Fourth of July
More and more hikers are showing up every moment at Bill and Amy’s house. This is the 17th year they have hosted hikers on the fourth. They offer a place to stay, laundry, and a pint of ice cream to each hiker, and of course, a huge spread of food and beer. Bill has thru-hiked the A.T. before and picked this house to buy because of its proximity to the trail.
As the heat begins to climb, a kiddy pool is inflated and filled with ice cold water. Next thing you know, it is completely full of hikers’ aching feet. We get to know some of our fellow hikers a bit more as we soak our feet. Every time we look up, there seems to be more and more of them.
A small group of us move under some shade, and we talk most of the afternoon. We have formed a group, and each time someone new comes along, we make them sit in the middle. We call out “Grill! Grill! Grill!” We grill them with all kinds of silly questions until we are satisfied with all their answers. If they respond in a way we disagree with we all shout “Shame! Shame!” We are having a blast. Some of the answers we get are amazing and funny.
We find out for sure that most thru-hikers are dirty-minded, gross, and obsessed with food. This is how we meet Handstand for the first time. He is grilled by the Grillmasters of the Council of Nine Beards while doing a handstand the whole time.
Smells of burgers and hotdogs are filling the air. Hikers are descending upon the spread. We all get our fill and everyone has a smile. There are burgers, hot dogs, salads, dips, chips, sodas, and drinks everywhere. If you go hungry here, it is your own fault.
As the afternoon progresses, I get recruited to help build the bonfire. I am joined by Lt. Dan, Gray, Ditch, and Wiggles. Bill is directing the building operations. We pile up the railroad ties into a teepee. Bill soaks the pile in gasoline, stands back, and shoots a roman candle at it until it bursts into flame. Let the fireworks begin. Bill keeps lighting fireworks through the evening. I make sure to move the five-gallon jug of gasoline away from Bill and his pyrotechnics. Bill is funny to watch. He is super excited, lighting mortars and barrel rolling away from them as they light off.
The next morning, we wake up in the loft above the garage. There are hikers sleeping everywhere, even one outside in the kids’ playhouse. We pile in the kitchen and get fed cereal, O.J., and coffee. Soon, we are back on the trail again with Savage Beast.
Kent, Beaver, and Cars
It is still crazy hot outside and really humid. We are moving along pretty well though. As we hike, we get excited because there is a deli right off the trail. We walk down to Tony’s Deli, we are greeted by Tony, air conditioning, and cold drinks. We can not stop drinking iced tea. I down three huge cans of Arizona iced tea without thinking about it.
We eat some great food then head out to the camping space at Tony’s. We loiter in the shade and green grass, before heading back out. As we get back to the trail, we run into grillmasters: Frick and Frack. They are twins from West Virginia. We had first met way back in the Smokies. They are a great company, so we hike together for a bit.
We push ourselves to the Ten Mile River Shelter in Connecticut, making 26 miles for the day; it is dark when we set up our tent. The night is long. It is hot, still, and humid. There is nothing you can do to stop your sleeping pad or bag from sticking to your skin. Miserable is a good word.
As often happens when you push too hard the previous day, the next morning we’re dragging ass. The mountains seem taller, the terrain seems impossible, and it starts to rain. It’s a slog into Kent, CT. A construction truck pulls over to hitch us into town. We sit in the bed, clinging to orange cones. We’re dropped at the park. Let the errands begin. We resupply, pig out, and nap, before riding in another pickup truck bed back to the trailhead.
The climb out of Kent gets the blood pumping. We are playing name your top 5 favorite bands, and Savage Beast is making some shameful confessions, involving Meatloaf. We camp by the Housatonic River at the Stuart Hollow Shelter. The mosquitoes chase us into our shelters earlier than desired, but at least, it’s a little less sticky here by the river.
In the early morning light, we parallel the river, admiring the sun on the water. We spot a beaver swimming along quietly. Suddenly, he slaps his tail loudly on the water. We watch carefully as he continues this behavior. Soon we come upon a cooler full of cold cokes stashed at a road crossing. Alright!
