After being well fed and rested for a zero day at home, I decided to increase my daily hiking mileage for the next ten days. Much of the trail would be familiar as I had hiked prep for MA and VT in 2021.
Here is the summary :
Day 40: Zero days at home (0 miles)
Day 41: Rte 20, Becket MA to Kay Wood Shelter, MA (16 miles)
Day 42: Kay Wood Shelter, MA to Mark Noepel Shelter (16 miles)
Day 43: Mark Noepel Shelter, MA to Congdon Shelter, VT (24 miles)
Zero days at home
The comforts of home with fresh food, family time and a familiar bed turned out as wonderful as expected. When I stood on the scale, I discovered that I had lost – yuck! – seventeen pounds in my first thirty-nine days of trail! (I would have three hot dogs in addition to a full chicken dinner that night.)
I was also surprised at how quickly my day zero passed. Between gear swapping, laundry, air drying and restocking, late afternoon was coming fast – and I’d be back on the trail in the morning! A BIG plus: I traded in my battered Hoka Anacapa boots for a new pair. They had performed fantastically for 700 miles, but the soles had turned to mush.
A beautiful return to the woods of Massachusetts
Day 41 brought temperatures in the 80s to western Massachusetts, but I stayed quite cool on my way to Kay Wood Shelter. The trees hid me from the direct sun, and a light breeze graced the ridges where much of the AT ran. At first, I was treated to a pleasant view of Finerty Pond:
At lunchtime, I was meeting a crew of trail volunteers who were finishing up a maintenance effort at October Mountain Shelter. They had moved the restroom to a new location and recolored the picnic table. Please thank these wonderful helpers (like me) every time you see them on the trail. Their hard work makes the AT hike more enjoyable for all of us!
Massachusetts wants to steal (or dismantle) my poles!
One weird thing I noticed about hiking this section of the AT was the number of times a trekking pole got stuck behind me. It might have happened once every few days in Connecticut, but now I was being pulled back fifteen or more times a day! Once my pole came loose in the middle – something that hadn’t happened since the first day of my hike!
I can only attribute this to the beautiful, healthy forests I’ve hiked here:
Many sections of the trail around Dalton and Cheshire had hundred foot trees and the trails were crisscrossed with roots. In fact, the Mass Pike North AT is a “particularly rooted route.”
And more reflection on the poles
I admit it: I have a love/hate relationship with my walking sticks. Being a day hiker, I would actually like never used until my AT 2021 prep hikes. But I immediately found them quite useful for:
- Moderately steep climbs with a full pack
- Steep rocky descents to provide additional reinforcement points against the weight of the pack
- Spread branches and plants when the path gets really narrow
But sometimes those long metal skewers drive me crazy! Like when they start picking up leaves like those trash picking sticks a park worker uses. Or when you have to throw them in front of you because they are an obstacle on steep rocks.
But my biggest complaint: the trekking poles absolutely refuse stand ! Here’s a rare photo of them behaving well (but it may only be temporary):
Postulate of the High Road trekking pole
Which brings us to something I call “the High Road hiking pole postulate”:
Trekking poles leaning against a flat surface (such as a tree, rock, or wall) will cause one or more poles to fall over 70% of the time.
It’s so frustrating that I usually don’t bother trying to lift my trekking poles. I immediately throw them on the ground. At least I know where they’re going to land!
And of course there is the winter corollary to this postulate, involving the cousins of trekking poles: ski poles.
Ski poles driven into the snow for the purpose of keeping them upright will cause one or more poles to fall over 70% of the time.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Hit them once in the snow, then twice, then a third time. Then you slowly pull your gloved hands back, hands open as if you were about to read a crystal ball. And you think you’re fine. But then you turn to something else, and…. fiasco!
Later, on day 41, I encountered a family of hikers returning to their car. After mom snapped a quick family photo, the ten-year-old burst into an a capella version of “Never Gonna Give You Up.” By the way, I said “Nice Singing!”
Her mum laughed saying “She’s been on a kick from Rick Astley lately!” (Yes, there are unanswered questions about how a ten-year-old in 2022 becomes addicted to an underage star’s hit song from 1987, but let that pass.)
To this, I could only reply “Oh, wow”, which was my way of conveying my sympathy to mom and the other family members who had to endure this “kick”. Well, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know exactly what happened next. My non-stop music-playing brain took over, and I had the Motown voice of British Howdy Doody ringing in my head for over an hour. Luckily I only know two Astley songs (Together Forever was the other) or it may have gone on for hours and hours!
And a surprise visitor!
And while this incident was memorable, the most memorable moment of the day (and perhaps the trip so far!) occurred at 6 p.m. My Japanese friend Shingo, who I had heard was not on the trail, approached the picnic table looking great! I was overjoyed! I said I was worried about his health based on reports from other hikers. He shared a few more details with me, but it was just great to see him back on the track!
Through Dalton and Cheshire
On Day 42, the trail meandered through wooded areas and streets in Dalton and Cheshire in western Massachusetts. Dalton was a particularly charming little town, full of neatly decorated old houses. I even got a chance to meet Tom Levardi, the Depot Street resident who gives hikers water and a camping space at his house. We had a nice conversation.
I found out that Cheshire also has a Cobble AT climb, with a nice view over the city. One of the mysteries was why the rocks at the top gave off that powdery white sand. This was on all rocky surfaces, and even on the trail itself:
My current theory is that it’s gypsum, which is fairly commonly found on land – but I don’t see it often when hiking. If anyone can help solve this mystery, please do.
I really wanted to put in a big day of mileage climbing and over Mount Greylock but the weather didn’t cooperate as heavy rain arrived at noon. I took refuge at Father Tom’s campsite in Cheshire and decided to only do 15 miles stopping at the Mark Noepel Shelter on the next ridge.
And yes, given this name of refuge which I immediately thought of Mark Knopfler, frontman of Dire Straits. Needless to say, my musical brain played Sultans of Swing, Skateaway and Money For Nothing on repeat all the way to the shelter!
Gray Greylock turns blue
So I decided on day 43 to attempt my big mileage day. The forecast said the rain would clear up that morning, which would make for a good day hike. I would have to climb and cross Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts, through North Adams and into Vermont for a total of 24 miles. I had a tremendous degree of confidence that I could do it, having hiked this entire stretch of trail on a few prep hikes in 2021. I got up early and found the summit of Mount Greylock to be shrouded clouds and a bit spooky:
As I continued, however, the weather broke – including right in front of my eyes on Prospect Mountain, making it MMM for day 43!
I was absolutely determined to complete my 24 mile hike that day, and did it in about 12 hours despite significant uphill and downhill terrain. My thinking behind this mileage push was to try and see if I could average 18 miles a day here in northern Massachusetts and Vermont, knowing that I would be doing a lot less in the rugged peaks of New Hampshire. So this 24 mile effort, added to my two previous 16 mile days, gave me more than an 18 mile average for the past three days.
I had planned to replicate this pattern in Vermont by sometimes running over 20 miles a day to increase my average miles. I was hoping it wouldn’t put any extra strain on my body, but after reaching Vermont at the end of this big 24 mile day, I felt really good! On the way to the summits of Vermont!