The New England Trail, Part 6: The Spur and The Finale!
The New England Trail is unique in that it isn’t a single footpath from end to end. Almost 205 of its 235 miles is a single path; however, it also includes an almost 30-mile spur trail that connects to the main trail roughly 17 miles from its southernmost point. Some hikers skip the trail, arguing that the single footpath is good enough. Band Aid and I were determined not to miss a single foot of trail, and I am so glad we did.
Our original plan was to take a little over two days to tackle the spur, one day hike, and one overnight at the Godman Group Campsite. Future thru-hikers take note! The campsite is extremely popular, especially on the weekends, and requires reservations to stay. It was booked when I tried to reserve it, almost two weeks in advance. I had wanted to stay at every camping spot on the trail, but again I was thwarted. We wanted to finish the trail, so we chose to day hike.
The first day, we started from the northernmost point of the spur, returning to the Connecticut River. My first impression of the spur wasn’t the best as we wove in and out of tree line along power lines, both agreeing that the swampy terrain would not be pleasant once mosquito season arrived. We also were flying somewhat blind, as neither paper maps nor the Far Out app accurately displayed elevation. I am hoping updates with both map and app will improve this. But we had our feet and our packs, so onward we went.
With one mountain icon to guide us, we at least knew we were going to have some sort of climb, and as we did, we experienced another moment of AT flashbacks.
First, we came across a lovely rhododendron tunnel, not quite in full bloom, but enough to make us smile with nostalgia. As we summited Bear Hill (not to be confused with the plethora of Bear Mountains), we found ourselves surrounded by young blueberry bushes! Bears are pretty common in Connecticut, so I kept my head on a swivel as I descended via… a rock scramble? Wait, what? Sure enough, the spur went over technical terrain not unlike that of southern Maine (smaller scale, lower elevation, of course). Shortly before we reached Seven Falls and a road crossing that would lead us to delicious burgers for lunch, we climbed through boulders like we were back in a notorious Notch. The slow picking over exposed terrain in the hot sun tempted me to jump into the water, but the thought of a cold beer kept me moving.
Alas, Deb’s Restaurant is a dry one, my #willhikeforbeer itch would have to wait to be scratched. But the Cokes were cold and the burgers were tasty, and the waitress was extra nice to us, even though we showed up right before they closed for the day. Back on trail, full bellies did not appreciate the steep three-mile road walk, but before we knew it, we were at the Millers Pond State Park lot. My sore feet (they hate road walks) and sun kissed skin had never seen such a beautiful sight as Band Aid’s Jeep.
Wrapping up The Spur
Rain was coming, and we had a big day planned, so there was no time to linger. Grumpy that we weren’t going to be able to camp, I was eager to meet who had nabbed the whole spot. Never missing an opportunity to take us up, the trail wound its way through pretty forests that made us forget just how close we were to civilization. We had some views, but it was definitely a day to put our heads down and get to work. In Rockland Preserve we encountered a number of crisscrossing trails marked with different colors, thankfully. We reached the campsite to find it empty. With the wind whipping ahead of the approaching storm, we could understand why. Not wanting to get caught in the rain in anything with a name like Broomstick Ledges, we pushed ourselves hard and scrambled down to car. The spur was tough but beautiful, and some of our favorite hiking.
Backtracking and Logistics
We had a dilemma: how to get back to the trail the next day. After our hike, Band Aid went back to his apartment while I had a couple nights at the Comfort Inn a few miles from the terminus. Before returning to my room and a hot shower, I drove up and down any road that allowed parking and could get us back to the trail easily. We knew the storm was going to be a companion most of the day, and neither of us wanted to go back over Broomstick Ledges in it. Using the All Trails app and my car’s GPS, I managed to find a small trailhead in Rockland Preserve that would take us back to trail just south of the campground. We would have to hike about a mile of trail again, but it was an easier mile than the ledges. Satisfied with the option, I owed myself a beer and went off to find it and a shower.
Saving the Wettest for Last!
Hiking in the shoulder season, I had expected a fair bit of tumultuous weather. I had hoped to hike in some rain, but the majority of the rain along the hike came with storms that just did not feel safe. Fortunately, this storm spent the evening getting its lightning and thunder out of the way. Now it was just Rain. All of it. Like someone turned on the shower.
Sweet! LET’S GO!!
Soaked before we even connected back to the spur, we looked quite the pair, me in my Trek shorts that look like swimwear, Band Aid in his bright rain jacket and rain skirt. It was time to play! Shoes already wet, it was time to walk right through the middle of everything, splashing like a four-year-old in puddles. The terrain was gentle as we watched as civilization slowly closed back in. The trail went from forest to field to back yards and back again. The rain let up as we made it to our last road walk of the day and the sunshine dried our clothes. Ish. For the last time, we parted ways as Band Aid returned home and I settled into my bed, even though the next day’s excitement kept sleep away for some time.
The Southern Terminus: Walking Home
One more time we staged our cars. Sure, we could walk the three miles down to the water and back, that was an easy day. But my body was done hiking. Six months after I summited Mt. Katahdin, I was done hiking for the moment. The last miles led us through the idyllic New England town of Guilford. Tiny Cape houses with pretty cottage gardens. Colonial history landmarks. One more lone chimney where a homestead once stood. Through the Amtrak station where many NOBO hikers arrived to start their journey. Across one youth soccer field where a boardwalk curved gracefully through the cattails. And then there she was. Mama Ocean, at least in part. I could just make out Long Island landmarks as I waddled to the water’s edge, not wanting the wet sand to suck my shoes in as a final joke. The storm left the beach full of treasures in the form of shells and sea glass.
Souvenirs for a journey that had come to an end.
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