AT Journals: Cornwall Bridge, CT to Great Barrington, MA

Day 4: Cornwall Bridge, CT to Rt 7 past Balter’s, 12.1 miles. 

The day started with a cup of coffee at my new favorite country store and a hitch to the trail. Standing on a corner with my thumb out was a new, humbling experience. Why are so many people passing? Do I look menacing and gross? Ooh, a truck is pulling over. I quickly limped my way uphill to the pickup truck where a sort of nice man asked where I was heading. When I mentioned the AT trailhead up the road, he pointed to some random trail leading off into the woods, and said, “You mean that one?” Um, no. I had to politely argue with this man about where the AT trailhead was, because of course I wouldn’t know. Me, the dumb, frail waif who just hiked out of there yesterday. In spite of this awkward exchange, his kindness was most appreciated and I’m so grateful that he stopped because I couldn’t handle the idea of walking uphill on a road for a mile. The elevation profile map for today looked like a beast and I needed every advantage I could get. 

All I can say is that today was really, really humbling. The first 5 miles were great. I was riding high and handling all the hills with a super positive attitude. Then, I think I crashed a bit. I need to get my lunchtime nutrition dialed in because granola bars and skittles are not giving my body the fuel it needs to do what I did today, which resembled a jagged roller coaster. I just don’t seem to want to eat anything that would actually benefit my body right now. Definitely tapped into the mental reserves in a big way. 

At some point, the knee started doing its usual thing and the miles felt longer and longer. I hate going slow, hate it, hate it, hate it. And yet, in order for me to be out here, I am being forced to crawl over these mountains at a snail’s pace, gently picking my way down every hill, tenderly stepping so as not to jar the leg. Part of me is infuriated because I’ve never hiked so slowly in my life. (I’m not even what many people would consider a “fast” hiker!) The other part of me is like, “Lady, you’re almost through Connecticut on a lousy leg and you’re doing this, so shut up already.” The doctor said I wouldn’t do permanent damage by hiking on this, and I keep hoping it gets stronger. After all, this is only the 4th day. Baby steps…literally. How is this only the 4th day?? HOW?

I haven’t seen any other women out here yet. There are groups of Princeton students doing freshman orientation by hiking parts of the trail, and there have been some women in those big groups, but in terms of female hikers on a section or thru hike, nada so far. The impact of this on my psyche is interesting. Granted, I’m hiking in shoulder season when there are fewer people out here to begin with, but there’s something about seeing someone like yourself doing something similar that gives you the boldness to take it on. The guys are fine. The men will always be here as they always have been, not having to worry about things like periods, creeps in town, constantly having your ability underestimated simply because you’re a woman, or getting assaulted while hitchhiking. Lucky them. For me, it’s the women who’ve done this trail before that inspire me to hike. 

Liz Thomas recently posted that she’s seeing a lot more women on the PCT, which she believes is a positive effect resulting from Cheryl Strayed’s writing in Wild. That is amazing! The supposed statistic on the AT of women to men hikers is around 40/60, but a thru hiker I stayed in a shelter with the other night thought a more realistic number would be that about 15% of the hikers out here are women. I don’t know what the real number is, but regardless, it shows a disparity between genders and makes me question, why is this still a thing?

So in spite of the lack of ladies and the lousy leg, the beauty out here is beyond. The mushrooms, my gosh, the gorgeous fungi that cover the forest. I can’t stop and take pictures of every one of them, but I want to because I have seen so many that amaze me. Part of me wonders if I didn’t have to go so slowly due to the injury, would I be taking notice of all this beauty right at my feet?

