Monthly Archives: September 2013

Day 194: Dalton

Kay Wood Shelter [mile 1641.5; SOBO 623.1]

You know what I miss? Jeans. Ratty old soft cotton jeans. And cotton teeshirts. Cotton. The fabric of your life! So ironic. “The fabric of your life,” yet “Cotton kills.” Which is obscure humor, to say the least—but somebody out there laughed, I’m almost sure of it.

I was up with the roosters! Before the roosters, actually. Well, actually, there were no roosters. I packed up my tent by shy moonlight, the moon hiding up behind the trees. By 6:24 I was on the trail with my headlamp, carefully picking out the trail from all the other trail-like gaps in the trees, all of it blanketed under red-brown leaves. The trail here is very well blazed, though.

The morning turned blue and warm, complete with buzzing mosquitoes (state bird!) and plenty of sun. On one long downhill, a deer bounded up and away to my left. At least, I think it was a deer; I saw the glint of white as it ran, and it was too fast and uncreepy to be a porcupine. “Run, deer!” I said! Because deer season opens any minute now. The smart deer are immigrating to places where they won’t be eaten.

At around 9:30 I made it into Dalton.

I love Dalton! When I win the lottery, I might have to move there. It’s another perfect New England town—red-gold leaves, pumpkins, corn stalks; clapboard houses, crisp air, and the ruddy mountains rising in the background.

I had coffee and breakfast at the local coffee joint. They were patient enough not to kick me out while my phone charged, and they made a decent breakfast burrito.

After that I resupplied. That was a little tricky. There’s no grocery store in Dalton, and the two choices were a pair of convenience stores. (At least they were open!) One was better than the other, although I had to make some substitutions on the fly, which usually means I buy more than I need.

Then back into the woods! It’s so pretty here. I love autumn. The side trail down to the shelter wasn’t blazed, so I’ll have to be careful tomorrow; with the fallen leaves it’s easy to lose the path. In fact, I lost it when I went down for water. (No fish in the water today, by the way.) These days I’m always looking behind me to see how the trail’s going to appear in the morning dark. There was one spot that looked questionable to me, so I actually tied a little cord around a tree to show me the right direction—homemade blazing, if you will.

While I was scoping out the shelter, a local guy showed up. He comes here to eat his lunch sometimes. Nice guy! He said that as far as the rest of the state goes, Dalton’s in Vermont. Also, he said he loves to snowshoe. Maybe that’s a snow thing I could do! Except then somebody else said it sucks, so maybe not.

Part of my nightly ritual now includes gear taping, sewing, and patching. Today the button on my pants came loose. Also, I taped up some rips in my pack cover where my poles poked through, and I patched my pack where my tent poles have managed to scratch a hole. Last night I put another patch on my tent.

Do I lead an exciting life, or what?

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 6 Comments

Day 193: Gangin’ aglae

Crystal Something-or-Other tentsite [mile 1634.3; SOBO 615.9]

I should know where I’m tenting, but I threw away the page from the guide. Threw it away? you say. You live in a tent! Does your tent now have trash service? No, my friend; no, it does not. But the page is crumpled and squeezed and packed and stowed, and I’m feeling lazier than Jabba the Hut minus the minions.

Today went ass-up early.

It started well enough. I slept like the dead with my wonderful old-new setup. One nightmare, but that’s typical when I switch from sleeping around other people to sleeping alone. I have to readjust to the primordial fear that porcupines will eat me.

So I hit the trail at dawn: 6:40. I could see the sun rising red through the trees. I was aiming for the town of Cheshire, about six miles away. The trail went right through the town. My plan was to eat at the deli there and grab food for the rest of the day, then hit the trail again.

As the sun rose, the day turned into summer. I’m loving that, down here in the flatlands, although the mosquitoes are the size of Volkswagons. Sometimes the trail would slip out of the woods and wind through an autumn-tinged field. Once it was a broad cornfield, with all the corn gone—just rows of nubs of brown stalks. I wondered if the corn had been green and tall when the NOBOs came through.

I was almost out of water when I came to a little forest stream. And what was sitting there guzzling and completely blocking the trail?

A porcupine.

Yes, another freaky baboon-faced porcupine. It looked at me. I looked at it. It turned sideways. Was that the signal that it was going to blast me? Or was it just deciding to move along? I backed up. It watched me. This was getting ridiculous.

