Thursday—August 28, 2012
Location—North of US-80
The last twenty-four hours, absolutely non-stop.
It all began at eight last night when Dwinda put me on Amtrak in Jefferson City. My Webmaster, CyWiz, also came to the station to see me off. Three hours later I was at Union Station, St. Louis. From there it was getting the right Metro-Link Train to Lambert Airport. Without the kind platform security folks help, I’d still be riding around St. Louis. One kind guard pulled me off one of the Metros just as the door was closing—wrong one! Once at the airport I pretty much had the whole place to myself—until four. I tried getting a little sleep, but I’ve never been able to do well sitting up in an armchair, you know the joined-together kind in the airports and bus stations.
I got my luggage (my pack and sticks in a duffle) checked in and then made it through security just in time to board my flight to Pittsburg. Ended up having to change planes in Pittsburg. Just made that connection too. Actually got into Hartford/Springfield Airport twenty minutes early. Rick, a dear friend from my Florida and Alabama hiking days, who now lives in Keene, New Hampshire, 125-miles to the north, will be coming down to pick me up and get me on the trail down in Guilford. Turns out, he got held up in a construction zone on the way down, but finally made it.
A little before one-thirty I’m standing at the shore of Long Island Sound, in Chittenden Park, Guilford, Connecticut. I get a video and some pictures, then we pause to pray for my safe and successful passage. Then it’s farewell to Rick ( I’ll see him again before this trek is over) and I’m off for Grand Monadnock in New Hampshire.
I’d planned a near-twenty for this day, but no way to get those kinds of miles in starting at one-thirty. I do manage around a twelve, to a bit north of US-80.
You may have noticed that the stats reflect a zero-mile day, as I didn’t reach my destination for today. I’ll pass it around mid-morning tomorrow, so those miles will appear in tomorrow’s stats.
Dead on my feet, I’m not the least particular about a campsite. A bit on a slant—no problem. I sleep soundly.
Wednesday—August 29, 2012
Location— Near Reservoir Road
Had to cut my time short working my journal entry last night. Couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.
A beautiful cool, clear morning. I’m rested and ready for the day, a very long day. Don’t see any way I’ll be reaching River Road this evening, but I’ll get as far as I can.
Doesn’t take long till I’m into the climb, up, up, through the boulders and roots. Working my way over Pisgah is slow going—and it doesn’t speed up much after. A bit of roadwalking and I’m back into the ups and downs. Gotta consciously place each foot, every step, for fear of busting it. Doing a header in these rocks—not a good idea.
Mid afternoon I meet a runner. First person I’ve met on the trail. He slows his pace and hikes along. Good to have some company.
Claire is one of the helpful and kind folks at the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. While planning this trek I called and talked with her. She offered to help me as needed. And I’ll be needing a ride from the trailhead on River Road through Middleville, then down to where the trail crosses SR-77, so I give her another call. She’s happy to hear from me again, and more than happy to pick me up at River Road around nine tomorrow—I think I can make it by then.
Another very long and tiring day through the boulders and rocks. Looks of it I’m going to have a very tough time maintaining my itinerary with the miles set. And the urgency to track my schedule? Well, Rick can come for me at Mt. Monadnock on the 10th of next month, put me up overnight at his place in Keene, then haul me back to the airport in Hartford/Springfield on the 11th. Oh yes, for sure I want to finish on the 10th!
Don’t make River Road. I’ll worry about it in the morning—just too tired and slap wore out.
Thursday—August 30, 2012
Location—Beseck Mountain above Black Pond
Had to slump way down in my sleeping bag last night. A perfect night to be in the great outdoors. I really slept well.
I’m pack up and moving down the trail right at six-thirty—in the wrong direction. My own fault. I’d become a bit anxious late yesterday afternoon. I was not sure I’d be close enough to River Road to make it in by nine. That was the time I’d asked Clare to pick me up. Actually, a friend of Clare’s will be coming for me as she has to work. Anyway, to make sure that I’d be close enough to make it in on time, I decided to hike one of the yellow/blue-blazed trails that looked shorter. Great idea, except I missed the blue-blazed (New England Trail) junction and got turned around. And my fretting was for naught as I manage to make it out of the woods a little after nine, where Clare’s friend, Wayne, has been waiting for me—not all that long.
Wayne loads me and we’re off for Middletown and breakfast. During breakfast we talk trail—the New England Trail. Wayne’s hiked the whole thing a couple times, so he’s able to provide me with much-needed information.
