Day 148: Mile 113.8 | Glen Brook Shelter
It was already hot out when I woke up at 7am. I left camp before Miles and we hiked separately. I spent my day listening to some podcasts. The terrain on this day was very hilly which was going to be challenging in the heat. I finished hiking through Connecticuit and over Bear Mountain (yes another Bear Mountain) in the morning. Down in a ravine with a big river flowing nearby I finally reached the Massachusetts border. I was born in Massachusetts and lived there for nearly half of my life. It felt, in a way, like I had finally made it somewhere resembling home. I got to the sign by myself, covered in sweat and wearing my bug net. The heat and the gnats were unbearable. Shortly after the sign, I took my first break.
I turned off my podcast and sat down on log laying near the side of the trail. The heat was making me exhausted. I pulled out a snickers and ate it, melty chocolate and all. By the end I had chocolate all over my hands. It was well worth it, though. With new energy I kept moving forward into the Massachusetts mountains. I got up my second peak, Mt. Race, and at the top I found a shady spot for another break. The heat was making me so exhausted. I was sure Miles would catch up to me soon. After a short while, Echo came up and we chatted again for a bit. She was headed to a hotel in Great Barrington that night. On one hand I was jealous, but I was trying to save money and I'd made arrangements with my aunt for later in the week to stay at her house.
Echo left me after a few minutes and I laid down on my pack. I took in the view and fell asleep for about an hour in the shade. I awoke to my phone ringing, I forgot to put it back on airplane mode at some point. It was Miles. He was calling to tell me that he had stopped and set up his tent at a campsite a few miles back. It was too hot, he said, and he needed to lay down and drink some water. He wasn't sure if he was going to keep hiking that day. I told him I wanted to stop at the next campsite but I wasn't sure yet. I told him I'd wait for him to catch me in the morning.
I got up and put my damp, sweaty pack back on and started hiking. It was only half a mile to the next campsite and I hoped I could make it down there so that maybe I could just go to sleep early. It was only 1pm, though. When I got down to the foot of the mountain I walked 0.3 miles east of the trail to find that the water source for the campsite was dry. I had half a liter of water left, a quarter liter of an energy drink and two peaks (5 miles) before the next water source. I kicked myself for not cameling up at the river near the border.
I trudged back up the 0.3 mile side trail to the AT and headed up my next mountain, hopefully the last one of the day, Mt. Everett. The trail was a bare rock face, with wooden steps bolted into it. The steps were too far apart for me but I tried my best to use them anyway. The heat and humidity had made the rock ooze water like it was sweating. As I was heading up, two men were heading down the mountain. I stepped aside for them. They looked like section hikers, carrying large packs, so I let them go even though I had the right of way. They stopped in front of me and asked if I was thru-hiking. I told them I was. They said, "Wow! Congratualtions, you're almost done!" and kept hiking.
It hit me. Hard. The words almost done rang in my ears. In my mind I wasn't even close to being done. I had the hardest parts of the trail left: Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire. But, in reality, I sort of was almost done. I'd pretty much finished 3/4 of the trail. It was remarkable, honestly, and I hadn't even thought about it until those hikers had pointed it out to me. I'd been gone from home for six months and I was finally back in the state that I was born in. All along I'd considered my hike as a hike to home. Even though I really had to hike past home.
I kept hiking with these thoughts in my head. Time and distance really weren't as linear as people made them seem. At least not when you're experiencing them every day like this. Some miles felt longer, harder, further. Others felt quick and unimportant. Some miles felt very important or epic, but they were the shortest because I was enjoying them. Time felt weird. The days were never long enough but the nights weren't either. Some moments felt like hours when they were 45 minutes. Others felt so fast you hardly experienced them. The hardest minutes were the longest.
Ordinarily, I wouldn't stop moving until I got to the top of the mountain. I found that it was easier to keep momentum going if I didn't stop. Besides, you'll get to the top faster if you just keep moving. Not this time. I stopped multiple times on the way up Mt. Everett. The 1,000 ft per mile grade was steep, but nothing I hadn't experienced before. The humidity and heat were killing me and I was nearly out of water. My mouth was dry, even my throat was dry. I could feel my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth. I drank half of what was left in my water bottle and came away with a still dry mouth.