I yelled. ‘Yo!’

It perked and looked harder at me, then turned at a leisurely pace and began to waddle south on the trail. I went a few feet forward. It stopped and looked at me.

Standoff.

Finally, it shuffled slowly up into the woods. They move like babies with full diapers. They’re creepy, those things. Porcupines, I mean. Not babies.

I made my way to Cheshire. Pretty little town! Picture perfect New England, with the autumn foliage and the pumpkins and cornstalks decorating the clapboard houses.

And everything was closed. The little deli seemed closed forever—desolate. The market turned out to be a hardware store with a coffee pot, but it was closed. The convenience store had been torn down entirely for renovations.

Hiking in the off-peak season has disadvantages. So does hiking on Sunday.

That sort of screwed up my food plan and my expectations, and I never quite recovered. I did my best to enjoy the walking, but gravity was just twice as heavy today, and twice as hot, and I didn’t feel well at all.

Eventually I reached this tentsite and decided to call it a day. I’ll try the whole thing again tomorrow with a different little town—Dalton. It won’t be Sunday then, and Dalton looks a little bigger.

I saw a snake today! And a little while ago when I went to purify my water there was a baby catfish in one of the bottles. Oy. A mean person might have just dumped it out. I need good karma, though, so I sighed and pulled on my shoes and hiker-hobbled a quarter mile down to the stream and put it back in. Take care, little one! May you eat your fill of garbage and create many young catfish! Or whatever it is that makes you happy.

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 15 Comments

Day 192: Mt. Greylock

Stealthing somewhere past Mt. Greylock [mile 1623.4; SOBO 605]

Ode to the Puffy Pants: A Love Song

Oh puffy pants, oh puffy pants,
They told me not to bring ya
Oh puffy pants, oh puffy pants,
“That half a pound will sting ya.”
In snow and ice you were the best
Without you I have been half-dressed.
Oh puffy pants, oh puffy pants
I’m toasty when wearing ya!

YAY! I have my puffy stuff, and best of all, my downmat! Sweet, sweet WARM sleep!

~~~
Some gear babble [For those uninterested in gear babble, which is generally everybody, feel free to skip ahead]:
For winter starters: My current (final, I hope) sleep system is my Exped Downmat UL 7 (R value 5.9), Nunatak 20-degree quilt, down socks, down hat, and Montbell down pants. That’s exactly what I started with for winter ’13, with the addition of a foam mat (Gossamer Gear 1/8), which was invaluable. I was only cold a couple of nights back then—and the conditions were extreme. If I were doing it over again and knew I’d be facing the same single digits and snow, I’d dump the quilt and get a 0-degree bag and suffer the weight hit. I might, in that case, have considered dumping the foam. But probably not; in winter, that was a critical safety backup. (Note: You can’t breath-inflate the downmat because of the down, so you have to take a pump bag. The pump bag is great, though, and I kept it even when I sent the mat home.)

As soon as the temps were reliably over freezing, I sent the foam home. When it was spring, I sent home the puffy stuff (except the jacket, which I’ve kept); when it was summer, I sent home the down mat and used an ultralight NeoAir. I had an accident at one point and sprung a leak in the NeoAir. That meant one night on the ground, and the next day a trip into town for a new NeoAir.)

Of all that gear, the foam pad and the down socks were the bits I’d almost cut because of the weight, and both turned out to be invaluable—hike-saving, maybe.

End gear babble!
~~~

I stayed in town last night, which meant diner breakfast, yee-haw! After my bacon and eggs, I had that miserable two-mile roadwalk to get to the trailhead. It was cold and gray and foggy, and I thought Greylock today (highest point in Mass) was going to be a bust.

Wrong! As soon as I got to the trailhead and started climbing, the fog began to thin. Soon I was climbing through the tattered woods under pristine blue. The day was pretty much all uphill, and before long I was sweating and wondering whether to change into shorts. (I didn’t.)

The only downside was the shooting. Beautiful fall Saturday two days before deer hunting season in an area where shooting is legal; there was gunfire everywhere! I’m sure the shooters were being careful, and I had my orange hat on top of my pack like a pumpkin. I remain unshot.

