AT Journal 2002

Hanover NH to Bennington VT, 8/3 to 8/14/2002

8/3/02 Bus dropped me off in Hanover at 12:30. Some kind of big parade, driver couldn’t get to the bus depot so he just dropped me off on Main St. at my request. Road walk over the river, under Rte. 91 then uphill to Norwich (VT.) Then Elm St. uphill for another mile or so. Hit the “trailhead” on Elm St. at 2:00 or so. Shortly thereafter, stopped at a small stream to get water.

Mild uphill walk for the next couple hours to Happy Hill Shelter, just off the trail. A young lady (“Honey Bear”) arrived almost simultaneously. 80 degrees in the shade most of the day – hot as hell on the road walk.

8/4: At Thistle Hill Shelter, after a long break. Got here a bit after 9 AM, it’s 11:15 as I write this. Yesterday on descent from Happy Hill, “Piedro and Pickle” had left a bunch of cold sodas in a stream (along with a register.) Delicious, unexpected Dr. Pepper. An hour or so later I took an unexpected road walk on Podunk Rd., but found it back to the trail a half-mile or so later, where the AT crosses I-89. There’s a convenience store in Hartford on the E side of the bridge, had a vanilla milkshake and a bottle of orange juice there before continuing on. The trail follows a road uphill for a while before ducking into the woods. Walked uphill till the light was nearly gone and then made a stealth camp right by the trail. No need for dinner. In bed and lights out by 9:30.

Up at 5:45 and on the trail by 6:10. Beautiful early-AM hike. The trail crosses several meadows, where I got to see the sun rise through the early mist.

Passed “Clorox” yesterday near the “soda stream.” This AM, several NOBOs passed me, having spent the night here @Thistle Hill. Looks like it will be another hot one today. 75 degrees on the thermometer. Got some moderate crotch-rash on one side. Changed underwear and applied lots of Gold Bond. I hope that’ll hold it. Outta here soon.

11:45 Mon (8/5) Yesterday was a sonofabitch. At 5 PM after feeling a “touch” of cool, I checked the pack thermometer – it was still over 80. A hiker I met this AM (a thru-hiker, NOBO) said that yesterday was her toughest day on the trail.

I managed to lose the trail again near Break Neck Hill. Trail pops out onto a country lane and gives no idea where to go. I walked up the lane 100 feet then back down the lane, no sign of where the trail continued. There were footprints leading downhill, so that’s where I decided to go. Turns out it’s a private road. I knocked on the door of a house at the bottom of that road, but no answer.

That was S. Pomfret Rd., so I walked S half a mile to the “village” of S. Pomfret. No there there. The general store was closed. Began walking N. on Barnard-Woodstock Stage Rd. The small ski area “Suicide Six” is on the left – it’s what I’d been looking at from some of the high meadows earlier in the day. A woman was sitting on her porch reading a paper and drinking orange juice. I asked for some water and filled up both of my bottles, then walked N. on the road to the AT crossing.

There had been several nice high meadows during the day, but frankly it was just too damned hot to enjoy them. Did I mention it was HOT yesterday?

Eventually I made it up over and back down that last hump to Route 12. Folks had told me of a “red barn” where hikers could shower and stay. There was one just N. of the trailhead, but I saw no sign of life. Walked S. a quarter mile and there was another red barn – even less lively-looking. Despair set in. I sat at the trailhead feeling miserable for another 15 minutes or so, then decided to check out the first red barn again. This time I spotted signs of life. Dan Quinn, who owns the house and barn, was chatting with a young hiker named Moondance. Yeah, this is the place.

Oddly, being in “civilization” is not a good place for a Zip stove. Moondance and Alobar had been to town earlier and were boiling hot dogs over their alcohol stove. In exchange for desserts (Halvah, dried mango) they were happy to share their dogs with me. Moondance and Alobar are NOBO, she started her hike in Shenandoah. Alobar looks fiftyish and weather-beaten. From Florida. Long dreadlocks. I didn’t chat with the other two hikers there, they weren’t very forthcoming.

Ended up sleeping in my tent behind Dan’s garden. Started with the fly up but somewhere in the wee hours I felt some rain and put up the fly. No problem, except the wet clothes from last night (which I’d washed in the shower) didn’t really get a chance to dry.