After breakfast, Wayne offers to take me by the office of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. Known as the CFPA, it’s the non-profit organization responsible for the Connecticut section of the New England Trail. That’s where Clare works and Wayne’s one of their volunteers.
It’s an absolutely gorgeous facility. Hey, I’m in luck—everyone’s in, and Clare gets them together for a photo op (for me) outside. You’ll get to meet them all, too, as I also did a short video. There’s Marty, Lindsay, Jim, Clare, Wayne, Kara, Terri, and Eric. A real joy meeting all of you. Oh, and I just want you to know that you’ve got a pretty amazing trail. Great tread, groomed and well blazed. I’m just getting going, but I already know it’s gonna be a great trek!
Wayne knows a much better way to get me back in to the trail junction where I’ll head north, and he hikes in with me to make sure I get there okay. Thanks, Wayne, for taking time to help me this morning. Your kindness, a true blessing!
Even with the late start (on today’s mileage) I make good time. Rocks, rocks, and more rocks, and plenty of climbing (Wayne told me so!). I do slow down some, but I make it just fine through the Broomstick Ledges, up and over Pistapaug, Fowler, and most of Beseck.
In the evening I talk with Slider. We hiked the Pacific Crest Trail together back in 2008. He lives nearby and we’ve made plans to hike together some tomorrow. There’s a cafe right where I break off the mountain and we’ll try and meet there.
Oh, my itinerary destination for today was State Road 66, location of the cafe I’ll reach first thing in the morning. So, I’m pretty close to being on schedule.
Friday—August 31, 2012
Location—Summit Wood Road, then to Slider’s ex-wife, Trish’s home
As I write this entry, of course it’s evening, so I know what an incredible day it’s been because it’s behind me now. To write about the day, to let it unfold as it did will be most difficult—but I’ll try—here goes!
I pitched directly on the bluff, Beseck Mountain, back the least bit in the trees. Just a picture perfect sunset, as the bluff face, faces west. A gentle breeze, just a glorious evening. Aw gee, I’ve been so conditioned to living the trail experience with wet gear that I continually marvel at the good fortune, the near perfect weather I’ve enjoyed this entire summer. And today, cool, the least breeze, blue, nothing but blue in every direction—thank you, Lord, for your grace bestowed upon this old man!
From my campsite atop Beseck I’ve a mile or so downhill to State Road 66 and Guida’s Restaurant. Before arriving, I give my dear friend, Slider, a call. We know each other from our Appalachian Trail days, and we also got together in 2008 and hiked most of the Pacific Crest Trail together ( he finished his thru-hike a week before me). He’s working highway construction nearby in Connecticut and was hoping his work schedule would click such that we’d be able to hike some together. Ah, and it’s going to work. In no time he’s right here at Guida’s for breakfast. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together!
Slider has parked his truck in the restaurant lot, so all we need do is shoulder our packs and we’re off, right out of Guida’s parking lot—that’s the trailhead!
I’ve a seventeen scheduled for today and at the pace we’re able to set, it’ll be no problem. At least that’s what we thought before hitting Higby Mountain, that up and over, then Chauncey Peak, that incredible straight up—then down, going the wrong way on the relo above Crescent Lake, then Lamentation Mountain, that up and over. Actually we ended up calling the dear folks at CFPA to finally get straightened out. Oh, it wasn’t their problem at all. It was ours. We missed a turn, on top of hiking along the lake in the wrong direction to start with. We’re we ever befuddled!
Late evening, we reach US-5 and the Dunkin’ Donuts there, to promptly begin draining their pop fountain. Slider had been in touch with Trish (He calls her his daughter’s mother—they’re still great friends!). She, along with daughter, Hanna, are to pick us up where we’ll end the day (and the seventeen) at Summit Wood Drive. And oh yes, another plan comes together—Trish and Hanna are right there for us.
Late evening now we’re back to Guida’s and Slider’s truck—and burgers and fries, compliments of Trish.
And to end a perfect day, Trish invites us to her and Hanna’s place to shower (my first since last Monday), do our laundry, and to rest comfortably for the night.
During the day we called Sheltowee (who hiked with us on the Pacific Crest Trail), and Gordon, who supported all of us during that time.
Ah, so you see, just a totally charmed day—and plans are to do it all over again tomorrow, for a twenty-one!
