Day 64: Campsite at mm1381.3 to Graymoor Campground – 31mi
Logs was up a few minutes before me and was on the trail at 530, but I hung around for another 20min or so. Just when I thought I was getting the hang of this stuff, Logs shows that with as much experience as he has he can be hiking within 20 minutes of waking up.
It was already warm and sticky at quarter to 6, so I knew it would be a hot one. Logs pointed out before he left that we had some major climbs coming our way, and boy was he right. What better way to spend my birthday than get pounded by hellacious hills?
It wasn’t long into the day before I was using all four appendages to scale rock faces and squeeze between boulders. I passed through the aptly-named “lemon squeezer” which was quite tight, and then it was on to more hills. Most of the climbs were incredibly steep and technical, yet rather short – less than half a mile. Still, it was enough to zap the life and energy out of me quickly. Because it was so humid, I was pouring sweat and couldn’t keep up with water consumption. I drank at least 8 liters of water throughout the day and still only peed twice – both times the color was that of dark honey. Not ideal.
The biggest climb of the day was to the peak of Bear Mountain, about a 1,000ft ascent. This would be the third of its kind for the day, but the easiest. This part of the trail is a popular day hike for families, so when I saw little kids running around I knew it wouldn’t be too bad. Indeed it wasn’t, but I was just so spent by then that it took me forever to reach the summit. I spent no time there and instead made my way down toward the recreation area along a similarly nice graded path. Down at the bottom, there’s a nice little pond with lots of picnic tables and tons of families grilling. I wanted so badly to Yogi some of their ribs or chicken, but I refrained.
The remaining 8 miles were relatively uneventful. I crossed the Hudson River, climbed a couple thousand more feet, and popped more ibuprofen to keep my feet in check. I arrived at the Appalachian Market, a trail side gas station with a grill and decent food options, at 8:30pm. I ordered and devoured a big quesadilla and bought some snacks for the next few days. I then made my way to the Graymoor ball field, where they have been letting hikers camp since the 1970s. They have a pavilion with electricity, so I’ll charge up my phone and battery bank overnight so they’ll last a few more days.
Today was pretty wild. I haven’t experienced this kind of climbing since southern Virginia, and I think this was worse. It was a real ass kicker, and I expected nothing less on my birthday!
Day 65: Graymoor Campground to Morgan Stewart Shelter – 27.8mi
Last night I got the worst sleep I’ve had on the trail so far. I got to the campground (which is really just a baseball field with a pavilion) after dark and decided maybe I’d cowboy camp (sleeping outside without a tent). I set my stuff up just as a couple of latino men showed up and made a big fire just outside the pavilion. It looked staged, so this seemed to be pre-planned. They didn’t say much so I figured I could sleep through it. About 15min later, I hear a full procession coming down the hill – drums, guitars, and what sounded like 30 or 40 people singing. Sure enough, they were all headed to the fire. After they settled, someone began to speak, and it was clear that this was some kind of a church service. Not sure what kind of church holds their mass at this hour (it was after 10pm), but it was certainly well-attended. After a few minutes of sermon they broke into another song and that was my queue to pack up and go. There was no way this thing would be over soon and I was dead tired. I desperately needed to charge my phone and battery bank, but it wasn’t worth it. I picked up my stuff and walked to the far end of the field, where the other hikers had set up. I planned to cowboy camp there as well, but it was soon apparent that the mosquitoes and noise wouldn’t allow it. After a while of trying to make it work, even with earplugs, I decided I needed to move again. I picked everything up and walked about a tenth of a mile to another field, inflatable mattress under one arm and my quilt in the other, and set up camp for the third time. This one was far enough away that I could online hear faint drum beats and out of pure exhaustion I finally fell asleep.
In the morning, I silenced my normal 5am alarm and didn’t get up until 6. I really needed that extra hour. I got up and was on the trail at about 7:15, still a bit drowsy.
The trail started off with some steep but short climbs and descents, which in my state had me fumbling all over. I was moving slowly and couldn’t seem to coordinate my steps well. I went up and over Denning Hill, Canopus Hill, and several others during the first part of the day. The terrain eventually got easier and I was able to cruise through some sections.
