Connecticut and Massachusetts: Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
When I made it into Connecticut, I decided to call around and find a new sleeping pad. There was a fishing outfitter in Kent that had a few hiking options, and I called them from a road crossing to see if they had anything for me.
“It’s uh… I don’t know the brand name,” the person on the phone said in a voice laced with crackly, low-signal static. “40 bucks, though.” Internally, I groaned. I knew this was going to be a cheap, Amazon air pad that would probably pop on me within the week. But it had to be at least slightly better than sleeping directly on the ground. My air pad was deflating so frequently I just left it in my pack most nights, set up my tent on a carefully raked pile of leaves, and wedged my sitting pad under my hip for the slightest amount of cushion.
A Storm at Sea
That night at Silver Hill Campsite, it rained very lightly. My tent, which I’d only had since March, began to leak profusely. And, of course, my cheap Amazon sleeping pad sprung a leak. That night, I didn’t get a wink of sleep. I woke up every hour, on the hour, to refill my rapidly deflating life raft in the middle of the sea that my tent floor had become.
I gave up on sleeping when the sun started to rise, and draped every last piece of my gear over one of the two picnic tables at the site. As I sipped my coffee, assessing my situation, I felt strangely calm. My new pad was basically the same as the old one, but at least I’d only spent $40 on it, as opposed to the $200 I’d spent on my last sleeping pad – I hadn’t made that problem worse at least; my air pad situation had stayed the same. My situation was only worsened by the leaking tent, but I could sleep in a shelter until I figured out what to do next.
The Whites were coming, though. New Hampshire’s imposing, frosty peaks were literally on the horizon. It was starting to get oh-so-slightly chilly in the mornings, though when the sun rose the temperature would return to its resting broiling state that I’d come to know and loathe since Pennsylvania.
I knew that cold was coming. A leaking tent and wet gear could spell real danger at elevation. I knew that I had to make drastic changes to my sleep system, and soon.
I did the math on a new air pad, a new tent, and cringed. Then, I had an idea.
I texted my friend Casserole, who was at the next shelter. “Fine. I’m ready to join the hammock club. Send links.”
Joining the Hammock Cult
I sprinted through the 50-some miles of Connecticut in a few days, driven by purpose. When Casserole and I made it to Great Barrington, MA, a hammock was waiting for me – along with an underquilt that his mother had sewn together for me and overnighted. We set it up next to the hotel’s parking lot and I climbed inside.
I could’ve fallen asleep then and there if I hadn’t just gotten a full night’s sleep in the hotel the previous night. The decision to zero in Great Barrington was an easy one. I was running on a massive sleep deficit that had started in New Jersey.
I also was able to see a friend from back home for the first time on trail. My friend G. had finished their PHD and gotten a job in Connecticut. Though our visit was short-lived and involved town chores (thanks again for chauffeuring me, friend!) it was awesome to see a familiar face. We hadn’t seen each other in over a year.
When Casserole and I left Great Barrington, I had more energy than ever and was in good spirits. The sweetest trail Angel, former thru-hiker Mama Bird, drove an hour out of her way to shuttle us back to trail – and gave us money for a hotel room later down the trail.
We did 19 miles out of town – the most mileage I’d done in a long time. The hike was improving in all fronts:
- In Massachusetts, the water began to slowly trickle back after weeks of drought.
- We started to see elevation changes too, skirting over exposed ridges. Mount Everett offered some of the best views we’d seen since Tennessee and North Carolina.
- And I slept like a rock in my new hammock. I realized, when I woke up in the mornings, that I was dreaming for the first time on trail. I’d never slept deeply enough to dream, even when my sleeping pad wasn’t deflating and tent wasn’t leaking. I was kicking myself for not switching to a hammock sooner, but energized by the rest I was getting.
But above all, I was bolstered by the new mindset I’d found at the Wind Phone in New York. I knew that if I hadn’t had that moment with myself – if I hadn’t remembered my purpose for thru-hiking – the tent and sleeping pad issues would’ve been the final nail in the coffin. I knew that the hammock and getting good sleep was improving my outlook considerably. But I’d had to choose to completely change my sleep system late in a thru-hike, choose to create that luck for myself.
The moment I re-committed to finishing the trail, the experience became rewarding again. It was self-fulfilling prophecy in its purest form.
My first truly good day in a long time – where I stopped and took pictures and simply enjoyed my surroundings – happened on Mt. Greylock. I broke out my puffy for the first time since Virginia, and stood in a misty gale on top of the mountain, watching clouds scurry across ridgelines below me, bending pine and hemlock trees in their passing.
When I hit 1600 miles and crossed the state line into Vermont the next day, I was cruising. I hadn’t zeroed since Great Barrington, and decided that I wouldn’t zero until Hanover, NH. Not because I was in any hurry to finish, though I knew I would be done in a little over a month – but because I was enjoying myself on trail, like I had in the beginning. I popped in and out of town, grabbing resupply, showering, washing clothes, and disappearing back into the woods as quickly as I’d left them. I didn’t want to be in town. I wanted to hike.
Luckily for me, I still have a little over 600 miles to go.
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