Saturday—August 31, 2012
Location—Ledge Road, then back again to Trish’s home in Wethersfield
A very pleasant night at Trish’s place. We’re both up a little after six. By seven we’re at Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast, and a little after eight Slider has the truck parked at the trailhead where we ended our hike yesterday—and we’re on the trail.
Lots more climbing today, through the boulders, rocks, and roots. First up is the pull to Hanging Hills (Castle Craig, then East then West Peak). A down, then another up to Short Mountain. Next comes Ragged Mountain, and it is ragged! Ever climb a chimney? It’s a sort-of vertical channel cut in a rock face that leads straight up. Wait till you see these pictures!
Eight miles into the hike and we’re less than a mile as the crow flies from where we began our hike this morning—a huge horseshoe south, west, then north, around Hanging Hills.
East of Shuttle Meadow Reservoir we manage to get lost—both of us standing in the trail with blue blazes visible in both directions. How is that possible, you ask! Well we took a wrong turn. Actually we didn’t turn where we should have. By the time we find the blue blazes again, neither of us can remember which way we were going. Finally, after backtracking, we were able to find our footprints where we’d come through. Does this make even a little bit of sense?
Slider is having problems with his feet—again. He really suffered from huge blisters at the beginning of his Pacific Crest Trail hike. Every night I had to tend to his feet, keep them “doctored” up. Same problem again. Over thirty-five miles of near continuous hiking straight out of the chute, not at all that unexpected to come down with sore feet. So, at the produce market on Long Bottom Road I hike on as Slider calls his friend, Jim, to come pick him up.
By the time I hike it on in to Plainville he’s retrieved his truck, made it back to Trish’s for Hanna and her friend, Annabelle, and has driven the distance here to Plainville.
Evening now, we’re at Jim and Lucille’s, his hiking friends who live here in Plainville. Hanna and Annabelle hit the pool. Slider and I hit the shower. Jim and Lucille call for pizza and wings. I’m no more out of the shower than the full spread is sitting the counter. Thanks Jim and Lucille, ah yes, trail magic at its finest!
It’s late when we’re finally back to Trish’s. I do try composing my journal, but promptly fall asleep.
Sunday—September 2, 2012
Location—Beyond the Pinnacle, Penwood State Park
Another (much needed) restful night at Trish’s home. I’d stomped out my clothes in the shower at Jim and Lucille’s last night, then brought them back here for Slider to dry. They’re right here, fresh and ready to go. And go it is, for breakfast at McDonald’s. An egg, cheese, and ham muffin, plus a burrito and hash browns. Then another full-load muffin plus two more breakfast burritos to go! Slider then runs me to Big Y for provisions for three days.
Another sad time of it this morning, saying farewell to Slider —the gas station at the junction of Crooked Road and New Britain Avenue. Another great time hiking with a dear friend. Thanks Slider. And to Trish, Hanna, Annabelle, Jim and Lucille, thank you all for a memorable time! I’m climbing toward Pinnacle Rock a little after eight. Heavy pack, heavy heart.
Not much water along, and by late afternoon, after more climbing, more boulders and rocks, I’m getting quite thirsty. There’s a little pond at the north end of Penwood Park, where I take (and treat) water for the night. Here I meet and talked with two fellows. Daniel, on a mountain bike, and Gary, out to get some exercise toting his cumbersome external frame pack.
I’m able to find a perfect spot on the ridge—off the trail, where pitch for the night.
Monday—September 3, 2012
Location—Longyard Road at Massachusetts Line, then on to East Mountain
Another perfect-weather hiking day as I break camp and get going a little after seven. The climbing continues, but the ridges have smoothed out. Without the rocks every step, I’m able to make good time. Daniel told me last evening that we were just west of Hartford. No doubt, as the trail this morning is right under the airport takeoff and landing path. I can read the airline names on the planes as they fly just above the ridge.
This is Labor Day, so everyone’s out for a day hike. Also along are the kids and dogs. Lots of kids and dogs. Don’t mind sharing at all. I’ll have the trail to myself again tomorrow.
More ridge hiking today, and many more miles with no water crossings or ponds. On the roadwalk to Rising Corner, and sipping the scant bit of remaining water I took from the pond yesterday, I stop and wave to a lady out in her yard, as I hold my nearly empty water bottle up with the other. Kind lady, Ann, invites me into her home where she fills my water bottle.
