Massachutes Through Conneticut

beginWeek Knees in the center and Dream Weaver on the right stand with me as we prepare for our adventure.
The Appalachian Trail stretches from Maine to Georgia, covering over 2,160 miles. From May 7, 1999, until May12, 1999, we hiked about 45 of those miles. That is approximately 1/28 of the entire trail.

These are the chronicles of Dave, a.k.a. Dream Weaver, David, a.k.a. Week Knees, and Dane, a.k.a. FeatheredProp, as we walked those few miles.

Thursday, May 6, 1999

I was to be picked up at 8:30 AM. By 9:30 AM, with no ride showing at my front door, I phoned Dream Weaver’s home to learn if he had left yet. I was told that he left – twice. The first time without his hiking boots and hat, the second time with them. I was told we he would be a bit late.

We got underway eventually and drove through cloudy skies toward our destination. Near I-80, we stopped at a Wendy’s and had lunch. Dream Weaver talked the clerk out of a free frosty. We continued on with Dream Weaver and Week Knees taking turns driving.

During the afternoon hours, a blonde female in a black sedan passed us. Dream Weaver tooted his horn at her but she drove passed. We marveled at her strong will that kept her from pulling over and joining this band of brave men on their way to adventure.

Just outside of Gaylordsville, Connecticut, while getting fuel at a service station, we noticed the right front tire was rather bald. Bald to the point that the metal cords were showing. Wages would later be placed on whether or not the tire would make the trip. I lost the bet and owe Dream Weaver $.25. We joked that the driver who had agreed to drive us to the trail, and pick us up at the end would likely have to change the tire.

A local grocery clerk referred us to a small pizza place for our evening meal. So, we made our way to Pawling, New York, and supped at Ma Ma’s Pizza. Following the winding roads from that point, we eventually found ourselves pulling into the Gaylordsville United Methodist Church parking lot. We were immediately greeted by the tall, smiling pastor, Rev. Paul Hibbard and his friendly, slow moving dog, Bailey. Paul’s graciousness was surpassed only by his friendly demeanor. He would become our host, our chauffeur and our friend while the parsonage would become our base of operations. We would later learn that Paul and his youth group hoped to be traveling very near our own homes this summer, so we anxiously offered to return his act of hospitality in the form of room and board should it be needed.

Paul gave us a tour of the quaint little church and led us to one of the few carpeted rooms, the Nursery. This would be our room for the evening. We were very pleased. He bid us good night and left us to his church. We munched on potato chips and drank Sprite offered to us from the Gaylordsville UM kitchen while we reviewed the Trail map.

Dream Weaver slept on the nursery couch while Week Knees and I slept on the floor. I commandeered a hand made pillow from a love seat and wondered of the person who had crocheted the lovely design on it. Could she/he ever know this pillow would one night cradle the dreams of a Pennsylvania stranger?

Our adventure had begun. Tomorrow we would set foot on the Appalachian Trail. Tomorrow we would walk.

Friday, May 7, 1999

We woke at 6am and gathered our things. Members of the church soon began to arrive to begin cooking turkeys for their monthly fund raising dinners. They were as kind and friendly as their pastor. Paul shared bagels and coffee with us in the parsonage kitchen before we climbed aboard the van and headed for the north west section of Connecticut.

At Undermoutain Trail parking area, we gathered our gear together and made last minute jokes with our host. Paul then had prayer with us and at 8:50am, we turned into the woods.

The first mile was hiked in relative silence. I think we were all surprised by the persistent weight of our packs and the cruel tricks played on us by Connecticut gravity. I moved on ahead and waited at the juncture of Undermoutain Trail and Paradise Lane Trail.

11:15am, 60 degrees Dream Weaver and Week Knees arrived. We’ve only hiked a bit over one mile, yet we are already breathing hard. I’m taking Paradise Lane Trail that will lead me to the Appalachian Trail just beyond the Massachusetts border and the north side of Bear Mountain. Week Knees decided to go with me but Dream Weaver chose to avoid Bear Mountain and meet us on the south end. He will shave off about 3 miles with his detour.

