AT Day 74 – Pizza, Pizza, Pizza
Limestone Spring to Route 7
Purple Mountains Camp to Hot Pizza Camp
AT miles: 24
Total miles: 1533.3
Elevation change: 5121ft gain, 5384ft loss
As far as days on trail go, today was more eventful than most. Not only did I cross another state border, but I also finally caught up to some other hikers that I’d been chasing since Fontana Lake. What, was that almost two months ago? That alone was reason enough to make it a day worth celebrating, but then throw in a date with some hot vegan pizza in town, and you have something truly special. Not to mention, the weather was great all day, and the scenery superb. Again, Connecticut, and then Massachusetts, made me work hard for all that glory, but again it was worth it. As long as that story doesn’t change, I’ll be alright.
Despite a solid night of sleep, I found myself groggy and unmotivated when my alarm chimed. The day was brightening and the birds singing their morning tunes, but all I wanted to do was roll over and snooze. As I ate some chocolate-covered almonds, I resolved to make it to bed earlier from now on. The snack and promise to do better were the only bargaining chips I had. I wiped the crud from my eyes and got on with it.
Two hikers passing by piqued my curiosity, but not enough to hail them from my hidden spot. Who were they, where were they going? It was a weekend, so there was a good chance that they weren’t thrus, but something about the way they walked suggested that they’d been practicing their quick stride for a long time. A little while later, I was packed up and hiking in the same direction. I would either catch them or I wouldn’t.
The first couple miles were as easy as could be, and I followed the trail gradually down through a forest of tall, shady pine. The morning was already getting warm, so I didn’t need to work hard to get and stay at a comfortable operating temperature, despite the dense canopy above. At the bottom of whatever it was that I was walking down, I joined a road through the outskirts of Salisbury. The witch hazel bushes were an explosion of electric yellow, the brightest thing around in a sea of new growth. Everywhere, something new was growing or unfurling new buds. On the timescale used by plants, everything was moving fast. However, in human time, this lazy Sunday was quiet and peaceful. I had the pavement mostly to myself, and enjoyed the smooth walking and easy looking.
I found the privy that I was desperate for at the next trailhead and made good use of it. I also learned from another hiker that the two I had observed from camp were indeed, the ones that I had been bird-dogging for many hundreds of miles. They were just ten minutes ahead of me. The hunt was on.
I turned on the jets as the trail started uphill, rising to ride the long rollercoaster of peaks between me and the end of the day. The trail was friendly and gradual, so I made great time without enduring too much hardship, though the sweat began to drip from my nose. A large troop of Scouts lurched by me going the other way, and I smiled at the memories they churned up in me. A weekend overnighter with my friends in Troop 28 had always been a welcome retreat from high school life, and I wondered if these youths felt the same.
At the first big creek, I finally caught my quarry. In Tune and Moment had just filled their bottles with the good stuff when I sidled up, trying to look casual, feigning surprise when they told me their names. Like a pet dog that finally catches the neighborhood squirrel, I didn’t know what to do now that I had caught up with these two. I tried not to sound creepy as I told them how long I had been riding their wake, inserting the snippets of knowledge that had been passed to me by section hikers they’d met. For the most part, information flows one way on the trail. I had picked up quite a bit about them, but until now, they’d had no idea that I existed.
We all hiked on, getting acquainted and comparing notes about our experiences on the trail. Who we knew, where we stayed, where we were when the snows hit. It was fun picking their brains, filling in the gaps between my spotty details, and it turned out that both of them were way nicer and cooler than I had envisioned. Quality people, all the way. And trust me, I would know after hiking with them for a few miles.
Conversation blured the details of the trail up to the summit of Bear Mountain where a huge platform of stones had been built a long time ago for some reason. The views were splendid through the clear air, although there wasn’t much that I recognized. A lot of hills, a lot of valleys. I ate a bar and tried to commit the scene to memory, knowing that it would soon be buried, only to be resurrected every few years while flipping through my photo album.
The steep descent down the north side of Bear was much more interesting than the ascent. Steep slabs of rock demonstrated just how loosely the term “trail” can be interpreted. Polished smooth by thousands of butts before us, we chose our foot and pole placements carefully on the shiny granite. However, with care and concentration, we all made it down without drama. It was even kind of fun.
The following walk through Sages Ravine was enchanting. The ground was all roots, moss, and pine needles. The rushing brook babbled next to us as we hiked through deep shade, paralleling the cascade as it tumbled over boulders and relaxed in clear pools. The narrow canyon felt old and untouched, a safe haven for the wisdom of the forest, and I was grateful for the opportunity to visit.
When we crossed the water, hopping from rock to rock, we left Connecticut behind for good. Just four states left to go now. The others stopped for lunch in a small patch of sun, but with big plans scheduled in the evening, I pushed on, knowing and hoping that I would see them again.
I hiked as hard as I could, a powerful lust for pizza drawing me forward. SpiceRack had located a pizza restaurant with vegan offerings in the next town, and we had decided to make it a date. With many miles left to go and a deep, spiritual hunger for a good pizza pie, I single-mindedly powered ahead, limiting my own lunch to a ten minute break as I filtered water. I ate chips and peanut butter as fast as I could, then laced up my damp shoes for the final push.
The hot day and many ups and downs worked me hard, but the rewards were great. The open cliff ledges of Mount Race were spectacular, a highlight of the past few weeks, and the summit of dwarf pine was pretty cool too. The following descent punished my knees and slowed my pace, but it was nothing compared to the last big climb up Mount Everett. Under the blazing sun, I withered in the heat as I tried to sustain a reasonable speed up the steep stone slabs. Sweat gushed, and my heart pounded in my chest. More than once I needed to stop to catch my breath and let out some steam. Standing in tiny strips of shade was more of a psychological boost than a physical one, but that’s how desperately hot I was. Once I did finally drag myself to the top, the breeze was all the reward I needed. The views had ceased to interest me. My brain was focused on pizza, and pizza alone.
With the final big climb behind me, the rest of the ridge seemed comparatively easy despite my hazy, heat-soaked brain. I churned over pine needles and embedded stone, catching whispers of the pine when I cared to listen, conserving my water by sucking down root beer candies. Finally, at Jug End, the ridge ran out, and the trail turned to meet the valley floor with one titanic switchback. It was just four flat miles to Spice. Four flat miles to pizza.
Tall pine alternated with swamp and pasture as I cut straight east, feeling roasted now that the heat of the day had moved on. Spice and Tango found me about a mile from the van, and after an embrace and key hand-off, they continued their run while I continued on my hike. A snapping turtle rustled in the leaves, then a beaver slapped a pond. I reached the van, parked along Route 7, kicked off my shoes, and pulled an ice cream from the freezer. I’d made it. Plenty of time for pizza.
When Spice returned, we showered and changed into our date-night apparel, which judging by the local fashion was just a slight step above trail-homeless. That’s not totally true, Spice looked amazing, but I felt like a rat dressed in wrapping paper. We sat outside, enjoying the warm evening air, overwhelmed with choice. This was pizza paradise, worth all the sweat and knee crunching.
We couldn’t decide between so many intriguing options so we chose four, splitting two pies in half. And let me assure you, dear reader, that they were all excellent. Oh so good. We did our best, but I’m embarrassed to say that we had leftovers. However, pizza for breakfast will certainly not be the worst part of tomorrow. After a walk through downtown Great Barrington to help us digest, it was back to the trailhead for rest. The night was warm and peaceful, except for gurgling in my gut and the noises produced thereafter. We slept with the windows cracked.
This post was originally published on my blog hikefordays.com. Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including the CDT and Sierra High Route.
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