Day 3…Mt. Algo Shelter to Cornwall Bridge 14.9 miles (2.6 miles in/out of Kent, .8 into Cornwall Bridge, .1 from shelter)
The day dawned bright following last night’s storms and I left early so I could get into Kent to figure out why my phone wasn’t charging. I think the port is dirty, and after blowing on it, the phone started charging again. As much as I hate relying on my cell phone so much, this small piece of technology has become an invaluable tool for keeping shopping lists, navigating, and communicating with loved ones.
Kent is adorable, but gives the vibe of a wealthy Connecticut town. For the first time, I truly felt like hikertrash, but I think they’re used to seeing homeless looking vagabonds roaming their streets. My first stop was the gas station to buy a new phone cable. As soon as I walked in, someone asked me if I was hiking the AT. Alone? Wow. Well, good luck to you. I was an oddity at this time of year when most hikers have made their way south or finished the trail north. I left the station, and headed for the welcome center in town where two backpackers made of artsy metal greeted me and beckoned to the bench outside a locked front door. After sitting for awhile and waiting for the bathrooms at the welcome center to open up at 8 am (which they never did), I brushed my teeth on the porch and spit behind a bush (because I’m not a savage). Luckily the IGA and post office were a stone’s throw away.
Every step in town feels like it steals your energy because deep inside you know how hard the trail is going to be when you return. Walking on pavement is a jarring sensation for joints that are used to the give of soft earth. The small grocery store had everything I needed and I zoomed through the aisles reveling in the options. Knorr sides, mac and cheese, deli meats, tortillas, skittles, so many choices! I headed outside to switch the food into Ziploc bags which compress better in my pack and are used for cooking. My hurry surrounded by empty boxes warranted a few odd glances from customers walking in.
Across the street, I enjoyed a cup of coffee at a local shop, feeling the warmth of the hot beverage on my fingers through the paper cup. A group of union contractors were having a passionate gripe session about whiny clients, crappy bosses, and the difficulty of life in general. I eavesdropped unabashedly, knowing that entertainment this rich only comes along once in a blue moon. I love the northeast so much. People just throw their feelings out there, propriety be damned. No point beating around the bush if one is displeased. But everyone in the north also seems to know the drill, you vent, get it all out, swear a bit, and suddenly one feels like they can survive the work week until the next gripe session. Southerners wouldn’t be caught dead talking like this in public. This type of gossip remains behind firmly closed doors, while in public a “can do” attitude and a “yes ma’am” with a painted smile are on display. Being in this part of the country, I’m home. I’m to unwind and find myself again.
After the coffee, I headed back to the main road and began the walk back to the woods with cars speeding past on my left, and a grand meadow to my right. As soon as I was back on the trail, my breath exhaled like I’d been holding it just for town. I wonder, how much of my life is lived holding my breath? I walked through the dew-soaked meadow before hiding behind a tree and changing clothes. When one is in the woods, you get used to changing in the open, going to the bathroom with a view, and having all of nature at your disposal (using Leave No Trace principles, of course). Being in town was nice for a bit, but it’s crazy how easily the trail starts to feel like home. This is where I belong now. Or maybe this is where I belong always.
The AT couldn’t make up its mind today on whether it wanted to kill me or cut me some slack. The climbs and descents were insane. I’m not used to this. Without the leg injury, a boulder field is just another pile of rocks to navigate. With the leg injury, a boulder field could present an even more serious injury if I’m not careful. The danger of the trail adds a sadistic element of fun. No sane person would be out here walking over piles of rocks with a heavy pack on their back, which is perhaps why hikers gravitate toward one another. We recognize our own crazy in the faces we meet.
Here are some examples of the trail today. There is a white blaze in every one of these pictures…see if you can find it.
In between that insanity was 5 miles of relatively flat walking beside the gorgeous Housatonic River. Perhaps a concession of ease after navigating the rocky gauntlet that was the trail. Just before the river I met a lovely retired man who used to work for Hofstra University. He was a kind soul out for a walk and asked if he could join me for part of the way. We talked for about 2 miles and I got the sense he wished he could keep going. It was so nice to have company for a bit and be with another person who truly appreciates the beauty out here. I will never cease to be amazed at how people open themselves up to hikers. The simple act of walking sparks internal recognition, desire, and maybe a wish that they too could leave everyday life behind for just a few moments to travel this path.
Before ending the day in Cornwall Bridge, I had another 1000 ft climb, a steep 500 ft descent to the road, then a mile downhill into town. I was toast by the time I got there, TOAST. My knee ached terribly as I limped down the pavement and I know I’ll be hitching a ride back to the trail tomorrow. No way I’m waking up that dreadful hill before hiking up another mountain. Thank goodness the country store was still open! They were so kind to me the second I walked through the door and asked for ice cream. The owner said they had some soup left from the day’s batch and would I like a cup. YES. He also asked which type of sprinkles I wanted on the ice cream cone, bless him, so I asked for rainbow. I sat on the porch, eating hot homemade soup and the first of many ice cream cones in the cool fall weather. This is bliss. A New England country store, kindness from strangers, and the promise of a hot shower.
The house I’m staying in, called Amselhaus, is perfectly charming, right out of a Currier & Ives painting. I have this whole lovely place to myself and I’m just dying! This stretch of trail will ruin me forever with it’s adorable historic homes that make a hiker feel more human than trashy. Who on earth do I think I am? The nerve. I am unashamed to admit that a shower and warm bed never felt so good.