About 15mi in I passed signs for Canopus Lake Beach, which appeared to have a small café (which was actually open) and, gasp, showers! I figured the short diversion would be worth it, so I went. I got a bacon cheeseburger from the Cafe which was overpriced and not great, but the shower felt amazing. I definitely needed it after the last few days, that’s for sure. I didn’t have a towel so I dried myself off as best I could with my Buff before putting my smelly clothes back on.
As I was getting ready to leave it started to rain lightly, which it had been threatening all day. The skies had been overcast, but the rain helped cool the temperature significantly, which was great. I wore my poncho for a while but the rain stopped quickly so it wasn’t needed.
I summited Mt. Shenandoah and a couple of other unnamed peaks in the afternoon, the climbs taking their toll and wearing me out as the day went on. Along this area there were tons of blown down trees – more than I’d seen anywhere else. I read somewhere that they were hit pretty hard by that last storm (the one I faced in PA) and it was the cause of the mess. Luckily the trail maintainers did a good job of clearing what they could and providing an alternate route around the others.
I didn’t take many breaks other than at the beach, knowing that I wanted to make it nearly 28mi and had started a little late. I eventually made it just after 8pm as the sun was setting. The shelter was full, so I set my tent up just outside and it turns out that Logs is here too. He’d also camped in the field last night and heard the ruckus, so we commiserated about our terrible night.
Tomorrow we’ll cross into Connecticut, and we’re considering sharing a room in Kent. We both need to do laundry and they have a laundromat nearby so that might be a good option.
Day 66: Morgan Stewart Shelter to Mt Algo Shelter- 29mi
Last night I slept well, but could have used another hour. I was on the trail at 6 and Logs was off at about 530. Once again I couldn’t shake the drowsiness for most of the morning and was like a zombie bumbling down the trail. The weather was excellent – a little overcast and cool but no chance of rain.
The difficulty was all over the place today. Sometimes the trail was wide, nearly flat, and perfect. Other times it was insanely steep and rocky. I cursed the endless hills because I couldn’t muster the energy to power up them as usual, so my pace slowed significantly.
I took a break after 15mi near a small stream. There, I ate some peanut butter, let my feet air out, and even dozed off for a few minutes. I felt better and more recharged after so the rest of the afternoon wasn’t so bad despite the climbs. Soon after, I passed the state line into Connecticut! It feels pretty nice to finally be in New England, and this is more or less the two-thirds mark of the trail. Only ~730 miles to Maine!
When I originally planned my schedule for this section, I was going to attempt the “Connecticut Challenge” where you hike all 52mi of the state in a single day. However, since my feet still bother me a lot i didn’t think it would be a good idea to go for it. I might be able to make it, but then I’d be hurting after and would probably need a zero, which I can’t afford. Also, the climbs here are nuts. So instead, I’ve been doing near-30mi days to get the mileage done in the same amount of time, which has worked fine.
I had originally planned to meet up with Logs in Kent, Connecticut tonight but decided to bail and just come to the shelter (which is only about a half mile from the road to the town). It was already past 7pm when I got here and I didn’t feel up for the half mile walk to the road plus another mile to town. I didn’t really need anything there anyway, although a shower and clean laundry would have been nice. My next hotel stay is two days from now in Great Barrington, MA. I need to cover 54mi between now and then!
Day 67: Mt Algo Shelter to Campsite at mm1498 – 30mi
Having the shelter to myself last night was great. I love being able to spread my crap everywhere and not worry about disturbing people when I get up in the morning. There were 4 other people in the vicinity, but they were all in tents. I got up just after 5 but took forever getting ready. I made grits for breakfast which, as previously noted, I hate doing because it takes too long. However, I’m down to my last bit of food and it’s all I had so I did it anyway. As such, I didn’t get on the trail until a few minutes after 6.
The air was already warm and I could tell it was going to be a hot day. The trail started off with an increasingly steep and rocky decline which had me really watching my step. At one point it was so steep that I felt like I was getting vertigo – it was wild. I can’t imagine someone like Pappy (the 87 year old who is thru-hiking the trail this year) trying to make his way down that thing – or even worse, trying to come up!
After the steep decline the trail spits onto a nice dirt road, which you follow for a mile or so before getting onto a path. This path was almost completely flat, wide, and had zero rocks. Not only that, it followed a river and went on for about 5 miles. It was incredible – I was so happy and thankful for some easy miles with good scenery.