11:50 am, 60 degrees We’ve reached the Appalachian Trail! At the juncture, we met two backpackers. One was from Connecticut while the other was on his second journey to the U.S. from England. They were heading south on the Appalachian Trail but only to Undermountain Trail. We came across them as they were taking a break, before the ascent of Bear Mountain.

Week Knees and I turned South on the Trail and began the ascent of Bear Mountain. It was more of a climb than a hike. The Trail goes straight up over rocks where you must find handholds to pull yourself up. It is slow going and rather treacherous. I paused to so some writing, and looked back down at Week Knees who was scaling the rocks. He has a silly grin on his face that seemed to say, “Hey, this is hard, but I’m having a good time!”

As I was continued making my ascent, I noticed a root jutting out from between the rocks. I grasped it and noticed how smooth it was. This single root that pushed out from the rocks, like a welcomed handshake, probably helped hundreds, perhaps thousands of hikers. I shook its hand as I passed and in so doing, believed that I shook the hand of every backpacker who stood where I stood.

We reached the top of Bear Mountain where a large stone monument was found. As you climb upon it you can see quite a distance. Even though the clouds and fog restricted our view, it was still remarkable. We again met the Connecticut man and his English friend there. With their camera I took their picture on top of the rocks. They moved on as the Englishman gave us a happy, “Cheerio!”

1:18pm, 68 degrees >We met Dream Weaver at Brassie Brook Shelter. He has been waiting patiently for several hours at this spot and had a nice nap. Brassie Brook, which was coursing right by him, is a picturesque stream with water cascading from tier to tier over rocky ledges. It provided a nice backdrop for our lunch. I investigated the Shelter and found a register that was in place since August of 1998. The first entry I read was from a party of hikers who came to the shelter on December 24 to share Christmas Eve together. This crude setting seemed like a fitting place to remember the Nativity scene.

As we continued on the Trail, we met a young man wearing a red bandana and carrying an overnight backpack. As we spoke with him he leaned against a tree and exposed his left inner forearm. In so doing, I couldn’t help but notice a large, intricately designed turtle tattoo on it. The turtle was so remarkably designed that I could not help but stare at it. I had to watch that I didn’t speak at the turtle and not him. He explained he was with a group of troubled youths on a weekend backpacking trip. We walked for some time after meeting him without encountering anyone else, that we began to question how troubled they were that he would not walk with them. However, we soon began to pass this band of northbound hikers. They wore all sorts of clothes and carried on their backs knapsacks and backpacks. One young man was begging for a cigarette as he passed us. Their dispositions varied as greatly as their gear. We found in their wake an assortment of paper wrappers and even a tube of Colgate toothpaste. The last hiker in this caravan was an older man who was grumbling about the other counselors who were not doing their part to keep the group in line.

lion_heads_view3:40pm, 68 degrees We reached Lions Head View. I cant imagine a photo capturing this view or any words accurately describing the feeling you feel looking down at the valley below and mountains around. We counted six separate bodies of water visible from this rocky perch. A church steeple was seen peeking above the trees in the far south and to the west, a thin column of smoke was rising from an unseen chimney. Even though it is still overcast, nothing was lost to us. The wind was blowing strong across the rocks, which brought relief from the insects that have been faithfully following us along the Trail. Balancing the wind above us was a lone hawk, soaring in great circles.

From the height I checked my voice mail with my cell phone. I found a message from my mother telling that my brothers’ father-in-law passed away this morning. He was a veteran of World War II who served in the secretive OSS. His missions during the war were so secretive, that he never felt comfortable in sharing them – even fifty years later. As I pushed down the antenna of my cell phone, I noted the strange contrast of this sad news against the sight of a hawk gently drifting upward.

We left Lions Head View together but I moved ahead and remained at Plateau Campsite, where we would spend the night. Dream Weaver and Week Knees arrived at 5:30pm.

