Heat, Humidity and Thunderstorms
Our ninth zero day was much needed. For weeks we had been dragging. We weren’t hiking as far as we’d wanted to each day and we were zapped of energy by 10 am! We needed a break, as much physically as we did mentally. Nate’s sister Tara said we could stay with her family for as long as we wanted.
The day started at five o’clock in the morning. Nate left the spare bedroom at Tara’s house for the living room, where he played video games with his niece and nephew all day. I stayed in the bedroom for six more hours, writing blogs, looking over the guidebook and making wedding plans with my mother and sister over the phone. I was ravenous when I woke up, so I had already devoured half a bag of mini-Snickers bars when Nate brought me a plate of eggs and toast halfway through the morning. When I emerged from the bedroom, I was greeted by a veggie tray.
The afternoon continued to be relaxing. Tara and I chatted as we put together a puzzle and after dinner she took Nate and me to Wal-Mart where we spent $70 on a seven-day supply of breakfasts and dinners (his mother had sent us supplies from home that would make up our lunches for the next week) as well as some clothing.
We had been feeling deprived of calories for weeks, which led us to buy a ton of food, but nearly doubling our snack intake throughout the day meant carrying a lot more weight. The resupply points were sparse the next hundred miles, but we identified a tiny post office in Tyringham, Massachusetts that wasn’t far from the trail. It was seventy miles (what we figured would be three to four walking days) away. For the only time during our thru-hike, Nate and I put together a resupply box for ourselves that we would pick up in Tyringham. Though we didn’t like the idea of having to head off-trail more often to find food, we liked that we would be free to eat liberally during the day without having to add extra weight to our packs.
Though we could have happily relaxed at Tara’s house for an eternity, we knew we needed to get back on the trail. For the first 2.8 miles of the day, Tara and her family joined us. It was fun to have the kids lead us down the trail, navigating the white blazes. While our family was with us, Jelly passed us, asking if we had seen a woman who looked like she would rather be doing anything but hiking, his wife (Peanut Butter). We hadn’t.
When we got to the road crossing where Tara had left her family an escape vehicle we all sat down for lunch. This was the last visit with family or friends we had planned for the rest of our thru-hike. It was tough saying goodbye, but we had miles to hike in order to make it to Katahdin.
We only hiked about eight more miles that day, stopping early when we reached a campsite where Peanut Butter & Jelly and another couple had already set up their tents. On the way Good Kn1ght, a thru-hiker we had first met in Pennsylvania, caught up to us. He had given up his cook stove and he was no longer carrying any shelter. He considered stopping at a shelter three miles earlier simply because he needed a place to rest his head. When I mentioned the campsite, his ears perked up, and we investigated further (luckily we had a bit of cell phone service) to learn that the campsite had a picnic table underneath a pavilion. Good Kn1ght slept on top of that.
Today was hard. Hot, humid and mountainous. It took us four hours to hike under seven miles at the beginning of the day. Nate encouraged me to move faster, but I was trying as hard as I could. Even with the rest day and the bump in our food intake, I was low on energy.
At five o’clock we stopped at an outdoor shower next to a hydro plant in Falls Village, Connecticut. Even though we had just left Tara’s house the day before, we were hot enough and sticky enough to warrant a good rinse. We were also parched! One water source marked “reliable” in our guidebook and several “unreliable” sources were dry. We had been low on water for hours. In order to allow the sun to go down a little bit more, we spent an hour at the outdoor shower, basking in the shade of the building, drinking all the water we could ever imagine, rinsing the sweat from our arms and legs and cooking our dinner. We knew we had more miles to hike, but we were willing to hike into the darkness if it meant it would be cooler.
Six o’clock came and it was time to hit the trail again. We hiked along the river that ran through the hydro plant before ducking into the woods again. Not too far up the trail we saw Peanut Butter & Jelly’s tent. They, too, thought the heat and humidity that day were brutal, but they had missed the outdoor shower. We continued on our way, up yet another mountain.
Not sure exactly where we would end up that night, but knowing of two (hopefully) reliable water sources between the hydro plant and a spigot in the middle of a cemetery in the next town, we trekked up the mountain each at our own speed, listening to music that was intended to get us into some sort of rhythm. We reached the top of the ascent and hesitated for seconds to take in the view. Then we continued north. Shortly thereafter the trail peaked out of the woods to an open clearing. It was sprinkling and the sky looked dark. Still a couple of miles from either of the water sources, we picked up our pace. We hopped over what appeared to be a ditch with little running water, and we knew we had to keep going. That would not suffice. Luckily, we arrived at the second water source, which was much more acceptable, with just enough time to set up our tent and wipe our sticky bodies down yet again before the rain came.
The views atop Race Mountain are stunning because the trail emerges from the wooded peak and snakes along the rocky edges of what are practically cliffs. Nate disallowed me to look anywhere but my feet while moving. If I wanted to see the lakes and forests below, I had to stop. That rule was fine with me. We didn’t spend a lot of time standing still on Race Mountain, though, because we could see a storm barreling toward us. The temperature had dropped and the skies had turned charcoal-gray. We knew we were in for a thunderstorm and we were not going to be on the cliffy top of Race Mountain when it reached us.
Nate and I hiked as fast as we could down the mountain, but it wasn’t easy as the terrain included several three or four foot drops from rocky surfaces and I wasn’t as comfortable as Nate just skipping down the trail. When it started to rain and the rock surfaces became slippery, my pace decreased even further. It was lightning, too, and I encouraged Nate to only touch the rubber handles of his trekking poles. I was deathly afraid of either of us being struck by lightning as we held onto metal sticks on top of a mountain in the middle of a thunderstorm.
