Rutland, VT to Bennington, VT: hiker feed!

Someday I’ll finish all these posts. Someday. πŸ˜‰ It’s like a thru-hike, no step is individually hard, and all you have to do is just keep on doing it.

July 26

(6.3; 494.3 total, 1679.7 to go; -8.7 from pace, -225.7 overall)

I take the opportunity to sleep in a bit; by the time I wake up, Ranan is offering several of us breakfast. It’s hands-down the best breakfast I’ve had on the trail so far — stuffed French toast with eggs Hidden Egg, homemade yogurt, and orange juice, among other things. We eat downstairs in the cafe itself — because it’s a Saturday, we have the place all to ourselves. Conversation meanders everywhere; Mr. F. Gentle Spirit probably plays the greatest hand in determining where conversation goes. He’s an ex-marine, and I get his views on army training (you have to break down the barriers to reality introduced by American mollycoddling, because the kid you’re fighting might have seen his father killed on the streets and be that much tougher, and you have to have no hesitation to pull the trigger when it’s either you pull or a fellow soldier dies) and a bunch of other things. I also learn that yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as non-alcoholic beer, and at least some bars actually do have it, although you might have to specifically ask for it.

Next stops are the library for Internet and Wal-Mart for food. The library has time limits on use, so I have to move quickly; in the end I don’t get a whole lot typed. On the way back I notice a poster from a jewelry store that I think is kind of amusing (if still absolutely wrong):

A long message to entice men to enter a jewelry store
Amusing but incorrect

Wal-Mart is, as always, a breath of fresh air and selection. Aside from the usual foodstuffs, gorp ingredients, and some loaves of raisin bread to carry on the trail and to snack on immediately, I also pick up a travel-sized tube of toothpaste to replace the full-sized one I’ve been carrying since the start of the trail. (No, I’m not kidding, I actually had a full-sized tube. However, at no time was it actually full! I may be less sensitive to pack weight than many, but I’m not stupid. It was just the tube I had as I was leaving MIT, and it seemed like it’d work just fine even if it weighed a little more in the short term.) Next it’s back to the hostel; I pack up my stuff and otherwise move at a leisurely pace, attempt to call home and any number of other places but fail to reach anyone, and then head out to the bus back to the trail to head south further.

After all this slow moving it’s nearly 16:45, and I have to move if I want to make it to the shelter, Cooper Lodge, where I intend to stop for the night, before it gets dark. The trail immediately gets interesting as I head up the side of Killington, the local mountain best known as a skiing spot. The shelter itself is actually a tenth of a mile or so from the summit, a nice day hike for tomorrow perhaps. It sprinkles a touch at times, but otherwise it’s clear sailing up to the shelter, and I arrive just before dark. This shelter is an old stone cabin with bunks and a picnic table inside it, and there are half a dozen other people there when I arrive. There’s one northbounder who’s planning on hopping off the trail soon as he’s running out of money (an experience common enough to not generally be noteworthy, although I’m fairly sure it’s not particularly common) and several Long Trail thru-hikers heading north, including one guy hiking with a dog. The dog is friendly and makes excellent company, although he has a habit of wanting to get up on the picnic table. He’s also great for scaring away mice. πŸ™‚ The thru-hiker mentions an upcoming hostel south of where I am that opened very recently, and best of all it’s free! (This has since changed, not entirely surprisingly; it takes a fair amount of effort to keep the hostel, particularly including sheets, clean, and Jeff was reeallly accommodating.) Some people just like being nice that way, I guess (or they do the work-for-stay or donation route, as Back Home Again did). I grab a phone number as apparently the guy’s particular about the exact number of people he can host so I can call it sometime soon (somehow; I abhor phones and cell phones in particular and am not carrying one).

July 27

(13.8; 508.1 total, 1665.9 to go; -1.2 from pace, -226.9 overall)

As usual it’s a slow start out today. I make a quick trip up to the top of Killington, which is only a tenth of a mile away or so, before heading out for the day. It’s windy and cloudy, so there’s not a whole lot to see. Today’s hiking is initially slow progress; I only make about four miles before lunch, which I take at the infamous Governor Clement Shelter. I really do mean infamous; quoting from the 2007 Companion, emphasis in original:

Due to its close proximity to a public road, this shelter has a long history of visits by local partiers creating serious problems with vandalism and hiker harassment. For the safety of all hikers, ATC strongly discourages any overnight use of the Gov. Clement Shelter site. ATC and the Green Mountain Club are working toward a long-term solution for the site. GMC is working with the USFS and the town of Shrewsbury to limit inappropriate use. Move on if you encounter problems.

Yikes. I’m only in for lunch, but my observations couldn’t agree more with the above; it’s made of stone, and the inside has hundreds of pieces of graffiti from people looking to mark it up, and they seem to be black permanent marker rather than something that at least demonstrates some effort needed to be made to create it (like carving the name). I don’t see anyone else there, but it is only lunchtime, of course.

Heading further south (but strangely only very slightly further south) I run across a note which directs me to another shelter that isn’t plagued with the problems of Governor Clement. I hear rave reviews of it in shelter logs, but it just doesn’t meet my schedule, so I pass by the side trail to it.

I’m making much better time by midafternoon when I stop at Clarendon Shelter, about ten miles into the day, to use the privy there. As with pretty much all the shelters in Vermont, it’s a pretty awesome one. There are two sets of bunk and a picnic table inside the shelter, and it looks awesome all around, if only I were stopping for the night. The maintainers have even installed some flower plantings in feeding troughs to liven up the place! I also grab more water from the nearby stream before continuing on. Next up is Vt. 103 and the Clarendon Gorge Suspension Bridge, which travels a good fifty feet at least over some impressive water. Supposedly the swimming is good as long as the water’s not too high (which it might be, given recent weather), but I don’t have the time to try it out if I’m to reach my destination for the day, three miles down the trail. It’s strange; I’m taking relatively “short” days now because I’m slowing down to make Bennington for the hiker feed, but my short days are only slightly under fifteen miles a day — off my intended pace, but still for the most part longer than any days of backpacking I’ve done before. Thru-hiking really skews one’s sense of distance and backpackability.

Before reaching Minerva Hinchey Shelter I pass by this nice vista of the surrounding lands:

The view from an overlook just south of Clarendon Gorge
The view from an overlook just south of Clarendon Gorge

This picture actually has an interesting back story to it, because there was a very real chance I never would have gotten it. After taking the picture I put the camera in the top compartment of my backpack; when turning around, however, the camera fell out of that pocket and down the hill a ways. There’s nothing to do but to scramble down and search for it. I find the camera without too much effort inside the ziploc bags in which it had been stored, but now an even worse problem manifests: the bags had opened, the battery compartment on the camera had sprung open, and the camera is battery-less! Good luck finding two batteries on the side of a hill like that. One turns out not to have fallen too far, but the other eludes me, and eventually I give up and climb back up the hill to my backpack — only to find that that last battery is a mere foot or so below the top of the cliff! I pack everything up, sample the blueberries noted during the climb back up, and head on to Minerva Hinchey Shelter, passing by a large number of small orange salamanders (newts? something?) along the trail in the process.