7:35pm, 60 degrees Just after dinner, a young man with dark hair and dark eyes came alone into camp. His name was Jerry and he worked for IBM. His fiancé was away for the weekend so he came alone to test out his new tent. He camped beside us and made good company. We listened to a coyote howling in the night as we fell asleep.

Saturday, May 8, 1999

It was 60 degrees and 6am when we awoke. We came out of our sleeping bags to share an odd story. Sometime last night around 11:30pm, about 3 to 4 persons came into camp. Week Knees said they were packed heavily and Jerry told us they were walking with headlamps mounted on their foreheads. It was obvious they were well equipped for night hiking. They came through camp very quietly apparently looking for a place to pitch their tent. They did not come from the AT but from a side trail. Jerry discovered their tent that morning near the water spring but they were gone by the time we passed by. We never found out anything else about our silent visitors.

After breakfast Jerry was going to hike back down to his car to unload his bag and tent and then climb northward to the summit of Lions Head View. We wished him well and set out southbound on the AT. It started to rain but not hard enough to warrant full rain gear.

9:45am, 58 degrees I’m sitting atop Barrick Matiff. It was a hard fought ascent. Week Knees and Dream Weaver are not far behind me. The trail along this section becomes sheer at times. A few steps to the right and you could easily tumble down the hillside. I had gotten off the trail at a fallen tree while making the ascent. It was rather difficult to walk back to the trail beside me on the steep hillside. I was very thankful for all the physical conditioning I had put myself through before this trip. Without it I would be in a world of hurt. My companions soon caught up and we pushed on.

11:15am, 60 degrees Reached Billy’s View. The fog is blanketing the valley beneath us but the view is still pleasant. I can hear a rooster crowing somewhere beneath me. Its good to be here. My friends are a bit behind but are moving steady.

I stopped and waited at a huge, peculiar rock formation called Giants Thumb. I waited for Week Knees and Dream Weaver and we had lunch together at the rock. Everyone is feeling good and the map shows the hardest part of the terrain for today is already behind us.

Shortly after we set out we encountered about 6 women dayhikers moving speedily northward. They were middle to late middle aged women followed by a man I call Gunga Din. He was the only one carrying a sizeable backpack. We later learned that a women’s hiking group known as The Silver Heels haunts these hills. We were happy to pass the legendary group.

I pushed ahead alone and soon got into a heavier rain. However, the forest canopy shielded most of it and I can’t really even consider the rain an inconvenience. I passed some beautiful scenery and nice outlooks. The forested hilltops looked as if a giant hedge clipper had shaved all the trees at even lengths. No doubt this world was being cared for.

Approximately 2pm, 62 degrees I have not seen my companions since just after lunch so I don’t know the exact time. I’m now sitting south of Falls Village at the railed overlook of The Great Falls. It is easy to imagine how impressive the water falls would look in high water. But only a small stream is plummeting off the edge to the stagnant pool beneath. I feel a slight drizzle from the fog. The sun cant be seen. I took off my shoes and socks to relax a bit while snacking on some gorp. I’m thankful to be here. Thankful for my health that allows me to walk this Trail and see these kinds of things. The feelings, sensations and inspirations that come from moments like this can not be written about. I thank my God for being this tired. For being this wearied. How else could I enjoy a rest? How else could I appreciate the cool of the evening? Or the warmth of fire and the comfort of a bath?

I set off and walked the Trail through some beautiful pine filled woods. The Trail creeps along side the Housatonic River that moves slowly at this point. The smell of water mixed with the fragrance of pine makes for a rather tranquil perfume. This part of the trail has been the prettiest today. While resting, I met a late middle aged, southbound lady who was day hiking with her dog. She paused to ask directions and we examined our maps together. She was heading for the parking lot at Route 7 where her ride was waiting. She had just a short walk to go.

