AT Day 84 – The Jellyfish Forest
Pomfret Brook to Mink Brook
Water Feature Camp to Moonlight Tofu Camp
AT miles: 27.3
Total miles: 1769
Elevation change: 6506ft gain, 6030ft loss
With so many twists, turns, towns, and people, today was eventful enough for two. Not only that, but I left Vermont behind, entering the great state of New Hampshire. And between the trail magic, fresh town food, and my rations, I ate enough for two days as well. There was no shortage of calories, that’s for sure. Spring was in full swing, so even though there were almost no views to speak of, the fresh look of the forest provided unending wonder. Laying down at the end of the day, after a moonlit dinner and wrapped in the warm night air, I felt deeply satisfied. Welcome to New Hampshire.
I slept well, next to my own personal creek, and awoke rested and ready for the day. I wasn’t sure if I booted up naturally or if a belching truck on the nearby road interrupted my slumber, but it didn’t matter. The day was already bright, and I was already awake. As I moved through the morning routine, two hikers passed by on the opposite side of the water, and disappeared beyond the road. The first I didn’t recognize, and the second was Coach who I’d met before Killington a few days earlier. If they were aware of my presence, then they didn’t show it. I watched them go with my mouth full of trail mix, pleased that my camp was maybe kind of stealthy.
Upon crossing the the creek and road for myself, the trail immediately shot straight up with nary a waggle or switchback to ease the grade. The morning was already warm, inheriting a night that had never been cold, and I hiked through the deep shade of pine trees, which kept me from sweating too much. Nearing the top of the hill, the sunlight caught the emerging leaves of a forest renewed. The tufts of fuzzy beech and pointed maple leaves glowed neon before a backdrop of pine shade and blue sky. Each one could have been a bioluminescent jellyfish drifting in a calm sea, and I swam under and through them, 70 feet deep below the ocean’s surface. Seriously, that’s what I was thinking. It was otherworldly and peaceful.
I caught up with Backstroke and his dad near the grassy meadow on top after passing a maple syrup plantation. The wide trunks were tapped together by an immense web of flexible rubber tubing that carried their sap to who knows where. It must not have been the season for harvesting because the taps were dry, and I could only guess wildly about how productive these trees would be, come collecting time.
I hiked with Backstroke for a few miles through an extremely pleasant mix of jellyfish forest and open pastures. His face was streaked with white sunscreen where his black beard and bushy head of hair didn’t cast any shade, and he told me all about the woodchucks and flatlanders of Vermont. I appreciated his easy company, but left him behind at the next shelter to wait for his dad. The incredible walking through a vibrant forest continued, and I could practically feel the excitement of the new season all around me. It had been a long winter here, and the plants and animals were ready to move on.
I reeled in Coach again after a quick chat with some hiking scientists who were carrying nets and buckets, hoping to observe some kind of rare and unstudied pond shrimp. I wished them luck, and focused on keeping my mouth shut in the rising heat. And it was hot by the time I touched the pavement on the outskirts of West Hartford. It was over 70F in the shade, and blazed much hotter on the road as I followed the white rectangles painted on telephone poles towards the river. A local training for her Long Trail thru-hike later in the summer gave me an apple the size of a small grapefruit, then another trail angel flagged me down from his porch. I accepted an orange soda and shared some conversation, curious to hear about all the hikers that he’d hosted over the years, and the flood that washed away his old house in 2011. Fascinating and terrifying. With many miles left to go, I kept my visit as short as this description, and rejoined the pavement, following it along the river, under the highway, and out of town.
Back in the shaded woods, I hiked for a few miles then found a cool spot by a stream for lunch. It was nice to sit alone for a several minutes after so much talking in the morning, and I let the birds carry the conversation for a while. They twittered, and I ate too much trail mix and peanut butter for this kind of heat. My mistake wouldn’t be known for a short while, until after I pulled on fresh socks and dusty shoes, and started walking again.
I battled a heavy stomach and dwindling water supply as I hiked through the heat of the day. It was not unpleasant at all though. The forest was more of the same mixture of pine, beech, and maple, constantly changing and endlessly interesting. I sucked down Skittles and sipped my water carefully, grateful for the smooth trail and easy walking. At the last stream crossing before town, I knelt in a few inches of water, keeping my shoes dry on the bank behind me, and splashed cool water on my thighs and calves, soaking my leggings and dunking my hat. The delicious chill was the best sensation imaginable, and I dripped away knowing that everything was going to be just fine.
The trail joined Elm Street for the longest roadwalk of the AT. I bounced down the steep hill as mansions gradually transitioned into homes, keeping an eye out for an accessible spigot where I might yogi a liter of water to supplement my warm backwash. None was forthcoming, even at the park in the heart of Norwich so I kept my mouth shut tight. There, I turned east, and continued on a hot sidewalk along a busy road. I felt fast and smooth on the concrete, and wondered what the passings drivers thought of this awesome looking hiker crushing miles on the side of the road. Most probably, they didn’t give me a second thought.
On the bridge over the languid Connecticut River into Hanover, I stopped to say goodbye to Vermont and hello to New Hampshire, the penultimate state of the AT. Reaching this point was a good feeling. Even though the hardest and most intimidating stuff was just ahead, I inevitably felt proud of my effort to get me there. I’d hiked through a lot of states and seen a lot of things. I could handle what was coming. Right?
I knew that I was entering an Ivy League town for certain when two crew boats scuttled under the bridge like giant water bugs. This notion was confirmed as I wandered up the hill and into town, feeling sweaty and out of place amid the crowds of fancy people in fancy clothes. I was more than happy to leave the main strip behind me as I continued to the outskirts where I stopped in at the Co-op to gather my resupply. Finally, I found a water fountain, and drank my fill as I pushed a cart up and down the aisles, overwhelmed and excited.
As expected, I bought too much food, and hiked into the woods beyond the Dartmouth softball field lugging a heavy load, both on my back and in my stomach. The vegan alfredo might have been a bad choice. The evening sun was low and the air cooling off as I scrambled up pine needle lumps and boulders. The rocks and moss made me feel as though I was in New York again, but only briefly. However, soon the sun went down, and I couldn’t see anything to relate to other things.
Feeling energized despite my heavy load, I hiked by moonlight until almost 9pm, stopping to camp near a babbling creek. I pitched my tent and threw my stuff inside, then stood in the evening chill just a little longer, letting the sweat evaporate from my back. It was calming to take a moment, doing nothing. After lying down, I finished off some spicy tofu leftovers, and added a thawed, formerly-frozen burrito for good measure. It was a strangely matched and vaired meal that capped off a day of the same description. Both were satisfying and salubrious.
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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