My luck would soon run out, of course, as the later part of the morning was riddled with steamy thousand-foot climbs. They really don’t seem to like switchbacks here, as every ascent was almost straight up. I was audibly panting and attempting to mop the sweat off my face with my Buff, but it soon became saturated and only smeared the substance around instead of removing it. After three or four of these hellions, there was another nice cruiser section.
In the evening I had one more big climb, after I’d already hiked 25mi. Surprisingly it wasn’t as steep as the others and was much more manageable. I hiked a couple more miles to a stream to refill my water and then was able to find a nice stealth camping spot nearby, setting up my tent just as the sun dropped below the mountains.
Doing 30mi today has set me up for a slightly shorter day tomorrow into Great Barrington (23.6mi). Hopefully I can get there early enough to do some laundry and my other chores while still getting a good night’s rest. Boy, I’m sure glad I didn’t attempt the Connecticut Challenge – these climbs would have been awful, especially trying to do them at night. Yikes.
Day 68: Campsite at mm1498 to Great Barrington, MA – 23.6mi
My camp spot last night was great and I thought I was so clever, but once I got on the trail I noticed that three others were camped within a mile of me. Guess everyone had the same idea!
I had a tough day ahead but good rest last night, so I was ready. The day started with a descent down to a road, which I followed for a couple miles both on the tar and thought a short patch of woods just outside Salisbury, CT before starting the first of a series of climbs.
The first peak was Lion’s Head, which had a steady but manageable path to the top. This was actually a false, summit, however, because the trail kept going up a few hundred more feet until reaching the top of Bear Mountain and the highest point in Connecticut. The descent from there was steep and rocky, pushing directly into the next climb a couple of miles later.
The next two peaks were Race Mountain and Mt. Everett. The views from Race mountain were incredible, and getting to the summit required lots of ledge-walking on big granite slabs, so paying close attention to your steps was required. More crazy steep descents for both, as expected. What made them particularly difficult were dried leaves that covered the rocks. One step on those and you’d instantly lose your footing. This happened to me several times, and twice resulted in me falling on my ass. Before making the climb up Mt. Everett, I passed the CT/MA border. Connecticut was a nice and challenging section but I’m glad to have it behind me.
The heat and humidity were punishing again today, which led to me guzzling water at every chance and needing to stop to refill/filter several times. It too me longer than expected to reach the bottom of Mt. Everett, but once I did I had a fairly smooth and easy walk to Rt 7, where I hoped to hitch a ride into Great Barrington (3mi from the trail).
Miraculously, I got a hitch almost instantly. I think it was the first car that passed who pulled over, and I was very grateful. It turns out the driver, a middle-aged woman, is from Eastport, Maine! Small world. Well, I guess now that I’m in Massachusetts it’s not that much of a stretch but it was still a nice coincidence. She dropped me at the Days Inn, where I had a reservation for the night.
Once I checked in and received my resupply box, I immediately showered and headed out to do laundry and get food. There aren’t any machines at the hotel but thankfully there’s a laundromat just a few blocks away so I headed there with my awful clothing that smelled like death. As my clothes were washing, I went to Subway and smashed a foot-long sub, cookies, and drank about 4 sodas. I returned to the laundromat to dry my clothes, and waited around until they were done.
On my short walk back to the hotel, I stopped by a CVS (which is right next door) and picked up some more ibuprofen, candy, and batteries – the essentials!
Tonight I’m just trying to get some chores and planning done beforehand heading back to the trail tomorrow morning.
Day 69: Great Barrington, MA to Campsite at mm1550.7 – 29mi
I had a decent night’s rest at the Days Inn but wasn’t able to sleep in past 6am – too used to my early wake-ups, I suppose. It was actually nice because I had time to take a shower, pack my stuff, and check out before having breakfast. The hotel offerings were pretty sparse, consisting mostly of frozen cheese omelets and sausages that needed to be thawed in the microwave. I made it work by cobbling a little bit of everything together.
I decided to try my luck hitching back to the trail and once again I caught a ride with the first car that passed – I couldn’t believe it! Turns out that Jim, the driver, works for a plastics company that makes all kinds of materials, including the windows that go on our embassies. Neat! We picked up another hiker just downloaded the road and it was a guy who I’ve been leapfrogging with for a couple of days named Biscotti (because he’s usually “half baked”). Jim dropped us off at the trailhead just before 8am and we thanked him profusely before heading out. Man, Great Barrington was an awesome little town – I’m really glad I went in.
