Route 7 to Goose Pond Cabin
Hot Pizza Camp to Crazy Campfire Camp
AT miles: 28.1
Total miles: 1561
Elevation change: 6581ft gain, 5735ft loss
Today was a hazy day that matched my hazy mind. After a few consecutive nights of fitful rest, the effects finally caught up with me and I drifted through the afternoon just as the rain showers drifted across the gorgeous New England landscape. Fortunately, the trail was kind. The short spurts of intense uphill were nothing new, but the gradual descents and flat hiking consisted of some of the softest trail tread yet. Even at the end of the long day, my feet and legs felt fresh. Well, fresher than usual, at least. So yeah, the day was a challenge, as they all are, but it was also just what I needed. Plus, any day that starts with pizza and ends on a picnic bench is probably going to be a good one.
As I alluded to, my night was not particularly restful. Maybe I was farting too much to breathe properly, or maybe I’m just used to sleeping on a thin foam mat in the dirt. Whatever it was, all I wanted to do was snooze my morning away. It struck me as strange how easily I would have been able to fall asleep after my alarm sounded, even though I’d struggled to find satisfying slumber all night. It felt that if I let myself, I’d be able to sleep the whole day away. But of course, thinking those thoughts only delayed the inevitable by a few minutes. It was time to get up. It was time to get hiking. SpiceRack and I had set an ambitious goal for the next four days. With much effort and some luck, I would see her again on the fourth day, 112 trail-miles north in Vermont. That’s a lot.
As hard as it was to get up, it would have been impossible without pizza leftovers calling to us from the brown box at our feet. Spice mixed us some coffee, and we sat, sipping and crunching on the best breakfast one can ask for. Tango sat between us, working his cuteness to snag a few morsels of his own. A few splashes of rain plinked on the van roof, which made my dryness feel cozier than usual even with the knowledge that I would be hiking in it soon enough. I savored the warm heater air blowing at my feet.
After resupplying and pulling on my stinky trail clothes, Spice drove me back to the trail and dropped me off like a kid going to school. I walked the short distance back to the white blazes, crossed Route 7, then dipped back into the bushes on the other side. The first few miles were a continuation of the last few. They were flat and pleasant, skirting around pastures and along the Housationic. My body and mind warmed up, and I relished the freshness in my step and the coolness on my face. Both had been in short supply yesterday afternoon as I dashed for pizza under the hot sun.
The showers held off all morning as I finished of the flats and returned to the hills. The trail climbed with a brutal steepness up some steep slabs of stone, but as they were in Connecticut, the effort was short, if intense. With caffeine and sourdough pumping through my veins, I made it up to the flat on top of a few rock ledges in good time and good style. From there I gazed back at Mount Everett, across the way. Sitting under a gray and sputtering ceiling of clouds, it didn’t look quite as imposing as it had felt yesterday. It was just another hill rising above a sea of many.
From there, the trail took my across some forgettable terrain. I say that not because it wasn’t pretty, but because I don’t remember it that well. What I do remember is a fast changing mixture of easy flats and hard steeps. The trail was narrow and seemed just barely able to find a way around some cliffy boulders at times. It felt more wild and rugged than a track that sees millions of visitors every year. I surmised that just a tiny fraction ever saw this stretch in western Massachusetts.
A smooth and gradual descent popped me on a road next to a solitary house, then a slightly less smooth ascent carried me back up, regathering all the elevation I had just withdrawn. To make up for my late start to the day, I made lunch a quick, dual purpose stop. I filtered water and sampled handfuls from the varied mix of colorful treats that Spice had bought for me. The Sriracha cashews were a highlight as well as her personal trail mix blend. Feeling satisfyingly full in just a few minutes, I dragged a fresh pair of crusty socks onto my nasty feet and packed up. Just in the nick of time too. The first shower hit its mark, rustling the dry leaves and splashing tiny dark polkadots all over my sleeves and backpack. This round of rain was short-lived, and had ceased by the time I pulled my umbrella from my pack. I kept it stashed in its ready spot, sensing, somewhat with my intuition and mostly based on the internet’s weather forecast, that the precipitation had not yet exited today’s stage for good.
As the afternoon deepened and the pizza and coffee wore off, my sleep debt began to slacken my focus. The trail also eased up for several miles, so I drifted, disconnected from the angst of the larger mileage goal. I just hiked, lacking the brain energy to push the pace or think deeply. I was lucky that the weather was not better for napping because a few soft spots tempted me, and my willpower alone might not have been disciplined enough to resist the urge to lay down for just a few minutes. Please, just a few more minutes.
I bounced on the springiest tread through a dark and quiet wood of fir trees. Hemlock? It was good walking, so unique and appreciated after many many miles of rocks and brown leaves. The ground was so brown that it was almost black. The moss was so green that it was almost neon. The beaver ponds were so full that I was almost flooded. I loved this forest and was happy for the visit when it transitioned back into hardwood deciduouts.
The rain swept in again as I followed the gentlest switchbacks down into the next valley. I didn’t mind the sprinkle from under the protection of my umbrella, but I did start to wonder how long it takes a rain shower to be considered straight up rain. Because after 20 minutes, it felt like rain to me. The ground was getting soggy and the dry spots under the pine trees were darkening with needle-filtered drops as I clambered up and over Cobble Hill. Views from the summit bench were nonexistent, but by the time I had slithered back down the other side, the rain had moved on.
At a road crossing, a sign warned of potential trail flooding within the next mile due to beaver activity, and offered a short road-walk alternative. I hemmed and hawed, my sleepy brain not making much headway towards a solution to the complex problem. In the end, my desire to keep my feet dry beat out my subdued appetite for adventure, and I turned down the pavement, pleased with my choice as I slipped into an easy, brain-free stride. Taking the road added a half mile to my day, but it also brought me my favorite moments. The wide views of valley pastures and short visit to a cute rural town, straight from a picture book, brought me comfort. Sure, the smell of wood fires burning made me jealous of the people enjoying them, but I gained energy from just knowing that there was a cozy place somewhere, even if it wasn’t where I was. Though I longed to be cozy too, I relished the feeling of being one of the few people at large in the wild rain. I felt wild too, and free. A passing driver pulling over to offer me her umbrella was icing on the cake. Cheese on the pizza. Salsa on the burrito. Even though I didn’t need it, the selfless offer filled my soul for the evening push.
A final, two-pronged climb put me back up high, on smooth trail through darkening forest. I pushed hard, but not too hard, understanding that I was going to be night hiking no matter how hard I tried. I pulled out my headlamp when I could no longer distinguish puddles from mud, and lunged and dodged across rocks and roots for the final miles to camp. I reached the large cabin at Upper Goose Pond around 8:30pm. The shelter was still closed for the season, but I had hoped to sleep on the covered porch. Alas, there was already someone there, but I did find a covered picnic table to sleep on instead. Nomad, a faceless voice in the dark might have been a little nuts, but his stories provided entertainment while I set up my home and filtered water. He’d been living on the trail for a full year as of yesterday, and as one might imagine, had some interesting and profound things to say. There was one in particular that I tried to remember, but my tired mind let it slip through like sand in a fist. Nomad eventually stoked the fire for me and left me to my business. I ate beans, then fell asleep before I could brush my teeth. That seemed right. When I woke up an hour later, I decided that clean teeth weren’t worth the effort and rolled over for my long awaited snooze.