The Massachusetts trail feels old and stately—not as wild as the northern climes, but more like a land of secret gardens. It’s a little more manicured, I imagine because of the greater influx of people. I’m in the population zone now; there are trains, planes, motorcycles, cars. Always, evidence of people.

At one point on the looooooong climb I stopped for a break and managed to get completely turned around. I have no idea how that was even possible. The reasonable answer is that I inadvertently got off the trail onto another trail or a game trail or something and approached the crossroads from the wrong direction. The other answer is that I’m an idiot.

Anyway, I walked downhill about three-quarters of a mile when I came to a log I’d taken a break on. Then another hiker came northbound and set me straight. How discouraging. Like there weren’t enough uphills already today so I had to add one more! But it was fine. Eventually I made it to Mt. Greylock.

Dear gods, there were a hundred people up there. Some of them were parasailing (hang gliding?), which looks completely awesome and is absolutely not on my bucket list. Mt. Greylock was huge on my AT list, and it feels very strange to have passed it.

My little derail cost me some daylight and I couldn’t quite make it to the next shelter. I had to stop here. But my pad is hot underneath me, and best of all, it’s FLAT. No more sleeping on a seesaw! No more watemelon seed! I have my down socks on, and life is good. 🙂

Tomorrow: More Massachusetts. Looks like good weather for a few days.

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 7 Comments

Day 191: Massachusetts

North Adams, Massachusetts

I never really knew how hard Massachusetts is to spell. Those Massachusetts spelling bee kids—they must be tough!

So here I am. The highlight of the day was a visit from the amazing Javelin! Javelin is a ’13er who got off the trail early for medical reasons, but he’s been a trail angel throughout my hike. He sent me his phone charger when I started to use the phone for everything. He sent me Aqua Mira when I was drinking brown water in the Hundred. You’ve been a great friend, Javelin. Thank you! I hope you make it back to the trail!

So I got up before dark. Ironically, last night I slept fairly well; it must have been warmer last night. At about dawn I hit the trail, and I was booking. I wanted that package of delicious, delicious warmth.

At 8:34, I crossed the state line. Goodbye, Vermont! Hello, Massachusetts!

At first the terrain was similiar. If anything, Mass was prettier because of the brook that rambled next to the trail. And almost immediately there was less mud.

The weather was overcast and cool… gray as Paul Revere’s silver. Eventually the ground took a turn for the rougher. I came to a long descent of rock that reminded me of Pennsylvania.

Remember how I joked once that I’d seen every critter except a porcupine? Well, don’t you know, halfway down that boulder scramble I saw something flicker out to the right.

It was a porcupine.

I kid you not. An actual, living, breathing porcupine! The thing is… we don’t have wild porcupines in Philadelphia. Moose, bear… I’d done a little research and had some prior experience. But I knew nothing about porcupines. Let me share my ignorance!

I thought porcupines were the size of… well, squirrels. Ha! Turns out they’re huge! Bigger than fat cats! They have black faces and they look a little like baboons. And lest you think I stumbled onto an escaped baboon, I used the camera’s fake zoom to get a pic (I’ll insert the fake zoom and also the Where’s Waldo version below). I wasn’t sure how close I could get or even whether they shoot from the front or the back; I declined to take any chances.

After the porcupinage, I went another couple of miles and met Javelin, who hiked up to meet me. He drove me into town where I picked up my raging box of warmth (thanks, Javelin; and thank you, my brother!). Javelin and I had a fantastic lunch, then I found a place to hole up and charge up, and here I am.

No laundry, alas, so I’ll be hitting the trail stinky in the morning. But that’s OK. My priority is to move my feet!

I’m on a deadline. Can you hear the clock ticking? When push comes to shove, I may be the last ’13er standing.

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Day 190: Mud, moose, and 1600

Seth Warner Shelter [mile 1608.1; SOBO 589.7]

‘Moose, mud, and Massachusetts’ would have made a better title. Alas, I decided to stop here at the shelter instead of pushing on to Mass. Five o’clock, getting cold… the usual. I like to salvage what warmth I can before the night turns my pad into an ice cube. But after tonight, no more of that! If the US Postal Service has come through, then a great big package of WARMTH is waiting for me at North Adams, and I’ll have it tomorrow afternoon. No more freezing nights! Sleep, blissful sleep!