This AM (8/5) – cloudy, and very humid. A break from the hot sun would be nice, but within ten minutes of leaving the barn, I was dripping in sweat. Hike here (to Wintturi Shelter) not too bad. Not much for views. No water. I was carrying exactly one bottle’s worth, and conserving it. Man, I thought Vermont would be a pushover – WRONG.

‘Neway – 27 miles since leaving Hanover, less than 48 hours ago. Not too shabby.

8/6 (Tues) Arrived at The Inn at Long Trail at about 2:30, since then I’ve had a marvelous shower, dump, and a lunch – fruit salad, cheeseburger, and two Long Trail Ales – the 2nd of which I could not finish.

Did about 12 miles yesterday, from the Barn on Rte. 12 to a spot just shy of Stony Brook Shelter. It wasn’t quite as hot as the day before, but still plenty warm. Attitude somewhat improved from the day before. Took lots and lots of breaks. I figured hiking late in the day was probably a good thing – no point doing the hardest work in the heat of the afternoon.

NEway, after leaving Wintturi, the next long stop was at the Lookout, another couple of miles west. Nice wood cabin with a porch, you can pick raspberries right off the porch. Door was unlocked, it was empty, nobody here but me. Removed most of my clothes to let ‘em dry from the sweat. Had some salami and cheese and water. Took a bunch of photos. There’s an observation platform on the roof, accessible via this 20’ scary ladder. Took a series of panoramics from the deck.

The rest of the day was rather uneventful, aside from my misjudging the map rather seriously. I had really wanted to get to Stony Brook Shelter – hopefully with a bit of daylight left – but it was not to be. Close, real close. Made camp at a well-used campsite at a good-flowing stream, about ½ mile shy of (downhill of) the shelter.

Whatever – had a relaxing meal of Liptons, two cups of tea, but it took two tries to get the Zip stove going. I was more than a bit paranoid about the site, as it was close to a road, but it turned out OK, I guess. 2nd night in a row – started with the fly up and had to put it down in the middle of the night.

This AM (8/6) skipped b’fast, broke camp, and on the trail around 7:15. Moments later, it began to pour. Put on that EMS rain jacket over my hospital shirt & polypro, put the pack cover on, and started slogging uphill. It was 50 degrees this AM – quite a change from yesterday’s 80. Somewhere near the summit I stopped for a break. Noticed I was shivering. The hospital shirt and the inside of the rain jacket were both soaking wet.

Did the rest of the day’s hike wearing the polypro top, hoping for no more hard rain.

Trail passes a nice pond and a gorge just before reaching Gifford Woods State Park. Took another short break there but that ended when the weather turned a but ugly. Took a few pix at the gorge. I was hoping to find a camp store at the state park – no dice, trail misses it. Next thing I knew I was trudging uphill again, that last slog up to Rte. 4 and the Inn where I’m at.

There’s a junction for “Sherburne Pass” which is in fact the old A.T., and rejoins the Long Trail up on the Pico climb. Not sure which one I’ll do in the A.M. – the “new” AT takes a rather circuitous route.

Met “Easy Does It” on a road walk this AM, bummed a smoke from him and chatted for a while. His thru-hike last year ended at Clarendon Gorge where he was bitten by a brown recluse spider. So he did it all over again this year…

8/7 – Wed – 9:15 PM

16 miles today. Woo Ha! Gorgeous day. Started with a shower and great breakfast at the inn. Checked out. Headed up the Sherburne Pass – the old AT – around 8:15 or so. It was perfect hiking weather – maybe even a wee bit chilly up on the ridge. Not much for views, at least on the ridge. Didn’t bother with Killington Summit, since I knew in advance I might be going for “big miles” today. What can I say? Everything about the day was purr-fect. Lost the trail briefly late in the day & took an unexpected road walk. But didn’t waste a lot of time on that, and got one of the better views of the day – looking north, back over the Killington/Pico ridge. The trail was a piece of cake, even the uphill walk to the “summit.” Lush woods, clover and ferns glistening from yesterday’s rain. A fair number of clouds overhead in the morning, but by 2 PM those had vanished – and yet the air temp maxed out at somewhere near 60 or so. What a change from just 2 days ago!