Today I pushed a bit farther than I wanted to. I kept feeling ok about the distance and thinking to myself, it’s only 2.2 miles to the next campsite. Well, when I got to the Belter’s camp, I looked at it and gave it a big fat NOPE. There were widow makers everywhere and a stiff wind was blowing, causing trees to rub against one another and make loud, creaking sounds. (For those who don’t know, a widow maker is a tree leaning against another tree that looks like it could fall on your tent and crush you like a bug in the night.) The entire day, the wind has steadily blown and I’ve been listening to branches fall around me, little ones, big ones, enough to make me jump every now and then. So when I got to this campsite, it was surrounded by lovely old pines that had dead limbs hanging all over them, dead limbs half fallen and snagged on other trees, dead trees that had fallen sideways and were leaning on other trees. Trees were waving and gasping with each gust of wind that came through. The forecast tonight calls for more wind and rain, so I dialed the nearest hostel owner and he picked me up at the next road crossing. Sometimes, you just have to make a decision, and that was the one I needed to make in that moment. 

Plus, I was able to eat an entire chicken parm sub for dinner, and all is right with the world. Until tomorrow…

Day 5…Rt 7 to Riga Shelter 13.1 miles (.1 to shelter) 

Continuing the theme of having entire huge old houses to myself, I stayed at the Hanta Yo hostel last night and had the whole place to myself. The door didn’t lock, it was drafty, and windows and doors suspiciously didn’t lock or close. The shower looked so dirty that I ended up washing off in the sink and managed to avoid touching any surfaces. Keep in mind I’ve literally been sleeping in the dirt every night. But, it was the perfect place to avoid the evening storm and I was thankful for a roof over my head when those first heavy raindrops sounded with mighty thwacks against the old house.

The town of Lakeville, CT is adorable and I just can’t get enough of these pretty New England hamlets. I want to move up here in the worst way. Rob needs to meet Norm Abrams and be a furniture maker out of Boston or something. Before I hit the trail, the hostel owner took me to the market in Salisbury so I could resupply, which saved me from having to walk all the way into town later. Salisbury is a beautiful place where apparently Meryl Streep has a home, which is why everything in the market cost double (or more) than what I pay for the same things at home. A celebrity tax perhaps? Cream cheese and a box of crackers was a whopping $9! I grabbed a sandwich from the deli, along with a few other needed items before heading out to the car. I was eager to get back on the trail.

Today has been my favorite day so far. I think I hit the SOBO hiker bubble because I saw 9 of them and was able to talk with each one. Also, lady hikers! Finally. Having human interaction made a world of difference! The first ones I met were by Great Falls, and they were so kind to provide information about water up the trail and some of the conditions I’d run into. The morning was made complete by the gorgeous plumes of water cascading over Great Falls in the town of Falls Village. What an incredible spot! I could have sat there all day, and allowed myself to explore a bit, climbing up on some of the rocks and resting beside the water, allowing hte crashing sounds to reverberate through my whole self. It’s always hard to tear the body away from such a force, but I was compelled to move on, knowing there were many more miles to go.

In the woods, I saw a bear cub running up a tree!!! I heard the little cub and saw it scrambling to climb as I scanned the area for the mama bear. I never did lay eyes on her, but the top of a nearby maple was swaying and shaking like there was something quite large taking roost. I hung out for a while in hopes that I’d get a glimpse, but she stayed put, determinedly out of sight. The encounter made my whole morning and I walked away with a big smile on my face for no one but the trees to see. People always ask if I’m scared of bears out on the trail, and while I have a healthy respect for black bears, I’m more fascinated and appreciative when I see one than anything else.

Finding water is a challenge out here due to how dry the weather has been. The Riga shelter I’m staying at tonight has no water, so I didn’t cook and snacked for dinner just to make sure I have enough to get me to the next stream in the morning. I’ve been told that tomorrow will involve some rock climbing. Lord help me. I’m only 5’5” and some of these boulder scrambles have challenged my short legs. Sometimes not knowing what lies ahead is a blessing. There are a few ladies here tonight with their daughters. They’re hammocking, so I have the shelter to myself, which is always a blessing because it means not sleeping next to a snorer.

