Back to back twenties

Day 60
We woke up feeling fully refreshed and well rested.  Taking a zero did wonders for our body and mind.  We packed up, moved our packs to the porch and then enjoyed fresh brewed coffee and pancakes again.  Unfortunately, no one brought blueberries today but we are still grateful for the free breakfast.  We were back on trail a little after 8AM and ready to go.
We cruised through our morning section noting the numerous orange salamanders crossing the trail.  We passed along a boardwalk through wetlands that featured lovely wildflowers.  Shortly after, we arrived at our lunch spot.  A snack stand outside of a nearby house stocked with cold drinks, chips, candy, and ice cream sandwiches for purchase. The owner also provides a power strip to charge devices.  A great spot for lunch!
Over the next 8 miles we climbed up and down several PUDS but still making good time.  We noted a few sections looked like fall with the changing leaves but more likely severally impacted by the drought. They had a fair amount of shriveled brown leaves mixed with the bright yellows.  It is started to smell like fall with the decaying leaves.
We arrived our destination earlier than expected and contemplated what to do next.  Pushing on a few more miles means that we’ll have an easier time getting in and out of town on Friday.  Mostof our decisions are based on food but we also felt refreshed from our time off. This proved to be a good decision as a few miles later we hit a full water cache (water in jugs left by trail angels).  We filled up, happy we didn’t have to drink the stagnant beaver pond water. Shortly after this we found more magic at a road crossing: apples, Gatorade, and a soda!
We cruised into our new destination and high fives at the completion of our first 20+ mile day.  Surprisingly we opted to stay in the shelter with it’s unique format of some bunks and a loft. We saw very few hikers today and are truly almost passed the NOBO bubble! We even had a picnic table at this shelter which makes cooking dinner much easier. We have enjoyed this new trend as we didn’t have many in New Hampshire or Maine.
Day 61
We enjoyed the shelter to ourselves and it seems like we have passed the NOBO bubble. However we now have a challenge we haven’t seen since Hanover, NH: college orientations.  Usually towards the end of summer many groups of 10-20 incoming freshman with an upperclassman leader will do a short backpacking trip to team build and welcome the students.  Unfortunately they are the most frustrating (and quite frankly hated groups) by hikers due to how they hike and camp.  One of these groups rolled in to camp around 8PM last night and they did not disappoint. They talked, laughed and shreiked loudly until well past midnight (most hikers are in their tents asleep by 9). They also sat in front of the shelter with their headlamps on at full brightness (there is a dimming or red light feature on most headlamps so you can see what is in front of you but it is less harsh).  Since we were sleeping in the shelter we had about 10 bright lights shining in our faces and sometimes it felt like strobe lights when they turned they heads quickly and lights flashed in and out of our faces…so fun. At about 2am we were finally able to get to sleep. These groups are something we will have to deal with for a few more weeks but we can’t wait for the semester to start.  Sadly, we also had our first major gear malfunction.  One of our sleeping pads now has a slow leak and it no longer stays inflated throughout the night.  We weren’t successful in finding the leak and decided the easiest option will be buying a new one.  As always, Hayley found a sale item and we are in luck that we have another family meet up planned in 8 days so we will just have to find some softer spots to camp until then. Eric still can’t believe he hiked without a sleeping pad in 2011, oh to be 20 again.
The morning miles were very easy.  We cruised along a very flat section following a river, through farmlands, and cornfields.  A little over 6 miles into our hike, beer magic!  This may not been best decision at 10:30AM with the heat rising but as our food bag is dwindling we enjoyed the calories by the highway.  A true hiker-trash moment.  Hiker-trash is usually used as a term of endearment on the trail.  Many thru-hikers see it as a badge of honor to describe the lower standard of living they are experiencing on trail.  Some other examples may include: duck taped shoes, general lack of cleanliness, creative ways to eat cheap foods, band aid solutions to broken gear, gratefully accepting food or drinks from strangers. The list goes on and it’s something fun within the hiker community. The hiker trash mentality is something cultivated by the trail and is usually a good natured and lovable term, however some people (Hayley included) feel little ambivalent about the term. It is a term that is harmless and fun but sometimes the “trash” aspect of it can be too close for comfort to the real world meaning meaning of “trash”.  Unfortunately sometimes things happen that give thru-hikers a bad rep, such as taking advantage of trail magic or the kindness of others, theft, partying too hard and causing damage or literally leaving trash on the trail. These things are certainly not the norm but can happen. We just have to keep striving to keep the term “hiker-trash” a positive one.
The morning beer left us feeling sluggish for the next few miles and we trudged along the flat terrain to our lunch spot.  We passed by the Shays’ Rebellion Monument which commemorates the farmers revolt against government taxes and tactics in 1787.  At April Hills Conservation, a non-profit organization that employs teenagers in the fields of conservation, sustainable farming, and environmental leadership, we enjoyed a long break in the shade and an opportunity to charge our phones.
Once lunch was over, the easy part of our day we also over, the next 10 miles included most of the climbing we would have for the day.  The 1000+ foot climb up Jug End in the humid heat proved exhausting.  We were rewarded with with amazing owl encounter though and spend over 15 minutes watching the owl.  This was easily one of our best animal encounters so far.  We still had to summit Mount Everett and Mount Race but once on the ridgeline we enjoyed excellent views and a cooling breeze.
The short and steep climbs coupled with the heat continued to drain our energy.  We gritted it out and arrived at our campsite a little before 7PM in Sages Ravine.  We very briefly crossed into Connecticut but then back over the Massachusetts line where our campsite was located.  We could feel the physical and mental toll of back to back twenties (not to mention a lack of food) but we are now set up well for Salisbury and Falls Village, CT.  Nighttime comes a lot sooner now so we ate dinner under headlamp and slept soundly.  There was another orientation group at this site but thankfully they were camped out of earshot and we did not have any headlamp abuse. We thankfully enjoyed a quieter night than the previous one.

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