“My trust is in the mercy and wisdom of a kind Providence, who ordereth all things for our good.” – Robert E. Lee
“You have brains in your head, and feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” – Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss)
Less than a mile into my morning hike, I arrived at the Great Falls from which Falls Village gets its name. Some consider them the best falls on the AT. I think they are the loudest and most powerful, but as for pure beauty, I would give the edge to Laurel Falls and Dismal Falls.
At mile 1498.8 I took a .5 mile side trail west to the cute little town of Salisbury, founded in 1741. Like my wife in a Sunday dress, it looked upscale and classy but not pretentious. Meryl Streep and her family live here, and it was also the home of Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West) prior to her death. As I walked down the main drag a construction worker holding a sign asked how I was doing and how my hike was going. I told him I was hungry and Salisbury was about to solve that problem. At the Salisbury pharmacy, a kind young lady helped me find Turmeric and then, without prompting, told me where to find groceries and a place to charge my phone. She knows and loves hikers (or maybe just dug my beard) and is a good Ambassador for the town. I got some groceries and a large sub, and sat down next to Torch to eat lunch. Another hiker named Taskmaster walked by to warn us that a big storm was due in that afternoon. I filed that away in the things to possibly care about later in the day part of my brain.
I left Salisbury, got back on the AT, and hiked along a really pretty and not too difficult section of trail. With storm clouds threatening, I climbed Lions Head and got water with Smiley (a retired NASA rocket scientist) at the Riga Shelter. A mile later I stopped at the Brassie Brook Shelter to have dinner with Long Strider, who showed me a picture of a large bear that he spotted a mile up the trail. It’s interesting that Long Strider does a lot of slack packing (hiking without a backpack) and routinely passes me and yet he never stays ahead for long. His approach also includes the use of a fellow hiker’s cars to position themselves so that they can go in the easier direction that day. He’ll end up having an easier hike than me but I’m not sure his approach will get him to the end any quicker. Maybe his goal is just an easier hike.
Since the storm had passed and I still had some fuel in my tank, I hiked on and made a tough descent down to the Sages Ravine Campsite. Just prior to arriving, I entered the state of Massachusetts, although the welcome sign is incorrectly placed a bit further down the trail. As I entered the state, I couldn’t help but loudly say some words that I heard many times growing up as a young Philadelphia 76ers fan. Prior to their home games, the announcer’s final player introduction, which I always said along with him, was…”Number 6, from the University of Massachusetts…Julius Errrrrrrr-ving!” Julius Erving (Dr. J), Roger Staubach (Cowboys), and Mike Schmidt (Phillies) were my three main childhood sports idols. I also had crushes on Marianne (from Gilligan’s Island), Julie (from the Love Boat), and the Cheryl’s (Tiegs and Ladd). I digress.
This popular camping area has a caretaker on site giving instructions on where and where not to camp and answering hiker questions. I sat my tent up next to Josh, an artist from near Hartford who makes a living as a handyman. He’s out on a section hike but is considering a thru-hike some day. I was happy to answer his questions about my gear and experiences on the trail. Had he asked me to, I would have introduced Dr. J.
The morning hike along Sages Ravine was absolutely gorgeous. There were dozens of small waterfalls and swimming holes. Massachusetts was off to a great start. As I made the tough climb up to Mount Everett, I passed a group of young trail maintainers preparing to drill and insert metal rebar steps into the side of boulders on the most difficult portion of the climb. They are known as the Greenagers, and I thanked them for what they are doing. Many future hikers will benefit from their work. As for Fob, I had to scale the boulders sans rebar, and I did it like a Mountain Goat after getting into a case of 10 Hour Energy shots.
At the Guilder Pond Picnic Area, about halfway down Mount Everett, I came to my first Massachusetts Trail Magic! During hiking season, a local woman comes to this spot every single day to refill two dozen jugs of water. What a cool thing to do! While sitting there taking a break, a van came zooming up a forest road and whipped into the parking lot. “Great Scott!” said I. I just assumed they were Libyan terrorists trying to get plutonium from Doc Brown. I was prepared to tell them that Doc had already used the plutonium to power his DeLorean Time Machine. But that proved to be unnecessary, as they were not terrorists. On the contrary, it was Rob and Nomad, who had arrived to do some Trail Magic! The back of Rob’s van had drinks and snacks for me and several other hikers, including Long Strider, Josh, and Steve and Eric, who collectively go by the trail name Sega. They are former Special Operations troops and we know some of the same people at Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
At mile 1518.8 I crossed Sheffield Egremont Road and came to the Shays’ Rebellion Monument. In 1786 and 1787 Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays led 4000 rebels in rising up against perceived economic injustices and the suspension of civil rights by Massachusetts. Although the rebels suffered a military defeat, their rebellion had two history changing consequences. First, the rebellion brought George Washington out of retirement to help resolve the conflict. That eventually led him to becoming our first President. Second, national leaders called for a stronger government to deal with future rebellions, which led to the convening of a Constitutional Convention. So Shays’ Rebellion was a big deal, and it came to an end in the field I walked through.
A couple of miles later I arrived at US 7. Although the towns of Sheffield and Great Barrington were just a few miles away, I didn’t need a re-supply. However, I did walk .2 miles west and charged my phone from an outlet on the front porch of a closed furniture store. While it was charging, I sat down under a nearby oak tree and ate supper and watched the cars go by.
I hiked a couple more miles and began looking for a place to stealth camp. It was getting late, I had hiked 18.1 miles, and I was low on water, so stopping near a water source was paramount. I noticed in my guidebook that an approaching footbridge might have water underneath it. When I arrived at the footbridge I looked down and the little ravine appeared bone dry. I was really bummed as that meant I would have to hike three more miles in the dark to the next water source or get by with just a few ounces of water that evening and the next morning. Not liking either option and really needing water, I decided to look harder. I walked way up under the bridge and into a dark, narrow ravine. I saw something shiny at the base of it and that something turned out to be a just a few inches of spring water! I was so happy that I filmed a video of the water source there. I drank nearly two liters of water before going to bed.
As I laid there in my tent next to the footbridge, I reflected on what had just transpired. I think there are two takeaways. First, I think some of God’s blessings are near us and available to us, but it takes some extra effort on our part to find them. He showers us with countless blessings, but not all of them are dropped right in our lap. I found the water because I kept looking for it. I was borderline desperate, but I was also determined and showed some initiative. You won’t find water in every seemingly dry ravine. However, you will find it occasionally simply by not giving up and making a little extra effort. I wonder how many blessings I’ve missed out on in life simply because I gave up too soon, not willing to try harder or look under a seemingly dry ravine.
My second takeaway deals with prayer. When I get on the trail each morning, I make some very specific requests of God, based on my plans and desires for the day. I’ll ask God to remove my foot numbness or to hold off on an anticipated thunderstorm until I’m in my tent that night. But since my second month on the trail, I began daily (on my first AT step of the day) asking God to “Please give me whatever it is I need today to get through it.” Because God knows what I need better than I do. Maybe I need a little foot numbness to slow my pace to avoid injury. Maybe I need a mid-day thunderstorm, however scary, to replenish water sources that are about to dry up. Maybe he needs me to stop after 14 miles, rather than 18, because there’s someone I need to meet and talk to at the campsite 14 miles away. God has the big picture and the whole picture. So I’ll ask for things based on my narrow perspective, but ultimately I want the God of the big picture to give me whatever it is I need. On Day 129, I prayed that prayer. And on Day 129, God gave me what I needed…an extra ounce of energy and initiative late in the day to go looking for water under the footbridge. He placed it there, in a natural spring, and I think he might have smiled a bit when I found it.
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