Coming down off the ridge there was one short nasty section of rocks & roots – no net vertical to speak of, but very tough going. But that just lasted a mile or two, max. Below that, the going got easy again, and by 3 PM I found myself at Gov. Clements shelter. Good crowd there. The guy that I’d had b’fast with at the inn was there, which caught me off guard a bit (“Disco.”) Spoke for a while with Hemlock and Tamarack, another NOBO couple. By 3:30 all the hikers had cleared out, continuing their hikes, so I decided to head for Clarendon Shelter, just another 5 miles or so. More mellow hiking, except for a final 400-500’ ascent/descent just before arriving here. Oh yeah, almost forgot to mention more sodas-in-the-stream, a real “professional” job, this time courtesy of the Trail Gnome. There was a metal fence in the stream, to gather in the soda cans, and a little “hut” nailed to a tree for the register. Downed a cola in about 60 seconds flat, and moved on, since I still had that ascent/descent ahead of me.

Somewhere on that final stretch I was overtaken by a SOBO thru, name of Lambic, traveling much faster than me (natch) but headed for the same place. Started at K on 6/18, had great weather in the Whites. Lucky guy! He is (er, was) an EE undergrad at UV (Virginia, that is) but has decided to be a professional beer brewer instead. No joke. “Lambic” is some kind of beer or ale, I guess.

OK, so got to Clarendon Shelter tired but very happy about 7:45, still some daylight left. Lotsa people here, several NOBO thrus, but lots of casual campers also. There’s a stack of firewood half a mile high, fire going as I write this.

Started the Zip stove with birch bark this time, it was a big hit. I guess they’re still somewhat of a rarity among thru-hikers. Ate “veggies and pasta” MRE. It was tasty enough, but not super filling. Turns out Lambic got that Alessi bean soup that I left in the hiker box at the inn – he was very pleased.

9:42 this place has gone very quiet. Maybe time to hit the hay. Great day!

8/9 (Fri.) ANOTHER fine day on the A.T., and pretty decent miles today, too.

Yesterday wasn’t quite as great. Only made 8 or 9 miles, from Clarendon Shelter to Greenwall. Greenwall was worthless. A long 0.4 mile off the trail, no view, and really awful water source. But hey, I was tired, and my newfound buddies Jason and Amy were there. Lambic (from Clarendon) was doing an 18 mile day, so that’s the last I saw of him (Thursday AM.) “Willy McGee” was walking with Jason and Amy, the latter two sectioning SOBO like me. Willy jumped off at the road xing just S. of Clarendon, to spend some time in Walingford – so I figured he’d catch up with me Friday (ie today) – which he did, here at Griffith Lake campsite.

I got up late yesterday, and by mid afternoon, was feeling beat. Stopped at a nice stream on that last ascent toward Greenwall shelter, soaked my feet and my t-shirt, and resumed uphill walk, resolved to make it a short day. Jason and Amy were standing there at the junction to the side trail to Greenwall, so that’s how the decision was made.

Yesterday’s hike begain with a steep descent from (Clarendon) shelter, across a busy highway & trailhead. Then across Clarendon Gorge via a suspension bridge, and a steep uphill, along the spine of the hill, with nice views. At Minerva Hinchey shelter I chatted with a NOBO thru hiker smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. Asked if I could roll one for myself, he said, “sure” and invited me to roll another one to take along, which I did.

From M.H. Shelter, the trail goes up and over Bear Mountain, which was added to the AT some time after my 1990 map was drawn. Uneventful, and no views. Except that I broke into my smoked salmon on a break during the descent. Yummy!

Down to another road, and then a long forbidding uphill toward Greenwall, except that there was a nice flowing brook along the trail in a couple of places. Took a long break there.

Amy, Jason and I arrived to an empty shelter (Greenwall) & set up camp. I made dinner. Couple hours later an odd troupe rolled in, tired and beat. A father – overweight and 60-ish, with what appeared to be his three sons, all 20-something. Obviously not thru-hikers – all the wrong gear, and too much of it. They’d done 6.8 miles for the day, and they were beat. Neway, they turned out to be good people, in spite of my initial concerns to the contrary. Around dusk two more hikers appeared. One said nothing, set up his tent and disappeared inside of it. The other was a dude named Rockfish, tall with a long braid, looking very hiker-ish. Turns out he’s done AT/CDT/PCT, and is currently on a SOBO jaunt down the LT. Seemed like a nice guy, very talkative.

