AT Day 76 – Forest, Ponds, And Burrito
Goose Pond Cabin to Cheshire, MA
Crazy Campfire Camp to Ramen Lawn Camp
AT miles: 29.8
Total miles: 1590.4
Elevation change: 5384ft gain, 5886ft loss
With clouds hanging around from dawn until dusk, today was what my mom would call atmospheric. There was a view here and there, but they were scarce as the trail made a track through the wide and low hills of western Massachusetts. And that was just fine by me. The rolling terrain through diverse forest and around beaver ponds galore was as pleasant as could be, as long as I kept my focus on my feet and where I put them. Countless creek crossings on mossy rocks and slick boardwalks kept my mind engaged. Long puddles of mud and deep mats of springy hemlock duff delighted my worn feet with interesting sensations. An afternoon burrito pulled me forward, then powered me away, from one interesting town to the next. Put it all together and what do you get? Another good day of hiking north on the AT.
It may have rained a little bit in the night, but that was just a feeling I had when I woke up in the morning. If it had rained, it didn’t bother me, protected as I was under the skinny pavilion roof. Besides, I was dead to the world, and slept hard for the short time that I was able. As always, I could have snoozed for longer, but felt adequately recharged to face the day. The picnic bench was a luxurious convenience, that both confused my morning routine and made it easier. Nothing was where it was supposed to be, but it was all within reach and clean. I ate some granola and trail mix as I fumbled my stuff back into my pack. After a visit to the privy, I hauled on the shoulder straps and hiked away from the vibrant red cabin. I hadn’t heard a peep from Nomad, and as good as his stories were, I was grateful that the singing birds were the loudest things around.
Back on the trail, I made quick work of the small up and down to I-90. Trucks roared below the overpass, hauling their loads, supplying the world. I strolled across the top, hauling my load, supplying just myself. On the other side, I sweated up to the top of Becket Mountain with steps muted by the soggy beech leaves piled on the trail. With damp earth and low clouds above, the humidity must have been maxed out, and my sunglasses steemed up, even when I perched them on the tip of my nose to provide more ventilation.
There was no view on top, but there was cloud to be found, and gentle hiking to follow. While the many roots and smooth rocks never let me totally engage cruise control, the relative flat kept forward progress easy. Ghostly beech trees gleamed in the muted sunlight, a few still holding last year’s acid-washed leaves even as new buds pointed like sharp fingers from the fragile twigs. The majority of the leaves were on the ground and trail, layered and translucent, creating a stained glass mosaic of scattered browns and oranges for me to squelch through. The barrier of leaves kept my shoes clean even when I stepped into deep, Play-Doh-like mud.
When there wasn’t beech, there were some kind of fir tree. I was feeling hemlock, but that guess was based on nothing other than my uninformed interpretation of the tiny cones and my memory that I had, at one point, seen some hemlock on the AT. Whatever it was, the dark shade and bright moss that called it home was always a joy to navigate. The forest floor bounced like a tired trampoline, and there always seemed to be a singing cascade of crystal clear water.
Numerous beaver ponds were the picture of devastation. Gray stumps of drowned trees protruded like splintered teeth from placid swamps. Where once there had been forest and maybe a meadow, there was now just a pile of flooded tree carcasses. It was easy for me to think that they were scars on the landscape, but so many animals, birds, and pond creatures called them home, that I kept my unappreciative judgements to myself. Who was I to say that beaver ponds looked nasty? No animals asked for my opinion, and none of them cared to hear it. Besides, I’ll take a beaver pond over a strip mall any day.
Some light parkour on roots and boulders brought me to the top of Warner Hill, and I stopped for a late lunch on a flat slab of rock. The sun almost broke through the clouds for a few minutes, and I caught a glimpse of my shadow and the blue above. The Massachusetts highpoint, Mount Greylock was easy to spot ahead of me, but its summit was cloaked in white mist. Judging by the forecast, the views wouldn’t be much better up there tomorrow when I crossed the top for myself.
With the promise of a hot burrito in town just six miles away, I made my stop short and kept on moving. The beech leaves were crisping up nicely as the afternoon warmed and dried, which gave me more confidence in my traction as I sped down, then up, then down again. I hopped across the train tracks after looking both ways, entering Dalton, famous for what exactly, I had no idea.
A mile along a busy road brought me to Hot Harry’s, a Chipotle-style taqueria. The staff were friendly and welcoming despite the smell that wafted in behind me, and showed me the ropes. I loaded up my burrito with everything that looked yummy, including both kinds of beans, watched them wrap it up with great anticipation, and scuttled it to the outside table once it was paid for. To say that the burrito was disappointing would be an understatement. I couldn’t believe how all those colors and textures could culminate into such a tremendous dearth of flavor. I gobbled it down anyway, telling myself that I wouldn’t have appreciated it even if it had been the best burrito ever. I had been prepared to pack out another one for dinner, but decided to cut my losses and get out of there before my resolve sagged. Even the bland burrito was way better than no burrito, but not by much.
I enjoyed my walk through the rest of Dalton. People were out, playing various versions of sportsball at the park, mowing their lawns with fancy, battery powered lawn mowers. It was a bustling town, more so than any other of the trail so far. However, most importantly, Dalton was as flat as its burrito game. I cruised on hard concrete until I could cruise no more.
It was just a short eight miles to free camping in Cheshire, and it went quickly. My stomach felt like a black hole of disappointment after the burrito, and I threw bars at it as I climbed up and over another mass of varied forest and ponds. The final evening descent from Cheshire Cobble was saddeningly steep, a tough way to end a thirty-mile day, but the last mile through a stand of bright birch trees made up for it. Their white bark reminded me of the glorious days of aspen peeping on the CDT in Colorado. Those were some sweet days, and it was nice to be reminded of them, to relive the vibe.
Cheshire was another cute town, and extremely accommodating to hikers. I found the designated hiker campground in the final fifteen minutes before dark, and joined the two section hikers who were already there. We chatted about our hikes, and about my writing after we figured out that I was the Owen who one of them was following online. That was cool, and I hoped that I came off well, as tired as I was.
I pitched my tent in my own corner of the grass lawn and started my ramen soaking. When I dug in, I couldn’t decide if I had made the right choice to not pack out another burrito for dinner. At least the ramen couldn’t disappoint. I already had low expectations.
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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