Category Archives: 2016 AT Thru-Hike

Steve’s attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2016.

AT Thru-Hike #81 – Sir Fob W. Pot, AT Thru Hiker

“You can do anything you set your mind to, man”. – Eminem, Lose Yourself

“I owned every second that this world could give. I saw so many places, the things that I did. With every broken bone, I swear I lived.” – One Republic, I Lived

Day 149

I awoke to the wonderful smell of sizzling bacon. I followed my nose downstairs where Grandma Toni had prepared a huge breakfast. She brought me a plate with four pieces of French toast, two eggs, and three strips of bacon. Grandpa Jerry explained that the syrup on the table was “the good stuff” from their own farm. It was the best syrup I’ve ever had. Sorry, Aunt Jemima. Just as I finished off my first plate of food, Grandma Toni brought out a second plate identical to the first one. “You’re not my first thru-hiker,” she explained. I ate everything but the 8th piece of French toast. After packing up, I thanked this amazing couple for their generous hospitality and gave them each a huge hug. I then returned to the trail and continued my northbound journey to Katahdin.

Trail Magic!
Trail Magic!

Near mile 1782.4, Cape Moonshine Road, a gentleman was set up right along the trail in the woods providing Trail Magic! It had been over an hour since I had Grandma Toni’s breakfast so I was definitely ready for the 4-egg omelette Big Tom was offering. He has been doing Trail Magic on this spot throughout the hiking season and had an obvious love for hikers and the AT.

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After a fairly easy 9.8 mile day, I arrived at NH 25 and headed east .3 miles to the Hikers Welcome Hostel. After eating and re-supplying at a nearby gas station, I joined Firefly, Pyro, Tin Man, Kiwi, Virginia Creeper and several others in the hiker lounge. Later, my hiking buddy Foxfire came strolling in and said, “Fob, John says hi.” “John who?” I replied. Foxfire answered, “Some guy named John in a pickup truck pulled up by me as I crossed a road earlier today and asked me if I knew Fob. When I told him I did, he said he loves reading your blog on Trail Journals and to tell you hello and keep hiking and writing.” That’s just crazy. John, whoever you are, thanks for that message and for reading my blog and following my journey. You and others who have posted comments on Trailjournals or Facebook have had a huge impact on me at some times when I really needed it. I read and appreciate every comment.

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After some discussion on which two movies to watch of the hundreds of options, we settled on the rather strange combination of Road to Perdition and Joe Dirt. If the United States ever ceases to be and a future civilization studies our culture, may they never unearth a Joe Dirt DVD and judge us based on it.

Day 150

As the dozen or so hikers found seats around the table in the hiker lounge, there was a little more excitement and nervous anticipation than normal. Part of that may have been due to the smell of dozens of pancakes about to be served to us by the hostel staff. But even more than that, our minds were on the mighty White Mountains that awaited us. We were like a bunch of anxious football players in the locker room moments before the big game.

Paper Beats Rock
Paper Covers Rock

Most AT thru hikers consider The Whites, which run from New Hampshire to southern Maine, to be the most difficult section of the entire trail. New Hampshire has forty-eight 4000 footer mountains and most of those are in The Whites. They include 6288-foot Mount Washington, home to the worst weather on the planet, and Mount Madison, which some consider the AT’s toughest climb. The Whites are also home to Mahoosuc Notch, a mile long boulder field that is considered the toughest and most fun mile on the AT.

So The Whites are a huge test and challenge for AT hikers. The Whites are where you most need your 2000-mile, rock hard trail legs. The Whites are where you tap the reservoir of courage and determination you’ve been building up since Springer Mountain. The Whites are where you’re glad you had that 4th egg, 6th piece of bacon, and 7th piece of French Toast.

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Fueled by pancakes, coffee, and adrenaline, I exited “the locker room” and excitedly made my way to the base of 4802-foot Mount Moosilauke, the first of the mighty White Mountains.

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And that, dear readers, is where my AT blog comes to an end. I have decided to shift my energies from writing a blog to writing a book! The book will hopefully be released some time in 2017. It will cover my entire journey, to include the not yet blogged about last 35 days on the trail. It will detail, among other things…

– A devastating fall in southern Maine that left me bloodied, shaken, and minus a trekking pole.
– A crazy mile-long rock scramble through Mahoosuc Notch, and a brutal climb up and over Mount Washington in high winds and rain.
– An incredible final week in Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness.
– An amazing reunion with my wife, dad, and a life-long friend.
– My final climb and (spoiler alert) summit of Katahdin! That’s right, Fob is now officially an AT thru hiker!  On September 13th, I became the 650th NOBO hiker to summit Katahdin!  I hit every white blaze on the 2189.1 mile AT and carried my own pack the entire way.
– The final moments and my thoughts as I delivered my mom’s ashes to their final resting place.
– How my faith in God has changed as a result of my hike.                          – The results of our collective fund-raising efforts to help the Colon family adopt a child.
– My AT superlatives, lessons learned, and recommendations for future hikers.
– My plans for the future to include a few new bucket list items.
– A long list of people to thank who have helped me, cheered for me, enabled my AT journey, and encouraged me to write a book.

If you would like to receive an email when the book is ready for ordering, please send your email address to thebigsteve66@gmail.com. I will not share your email address or use it in any way other than to notify you of the book’s release.

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Hiking the AT has been the most challenging, difficult, and interesting thing I’ve ever done. It was everything I hoped for and more. I’m thankful to God for sustaining me in every way imaginable on this incredible journey. And I’m thankful to each of you for joining me on this journey and encouraging me each step of the way. Thank you so much for reading my blog! And thank you in advance to each of you who will take the time to read my eventual first book.

Trail Flirt
Trail Flirt

Perhaps I should close with some lyrics from a 1985 Mr. Mister song that came to mean a lot to me during my six long months on the AT…

Kyrie eleison (Lord, Have Mercy) down the road that I must travel,
Kyrie eleison through the darkness of the night,
Kyrie eleison where I’m going will you follow?
Kyrie eleison on a highway in the light.

Sir Fob W. Pot, AT Thru-Hiker, Class of 2016

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AT Thru-Hike #80 – Paging Dr. Quinn

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” – Hebrews 13:16

“Keep learning about the world. Use your mind to the hilt. Life passes quickly and, towards the end, gathers speed like a freight train running downhill. The more you know, the more you enrich yourself and others.” – Susan Trott

“I’m your ice cream man, stop me when I’m passin’ by, oh my my…” – Van Halen

Day 147

Today was a record day for meeting SOBO hikers. I greeted all of them and spoke a bit longer with a few of them. They were glad to have survived The Whites and offered me some key tips that would pay dividends later. After a fairly tough climb up Holts Ledge, there was a turnoff for the Trapper John Shelter, apparently named in honor of the MASH character. Some day I hope to have a dilapidated, porcupine-infested privy on a blue blazed side trail named after me. It will be called The Fob Pot.