Coming out of the woods, the Trail goes in front of the Housatonic Regional High School. Several motorists waved at me as I moved along the trail, which is actually the side of a road. I got caught in a heavy, short-lived rain but enjoyed it too much to get out my rain gear. Just beyond the Route 7 Parking Area, I saw a northbound backpacker approaching. He was an old man who was moving at what appeared to be a painful hobble. I thought perhaps he was a hobo but noticed he was wearing some high tech hiking gear.

As we met I asked him the time of day. He first guessed at the time but as I persisted, he reluctantly pulled out a watch from his thigh pocket to look. He had guessed it to be 4:30pm, but seemed a bit distressed to learn it was only 4:00. He was hard to understand as he spoke in a mumble. His eyes reminded me of those of a frightened deer and his hands shook slightly as he held his watch. I asked where he started and where he was going. He responded that he put in the Trail at Franklin and was going north to the Hudson River. I have no idea where he was talking about since he was already north of the Hudson. So, I just nodded as if I understood and we parted. I watched him hobble away while leaning on his long walking staff. His progress looked painfully slow but I admired his determination to get wherever he was going.

At around 4:15pm, I reached Belter’s Bump. This is a nice overlook just north of our intended campsite. The sky was clearing and I had a good view of the valley beneath. I watched hawks circle the sky and hoped they weren’t circling my companions watching for their demise. I waited nearly two hours atop this great rock when my friends finally arrived. Dream Weaver was using a long walking stick that the forest surrendered for him and explained to me that he had hurt his right knee. He seemed rather tired. We set out for camp and ended up walking past the site. After going halfway up the next mountain we returned and located our camping area.

They pitched the tents while I started supper. Dream Weaver was rather tired so he lay down in his tent until it was time to eat. When we roused him, he climbed out of his tent obviously still caught in the purgatory between sleep and wakefulness. He thanked us for getting water for him and proceeded to unscrew the top off of a bottle for a drink. Week Knees and I both appreciated the fact he was thirsty but warned him against drinking the bottled fuel he had labored so hard to bring this far. He agreed and instead reached for a bottle of water.

We made camp all awhile thunder spit and coughed above us. We finished supper but didn’t have time to do dishes when the skies opened up. All three of us climbed into the dome tent and listened to the rain pelting down in a desperate attempt to locate and saturate us. But we stayed warm and dry. Week Knees felt the storm would blow over soon and it did. We emerged from the tent to find a rather muddy camp. We did our dishes, filtered clean water from a nearby spring and climbed into our bags only to hear intermittent rain for the rest of the night.

Sunday, May 9, 1999

We woke at 6am to a chilly 49 degrees. It was very cold and damp and rather difficult to climb out of our bags. We were greeted with the sound of a turkey gobbling. Breakfast was oatmeal and coffee. We did dishes and broke camp at around 8am.

Our first stop was the nearby spring where we would draw again the lifeblood of the mountain pumped from its heart somewhere deep beneath our feet. We watched as Week Knees inserted his plastic IV tube into the spring and began this life giving transfusion. Without the mountains donation we would not survive. With our bottles filled, Week Knees withdrew his tube and we continued our trek southward.

I moved ahead to a ridge atop the next mountain where I caught up with my scribbling and waited for my companions. They soon arrived and we enjoyed together the sun that was now being seen for the first time. In the valley beneath us we could see fog still blanketing the lowlands and we wondered of the hikers who were still unaware of the sunshine that could be seen and felt from here.

Just past the ridge, we met a square jawed man and boy of about 12. They each had blazing blue eyes that sparkled with anticipation and gave them away as father and son. They put in at the New York line and were heading for Massachusetts. They were planning on the same distance as we were but they were northbound. Unfortunately, they only had four days to hike and knew they couldn’t make the distance. Neither seemed disappointed. Their excitement was contagious. They encouraged us to make it to Silver Hill where a most splendid campsite awaited us.

We moved southward and I soon became separated from my friends. I stopped atop Hang Glider View to call my mom and wish her a happy Mothers Day. This view includes a large wood ramp from where hang gliders launch themselves. I admire the courage of anyone who would hurl him or herself off this edge while strapped to a kite. As I re-hydrated myself atop this cliff, I watched three hawks circle above. One had a large, four-foot wingspan and glided effortlessly on the invisible currents of air.