Excitement for the day is the ford of Westfield River. Even though there’s been little recent rain, there’s plenty of water coming down. At the rapids, where the trail drops down to ford the river, I make the uneventful crossing. Did a video of the wading. Hiking stick in one hand, camera in the other.
The trail comes out right behind a gas station. Sprite and Coke time. The kind station attendant let’s me wash the sand out of my shoes.
Late evening now, I water up at the station, then head back up the trail. Blowdowns, brush, faint blazing; hope this isn’t indicative of what’s to come. Just as dark descends I pull off at a flat spot under the pine and call it a day.
Tuesday—September 4, 2012
Location-Easthampton Road, then on to Mt. Tom Junction
I’d hiked a good bit of the trail to Easthampton Road yesterday, and was able to finish the section well before noon today. So, even though the climb up and over Mt. Tom, then Goat Mountain was slow and tiring, I do finish at Mt. Tom Junction before four.
I was anxious to reach Northhampton, find a room, then get my feet up. Hadn’t planned on all the college students returning to Smith College today from summer vacation—or for one of the few available rooms that’s left running a hundred and thirty bucks! No way I can pay that for a single room, one night.
I wander downtown, among some very unusual-looking folks (Ha, I should talk!), to stop at a pizza joint. I end up wasting most the remainder of the afternoon trying in vain to find a room. It’s turning dark as I finally give it up and leave town—and the rain has set in. Raining hard, and looks of it, won’t be ending soon. Puts me in a total funk. I stop on the way out of town and load up on a bunch of junk food provisions. Dark-thirty I find an old barn on SR-49 pitch in the corner of a stall and call this day done. Rains hard all night. Hey, I’m dry—and still got my hundred and thirty bucks!
Wednesday—September 5, 2012
The old dilapidated barn (with its 100-year accumulation of dirt) turned out to be five-star hiker trash accommodations. The hard rain on the tin roof, coming in waves off and on all night—perfect for contented sleep. I’d planned on getting up early and being gone before the folks began stirring in their home right next. Good plan. Poor follow-through. It’s seven-thirty before I’m even awake. No one can really see me in here unless they come into the old place. Biggest worry is getting from the barn and back to the road without being seen. Ah, in a dash, I make it undetected, no trouble. Thanks folks. Guess you’ll never know you were my hosts for the night.
I’ve a bit of the roadwalk remaining to reach the trailhead on Old Mountain Road. On the way I come to Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery. Oh my, yes, I head right in. Bacon, eggs, and cheese, on three-grain, plus plenty of mighty fine coffee to effectively lift the funk still remaining from yesterday. And they’ve free WiFi! Time to polish up my journal entries and get them off. Also time to charge all my batteries. Thanks Shannon, thanks Kelly (the Barstow kids) for your kindness and encouragement. What a cheerful, happy, and wholesome establishment! Sure no problem lingering here. By the time I’m back out and hiking the road it’s pushing noon. Oh, and hey, the rain has stopped and the clutter is clearing out. Another super hiking day in the making, so it appears. Is this old intrepid charmed, or what?
Plenty more climbing today, through the Holyoke Range. First up, Mt. Holyoke. Here the old Summit House is undergoing extensive renovation, so it’s closed, chain-link all around. The trail clambers the boulders below the enclosed balcony. More splendid vistas; all to the west. Don’t know why all the bluffs face west, but seems they do. Never did get a really good look toward Hartford, except from way south.
Past Mt. Holyoke the trail climbs constantly, either up or down, few flat areas. There’s Seven Sisters, Mt. Hitchcock, Bare Mountain, Mt. Norwottuck, and finally, Long Mountain. My trekking poles hang from my wrists a good bit of the time as I’m hand-over-handin’ my way. A very tiring time of it. I’m sweating so much my clothes are dripping. Gotta move my maps and cell phone to my pack pockets, lest they get soaked.
Through the trap rock Holyoke Range there are many side trails leading from or crossing the Metacomet-Monadnock. One of particular interest is the Robert Frost Trail. Easy to see why this area is so popular, so well used and visited. Panoramic views out and across the Connecticut River Valley abound. And there’s much significant local history. A very special place, for sure.
I’m able to find water, then it’s another climb back to the ridge near SR-9 where I pitch for the night.
Wow, what a totally exhausting (but worthwhile) day.
Thursday—September 6, 2012
Location—North Leverett Road/Moores Corner, then on to near Hemingway Road
A cool, foggy/cloudy morning, but it proves no more than local clutter that pretty much burns off before noon.