Minerva Hinchey Shelter doesn’t have the bunks of Clarendon, but it does have a picnic table, which I use while eating my meal. There’s also a bit of atypical reading material, Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, of which I read half a dozen pages or so before continuing on to the shelter register. (The book seems like it might be an interesting read, but I haven’t picked up a copy since then.) The register’s entries are mostly unmemorable excepting two. The first is an entry from The Four Sisters, a set of four girls (not sisters) just out of high school doing a thru-hike together. I was first told of them back at Guyot in the White Mountains, and I think I passed by them the next day. Their entry draws the obvious comparison between the name of the shelter and the name of a certain schoolteacher in a certain series of seven books which recently enjoyed some notoriety and of which the last book was published in summer 2007; I leave the precise determination of the latter end of the connection as an exercise for the reader. The second is a colorful (judging by his entries here and all the rest of the way south on the trail) character named Thought Criminal, a 9-11 troofer, atheist, Chimpy McBushitler hater, and all-around earnestly (or so I presume) wrongheaded individual. Sadly, he’s heading north, so I probably unknowingly hiked past him today — as I lament in tomorrow’s shelter register, it would have been awesome to talk to him and watch the sparks fly. I think I do a reasonable job of not allowing people whose views I don’t share to unhinge me, but from the sounds of his entries I suspect the same could not have been said of him, and it would have made for great entertainment.

Speaking of entertainment, this is the first night in which I stay alone in a shelter — what’s up with this? I’m in Vermont right in the middle of northbound thru-hiker season (and early in southbounder season), and I’m staying in an otherwise-empty shelter? It feels a little odd, but there’s more to come, particularly once I get past all the northbound hikers.

July 28

(13.2; 521.3 total, 1652.7 to go; -1.8 from pace, -228.7 overall)

I sleep in today since I don’t have that far (comparatively) to hike and wake to see a few other hikers heading north passing through. Morning hiking is even more sluggish than usual, and I stop at Greenwall Shelter for water and lunch. Another southbounder also shows up shortly after me; his name is Turbo (of future Moose-Duckie-Turbo fame, to be noted in future entries), gained for his initial rapid pace, although because he’s sped up less than most southbounders he’s no longer quite so comparatively turbo as he once was. Also, he’s questioned why he makes himself take such an elevated pace, so he’s taking it easier for a bit. I ask if I can borrow his phone to arrange a reservation at the hostel mentioned by the northbounder at Cooper Lodge; he’s willing, so I call and arrange a stay for the following night. Turbo arranges for the night after, taking it really slow (actually not my observation but rather that of the hostel owner). That done, I head on, since I have eight more miles in the day. It starts to drizzle a little as I head on (note the light-ish spot on the picture), but it’s really not bad at all, hardly worse than the sweat I already have.

Rock cairns galore near the trail to White Rocks Cliff
Rock cairns galore near the trail to White Rocks Cliff

Today’s trail enters the second series of for-pay shelters along the trail, these ones managed by the Green MoneyMountain Club. The story here is that the trails in the past saw enough use and neglect by clueless campers that they had to start charging money to keep things in good shape. That might well be; in any case, I actually don’t mind it much for a few reasons. There are four pay sites scattered along the next thirty miles, and with some care it’s possible to hike through, camp off-trail, and avoid all of them if one wishes — so the choice to pay is avoidable if one chooses to expend the effort, which really wasn’t possible in the White Mountains. Also, instead of $8 a night it’s $5 a night, so it’s cheaper, but even that doesn’t capture the real difference: when you pay, you get a receipt which can be used to stay at one of the other fee sites within the next week. With a little care, then, it’s really $5 for two nights, you don’t have to carry around extra bills to pay, and the fee’s actually less than it had been in the past ($6). Coming after people night after night as in the White Mountains isn’t that effective; the people who make messes of the trails and shelters are less likely to be out for multi-day excursions, so paying every night mostly hurts the people who actually do behave well. The receipt reuse idea is a good one, because it subjects offenders to as much cost as non-offenders while not imposing higher fees on both.

I continue on down the trail, passing by the first two pay sites as well as by northbounders Peanut and Wrong Way (why I remember these names I really couldn’t say; after a certain point northbounder names all blend together, yet strangely I still remember these two). Little Rock Pond makes for nice scenery along the way (the sites are roughly on its shore). The end of the day lies at Big Branch Shelter inside a so-called “wilderness area”, which according to signs means that trail maintainers (of whom I pass a few) use only hand tools and will occasionally leave smaller treefalls that cross the trail in place, so long as they can be easily passed. Big Branch is notable for being next to a river in which good swimming is to be had, although I only use it as a water source (purified, of course). The shelter is further memorable for having the smallest register of the trail — a mere notebook about three inches by four inches, because the maintainers forgot a full-size one and only had that available when they passed through. I note the previous passing through of Spanky, Silver Potato and Cracker, and The Honeymooners and resolve to catch up to them when possible — not by rushing, note, but by moving continuously without over-dallying. Even stranger than the register, however, is that I again spend the night alone, which makes even less sense because this shelter is free and lies nestled in among several pay sites; I’d have expected it to be more crowded with thru-hikers given that. I go to sleep to the ever-present noise of the rapids in Big Branch itself.

July 29

(16.5; 537.8 total, 1636.2 to go; +1.5 from pace, -227.2 overall)

The first stop in today’s hiking is the infamous Lost Pond Shelter, although not quite for the same reasons as Governor Clement Shelter, quoting again from the 2007 Companion:

Rebuilt in 2002 by GMC volunteers after the old shelter burned down in 2001; was burned down again in Nov 2006. Tentsites provided.

All that remains of the shelter now are the concrete posts which supported it; the tent sites and privy yet remain. Continuing on I get some nice views from Baker Peak, along with some wild blueberries that I notice when I stop to get a bite to eat:

The view from atop Baker Peak

I’ve been told that I should make my way into Manchester Center, get the usual errands done, and then call the hostel owner for a ride, so I don’t spend much time today stopping along the trail, save at Peru Peak Shelter for register reading, and not much sticks out in memory. The day is close to complete when I reach the last major landmark in today’s hiking, Bromley Mountain, roughly just as Turbo catches up to me. If it wasn’t obvious from the video, the mountain is known for wintertime downhill skiing opportunities:

The view north on the A.T. from the observation tower on Bromley Mountain; a large rectangular concrete block with white blazes painted on it is in view
The view north on the A.T. from the observation tower on Bromley Mountain
The observation tower and me in shadows, as seen from the top of the tower, with my backpack lying at its base
The observation tower and me in shadows, as seen from the top of the tower
The view from the Bromley Mountain observation tower

There’s a ski patrol building at the top of the mountain in which thru-hikers may stay, and it looks excellent all around, but I have a reservation at the hostel, so I can’t stay. Turbo, incredibly, still has another day left to reach Manchester Center, which is three miles from the top of the mountain, but I only have hours, so I head south past Bromley Mountain Shelter (his destination for the day) to the road into Manchester Center. It’s 5.5 miles to the city, which means it’s again hitchhiking time. I stick out a thumb and bare seconds later a car stops to pick me up — incredible! (I later learn this spot is renowned as perhaps the easiest hitch on the trail; I would have to agree.) The guy who drives it says he used to pick up hitchhikers in the past but got ripped off by one and hadn’t picked one up for ten or twenty years until he saw me and thought I didn’t look too dangerous. As I have observed before (perhaps not in these pages but certainly while on the trail), the backpack I carry makes for an excellent signaling mechanism; bums looking to steal aren’t going to go to the trouble of carrying one, so if you see someone with a hiking backpack looking for a ride it’s a very good indication that he’s only there to get a lift.

