Christmas AT Backpacking Trip – MA to NY via CT – It is A Wrap
January 14, 2020 § Leave a comment
The sixth time I felt my bladder had to be emptied, was around 5:10 in the am. I had slept on and off, however 5 times I had to get up at night, and one of those times, I needed to go around my tarp and move the rocks to tighten up the tautness in the tarp. I even extended the tent poles a little more to give me a wee bit more clearance. Anyway, here it was 5:10 in the am, and I knew I needed to get up. The question I presented to myself was this: “Why not simply get up, eat, and get going? Why pull into the destination shelter near the end of light? Why not simply, get there early? I contemplated these thoughts within the warm confines of my bag for another ten minutes, and then decided to follow through and this time, rather than simply dressing to pee, I dressed for the day.
I retrieved my food from the bear box, and quickly heated some water for coffee. This day, I did not need any hot water for breakfast, as this was a cold granola day, and with 3/4 cup, that was soon mixed and soaking. I set about putting the tarp away. The tarp was moist, so I pretty much knew that once I put it away, I wouldn’t be taking it out again until I was in my garage when it would need to dry. I carefully went to all the tie down locations, and re-wrapped all the guy lines, and then it stuffed fairly easily back into its stuff-sack. My sleeping bag was a wee bit moist, but no harm, and I stuffed and compressed that beast as well. The Thermarest ultra-light deflated and was rolled up and stuffed, as was my pillow. I sat down then to enjoy my granola and coffee. The simplest of pleasures both. Afterwards, I packed everything up again, and was ready to rock and roll before 7 am.
There was just a slight problem. My phone didn’t really get settled into charging, and I just didn’t want to take any chances, so off the phone was turned, and onto the trail I set. If I got to Stewart Shelter with ample time, the first thing I would do is to set the phone to charge, and leave it alone. Perhaps I could get enough charge to track myself for the rest of the day.
It wasn’t very long before I realized I had made the right decision to camp at Ceasar Brook. More icy rocky climbing and descending just wasn’t something to be doing by headlamp. There were also some stretches of long exposed rock where the blazes are on the rocks. In the daylight it is obvious where the trail goes, but trying to ascertain that in the dark would have simply made the going even slower. To top that off, there was a trail detour due to high icy water at Guinea Brook. I never would have attempted that crossing in the dark, because I wasn’t even going to cross it in the day. I only wished it was that obvious before I had descended down into the ravine, so back up I went for one and half mile detour. Back in the woods it was another few up and downs before I finally emerged upon the Housatonic again. Here the river was just a wide moving body of water, and the trail was pretty much an old river woods road. Stewart Hollow was a very nice shelter, and I wish I had stayed in it, but it made a good place to get lunch and get a charge on my phone.
With better than 50%, I enabled tracking for the afternoon and set off for Mt. Algo Shelter. I would/should arrive before darkness, but that all depended on what lay ahead of me. For now it was flat river walking. The first thing to make sure when arriving back at the trail, is that you go in the right direction. I have done it, and many many others have done it as well, and set off in the wrong direction. The trail looks different enough in the other direction until you come to some landmark where recognition leaves an empty feeling in your stomach. That didn’t happen to me this day, because as soon as I got back to the trail, there was a simple sign “South –>” and follow it I did. As I followed the river, the ridge to my right edged closer and closer to the river. A rule I learned on the bicycle, that if you are on a road called “River Road” or “Valley Road” and make a 90 degree turn, you will soon be going uphill, and that is exactly what the AT had in store for me. Getting to Mt. Algo was not going to be simply doing the miles. It was going to be a lot of work, and there were some big rocky climbs again, and some big rocky descents, before the trail settled into some ridge line walking, ridge line with no vistas that is, and eventually I came upon a clean pair of folded, still dryer sheet fragrant, sweat pants from the local high school. I couldn’t leave them there, so I stuffed them where I could stuff them and walked another half mile when I emerged on the edge of the descent to CT 341. Mt. Algo was up the other side, but on this side were three teenaged young men sitting on a rock, chatting away as young men do, and eating whatever it was they all brought up the trail for the afternoon. Greetings exchanged, I asked if they had lost a clean pair of sweatpants, and they laughed and pointed to the jacket component which was lying in the trail just yards away. I don’t know what the circumstances were, but both pieces were in decent shape, and were still folded. I only had room for one, so I left the jacket lie with the boys. The pants seemed like they would fit me, and I would wear them at camp that night, but because of the fragrance, I was not keeping them in the shelter with me.