For the past number of miles, keeping properly hydrated has been a problem. Up on the ridge for extended periods of time, there’s little or no opportunity for water. Rationing has become a necessity, and that sure gets old fast. Coming down off Mt. Lincoln, on the roadwalk toward Amhurst today, I cross a small brook. Here I’m able to take water from a culvert. This is my first water since the Holyoke Visitor Center yesterday afternoon.
And this roadwalk? Okay, on the NET main page here, and looking at either the overview or the detailed map, you will notice a fairly large gap in the trail through central Massachusetts, between Mt. Lincoln and North Leverett Road. My Webmaster, CyWiz, didn’t just create that gap so she could write in the word “Massachusetts.” The gap is real and actually exists. In Sections #10, #12, #13, and #14, where the trail crosses private property, owners have caused limited trail use through certain mandates. These mandates significantly impact the hiking experience across their property. Some (as a result of these mandates) are purposefully causing slow-but-sure tread degradation, which will translate to limited use, and finally, over time, trail closure. For example, passage may still be permitted, but further maintenance (including new blazing) is prohibited. It’s a strange situation. And (for some reason) it seems that each segment in question, where the hiker cannot pass entirely through/across, terminates in a dead end somewhere near the segment midpoint. For folks section-hiking the NET, this may not be all that big a deal. But for the thru-hiker, it’s very problematic. So, yesterday I did a roadwalk around Section #10, and today I’m headed the long way around Sections #12 through #14.
As I continue trekking on up the road, headed north, I’m disappointed to find there’s not a single jiffy mart the whole roadwalk around, from North Valley Road toward Amherst, up Leverett and Montague to Rattlesnake Gutter Road (barricaded both ends—neat climb) then on to Village Co-op at North Leverett Road. But not a problem, as the Co-op is first rate. Thirty of my precious bucks later, a whole bunch of their food gone (downed or in my pack), and after gorging myself for over an hour, I finally stagger back out on the road.
From the Co-op, the trail follows North Leverett Road on up to a power line cut. Where the roadwalk ends and the trail turns to the power line service road there’s a large pipe barricade. It’s heavily posted with multiple, very brightly colored NO TRESPASSING, plus other equally scary signs. Looking both sides of the barricade, I see no evidence anyone has passed here recently. With trepidation and great reluctantly, I squeeze past. Under the power lines and now on the service road, blazing becomes poor to non-existent. Old faded blazes can still be seen on some of the huge poles, but only after stopping and turning around (they were painted long ago in the southbound direction). Looking at the current map it’s obvious the trail follows the powerline cut for a fair distance. However, standing the service road, and searching diligently, I see scant little evidence. Adding to the confusion (and in a recent trail update) did there appear the statement: “This section should be all blazed and easy to follow…” Doubt on doubt, and frustrated to the point of turning back, I finally locate where the trail brakes from the power line to begin the climb up Diamond Match Ridge. A very scary and unpleasant time, considering that (all the while) I knew I was trespassing on clearly, heavily posted, private property.
Late evening now, once again back in the shelter and solitude of the forest, and near Hemingway Road, I take water, from there to ascend the ridge, find a perfect bed under the pine, and pitch for the night.
My, oh my, near countless have the days become—days I’ve spent out here trekking these trails, these many years. Ah, but dear folks let me tell you, what ushers in each new day, what brings fresh excitement, and yes, even joy, is the fact that few hiking days ever turn out even remotely the same. This one’s certainly been uniquely different. Frustrating, fascinating, fun—and scary. But for sure, different! I will long remember this day. . . .
Friday—September 07, 2012
Location—Gulf Road, then on to Grace Mountain Shelter
A great night’s sleep and a great start this morning. I’m pack shouldered and hiking by six-fifteen.
Delightful trail through Wendell State Forest. A fun hike around Ruggles Pond, the picnic area and beach there. Had the place completely to myself. A bit of climbing near Whales Head and Locke Hill, then it’s another roadwalk down Farley Road to the old bridge across Millers River.
Once across the river, the trail heads back up, to Northfield Mountain Reservoir (It’s banked up on top of the mountain!). The trail then passes through Erving State Forest, followed by a very pleasant hike up and around Hermit Mountain. More climbing follows, over Crag Mountain, then Brushy, then Upper Bald Hills, with fine views toward Stratton Mountain, my next climb. An out-and-around re-route adds to this long-mile day, keeping me from reaching the base of Mount Grace until late afternoon.