Then we climb a mountain before descending to a parking lot where more trail magic awaits us. Shoeleather, a former thru-hiker, is chillin’ in the shade, waiting with a cooler full of burritos, soda, and ice cream. We gorge ourselves, and then Shoeleather sends us on our way.
The power plant up ahead has an outdoor shower for hikers. We rinse off before road walking into Falls Village, CT. The Toymakers Cafe allows us to camp in the backyard. Bedding down for the night, it’s not long after dark that we’re suddenly awakened by a panicked shouting: “Help me! I need you!! BEAR!!!” Our pal Tennessee has just had a close call. He made the mistake of cowboy camping next to the compost pile. A bear came up over the hill for an easy snack and woke up Tennessee, who promptly started yelling.
We wake in the morning to the sound of revving engines. A line of brightly-colored antique cars passes the Toymakers Cafe, while we dine inside on the best cinnamon waffles in the world. We tease Tennessee for his poor site selection last night. Before long, we’re hitting the trail. The tunes and the waffles are making us fly over mountains. They are tall and tough. Exhaustion is setting in as we pass into Massachusetts. We climb a total of four mountains before setting up camp at the lovely Glen Mountain Shelter.
We hike down to the highway that leads into Great Barrington. As we approach the highway, we see a fellow hiker, Flash, already loading up into a local trail angel’s car. His name is Joe, and he offers us a ride as well. Flash was going back into town due to some painful blisters he had due to a shoe change. Joe loads us up and pulls out a log book and begins to question us. He asks us where we are from, our start date, and our trail names.
Joe drops us off at the community center. This place looks really nice. We arrange to have Joe pick us up the next morning and head in. We pay for a day pass at the center that allows us access to the showers, pool, bathrooms, charging outlets, and camping. What a great, hiker-friendly place. We set up our tent and head for the showers and pool. There is also a community meal there later for free.
We resupply at the grocery store. At the store, we see Frick and Frack again, and they want to get in on our ride the next morning. All the hikers gather at the community meal, and we are fed a great, healthy meal for free. We throw some money in the donation box and head out the door for a second dinner at McDonald’s.
We run into Lt.Dan, Ditch, and Wallaby at the McDonald’s. We had heard that a hiker at the Fourth of July party had his sleeping bag stolen, and they were searching people’s bags after we had left. They give us more details, and we find out that this guy Cowboy had this stolen sleeping bag in his backpack. They later found Cowboy’s wet sleeping bag stuffed into a nook in the loft above the garage. When confronted, he said somebody set him up. This does not make any sense to me.
We found out later that Cowboy had been a suspect in a previous theft of another hiker’s trek poles. It is too bad when this kind of stuff happens. As hikers, we have a close-knit sense of community; we count on each other. We do not steal from each other, and it tears at the fabric that holds us together. Cowboy has not been seen or heard from since. He’s probably off trail now.
Joe picks up our crew early. We set off into the thicket with Savage Beast, Frick, and Frack. Soon we find our buddy Handstand chillin’ on a mountain. He is being slackpacked through Massachusetts by a trail angel named Rob Bird. Handstand invites us to come along. We hike 17 more miles to a road where a white van awaits. Inside are chairs, a bench, and a cooler full of cold drinks. The van has Casper on the side of it, and Rob is sporting a mohawk. We collapse inside and guzzle liquids, while Rob drives us to the Misty Moonlight Diner for grub.
At the Misty Moonlight Diner, Handstand orders the Godzilla-the largest omelet known to man. You have 30 minutes to consume the 16- ingredient omelet plus sides. Our waitress sets a timer and firmly explains the rules. Handstand puts forth a valiant effort; however, he admits defeat halfway through. Back at Rob’s cabin, we shower, go for ice cream, and pass out.
It’s a 6 a.m. wake up call from Rob. “Wake up boys and toys”, he calls out gently. The coffee is on, and Rob has sugar cereal and bagels for us to devour. We’re hiking to Upper Goose Pond today for a nero. The shelter is quite nice, and the caretakers are kind. We spend the afternoon loafing, puzzling, swimming, and canoeing. The next day we hike over ten miles to a road to meet Rob. He gives us sodas and takes our packs, telling us he’ll meet us at a road in Dalton about 6 miles North.