Ice Cream Man's Yard
Ice Cream Man’s Yard

At mile 1764.6, just passed Dorchester Road, I took a short side trail to the home of the late Bill Ackerly. Mr. Ackerly, who passed away just a few months ago, was known in AT circles as The Ice Cream Man. After filling hikers’ bellies with ice cream, he would then beat them at croquet on his perfectly manicured backyard croquet course. According to a note on my AT Guthook app, his family plans to continue the ice cream tradition for one more year. It also said hikers could get water, use the outhouse, access the free WiFi, and ask about camping in the yard. When I arrived at about 4 p.m., no one was home and there were no cars in the driveway. I debated what to do. Should I stay or hike on? I asked myself, what would The Ice Cream Man want me to do? So, I set up my tent in the backyard at the edge of the croquet course, got water, accessed the WiFi, and made myself at home. I suppose I was technically trespassing, but it seemed like a risk worth taking. As the sun began to set on his still perfectly manicured croquet course, I regretted that I was not able to meet Mr. Ackerly, eat his ice cream, or lose to him at croquet. If it’s possible to miss someone you’ve never met, I suppose that’s how I felt about The Ice Cream Man.

Day 148

Prior to entering The Whites, hikers are presented with a couple of 3000′ appetizers known as Smarts Mountain and Mount Cube. It is New Hampshire’s way of saying, “Welcome suckers! If you think this is bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” The climb up Smarts Mountain runs along quartzite-covered Lamberts Ridge and is tough to navigate in a few places. It also lacks water for eight miles, so I was glad that I had cameled up at the spigot at The Ice Cream Man’s house. After descending the mountain, I stopped and got water at South Jacobs Brook and talked to a couple of SOBO Aussies for awhile.

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After climbing over rocky Mount Cube in the heat of the late afternoon, I was drenched in sweat and exhausted. I finally reached NH 25A at mile 1780.6 with about 30 minutes of daylight remaining, after a 16 mile day. I happened to see a hiker’s note in my Guthook app that said there was a sweet elderly couple nearby who take in hikers. It said they have a sign to that effect at the trailhead and that they were .3 miles west up a hill, then a right on East Cemetery Road, and then the second house on the right.

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At the trailhead I looked around and there was no sign. I debated what to do. I could drop my tent right there at a soccer field by the trailhead…the safe, easy option. Or I could follow the directions of some unknown hiker and try to find an elderly couple’s teal home about .3 miles away, in the hopes that they still take in hikers. I decided to go for it and headed west on 25A in search of elderly people who may take in hikers. After a fairly steep, .3 mile climb up the paved road, I came to…absolutely nothing. No neighborhood. No humanity. Nothing. Maybe it was bad Intel. With the sun starting to set, I decided to continue on for just five more minutes before returning to the soccer field defeated. Two minutes later, I spotted a sign indicating a right turn ahead! Could it be East Cemetery Road? I quickened my pace and, sure enough, it was East Cemetery Road!  Just like the seemingly dry ravine of a prior post, the seemingly road to nowhere would also bear fruit, thanks to a little extra effort late in the day.

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I turned right and walked up to the teal house, the second one on the right. I rang the doorbell and got no response. I rang it again and suddenly the second floor window opened and a little grey-headed woman stuck her head out. “Can I help you?” she asked. “My name is Fob and I heard that you and your husband might take in hikers,” I replied. She said, “We normally do but we decided to take this week off. We took the sign down at the trailhead.” “That’s okay, no worries,” I replied. “I’ll just set up down at the soccer field. I’m sorry to bother you.” “No, that won’t be necessary, just come on around to the porch, we’d love to have you,” she said. After apologizing for even being there on their week off and confirming that it wouldn’t be a problem, I made my way over to the porch and met her at the door.

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Rita Pease, in her 80s and better known as “Toni”, invited me in and told me to have a seat on the couch next to the recliner where her husband was sitting. Her husband, Jerry, is in his mid-80s and very friendly. He seemed like a cross between John Wayne and Paul Bunyan. I felt bad sitting on their couch because my profuse sweating made it seem like I had just gotten out of a swimming pool.

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Grandma Toni (as I call her) returned from the kitchen, handed me a ham sandwich, and sat down near her husband. “Fob, here’s your appetizer,” she said. “You can eat this while we watch Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. We have the whole first season on DVD!” “Oh good!” said I, for no apparent reason. Still soaking wet, I sat there on the couch, eating a ham sandwich while watching a very attractive Dr. Quinn administer medicine in 1867 Colorado. If I lived in Colorado in 1867 and Dr. Quinn was my doctor, I think I would come down with the sniffles every day.

As I sat there with my two adopted grandparents, I wondered whether the main course Grandma Toni had planned for me would happen at the end of episode 1 (the sooner option) or the end of season 1 (the later, binge watching option). I also wondered whether all this…being in an elderly couple’s home…in a New Hampshire town I didn’t even know the name of…covered in sweat…eating a ham sandwich…watching Dr. Quinn…was real or just a bizarre dream. It felt like a tv episode that might result if the writers of The Twilight Zone collaborated with the writers of The Andy Griffith Show.

Sugar Makers
Sugar Makers

At the conclusion of the quite good episode of Dr. Quinn, Grandma Toni brought me a TV dinner featuring chicken pot pie, green peas, and peach cobbler. It was delicious, although it made my stomach a little upset and I was afraid we might have to call Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, to check me out. After dinner, Grandma Toni showed me my upstairs bed and bathroom and asked for my dirty laundry so she could put a load in. Bless her soul. She told me to come back down after showering because they had a video for me to watch.

Feeling full and clean, I returned to the family room, hoping it would be to watch the next episode of Dr. Quinn. I’m curious as to whether the obvious chemistry between her and the rugged outdoorsman, Byron Sully, will ever amount to anything. Or is my curiosity just the byproduct of wearing women’s earbuds for several days?

Instead, Jerry showed me a 30 minute documentary done by the Discovery Channel a decade or so ago about their family. It turns out Jerry was a 4th generation sugarer, and his son now runs the business in its 5th generation. Sugaring, I learned, is the process used to create maple syrup, and the video shows Jerry walking around the family farm and explaining the process from beginning to end. There is so much more to it than just squeezing Aunt Jemima at your local IHOP. I learned they have 1200 taps across the farm, half using buckets to collect the sap and half using tubing. I learned how they transport it, boil it, and package it. I learned that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of real organic maple syrup. I peppered Jerry with questions and he happily answered all of them. I found it all quite fascinating. He explained some of their family traditions, like the children pouring newly made, still warm syrup over snow to make candy. I wondered if Dr. Quinn ever tapped a tree to make organic maple syrup but didn’t ask.

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Grandma Toni then joined us to tell some more stories, of which I’ll share one. She and Jerry were traveling the country by train in 2001 and were scheduled to meet a friend and tour the South Tower of the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11. While on a 4-hour layover at a Chicago train station, they overhead a fellow passenger say that she would be catching a train to New York City in an hour. They went to the ticket window and inquired about changing tickets in order to depart for New York in an hour, rather than four hours. They were able to change tickets and were on their way an hour later. With this earlier than anticipated arrival, they called their friend in New York to see about touring the South Tower the afternoon earlier, on 9/10. The friend agreed and they ended up on the last South Tower tour of the day on 9/10. The next morning at their hotel, they watched in horror with the rest of us as the World Trade Center fell to the ground. They felt like their lives had been spared for a purpose and that they had been given a new lease on life. If their treatment of me is any indication of the way they treat the dozens of other hikers who stay at their home each year, I think they have found that purpose.