Another call to Rick in Keene, and plans for finishing this trek begin shaping up. It’ll be a long day, but I should be able to reach Troy, New Hampshire, tomorrow evening. Once near Troy, Rick will drive the twenty minutes or so down to pick me up and take me back to his home in Keene. The final seven miles from Troy to the summit of Grand Monadnock, I’ll hike that Sunday. So, I’ve got to keep hammering the trail today, then tuck it and go all day tomorrow in order to reach Troy by tomorrow evening.
I’ve dear friends who want to come and hike with me Sunday, then to share my excitement in completing all 11 NSTs. Slider is going to try and make it. Neighbor Dave and Chickety, friends I hiked with on the PCT plan to come. Also, Nopack, my dear friend from Portland, Maine, is coming down. Should be a most memorable day. I’ve just gotta make it to Troy by evening tomorrow for the plan to work.
Splendid trail and much delightful scenery throughout Mount Grace State Forest. I must deal with more minor reroutes that add additional mileage, but I’m making good time and should reach the shelter on the north side of Mount Grace around dark.
For the past number of days I’ve been following trail literally blanketed in mushrooms! The variety and number are incredible. I’ve taken lots of pictures, plus numerous videos. I’ll have CyWiz weave them all together into a “Neat NET Mushroom Tour.” Should be interesting; I’m sure you’ll enjoy.
Mount Grace is a challenge, what with the climb coming right at the end of the day. It’s an uninterrupted ascent, up, up, then up some more. My pace slows, but I push on, as dark-thirty is approaching by the time I finally reach Mount Grace Shelter. There’s a fine little brook right below. I go for water, then roll out my sleeping pad in the shelter (which I have to myself), and call it a day.
Late evening, as I’m drifting off, an eerie storm passes through. Not a whisper of wind. Lightning flashes, thunder crashes, yet there’s not a single drop of rain. The sound and light show pass directly overhead, then the whole thing moves on, fading away to the distant mountains. A strange, very unusual event.
Saturday—September 8, 2012
Location—NH-19, then on to Troy, New Hampshire
The pull up and over Mount Grace took longer than expected last evening, much steady climbing, plenty of obstacles. Five more minutes and I’d have needed my little Photon Micro to light the way. I’d hiked later, using up every minute of daylight in order to reach the shelter, and to shorten the distance to Troy. In the shelter, and after the storm passed, I promptly nodded off. The comfort of the shelter—thoroughly enjoyable.
I’ve another early start this morning. In short order I cross SR-78, to begin the climb up and around the hills of Mallard, Mayo, Ball, and White.
A bit further I arrive the side trail to Royalston Falls. It’s three-tenths down. I don’t waste my time as there’s very little water flowing Falls Brook below the little foot bridge where I cross.
Turning north now, and in another short while, I’m standing at the New Hampshire state line. Here is the official northern terminus of the New England National Scenic Trail. But you’d never know it. There’s no kiosk, not even a small sign marking the beginning/end of this trail. On a piece of paper there’s a computer generated sign that reads: “Welcome to New Hampshire and the NH Metacomet/Monadnock Trail [along with the usual NO this, NO that].” The paper sign is covered by a thin sheet of clear plastic, duct-taped to a plywood board—the whole make-do nailed to a tree with two roofing nails. Yup, that’s it! A bit surprised—yes. A bunch disappointed—oh yes! Still, I linger the longest time.
We old folks tend to end up with such a useless clutter of dusty old memories, odds and ends, faded and blurred. And so it is with this old intrepid. Yet, and as if only yesterday, just for these short moments, do so many wonderful thoughts of so many remarkable times, so many special people and places, come clearly into focus. Eleven National Scenic Trails; a bunch. How many blue-perfect horizons has this old wanderer trekked beyond! Now with tear-filled eyes, head bowed—a treasure of pure, joy-filled moments. A very intense, emotional time. Dear Lord, thank You! Aww, move on old man, move on…
Continuing on north into New Hampshire, I hike over to (and roadwalk the section along) Monument Road. And by golly, what do you know; there actually is a monument on Monument Road! It stands next a depression, remnants of an old cellar, marking the homestead of Eliza Ballou, James Garfield’s mother. The James Garfield that was our twentieth president.
