Starting New England
Welcome to AT New England—at long last.
We are pumped up and ready to push on toward the finish, much fewer miles ahead of us than the number behind us. We’re not gonna lie—it’s a pretty incredible feeling!
Speaking of incredible…
Connecticut and Massachusetts (miles 1465- 1604)
Crossing into Connecticut was really exciting because I haven’t spent too much time in New England, and I was eager to see what it would be like. It was also slightly nerve wracking because CT is where it felt like things start getting more difficult, continuing to be so until trail’s end. The AT in Connecticut only spans 44 miles, but oh my word, is it ever gorgeous! We had the most amazing weather through CT, sunny with extremely low humidity, a far cry from NJ and NY. The nights were cool, almost too cool. A few nights I had to put on all the clothes I had with me and mummy myself in my fleece blanket, using some of Rico’s clothes as well. It is definitely time to get our winter bags back. The trail in CT has steep but short, rocky ascents, and then usually follows a ridge with beautiful views or descends down to a valley which follows a river. The terrain was different than anything we’d done, such a nice change of pace. The landscape was more alpine and rocky as opposed to the forests and woods of down south. I know the terrain is nothing compared to what we will face as we continue to go north. Although the trail continued to get a bit more difficult, the saving grace was that CT actually had a number of very flat stretches, enabling us to put in longer days and cover miles more quickly.
We went into Kent for the afternoon, a town that has gotten a reputation for being unfriendly to hikers, but is apparently trying to change that. The laundromat recently lifted its ban on our kind, so we were able to do laundry and resupply at a full grocery store– a treat these days since most resupplies are gas stations. Kent is a typical quaint New England town known for its NYC weekenders and prices to match the clientele. Nevertheless, we indulged at the local ice cream before heading back to the trail. I stuck with sorbet due to my developed intolerance to lactose—a rather unpleasant trail side-affect, but thankfully manageable. We only planned to go a couple of miles since we had spent most of the afternoon in town, but the miles went quickly, and we ended up pushing almost 6 miles to the next shelter, getting there just before dark. We ate in town so we wouldn’t need to worry about cooking. We set up camp and called it a night. This put us just 4 miles out from Cornwall Bridge, which is where we were getting off the trail for our NYC getaway.
In short, NYC was incredible. Thanks to my amazing friend, Allison, who let us crash and trash her posh hotel room, we stayed in Manhattan in Korea town, eating and relaxing to our hearts’ content. That, coupled with the chance to see U2 in concert at Madison Square Garden and reunions with some of my old colleagues, and I really don’t think we could have had a better time. People on the trail ask us if it was sensory overload and surprisingly it wasn’t. I think it helped that we weren’t on any kind of a schedule while we were there and had no real agenda, so we could take things slow and as leisurely as we wanted. Of course, keeping ourselves well fed and rested certainly helped, too. Frankly, it was actually harder getting back on the trail after this escape from reality than had previously been the case. Unfortunately, I got sick again. I’m not sure if it was a recurrence of giardia with which I had suffered for weeks, or if my body was in shock from the decadence of city food, but the afternoon we got back on the trail, I could barely move. I was extremely fatigued, and my body was revolting against me. It was so bad that Rico actually had to carry my pack. People who know me are aware that I’m not the type of person to not carry her own weight– in this sense, literally. Nor am I the type to relent to Rico’s demand to do something that I object to. But I could barely put one foot in front of the other, and we had to at least find a flat spot on which to pitch our tent. One pack strapped to his front, the other to his back, Rico carried both our packs and I trudged along, wondering if I was ever going to feel normal again on this trip.
We found a campsite less than three miles from where we started, and I slept from 5:30pm-7am, only waking up because Rico forced me to try and eat, a feat that couldn’t have been more unappealing at the time. I felt marginally better the next morning, and we decided to just see how far we could get that day. We were, of course, on a time schedule (it feels like the story of our lives out here) because Rico’s mom and aunt were due to meet us 90 miles north at the end of the week. Luckily, as the day went on, I felt okay, although having no appetite, I barely ate. The terrain was fine that day, thanks to a very long roadwork detour where the trail has been rerouted for bridge construction. We made it to Salisbury in time to walk in and resupply, something we figured would be cheaper to do on the trail than in the city. And this is where the strangest and most intense trail magic occurred. I’ll try to keep it short and succinct.