The knee update is that it still sucks and hurts with each step. I am never unaware of it. Every night I have new knots in my leg muscles because I’m walking in weird ways to compensate. Right now I’m digging a tennis ball into an achy calf, which feels about as good as it sounds, but doing that seems to help release the muscles. Next time I need to find a massage therapist who hikes and trick them into doing a section with me. 
In spite of this nagging pain, there is so much happiness in this adventure. I know I haven’t been out long enough to dread the next day like some hikers tend to do after months on the trail. Only having a short time to be out here really makes me appreciate every moment that much more. 

Day 6…Riga Shelter to Hemlocks Shelter 10.4 miles (.1 from shelter, .3 to/from another shelter)

The morning dawned with a red sunset that I got to view from the comfort of my sleeping bag. The scenery from Riga Shelter was the best I’ve experienced at a shelter on the AT and I laid there soaking it in before unzipping my cozy bed and feeling a rush of chilly air run up my legs.

Today there were 3 mountains to summit, Bear, Rate, and Everett. Everett was the stuff of legend, and it turned out to just be steep and not nearly as bad as I imagined it to be based on what I’d heard. I’m finally in Massachusetts!!!! Crossing another state line feels so amazing! The Sages Ravine area was simply gorgeous, all mossy with a cool, crisp river running through. The soft moss and wet, deep vegetation reminded me of the Smokies and made me realize how much I truly have come to love those mountains and miss them when I’m away. 

I was really drained of energy today, so every climb seemed to challenge my fatigued muscles more than usual. I’ve been thinking about it all day, and if the knee isn’t better by the time I get to VT, I’m not going to do the entire Long Trail, just the AT portion of it. The northern portion is said to be pretty difficult and not as well maintained or marked. I can come back and do the that part when I’m not nursing an injury, and I can head back down south and keep hiking into North Carolina and Tennessee and see how much of those I can finish. 

The summits today were hard won, but glorious. Rate Mountain in MA captured me with her expansive views and I can’t wait to see what else the state has to offer. There was a good half mile stretch of trail that was rock on the side of a massive cliff. I could see the same lakes I’ve been seeing for days, but from a different angle. Vultures flew below me and the sun glinted gently on charcoal feathers as they lazily sailed through familiar skies. I met a father and daughter who were hiking the trail SOBO. He’s a artist, a painter, and asked if he could take my picture because he’s painting hikers they meet along the way. We talked for a while and I couldn’t help but envy the memories those two are making together. What an incredible journey to look back on. As I headed on, part of me wished I’d asked for his info. I’d love to see the painting.

After Rate came Everett, and boy what a steep climb that was. The breezes and views gave me all the strength I needed to climb up rocks that had pieces of wood screwed into them, steps of sorts that created a ladder which aided in getting a body up the steep incline. The summit was such a thrilling feeling. Every time I hit a summit that takes some effort, part of me wants to scream a little and just yell from the exhilaration of it. My daily life is ruined forever after this.

Tomorrow is a town day and I’m so excited. I’m going to send a couple of things home and buy some more meds for the knee, maybe some advil and some kind of muscle rub. There are a few things I’m not using yet that I don’t want to send home, like my mittens and waterproof socks, which I know will come in handy soon. The weather has been stellar for a week, how lucky! Rain is in the forecast though, so that’ll be interesting. I can’t imagine what some of these rocky, granite climbs would have been like in the rain. 

Last minute tonight another sobo thru hiker named Loner rolled in to the shelter. He’s hiked the PCT and a zillion other trails, so talk turned to gear and questions about upcoming towns. There are no strangers out here. Hikers support each other and help each other out, give advice about water, aches and pains, best places to eat in towns, and who to call for a shuttle. Talk is easy, and completely void of the social anxiety that often comes at parties and work events. Also, it’s not weird at all sleeping alone in a shelter with a middle aged man. This is simply home. We’re all home and everyone is welcome.

