. In the course of a day I found about four thirds of a trekking pole, for a complete extra, (It was even a carbon fiber pole with flick-locks!) only to find someone who had snapped a trekking pole. I had matching parts so I fixed their pole on the condition that they carry out the broken pole sections I had packed up while scavenging out their replacement sections. The hundred mile wilderness is one of the best sections of the AT, (VT to ME is the best quarter of the AT in my opinion) and if you know where to look there are a couple AMC huts that gave me pretty easy work-for-stays even. The other side of the return trip, is that every time I meet up with one of my friends I had passed, it’ll probably be the last time we see one another. All the registers are filled with the parting thoughts from  friends since finished, many of whom I had missed entirely. I certainly had a longer good-bye to the AT than was I was immediately ready for. (Although, looking back on it I remember it very fondly, but at the time it was bittersweet.)

Managed to serendipitously run into Desolation Row, and Baby Blue. The second father child pair, (two twelve-year-old kids did the AT in one year. So no excuses if you really wanna do it.) this time the twelve year old in tow was his daughter, we swam in one of the hundred miles’ many lakes and caught up for a while. Also met Little Bird, whom I had briefly met on my way North. She had attempted a thru 2 years prior, and broken her wrist, she came out the following summer to finish and caught Lyme’s disease. This year she was finally going to make it. She lives on the North Country Trail (NCT) so she’ll come up later on.

wp-1468367121051.jpg

SoBo out of the hundred I stayed at Shaw’s, and for quite a while, there was a bit of ration difficulty. I had a resupply box sent there for me to pick up on the way north, but since my parents met me earlier I had no need for it, and resolved to use it on the return trip. The resupply never showed up, it should’ve been there even a week or two before. I waited a couple days, (The town vortex at Shaw’s was strong, and I got along pretty well with Poet and Hippie Chick) then caught a ride out to a decent grocery store for a real resupply. Getting a hitch back took a while, but it was worth it, I ended up getting picked up by a 2002 thru-hiker, Machine, after hiking he’d become an organic farmer, and hooked me up with a whole bunch of fresh veggies! Lots of beans, peppers, and celery. I read Orange is the New Black, (found in the hundred miles) watched the Perseids and in general just relaxed a lot, dropping to about 20 miles per day before finally making Stratton, ME where I would drop from the AT and cut west for the north end of the LT. Changing my life style into Road walk, stealth camping, and getting eyed by the border patrol agents zooming around.

NCT Down

image

Finished up the NCT on tuesday (June21) at about 8pm. Met my father at Lake Sakakawea State Park in ND just in time to dodge the big storm that came through that night! We’ll be hanging out together for a little while so I can slack pack a bit, get some logistics work done, and maybe not even have to slow my pace.

Summer Break at the Beach.

After running into Mammoth and deciding to walk between the triple crown, I came across a trailhead with a map kiosk. (where the trail passes the train you can take into NYC I think) The map showed a zoomed out view of the trail, and coming up soon was going to be one of the closest points on the trail to the Atlantic. Just inside CT the trail passes near to US7 which is almost a straight shot to a beach, in the days leading up to Bull’s Bridge I scrambled a plan with the little resources I had. Basically the AWOL AT guide, which pointed that there was a convenience store a little bit down the way. Got up, set a cache and headed out before dawn to the convenience store, figuring I’d find a map there and plan my route and where I’d pick up extra food since this was off my ration plan. Everything worked out fine, for the most part, US7 turned into a limited access highway by danbury, without me noticing and I got kicked off by a cop. Just sorta wandered south through danbury asking directions every so often till I happened upon an Eastern Mountain Sports.

The EMS was a bit surpised to see a thru-hiker walk this far off trail, there was a staff member who was an AT ’14 thru-hiker, Pockets. Another thru-hiker, K2 stopped in to EMS while I was there, he was taking a break near home and was surprised to see that I had walked from trail. Pockets bought me a dinner on her break and pointed out a place a little farther along the way where I’d be able to stealth camp. She had me come to her parents house the next morning for food and laundry, it was excellent! They had a ton of big dogs who were great and I’m sure loved the smells of the world I was trafficking around with me. She drove me back out to my route and I kept trucking on through NYC exurbs. I got kinda lost coming into Norwalk but after a little wandering I got a ride from a couple of people who’d been sitting out enjoying the summer day, Henry and Benny (Benny had an accent and I am not sure if his name was Benny or Bunny…) gave me a ride to the beach, I had gotten close then made a wrong turn and crossed a bridge away from the beach.

Pleassantly surprised at how early I made the beach, I could get a fair bit of rest before tomorrow’s return trip. I spent the afternoon hanging out with the lifeguards as they cycled through their break schedules. Foolishly telling them I’d have this blog up soon after finishing the AT, took almost 2 months for it to start working. They gave me a Norwalk Lifeguard shirt and wished me well, as they got off shift and the beach was vacated. I cowboy camped just above the high tide beneath a clear sky. In the morning I woke and readied to leave before the dawn, and at first light I waded out and started back towards the Pacific. Before getting off trail I had hoped to make it only 2 days of trail if I could, I made it in 3, quicker than I should’ve expected, got better help dodging the offlimits portion of US7 this time, and made the AT near dark. It was a whirlwind, I practically ran a lot of those miles,  finally picked up replacement tips for my trekking poles, randomly saw K2 like 30 miles off trail, and just met a ton of helpful friends.