My next stop was atop Easter Mountain where I found a rather comfortable seat in the rock ledge. I caught up with my entries and rested nicely. Its now 70 degrees but I don’t know the time.

While descending the mountain, I came across a small snake on the trail. In my limited studies of this area, I have discovered there to be only two types of snakes in CT: those that rattle and those that don’t. It is my understanding that some naturalists have worried themselves to further divide the latter of these two categories into smaller groups and species. While I’m sure they did a wonderful and necessary job of nomenclature, I found my own system to be quite reasonable. (Though I would later learn that Copperheads also call this area home) The snake that temporarily halted my progress was quickly classified as non-rattling and we parted on rather happy and uneventful terms.

I stopped for lunch at Pine Swamp Brook Campsite. I met two northbound dayhikers who were rather un-talkative. I could glean only from them the time of day: 12:35pm. My lunch was punctuated with dark clouds and thunder. I finished quickly but felt only a light sprinkle as I moved south on the Trail.

At the top of the next steep ascent, I sat on a rock and listened to a turkey gobble down to my right and a rooster crow in retaliation to my left. I wondered how Dream Weavers knee was holding out. I had taken his tent poles to lighten his load and gave him my knee wrap. I was hoping we could make the 13 miles to Silver Hill today. That would nearly insure us of making the New York border by Wednesday.

I continued to hike south and eventually met two teenage boys going north. They were day hiking and carried only water. They seemed happy to stop and talk for a while. The oldest one told me they were hiking with our parents and rolled his eyes for effect. I asked that if they run into my companions they please report my position and time. They agreed but apparently left the trail before being seen by Dream Weaver and Week Knees. They told me it was 2:25pm. I never did see their parents.

At around 3:00pm, I stopped at Caesar Brook Campsite. I agreed to go no further than this point in the event we would not go on to Silver Hill. I anxiously waited for the appearance of my friends in hopes of making the last 3 miles to Silver Hill. It was 70 degrees and I was down to only 8 oz of water.

I waited for nearly two hours at Caesar Brook and watched my water supply dwindle. I wasn’t carrying the filter and could only boil water if needed. Thunder could be heard in the southeast and I was beginning to become concerned. I didn’t have a tent and was beginning to fear I would be spending the night alone at this site where there was no shelter. I decided to wait a few more minutes and then turn back. If I didn’t find my friends, I knew there was a lean-to at Pine Swamp Creek about four miles back the trail where

At about 5:15pm, just as I was preparing to go back, Week Knees and Dream Weaver appeared on the trail. They were exhausted but doing fine. Although I knew it was too late to make the final three miles to Silver Hill, I was rather relieved to see them. We all agreed not to attempt Silver Hill and with that decision knew we would not make the NY border by Wednesday.

I made supper while the tents were pitched. We ate and rested by a smoldering fire built to keep off the nasty mosquitoes. The storm clouds disappeared and the sky became clear again. Just after dinner, Dream Weaver became sick. We felt it was from dehydration and exertion. As the night passed, he felt better again.

The interesting point of this camp was the privy. It is a toilet seat fastened to a wood bench built over a pit. That is all. It just sits out in the open. The only walls are those imagined by the user. The lack of supporting structure eliminates graffiti. No place to carve your initials or to en-heart your loved ones name.

While bedding down, Week Knees discovered a tick beneath his sock and below the ankle line of his boot. It had already buried its parasitic head into Week Knees foot and was happily gorging itself on the flesh of its host. He was able to remove the tick and clean the wound. I became a bit paranoid with the finding and for the next 15 minutes dug feverishly at a spot on my left calf; only to discover later that I was trying to remove a freckle. I cleaned my self-inflicted wound and crawled into bed. We fell asleep listening to an owl and hearing the singing brook beside us.