Had a bitch of a time getting to sleep last night. Round 1:30 AM I realized the reason: I was cold. Slipped on undies, socks, and my fleece hat, and finally caught some Zs.

This morning got up around 6:30 AM, broke camp, and on the trail by 7:10. Somehow, without exchanging a word, Jason, Amy and I left at the same time. 20-30 minutes after setting out, we hit the junction to a lookout. At the junction was an amazing array of cairns. The view from the lookout was great, in spite of the fact that it was a steep 0.2 mile descent off the AT.

The three of us continued on up over the next two summits and then down to Little Rock Pond. I was determined to have a swim, which I did. Somehow, I lost Jason and Amy there – maybe they decided to spend the day there, or maybe they just wanted to lose me. Whatever.

Felt wonderful after my swim. It was 11:00 and I’d already done almost 7 miles, and the destination for the day was only another 7. The walk from Lulu lake to the next road crossing was a piece of cake. Met a number of day hikers out for an easy stroll.

Past the road xing, the trail ascends again to the summit of Baker Mtn, but at a very agreeable pace. It starts by following a nice rocky stream. Just S. of Big Branch shelter, it crosses the stream via suspension bridge and begins the ascent. Not much of a slope involved, but the footing was tough – very rocky trail.

Got to the summit of Baker Mtn. Around 4 PM. Very sunny – bare summit. Removed most of my clothes – actually, all of them for a short while – and allowed my sorry butt to catch some wind and sunshine, while mooning the quaint town of Danby, Vermont.

1.8 miles from there to my destination for tonight – Griffith Lake campsite. Tent platforms. A nice “communal” dinner, about 10 of us sitting on logs, cooking and eating dinner by the lakeside, and chatting up a storm. This was a slightly older group of 30-somethings – definitely older than the horde of NOBOs that flew by us yesterday.

Well, that’s almost all of the report. “The Virginian” was having a heck of a time with his alcohol stove, but we all appreciated the Yukon Jack that he was passing around. One of the hikers made popcorn for dessert. I was impressed, never seen that before (it wasn’t Jiffy-Pop.) I had the Alessi bean-soup dinner, it was awesome – with a cup of tea before and after dinner.

Mail drop in Manchester is affecting my schedule. Tomorrow is Saturday. I could probably hike to the road xing by tomorrow PM, but not before the post office closes. So I think I’ll just dawdle tomorrow and plan to hitch into town mid-day or early Sunday – that way I only have one night to stay in town. Pick up my mail Monday AM and back on the trail right after that. The next (final) section is ~56 or 58 miles, so it may take some effort and careful planning to get to N. Adams by next weekend.

I suppose I could tell MK to meet me in N. Adams on Friday night or Sat. AM – if I give myself 4.5 days, it’s a little over 12 miles/day to make the section.

8/11 Sunday AM, Manchester Center, VT. Had breakfast with Polish Ninja, Frodo, and Bug Bite at Friendly’s. They’re off NOBO.

There were three of us in the room at Suttons, but I slept like a baby, and woke up well after 8 AM. Arrived here at Suttons around 4 PM yesterday. Frank said the place was all filled up, but managed to find a bed for me, anyway, bless ‘im. As I write this, though, the place is empty again.

Hot as blazes outside, and the newspaper says it’s going to stay that way for the next few days, with possible thunderstorms Tuesday. I should probably make a point of getting up and over Stratton tomorrow.

Yesterday’s hike was fairly uneventful. I had planned a very short hike from Griffith Lake to Mad Tom, but it turns out the latter no longer exists. No big deal. Plan B was to stay at the Bromley Brook tentsite.

Got to the summit of Bromley at around 2 PM, after a pretty late start – around 8:30. Early in the day it had seemed like rain was imminent but the weather went the other way. Top of Bromley was a zoo. There were a dozen or more young hikers milling about. There’s the top station of the chairlift (two lifts, if I recall,) a ski patrol hut, open to hikers, and an observation tower. Bright sunny skies, albeit a bit hot – the summit is wide open (it’s a ski slope, after all) and no shade to be found – nor water. I stopped long enough to sip some water (from the bottles I was carrying) and get some photos from the observation deck and then continued downhill.