I’m less than three miles from the end of Vermont.

So what do we do first, celebrate or gripe?

Let’s gripe!

Honestly, the mud today was atrocious. I know I’m about the billionteeth person over the decades to have commented on the mud in Vermont, but Vermont, today I hated you! I made it almost through the entire state with dry shoes—until today.

Today there were rivers of mud, prodigious lakes of mud, deep wide fonts of mud. For ten miles. Sure, it lacks the inimical malignancy of the quickmud seas of Maine, but today was just annoying. Rock hopping, log leaping—and the rocks didn’t even have the decency to stay put once you vaulted onto them. They jerked up like seesaws then came splashing down to ensure a good high coating of mud on the pants.

A section hiker down at the shelter said the next three miles aren’t any better. Yay.

And that’s it for the griping portion of our journal entry! On to the celebrations!

First of all… 1600 miles, baby! I don’t know how to feel about that. The pressure is on to finish. I need to get home and deal with the consequences of the extra time off work. But I’ve been out here so long that it’s become a lifestyle, and I’m already wondering how the change will be. But I try not to go that far, mentally. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. 1608 done; 578 to go.

[Aside: I hope the WordPress gurus have debugged this thing by the time I get to North Adams.]

No condensation last night, yippee! So last night’s soaking must have been situational.

So the day was brief and fallish and chilly, except for that wonder hour from noon to one, which almost cracked the skin of warm. Almost. There was a breeze all day, and there are still enough leaves that the bright sun wasn’t penetrating too deeply.

The day was mostly uphill, too. Vermont, it rolls. But midafternoon… surprise! I was trudging along with the earbuds in, and I looked up and there was a moose charging across the trail. He was a teenage boy, with smallish antlers, no bigger than a horse. And he galloped like one, too—an inky shadow that just flowed into the trees. He was the first skittish moose I’ve seen; the others were full of nonchalant aplomb as they ate their salad.

Thank you for the 1600-mile, end-of-state present, Vermont!

People say they hike the AT for all sorts of reasons, but really? It’s all about bears, moose, and rattlesnakes.

Tomorrow: Into North Adams. I’m taking a zero, and I’m meeting a fellow ’13er who’s up here from Texas. Things are nuts and I’m slightly overwhelmed.

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Day 189: Condensation

Melville Nauheim Shelter [mile 1595; SOBO 576.6]

This has been a tough couple of weeks, mostly because of the cold. One day earlier in the week I was walking and cold and thought, ‘If I could pitch my tent and get inside and get in my sleeping bag and just be warm, I’d do it in a heartbeat.’ But it was a sad thought because I didn’t have that option. My quilt isn’t warm enough, my mat especially isn’t warm at all, and there’s nowhere to go to get warm. It’s just suck-it-up time until North Adams, probably Friday night. Tonight when I got the tent set up I actually felt a little twinge of dread; I used to love crawling under my quilt. Now I hate it because it means another cold, miserable night.

Hey, but last night I had a whole new issue! I woke up this morning and there was a freakish amount of condensation on the inside of my fly. There was so much condensation that it was dripping down from the tent poles. And it was like I had a single-walled tent, because my watermelon-seed mat had spat me against the inner walls, so they touched the outer walls, and the whole tent was like I’d had a rainstorm. Inside.

Inside!

What caused that? It hasn’t happened with this tent ever, but I know some other people have been having Big Agnes (that’s the tent) condensation issues. But there was another guy tenting with me last night—he had a tarp, not a tent—and I asked him about it. He had exactly the same issue (minus the problem with the inner walls). So it wasn’t the tent. It was something about the freak arctic weather or where we were pitched.

I may have contributed, too, by wearing too many clothes last night. I was trying to be warm, and I went overboard and probably sweated, which made me feel cold. But does sweat make condensation? I don’t think so. But if I got hot, then the temperature inside would have been that much higher than the temp outside, right?

Anyway, despite all that, last night I froze my butt off again. Tonight should be a bit warmer. I’ll probably end up taking a precious zero in North Adams just to get good and warm and knock out any bug I may be harboring with all this cold stuff. Plus I want to make sure my winter mat hasn’t sprung a leak or anything. If it has, I’ll be stuck with whatever I can drum up at an outfitter, if there is one.