As disappointed as I was to never meet Mr. Ackerly, The Ice Cream Man, I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to meet, talk to, and be hosted by Jerry and Toni Pease. When I return home after my AT hike, I plan to send them a thank you note along with Season 2 of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.  After I finish watching it, of course.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #79 – Rhubarb Carbs

“And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln

“The world is divided into two classes, those who believe the incredible, and those who do the improbable.” – Oscar Wilde

Day 144

The owner of the Killington Motel imports coffee beans from around the world and roasts and grinds them at the motel. I tried his bold Kenyan roast and loved it. I also loved the motel’s all-you-can-eat breakfast featuring blueberry pancakes. My day was off to a good start.

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God Did This
God Did This

The breakfast came in handy as I powered my way up Quimby Mountain. Shortly thereafter, I was passed by a familiar looking hiker and his dog. It was Pantry, who I had not seen since we shared a cabin in Shenandoah National Park. I love these random encounters with people I met earlier in my hike.

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After getting water at Locust Creek, I climbed up to the Lookout, a private cabin with fantastic 360-degree views. The owner lets hikers use it as a shelter. It has a long ladder that leads to a small platform, The Lookout, on top of the roof. I climbed up it for the views and hoped that maybe James Taylor would be up there escaping from a world that’s been getting him down.

View from The Lookout
View from The Lookout
Time to Forage!
Time to Forage!

I hiked on and, after a 16 mile day, set up my tent near the Wintturi Shelter, mile 1720.7. I was happy to see Pantry there, as I always enjoy watching him pull various ingredients out of his massive food bag. As he prepared some sort of fancy soup concoction, I ate two tortillas with peanut butter and honey. Since he’s known as Pantry I should probably be known as Cupboard’s Bare. As we sat there eating by the shelter, he told me about two interesting experiences he has recently had. First, he hiked with a guy who bought too much at a trail town grocery store and ended up hiking with two large summer sausages duct taped to each of his trekking poles. Ingenious…almost. That night a bear came and took the poles from beside his tent with the sausages still attached to them!

The Rare Man-Made Help
The Rare Man-Made Help

At another campsite Pantry stayed at, an anonymous person called 911 and said that someone at the campsite had a gun. Next thing you know a “mini SWAT team” was on the scene, going from tent to tent looking for the nonexistent hiker with the gun. Pantry had no weapon for them, but could’ve given them dried lentils, kale, and more than a dozen herbs and spices. By the way, they investigated, determined who made the call, and arrested that hiker at another campsite for filing a false report.

Day 145

Four miles into my morning hike, I reached VT 12, Barnard Gulf Road. I headed .2 miles west off the trail to visit On the Edge Farm, where I ate my first homemade rhubarb pie, along with a chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and Mountain Dew. Loved the rhubarb pie, even though I’m not exactly sure what a rhubarb is. I think they also use it to reinforce steel.

Ground Zero for Rhubarb Pie
Ground Zero for Rhubarb Pie
Magic!
Magic!

After six miles of roller coastering on a hot day, I arrived at Cloudland Road with plans to make another .2 mile diversion to Cloudland Market. However, this proved to be unnecessary because I hit some Vermont Trail Magic! First there was a cooler with drinks  and goodies just before the road.  And then at the road, Gas Tank was set up with a full complement of snacks and drinks. A southbound AT hiker, he fell and tore his meniscus in the Whites and decided to provide some magic during his recuperation at home in Vermont. I’m not entirely sure what or where a meniscus is. It sounds like something a woman has or does that might make her grouchy. I will look it up after researching rhubarb and report back on both.

Linda & Randy's Hiker Haven
Linda & Randy’s Hiker Haven

I received word from several SOBOs about an awesome couple, Randy and Linda, who live in a house by the White River in West Hartford. (Not to be confused with Big Steve and Lil Jan, who live in a van down by the river.) This amazing couple feeds and shelters over 1000 hikers each year. I was also told they have a dog who will come after you barking, but will return peacefully to the porch after you pet him. Sure enough, at mile 1737.1, after a 16.4 mile day, I crossed the White River and headed toward the house with the big AT symbol on its barn. I heard barking and then saw Cujo’s grandson charging at me as he slobbered. I quickly jumped out of his way, nearly tweaking my…meniscus? After petting him, he returned to the porch to wait for the next hiker.

Fob with Trail Angel Linda
Fob with Trail Angel Linda
Bobbin' with Fob
Bobbin’ with Fob

Linda and Randy feed hikers breakfast, lunch, and dinner…whatever meal you’re there for…at no cost (optional donation jar). They also offer free lodging in the barn’s mattress-filled loft or you can camp in their yard. On top of that, you can swim/bathe in the White River across the street or even take a 30-foot jump off the bridge into the water. After eating four grilled hot dogs and drinking two orange sodas, I claimed a bed in the barn’s loft, and then headed to the river. I stripped down to my faded, oversized, pathetic, droopy, synthetic underwear and swam out into the rapids. Being full of rhubarb and already having tweaked my meniscus, I opted not to jump off the bridge. I enjoyed a peaceful rest of the evening along with Tough Love, Tin Man, Task Master, and several other hikers. It was good to be in West Hartford, a town flooded and nearly wiped off the map in 2011 by Hurricane Irene. It was also good to meet and receive kindness from Linda and Randy, two of Vermont’s finest citizens.

Day 146

The trail seemed a tad easier today and I frequently heard the sound of loggers in the distance. I often wonder if they hear me when I fell the occasional wilderness log.

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By mid-afternoon I reached the adorable, upscale town of Norwich. Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo, was from there, in addition to many other of Vermont’s wealthiest residents. I headed .1 mile west to Dan and Whits General Store, known for its decent prices, good selection of groceries, and narrowest aisles on the AT. They also give hikers any available day-old deli sandwiches for free, so I downed a free roast beef sandwich after re-supplying. Three of my fellow hikers were asked to help an elderly woman across the street move a piece of furniture, and she rewarded them with some leftover food in the fridge, unaware it had mold on it. Awkward.

An Actual Road. Who knew?
An Actual Road. Who knew?

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After purchasing a 50 cent cup of lemonade from a young man in front of the store, I continued my journey over the Connecticut River…and into the great state of New Hampshire! Any state with the motto “Live Free or Die” is alright by me. After taking and posting the obligatory new state photo, I climbed the state’s first hill right into the bustling college town of Hanover.

Live Free or Die, Ya'll
Live Free or Die, Ya’ll

I could have spent a week in Hanover taking in all of its sights, sounds, eateries and shops. Instead, I spent about four hours. My first stop was to an outfitter to pick up a package Janet mailed to me. I now have my stove and winter gear again. I then had a free slice of pizza and large salad at Ramunto’s Brick Oven Pizza. I stopped into the nearby Verizon store and upgraded my phone with more storage. Not quite full, I headed back to the main drag and had a large ice cream at Morano Gelato and then two pastries (one free) at Umpleby’s Bakery Cafe. I hit a couple of gift shops which were of course full of all things Dartmouth. On my way out of town, I stopped at the Co-Op food store for a couple of Gatorades and bananas.