He drops me off in downtown Manchester Center by an EMS and a grocery store. I first go to EMS to pick up the long-awaited pack cover, then I drop my things (the store’s cool and will watch your stuff) and head next door to get groceries, including some delectable yogurt, which I eat before moving on. It’s approaching dinnertime, and I haven’t had Mexican in awhile, so I feel compelled to sate myself at what the mini-map in my Companion says is a “Mexican Rest.”. The food (and margarita) is indeed excellent, but in retrospect it wasn’t actually a good choice for precisely that reason. It’s a restaurant that serves excellent food, and it serves it in small portions — not exactly what the doctor ordered for thru-hikers. Nevertheless I enjoy the food (at outside seating, as I take pains to make happen for the sake of other diners), read a little of the Federalist Papers, and head across the street to a pay phone to call for my ride to the Green Mountain House.

The owner, Jeff Taussig, set up the hostel because, as I recall, he retired and was trying to decide what to do with the extra building he and his wife Regina owned (now empty of kids) when she suggested opening a hostel. It only opened very very recently, and it’s in tip-top shape. I arrive to find Spanky and Sweet Sweet there along with a few new faces, which may be seen at the above link. I call home and talk to family for a bit, use the computer, wash laundry and take a shower, and get some sleep.

In the interests of full disclosure I note the following paragraph from the above link:

Another hiker told me Mercury’s claim to fame was that he carried a bear cannister through Maine. I have never seen another hiker carry one on the eastern trails. He got the hint as there was nothing bulging from his pack here at Green Mountain House.

I wasn’t previously aware this was a claim to fame, but you learn something new every day. πŸ™‚ If you’re ever thinking of backpacking the A.T., you have no reason whatsoever to worry about bears beyond (in some areas) making sure you have rope sufficient to hang a bear bag if necessary. The bears are uniformly more afraid of you than you are of them, and the worst areas will have bear boxes, bear cables, or bear poles (in Shenandoah only) to make it easy to safely store smellables. In fact it’s generally the case that mice are a bigger concern than bears, as they can nibble through stuff sacks with ease, and they’re rather easier to miss at close range.

July 30

(10.6; 548.4 total, 1625.6 to go; -4.4 from pace, -231.6 overall)

Today starts out very leisurely as Jeff shuttles us to the trailhead. I have roughly three days and forty miles left to reach Bennington, so I’m in no rush at all. Sweet Sweet and I hike together for the first couple hours or so, then I head on a little further to eat lunch. My options for destination are roughly ten and twenty miles out, and I’m feeling sleepy still after not getting enough sleep the previous night, so I decide to aim for ten miles, which allows me to take a brief nap along the trail and mosey in to Stratton Pond Shelter around mid-afternoon. The shelter’s going to be crowded, but it’s huge and fits 16 people (easily more in a pinch). I cook a meal and marvel at a Long Trail hiker carrying a huge frying pan, sausages, and generally quite insane (insanely good, insanely heavy) food. I also meet a Long Trail thru-hiker who is on either his fifth or his tenth thru-hike heading north, which accompanies an equal number heading in the opposite direction (twice five being ten to explain why I can’t remember which it was).

My cooking setup, with a not-yet-upgraded off-brand Nalgene and a stove with a wind shield
My cooking setup, with a not-yet-upgraded off-brand Nalgene

Spanky walks in later expressing surprise that I stopped. The caretaker comes around to collect fees, and I head to sleep quite early, intending to wake up very early and start hiking as soon as it’s light with the half-insane idea that I’ll head to Melville Nauheim Shelter for the day, 27.9 miles south.

July 31

(19.4; 567.8 total, 1606.2 to go; +4.4 from pace, -227.2 overall)

A long night’s sleep leaves me refreshed for a long day of hiking, and I wake up on time, cook, and am hiking south by 5:50 as day breaks. First stop for the day is Stratton Mountain, which may or may not have been the place where Benton MacKaye first imagined what would become the Appalachian Trail (he was self-contradictory and perhaps deliberately vague on the point). There’s a nice observation tower, but the summit is covered in trees and, more importantly, fog, so there’s little to see. The Honeymooners yet remain ahead of me, as do others, and I quickly continue on.

I stop for lunch at Story Spring Shelter and meet, among others, Medicine Man again, who says (when I express disbelief that he’s not way further down the trail) he took a bunch of time off the trail. I also meet a father and son also heading south to Bennington, and they offer Medicine Man a ride, so they head south fairly quickly. Spanky catches up just as I leave to head south again to Kid Gore Shelter, which I discover is completely overtaken by a camp group — and a misbehaving one at that, in that at the barest noise by one person another yells at him to “shut up” repeatedly as I sit and read the register. I’m feeling great today, and I dash off a few lines of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” as my entry, then continuing south to Glastenbury Mountain.

The view from Glastenbury Mountain's fire tower

Just south of there is Goddard Shelter, yet 8.5 miles from Melville Nauheim should I choose to hike it. It’s 17:30, tho, and I don’t really feel like hiking further, so I stop to read the shelter and be “convinced” by section hiker Amoeba (whom I met north on the trail at some point) to stay and not hike further. Melville is reachable, but I’d be walking in near dark, and I’ve already put in a good day anyway, so I stop. Spanky later catches up, and a hiker named Glenn Mangold walks in a little later. It turns out the latter also went to MIT, graduating in 1984, and we discuss courses a little (he was 8, I was 6 — which to the uninitiated means he was a physics major and I was an electrical engineering-computer science major) before we all head to sleep.

August 1

(10.1; 577.9 total, 1596.1 to go; -4.9 from pace, -232.1 overall)

Onward to Bennington! It’s a longer walk than I’d intended two days ago, but the 10.1 miles fly, especially when Turbo catches up to me and I hike at his pace for awhile until I’m no longer capable of keeping him in sight. Even the miles after that go pretty fast, and I descend down into the valley through which the road to Bennington travels. I hitch in and scout out the downtown area, where the hiker festival is going to be, where the outfitter (host of the festival, also which supplies me with a phone to use with calling card to talk to family, plus a canister of fuel since I’m moderately close to needing one; many others purchase kilts to wear while hiking, but I do not) is, where the library is (I type some of these entries, but I don’t get far — their wacky filtering system seems to be messing up my posts as I edit them, changing “Cracker” [referring to the southbounder further down the trail!] to ” racker”, so I give up), and so on. It’s still early afternoon, so I hang around until the hiker feed starts, eat, and sit back to watch the summer music festival that’s happening that night. It’s a pretty eclectic mix of music, and it’s an enjoyable difference from the usual hiking on the trail. I also meet a number of other thru-hikers: Moose again (met while hiking the last day out of Maine), Spanky again, Medicine Man again, Not Mother (suffering knee problems for the past week, unfortunately), Slowpoke and Asgask again, and sundry northbounders. Once that finishes I set up my tent in the park with other thru-hikers and head to sleep.

