The Remainder of the Trip
Day 5 of 6 saw the absolute highlight of the trip, and was leading up to our last night in the woods. We got up and struck camp as quickly as possible. We had both developed an unconscious twitching and moving around as a way to ward off the mosquitoes. We had once again recovered more than expected from a rather poor night’s sleep on the ground. Our first three miles went by in an hour and 45 minutes which was pretty good time considering that included a mountain.
By 11:00 we had hiked 6 miles and hit Falls Village, a quaint little hamlet on the Housatonic. We decided to stop and eat lunch at a cafe. The Toymaker Cafe is a rather charming little cafe that is very popular with motorcyclists. Because it’s on the trail they also get a lot of hikers, so when we walked in smelling like hoboes they didn’t even flinch. It was air-conditioned and so comfortable, but it was also nice outside so we opted for the front porch so as not to offend other diners. A hamburger and an ice cold coke later we felt pretty refreshed, but the best was yet to come!
We left the cafe and hiked through this small village. Everyone we passed stopped to talk to us. By now we looked dirty and tired enough that a few even asked us if we were through-hikers!
Along the banks of the river was a power plant and part of that campus was a small brick building covered in ivy. We saw a few hikers resting in the shade of a tree and they yelled out to us that on the side of this ivy-covered building was an outdoor shower!!! I cannot think of anything that would have been a more welcome sight! There was a spigot below the shower and two outdoor outlets around the corner. It was all on a beautiful, bug-free lawn that went from the road all the way down to the river.
We were overjoyed. We had plenty of time and only 4 more miles to go for the day. We stopped and spread out our tarps and proceeded to wash our clothes and our bodies, fill up our water bottles, charge our phones and relax in the shade, listening to music. It was heaven!
A couple hours later we were back on the trail and had only four miles to go. Once again we climbed up a mountain but we were now fortified with a big hamburger and a couple really enjoyable hours, and clean clothes!
There was, however, one last unpleasant surprise and that was our final campsite. At 10 miles for the day, right where we expected the campsite, there was a sign that said the campsite was a half mile off the trail. OK, not the best news but not the worst. We were in a dry pine forest, high on the mountain and relatively free from bugs.
Then we hiked down. We went down and down and down into a ravine. It was a cliff-like set of rock steps requiring slow careful going as a steep mountain brook poured down the mountain beside us. As we descended we could feel the air getting moister and cooler and we could hear the mosquitoes buzzing around our ears.
We couldn’t believe we had to not only spend another night with blood-thirsty territorial mosquitoes but that in the morning we would have to climb out of this malarial ravine!
Needless to say, we did not become fans of the Limestone Spring Shelter! We were the only two campers dumb enough to go all the way down there that day but as we read the log book in the shelter, everyone who previously stayed there was bitter about the climb down and the mud and some got stranded an extra day when it started to rain and became too difficult to climb out!
We set up camp and got dinner started. I was now wearing a fleece and my buff over my head and neck to ward off mosquitoes. The fleece had me sweating inside it but my choices were sweaty or eaten.
Our final night’s dinner was a good one. Brown rice with Pad Thai sauce topped with tuna and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. We were so hungry that we quickly put away enough food to feed a family of four! We had packed enough for 6 nights and now realized this 5th night would be our last. There were a couple important implications to this. The first was that there would be one extra homemade granola bar tomorrow for each of us. These were not only delicious but offered a lot of energy.
The second and more immediate implication was that we had two night’s worth of bourbon to finish off! This night we each had two drams of the fine Woodford Reserve that Brendan had lugged across the state of Connecticut!
For the last time we got the food put away, and settled in to rest for what would be our last day on the trail.
Both of us slept the best we had all week and we would learn that it was more a factor of cumulative fatigue rather than becoming accustomed to sleeping in the woods. The dreaded climb out of the ravine was not so bad because we had a full night’s rest; and, for me, short and steep beats long and gradual. At the top we filled our water bottles (an additional 5 pounds each) and got on our way. We would have to do 12 miles to make it to the Massachusetts state line.
I had arranged for a shuttle to pick us up at the state line at 4pm and drive us to our car. Before we got there however, we would have to climb Bear Mountain, Connecticut’s highest peak.
We hiked for what seemed an endless climb. Again we went up for so long that we had to stop and let our heart rates recover. We drank and refilled our water at every stream and did nothing all day but climb. At one point we had sat down on the ground to rest and a couple of day hikers came along. We must have looked pretty rough because they produced two Granny Smith apples from their pack and insisted we eat them. For the rest of my life I will remember that apple. It gave me just enough energy to push on when I thought I was done.
As we reached the base of Bear Mountain, the temperature had pushed past 90° and it turns out that Bear Mountain is a giant rock! Now we had to watch out for snakes sunning themselves on the rock while heat radiated off the ground like a griddle. In the distance, thunder rumbled threatening a storm that would make a difficult day into an impossible one.
I am pretty sure we were plodding at a pace that one might use to melodramatically imitate someone stranded in the desert without water. I finally resorted to pouring some of my precious water on my buff and putting it around my neck to try and cool down.
We reached the top and there was a massive rock structure with a plaque denoting the highest point in the state. We could barely be excited because we had nothing left. Our energy, our hydration, and our love of adventure had deserted us.
I knew we were near exhaustion when two cute college-aged women in gym shorts and jogging bras hiked by and asked us how we were doing and all we could say was, “Do you have any fruit?”
Once again, day hikers saved us, this time with an apple and a peach! We ate the fruit, took a couple pictures, and looked at each other and said, “Let’s get the fuck out of here!”
As anticipated, we had a precipitous descent. What had taken the last 4 miles to get up would go all the way down in just a half mile. It felt almost vertical as we slowly picked our way down the steep rocky backslope of the mountain. My legs had nothing left and had it not been for my hiking poles I’m pretty sure I would have fallen and broken bones.
We reached the state line and there was our ride. We were done; it was 4:15 and were were just a little late. We had gone 60 miles in 6 days and hiked the entire Connecticut portion of the Appalachian Trail. We were so happy to see the guy who was going to drive us to the lot where Brendan had left his car.
We got in and he said he had to make a pickup on the way about 8 miles up the road. When we got to the spot, who was waiting for us, but Magua! He was doing a third night with this guy and had hiked 35 miles in the last two days with no pack and a good night’s sleep and shower at the Bunk & Dine!
A few minutes later we were safely in Brendan’s car, AC on, boots off, and a large order of McDonald’s fries in my hand. We were so tired we could barely even be excited about it but we were headed to Brendan’s place in Springfield, MA for a shower, a clean bed, and a cold beer.
And then the skies darkened and a sudden violent storm descended on us. We probably got an inch of rain in the following 40 minutes and the thunder and lightning had a biblical feel to it. Somehow we had enjoyed 6 straight days of no rain–not a single drop–and just missed what could have been a disastrous end to the trip. Filthy and exhausted, we still had one more lesson to learn from the trail–things can always be worse!
Thoughts on The Trip
Since this post is so long I have decided to write a 4th post with my thoughts and lessons learned about section hiking the Appalachian Trail. While it was very physically demanding and pretty far outside my comfort zone, I’m still glad I did it.
I learned a lot on the trail and met some great people. So look for one last posting on this trip, perhaps I’ll call it “Part 4 of 3”, or “Epilogue” or something!