Go Dartmouth! Rah!
Go Dartmouth! Rah!

The AT goes by the Dartmouth stadium and practice fields and then up into the woods. I hiked about 1.5 miles and then, after an 11.3 mile day, set up my tent near Velvet Rocks shelter. I overheard a fellow hiker tell another hiker that a third hiker he knew had received a goat as a present from his parents and intended to hike with it the rest of the way to Katahdin. I laid in my tent considering the pros and cons of hiking the AT with a goat. There are some upsides, but overall I’d say it’s a b-a-a-a-a-d idea.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #78 – Fun in the Mud

“Things do not change; we change.” – Henry David Thoreau

“In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Day 141

I’m starting to see now why it is so difficult for thru hikers to award AT superlatives. How can one possibly settle on a best section, view, trail magic, or anything else? Much of what makes something extra special depends on other factors such as weather, my attitude, location and intensity of body pain and/or numbness, who I’m with, etc.

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That being said, Vermont’s Green Mountains are among the greenest, healthiest looking, and best smelling forests I’ve ever been in. It’s a special place even though it lacks the grand views you find in the Smokies and elsewhere. Throughout today’s hike, the alpine smells reminded me of the many Christmas tree shopping trips I’ve been on in my life. I grew up in a live Christmas tree family, unlike Janet and her artificial tree family. I enjoyed our family’s tradition of picking, transporting, trimming, setting up, watering, and smelling the tree.

My dad and I always ended up with sticky sap on our hands and a line of scattered needles running from the car to the living room. I remember my dad under the tree with his butt up in the air, turning the screws that held the tree in place. From my vantage point, he looked more like a plumber than an Air Force officer. Then we’d spin it to hide the bad side and then we’d hang the lights. Once the lights were operational and the tree watered, we’d turn it over to my mom and sisters to decorate it. Invariably, one of the ladies would say the tree was leaning, and Dad would go back under, with his butt up in the air, and strategically place pieces of cardboard under the appropriate tree stand legs to fix the problem. It was a sticky, time-consuming and wonderfully messy process, one that artificial tree families sadly miss out on. Those were good times and I’m happy that Janet agreed on us being a live Christmas tree family and continuing that tradition.

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Vermont’s Green Mountains are full of perfectly looking and smelling Christmas trees. On today’s hike, they were complemented by a series of rock cairn gardens that have been accurately described as a scene from the Candyland game. Over the years, hikers have added their own cairns, sometimes with a purpose in mind and sometimes not. I decided to build a small cairn in honor of Harrison and Hayley Waldron. Harrison sustained a serious traumatic brain injury in a 4-wheeling accident and has spent more than a year courageously recovering from it. Hayley has been by his side throughout the process, supporting him and keeping the faith. I have been greatly encouraged and inspired by their example as I deal with my own, much lesser challenges on the trail. So I built a rock cairn in their honor and prayed for them before hiking on.

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Rock Cairn Garden
Rock Cairn Garden

At mile 1676.8, VT 140, I arrived at some Trail Magic courtesy of the Green Mountain Club! These trail maintainers had an assortment of things to choose from, and I helped myself to two hot dogs, two brownies, and two Gatorades. After resting for 30 minutes and thanking them, I hiked up another Bear Mountain. On the way, I stopped and talked to a group of Philly teens and chaperones out on a section hike. They, like many others, are now aware that my son once pooped on the trail.

More Cairns
More Cairns
GMC Trail Magic (Tough Love on Left)
GMC Trail Magic (Tough Love on Left)

The last mile of the day offered great views of the Rutland Airport and the Clarendon Gorge. The suspension bridge over the Gorge was just high and wobbly enough to make my privates tingle. Just beyond the bridge I headed half a mile down VT 103 to Qu’s Whistle Stop Restaurant. In addition to great food and breakfast served all day, Qu’s allows hikers to camp in the backyard of the restaurant. I met and sat with another AT hiker named Tough Love from North Carolina. He got his trail name while hiking with an M.I.T. graduate and another guy. The M.I.T. graduate was complaining about how tough it is being as smart as he is. Tough Love responded that rather than worrying about being too smart, he should focus on using his brains to better society. The third hiker, just behind them, commented, “That’s some tough love right there,” and the name stuck.

Trail Magic Pooch
Trail Magic Pooch
Rutland Airport
Rutland Airport

Sitting at the table next to us was Hollis Squier, the Official Town Hugger of Tinmouth, Vermont. Yes, this man’s primary purpose is to give hugs to people who need them. He even has business cards. Some time ago a newspaper ran a story on him and it was read by a woman who was seriously ill and in need of a hug. Mr. Squier drove 90 minutes to meet her and her husband and give the lady a hug. After 1683 miles of hiking, Tough Love and I decided that we too could use a hug, and Mr. Squier obliged and also gave us his business card. If you’re ever in Vermont and need a hug, give this guy a call.

Clarendon Gorge
Clarendon Gorge

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Fob Gets a Hug
Fob Gets a Hug

I tented that night with Tough Love and a few others in the soft lawn behind Qu’s restaurant. I was warm, dry, full and had been recently hugged. At this stage of my long journey, that’s about all a hiker can ask for.

Day 142

After eating Qu’s Hiker Breakfast, I was offered a ride back to the trailhead by a local Trail Angel named Plans Too Much. After just a few miles, I began a long, challenging climb in light rain toward Killington Peak. About halfway up the mountain I stopped at the Governor Clement Shelter to get water and talk to some section hikers. I continued the grueling 2600-foot climb and eventually arrived at a crowded, dilapidated Cooper Lodge Shelter near the summit.

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With a big thunderstorm approaching, I quickly ate supper, hung my bear bag, and set up my tent not far from the shelter. Had the weather been nicer, I would have hiked an additional .2 miles uphill to the summit to eat at the Killington Peak Lodge, take in the views, and ride the gondola. None of that sounded appealing in a thunderstorm. Instead, I ended my 11.4 mile, all uphill day listening to the sound of heavy rain pounding my tent. I’ve gotten very used to that sound and it helped me fall fast asleep.

Day 143

Today was what most people would consider a miserable day for hiking. It rained all night, guaranteeing a muddy, slippery descent off Killington. Then, shortly after breaking camp and heading down the mountain, it started raining again. For the first time on my journey, I put on a rain poncho, more so to keep me warm rather than dry. Also for the first time, I made no effort to avoid the mud puddles. I was like a big rig driver whose brakes have failed. If I was going to get wet and muddy, I might as well have some fun with it…so I did.