Monday, May 10, 1999

It was 45 degrees as we awoke at 6:30am. A strong wind was blowing but it looked like a nice day in the making. Breakfast of oatmeal and coffee kicked off our morning and we got underway at 8:45am.

I took all of our garbage and agreed to hike into Housatonic State Park located only one mile off the trail to dump it. We decided to meet at Silver Hill for lunch. We hiked out together but I took Pine Knob Loop off the AT. It was a very scenic trail and offered a great view. I paused at the top to catch up on my journal and to watch two woodpeckers quarrelling over a tree. This seemed rather odd to me since I could see only about half a million trees from where I stood. But I am no woodpecker, so I kept out of their dispute.

I hiked into Housatonic State Park and dumped our garbage. I then checked out the restroom. It was clean and the showers were quite inviting. With some caution I looked into a mirror. Only the stains left by the streams of sweat that swept it clean broke the dirt on my face. Though I was grubby and bearded, I felt strangely cleansed by my experience.

I left the park but had some trouble getting back to the AT. Pine Knob Loop kept leading me in circles and the map I carried wasn’t sufficient to lead me out of it. As I entered a day parking area, I saw a dark haired lady in black trousers who was lacing her hiking boots at the lowered tail gate of her Subaru. I approached her with hopes of getting directions to the AT. As I began to speak, she stopped me by raising her right palm in my direction and shook her head while looking downward. It was clear she wasn’t interested in speaking. I was a little surprised but having just seen myself in the mirror, I understood how she might feel. So, I continued on the loop trying to find my way while leaving Ms Friendly behind in her thoughts.

I soon met a 53-year-old lady with silver/gray hair pushed back behind her pierced ears. She wore hiking pants with a casual top and long overcoat. She wore a delightful smelling perfume that I hoped would overwhelm my own odors. With the memory of Ms Friendly fresh in my mind, I tried to make myself appear as sad and forlorn as I possibly could. Had I the time I might have picked at my freckle some more to drum up some tears. But my concern was for naught because she was found to be as helpful as Ms Friendly was cold. This dayhiker told me in a distinguished New England accent that she was quite familiar with the area. She picked up a twig and drew a map in the dirt for me to follow. She repeated her directions several times adding new landmarks with each telling. She explained that tomorrow was her birthday and that she was out walking to prove she was still as young as she felt. I thanked her for her help and wished her a Happy Birthday. She told me it was a bit after 10am.

Her directions proved accurate and in a mile I was again on the AT. However, the sign pointing to the AT was a bit misleading. I walked several yards before I came to the conclusion that the sun in CT either rises in the west or I was going the wrong way. I retraced my steps and soon got going again.

In about 15 minutes I caught up with Week Knees and Dream Weaver. They only walked about one mile since I left them earlier this morning but had taken a long break to speak with a dayhiker. We set out together but I moved on ahead agreeing to meet for lunch at Silver Hill.

Reaching Silver Hill requires a long, steep ascent. Near the top my thighs were burning and heart was pounding hard. But it was a good feeling that I wouldn’t have traded for anything.

I reached Silver Hill around 12 noon. This was an incredible campsite. There are two picnic tables where one can actually eat in an erect position while not having to hold your food. One table rests on a deck overhanging the hillside while the other table sits beneath a kitchen pavilion. A real highlight is a hand pump that pumps drinkable water from a mountain well. But the centerpiece of the camp is a porch swing fashioned out of logs and hanging on chains between two trees. It spite of its crude appearance it was comfortable beyond description. From this swing I perused the camps register and the many entries that sang the praises of the porch swing.

Dream Weaver and Week Knees came into camp about an hour later. I gave them a tour as if I had built the site myself. We took advantage of the free water and drank our fill. Dream Weaver and me washed out socks at the pump and laid them out to dry on a rock. We had lunch at the picnic table out in the sun and hung some clothes on the rail to dry in the wind. I stayed nearly two hours and with some reluctance decided to move on. My companions weren’t finished taking in the comfort so they stayed a bit longer.

