June 5, 2018
Destination: Glen Brook Shelter Today's Miles: 16.50
Start Location: Stealth Campsite next to Giant’s Thumb at Mile 1497.3 Trip Miles: 1513.80
So much of a thru hike is a mental game. Sure, one has to be up to the physical challenge, but one can take the trail as slowly as one wants really.
The real challenge is the mental side of things - the drive to keep going when everything hurts, everything is wet and cold or hot and sticky, when your one good leg is covered in dirt and ticks and your torso is chafed from your own salt deposits because you haven’t showered or done laundry in 10 days, and when you are so hungry that you can’t think straight, but you’ve run out of snacks until you resupply....in 16 miles. Don’t forget about the loved ones you miss but can’t see! The mental game is real and, in my opinion, the hardest part about a thru hike. It takes a solid constitution to get through that stuff, and reminders of why I’m hiking the hike. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I’m doing and the adventure is amazing! Honestly, I haven’t had a bad day on the trail yet. I’ve had challenges just like any other thru hiker, sure, but keeping perspective and focus is important for me and also hard to do sometimes. To do that, I have to remind myself why I’m doing this, and remember that when challenging weather or circumstances come my way, they will pass. I’ve heard a lot of folks say “never quit on a bad day,” and I firmly believe this. It is often when a series of challenges has me feeling a little beaten down that I am on the verge of having a wonderful experience, seeing an amazing view, or meeting someone who somehow lifts me up. I also believe that the really amazing days out here would not be possible without struggle, pain, discomfort, and frustration. Those things help set the foundation for good experiences to come. Without them, I cannot experience the full joy of a nice view, or a few rays of sun through the trees on a chilly morning.
Lately I have been super tired, so while I have a little energy I wanted to reflect on how I’ve been feeling. Somewhere towards the end of NY and the beginning of CT, the trail started kicking my butt a little. I guess it really started with the pounding that PA dished out with her rain and rocks. And then Jersey was tough with the heat and swamps, though it had some awesome unique hiking and I really liked it. I recovered a bit after that (mentally), and then started struggling a little when I got close to CT. I was hiking a bit with others, which kind of helped, but I was sort of on auto pilot - just banking miles through the woods. Overall I was still glad I was hiking, but the luster had worn off. I was tired and achey and gross and greasy and wet. I think things came to a head for me the other day when I got to that flooded brook and didn’t see the sign for the bypass trail. I wasn’t going to snap, but I acknowledged that I was like some kind of dumb animal, clamoring out of the woods up to a road after stumbling along a river bank collecting ticks and filth on my legs. Then I saw Sharkbait. Sometimes all it takes to start a reversal is a friendly face. And then when I was tired and hot and pushing through overgrown trail and a virtual tick buffet, Fresh Ground was there. At that moment yesterday, I got some energy back and started to feel better. I got a little pep in my step, and as the temperature dropped a bit and the flies abated, the scenery started to change a little and the trail worked it’s magic. It always does. If I just hang in there, the trail really does always provide. The tough times pass and I am given the greatest gifts. When I camped with Sharkbait last night, something about that stealth spot was so perfect. The rain laid off and my wet tent dried a bit overnight. This morning and today I really started to notice a change in scenery as I hiked down into, and then later out of, Salisbury, CT. Everything about today was just awesome, and I managed to fall back in love with the trail. I have heard other hikers talk about similar experiences. I told myself before I started that I would never quit, no matter what, but I told myself why, and it was simple: because this adventure is a true gift, and to fully receive it I have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Just as Mr. Miyagi told Daniel-San not to question him, but to do what he asked, so must I embrace this adventure and all its twists and turns. Never quit on a bad day.
Anyway, I thought it would be good to check in. I know some of my journal entries have been lackluster. It’s mostly because I get quite tired and just end up repeatedly dropping my phone on my face as I rush to finish an entry at night. The trail takes the energy it needs from me - only the trail knows what energy, what anything, I really need. And it is always right.