Tomorrow I head out of Vermont, the last of the large states for awhile, and head into Massachusetts. The hiking through the state’s been great save for the rain, and I’m sad to see it go — but glad to be into another state. It’s amazing just how much of a morale booster crossing a meaningless line can be. πŸ™‚


Nanny state watch: Scottish edition

I generally take a dim view of laws and regulations intended to protect people from themselves. I believe that responsibility for a person’s health and well-being ultimately resides with that person; a person who engages in risky or dangerous behavior must accept the consequences of his actions. Society should not take that responsibility and allow the misdoer to derive advantage without concomitant disadvantage. That way lies moral hazard, a phenomenon with which all discerning members of society should be familiar (and of which they should be justifiably wary) through the economic news and events of the last year or so.

In that vein I direct your attention to the latest attempt to extend the nanny state: a Scottish tax on chocolate in a proposal defeated by only two votes in a meeting of the British Medical Association. Dr. David Walker, its chief proponent, says:

“Chocolate has lost its status as a special treat and I think that if we charged a tax on it then, over a number of years, we could restore that status.”

He had earlier told the BBC news website that obesity was a “mushrooming” problem, and Scotland risked heading the same way as the United States.

He added: “There is an explosion of obesity and the related medical conditions, like type 2 diabetes. I see chocolate as a major player in this, and I think a tax on products containing chocolate could make a real difference.”

There is much that is wrong with this from economic and personal freedom standpoints. However, in the interests of concision and minimal scope, I will limit myself to taking issue with these later lines in the story, also from Dr. Walker:

“After eating a bag of chocolate sweets you would have to walk continuously for three hours to burn off the calories consumed.

“It is simply not enough to say people should get more exercise.

The regular reader will know that last year I completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Backpacking requires a tremendous amount of energy (moreso for a trip of that length and duration), and I fueled myself using a variety of methods: gorp, granola bars, beef jerky, and candy, among others. For roughly the last 1300 miles of my hike, my primary fuel between meals was the large or king-size candy bar — usually Snickers for its high calorie-to-weight ratio but often Milky Way or 3 Musketeers for an attempt at variety. A large Snickers bar contains 280 calories, while a king-size bar contains 510 calories; Milky Way clocks in at 260 and 460 calories respectively.

Each day while thru-hiking I typically would eat the equivalent of five, six, or more large-size bars (ten is the maximum count I can remember, although I probably exceeded this when completing the Four State Challenge) while hiking twenty to thirty miles daily. (NB: my chocolate bar rate of intake effectively dropped to zero when I finished the hike.) Dr. Walker would likely agree that this rate of intake in this exceedingly unusual situation is much less likely to be harmful than it would be for an average person and situation, but if he did not, I could assure him with absolute certainty that while I was hiking this prodigious consumption of chocolate was in no way calorically harmful. Further, in the four months since I completed the thru-hike I have noticed no other lasting ill effects. Indeed, it was necessary to travel those distances without courting malnourishment and unhealthy weight loss; I have heard of thru-hikers who could not carry enough food to avoid losing weight in the final stages of their thru-hikes (at which point all discretionary weight would have long since disappeared). Would Dr. Walker punish me for what it was necessary for me to consume while hiking? A chocolate tax across the few hundred bars I likely consumed would have summed to a meaningful value — perhaps a couple handfuls more candy bars or a small meal in a town I passed through.

Dr. Walker may be right that for most people more exercise cannot adequately combat excessive chocolate intake. However, that his assertion is only usually right means that sometimes it is wrong; it is a clear example of the folly of not recognizing personal responsibility to avoid harmful choices. If this tax were real, the people who consume chocolate in moderation with respect to their situations (I include myself in this group) would only be harmed, while the ones who consume to excess, perversely, have an incentive to consume even more as they can take advantage of the newly-funded programs “used by the NHS to deal with the health problems caused by obesity” without paying the full costs to use them.

If Dr. Walker wishes to see more healthy intakes of chocolate, he would do better from a personal freedom standpoint to improve educational efforts that warn of the dangers of excessive sweets, which would neither inhibit individual responsibility nor tax the responsible chocolate lovers to pay for care for the gluttonous ones.


Norwich, VT to Rutland, VT: the best scenery from the inside of a shelter is rain

Tags: , , , — Jeff @ 20:50

In case it wasn’t quite clear by now from the non-trail posts I’ve made recently, I’ve long since finished hiking the A.T. now. My last day was October 25, leaving Neel’s Gap around 6:40 or so that morning and summitting Springer Mountain by 17:20. Since then I’ve briefly returned to Michigan to relax a little and then headed out to Mountain View, CA, where I’m now doing full-time work on TraceMonkey, the JavaScript engine that will be in future versions of Firefox. (TraceMonkey does some truly insane things in how it converts a slower representation of JavaScript into a faster one, akin to how modern virtual machine software can execute a guest operating system’s code sometimes faster than could be achieved if the guest OS were running directly on the hardware itself. It’s a wonder we can make it work, but I very much expect it’ll be a fundamental component in dynamic language compilation going forward.)

Anyway, I still have some interest in finishing out these posts as a way of remembering what I did and what happened on the trail (and I’ve invested enough time in the already-written entries that I’d hate to abandon the full series unfinished), so expect to see them dribbling out every so often for awhile, assuming I can keep up the motivation to commit months-old memories to words and posts.

One last note: I’ve updated all the previous A.T. posts I’ve made with all the pictures I took, so if you wanted pictures, feel free to look over them again.

July 23

(20.4; 468.1 total, 1705.9 to go; +5.4 from pace, -206.9 overall)

It’s a fairly late start out of the shelter today around 9:30 or so. This really isn’t such a great idea, actually, because I was sort of thinking of pushing it to make Hanover (well, really this shelter) to Rutland in two days, but whatever — if you’re going to hike the A.T., you have to have fun doing it, and I like sleep.

Before heading out I stop at the privy here. This picture from inside the privy shows exactly why the Dartmouth Outing Club have been my favorite maintainers so far:

A white toilet seat with a smiley face and a speech bubble saying "Feed me!", with the words "Welcome to Happy Hill" beneath it
High art on the Appalachian Trail

Today’s hiking starts out okay but turns dreary fairly quickly. By late morning it starts to rain, and I hurry on to Thistle Hill Shelter 8.8 miles into the day to eat lunch. The rain has me in no hurry to move on, and I stop for over an hour to eat lunch. (Realistically if I’m going to pull twenty miles today I should make a briefer stop, but I don’t really feel like pushing just to make more distance; if I want to take it easy, I’ll take it easy.) I pick up the register to skim it a little bit and see that I seem to have skipped by another acquaintance, Frog, from my spring break jaunt on the A.T. in North Carolina. (It’s actually harder to meet people heading the other direction than you might think, given how easy it is to stop off for a meal or resupply, and it’s perhaps even more difficult for me given that I tend to carry food for longer distances than many.)