Quite a few hikers heading uphill. Who do I meet but Lambic, heading uphill! He was in town, got a new pack, planning (I guess) to spend the night with the gang on the summit of Bromley, watching the meteor shower.

Met another hiker marching uphill, wearing a Phish hat and lugging a couple of six-packs of Coke up the trail. “Can I have one?” I asked, only half in jest. “Sure,” he says. Wow! I carried it as far as the tent site, where I stopped for a break, to consider my options. It was a fine little place, with a flowing brook just steps away. On the other hand, it was only 3 PM or so and the place was deserted – I’d go crazy whiling away the rest of the day there. So I decided to continue down the mountain (all of one mile) and head into town.

Arriving at the trailhead, I somehow got roped into taking a couple of group photos of a GMC outing heading south toward Bennington.

Put my thumb out to hitch and was going nowhere fast. A van of day hikers pulled out of the lot – some family from Greenwich, Connecticut – and dropped me off in town, not far at all from Sutton’s.

8/13 – Tuesday PM: Two long, mostly boring 14-mile days since leaving Manchester on Monday AM. Writing this from Goddard Shelter, 9 PM. I have the place to myself. Heat lightning is dancing in the sky somewhere south of here – soft peals of thunder can be heard, as they were for most of the afternoon.

Nice shelter! Roomy, fairly modern construction, with a porch and a view of open sky. It’s about 0.1 mile down from the summit (on the south side) of Glastenbury Mountain.

How odd – there’s a beautiful crescent moon, some stars showing, but that thunder and lightning off in the distance.

Today’s trek started at a “stealth” spot near the summit of Stratton. Nice spot, I got a real good night’s rest there. Up at dawn, broke camp quickly, and climbed the fire tower for a few pix of the dawn.

Then “onward and southward.” Strange how there’s always some part of the body that’s sore on a hike. No real problem with the feet today, but during the AM and especially on the descent off Stratton, my armpits were stinging like mad. Best I could figure it was all the sweat-salt in my scrub shirt. Once off the mountain, I stopped at a stream to rinse off the shirt thoroughly (several times) and that seemed to help.

Made it to Story Spring shelter around 11-ish, and when I arrived I was alone. Went to fetch and filter water, and when I returned two pairs of hikers had arrived. Two were clearly thru-hikers (Erica and ???) and the other was a father-daughter-and-family-dog outing.

I handed a bunch of food off on the thru-hikers – they seemed appreciative. Cooked up some Liptons noodles and tea. The Zip stove is always a great conversation piece.

Next stop was Caughnawaga Shelter. I did a double-take when I got there. This thing is tiny. Seems it was built in 1931 or so. People musta been smaller then. A father-son duo, from Pittsburgh, was occupying the place (Travis, the son, and Rick, the dad.) I ate some cold munchies and aired my feet. Rick was cooking on an ancient Svea stove. He offered to heat up hot water for me, so I even had a cup o’ tea, my second for the day.

Left those two at around 5 PM in pursuit of Goddard Shelter. Not sure if I would make it before dark, but I was prepared to either stealth camp or walk by headlamp – whatever. The air was cooling off and I was able to make good time, apparently. Got to the summit of Glastonbury with daylight to spare. Got some pix from the fire tower and then hoofed it to the shelter, just a couple minutes down the mountain on the S side. Boy, do I feel happy and lucky right now.

The hiking itself was pretty blah, I gotta say – both yesterday and today. No views to speak of, except at the summits of Stratton and Glastonbury – and on those two, the view exists only by grace of their respective fire towers.

Yesterday (8/12, Monday) Awoke at 7 AM or so at Sutton’s, had a quick shower and walked to Friendly’s for breakfast. From there to the Post Office. Needed a dump real bad while waiting for the PO to open. Even asked a clerk if there was a bathroom I could use. No dice. Counter opened at 8:15 sharp. Opened the box, stuffed the contents rudely into my pack, and hit the road. Tough hitch. First ride was caught about ½ mile east of town. Young kid in a jeep took me a mile or two up the hill toward the trailhead, up near some of the motels. 2nd ride was from a young woman in her Toyota pickup, who took me all the way to the trailhead. Arrived at trail a few minutes after 9 AM – not too bad.