We start running. It feels so light without our packs. Suddenly, there is a huge crash behind us. Savage Beast has had an epic wipeout, crashing her kneecap into a large boulder. Ouch! No more running. Rob collects us at the road and takes us back to the cabin for giant pizzas. Odie, from The Hiker Yearbook, is here with his yellow school bus. He educates us on the art of dumpster diving. Apparently, any store with the word “dollar” in the name is where it’s at. He once found a whole dumpster full of brand new clothes, which he collected and promptly donated. The trail teaches important life skills. Rob gives RamboJuice, Handstand, and Odie mohawks, and then we go for ice cream.
It’s a 6 a.m. wake up call from Rob, again. “Wake up boys and toys”, he calls out gently. The coffee is on. Today we’re slacking over Mt. Greylock into Williamstown. It’s a fun hike. We go off trail for some Dunkin’ Donuts action (we may have checked the dumpster;), before climbing the whopper. The war memorial is impressive, and the view from the top is engrossing. You can see for miles in every direction. Rob meets us in a school parking lot in Williamstown with cold sodas. Then he takes us to a dairy bar for burgers and shakes before turning in for the night.
“Wake up boys and toys”, Rob calls out gently. The coffee is on, and today we’re going to Vermont. Rob takes us kids to McDonald’s and then drops us off at the school parking lot. We all give Rob a big hug. We’re going to miss our new friend. It’s straight up for us. The Long Trail welcomes us into Vermont by making us climb a steep, boulder field. Then suddenly, we have arrived. Three states left. Wow.
Ben and Jerry Country
The first day in Vermont. We thought that ice cream would fall from the sky, but it did not. Ending our day at the trailhead next to a river, we stealth camp near the road to Bennington. We are excited to get to town early because we are taking a zero-day. The motel owners have agreed to come to pick us up at the trail the next morning.
While they are getting our rooms ready, we walk down the street to eat breakfast at Friendly’s. We all eat well, but the twins order the crowd pleaser for breakfast. The crowd pleaser is 6 flavors of ice cream with 6 toppings. They eat it all no problem plus their regular breakfast.
We get back to the room, clean up, and drop our laundry at the front desk to get washed. Savage is icing a hurt foot, but the rest of us get a shuttle to the movies. We watch Jurassic World and take full advantage of the free refill on soda and popcorn. After, we walk to the grocery and resupply. The strange loaner clothes we are dressed in earn us some double takes. Handstand looks like Peter Pan with a mohawk- pretty awesome. We head back, go eat again, and rest.
We get a shuttle from the motel back to the trail the next morning. It was a tight fit, but all six of us, and our gear managed to get packed into the bed of a ranger pick-up. Back on the trail, we are all feeling good, but a little tight from our zero. We begin playing Stinky Pinky -a word game we have become obsessed with, as of late, to pass the time.
A few miles into our hike, we get to another fire tower. We all take turns, four at a time, going to the top and taking in the views. The view today was really great; it was clear, and you could see for miles. While taking a break at the bottom of the tower, we decide to throw rocks. Calling out our intended target and seeing who can hit it first.
Ice Cream Lives
We are aiming for the Kid Gore Shelter tonight. Savage falls again, hitting her already bruised knee. Nothing severe, but she is getting beat up. We decided to start counting ice cream lives. You have three to start. Every time you fall, and you go to the ground, you lose a life. If you lose all of them before you get to town, you get to buy everyone else ice cream.
While getting dinner ready at the shelter, we hear thunder. We all scramble to get our tents up. It rains on and off all night. It is another hot/cold night. You can’t sleep without your quilt, but the moment you put it on, you are hot.
The next morning it is not raining but threatening. We hurry to pack everything up before the downpour starts. We are walking back to the shelter when it happens. Frick and Frack have their tent halfway down when the deluge begins. Handstand has not even begun to move. We tease him, “Come out, Handstand. It’s nice out!”