The shelter’s reading material, beyond the shelter register, also includes a slightly-old Sunday New York Times first section. The front page has a story interviewing Senator McCain, and for the most part it’s fairly mundane. What particularly strikes me, however, is that the story includes a very subtle smear. The story’s headline concerns which Republican president McCain most admires; his choice is Teddy Roosevelt, all well and good. One naturally would expect the presented question, then, to be along the lines of, “Which Republican president do you most admire?” It is, but rather than leaving the question open-ended, three choices are presented: Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. There are good reasons to present the first two choices, but the third makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, for one simple reason: no candidate in his right mind would ever name George W. Bush as a role model given his current approval ratings. (At the time of the article this was probably 30% or thereabouts.) To do so would be political suicide; it’s practically a gift-wrapped campaign ad for Obama. Why, then, would the reporter present Bush as a choice when any idiot could tell he isn’t going to be selected? Indeed, why even present choices at all? The only plausible answer is that the reporter phrased the question in this way to subtly associate (smear) McCain with Bush. There’s no proof of any of this, of course, but it’s obvious what the effect of presenting the choice might be, and it’s just as obvious that that effect would not have happened if the question had been open-ended.

By the time I leave it’s at least 14:00 or so, and I’ve got a lot more traveling to do in order to make it to Wintturi Shelter for the night. The intermittent rain during the day further complicates matters, and I don’t make especially good time throughout the afternoon. I pass over my first electric fences by late afternoon (designed to keep livestock in fields owned by nearby farmers; the A.T. passes through a large number of stretches of private land via easements arranged with the federal government), a not-quite-trivial task when wearing a full backpack. I also pass through a large number of fields filled with wild raspberries which considerably delay my southbound progress. By 20:00 or so I’m at the last major road (VT-12) before entering the last four miles to the shelter. This road also marks the end of territory maintained by the Dartmouth Outing Club. Alas! the most awesome maintaining club on the trail yet far is behind me. Now it’s the Green Mountain Club maintaining the trail I walk.

Now you, dear reader, will likely be reading this sometime late December, and you’re surely thinking, “But what about darkness? Surely it’s getting dark by 20:00 at night?” And surely you’re right! It’s a bit dusky as I head further south through more farmland, and eventually I have to pull out the headlamp again. Eventually it’s fully dark, but thankfully the white blazes on the trees are fairly clear, and the Green Mountain Club in this section seems to have an unusual insistence upon marking even the slightest change in direction of the trail be double-blazed if the trail before and the trail after formed a “point” rather than an arc. Worse than the darkness, tho, is the drizzling rain, which eventually grows into a full downpour by 21:20 or so. This is hardly the sort of weather in which I want to stop early (and a sign at the road claimed that the trail from the road to the shelter passed through land where no camping was allowed), so I continue pressing on for the next hour until I finally reach the junction to the shelter. (In fact by the time I reach it I’ve been staring off the right of the trail for the last hour waiting to see a sign; it would be, er, bad to miss it in this weather.)

It’s a small jaunt down to the shelter from the trail, maybe 0.2 miles or so. I reach it hoping against hope that there’ll be space in the shelter for me, and there actually is space — but the people in the shelter are all asleep and taking up too much room for me to actually fit inside. Having no other option at this time, I set up my tent, move foodstuffs out of my backpack and hang them from one of the mouse hangers in the shelter (just underneath its roof but not inside it, so I don’t wake anyone up doing it), crawl into the tent and attempt to dry a little before crawling in the sleeping bag and going to sleep.

July 24

(0.0; 468.1 total, 1705.9 to go; -15.0 from pace, -221.9 overall)

Spontaneous zero!

I wake up today a bit after seven to more of the rain from last night. It’s more sprinkly than rainy, but I still pack up my tent and backpack quickly to move into the shelter for breakfast. I recognize a few people I’d seen earlier on the trail, including Hungarian, and naturally they remark upon my late arrival in the middle of a rainstorm the previous night. I have no worries; I hike when I have to hike, and that’s that. Breakfast is a very leisurely process; understandably, I have little interest in walking out into rain again. Gradually everyone else leaves, and I’m still working on breakfast when I spontaneously decide that I’m not going to hike today. The rain doesn’t appear to be stopping (and who knows, it might go away if I wait a day), I got in late the previous night, it’d be my first full day not hiking since Gorham, and if I’m going to show up to the hiker festival in Bennington on August 1, I have more than enough time to get there, at a below-average pace, even if I stop for the day.

I spend most of the day lazing around in the shelter, reading the Federalist Papers, eating gorp and a tortilla/peanut butter lunch, and talking to other hikers who stop in. The first arrival is Beershake, who walks in before noon and decides, as I have, that he’s not going any further — but unlike me, he’s stopping because it’s his birthday! The rain becomes torrential later in the day, and I am thoroughly glad I decided to go nowhere. Li’l Cubit and Kat arrive later on in the day; Li’l Cubit vociferously (and amusingly) attempts to persuade Beershake to move on another four miles to a farm that sells ice cream that I passed by late yesterday, but he’s decided what he’ll do and isn’t budging, and she’s unsuccessful; in contrast, Kat almost immediately capitulates and starts settling down for the day. πŸ™‚ Later on Grasshopper arrives to round out the group for the night (as far as I remember now; there’s a chance I missed one person, but I don’t think I did). I’m the only southbounder in the group, and the rest are all, as far as I know, northbounders. It’s a pretty lackadaisical day, a bunch of reading, a bunch of resting, and a bunch of sleeping to round it out.

July 25

(19.9; 488.0 total, 1686.0 to go; +4.9 from pace, -217.0 overall)

I wake up fairly early since I have a long day of hiking and don’t really want to be hiking as late as I did two days ago; nevertheless, when I awake Kat and Li’l Cubit are on their way north again. I finish up a breakfast and get on the trail pretty early, I believe before 7 and certainly before 8.

The rain of the last two days is entirely gone. It’s sunny outside, and I walk across hills and by nice views without a worry for the weather. Sometimes trying to wait out bad weather doesn’t work, but today, it’s worked spectacularly.