It was a long descent, but eventually I could hear the cars and I emerged into a wet boggy field that fortunately had some raised trail beds to navigate through (Thank you Eagle Scouts). This was where a day hike ended a few years back just up the road from Kent, CT. Jed, Andy, Mike and I knocked the section south of here out on a cold and snowy December day in 2016 or 2017. So I knew Mt Algo Shelter was not far from the road, but it was hidden back in the saddle between Mt. Algo and another hill to the West, and I had some ascent to care to before I would see it. At the end of the day, any ascent feels like it is more than it is, but I recall looking ahead on the trail to see when the saddle began to take shape. Before long the saddle was there, and not too long after that the Blue Blazed trail to the shelter appeared before me.
Connecticut, and perhaps Massachusetts as well, likes to build an intermediate wall that produces a kind of alcove at the front of the shelter. In some cases, it is too high for even me to throw my leg over, and they build up a set of stairs on the outside to get in. Mt. Algo, like Lime Spring was not too high, allowing me the luxury of a leg throw over and I settled into it pretty quickly. As always, I take everything out of the pack, inflate the sleeping pad first, then pull out and allow the sleeping bag to regain its loft, and achieve it’s normal fill state. After that, tend to the details of water, and dinner.
Dinner was a surprise this evening. I thought I had brought 4 dinners, but what I really had was only 3, because the two dinners I had left were only single servings, and I always buy 2 serving dinners. After a day of backpacking whoever thought 260 calories would be a dinner? And then the question is begged “Why the ‘F’ do I have them?” It wasn’t long before I recalled a hike done a few years back with my friends Kal, Stacy, Bob, and Stephen where we hiked the Devil’s Trail in the Catskills, and we camped between the two halves of the trail, and I said something like “No one is going to want to cook, so let’s just get some meals at EMS that we can add water to … blah blah blah.” to which Kal, kept insisting we should cook salmon and a nice dinner blah blah, and blah. Well Stephen bought a couple of meals, and then didn’t use them, because he ate Kals salmon, and he gave them to me, because “Yech!”.
So, now here I am, in need of calories, so I cooked up both of them, and because I was technically out of breakfasts as well, I also cooked up the Indian rice pudding, which I felt, if it set all night in the bear box, then it should be, hopefully not frozen, well hydrated, and delicious in the morning. I ate the Pad Thai first, giving the Penne a little longer to soften up, but even after all that time, the macaronis were still crunchy. I don’t like crunchy macaroni, but I ate it anyway. I needed the calories. Sometimes there simply isn’t anything you can do to make the re-hydration process work the way it should.
While it wasn’t really all that cold, once I was done with dinner, there simply wasn’t anything to do but go to bed. I would try to get up at 530 again, and get an early start if I could. Coffee was on the menu, and I’d eat the rice pudding. If I kept to it, I could be on the trail by 7 for sure or even earlier.
To say I awoke is a lie, because I awoke many times that night, but I only had to get up to pee once, and that is a win in my book. I was awake at 5, but didn’t see much point in getting up that early. I could lie in the bag for another 30 minutes and enjoy the warmth. But by the time 5:30 rolled around I was ready for my last day. Up I got.
I warmed enough water for a full cup of coffee (That is actually two via packages), and retrieved the last of my food bag leaving the sweat pants for another party. The rice pudding was perfect. No crunchy rice in the entire packet. The almonds were still crunchy, and the raisins added a nice extra texture. I packed up while I was eating, because when you take a spoonful of rice pudding, there is a certain amount of chewing that is still necessary, so that gave me time to multi-task and do all the little things that packing is made up of. Deflate and stuff my pillow. Release the valve on the mattress pad, and roll it up whole first, to get most of the air out, take another bite, and then fold it in half lengthwise, and do the final roll to get the rest of the air out. Return it to its sack. The real challenge is the high loft -30 Solar Flare. First just getting it into the compression sack, and then actually compressing it. A bag that lofty contains a lot of air, so I did have to pre-squeeze it in order to make it easier to stuff in the bag. Take another bite of rice pudding.