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I have previously discussed my fondness for Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I have related how I have applied Habit 2, Begin With the End in Mind, and Habit 7, Sharpen the Saw, while hiking the Appalachian Trail. The trail conditions on Day 143 present an opportunity to discuss Habit 1, Be Proactive. This habit involves taking responsibility for your life and owning your behavior and your response to situations. Rather than blame your parents, genetics, conditions, or circumstances for your behavior, you realize you have the freedom to choose how to respond to external stimuli. In effect, you and you alone are response-able. You focus on things you can control (your circle of influence) rather than on things beyond your control (your circle of concern).

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I was on a long, wet, muddy descent in the rain. It was chilly out. I was far away from my home and my loved ones. I really should be miserable. I should hate the day and the fact that I’m cold, wet, and muddy on the AT. But I don’t have to feel that way. As a human being, I get to choose my response. I don’t have to follow the normal, natural response to such situations. So on Day 143, I chose to be happy. I chose to splash in the mud puddles like a 10-year-old. Each of the three times I fell, I chose to laugh and give myself a score based on my technique and how well I stuck or didn’t stick the landing. I chose to remember I am blessed to be on this trail and need to embrace the bad along with the good.

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Habit 1 can theoretically work in every situation, but we humans aren’t disciplined enough to apply it in all situations. We get gloomy when it’s rainy. We take offense when someone says something mean to us or about us. We get frustrated when stuck in traffic or in a slow-moving checkout line. And yet, we don’t have to respond that way. We can choose something better, and I decided Day 143 was going to be a fun, memorable day of hiking.

Gifford Woods SP Volleyball
Gifford Woods SP Volleyball

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At the bottom of the mountain the rain finally stopped. I hiked through Gifford Woods State Park, crossed VT 100, and reached Kent Pond near Killington. Wet and muddy, I called the Killington Motel and the owner came and picked me up at the trailhead. I showered, did laundry, and devoured a 12″ sub at the nearby Killington deli. It had been a good, fun, rainy, muddy day on the Appalachian Trail. At least for today, I decided not to let it be miserable.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #77 – Soft Lobes

“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” – Albert Pike

“Great men are rarely isolated mountain peeks; they are the summits of ranges.” – T. W. Higginson

Day 138

I made my way counter-clockwise back around Stratton Pond and rejoined the AT northbound. It was a warm, muggy day but what slowed me the most were the opportunities to forage blueberries and raspberries. I love snacking on them in the wild but that does slow my pace considerably.

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I realized it had been 27 days since my last zero day so I decided to take a zero in the wonderful, 4-season resort town of Manchester Center, Vermont. After a 10.5 mile day, I arrived at the trailhead and stuck my thumb out. Immediately, a driver (Mr. Pike) who was about to exit the parking lot waved for me to come over and gave me the 5.4 mile ride into town. Thank you, Mr. Pike! I instantly fell in love with this quintessential New England town. It has all sorts of shopping, ranging from outlet stores to small gift shops. My sisters would love this place. It also has restaurants, ice cream parlors, bookstores, and coffee joints. Throw in a grocery store, movie theater, historic buildings and barber shop…all within easy walking distance…and you’ve got yourself a great town for visiting hikers.

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I began my afternoon with a delicious pizza at Manchester Pizza. Next, I crossed the street and got a haircut after apologizing to the barber for my dirty hair and smell. She said she couldn’t smell me but I don’t think that’s possible. After a nice summer buzz cut, I went next door to do laundry. In the corner of the laundromat was a hiker changing area with loaner clothes to wear while you do laundry. Yes! Those are the little things that really show a town values and is attuned to the needs of its visiting hikers. I found the manager and told her that and she appreciated the feedback.

I Ate It All
I Ate It All

After doing laundry I headed up the hill to the Palmer House. Awesome hotel! It’s nicer than most places hikers stay, but I was due a decent place and their hiker rate made it reasonable. The hotel features indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a par 3 golf course, tennis courts, trout pound, and a great breakfast. After showering I walked down to Gringo Jack’s for some steak and shrimp fajitas. Yum! I went to bed clean, full, and looking forward to my day off in this neat little town.

Hiker Friendly Laundromat
Hiker Friendly Laundromat

Day 139

I had a good hotel breakfast with a fellow hiker named Freebird from Georgia. He chose the name not so much for the song, but more for the idea that he is free out here to think and learn and grow. After breakfast I walked into town to do a little shopping and then had a pasta lunch at Christo’s Pizza. It was good, but would have been a tad better had they not charged for soda refills. I then stopped by the Mountain Goat Outfitter in search of a new set of earbuds to replace the set I lost. The only available ones were small purple ones that are “designed especially for women.” I bought them anyway. Had that happened earlier in my hike, I might have earned the trail name Ladybuds or Soft Lobes.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon at the Roubdabout Cafe, drinking coffee, blogging, and eating a salad. After some dessert at Scoops Ice Cream, I headed back to the Palmer House. I finished off a great, restful day talking to my wife, sons, and dad on the phone. It makes it easier out here knowing all is well on the home front. I gave them an update on how I was doing. However, I couldn’t bring myself to tell them I was now using small purple Lady Earbuds, designed especially for women.  I would rather them think of me as a Mountain Man.

Climbing Bromley Ski Slopes
Climbing Bromley Ski Slopes

Day 140

As I made my way toward the grocery store, a car pulled up next to me and offered a ride. The driver hiked the AT a few years ago and she figured I could use a lift. After loading up on groceries, I went to a traffic signal and stuck my thumb out. Within just a few minutes, Cheryl stopped and gave me a ride to the trailhead. Manchester City gets two thumbs up in my book for being a hiker friendly town.

Ski Bromley
Ski Bromley

I went right to work with a 1300-foot climb up Bromley Mountain. For the first time in my life, I was hiking up a ski run in the summer time. I tried to picture the scene in the winter with snow on the ground and downhill skiers zooming by me. At the summit I stopped for first lunch with several other hikers and then took a short rest on a ski lift chair.

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I descended Bromley and then climbed Styles Peek where I saw another snake. By late afternoon I arrived at the beautiful Griffith Lake. I considered tenting and swimming there, but they only had wooden tent platforms (I prefer the earth) and I still had daylight and some gas in the tank.

Love the Green Mountains
Love the Green Mountains

A few miles later, after a 14.8 mile day, I arrived at Lost Pond Shelter and set up my tent. I was joined by Freebird, Gametime (from Massachusetts) and 17-year-old Black Hole, a southbounder from California. At the entrance to the camping area were two large tents full of 10-12 year old girls and two chaperones from the Plymouth Girls Club. I enjoyed talking to them and learning about their program and wilderness section hike. Later, a couple of the girls came down to the aspiring thru-hiker tenting area and said, “We have a ton of leftover rice and beans that we don’t want to pack out tomorrow. Do you guys want some?” “Yes, we would,” I answered for the group and just like that, the leftovers were gone.

Plymouth Girls Club Chaperones
Plymouth Girls Club Chaperones

I was not able to get a picture of all the girls because that requires parental permission. However, I got a picture of their chaperones and thanked them for the delicious rice and beans. Their generosity made me feel like an honorary member of the Plymouth Girls Club. So moved, I returned to my tent and donned my small purple earbuds, designed especially for women.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #76 – Stratton Mountain Visions

“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what people think.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” – Oscar Wilde

Day 135

I left the Wilbur Clearing Shelter and began my descent toward the Hoosic River. About halfway down the mountain I saw Foxfire talking to two southbound hikers. It turns out they were a Canadian couple from Quebec on a section hike, and were out doing trail magic. After eating some of their raspberries, I thanked them and hiked on.