We all sit in the shelter and hope for the storm to pass. Once the heavy rain has let up for a moment, we hit the trail. It does not last long; we just get soaked. We hike to the next highway intersection. The rain has let up, and we decide to hitch into Manchester Center for resupply and pizza. We get in and then out, setting up stealth sites by the road.
The next day is sunny, and we hike 19 miles through Vermont’s verdant forest to the picturesque Little Rock Pond. The temperature drops overnight, and we are reminded that we’ll be needing our winter clothes back soon. Before bed, Handstand decides to brave the waters. We hear Savage Beast shrieking. Apparently, Handstand discovered leeches in the pond.
In the morning, we learn that Handstand froze in the shelter. We joke that he should have climbed into the caretaker’s tent, which is currently uninhabited. We make our way towards Rutland, but meet someone on the trail that worries us. A man named Ben is sitting in the middle of the trail with his shoes off. His feet are hideously swollen and covered with sores. He seems completely disoriented and nonsensical.
Well since we’re hiking with a nurse and two EMTs, we all got involved. We felt like this man was going to get hurt if we didn’t do something. Savage Beast calls 911, and we all take a detour down a side trail to meet EMS. A day hiker named Ken offers to hitch us to Rutland.
We get in and get out, more or less. Taking over Subway, we gorge, charge, resupply, and internet, before taking the 4 p.m. bus back to the trailhead at the gorge. Savage and Handstand decide to stay at a hostel in town, but Frick and Frack hike with us.
We climb up to the first shelter. While Rambo is using the privy, the twins discover a hardback copy of The Big Book of Bieber. Quickly, we slip it into RamboJuice’s backpack. He hikes with it undetected until we set up camp later by an awesome river. He takes it well, but revenge is on the horizon.
The river at our camp is awesome. We rinse out our socks, set up a clothesline, and start a fire. We race the twins to see who can set up their tents faster. It’s a good life. In the a.m., we power up to the shelter below Mt. Killington. We decide to do the insanely steep summit; however, Frick decides to do it in his new Speedo. We laugh all the way up that is when we can breathe. The view is magnificent. Frack snaps some sports illustrated photos of Frick. Day hikers stare. We giggle.
Pizza in the Woods
It’s a long day, but we finally make it to Gifford Woods State Park. We shower, then order pizza to the campsite, and watch Step Brothers on our phone. It’s pretty sweet. In the morning, we hike out. The twins are waiting for their uncle and cousin to meet them. They’re going to hike with them for a few days and then catch up with us in Hanover. We take off. The terrain becomes challenging with a lot of elevation change. When we stop for lunch, I fall asleep on a rock. We need a zero-day.
The lookout shelter is a good spot for us to break. We climb the narrow, tall ladder up to the roof to take in the views. Vermont is gorgeous. We hike on and on, making 23.8 miles for the day. I’m incredibly hungry and my energy is sapped. It is time to start packing more food. We camp just beyond Totman Road. Bears are around our tent during the night, snapping sticks.
The following day, we hike through 18 miles of the tough stuff. On the mountain tops, there are fresh raspberries. We snack, and the rain starts. In West Hartford, we stop at the library picnic table for a lunch break. We barely sit when a lady at the blue house next door invites us over for coffee and cake. Linda lets us sit on her porch. She offers us chocolate cupcakes and cake. I devour them. I’m out of food with another 8 miles of mountain climbing before Norwich. Thank you, Linda.
Fairs and Angels
We’re hiking into Norwich on a road walk. We crest the hill and are greeted with a carnival. The smell of fried dough lures us to the snack bar. We order and take in this very strange sight. My feet are throbbing as we walk toward the general store. RamboJuice’s sister’s good friend Rebecca lives in Norwich with her family. They have offered to let us stay with them for a couple of nights. We take them up on their offer and head to their house for some much-needed rest. The Whites are coming up, and we’ll need our A-game.
In the Spring of 2018, we set out to thru-hike the A.T. To hear our full story, click here.
To continue to our next Appalachian Trail post, click here.