Swamp River to River Road
Cold Swamp Camp to Cucumber Dill Le Croix Camp
AT miles: 25.1
Total miles: 1485.2
Elevation change: 6112ft gain, 6089ft loss
Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that Connecticut was going to be an easy state. I don’t know where this preconceptions came from, but I think that I’ve learned enough after today to be sure that there are no “easy” states on the AT. That some are is unreliable hiker hearsay, and as Crunchberry would say, “you can’t trust hikers.” I can’t even trust myself, it seems. It turns out that the trail in Connecticut is at least as hard as it is to spell Connecticut. However, as you can probably guess, it has been beautiful. And, like New York before it, the character of the trail shifted once I entered the state. Who knows, maybe that’s just my humanness trying to make sense of a chaotic world. Whatever it is, I’m happy to be where I am. New York was great, and now it’s time to see what I’ll see in New England.
Swamp River collected more than its fair share of cold air last night, putting my new sleeping gear to the test. It was 25F when I awoke with the chirping birds and brightening horizon. The unused tail of my quilt was an icebox when I uncurled and stretched to my full length, but I had made it through the night, not warm, but just warm enough. And when the sun crested the eastern hill, I heated up quick. By the time I got hiking, I was practically sweating.
The trail started out easily enough, crossing the Swamp River marsh on a raised boardwalk, then through a mile of wide pasture. First the tall rushes dipped and swayed in the gusting wind, then the long green grass that hadn’t been clipped by munching livestock rippled silver as it was pressed flat and ruffled. My pinwheel whirled with gusto, and I absorbed as much of the free energy as I could.
Back in the forest, the trail twisted and turned as it picked its way across a muddy hillside that was just about to burst with lush overgrowth. I guessed that within a week, the vines and brambles would be grabbing at the legs and shoulders of passing hikers. I already needed to brush away some of the more enthusiastic greenery, using my trekking poles to hold them back before letting them spring back across the trail behind me.
On top of it the next rise, things opened up to resemble the same New York that I had seen yesterday. Small buds glowed like Christmas lights on the tops of the huge oak and beech in the bright sunshine, and I wandered around them on smooth trail. More crumbling stone walls reminded me that as big and old as these trees and forest seemed to me, they were actually pretty young and crafted by human touch. No matter, big oak are still big oak, and are something special.
Soon I reached a long roadwalk on pavement around a section of trail that had lost a bridge a few years earlier. I was sure that I didn’t need a bridge to cross whatever needed crossing, but following the road through rural New York was appealing. It was nice to snooze my balance calculator and just enjoy the beautiful morning as I cruised on an empty country lane. The spring blossoms were blowing up on the neighborhood trees, white, pink, and yellow. The quaint homes were straight out of a picture book.
When I returned to the trail, I almost immediately encountered a sign welcoming me to Connecticut, the “gateway to New England”. It was the first of three such crossings within a few miles, and it was the best of them. Thinking that I had already been in New England, I pushed across the invisible boundary, leaving New York behind, even if I would dip in for a few more minutes later in the day. NY had been good to me, and I thanked it for all the fun times.
I climbed up into a blowing wind, then back down to Tenmile River. It rushed with a haste not yet seen from a major waterway on this trail. It felt wild and untamed. I could smell the scent of churning water, fresh and organic. Then, after walking along its banks for a mile, I ran into the even bigger Housatonic River. I crossed a long footbridge where the two collided. Whitecaps ruffled the deep sapphire surface as the currents joined forces in an uneasy and forced dance. Further upriver, the Housatonic raged through a narrow gorge. Tremendous standing waves of whitewater spit clouds of mist and roared like a jet engine. Where had this wildness come from? Over the space of a few minutes I had been transported from Appalachia to the wild deep of the Montana backcountry. Pine needles underfoot, terrifying power to my right, Luna bar in hand. This was a different world, and I felt the tingle of uneasiness. The force of nature, right here in front of me, possessed such a raw and untamed power. I could only gawk, feeling it attract and repel me at the same time. Favorite moment of the day, for sure.
The steep, long, and hot climb up, wait for it, Schaghticoke Mountain left me dehydrated and hungry. I took care of me needs as best as I could during a late lunch break that featured all the yummy things from my pack. Perched on the rocky overlook, I could see many homes sprouting from the forest. They shattered the mirage of ‘wild Montana’, bringing me back to the populated east.
With SpiceRack parked and waiting 12 miles further, I pushed hard after pulling on a not-so-fresh, fresh pair of socks. Just in time, Connecticut made things difficult with short bursts of jumbled boulders and endless rollercoastering. I sweated hard, and skipped a few more water sources than I should have, but managed to make decent time nonetheless. The forest was beautiful in the tree-filtered light and I tried to appreciate it as much as I could between bursts of butt-burning ascents, and knee-twisting drops.
I chugged and filtered enough water for the rest of the evening at Thayer Brook, then powered up the second to last hill of the day. As someone who tries to capture and deliver the experience of the trail with my words, I considered what it would be like to make a POV video of an entire day of hiking. No cuts, no speeding it up. Just 10 hours of mostly unedited hiking. Would anybody watch that? I thought that it would do a better job than my writing at bringing the trail to life, demystifying and deglamorising. From then on, I noticed all my grunts, gasps, farts, and burps more, like someone was watching.
The final up and over was suitably brutal. The descent especially was about as vertical as I care to get, and took a long while, one slow, crunching plunk at a time. I used my hands and banged my knee, but I made it to the bottom safe and sound. As I wander along a dirt road, SpiceRack and Tango appeared over a rise. We hugged and then they escorted me the final half mile to our riverside abode. I dunked in the icy Housatonic, wishing that I had gotten there a few hours closer to the heat of the day, then put on my cozy lounge clothes and grabbed the mug of hot tea that Spice handed me. With fresh macaroni salad to tide me over until the lasagna came out of the oven, I was feeling fine. Connecticut had kicked my butt for sure, but it was more than worth it. The good company and yummy food was one thing, but the wild power of New England was starting to soak into my sunscreen-clogged pores. I started to think north, to the wilds of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. While they had seemed safely distant from New York, they all of a sudden felt like something I should get worried and excited for. Could I really just be a week or two away from the Whites? Gulp.