I descended the mountain and followed the trail as it crossed Dirt River Road. Parked along side the trail near the road was a dark GMC truck bearing what appeared to be the CT Highway Dept. insignia. I watched the bushy mustached driver exit the truck and toss a beer can into the bed. I can only assume he had picked up the can earlier today while patrolling and was only now placing it in the back of the truck for proper disposal/recycling later. He then moved to the bumper of the truck and proceeded to unzip his fly. As he was doing this he saw me emerge from the woods. He paused, turned slightly and gave me a look that I took to mean, Peace to you, my friend. May the wind blow always at your back. I returned his friendly glance with a nod and look that I hoped he would interpret as, And peace to you, my friend. May you rightly judge the direction of that same wind as you proceed.

housatonic_riverThe AT is next followed to one of the most pleasant sections of the Trail. It goes within spitting distance of the Housatonic River along a shaded path. It meanders along side the river and will twist into a nearby field to return again to the river. I saw a number of snakes sunning themselves along this section of the path. The trail is flat, shaded and comfortable to walk on. This wasn’t hiking; it was strolling. I strolled for some time enjoying this peaceful, riverside view.

I soon met a northbound girl who appeared to be in her mid-20s. She carried a heavy pack and was sweating profusely. At her side was a black dog with a shiny coat. It carried specially designed saddlebags that she told me were filled with his dog food for five days. She confided that the dog was borrowed from a friend and that it had hiked this trail several times. The dog let me scratch it behind the ears and proved to be rather docile. The female told me she put in near Caleb’s Peak and was hiking for five days to reach Salisbury. This was her first day out and she seemed very excited to be spending her vacation this way.

Strolling on I soon came to our evenings stay at Stewart Hollow. As I approached the lean-to I found a 26 year old lady dressed in shorts, T shirt and sandals while sitting on a log. Her tent was pitched near by and she was obviously relaxing in the late afternoon sun. At first I was concerned that I might frighten her away, but her bright blue eyes smiled constantly and put me at ease. She introduced herself as Emma, a.k.a. Beetle. She had quit her job to go back to school but was squeezing this trip in first. She was southbound like we were but began at Salisbury and was heading for a point in New York.

My visit with Beetle proved to be absolutely delightful. She was friendly, courteous and agreeable to conversation. I found that she had hiked all of GA and parts of SC and VA, making her a rather experienced hiker in comparison to me. She told me how she began in GA during March and hiked elbow to elbow with thru-hikers. She recounted trail stories for me and laughed at some of her own encounters as she recalled them. I immediately admired her independent spirit.

Of particular interest, Beetle told of how this very day she was crossing Guinea Brook when she slipped on a log and fell feet first into the river. Standing next to her was a dark haired female dayhiker with black trousers. She told how the female did and said absolutely nothing to assist. As we compared notes, we realized that this lady was indeed the same Ms Friendly that I had encountered! Apparently she was out on the trail spreading her lack of cheer to other hikers.

About an hour later, my companions wandered into camp. I introduced them to Beetle and they promptly sat down to question her. She was kind enough to answer all of their questions, most of which had already been asked by me. She also explained that her Trail-name came from the request of her fiancé to collect insects for his studies at school. She pulled out some of her collection to show us.

About an hour after this we were joined by a man appearing in his 60s who walked into camp hunched forward beneath the load of a 68-lb, internal frame pack. In spite of the weight of his pack he moved at a good pace and called to us in a strong voice, Section hikers or Thru-hikers? He set up camp and then joined us at the lean-to. His name was Bill but his dog, Einstein had given him his trail name, Einstein’s Human. Einstein’s Human was an experienced backpacker who had hiked huge sections of the AT several times over. He had been on the Trail now for about 60 days and was northbound for 3 more weeks. At that time he had to leave the AT but was hoping to return to complete the northern section through Maine by October when the AT is closed.