I released the interior panel the previous day that allowed the sleep bag to seat all the way to the bottom of the pack. With the panel in place, I had stuffed all the food in that section, but now that there was little to no food, it seemed to make sense to utilize that space more efficiently. Now I am thinking that I should always run it that way. There is no need to have access to the food during the day if you take the time to get the food you need for the day, and simply place it in a more accessible part of the pack. Packing the pack goes easier that way.
I was on the trail before the sun came up. In fact I was over Mt Algo, and climbing the next climb when the sun finally made an appearance. I did start the hike without my spikes, but it wasn’t all that long before I came upon ice again, and so back on the spikes went. On this day, I would walk into NY twice. The first time is a small section of trail that wanders into NY, and then back again before the trail descends back to the Housatonic for that last time. It’s a rapids section of the Housatonic, and the sound is mesmerizing. The trail has many outcrops with nice views, and eventually Ten Mile River is reached where a bridge exists, because Ten Mile River is never crossable. I would argue that Guinea Brook is probably rarely crossable, but that water crossing is bridgeless. The trail then turns west following Ten Mile River upstream where the side trail to the Shelter is reached. Ten Mile Shelter is a really nice shelter sitting at the end of an old field. I stopped in to let my feet get some air, and to have some lunch. From there I only had Ten Mile Hill left and then my journey would be over. I was ahead of schedule, so I took my time with lunch and enjoyed the view.
I have this observation about names and geography. “River Road” is almost always along a river. “Long Hill Road” or anything “Hill Road” probably has a hill in it. “Summit” must be the top of something so all roads out must go down. “Ten Mile Hill” has two components: “Ten Mile” and “Hill”. I already knew the hill was not a ten mile climb because I only had 3 left, and the “Ten Mile” comes from the river. “Hill” can be interpreted as “Not Mountain”, so I was feeling pretty good about what I had left, but that feeling didn’t last long. Calling that a hill was a cruel joke, because it was about a 3/4 of a mile climb, with a pretty long staircase, that clearly was a lot of work to construct. To make matters worse, this was another example of a point on the trail where maybe, in the distant past, the summit of Ten Mile Hill used to command a gorgeous vista of all the surrounding lands, whereas today, there is nothing but trees as a reward for your efforts. We hike for the views! I think that is certainly one of the main appeals to hiking out west. There is simply no shortage of reward for all efforts.
After descending the section of the trail that crosses back into New York is an extremely boggy wet section with a lot of raised gravel beds to make the walk less muckier. I knew and remembered this section well, and soon I alighted onto Hoyt Road and my journey was over. Or so I thought. I ended my Strava tracking, and removed Airplane mode, so I could hail an Uber. Uber is a bit of a tease. It shows you the rates that you could pay, which gives you a false sense of hope until you read the words at the bottom of the screen that go something like “You are in the middle of fucking nowhere, so why do you thing someone is available to come and retrieve your damn smelly ass?”. And so, I started walking to Wingdale which was about 5 miles away. Once on the main road, Route 55, I walked with traffic and upon hearing an approaching car from me rear, I stuck my thumb out facing my direction of travel. While it might be nice for potential pick-ups to see my face first, so they can make that first impressions judgement, I figured, the backpack pretty much said “Whoever this is, they might not smell great, but they are more than likely completely harmless, and no threat”.
The seventh vehicle to pass me honked and stopped quickly. Out jumped someone who might have been my age, but he looked much older, a dog he had by the collar, and was guiding the dog to the rear of the enclosed pickup bed where he had the damnedest time getting that dog to commit to its future voluntarily. I can understand the haste, he was parked along the road, not exactly off the road, and the dog wasn’t obeying, so a feedback loop was entered of anxiety with the dog not wanting to go, and the owner wanting more for the dog to comply. It took two efforts, but the dog did jump up on its own, the first time it simply turned around and jumped back down, twisting the man’s hand in the process. Now this wasn’t a Lassie dog, or any kind of Dog which triggers the “help” gene in you to say, “Let me help you with that.” because every time the dog looked at me, its eyes said, “I want to rip the flesh off your face!”. It is this mini pickup truck that I got into. Ha!!!