After a hard-hammer day yesterday, I’m left with less than a 20 to reach Troy by evening. But once I arrive the base of Little Monadnock Mountain the 20 proves slow going. It’s a steady, hard, pull. By the time I’m standing Little Monadnock it’s well after two. A sign back a ways (and way down) read, “Troy Outlook: 1.4 Miles.” But the rock pile that is Little Monadnock is cloaked in scrub; no views from here.
Through most of Connecticut and Massachusetts I had reasonably good cell reception, but not here in New Hampshire. Oh yeah, now that I need my phone to call Rick, my other dear friends—nothing. Thanks, AT&T! Finally, descending Little Monadnock, and as I fret my way down, I’m able to get one of those “Can you hear me now?” crackle-crack signals, and manage to get hold of Rick and all dear friends who want to hike with me tomorrow.
An afternoon storm’s been brewing. I first heard it, and can now see it off to the west. I’m fortunate to be down off the rock jumble that’s Little Monadnock and into the safety of the forest. Before I reach the narrow two-track rut leading to Troy, the heavens open. This storm’s for real. Hard, wind-driven, buckets of rain. In minutes the two-track turns to an ankle-deep mud wash. Rick had driven part way up the old road to wait for me at a turn-around. Totally soaked and muddy, no way I’m getting in his SUV. He’d told me about the bakery in downtown Troy. Over the roar of the deluge I shout at him to get out of here, and to wait for me down at the bakery.
On the paved road now, and as I climb the little rise to Troy main square, in the distance I see arms a’waving. It’s not only Rick, but two other dear friends. Aw, shoot—I should have know! Honey and Bear from “The Cabin” (a hiker hostel) in Maine. Somehow, I know not how, they always manage to track me down. Whether trekking the midwest or the far west, anywhere while on one of my odysseys, they always managed to find me. And here they are again, bubbling with excitement. What an absolute blessing to have such dear, dear friends! Honey, you look great! Bear, you don’t look all that bad yourself (Considering he’s suffered a stroke recently, had grudgingly recovered, then fell and broke his wrist!). The shine sure hasn’t wore off these old smiley-faces! What a wonderful surprise. Honey, give me a bear hug—you too, Bear!
After a trip to the bakery (where Rick fetches me a huge moon-pie) he loads me, and as Honey and Bear follow, we head for Rick’s favorite mom-n-pop for supper, then on to his home in Keene.
It’s great to see Paula again. She and Rick have a beautiful and spacious home, room for all us guests. Tame chickens, wild turkey—and lots of deer, just a delightful rural setting.
A few notes now as I lie back on my pillow, just a few to help keep the events of this day halfway straight. I’ll construct this entry when I’m back home and not so bone-weary tired.
Sunday—September 9, 2012
Location—Grand Monadnock Mountain
The storm that roared through yesterday evening trailed off, but from the backside, rain continued well into the night. A blessing to be completely sheltered and dry once more. Odyssey 2012 has, indeed, been charmed. Of the 45 days on the IAT, and now after 12 days on the NET, not once have I had to pitch my tent or break camp in the rain. I’ve dealt with partial days of rain and wet conditions, but they’ve sure been few and far between.
It’s seven miles and change from Troy to the summit of Grand Monadnock. Plans are to meet Slider, Chickety, and Neighbor Dave at the SR-124 road crossing, a mile and a half from Monadnock, around ten. From there, to do the climb together. Honey will be climbing too, but from the parking area a little farther on up the road. We hope to meet up with her somewhere above Halfway House.
Everyone’s up before daylight. Paula has prepared a full-spread breakfast. Much excitement around the table. By a little after seven, Rick has me back in front of the bakery in Troy. Here I shoulder my pack and head out for the final seven miles to Grand Monadnock. It’s a cool morning with just the least local clutter (that’s mostly cleared already), the makings for another blue-perfect day on the trail—just remarkable!
The first week trekking this NET I’d taken a fall and banged up my left knee. Nothing serious, but it’s remained the least weak, with stiffness during morning startup. Not a problem this morning, though, as I’m stoked with energy and excitement. A short roadwalk out of Troy, to Quarry Road, which ends/continues as trail, and I’m into my next to last climb this journey—up and over Gap Mountain. It’s a cruise up Gap. I’ve had glimpses of Grand Monadnock from time to time the past two days, and from Gap Mountain, with a full, panoramic 360, Monadnock stands grand and majestic right before me.