Einstein’s Human told colorful stories. He told of his single bear sighting and also related how he had seen a wolf. He spoke of the difficulties of hiking through snow and what its like to wake up with ice on your sleeping bag. I was indeed very glad to be in the company of such experienced hikers as Einstein’s Human and Beetle. It turned out to be my most enjoyable evening of the week.

As I lay in the tent that night I came to the understanding that this was the magic of the AT for me. For the magic wasn’t just the scenic beauty, not just the physical demand, and not just the challenge. But it was the people of the Trail. They made it for me. The Trail society as Beetle called it. The people behind the stories they tell.

Tuesday, May 11, 1999

We awoke at 6am. Staying so close to the river kept the air chilled. It was only 40 degrees as we crawled from the tent. We made breakfast and ate some of our extra food that morning. Einstein’s Human was kind enough to join us for a cup of coffee that we made him. He then set off northbound with Beetle heading south not long after him. We broke camp around 8:30am.

I moved ahead of Dream Weaver and Week Knees but waited for them at St. Johns Ledges. This was a steep climb over rocks and we felt it was best to do it together. As I waited, I phoned by daughter, Emily to wish her a Happy Birthday. I also saw Connecticut’s bee buzz around. Connecticut has one bee. Not one type, but one single bee, a bumblebee. It is as large as an unshelled peanut and had been following me since I put in on the Trail. Since I never saw more than one at a time, I figured this was the only one. It proved to be a good companion. I had asked Beetle last night not to collect it until I left the state. She agreed.

When they joined me we began the ascent. Week Knees and I thought that Bear Mountain was actually more difficult but that St. Johns Ledges was longer of a climb. When we made it to the top I moved on ahead again.

I left the AT near Kent, CT and hiked into town. I dumped our garbage and used a payphone to call Paul Hibbard and a dear friend of mine who told me it was 2:15pm. It was 78 degrees and rather hot standing on the pavement. I wanted a cold drink but didn’t have any money with me. Money means relatively nothing on the Trail, but here I cant get by without it. So, I hiked back to the AT. I met some Ohio University students who were northbound heading for the VT/MS line. I used their camera to take their picture at the AT sign along the road. They told me of a lone female south bounder they talked to near the top of Mt. Algo at around 12:30pm. Go Beetle, go.

As I continued near a small stream, I saw a beaver swim by. I hiked south and soon arrived at our campsite, Mt. Algo. As I walked into the shelter I felt a sense of weariness. I was tired and becoming more aware of how badly I smelled. My clothes were quite soiled and I had a real sense of needing a change.

Dream Weaver and Week Knees arrived at around 4:15pm. We had extra food so we ate heavily that night. We talked of tomorrows shower with a far away look in our eyes. I think we were all becoming rather tired.

My companions were in their tents by 7:50pm. I walked around the site a bit to reflect. This would be our last night on the Trail. I had mixed feelings about that. I was tired, dirty and would do good not to describe the way I smelled. But the Trail continued on and had a lure for me. I crawled in my tent at around 8:45pm. Listened to an owl and fell asleep.

Wednesday, May 12, 1999

Up at 6am, 49 degrees. We didn’t have breakfast but hiked into Kent to be picked up by Paul who arrived at 9am. He debriefed us on world and national news and we piled into the van warning him that he might want to drive with the window open.

We drove back to Gaylordsville UM Church where Paul graciously offered us his shower to use. We drew numbers and I won the honor of going first. Its hard to describe something so ordinary as a shower. But this was no ordinary shower. This was a ritual cleansing. A passage from one world to another. After finishing, I stepped outside and felt my skin tingle every time the wind blew. As Week Knees went in for his shower, I walked to the Gaylordsville General Store and bought a huge Dutch Apple Muffin and some apple juice. I nearly expected the lady behind the counter and other patrons of the store to remark how clean I looked. I thought I glowed.

Not long after showering did I realize I was ready once again to return to the AT. We just needed that refreshment to revitalize us. If we could have laundered our clothes and had the time, I know we would have been ready the following day to return to the Trail and continue our walk.