The driver was very cordial, and we chatted all the way into Wingdale. He was curious about my trip, and we nearly missed the station when he was talking about the old Mental Hospital which was emptied back in Mario Cuomo’s time, and I couldn’t tell whether Olivet University, which took over the property, was actually a functioning institution of higher learning. The place looked dead and empty.
My driver pulled over, and we said our goodbyes, and my thanks were given, and soon I alighted upon the platform trying to figure out exactly what and where I was. Recall from first post there was a limit to the electrification of the line, and I was north of the end of that, so I was waiting for a diesel, and my initial destination was Southeast. I bought a ticket to the AT Stop, since I already had a ticket from there to Grand Central, and I found the heated enclosure, and triggered the “Heat On” button, and waited the 35 minutes for the next train.
Gave Susan my expected ETA, and then started to think about what my meal was going to be that night. I had a lot of time to think about it. Something I didn’t figure on, and didn’t really understand, because I got on the line at a fairly distant point, and that was this was the Saturday after Christmas. While the train was nearly empty Christmas morning leaving the city for the burbs, every stop on the way back to Grand Central on this day resulted in no one getting off, and lots of people getting on. Net effect? I was not to enjoy a “private” seat section to stew in my own body stink, but would have to sit closely with “clean” people. An early individual saw my pack and chatted me up (from afar) concerning his daughter who thru-hiked the AT that year. “I offered my congratulations”, and the young man who sat across from me, upon hearing of my tale, took the next opportunity to move his seat. The next 3 people to sit with me, didn’t have the option of moving. Keep your seat or lose it.
Long trip back to GC it was, but eventually we arrived, and it wasn’t on track 19, the one we had departed, it was one of the 100 series tracks which in Grand Central Speak means the second tier down. I had no idea there were two levels of track sub-basement, but we arrived into the subest of those sub-basements. Egressing from the train was not unlike a full airplane when it shuts down and the jetway is attached. I bided my time, grabbed my backpack, and unlike everyone else there I did what everyone else was doing, disembarked. Once on the platform I heard a voice behind me say “The Appalachian Trail is the other direction!”, to which I turned and told my information host I had just spent four days on the AT. Surprised, we engaged in small talk all the way into the end of the platform where we departed with kind words.
My senses were under assault, as I was dumped into the main sub-basement food court which was in full swing. The visuals, were one thing, but the olfactory senses were ringing five alarms as everything smelled so goddamned good I was ready to order everything I saw. Self control got me through as I had my eye on the “ring” and that was something in one of the local places in Susan’s neighborhood. Get to her place, jump into the shower, clean up, and then get out and get some grub.
My walk through the city was really more like a normal walk, because my exit from the city was the abnormal, and ten minutes brought me to the buzzer, and Susan buzzed me in. I could hear Guss all those flights up, yapping in anticipation as he heard my steps, but was not rewarded with my person for at least another minute as it takes time to climb 3 flights with a semi-empty backpack. United we were, and I picked up him so he could kiss me multiple times. I only hoped he had licked his lips a few times since the last time he licked his privates. I didn’t waste a moment, though. I had wired Susan to place an empty plastic bag in the bathroom, and I dropped my bag, grabbed my clean clothing, and escaped to the bathroom.
Emerging fresh, and clean I decided on Ted’s, as I wanted to sit at the bar, and watch whatever games were on, but when we got to Ted’s, the bar was full, so we left, and went to Rare Burger on Lex. There, two seats were available at the bar, and a pleasant dinner evening was enjoyed.
While I could have stayed in the city that night, the more I thought about sleeping in my own bed, motivated me to get all my shit together, and that of Gus, and haul myself and stuff to the Ferry Terminal for the short hop home. So my day went something like this. Arose at 5:30 in the am, walked 13 miles on the AT, hitch-hiked to Wingdale where I grabbed a 2.5 hour train ride to Grand Central, walked to the Ferry and grabbed an hour Ferry ride to Highlands, where I finished my day driving 40 minutes back to Ocean where I simply left everything where it came off, and climbed into my warm snug bed. The end of a great day, and a great adventure.