It was a boring, straightforward 10.6 mile slog to Stratton Pond, where I arrived around 3:30. First order of business was a swim. Delicious!! Dried off the bod, filled water bag from the pond, and headed for the shelter, which was empty.

Cooked a hot meal and tea (chicken & noodles MRE – blechh!!) and then aired out the feet. 5 PM, shelter still empty, I’m rested and ready to roll.

Got this crazy idea to push on – figured I could camp at the top of Stratton, or somewhere on the ascent.

On the way up, the game developed into a race against sunset. Could I get to the summit before the sun went down? I had no idea how it would go, but this was probably one of my fastest ascents of any mountain, ever.

The story has a happy ending – I made it with plenty of time to get some pix of the sunset from the fire tower, and to chat with the GMC caretaker, Jean.

7 PM 8/14: Paradise Motel, Bennington Vermont. By the poolside. Had a quick swim. Pool is empty.

Had fish and chips at the Madison Brew Pub [in “downtown” Bennington] – kinda blah, and a rather inattentive waitress. Walked the length of the main street after dinner. What a dead, bleary place. 6:30 PM and the place is dead. Some kids doing skate-board stunts in front of a tattoo parlor. Noisy pickup trucks and hot cars with loud stereos cruisin’. Lots of empty store fronts. Only thing open was the pizza place, a Chinese food place, the tattoo parlor, a cigarette store called “Smoker Friendly,” and the Madison Brew Pub, plus a couple of gas station convenience stores.

This morning’s trek – around 10 or 11 miles – took me from Goddard Shelter to VT Route 9. Mostly downhill, except for one gratuitous climb of “Maple Hill.” This was one of those treks where the steepest terrain is near the bottom of the mountain. Tomorrow’s ascent will be symmetrical – a kickass ascent from Rte 9 (as related by some NOBO thru-hikers and the profile maps.)

Arriving at Rte. 9 at around 2 PM (left shelter at 8 AM) I stuck my thumb out to hitch and went nowhere fast. I set myself a time limit: if no ride by 2:30 (later extended to 2:35) I would skip Bennington and continue the trek uphill SOBO.

As luck would have it, a weathered Jeep Cherokee pulled up at 2:32. Local fellow named Mike at the wheel, nursing a two-quart container of beer between his knees. Gray beard, sweaty and grubby, but most friendly, and seems knowledgeable of the Long Trail, seems to enjoy picking up hikers at this spot.

Unfortunately, he dropped me off in an odd part of town and then pointed me in the wrong direction when I asked about a motel to stay at.

Ten, fifteen minutes of hot, dusty roadwalk. Stepped into a roadside coffee stand, grabbed a Coke from the cooler and ordered an ice coffee. The latter was pretty awful, but the Coke went down nice. A young girl was tending the counter and an older woman was hanging out. The two seemed to know each other. I inquired again about motels, and was amazed at the ensuing discussion – the two women both had a hard time addressing the question directly, but they did agree that I was probably on the wrong side of town. The older woman – who turned out to be the mother of the younger one – volunteered to drive me to the center of town. She ended up delivering me to exactly where I wanted to be – the Paradise Motel, same place where Merry and I stayed a few years ago on our visit to this town.

Got a decent room for $65 and proceeded, in true hiker-trash fashion, to wash my laundry in the sink (after washing my bod off first, of course.) It was only a few pieces, after all – hardly worth a trek to the Laundromat. Heck, I’ve only got 18 more miles to walk, two easy days.

Had a long phone conversation with Merry after arriving here, it was great to hear her voice again. Seemed to have a good time in Paris, but thinking that a more “active” outdoorsy vacation might be in order next time around.

Dilemma. Merry’s busy most of the day on Friday, so may not make it to N. Adams util very late – or maybe not till Saturday AM. On the other hand, she’s got nothing to do tomorrow.

It would be nice to finish off the hike as planned, but I don’t believe the next 18 miles will be more exciting or interesting than the last 40. I’m somewhat tempted to bag it and have MK pick me up tomorrow.

[And so, the hike ends at Rte. 9, east of Bennington VT, 8/14/2002.]