Sunny day, great weather, a nice view into the distance
Sunny day, great weather, a nice view into the distance
A ladder to get up and over a particularly steep section of trail
A ladder to get up and over a particularly steep section of trail

The first real stop for the day is at a shelter about halfway between Wintturi Shelter and the road into Rutland, where I plan to spend the night and resupply on food. While the weather may be great, the ground near this shelter’s completely soaked, and I step gingerly around puddles of mud to reach the shelter to sit down for a lunch of tortillas, peanut butter, and honey. (This is fast becoming a staple of my lunch stops due to its simplicity.) The shelter’s reading material includes what looks like an ATC newsletter which I briefly skim; it mentions an underpass along the trail that’s currently under construction, to avoid a busy road crossing. A few other people walk in, although the only one whose trail name I remember is Daddy-O; turns out they’re northbounders who are walking south for the day without backpacks, back to my final destination for the day — a hostel in Rutland run by members of a religious organization called the Twelve Tribes. (I’m still not entirely sure how you’d describe them — maybe cult without the negative connotations.) This practice of walking the trail without a backpack and then being shuttled back to where you left your backpack is known as slackpacking; opinions on its legitimacy as a form of hiking vary rather widely. I didn’t know of its existence prior to starting the trail, and I have no intention of doing any while doing my thru-hike because it wasn’t what I set out to do. That said, even had I known, I don’t think I would have done any. Backpacking isn’t backpacking without the backpack.

A small, harmless snake off the side of the trail
A small, harmless snake off the side of the trail

I continue hiking south, but I don’t make especially fast progress. I finish the next five or so miles by around 16:00 and take a brief stop by a small river in response to an offer from a guy in a truck of a Mountain Dew. One of the northbounders shows up just before me, and the three of us talk for a bit. Turns out the guy who gave me the Mountain Dew had some sort of crisis-of-action things several years back where he realized he didn’t like what he was doing, so he went off and hiked the Appalachian Trail, altering his life and way of thinking. Now he’s out along the trail doing water quality tests (pH and other such things, not for drinkability), and he happened to stop by this river today to do that here. While we’re talking I also discover that the last bus into Rutland leaves around 18:15, and I’ve still got five miles to go — not good. I pick up the pace significantly, hiking very nearly with the northbounder, even tho he doesn’t have a pack but I do; I’m pleasantly surprised I can do this, but I’m really pushing the pace. Eventually I can no longer keep up, but thanks to the motivation of following someone I make much better time than I have previously, and it gets me close enough to the end that I can finish it out and make the bus into Rutland on time. To be honest, I’m not sure I could have done that without someone to follow; it’s a good thing the other guy was hiking through when I was.

The road into Rutland is definitely the most perilous road to cross on the trail so far; it’s four or so lanes of traffic moving in either direction at probably 50-60 miles an hour. Signs before and after it specifically warn hikers to look both ways and then to move quickly without stopping across the road. The bus is a nice convenience over hitchhiking in; it’s $2 one-way, but I’ll take that over an uncertain wait to get into town any day. Once in town I follow the northbounder, who also is on the bus, to the Back Home Again Cafe. It’s a combination cafe and hiker hostel; apparently over the past week it’s been pretty crowded due to the incessant rain. (There were almost thirty hikers staying there a few days ago; it’s down to maybe ten or fifteen now.) I’ve been attempting to catch up to the Honeymooners for awhile now, and I find out they were in only a few days ago, waiting out the rain. There’s plenty of trail to do it, and it’ll happen eventually.

The hostel itself is an interesting place. The main guy in charge is Ranan, and he shows me where the bunk room is and gives a brief tour of the hostel itself. Paying to spend the night there is a bit unusual; generally it’s a work-for-stay system, but because it’s past sunset and tomorrow’s Saturday, they’re observing the Sabbath and won’t allow hikers to do work-for-stay on that day. There are scattered copies of their newsletters and such, and it’s clear this is also sort of an outreach for them. The cafe itself is this weird indoor outdoorscape — check out the picture gallery on their site if you care to find out more. The decor is entirely unlike any other restaurant I’ve ever visited; if you’re ever in the area you should visit and take a look around (but not if it’s a Saturday as they’re closed then).

It happens to be the night of a street festival in Rutland just outside the hostel, which makes things a bit more crowded than usual. I stop at an Italian restaurant and have French onion soup, pasta, and a Guinness for dinner; there’s a Yankees-Sox game on TV which I watch, but it’s not nearly as good as the last one I watched, first because Boston lost, and second because I started watching after the sole run of the game was scored, so there wasn’t a whole lot of action. It’s getting somewhat late to resupply (although I could if I wanted at the Wal-Mart just down the street), so I head back to the hostel and go to sleep.

I’m now out of the worst of the rain on the trail for awhile, which will make hiking more pleasant. I’m in the middle of the pack of northbounders, too, so there’s lots of traffic on the trail. Furthermore, I’ve just gotten on a portion of the A.T. which also follows the Long Trail, the original long-distance trail which was itself an inspiration for the A.T. The Long Trail starts at the Massachusetts-Vermont border and heads north to the Canadian border, covering around 270 miles total; its shorter length means it’s much easier to thru-hike it. Vermont has its hills and mountains, so it’s not the easiest hiking around, but 270 miles is short enough that a motivated hiker could complete the trail in three weeks (and someone fresh off an A.T. thru-hike or some similar endeavor could do it in under two weeks). Perhaps I’ll go back and hike it sometime if I need to do a short hike and can’t spare the time for a thru-hike somewhere.


Glencliff, NH to Norwich, VT: Beware of Tourists!

Tags: , , , — Jeff @ 15:38

A few things I forgot from the last post (delay from event to post strikes, as does a failure to keep notes of remarkable things):

  • I had the most awesome conversation ever with a northbounder yesterday while descending Moosilauke:

    […as I see him approaching from down the trail…]
    Me: Northbounder?
    Him: Yep.
    Me: Good stuff.
    […as we’re passing…]
    Him: Southbounder?
    Me: Yep.
    Him: Good stuff.

    What’s not to love? You can’t possibly get any more concise without losing something doing so.

  • A half gallon of Hershey’s ice cream (from Hershey Creamery Company, which astoundingly isn’t affiliated with the chocolate company, although I’d be surprised if most people eating the ice cream knew it) contains 16 servings, each with 140 calories, for 2240 calories total. I think it would be awesome if they collaborated with Mars and made a Milky Way ice cream, just for the sheer cognitive dissonance of it.

Now on to the usual updates…

July 19

(14.7; 413.2 total, 1760.8 to go; -0.3 from pace, -201.8 overall)

I wake up fairly late and pack up my things. On my way out the hostel owner mentions two things. First, make sure to check out the “penta-style” (the Companion’s description, contrasted with the more normal “mouldering”- or “composting”-style privies) privy at Hexacuba Shelter (my intended target for the day). The second is that there’s a hiker festival in Bennington, VT on August 1 with free food, and when I say free I mean “free as in beer”, and if you think that phrase might have more than one meaning, it indeed does, and both apparently apply! Bennington’s at 577.9 miles from Katahdin, so that’s perhaps 180 or so miles from where I am now. If I attend it’ll mean punting on recouping pace until August; for now I choose to punt a different decision β€” whether to attend β€” and see how the hiking goes between now and then. I’m supposedly on the hiker highway now and should be able to hike further and faster, but the delta is still a big unknown.

After packing and heading out, I drop by the post office that’s just across the street and send off more gear I don’t want to carry any more: a hat I’ve only worn because I remember I’m carrying and haven’t worn it recently, pants (rain suit and/or fleece, can’t remember which), and one or two other things. I stop by the nearby pay phone and call home for a bit, then it’s back on the trail at 12:28 for a day of hiking.

