First Day and Already Saw a Bear
I’m finally backpacking and it’s amazing. I am seriously flying high. My loved ones are lucky that I have two cats that I’m obsessed with, otherwise next year I’d be OUT. On a much longer adventure.
Kickin’ it Off
Because the NET is relatively close to me, I’ll be doing it in chunks to limit how much time I have to take off work. For the first section, I drove myself to the northernmost trailhead, Royalston Falls, and, after three days, would get picked up and driven back to my car (thanks Dad).
I started hiking around 12:30 on the first day. A later start than I intended but, the day before, I was working at one job until about 8:30 p.m. and then up past midnight finishing work early for my other job that had deadlines when I would be gone. Once I got to the trailhead, I had to hike north to get to the New Hampshire border before turning around and officially starting south. And, of course, I had to blue blaze to Royalston Falls.
I did about ten NET miles and, with the backtracking and blue blazing, about 12 total hiking miles. Pretty pleased with that, given the 12:30 start! I got rained on in the afternoon but was a little grateful for it because it cleared the bugs away for a bit. The coolest part was the stone walls. As a New England girl, stone walls in the middle of the woods are something I’m already used to, but there were so many on this stretch and they were so well-crafted. It was very neat.
I tented that night at the Mount Grace Shelter. There was no one else there, but in general, I prefer my tent to actually sleeping in the shelter. The NET is the newest National Scenic Trail and, on their website, they say they’re still working on it and that there’s limited hiker resources. There are only four shelters on the entire trail, three of which are in the northernmost 30 miles. The NET also has three total tenting areas. Mount Grace will likely be my only “official” camp stop in Mass. (CT is TBD) and the rest will be stealth camping.
My First Night Special Visitor
On the AT, I saw too many bears to count and, in general, a ton of wildlife. Even by thru-hiker standards. Roughly halfway through the trail, I met a ridgerunner who was also a previous thru-hiker. Even he was impressed at how much I had seen, and at only the halfway point at that. But. BUT. I never listened to music/podcasts/audiobooks on the entire trail. The amount of wildlife I would have walked right by without seeing, had I not heard it first, is countless. Even one earbud in distracts your senses. And, while I loved my tramily, much of the day I usually hiked alone or with one other person. It makes sense that I would see a lot of wildlife as a result.
Fast forward to now. I still don’t listen to anything while I hike. The NET has some very populated areas but, as a whole, is certainly less traversed. My first day on trail and I saw not a (human) soul.
I happily settled into my solo camp spot: I made dinner, had enough service to send some texts, cleaned up, etc. My last steps, per usual, were storing my bear canister, taking out my contacts, and curling up in my sleeping quilt to do my favorite nightly tent routine: look at the map.
Then, because my rainfly was open, I thought I saw a blur of black out the front door of my tent. Of course, my contacts were already out. My eyesight isn’t terrible: bad enough where I need glasses/contacts, but not so bad where I’m blind without. But it was bad enough to spoil getting a good look. My first thought was no, couldn’t be. Then I heard it. Distinctly bear. Definitely trying to get my food. I had chosen to use my hard sided bear canister for this hike, so I chilled out in my tent listening to the bear play with my canister and just hoped it would be easy enough to find the next day.
The bear gave up and moved on relatively quickly. It grew quiet and I had zero problems going to sleep. I easily recovered my canister the next morning only about 20 feet from where I had left it. The bear population has gone up in these states recently and, knowing my quiet, solo, sans earbuds hiking style, I kind of thought I’d encounter one at some point on this hike. I did not, however, expect it on the first night.
My second day was, if possible, even more pleasant than the first. I was feeling so good I ended up doing 20 miles. The weather was nice and there were some really pretty views. I found an awesome stealth camping site right next to a brook and went to sleep to the sound of rushing water and woke up to two flirting squirrels chasing each other three feet out my tent door. It was wonderful.
Feminist Hiker Comin’ At Ya
The whole 20 miles I saw exactly two other hikers. Both women. Both backpacking solo. Which is frickin’ awesome. I could probably write a whole book on the sexism I faced doing the AT and the sexism I continually face in this “dangerous for women” hobby. Factually and statistically, backpacking is actually my safest hobby, but it’s the only one that people express concern of my safety over. So, seeing two other fellow women out there doing the dang thing, pumped me up.
The third day I didn’t get up until about 8:30, which is late for me; in my day-to-day life I usually get up at around 6:00. But I was so cozy and relaxed, so I just stayed in my tent and snoozed longer. I got hiking a little after 9:00, which only gave me a few hours as I was getting picked up around noon.
The night before, I had called my Dad and we were able to set up a pick-up spot. We chose Jennings Road because it’s actually a section of the trail that has a few miles long road walk. Which meant our timing didn’t have to be exact and neither one of us would have to wait for the other because my Dad could just drive the road until he found me. It ended up working out perfectly.
I did a short, eight-ish miles I did on the third day and it was amazing. The mountain laurels were in peak bloom and the trail was absolutely stunning. Mazes and mazes of flowers. Just amazing.
What’s Changed and What’s Coming Up
I’m only off trail for a couple of days for a few obligations at home. The next leg I’m planning should be a four-day stretch, but I’m trying to stay flexible and enjoy myself. I originally thought I’d do the trail relatively quickly, but I’ve already changed my mind. I have all summer to hike all the miles of this trail and I have no need to rush through it.
The first stretch was so great and I can’t wait for the next bit! And, if you want to follow my photo journey, I post photos and videos pretty regularly on my instagram: @sidewinder_explores
Happy hiking! – Sidewinder
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