Days 152 + 153
Day 152: Mile 1550.8 | Aunt Missi's House @ West Springfield, MA
My alarm went off at 5am. I groaned and got up. The foam sleeping pad had been easier and more convenient than my blow up one, but it was not nearly as comfortable. I actually had to check before I set up my tent to make sure there weren't any rocks, sticks, or roots under where my sleeping pad would lie. It was also a bit bulky on the outside of my pack. The only pros of it were: price (1/3 the price of my inflatable pad), convenience, and it was no fail. I got up with my alarm, no snooze, and packed up quickly. I ate breakfast while I waited for Miles and we set out together in the chilly morning air. The sun was just coming up and it felt like I was waking up with the world. The morning rays were so beautiful as they angled their ways through the green summer leaves.
We walked quickly through the simple terrain toward Lee. We passed a few other hikers but none we knew and stopped for few breaks. Our breaks were much further apart. Perhaps it was the easier terrain, or maybe it was because we had gotten such good momentum from waking up early. Every time I got up early I thought, "Wow I should really do this more often!" but I never considered myself much of a morning person. The thing is I love the early morning, but I didn't like forcing myself to get up at the most comfortable part of my sleep cycle. I also observed on this day that if I got up early every day it wouldn't be as beautiful. So I soaked in graceful morning light as we walked.
We arrived at the parking lot early than we anticipated and relaxed in the shade of a nearby tree for a bit while we waited for my aunt. We had made it two hours early than planned and I was happy with our quick 16 miles. Aunt Missi arrived with my cousin Christopher. Chris was driving his very own car. I hadn't seen him much since before he got his driver's license. He had really grown up! Now he was practically an adult!
We piled our packs in the car and drove to their house with the windows down. Aunt Missi told us that my mom had warned her about the smell of thru-hikers. We all laughed. It was true, anyone smells bad after multiple days of exercise without showering. Aunt Missi handed us a lunch box with cold Gatorades and watermelon slices! So refreshing. When we arrived at their house they set us up in the living room. We made a bed for Miles and I took the couch. Us hikers showered and Aunt Missi showed us how to do the laundry.
While we went through our packs, Chris came and hung out with us in the living room. He brought Ruby, their dog, and Patches, their cat. It was crazy how much Chris had grown up. Since my first year of college, I'd gotten so busy with school or work or my own problems that I fell out of touch with most of my extended family. It was good to be able to catch up with them. I had missed a lot in the past five years. I was so happy that they had a little black cat called Patches. He was a sweetheart and let me pat him and hold him all I wanted. I missed my cats so much and he reminded me a lot of Clyde.
Aunt Missi grilled us up some steaks, steamed some corn, and potatoes. We devoured the whole home cooked meal out on their new patio. Aunt Missi even got me some great beer and we shared a couple of drinks. After dinner, we hung out with Christopher some more. He talked about how badly he wanted to go backpacking, how cool he thought our journey was.
Miles and I turned in for the night soon after that. I had a hard time sleeping, though. I needed to decide whether I'd be bringing my inflatable sleeping pad with me or sending it home and using this foam pad for the rest of my trip. I knew the foam was more reliable, but after a few days of little sleep I couldn't bear to part with my inflatable mattress. Maybe I could patch the hole. I looked up online, since I finally had service, to see if this whole partial deflation was a common problem.
I found some forum results. Every entry said that their Therm-a-Rest inflatable pad deflated over night during colder weather. They all said that they noticed a difference when the temperatures dropped during the night. Some people said up to 40% deflation was completely normal. I decided I would try to stick with it. I only noticed it deflate less than 40%.
Aunt Missi offered to mail home my foam pad for now. I went to sleep after this and cuddled with Patches, the cat, for most of the night.
Day 153: Mile 1558.1 | October Mountain Shelter
In the morning we got up around 9am and starting packing. My grandparents had decided to drive up to take us out for breakfast. They took us to Friendly's and the six of us squeezed into a booth. Grammy and Grampy asked us all sorts of questions about trail life.
Once, when I was four years old I asked my Grammy if I could have chocolate ice cream for breakfast. She went to scoop me some in a bowl for breakfast, but before she could my Aunt Marci came down stairs and scolded her. Aunt Marci said kids shouldn't be having ice cream for breakfast. She really was right. Four year old me was very upset, though, and spent the entire morning crying on the bar stool at the high top breakfast counter in Grammy's kitchen. I cried so hard that I fell asleep on that bar stool.
Now at 23 and hiking the trail, I asked my Grammy if I could have ice cream for breakfast. She chuckled and said yes. Chris piped up, "She's getting ice cream for breakfast?! Can I have ice cream for breakfast?!" We all laughed and Grammy got us cousins chocolate Fribbles. I also got a real meal of eggs and toast and hash browns. During breakfast, Chris was telling his mom about how cool he thought the trail was and said he thought maybe someday he might want to do part of it.
Miles and I had only planned to hike out about 7 miles this day to camp, we told my family. I saw that there was a road crossing only a mile from camp that we would be passing the next morning. I asked if Aunt Missi would have time to pick Chris up in the morning and we could take us with him for the night. He could use my foam sleeping pad and sleep in Miles' two person tent. We agreed he would join us. Chris was very excited.
We left breakfast and went back to Aunt Missi's house. I said goodbye to my grandparents who and helped Chris pack his backpack for the overnight. Miles and I finished getting our packs and food ready and then we piled all of our stuff into Chris' car. Aunt Missi drove us back to the parking lot in Lee where she had picked us up and we set out with Chris into the woods:
It was fun and the weather was perfect. Chris kept up with us the whole time! After a few miles we came across a fawn right in the middle of the trail. I was leading the group at the time and I almost walked right into it! The fawn stood and stared at us. I yelled at it, I didn't understand why it was so close to me. Deer, even fawns, are powerful animals that shouldn't interact with humans. It looked me in the eye. It didn't seem threatened or like it was going to trample me. It wasn't even scared. Eventually it moved aside and let us go by. It seemed sad. I had never seen a fawn alone that wasn't dead or in some kind of nest that its mother had made. It was clear someone had fed it, the fawn got much too close to us.
We kept walking and made our way to camp. When we got there the shelter was full and we said hi to the hikers we knew: Wolf Pack, Willow, and a few of their friends. Miles and I set up our tents behind the shelter and showed Chris the process of setting up camp. Chris was still hyped up from hiking. He wanted to keep hiking but we talked him down a little bit. It was already almost 7pm and we would be hiking into the dark, Chris without a headlamp.
Chris accompanied me to get water. Unfortunately, like many water sources since Pennsylvania, the water was slightly yellow. Chris was surprised. I showed him how to use the Sawyer filter and I told him to just taste the filtered water. It didn't taste bad he remarked and we carried the water back up to camp. The three of us sat and ate our dinner together. Chris and I hung out in my tent and talked about all sorts of things. We hadn't had one on one time in years. We talked about the future and adulting and jobs.
Eventually, we all lay down to relax and Chris fell asleep first out of any of us. Miles and I read for a while.