Day 117: The Peak of Awesomeness

Back to Business

We survived a night in the Walmart parking lot without incident. Well, with THE Incident. But no new ones. But by the time we packed up and drove back up Mount Greylock, 8:00 a.m. had come and gone, making a late start for me.

The clocks might have been saying “You’re late!” but the mountain top still wore a thick coat of early morning clouds. I could barely see Mount Greylock’s tower from the trailhead when we pulled up, but when I walked by it, the clouds parted, giving it a blue-sky backdrop. Ten seconds later, storybook fog had swallowed it again.

Gus had popped out of the van as soon as we stopped, letting me know he was ready for business. And promptly did his business on the memorial tower’s sidewalk. As a (semi-)conscientious dog owner, I’d come prepared with a bag but soon discovered the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation encourages park visitors to take their trash home with them by not providing any bins.

I’ll happily carry my own trash, but some things just aren’t going in my pack. So, Gus and I left a memorial of our own buried in their woods. A mountain under their mountain, if you will.


Today’s hike consisted of a steep, 3,300-foot, six-mile descent from Mount Greylock to the Hoosic River Valley, followed by a steep 1,800-foot, two-mile climb back out of the valley to a saw-toothed plateau that would take me into Vermont and then to today’s meetup point. Along the way, we’d pass the 1,600-mile marker.

Leaving Greylock

Gus and I had the trail to ourselves, as usual, as we wound our way down the mountain through the foggy woods. The low clouds and the soggy green tunnel gave the trail a gloomy feel, and the steep, wet, rocky descent kept my eyes glued to the ground to avoid a misstep and fall. In typical AT fashion, the 3,300-foot descent included two steep climbs. The AT always seems to find a way to add a climb or two to a descent.

As we paused yet again at another unmarked trail junction, looking in vain for a white blaze to show which branch we should take, Gus looked up at me and said, “If I owned an AT, you know what I’d do? I’d buy a bucket of white paint and mark some trees. I’d even put some blazes in places where there’s some confusion about which direction to go instead of marking every fourth tree along straight stretches that don’t have the faintest hint of a choice of trails.”

I think Gus was still a little testy about the lack of trash cans at the summit.

1,600 Freakin’ Miles!

Just before we reached North Adams, we passed the 1,600-mile marker, which someone had made from sticks alongside of the trial. Gus excitedly ran all around the marker, knocking all the sticks out of place. Bad dog. I’d rebuild it, set up the camera, and he do it again. Accidentally, of course.

After the fifth or sixth time, he gave me that Doodle side-eye look and wandered off to a nearby creek for a drink.  It was definitely a message, but I still don’t know what he meant. Suggestions?

The Hoosic River Valley

The trail through fringes of North Adams, Williamstown, and the Hoosic River Valley follows local streets down to the river where it crosses on a nice pedestrian bridge. Sadly, no grocery stores or cafes are found right on the route, but the Baptists had stocked some coolers at an AT Kiosk located along the way.

The coolers had the usual snacks and cold drinks, but also had a ton of hiking supplies. I don’t know how Baptists feel about magic in general, but they’ve owned the trail magic scene since Georgia.

An Awesome Climb

The two-mile, 1800-foot climb back out of the Hoosic Valley was steep, rocky, and for some reason, a total blast. The first mile followed a cascading stream that provided the soundtrack, distracting me from the rigor of the ascent. I passed a half-dozen hikers taking breaks, soaking their feet, and filling their water bottles along its banks.

After the trail left the creek for the false summit of East Mountain, it headed up through a rock fall of huge, angular boulders that made finding the trail a combined treasure hunt and a test of balance and agility. These sorts of climbs were annoying in Pennsylvania and New York, but here it was fun, probably due to a 20-degree temperature difference, 40% less humidity, fewer bugs, and the fact that a rocky climb was the exception rather than the rule in Massachusetts.

The Peak of Awesomeness

Even though East Mountain’s “summit” only had partial views of the surrounding valleys, it had a perfect lunch spot. A bright white, granitic rock outcrop formed the floor, large smooth granitic slabs provided the tables and chairs, and fragrant scrubby pines surrounded by a grove of smooth white birch made up the rest of the décor. The trees provided just the right amount of shade, filtered light, and sunshine, and were spaced perfectly to block the stiffest wind gusts but let through enough cooling breezes to keep the bugs at bay.

I sat down and soaked up the sun, letting the breeze dry out my sweat-soaked clothes for the first time all day. Gus sat down, laid his head on my lap, ignored his kibble, and shared the best parts of my lunch. It was so delightful, we lingered as we watched the hikers we’d passed on the climb crest the summit and hike on ahead. I never do that.