Anyhoo… the day! I was on the trail at 6:45 (cold!), and I walked all day (cold!), and I got to this shelter (cold!), and here I am (cold!). LOL.

The sunrise this morning was another fabulous crimson one, and this time I had a view. I tried to grab a picture but couldn’t get a good one; the best shot’s below, and it doesn’t nearly do justice to the thing itself.

There was a mountain: Glastenbury Mountain. I kept calling it Glastonbury Tor all day, lol. There was a firetower up top, but no fog and ice today. I don’t do firetowers because of my fear of heights, but hey, I was on Glastonbury Tor and it was a cold, beautiful morning, so I decided to give it a shot. Aaannnddd… no way. I got three flights up and the panic started to kick in, so I came back down. But hey, I made it up three! Two’s usually the breaking point. I’m not worried about it, to tell you the truth. It doesn’t affect my day-to-day life even a little bit. And if the blazes had gone over that firetower, well, I would have managed to climb it. Just ask Katahdin.

I’d heard yesterday that there was a moose hanging out on the south side of Glastenbury, a big male. I kept my eyes peeled and my ears open, but he never put in an appearance. He was probably too cold.

The trail was Vermont all over again, carpeted in brown crunchy leaves. The leaves are outpacing me, with this turning and falling.

And that’s about it. Tomorrow: last night in Vermont, I think!

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Day 188: Ice!

Kid Rock Shelter [mile 1582.2; SOBO 563.8]

OK, OK, so it’s not Kid Rock Shelter; it’s Kid Gore Shelter. But I kept calling it Kid Rock Shelter all day. It’s kind of a dump. There are three Long Trail section hikers up there with, I think, four dogs. In the shelter. The dogs were aggressive when I came down the path. That’s the second time in a few days that aggressive hiker dogs have made me a little nervous. Famous last words: “Oh, they’re friendly.” Then they bite you! (Nobody bit me; just illustrating. Although the one on Bromley Mountain bit and lunged at my poles and I had to scream at it.)

So last night was frigid: 28, I was told, but that was at higher elevation. I’m guessing it was right around freezing where I was, with wind. Not pretty. I had an alarm set but I didn’t really need it; too cold to really sleep. The cure for that is to get to North Adams as soon as possible to pick up my downmat and my puffy stuff. (Also, it’s some kind of arctic blast that’s supposed to be moving on in a day; tonight should be several degrees warmer.)

So I got up and hit the trail at 6:45.

It was a cold day! I climbed a mountainlike object—Stratton Mountain—and it was foggy and bitterly windy. There was a caretaker up there who told me that her thermometer read 28. Which explained why the tall firetower there was showering me with icicles. The fog was wetting the firetower, then it froze, and the wind was so fierce that it blew the ice chips off. Just like winter!

I didn’t climb the firetower. I don’t do firetowers… although this was a historic one, so I might have given it a shot in better weather. On Stratton Mountain, according to the guide, Benton MacKaye conceived the idea of the AT. I wonder if he also conceived the idea of 2000 jackasses trying to do it all in one shot every year?

I got off the mountain as fast as I could, hoping the wind would be less at lower elevation. It eventually did die down some, but it was a fall day. Cold but with a blue, blue sky.

And I got treated to a big dose of Vermud today. I get it now: the mud is as endemic to the landscspe as rock is to New Hampshire. But I don’t understand it. The mud fascinates me. I don’t know why it exists in one spot, then vanishes, then shows up again, then vanishes, for dozens of miles. It’s like Vermont is a thin skin over a giant underground ocean. A creme brulee of mud.

The trail was pretty. Vermont is making me think of caramel apples. I wonder if summer hikers think of caramel apples here?

Somehow, I managed to do 15. Fifteen miles is my 20—that mileage goal that people aim for. I haven’t managed 15 in a while.

Trivia: I figured out back in North Carolina that it takes me almost exactly 3000 steps to do a mile. That means that if I finish, it’ll take me 6,558,000 steps.

And that’s kind of all I’ve got! Vermont is Vermont; still my favorite, I think. Except for the cold. Brrrr.