We walked into the grocery store as an unexpected storm rolled in. We started perusing the aisles, when the lights started flickering. The manager told us they’d lost power and weren’t sure how long their backup generator was going to last, so they would have to close until the power came back on. At this point, we were slightly nervous because we were completely out of food, and this was our only chance to resupply and renourish for the night as well as for the entire following day. After waiting for about five minutes under the awning outside of the store with a few other hikers, the manager came out and gave us the grave news: lightning had hit the transformer and the power would be out for the rest of the night, so they wouldn’t be reopening. Rico and I looked at each other, listened to our rumbling stomachs, and asked them if there was anything close to town or nearby, already knowing the answer. We explained that we had no food, and this was the only town for the next two days. The clerk said she’d be right back and went to talk to the manager. She reappeared a few minutes later and said that one of the registers was still running on battery, although they unsure how long it would last. We were invited to come in and grab a few things.
Success. Or so we thought. We also just happened to be out of cash, and they were almost certain the credit card machine wouldn’t work. So, even if the register could ring up some items, it would do no good because we had no way to pay. A fellow thru hiker, Warm and Toasty, whom we had just met, kindly offered to front us cash. In we went. It was like a scene out of one of those shopping express shows. I ran to the dinner aisle and grabbed a few pasta sides and couscous before grabbing a few candy bars. Rico reappeared with three items: jalapeño chips, a gallon of iced tea, and a package of granola. Priorities.
We decided it was best to pay for what was in our hands before the power went completely out. Lights flickering, the cashier was very flustered as she tried to get the machine to ring up our food. After several unsuccessful attempts, we thought our luck had run out. Abruptly, the manager looked at our loot and said “just call it $18”. And just like that we were saved. Warm and Toasty paid as we effusively thanked her and the store manager for truly saving us. As if that night couldn’t have gotten any better, we decided to hike up to the next shelter about 3 miles away. It was late evening, and we just happened to be on top of the ridge as the sun started to set. We had the most beautiful view of the setting sun, with billowing clouds floating in between the mountains. It was a spectacular end to a crazy day.
All in all, Connecticut was short but sweet and really beautiful. I had been looking forward to New England from the beginning, and it certainly has not disappointed us as we have headed into the last segments of our journey.
Massachusetts had a lot to live up to after Connecticut, and it succeeded. We started getting back into climbing mode, steeper ascents with more elevation than we’d been doing, but the varied views and terrain made all the effort more than worth it. While there were many good things about Mass, the one thing that will forever stick out as a highlight is Upper Goose Pond Cabin. It’s a hike-in only cabin, a half mile off the trail, that is maintained by a caretaker throughout the hiking season. It’s a lovely red cabin, fully equipped with a kitchen, a fireplace, a front porch with rocking chairs, and a bunk room for hikers. While we didn’t stay there, we got there in the morning, unfortunately missing the daily pancake breakfast, but were consoled with leftover tea and coffee on the porch before taking a canoe out on the pond. The sun was out, the clouds were fluffy–a picture perfect day, the kind you only dream about having on the AT. We relaxed the day away, soaking up the serenity of the pond before begrudgingly moving on. To date, that was my favorite day on the trail. I’m starting to really embrace a carefree, carpe dime mentality out here– only took 1600 miles!–and I’ve never been more relaxed and content with enjoying what the trail has to offer. While I may look back and wish I had adopted this way of thinking earlier, I think it took up to this point to appreciate how much more enjoyable life can be when everything isn’t timed and planned out to the minute or mile.
We ended our time in Massachusetts with a visit from Rico’s parents and Aunt Wendy from NY. A mountain girl born and raised, she lives in upstate New York and we love going to visit her in the beautiful Adirondack mountains, though we never get up there as often as we’d like. So, it was super special to see her out here on the trail in a different but still beautiful setting. They took us off-trail for a luxury stay in North Adams, where we relaxed and enjoyed the pleasure of a king bed with cotton sheets–yes, cotton sheets are still the number one luxury out here. We found an awesome restaurant that served authentic Austrian/ German food, which was a great departure from the good but sometimes redundant burgers, fries, and pizza we usually have in town. We tried to move as little as possible and spent the rest of our time catching up beside the jacuzzi and in the rooms. We’ve been super spoiled by family visits this trip and couldn’t be more thankful for the quality time off trail. Special hat tip to Rico’s parents who made the nine hour drive to see and treat us for the weekend– thanks Mom and Dad!
We are now halfway through Vermont, but I’ll save the full report of that once we are safely in New Hampshire. Ever onward.
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