My Walk in the Woods, Ch 14

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter Fourteen (July 13th-19th)

Day 97: (VT)  22 miles to Minerva Shelter

Today it is cloudy and I enjoy a mellow day of hiking on easy terrain. I get two relaxing swims — Griffith Pond and Little Rock Pond. It begins to rain ten minutes before I get to a large, full shelter but the people welcome me. It is an interesting collection of strangers and a boisterous, lively evening.

Day 98: (VT)  22 tough miles from Minerva Shelter to Long Trail Inn

A difficult day with much climbing including a big traverse over Killington Peak. At a high, lonely shelter I have lunch and make a steep side trip to the famous ski area for views. In a quiet wooded dell I come upon an extensive manmade rock garden. I stop for a brief meditation then add my own contribution to a precarious pile.

At the end of this tough day I take a blue blaze trail down a couple of miles to the historical Long Trail Inn. This beautiful inn was partially built into the rocky hillside. I immediately gravitate to the spectacular cavern tavern and watch the Tour de France on a big screen while sipping Long Trail Ale. [The Long Trail runs the length of Vermont and overlaps the AT in this area.] I relish the hot shower, clean clothes and entertaining dinner company in this incomparable wayside inn.

Day 99: (VT)  16 easy miles to cowboy camp atop lookout platform

In retrospect today is one of my favorite days on the trail. It begins with a good breakfast with jovial section hikers at the inn. I eagerly climb the blue blaze trail back to the familiar white stripe. My first side trip is to the Killington deli for a large sandwich and the outfitter store for additional food. The next detour takes me to the Killington library and public pool. While waiting for the library to open I sit in a cozy shaded patio area and talk to a friendly librarian. I finish eating my sandwich and doze off staring at the bucolic countryside.

I am energized for the late afternoon hike up and around rolling forested hills. I hustle to make it to an isolated fire lookout before sunset. The lookout turns out to be a tiny locked cabin with a rickety ladder to a roof platform. To avoid being eaten by mosquitos I decide to camp on the platform. The 360 degree sunset is the best of the trip. I lie on my bag and watch an incredible celestial show called nightfall.

Day 100: (VT)  20 miles from lookout to Podink Brook

The sunrise today from the platform is incredible. I watch the light cover the earth as we rotate toward the sun. The hike this morning has many hills and by lunch I am toast.

I take a dirt road uphill to a quintessential Vermont dairy farm called Cloudland for their indescribable ice cream and soda. A burly woman comes out of the farmhouse and leads me into a tiny walk-in freezer connected to the large barn. I make my selection and sit in a comfortable shaded garden and watch the farm in action.

A few miles later I find abundant trail magic in the form of a giant cooler filled with watermelon and cold soda. I make a pig of myself and take a long break while I rehydrate. I do not see evidence of any other hikers and the trail journal provided does not have many entries.

Late in the day I see the trail winding through a quaint little town called West Hartford. At the center of town a bridge crosses a swift river. I watch brave kids jump from the bridge into the swirling water. There is a white two story building advertising a general store and deli so of course I turn in. I am instantly delighted I do. I order one of the tantalizing specials from the friendly girl behind the counter. I shop for chips, soda and dessert in the store then sit with my booty at a table at the front windows.

I am so energized from the meal the climb out of town is a blur. When I start to tire I find a nice camp by a brook.

Day 101: (VT/NH)  8 miles in and 8 miles out of Hanover, NH

Anxious to get to Hanover I quickly breakdown camp. Half naked, I use the creek for a brisk jolting bath. The rude awakening continues when a lady walking her dog abruptly appears at a bend in the trail. We exchange awkward pleasantries, her friendly demeanor instantly improves the tone of the morning.

The trail emerges onto a rural road lined by hedges and mailboxes. As I walk along I get brief glimpses of large colonial homes set back with vast acres of manicured lawn. I approach a driveway with a sign pointing to a tupperware tub. Inside are homemade chocolate chip cookies and a lovingly bound trail journal.

I follow white blazes on the sidewalk to a multilane roadway. I turn left on a wide pedestrian walkway across the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. At the top of a hill I arrive at a major metropolitan intersection. I see that the trail turns right down a canyon of multistory buildings. Across the street I see the gothic ivy covered architecture and campus of Dartmouth College. Somewhere along the bustling street I find a busy diner decorated with mirrors and silver trim. I tuck my pack under the counter and chow down on tasty greasy food in this loud packed environment. I feel like a pig at the communal trough.

After completing the usual town chores I amble to the edge of town where I know an exceptional ‘Whole Foods’ type of market is located. Hikers have raved about it and I am looking forward to getting fresh food to bring on the trail. I luxuriate in the delectable sights and smells for an hour then carry my spoils outside where a picnic table draws my attention. I drink a fruit smoothie and attack a huge self serve salad. I look up and see three teenage boys approaching with their super caffeine drinks and sugar snacks.

It turns out these good natured lads are in a band and are about to meet their drummer for practice. They like my tales of freedom on the AT so I take a risk and ask about scoring weed. The obvious leader of the group takes me around the back of the market and pulls baggies out of his pack. I give him all the cash I have we shake hands and part ways.

The trail enters the woods behind a school track. I stop at a nice seat and fire up my bomber with the harsh weed. As I feel the long awaited buzz come on I praise the trail spirits for this gift. I am now ready for the most anticipated section of this adventure– the White Mtns of NH and the final state of Maine.

Day 102: (NH)  20 miles to Hexacuba Shelter

Happy trails start with wake n bake and continue uninterrupted throughout the day. An afternoon thunderstorm cools things off nicely. I arrive at the unusually shaped Hexacuba shelter which is filled with unfriendly hikers jammed wall to wall to wall to wall to wall to wall. I find a flat tentsite and enjoy the solitude.

Day 103: (NH)  15 miles to Hiker’s Welcome in Glencliffe

A relatively short hike today to a legendary oasis called Hiker’s Welcome in the village of Glencliffe at the edge of the fearsome White Mtns. Although the main house is off limits, the hikers have free reign over the rest of the expansive property. I see several hikers sitting under a tarp next to a wooden structure which contains everything a hiker needs to kill time– books, videos and board games. I recognize one of the hikers from way back in TN. I have been chasing this boy and his dog for months!

There is a pile of bicycles against a fence for hikers to use to go into town. I choose a girls bike because it has a handlebar basket and begin the 30 minute ride to the nearest store. Choices are limited but I cram my purchases (including a six pack of beer) in the basket and pedal slowly up a long hill. My progress is slowed by the basket rubbing against the front tire due to the weight of my supplies so I start drinking the beer. I eventually return by dark with only 2 beers left.

I spend the rest of the evening chatting with the handful of hikers who are resting before taking on the challenging Presidential Range. I am filled with anticipation and have difficulty falling asleep. Tomorrow the real hike begins.

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