The view from my lunchtime outlook onto a lake below
The view from my lunchtime outlook onto a lake below

First stop is an early one for lunch by a small overlook that’s nothing compared to anything in the Whites or before, really. That doesn’t stop the trail maintainers, the Dartmouth Outing Club, from putting up the most incredibly awesome sign saying, “Beware of tourists” by it anyway! (I have a picture of it I’ll post eventually.) Here’s said picture:

A sign saying "SCENIC VIEW, BEWARE OF TOURISTS"; someone has scrawled "Stupid college kids" on it as well
Epic win in signage

I love these guys; the AMC (Appalachian Money Club, natch) felt moneygrubbing and impersonal, and MATC felt somewhat perfunctory in its duties (if reasonably well-performed, modulo the ability to construct switchbacks or bridges over large streams or boardwalks through swamps), but these guys feel like they enjoy what they’re doing. I’m not entirely surprised; one sign atop Moosilauke gave a mileage figure to the post office in Glencliff, a move clearly catering to the needs of thru-hikers, and trail junctions often point out A.T. north and south (a problem in the maze of twisty trails that was the Whites).

While I’m at the overlook I meet another southbounder named Sweet Sweet, hiking from somewhere north of Glencliff that day. I head on while he stays longer at the overlook.

I’m running pretty low on water when I get to the first shelter south of Glencliff, Ore Hill Shelter (the area’s actually a bit contaminated from the operations there in the past, with signs saying where not to stray to avoid problems), and I stop to fill at the puddle there. It really basically is a puddle, although it seems to be fed somehow. A frog jumps out of the pool when I fill up, and due to dehydration I wait the necessary twenty minutes at the shelter to have a liter to chug and promptly refill before heading out again.

Going south, it’s awesome how easy the hiking is. Terrain’s mostly flat, no huge winds or tricky rocks to navigate β€” worst is a stretch of trail that I have to run through to avoid mosquitoes, really. I reach Mount Cube just as it’s getting dark and take a few shots of the sunset; if they’re anything like the pictures I’ve tried to take since, they’re not that great. This camera is about as bare-bones a digital camera as you can get: no zoom, no ability to deal with light and dark in the same picture (kiss super skyline shots goodbye), really inadequate all around.

A pale pink and purple sunset from atop Mount Cube
A pale pink and purple sunset from atop Mount Cube which, incidentally, turned out significantly better than I expected from the on-camera preview
Clouds among the valleys as seen from Mount Cube
Clouds among the valleys as seen from Mount Cube

The camera’s original intended purpose was for purely indoor, close-range photography without a need for true detail (photographing completed Scrabble games at tournaments to avoid needing to exactly record moves, to be precise), so I shouldn’t be surprised it underperforms here.

360 degrees atop Mount Cube

Just after the summit, on super-slick rocks where my poles are useless if they’re slanted any amount at all, Sweet Sweet catches up to me, and we walk the remaining couple miles to Hexacuba Shelter mostly in the dark with only my meager flashlight for assistance. I’d considered making dinner when I got in, but there are other people in the shelter and I’m tired anyway, so I go to sleep.

July 20

(12.0; 425.2 total, 1748.8 to go; -3.0 from pace, -204.8 overall)

I wake up fairly late by hiker standards and am able to take a first look at the shelter where I slept the past night. Every other shelter I’ve seen so far has been a variation on the three-sided theme with perhaps a second floor or a skylight for variety and some manner of support for cooking and eating. This shelter is just bizarre. Its base is a regular hexagon; four adjacent sides are walled, with the remaining two open for entry and exit. The roof is a hexagonal pyramid, with a central beam going to the top. The shelter floor is a few feet above the ground, so you can sit and let your feet dangle as you cook or do whatever. Of the shelters I’ve seen so far (future-me speaking, over 80% down the trail), it’s by far the most unusual. The privy (“penta-style”, if you recall) is standard fare but has a pentagonal base. As a reminder, this is all right next to Mount Cube. Have I said how much I enjoy the DOC’s trail maintenance yet?

Today’s start is rather slow, and by the time I’ve eaten breakfast it’s raining; I take a look for the register and find a section of the seventh Harry Potter book in the shelter, and of course I’m sucked into it as I don’t really want to hike in the rain. The section is from Malfoy Manor to the first page inside Hogsmeade, some fun reading. About 10:30 or so I finish and reluctantly head out into the water.

I’d originally hoped to get to Moose Mountain Shelter today, around 18 miles south, but the late start and the rain slowly nix that idea. I stop for lunch at the Firewarden’s Cabin about five south, eating on a porch out of the rain. I also fill up water bottles; there’s a trail to a source, but it’s so rainy and wet that I only get perhaps halfway there when I have to walk over several large puddles. Rather than do that, I just scoop the water out of the puddles with my bottles — with my water purification system (iodine crystals which diffuse into a glass bottle of water, then add the resulting solution to impure water and wait twenty minutes), I don’t need to worry about filtering or wasting my time in the rain. I’d highly recommend Polar-PUR iodine for anyone considering water purification systems; one bottle’s something under $20 and will last for years (I doubt I’ve used half the crystals in mine over four months of hiking). There is the matter of the taste, but if you can get over that the stuff’s awesome.

It continues raining as I head further south, but I now have a goal in mind. It turns out there’s a guy slightly off the trail south of here who gives ice cream bars to hikers when he’s home! You can also fill up water bottles from a hose, so much nicer than drinking water with iodine in it. It’s stopped raining by the time I reach the hundred-foot side trail to his house; I don’t see anyone home, but as I fill up my water bottles the man walks up from a short hike up the mountain to the south. He gets me an ice cream bar and asks a series of questions: trail name, home town, age, what sort of hike (thru, section, day, etc.) I’m doing. He says he’s been recording this information for several years now; for several years now, the median age of hikers who stop by is 26. He also mentions that it rained around three inches today — yikes! It’s getting to be late afternoon now, so I continue south just another mile to Trapper John Shelter.

I end up spending the night at Trapper John Shelter with four companions. Milkshake and Monty are a Dartmouth graduate and her dog, out for a backpacking trip during the summer when classes aren’t in session (she’s a teacher). The other two are Pickle and Ragdy Andy, two northbound brothers who, as I discover further south on the trail, hail from Israel. The shelter’s nice and comfy for the night, and I head to sleep planning to reach Hanover and Dartmouth or thereabouts tomorrow.

July 21

(15.2; 440.4 total, 1733.6 to go; +0.2 from pace, -204.6 overall)

Typically I compile these entries by looking over the list of trail features in the Companion to jog my memory, then add anything I remember from those features. As I look back at the schedule today, I really don’t remember much of anything. I stopped at the first shelter south, Moose Mountain Shelter, and spent some time reading some printouts of A.T. history, while eating lunch.