Day 7…Hemlocks Shelter to Great Barrington, MA 8.9 miles 

I am so exhausted. Like “hit a wall” exhausted even though I’m really enjoying being out here. Right now I’m in my puffy jacket and rain skirt with a pile of laundry next to me, waiting for the washer to open up so I can clean my clothes. It’s 6:49 p.m., which means I should be in bed in about 10 mins. Being at a hotel is strange and wonderful all at the same time. A bed, shower, and clean clothes make me feel human again. It’s odd in a shelter because you hear EVERY single sound. Every breath, every time someone turns over on their squeaky sleeping pad, every slight movement in a sleeping bag, every snore, fart, belch…all of it. Ear plugs help a lot. I always thought it would be weird to sleep with strangers, but it’s not out on the trail, plus no one’s a stranger out here. 

When I got up and out this morning, all I could think about was town. I passed some more lovely views where the clouds still hung low below the peaks. Mount Greylock could be seen standing prominently in the distance. I use an app called Peak Finder where I can hold my phone up to a scene and it shows the names of the mountains I’m looking at, which is incredibly satisfying when you see how far you’ve gone.

The trail was downhill and then mostly flat today so I hightailed it as quickly as I could. A woman I met during my naturalist classes at Tremont lives nearby and graciously offered to pick me up and bring me into town. Julia was as angelic a trail angel as ever there was today. I can’t even describe the amount of gratitude in my heart for people who assist hikers on this journey. We had lunch, caught up on life, and then went on a search for bug spray and a legit outfitter in town. In spite of all the resources here, there was none to be found. So Rob was able to put some things together for me at home and throw them in the mail so I can send my lousy heavyweight bear bag home. I hate the ursack with a passion. It’s a $90 stuff sack that is bear proof and it weighs half a pound. I haven’t needed it at all, so I’m going to use my clothing bag until I get my legit stuff sack in the mail. 

Julia and I went food shopping too. I don’t eat most red meat or seafood, so I was looking for plain packaged chicken in a foil packet and there was none to be found. I was also looking for small cans of frito lay bean dip, also none to be found. I’m still trying to figure out how to add more protein to what I’m eating and it’s been tricky. I managed to finagle some things together for the next three and a half days until I get to Dalton. The food bag feels so heavy, so I’ll be figuring out what weighs the most and eating that first. I was literally looking at snack cakes and figuring out which ones weighed the least! 

The knee is just not getting any better. I’m pushing through, but it’s also eating away at me a little. Tomorrow I’m planning to do around 13.5 miles and I can’t even think about how it’ll feel. Tonight I was able to go to the Berkshire Community Center and soak in a hot tub for a half hour. They have a hiker rate and provide a towel. Not having a bathing suit with me, I stripped down to boyshorts and a sports bra and walked straight past a group of older women doing water aerobics in the pool. Ask me how much I cared. Most days I am self conscious to a fault when it comes to my body. I hate my thighs, oh the cellulite. Reading about Anne Lamott and her relationship with her thighs, who she affectionately calls “the aunties” helped me view my own with more compassion. Today, these beat up legs deserve a medal for all the work they’ve been doing. I don’t give a fig what anyone thinks. Is this what it’s like to be 40? I hear no one gives a sh*t in their 40s, which sounds fabulous.

Soaking in that pool felt incredible. I had the little hot tub area to myself and just floated until I felt like I was sweating underwater. Then I jumped out to cool off, but decided to hang around just a bit longer to soothe these aching muscles. The hotel has ice so I iced the knee when I got back to my room. All the towns have hiker rates, reduced prices, which feels like such a luxury. All we’re doing is walking through, and we stink, but people help us out anyway. I know I should probably glance at work email even though I’m on leave, but my body is so so so tired right now. I can’t make myself do it. Town chores take up every available minute. It’s peaceful being out here, but relaxing, it is not…in the best way possible.

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