Canadian Trail Magic
Canadian Trail Magic

At MA 2 I headed west 1/2 mile to a grocery store on the outskirts of Williamstown. I did a big food resupply and had a couple of blueberry muffins and chocolate milk for second breakfast. I returned to the trail, crossed the Hoosic River, and began a long gradual climb out of the valley.

Above the Clouds
Above the Clouds
Bring on Vermont!
Bring on Vermont!

At mile 1596.3 I arrived at the Vermont border and celebrated with a Snickers bar and good conversation with several southbounders. This is also the southernmost point of the Long Trail, as it runs concurrent with the AT for the next 105.2 miles before breaking off toward Canada. A mile later, around 3 pm, I crossed paths with Long Strider on another of his southbound slack pack hikes. Little did I know that I would not see another human being for the next 24 hours.

Privy Humor
Privy Humor

After a 12.9 mile mile day I stealth camped near Roaring Branch Pond. I was glad to be in Vermont and excited to be hiking in its famed Green Mountains. Fun fact: Green Mountains is the literal translation of the French Verts Monts, which is how Vermont was named. The idea was suggested in 1777 by Dr. Thomas Young, an American revolutionary and Boston Tea Party participant. Remember that, as it will be on the final AT exam.

Plantar Fasciitis?
Planter Fasciitis?

Day 136

During my morning hike I stopped for water near the Congdon Shelter. The water was cold and clear. The shelter was a dump and in need of attention. I learned later that Foxfire tented near the shelter the previous night and battled mice throughout the night. They got into her food bag hanging from a tree branch and were crawling on her tent. Bummer.

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By mid-afternoon I reached Harmon Hill and saw a group of girls in their early teens from a day camp taking in the view. Although they were the first humans I’d seen in 24 hours, I didn’t stay long because all twenty of them were talking at the same time and no one was listening. Too much humanity in one spot. It made me dizzy. I may have become an INTJ. Later, at the footbridge at Hell Hollow Brook, I caught up with Foxfire and Pigeon Toe, a retired coal miner from Kentucky.

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I ended my 18.6 mile day near the crowded Goddard Shelter, just as a light rain began to fall. There was an interesting combination of hikers there, including northbound and southbound AT hikers, Long Trail hikers, and day hikers. I enjoy the friendly rivalry between AT NOBOs and SOBOs. SOBOs trash talk us for not yet having done the most difficult sections of the AT, the Whites and southern Maine. We trash talk them because we have hiked a thousand more miles than they have and are smarter and better looking.

Day 137

I looked forward to today’s hike because I would be climbing the 3936-foot Stratton Mountain. The mountain holds a special place in hiking history. While on the mountain in 1909, James P. Taylor came up with the idea of a trail from Massachusetts to Canada which would become Vermont’s Long Trail. While on Stratton’s summit during construction of the Long Trail, Benton MacKaye, a forester, planner, and conservationist, conceived the idea of a trail spanning the entire Appalachian range. His grand vision would eventually culminate in the completion of the Appalachian Trail.

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I have always admired visionary leaders and I have worked with and for some great ones. Jonathan Swift, an 18th century Irish writer, said that “Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” I love that. I think it starts with talking to people (customers, family members, etc.) about their challenges and problems. What’s not working in our family, company, church, or even society? And then you start using your imagination and brainstorming about what could possibly be done to address that problem, even if it would require considerable resources, has never been done before, or initially sounds absurd. You then have to sell your vision, acquire the resources, and champion the cause until it comes to fruition.

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Benton MacKaye, like Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Steven Jobs, and others, was a visionary. He had a big idea and saw a really long Appalachian Trail in his head. I’m sure there were cynics coming up with all sorts of reasons why his idea wasn’t realistic or plausible. There will always be cynics. Sometimes the cynics are right, because not all grand visions succeed. And yet, some grand visions do succeed. Some big dreams become a reality.

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So what’s your vision? What do you want your family, business, church, or community to look like in 5, 10, and 20 years? What’s the biggest challenge each of them faces? Have you ever really thought about it? Have you sat down with a pencil and paper and brainstormed solutions? Better yet, have you gone on a long walk in nature to think deeply about the challenges and possible solutions? You may not be the next Steven Jobs who revolutionizes an entire industry. But not all visions have to be grand. Maybe you start by just solving a persistent problem facing your family.

Vermud
Vermud

I grew up in a family that had problems like any other family. But I always knew that my dad was somehow working on them. He was the family visionary and big problem solver, whereas mom ran the daily operations of managing the household and keeping everyone clothed, fed, and alive. As a youngster, knowing that gave me a lot of comfort. Is your vision and your approach to solving problems bringing comfort to your family, business, church, classroom or others that you may be called to lead? Or are you satisfied with the status quo, thinking the problems are too big to solve? Something to think about.

Stratton Mountain Caretaker's Cabin
Stratton Mountain Caretaker’s Cabin

So as I climbed beautiful Stratton mountain, I thought about Benton MacKaye up there dreaming big dreams of an Appalachian Trail. I also spent some time thinking about my future after the trail. I prayed about it. I thought about some things, big and small, that I’d like for Janet and me to do. I thought about some problems that need tackling and brainstormed solutions. It was a fun exercise that took my mind off the grueling climb.

Stratton Descent
Stratton Descent

At the Stratton summit I walked by the tiny caretaker cabin and met the sweet couple who live there and keep an eye on things during hiking season. They grow their own food, get water from a spring, and offer helpful advice to hikers. I walked by the fire tower but decided not to climb it because I was tired and needed all my energy to get down the mountain before it got dark.

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Stratton Pond
Stratton Pond

At the base of the mountain I took a .5 mile side trail clockwise around Stratton Pond to the campsite on the north shore. I tented there along with Foxfire, Other Brother (an Air Force veteran and former C-130 crew chief) and a few other hikers. I built a big campfire and sat there with Foxfire discussing today’s hike. It had been a good 19.5 mile day of hiking and thinking and dreaming big dreams.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #75 – The Big Cheese

“Every human mind is a great slumbering power until awakened by a keen desire and by definite resolution to do.” – Edgar F. Roberts

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” – Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Day 133

Foxfire offered me her three leftover hard-boiled eggs for breakfast and I accepted. That brought my total to nine hard-boiled eggs eaten in twelve hours…tripling my previous personal record. I broke camp and headed north 9.5 miles to Dalton, Massachusetts. The highlight of my morning hike was spotting my first wild weasel climbing up a tree. As I approached the tree he was in, I started humming the first song I ever learned.  I hoped he would slip and fall off a branch just as I went by so I could look at him and say “plop goes the weasel.”