Welcome signs for Moose Mountain Shelter, clearly crafted by hand with a router, with a few rough illustrations of the lay of the site
Welcome signs for Moose Mountain Shelter, clearly crafted by hand with a router, with a few rough illustrations of the lay of the site

I also believe I noticed an entry in the register from Frog, a northbounder I met in the spring (at the same time I met Chef) during my little loop over spring break; it seems I’ve missed seeing him, alas.

A sign recognizing Moose Mountain's south peak, with the elevation 2222 feet in four different colors
The four-colored sign recognizing Moose Mountain is yet another example of DOC awesomeness

It’s getting close to six or so by the time I reach Velvet Rocks Shelter, just 0.8 miles north of Hanover. Most people don’t stop here; Hanover’s close, and I hear several fraternities offer space for thru-hikers to stay. It’s late enough, however, that I don’t feel like taking my chances on finding a cheap spot in town, and in any case, this shelter’s awesome! It has a clear plastic roof, and the register is full of entries from people talking about sitting in sleeping bags overnight watching bats fly overhead. I get water after a considerable walk to the source north of the shelter (off the A.T.), eat and head to sleep.

July 22

(7.3; 447.7 total, 1726.3 to go; -7.7 from pace, -212.3 overall)

I take it nice and easy this morning, as I intend to take a slow day through Hanover. After breakfast and signing the register (populated primarily with Dartmouth student entries — I make a pitch to them to not start work immediately after graduating to take advantage of college loan deferments and the largest block of free time and physical fitness they might ever have again), I head into town.

First stop is the local grocery store for resupply. It has everything I could want, but it’s not especially cheap. I pick up a few yogurts, which ostensibly fight the bad side effects of continuing use of iodine for water purification, 2.5 pounds of cherries, a bunch of Granny Smiths, and a loaf of raisin bread as things to eat before I leave town. Unfortunately, I didn’t look too closely at the price of the cherries — they constituted $15 of the full $60 bill. :-\

Next stop is the library, where I work some on updates here and start to record mileages each day in drafts so I can see how far off pace I am. Conveniently the computers aren’t in demand, or else I’d have had much less time to use one than I did. I linger inside for awhile before returning to the heat outside to finish off the cherries and bread.

The pack cover I’ve been using so far, which I’ve had since my first backpack as I recall, is pretty horrid. I’m not really sure it even works at all, and its form was designed for an external-frame pack (a very rare sight on the trail these days; strange how much that’s changed in the last ten years or so). The first outfitter in town has none, so they direct me to another. This one has pack covers, but strangely enough the smallest one they have is too big for my pack, which is itself far bigger than it need be for hiking the A.T. (once I removed the superfluous gear, that is). I depart pack-cover-less and head for an unplanned stop at Ramunto’s, a pizza place down the street. Word on the street is that they give a free slice of za to thru-hikers! I arrive, partake (along with a draft Guinness, partly because it Is Good and partly because it’ll help offset the cost of their generosity), and sign their register.

The last stop in town is for a much-needed haircut, the first since Christmastime. Ideally I’d have gotten the haircut in Boston, but I couldn’t find time while there. I suspect that that saves me at least a pound of weight to haul over trails when my hair is wet. Finally, I head out of town, briefly stopping at the DOC offices to see who’s there (nobody) on the way out.

Now follows one of the less enjoyable parts of the trail: a road walk. I stroll a couple miles or so down sidewalks and across the bridge over the river defining the New Hampshire-Vermont border into Norwich.

The granite stone in the middle of the bridge across the river delineating the Vermont-New Hampshire state line, with VT | NH engraved in it
State three!
The state line marker with my hiking poles leaning against it
The state line marker with my hiking poles leaning against it

From there it’s a run down a side street, past a house with a table out front with a handwritten sign reading “trail magic” (and a dog who seemed curiously incapable of dragging himself to me to be petted, until I realized the high-pitched whine I was hearing from his collar was a radio restraint device; once I moved toward him so he could retreat a bit he was markedly more mobile), and up a hill to a return to wooded trails.

The trail’s slow going at first; packs weighted with resupply are too heavy. To tell the truth, tho, I bring some of this upon myself by carrying a couple pounds of Granny Smiths. (Carrying apples with me out of resupply, sometimes for multiple days, is a foible I have not managed to curb. I’ve been told by some I’m the least weight-conscious southbounder they’ve met; if that’s not actually the truth, it’s certainly not far off.) Eating a couple for energy and “weight loss” (off my back, even if not from what I’m hauling) helps, and I walk into Happy Hill Shelter at dusk, cook dinner, and sleep.

The future-me speaking now is a mere 270 or so miles from the end of the trail, as of yesterday at -1.7 from pace at 1903.3 down the trail in Hot Springs, NC. The last week or so I’ve passed through North Carolinessee, as the trail practically follows the TNNC border for awhile. I have roughly 40 miles to the Smokies, 70 miles through them, 80 miles through North Carolina not along the border, and then another 80 miles through Georgia to Springer Mountain. I’m still not sure what day I’ll be done — I’d kind of like to be home by next Saturday, but that’s probably overly ambitious. In any case I can smell the end, and I’m starting to drag a bit as I fight the urge to stop just a little bit earlier each day, wake up a little bit later (daylight’s disappearing, alas) and not leave a warm sleeping bag for the creeping cold, stay an extra night in towns, and on very very rare occasions flat-out skip trail by hitching from the trail ahead to a town where I might have planned to stay (exacerbated by late-day hiking caused by the late wakeup, of course; night hiking is curiously both tedious and fun at once). I have not yet succumbed to these temptations — I’ve been working at not zeroing since my last one in Damascus, just north into Virginia — and I’m into the last push to finish. I’m definitely looking forward to being done hiking soon. I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbellSpringer!


The Four State Challenge

I am currently in Harpers Ferry, WV with 5.8 miles remaining in this thoroughly idiotic accomplishment. I do not have the energy to find a good resource that describes what this is, beyond what you can probably guess it is. (I might continue an extra three miles to the first shelter in VA, which would also net fifty miles for the day, but that decision will definitely wait until after the state line.) If someone can find such a resource, I’ll update this post with it when I can. Four State Challenge will work about as well as anything for describing what the challenge is. After grabbing some food (wrapped deli sandwich or similar) to eat for dinner when I stop for the night, I’m heading back out to finish the day; hopefully I’ll be able to eat the food and get a bear bag or something going before collapsing into sleep from sheer exhaustion.

Tomorrow’s hike will be a shorter-than-average day.


  • There’s apparently some funky trail-winding near the border such that it’s only 1.9 miles to one crossing of the Virginia border, so in reality that was all the distance I actually needed to cover. The Thru-Hiker’s Companion book doesn’t really make this clear, and 5.8 is to the last of the “Virginia sections”.
  • I ended up completing the full 5.8 plus the remaining 3 to that first shelter, for 51 total for the day.
  • Even if you’re a thru-hiker, you can never let your ego grow too huge, or else it’ll be deflated when you read the register at that first shelter and discover another crazy southbounder started from even further into Pennsylvania and thus hiked a 60-mile day. I never had any illusions of extreme hiking prowess, but if I had, the southbounder Rock Layer would have trashed them completely.
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