The day continues turning absolutely the best a mountain climber could ever hope for. Calm, clear, with a cloud-scatter of white, billowy tufts. A little after ten I reach the road crossing at SR-124. Honey and Bear are waiting to make sure I come through okay. Moments later, down the road (from the parking lot) come Slider, Chickety, and Neighbor Dave. Perfect timing! Bear then runs Honey up to the parking area. Starting there, she’ll have a bit easier go of it as she climbs to Halfway House.
So off we go, the four of us together again, just like in 2008, our trek up the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. I lead out, but in moments become distracted. More mushrooms to photograph. Hiking along, then stopping again, we yap and chatter. It’s a truly giddy time!
A short distance above Halfway House, we catch up with Honey. From here, we all climb together. Our pace slows considerably when we hit the rock pile that caps the expansive summit of Monadnock. Big boulders, a couple of scary ledges to climb up and over. Through these sections Honey gets the least help from Slider and Neighbor Dave. This sweet little lady is an octogenarian. Sure doesn’t slow her down, though. Can she ever climb; just remarkable! I hang back, take pictures, and watch in amazement. Quarter-to-noon we’re on top of Grand Monadnock. A hundred or so other folks are up here too. Monadnock Mountain is the most-oft climbed mountain in America. And in the entire world, it’s second only to Mount Fuji in Japan.
Unbeknownst to me, Chickety and Neighbor Dave have planned a grand celebration, my completing all 11 National Scenic Trails. From her pack, Chickety pulls out a full cake sheet of brownies. As she decorates the confection (complete with candles and icing: “Congrats Nimblewill”), Neighbor Dave unrolls three posters that read: “11/11,” “Congratulations Nimblewill,” and “Want a Gatorade? Hi Gordon!!!” Then to top it, believe this: Neighbor Dave digs down in his pack again and comes up with a bottle of champagne, which he promptly hands to me. Oh yeah, run for cover everybody—the champagne rains down! Glory be, is this not the most special, magic, time—such a special time!
Also on the mountain this morning, again unbeknownst to me, Nopack had asked his friend, Bill (fellow Maine International Appalachian Trail member), to capture these moments on film. Bill is a professional photographer. He’s taken the day to come down, thence to lug all his camera gear up Monadnock. Oh yes, it’s picture-taking time—lots of pictures!
The descent from Monadnock is effortless and uneventful. We’re all back down to the parking area by a little before three. Together here now are Rick from New Hampshire, Nopack, his partner Geraldine, Bill, Slider, Honey and Bear, all from Maine, and Chickety and Neighbor Dave from Connecticut. There’s a tiny ranger shack at the edge of the lot, and the ranger-in-residence is in today. As he watches the continuing hoopla, excitement, all the carryings-on, is there the most puzzled expression on his face.
Picture time again. Standing each side of me now, to my right, Nopack, the founder of the Sentier International des Appalaches/International Appalachian Trail, and to my left, Rick, founding president of the Alabama Hiking Trail Society. For well over a decade, these two men near single-handedly worked to create trail on both ends of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. And the significance of their visionary work? Well, together, they have made the Eastern Continental Trail a reality, the longest continuous (almost) footpath in America.
Inevitably, unavoidably—and as always, comes that sad, heartrending time of bidding farewell. And are these good-byes now especially tough, as one by one, each comes to me. Oh dear friends, we’ve shared so many remarkable, memorable, joy-filled times together. But alas, now comes that final hug, that last lingering moment. Then they are gone—and I am alone. Rick quietly loads me, and we head back to his home in Keene.
In the evening, Paula prepares a grand meal. Her son, Josh, and wife and daughter, Karena and Alli, come to join us. It’s a very happy time.
In the quiet of my room now, and as I lie back, I try settling my mind—in an effort to calm and rest my thoughts, thoughts that are literally whirling from this whirlwind day. Remaining are the final two farewells, to my dear friends Paula and Rick. Paula has helped me get reservations for my flight home early tomorrow morning. And Rick, once again, must drive the great distance from Keene to Bradley Airport in Connecticut.
I try sleeping, but throughout the night sleep is fretful. It is going to take a fair bit of time for the events of this year, these final two odysseys, to settle in. It’s been such a remarkable summer.
Thanks, all dear friends, for your kindness, for your generosity to this old intrepid. And to you, dear sponsors, many who have been with me throughout all these years, throughout these eleven National Scenic Trails, thanks!
And, thank you Lord, for your Grace and Love. Without Your presence, Your calm reassurance, I could not have endured.