I stopped and looked ahead on the map at Guthook, someone had commented that a parking lot up ahead usually has a water cache. It was only two more miles ahead. I chugged the rest of my warm water without hesitation. With every fiber of my being I kept climbing that mountain. I visualized ice cubes, water flowing from the tap, an ice cold Gatorade with condensation gathering on the outside of the bottle, rain, anything that would quench my thirst. I didn't stop again until I made it to the top a half a mile later. I stood on the top of Mt. Everett, looking out at the mediocre view, mostly blocked by trees, and drank the last of my energy drink.
I headed down the scrambling side of the mountain and finally reached a dirt road that lead to the picnic area and parking lot where the water should be. From up the trail I could see a large picnic table with two big coolers of water, six gallon jugs, and a big cooler on the ground next to the table. With glee I sped up to speed walk and cruised up to it. I immediately filled my water bottle up and chugged half a liter of cold, purified water. It was the most refreshing thing I'd ever felt. In the cooler on the ground was a pool of ice and water and four Gatorades left. Gatorade! It was a dream come true.
I savored and sipped that Gatorade and sat down at the table. At the next table over there was a family sitting and waiting. An older gentleman in the group asked, "Is that Gatorade refreshing?" he laughed. I laughed, too. I hadn't even realized they were there. I was so focused on the refreshments! I nodded yes as I kept drinking the artificial blue juice. The family made small talk with me while I cooked myself a meal at the table: cous cous and foil packet salmon. We talked about gear and hiking and how their family loves backpacking but only for short distances.
They asked me if I'd ever done a trip like this before. Only one other person had asked me this question before, surprisingly. It's my favorite question. I love telling people I've never backpacked before this. They are always shocked. In reality, a good majority of people who attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail every year have never backpacked before. Perhaps that's the reason for the high dropout rate. This family was, of course, very surprised. "Wait, not even, like, for a weekend?" A teenage girl in the family asked. "Nope!" I replied. I could see the gears turning in her head. The If she can do it, then maybe I can do it... face. A car pulled up in the parking lot and it seemed to be the family's cue to leave. We parted ways and I started eating my dinner.
An older woman came up to the table after the family left. She introduced herself as Viva. She had a Gatorade with me and decided to cook her dinner there, too. We talked about the trail while we ate. She left the tables before me in search of the next shelter which was supposedly not far away. I sat at the table where I had one bar of service and tried to text Miles to tell him I'd be at the next shelter. My phone said the text wouldn't go through and I gave up trying.
I packed up and got to the shelter around 5:30. I set up my tent in the open pine grove around the shelter with Viva nearby and settled in to read for a while. I was exhausted but proud of myself. I pushed myself today, not too hard, but just enough. Around 7pm a group of young girls came and set up their tents right next to mine and Viva's. There was plenty of room elsewhere but the counselors that were with them clearly didn't care that the young girls were bothering us.
Squeals and choruses of laughter permeated the campsite. I was annoyed but I didn't want to make the girls feel like backpackers were rude. I didn't want anything to deter these young girls from spending time in the woods but they really weren't following proper backpacker etiquette. I lay there, conflicted in my choice not to say anything. I dug out my headphones from my fanny pack and blasted classical music into my ears.
About an hour later, Miles showed up! He found me! He had gotten up after I told him I had to keep going up Mt. Everett and kept hiking to catch up to me. We both agreed it was one of the hardest days for us. I took down my tent and we moved away from the noisy girls, realizing we weren't going to sleep well with them around.
Day 149: Mile 1521.7 | Berkshire South Community Center @ Great Barrington, MA
We had a hard time sleeping with the teen girls camping loudly nearby the night before. This resulted in us sleeping in until 9am. We made it out of camp by 10am as the misty rain started rolling in. We were 8 miles out of town and determined to get to town in the early afternoon. I had originally hoped to get to town around noon to make the most of our nero there, but we estimated that we could be at the road crossing by 2pm. There was a trail angel in town known as "Papa Joe" who gave rides to hikers for donations. Ordinarily we would have tried to hitch hike on such a busy road but in the pouring rain we knew our chances of getting picked up were significantly lower.