An AT Weasel
An AT Weasel

In Dalton I checked in to the Shamrock Inn and showered and did laundry. Fun fact: Dalton’s largest employer, Crane and Company, is the only supplier of paper for the Federal Reserve Note, the United States’ paper money. Okay, so that fact isn’t very fun…I’ll try again later. I had a steak sandwich and salad at Angelina’s and then re-supplied across the street at Sav More. I spent the rest of the evening resting and catching up on news. A side benefit of being on the trail is not having to listen to the endless political banter of this election season and other bad news. After the trail, I hope to enjoy more sunrises, sunsets, and walks and take in less news and political rants. Before bashing either unpopular presidential candidate, maybe we need to drop to a knee and pray for the eventual winner. He or she is going to need it. Just a thought. Later I ordered some House Special fried rice and spring rolls and ate dinner in bed while leaning against a soft, fluffy pillow.

Day 134

Today was a fairly easy day of hiking with gradual climbs and descents. Near The Cobbles, a marble outcropping with views of the Hoosic River Valley, I crossed paths with Hammer and another hiker. They were doing a southbound slack pack and we shared notes on our respective upcoming terrain.

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At mile 1577.5 I arrived at Chesire, Massachusetts. Fun fact: in 1800 the town, known for its dairying and cheese, sent a 1,235-pound chunk of cheese, made of curds from every farmer in town, to President Jefferson. The big chunk of cheese, moved on a sled drawn by six horses and then on water, resulted in a thank you letter from President Jefferson to the Chesire farmers. Historians disagree on whether the President cut the cheese himself, or delegated the responsibility to the White House chef, Myron Toots.

Corn on the Fob
Corn on the Fob

My only stop in Chesire was a terrific ice cream place called Diane’s Twists. Upon arrival I noticed several hikers sitting at the picnic tables outside. Long Strider was finishing off a banana split. Gusteau (an LSU grad and science whiz) was sitting under a shade tree licking his ice cream cone. Other hikers had little globs of ice cream in their scraggly beards that didn’t bother them a bit. Suddenly a familiar looking hiker with a thick, German, Hans Gruber from Die Hard accent approached me and said, “Your son poop on trail.” While it’s common for parents to live vicariously through their children or to be known for their children’s accomplishments, it’s less common to be known by the inappropriate placement of a child’s bowel movement. Such is the trail life of a Fob W. Pot. I met and talked to the German hiker, Dream Catcher, at the Low Gap shelter a few months ago, and it was good to see him doing well and enjoying his great American hike. It was also good to eat a large Cookie Dough ice cream and wash it down with a cold Mountain Dew.

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I spent the afternoon making the 2500-foot ascent of Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts, coming in at 3489 feet. The summit features a 93-foot-high Massachusetts Veterans War Memorial Tower, Bascom Lodge, Thunderbolt Ski Shelter, and a television and radio tower. In addition to being on the National Register of Historic Places, Mount Greylock is the location of Ilvermorny, the North American School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the fictional world of Harry Potter. Now that is a fun fact!

MA Veterans War Memorial Tower
MA Veterans War Memorial Tower
View From Mount Greylock
View From Mount Greylock

After consuming a Coke and chips from the Bascom Lodge snack bar, I descended the mountain and ended my 20.5-mile day sleeping in the Wilbur Clearing Shelter. I met several section hikers and southbounders, including Mission, Raven, and Angel. My friend Foxfire was also there, and together we sat around a campfire sharing stories of life on the AT. Someone in the group reeked of hard boiled eggs and I couldn’t get away from them, regardless of where I sat.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #74 – Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

“Every new day begins with possibilities. It’s up to us to fill it with the things that move us toward progress and peace.” – Ronald Reagan

“It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.” – Thomas Jefferson

Day 131

The highlight of my morning was a fascinating hike along Ice Gulch, a ravine so deep that it will often have ice or snow in it in the middle of summer. Although it was a warm and humid day, I at least crossed several streams and ponds. I played leapfrog with Sunshine and Moxie throughout the day, and enjoyed talking to them on a couple of breaks.

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At mile 1531.1 I went by Benedict Pond.  A local section hiker told me they stock the pond with trout via helicopter.  I would love to have seen a helicopter trout dump while I was there but that was not to be.

Benedict Pond
Benedict Pond

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My goal today was to reach and camp at the Shaker Campsite, mile 1538.2. Ann Lee, a charismatic young woman, founded the Shaker religion in Manchester, England in 1747. She claims to have had a vision that taught her that humans must renounce carnal knowledge in order to gain entrance to heaven. Thus, the Shakers practiced pacifism, celibacy, communal living, and gender equality. As someone who has practiced all four of those things on the AT, I consider myself somewhat of a Shaker and a mover. After facing persecution in England, Lee and her followers fled to America in 1774 and settled in Albany, New York. The utopian group claimed 5000 believers by the mid-19th century and spread around the northeast, to include a small settlement in a wooded valley near modern day Tyringham, Massachusetts.

Shaker Campsite
Shaker Campsite/Ruins

After 14.1 miles, I called it a day at the Shaker campsite, with a couple of remnants of their stone structures still visible. A section hiker’s clothes line full of undergarments and a stuffed animal only slightly detracted from the historic feel of the area. I talked with fellow hikers ETA, Foxfire, and Apple Jack for awhile, and then gave myself a mini sponge bath at the nearby creek. I wasn’t sure if standing in my underwear sponging myself by the creek was consistent with renouncing carnal knowledge, and feared my doing so might get me expelled from the Shaker Campsite. On the other hand, the sight of an emaciated Fob dripping wet in his underwear all but assured my celibacy for the foreseeable future, consistent with Shaker doctrine.

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Day 132

Less than two miles into my morning hike, I crossed Jerusalem Road and saw a young boy standing next to a wooden hut in front of his home. I walked over and discovered that the enterprising young man had established a little business selling drinks, snacks, eggs and other products to hikers. The little hut, a self-service, pay as you go store, was even wired to power a refrigerator. I purchased and consumed a couple of drinks and snacks, and bought a couple more for later. It occurred to me that this young fellow, maybe around 12 years old, works harder to stock his store and earn a living than some in our country who do very little and live off welfare. A mile later I reached Main Road and discovered a cooler full of ice-cold watermelon slices. It had been a good morning.

Young Man's Trailside Business
Young Man’s Trailside Business
Watermelon Magic!
Watermelon Magic!

Shortly after seeing a snake at Baldy Mountain, I crossed paths with a southbound group of hikers known as the Silver Scramblers. They were a fun, motivated group of somewhat older hikers, and I enjoyed stopping and talking to them for a few minutes.

Massachusetts Snake
Massachusetts Snake

At mile 1548.1 I faced a decision. Option 1 was to take a .5 mile side trail to popular Upper Goose Pond Cabin. This would give me an easy 10-mile day and an opportunity to swim in a beautiful pond and have blueberry pancakes in the morning. Option 2 was to take advantage of the relatively flat terrain and decent weather and hike eleven more miles to Washington Mountain Road. This would allow me to camp in the popular Cookie Lady’s yard and enjoy her cookies (complimentary) and option to purchase hard-boiled eggs, sodas, blueberries, raspberries, and Klondike bars. Tough win-win choice, but I went with Option 2.