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Day 187: Puddly muddles

Stealthing near Stratton Pond [mile 1567; SOBO 548.6]

Random: How things have changed. This morning I passed three section hikers (Long Trail) who, panting, warned me that my trail ahead was all uphill. But the uphill turned out to be a pretty mild incline—barely noticable. Also, this morning I happened to observe that my thighs look like a wrestler’s. Boom! I guess Ron Haven in North Carolina was right: “The Appalachian Trail is a 2100-mile obstacle course, and when you finish it, you will be athletes.”

I woke up under my wonderful blankets at Seesaw Johnny’s lodge and didn’t want to move. Actually, I’d been up part of the night because town food upsets my stomach now—that great orgy of grease and beef and fatty cheese after days of lean eating. But that’s TMI!

It rained last night, too, so I was infinitely grateful to be under fluffy covers and indoors. I got up and got packed, then ate my usual delicious trail omelette (made with cheddar—the food, not the bear—and mushrooms, rather than actual trail). I had to wait a bit for a ride (and I was exceedingly grateful to get one; thank you, innkeeper Owen!) so it was a very late start: 9:45 before I was on the trail.

A beautiful fall day, but windy and a little cold for my thin blood. The trail is carpeted with crunchy leaves. So is the forest. That makes finding the trail (and the rocks and roots) sometimes challenging.

Vermud has lived up to its name, I’d say. I’m here in a pretty dry time (my shoes haven’t even been wet, knock wood), but the trail’s still got muddy patches every few feet. Ten feet of trail, three feet of puddly muddle, thirty feet of trail, five feet of puddly muddle, and so on and so on and so on. The land must dip into hollow spaces that hold the water, like rolling ocean waves. I imagine in the wetter seasons when the majority of NOBO thrus are coming through, the trail is like mud soup. Another bullet dodged by flipping!

The walking itself was good today: gentle ups and downs that reminded me quite a bit of the trail down south. There’s a sameness to the fall features; I wonder how much the trail will change as I go south? Will it be the green (then brown) tunnel all the way home?

I saw a snake today—first one in a while! That surprised me; I thought it was too cold for them.

Javelin from Texas is in town and we’re trying to coordinate a visit. It’s so hard to do that out here! Javelin, I hope we manage to work it out!

I heard a new sound today: geese. Geese overhead, flying south. We’re all migrating, my friends.

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Happy birthday, Bilbo!

Happy birthday, Bilbo and Frodo! One day late.

Just testing the app and IOS 7.

Out into the wild! See you in Mass!

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Day 186: Apples

Bromley, Vermont

Well, goolleeeey! A surprise nero in Bromley!

First of all, though—argh. My phone updated itself! It’s all different! I… I… I’m not sure! It’s just different!

Anyhoo. Did it rain last night? Oh, hell yes. Epic! It may have been the third or fourth single biggest storm I’ve tented in since March. And it would have been OK, I think, except for the facts that 1) it was super windy, and 2) I was pitched on a platform. Pitching on a platform means I can’t get as tight as I like. So the fly flapped like a kite, and it rained inside… a lot. Remember the other day when I said the current situation wasn’t going to be great in the rain?

I was right!

The quilt got damp, but in general the stuff stayed dry. That’s because I pack up every night as though it’s going to pour. The tent was wet, and the air mattress was wet. The only real issue was my departure time: sadly delayed by the effort to keep the dry things dry, and the bailing and mopping.

I hit the trail at 7:45. I knew I was 2 miles from a big intersection and that I’d be walking the 2.5 miles to the Bromley Market for breakfast and a short-term resupply. By the time I got to the market, the clouds were thick and black. I was carrying the soaked tent, and the weather report was calling for a 60% chance of more rain, plus overnight temps in the 30s.

Well, the hell with it, I thought. I’m shacking up to dry off.

Thus my plan’s already a day off schedule.

On the other hand, I’m in this fabulous place that I otherwise would have missed. Johnny Seesaw’s! Oldest ski lodge in the country, on the National Register of Historic Places. It reminds me of the Betsy Ross house in Philly, but rustic: quaint narrow halls, old wood. I want to come back here some day. But not to ski. More like to sleep and eat. Oh, that’s what I’m doing now!

Anyway, yeah. It didn’t really rain. I could have hiked. Sometimes you make the decision and it’s the wrong call. Or a different call, anyway. But I have my resupply, and they’re driving me to the trailhead in the morning.

Que sera sera.

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 8 Comments

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