It was pouring and we were shouting above the thunder to decide what we should do. From memorizing the guidebook that morning, I knew there was a campsite partway down the mountain, but it was marked as 0.3 miles off trail and that would cut our day short, both in time and mileage. However, I also knew that beyond Race Mountain was another mountain and if the top of that was anything like the top of Race, we wouldn’t want to be in that during or directly after this downpour. We decided to go for the campsite, where there was a privy we could hide out in until the storm passed.
We saw Selfie hunched underneath his rainfly below the trees as we rounded a slick corner of the trail. It was just hours earlier that we had met the Frenchman, who was trying to finish his thru-hike on his birthday, July 7. That meant he had less than forty days to make it the remaining 680 miles to Katahdin, a 17-mile-per-day average that wasn’t out of the question, but wasn’t easy with the upcoming terrain of the Northern AT. Knowing that he couldn’t afford to cut his day short, he smiled and guaranteed Nate and me that the storm would “pass in fifteen minutes!” His idea of huddling under his rainfly wasn’t a bad one and Nate turned to me to make the decision. I said we should push to the campsite.
We were supersaturated with rainwater when we spotted the turnoff for the campsite. The trail was muddy but still just as slippery as the rocks we had been descending. I reminded Nate to only touch the rubber of his trekking poles as the lightning flashed again. We raced ahead to find shelter in the privy. The side trail felt much longer than the 0.3 miles listed in the guidebook and Nate was pulling away from me. Trying to keep pace, I forced my trekking poles into the ground and yanked them back out. Not paying attention to where I stuck my pole, the tip got caught between a tree root and a rock and when I lifted it back up, my pole was much lighter. I spun around to see the bottom half of my pole sticking out of the ground while the top half dangled from my wrist. I ran back to get it, careful to find a way of holding all of the parts without the fear of being electrocuted. Oblivious, Nate dashed down the path ahead of me. I strived to catch up, but before I knew what had happened, I found myself parallel to the ground, in mid air, then laying flat on my back on the trail. I laughed and called out to Nate, but he didn’t hear me. He disappeared around the curve of the trail. Pulling myself back up to my feet I raced after him.
I caught Nate just as we arrived at the campsite and we found the privy. Nate opened the door and a wave of stink emerged. I was not going in there for anything. Rolling his eyes, Nate knew the only thing left to do was to set up our rainfly. We chose what looked to be the flattest tent site and threw off our packs. Our tent had the option of setting up the rainfly before (or without) the tent, but we had never practiced doing so. It went surprisingly well. Within a minute we were huddled under our rainfly with our packs, laughing as we sat in the middle of a thunderstorm.
The rain continued to pound our rainfly an hour later, so we decided to give in to Mother Nature and set up our tent. We vowed to spend our time writing the blog and editing film and to get an early start the next day in order to make up the miles we were missing out on.
The sunshine poured through the trees as we climbed out of our tent the next morning. We were surprised to see Selfie at the next tent site over. As soon as he realized the storm was not going to pass anytime soon, he too made his way to the campsite for the night, setting up his tent only after having eaten dinner in the privy.
Climbing Mount Everett the next day over damp rocks wasn’t as bad as we imagined, however, we did give ourselves a couple hours to make the one-mile ascent, so we weren’t disappointed when it didn’t take quite that long. The day was sunny and hot, but luckily not as humid as it had been. However, the water sources continued to be questionable.
Midway through the day, I was thirsty. My water bottle was empty and every source we crossed was stagnant, black or both. I knew we were coming up to a road crossing and my hopes were not dashed, as there was a garden center within a stone’s throw of where the trail met the road. “Wanna go get a cold pop?” I asked Nate. He knew that I must be parched if I was willing to spend money on a beverage, so he turned toward the garden center, determined to get me water. The workers were very friendly, allowing us to drink from their filtered water (the tap water wasn’t of the highest quality, they told us, which wasn’t a surprise considering all of the icky sources we had walked past). We each drank a liter and filled up our water bottles before thanking the ladies and continuing on our way.
We made it to the shelter we had set out to reach just after eight o’clock. Selfie was already there, but we had watched him step off trail to find a ride into town for a resupply, and he hadn’t passed us. We figured he was dropped off at a different road crossing than the one he had left from.
When we picked up our maildrop in the Tyringham post office, we were the first 2015 thru-hikers to sign their book! There were signatures from as early as 2007, so that resupply spot doesn’t get used very often. It isn’t far from the trail, but the post office has very limited hours and there isn’t much else in the tiny town. Nate and I ate a snack as we packed our food into our bags and skedaddled. Though the trailhead was only 0.6 tenths up the road, we could not convince anyone in the town to give us a ride, so we walked.
At the next road crossing we were greeted by Ironman. How he knew we had stepped off trail to go into town, and if and when we passed him we never knew, but we were all excited to see one another, not having hiked with him since before Waynesboro, Virginia. We chatted as we walked along the trail, eventually stopping for lunch.
Nate and I were considering stopping at a hotel after a 20-mile day, just so we could upload a blog and a video. When we walked by the Berkshire Lakeside Lodge we all decided to stop by and see what it was all about. If nothing else, the boys both wanted to purchase a can of pop. There wasn’t anybody manning the office when we arrived, so Ironman called the phone number listed on the door. I was off using nature’s facilities (no restroom for hikers), but I was later told that she wasn’t very excited about having thru-hikers at her hotel. We scoured the guidebook and the internet, looking for a way into town (nearly ten miles down the road), but could not find anything for a reasonable price. Nearly an hour after arriving at the hotel, we decided to split a $100 room with Ironman. We wanted the internet. We also wanted non-trail food. While I was showering, the boys ordered $50 of pizza and wings!
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