Upper Goose Pond
Upper Goose Pond

I reached US 20 by early afternoon and went .1 mile east to a hotel to get a soda and re-charge my phone. I then pounded out ten more buggy, muddy miles and finally reached the Cookie Lady’s house! Foxfire, ETA, and a couple other hikers were already there. ETA had just finished mowing some grass, something I would also have been willing to do to help the family out had the sun not been setting. For supper, I purchased two cokes, a Klondike bar, a pint of raspberries, and six hard-boiled eggs. Don’t judge me…I’m a long distance hiker. The couple is in their 80s and he is in poor health and in the hospital. They have been serving cookies to hikers for decades and also offer their soft lawn for tenting. Their property is gorgeous, featuring a blueberry patch, shade trees, and a picnic table and chairs for hikers to use. Although the patriarch is ill, they had at least one child and a couple of teenage grandchildren there serving cookies, selling the other products, and keeping the tradition alive. Good on them.

Finerty Pond
Finerty Pond
Cookie Lady's House
Cookie Lady’s House

It had been a great 21 mile day, my tenth 20+ mile day on the AT. I like to stay under 17-18 miles per day as much as possible as that is easier on my body, more sustainable, and more enjoyable. However, I can and will go longer occasionally to reach a trail town or other special destination, and the Cookie Lady’s property definitely qualifies. My only regret on the day was consuming six hard-boiled eggs before and after drinking a Coke. There are consequences to such choices, and for me, the consequences could be heard throughout the night and across the sprawling property.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #73 – Whatever It Is I Need

“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)

Day 129

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.

Great Falls
Great Falls

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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.

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Bear Mountain Summit
Bear Mountain Summit

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.

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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.

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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.

Sages Ravine Campsite
Sages Ravine Campsite

Day 130

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.

Sages Ravine
Sages Ravine

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).

Rob, Nomad, Josh, SEGA
Rob, Nomad, Josh, SEGA

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.

Shays' Rebellion Monument
Shays’ Rebellion Monument

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.

A He Tree
A He Tree

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.

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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.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #72 – Sharpen the Saw

“I still need more healthy rest in order to work at my best. My health is the main capital I have and I want to administer it intelligently.” – Ernest Hemingway

“‘On with the dance, let the joy be unconfined!’ is my motto, whether there’s any dance to dance or any joy to unconfine.” – Mark Twain

Day 127

I woke up today and realized I needed a break. It had been 17 days since my last zero or near-0 and a recharge was overdue. I’ve previously blogged about Stephen Covey’s Habit 2, Begin with the End in Mind, and how that principle is useful on the AT. Day 127 was all about Habit 7, Sharpen the Saw. According to Covey, sharpening the saw is about preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It is critically important to renew yourself physically, socially/emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Doing so allows you to stay fresh, have energy, and take on the challenges that life deals you. If you fail to sharpen the saw, according to Covey, your body becomes weak, your mind mechanical, your emotions raw, your spirit insensitive, and your person selfish. That’s a bad position to be in, especially out on a long distance hike.

Cornwall Bridge Breakfast
Cornwall Bridge Breakfast

Here’s how I’ve gone about sharpening the saw on the AT:

– Physically – taking zeros and near-0s and staying off my feet. Getting a massage in Birmingham while in town for my son’s wedding. Soaking in a hot tub in Hot Springs. Enjoying various hot, Epsom salt, essential oil baths at friends’ homes and hotels. Especially during the first two months, taking breaks during the day and soaking my feet in a cold mountain stream. The AT pounds you physically, all day long, for five to seven months. You simply must create opportunities to rest and rejuvenate your body.

– Socially/Emotionally. I have been renewed socially many times simply by good conversation around a campfire, in a shelter, or on a lunch break. When you hear five different and funny stories about people falling in the mud, you start to view it as something funny, not a hiking disaster. I have been encouraged, strengthened and renewed by some amazing people out here. I have also been emotionally renewed from phone calls and texts with my family, and wonderful comments on my personal and Trail Journals blogs. Emotionally, I’ve tried to just let my emotions run wild. I’ve cried thinking about my mom. I’ve gotten angry at rocks (which does a lot of good!). I’ve laughed with people, at people, and about people. Letting these emotions run their course sort of resets me.

Toymakers Cafe
Toymakers Cafe

– Mentally. I try to keep my mind sharp by thinking about all sorts of things. Sometimes I’ll calculate my average miles per hour, or number of days until the end at different daily mileage averages, or the number of bugs I can kill per hour, or how long to a shelter going 1.75 or 2.25 miles per hour. Sometimes I write songs or blogs in my head or analyze the lyrics to songs. I’ve tried to remember the names of all my past teachers, all the tight ends the Dallas Cowboys have ever had, my Top 10 favorite songs and movies and places, and other useless information.

– Spiritually. For me, the AT has been a highly spiritual environment, even more so than I anticipated. God’s creative power and awesomeness is so overwhelmingly evident all day long. How anyone could hike the AT and end up an atheist is beyond me. For 127 straight days I have said at least one long prayer every day and usually several each day. Sadly, that’s not something I did nearly as well in my pre-AT life. I think my prayers have been more conversational and less formulaic. I’ve also been renewed by attending worship services whenever possible, participating in an online Bible study, and listening to inspirational iBooks. Although I will return to the real world a flawed, sinful man, I think this experience has made me a stronger Christian.

So it was time for some renewal. I made an easy 4.1 mile hike to CT 4 and then hiked .9 miles east to the town of Cornwall Bridge. It was a nice little town in which to sharpen the saw. I stayed and did laundry at the Hitching Post Motel. I ate three massive meals at the Cornwall Country Market while talking to the locals. I also visited Housatonic River Outfitters/Bookstore and bought a bottle of Permethrin to spray my clothes with.

My time in Cornwall Bridge was certainly rejuvenating for my body, mind, soul, and spirit. My saw was sharpened and I looked forward to a good night of sleep in a bed before hiking on.

Day 128

After a huge breakfast at the Cornwall Country Marker, I made my way back to the trail and spent the day on a roller coaster of small ups and downs. The weather was nice and I felt really good. That’s what hiking with a sharpened saw does for a person.

After 14 miles of hiking I arrived at the quaint town of Falls Village, founded in 1840. Falls Village, the second smallest town in Connecticut, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s the kind of place you’d go to get away from it all and write a book.

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My guidebook said that tenting was possible behind the hiker-friendly Toymaker Cafe, so I headed that way. Greg and Ann Bidou run the cafe, which was unfortunately closed for the day when I arrived. However, Greg kindly offered to fill my water bottles and showed me where I could tent behind the cafe. Greg’s side business, T100 Toymakers, imports parts for vintage British motorcycles. A red barn behind the cafe is filled with frames and matching motors for old Triumphs just waiting to be rebuilt.

I tented in the backyard along with a few other hikers including Lou and Julie. Before dozing off, I looked in my guidebook and noticed tomorrow I would cross the 1500 mile milestone and enter a new state. A lot of miles remain on this journey…I’ll need to keep my saw sharp.

Fob

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