Hitting the 1500 mile mark was exciting today! I have come to grips with the fact that this journey, one that once seemed as if it would last forever, will indeed come to an end. I know now that it is only the beginning of so many new doors to open. I feel like when one embarks one fledgling goal and it begins to take shape, there is a chemistry that happens by which the mind becomes a receptor anew, and therefore a multiplier effect occurs. One adventure, one stimulus, opens the door to many more. I shall see, I guess. Anyway, I think I’m at peace with the eventual end of this particular trek. I freaked out a bit at mile 1000, but it only took me 500 miles to recover! ;-)
Hiking into Salisbury today was beautiful. The cool temperature (it was 47 when I woke up), the sun, and the pasture with mountains in the background as I walked into town were incredible. I met two hikers where the trail hits the road and chatted with them briefly, helping them take a picture by the AT sign and then a picture with me! The two ladies were from Maryland and planning to hike the section of trail I had just come down. I wish I could remember their names - I forgot to jot them down.
I walked into town (it was about half a mile off trail) and went to the post office. The postal worker was super friendly. When I walked up to the counter he said “I gave your package to another Hiker to eat.” He obviously knew I was hiking and he assumed I had a food resupply in the mail, but it was actually my new tent pole shock cord, so I laughed and said “my package is not edible,” to which he said “he ate it anyway.” Obviously the guy knows thru hikers! I asked him about a place to eat and he told me that the town didn’t have what I wanted (cheap stick to your ribs breakfast food), but that there was a bit pricier food at the Country Bistro. I think he was the nicest postal worker I have ever met! I walked over to Country Bistro and it was definitely not cheap, but it wasn’t too bad really. It reminded me of Atlanta prices. I ate two breakfast burritos, some French toast, a side of toast with butter and jam, and washed it all down with a bunch of coffee. The waitress there was super nice and ended up giving me a cinnamon roll to take with me on the trail! The place was very hiker friendly, and I really appreciated that because I know I was gross looking and smelly.
I walked to the local grocery and resupplied. I felt good about my food choices and like it would be enough. It was expensive there, but they had good options. I meant to mention that a while back I tried those Gatorade bars finally. I really liked them! They can be hard to find, but I keep my eyes peeled for them. This trip I got a hodgepodge of bars, mostly cliff. I broke down and organized my food on a bench outside while I drank a veggie smoothie and a monster energy drink. An older gentleman sat down and we started chatting. He told me that Salisbury was expensive because one year the New York Times ran an article that basically said “forget the Hamptons; that’s so yesterday! Go get yourself a cottage in Connecticut.” He then said that everyone in Salisbury was old and had money. I told him the people working inside were all super young, and he said “they work here, but they don’t live here.” Got it!
I hiked out of town and sadly passed by an ice cream place with no room for it! Oh well - it was probably expensive anyway. As I hiked I looked at the sky. I couldn’t tell if it was going to pour on me or not. The wind picked up a bit. I just hiked on. The trail was beautiful and passed through a coniferous forest and up to Lions Head for an nice view, and then Bear Mountain for an even better one. I met three folks of about college age at the Bear Mountain summit and we chatted a bit before I headed out. After the descent down Bear Mountain, the trail travels through a beautiful old growth hemlock forest along the banks of Sawmill Brook. This section was stunning. The brook is a series of large drops and pools, with waterfalls and moss-covered rocks. The hemlocks are spaces apart, but their large, thick canopies shadow the forest floor. As I approached the end of this section and the MA border, I saw some type of crane sitting on a rock in the middle of the brook, perhaps enjoying the ambiance himself, though more likely looking for a meal. I took a picture of him. Just like that, I was in Massachusetts!
MA started off with a bang as I climbed two steep peaks. First was Mt. Race. The trail crawled along an exposed ridgeline at the summit, offering spectacular views of the valleys and hills below. After this I climbed even higher to Mt, Everett. I managed to get one view off the mountain near the summit, but it didn’t have the visibility or views that Mt Race had. I hiked down to the shelter just shortly after the mountain. There are two shelters close together. Reboot, Sharkbait, and Transformer were all there, as well as a bunch of other folks I didn’t know. The storms had passed over without consequence, and it was already getting chilly so the mosquitos were mostly in hiding. I sat outside my tent on the ground and reflected on my day as I whipped up some chicken sriracha flavored ramen. I really couldn’t have asked for a better day; I was in love with the trail again.