Something Different

Our lunch spot wasn’t high enough to be above the tree line, but it had the feel of being close to it. I could feel the AT whispering in the breeze that a gap in the long green tunnel, the heat, and the humidity was coming. Someday.

The birches and scrubby pines promised a different kind of forest. For a mile or two, we walked in utter bliss. Sunlight penetrated the tree canopy. A dry breeze cooled us as we walked quietly in wonder. This is what I came to hike. All of my videos began and ended with “This is so amazing. I’m so happy.”


A few miles later we walked up to the “Welcome to Vermont” sign that marked the beginning of The Long Trail (LT), the oldest long distance hiking trail in the United States. The AT and the LT share the same path for the next hundred miles before the AT turns east toward New Hampshire and the LT follows the spine of the Green Mountains to Canada.

Appropriately, the Welcome sign was surrounded by a morass of sticky mud, earning State #12’s nickname “Vermud.” As I carefully picked my way around the perimeter of the muck (and Gus went straight through), a southbounder hiked up. He told me to expect lots more mud from here to Manchester, about 60 miles north.

Honestly, the mud could have been much worse. I always found a dry route around the worst spots, or the trail maintainers had placed little archipelagos of rocks to hop across. Gus seemed to like the direct route and hiked with boots of black mud caked to his knees the rest of the afternoon. But whenever he’d stop for a drink in a flowing stream, he’d get frustrated until he learned to face upstream to avoid the plumes of cloudy water trailing below him.

Crisis Avoided

I’d been mostly out of cell range since leaving the Hoosic Valley, so when my phone rang and I saw Northstar’s icon on the screen, I stopped in my tracks. If I moved an inch, I’d be sure to lose coverage. She rarely calls unless it’s important.

Sure enough, she’d had an adventure getting to our meetup spot. The comments on FarOut had described the County Road as well graded and maintained. But Northstar had crossed a tiny wooden bridge she wasn’t sure would hold the van, dodged dozens of deep mud puddles, and skirted under a forest of low-hanging trees.

She’d finally gotten to a huge puddle that covered the whole road that was four or five times as long as the van and wasn’t sure what to do. The road was too narrow to turn around and she’d have to back up at least a mile to find a pullout. Eventually, we figured out she was within a half-mile of the meetup, so I told her to stay put and I’d be there within an hour.

How’d You Get That Van Up Here?

After testing the mud puddle with my poles and walking enough of the road to determine it would be drivable, I moved the van up to the trail crossing to a nice boondocking spot. We got some long stares from the four-wheelers and ATV’ers who drove by in the next few hours, but a few cars passed by as well.

I watched one mini-SUV go by three times before it backed up and pulled in next to us. They were looking for a way to get to Risky Ranch Road, an even worse dirt road I’d passed a half-mile back. The driver, who was supporting his thru-hiking wife PUD, had been concerned about driving County Road until he seen that we’d gotten our van up here and over that bridge.  That gave Northstar a little, much-needed confidence boost about her driving skills.

PUD was meeting her tramily, which included Thriller, who I last saw in New Jersey, if it’s the same person. They were resupplying her crew, and then would come back in the morning to hike north together. After hearing my description of Risky Ranch Road, they decided to hike the half mile down the trail rather than trying to drive.

A Quiet Night

Other than the ATV’s that continued to roar past every so often until 11:00 p.m., we had a nice quiet night in the dark woods, a welcome change from the Walmart parking lots. I slept like a rock, dreaming of State #12 and what would come next.

Daily Stats

  • Start: Mt. Greylock (Mile 1,594.3)
  • End: County Road (Mile 1,607.8)
  • Weather: Puffy clouds, breezy, cool.
  • Earworm: Hey, Hey, what’s the matter with … Come and Get Your Love
  • Meditation: Mt. 6:33 (Thanks, Homeward)
  • Plant of the Day: Purple-Flowered Raspberry
  • Goal: 1,600 mile mark and Vermont!!
  • Best Thing: A magnificent lunch spot
  • Worst Thing: Mud

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Comments 6

  • thetentman : Aug 15th

    A whole state of mud. Sounds like fun.

    • Jon : Aug 16th

      Type 2 fun for sure. My shoes are trashed.

  • Smitty : Aug 15th

    Finally a decent earworm. I love the top of Greylock a park on a giant hill. I’ve been on it covered in ice then went home and mowed my lawn in a T-shirt

    • Jon : Aug 16th


  • Homeward : Aug 16th

    I think Gus was showing his disdain at a mere 1600 miles and expressing his growing excitement at what was still to come.
    Hike on, my brother!

    • Jon : Aug 16th

      That’s it!


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