We trudged through the rain as fast as we could. It kind of felt good, honestly, after all of the heat we had. We had been sweating and dehydrated a few days before. Now I had goosebumps and my skin was drenched in rainwater instead of sweat. Then we arrived at the last quarter mile: railroad tracks, a big field, and the main road just ahead. The foggy, deserted railroad tracks felt like a dystopian novel in the dim light. We practically ran across the field even though we were a few minutes early, hoping there would be some kind of overhanging roof on the building that Joe said he would meet us at. When we arrived at the road crossing he was already there waiting for us! The best timing ever. Joe even gave us ice cold Gatorade!
He took us over to the community center, they offered $5 showers with towels and free camping. We ran inside in the torrential downpour and Miles and I parted ways to the gendered locker rooms. The shower felt amazing. I made it as hot as possible. I wrung out my already soaked clothes and watched a stream of dirt flow down the drain. The only part that wasn't enjoyable: untangling my hair. Over the nearly 11 days I went without a shower my hair had become a rat's nest with multiple dreadlocks beginning to form. It took me a full hour to untangle it.
For weeks I had been saying, "Do you think I would look good with short hair?" I would ask Miles. He didn't really care, said I would look beautiful no matter what I did to my hair. I felt nervous about cutting it all off. I didn't have a mirror to look in every day. In fact, I'd almost completely thrown how I look out the window. I hardly cared about appearances anymore. I decided that while I was in Great Barrington, I would find someone to cut off my hair.
I finished my shower and got all of my laundry ready to go in a plastic trash bag from the front desk. I went out to the lobby with my pack and dirty clothes. I sat by the window and waited for Miles. He had also finished showering and was outside talking on the phone. I sat and watched the rain outside the window. I had half a notion to take advantage of the wifi and cell signal but I was too tired to process social media. The torrential downpour was still going and it felt good to just sit and watch it, inside and dry.
I was so hungry, though, and waiting for the storm to pass was taking too long. I didn't want to get the only dry clothes I had left wet in the rain but I was so hungry and there wasn't any food at the community center that wasn't an overpriced vending machine item that made me feel like I was eating trail food (light, transportable food eaten while backpacking). I wanted town food. I was so hungry. I wanted a good hot meal.
Eventually, Miles finished his phone call. He said he wanted to sit and wait a while longer to see if the rain died down before we went to get food. I couldn't wait any longer. I plugged in my external batteries and left my pack right next to it. Viva, who was also in the lobby offered to watch it for me. I told Miles I was leaving and he groaned. He got up and came with me anyway. We ran through the rain, both of us without raincoats because of broken zippers, a quarter-mile to the closest food: McDonald's. I got a huge chicken nugget meal and devoured the fast food I used to turn my nose up to.
Once upon a time, I used to ridicule my family for eating McDonald's, or any fast food really. During lunch I called over to a hair salon that was in the same plaza as the grocery store. They had an opening at 4pm, about 15 minutes away. I took the appointment and left Miles to do his chores. He needed a new cell phone and new shorts. Luckily this plaza had both an AT&T store and a Marshall's!
I sat in the chair for the woman to cut my hair. She introduced herself as Martha and asked what I wanted done. I told her I wanted to cut all of my hair off. I showed her a few photos of pixie cuts I had found on the internet. She seemed surprised. "Are you sure?" she asked with her eyebrows raised. "Once you cut it you cannot go back." I looked back at her in the mirror and nodded. "Let's do this," I replied. She started cutting with a shrug and made small talk while she was at it.
She asked if I lived in the area and I told her that I was hiking the trail. "Oh!" She exclaimed. "That makes much more sense! It is hard to keep your hair nice in the woods! I don't go camping for that very reason." She laughed. After an hour and some more small talk, my hair was gone. I left the salon and went to meet Miles at Marshall's. I hid in the men's clothing section and surprised Miles. He exclaimed, "Awe! You look like Rachel Maddow!" I laughed, "Oh no, that better not be my new trail name." We laughed and found Miles some new shorts. Afterward we got some snacks at the grocery store and headed back to the community center. The rain had died down a little bit.
Back at the community center I sorted my groceries in my food bag and we went outside to set up our tents. We found that the campsites were all on a hill. There were some platforms and those were flat, but there was only one very small and hilly spot where we were able to set up Miles' tent for us to share. Unfortunately you need to have some way to stake out trekking pole tents and these platforms didn't have the loops needed to do that. It started sprinkling. We made it in the tent just as the rain picked up. We sat, crammed together, and looked over our plan for tomorrow. We ate as much town food (heavy or messy food that cannot be carried easily in a backpack) as possible.