Biscotti and I hiked together for the first three hours of the day. He’s only 20 years old although he looks to be about 28. He’s from Massachusetts and loves the outdoors, so he’s taking time to hike the trail before figuring out what’s next. Apparently he began hiking with a more experienced friend who is also an alcoholic, and before he knew it they had taken 20 (!) zeros days in the first 700 miles. They had a falling out and have parted ways, so Biscotti is going to finish up on his own.
The trail today was really quite nice. There were two thousand-foot climbs but they were much more hikeable than the ones in Connecticut. Between ascents were nice, pine needle-covered paths that snaked through the forest. I passed several little ponds, which were all very quaint. Otherwise, there wasn’t much to see.
I originally planned to stay a the Upper Goose Pond Cabin, which is maintained my the Appalachian Mountain Club and offers bunks and even pancakes in the morning. The cabin is half a mile off trail and would have put me at 27.5mi for the day – pretty respectable considering the late start. In the end, I decided to push on just a little further – I figured the cabin was probably full (I wouldn’t have gotten in until almost 8pm) and I’d end up having to tent anyway, so I might as well save myself the 1mi round trip walk and just keep going (you aren’t allowed to camp within about 2mi on either side of the cabin because it’s a reforestation area).
I ended up finding a decent spot near a rumbling brook a mile and a half later. Unfortunately, it’s also near a busy highway so I’ll definitely be needing my earplugs tonight. The weather had been fantastic lately, and today was warm but overcast. It looks like more rain is on the way, possibly starting tonight.
Day 70: Campsite at mm1550.7 to Cheshire, MA – 28.2mi
Despite the big rigs whooshing by throughout the night on the nearby highway, I slept well. It didn’t rain overnight, which I was very thankful for, but it started pretty soon after I got on the trail.
The rain was more of a light drizzle – not enough for me to get soaked but enough to saturate the trees and plants along the sides of the trail which I am constantly rubbing against, which in turn transfer their moisture to me. Before long my shoes and shirt were soaked, so I put on my poncho even though the humidity would make me sweat through it anyway. For whatever reason, my feet hurt significantly more when wet. I think it has something to do with the water softening my callouses which make me feel every step that much more.
After completing the first sizable climb, the trail got narrow, a bit rocky, and then relatively flat. I was having trouble getting into a rhythm and taking more breaks than usual, but I kept going little by little. The first 15mi really dragged on, and I was moving slower than usual due to the slippery rocks and my lack of motivation.
At about noon, the rain stopped completely and the sun started to shine just a little. I stopped to filter some water at a stream and around the corner came Logs, the guy I’ve been hiking with on and off for the last week or so. He had gone into Kent, Connecticut to resupply when I stayed on the trail, then he pulled some crazy miles (38 yesterday) to catch right back up. We hiked together into Dalton, MA which was only 4.5mi away.
This part of New England reminds me a lot of the trail in the south, where you’re going either close to or directly through a town almost every day. We haven’t gotten much of that in the last thousand miles, so it’s been nice. While walking through town, we passed by the house of a well-known trail angel named Tom Levardi. He lets hikers camp on his lawn and although we were not planning to do so, we stopped and chatted for a while. He gave us each a soda and some great information about the trail in this area and what we’ve got coming up. He says that once we get to Vermont, “the party’s over” in terms of passing through this many trail towns. He’s a really nice and generous guy – I would have stayed there if plans allowed!
Logs and I walked through town and stopped at the Cumberland Farms gas station, which had lots of good lunch options like pizza and hot dogs. I grabbed two dogs, a slice of pizza, some candy, and a giant soda. It was delicious.
Logs is staying in Dalton for the night, so he headed off to his hotel and I made my way back to the trail – I still had another 9mi to get to my destination of Cheshire.
The rest of the day was uneventful. There was a climb or two but nothing severe. The only thing bothering me was my feet, and I had to take a couple breaks along the way.
I reached the town at about 7pm and made my way to the St Mary of the Assumption church, which is just a couple of blocks off the AT. There, they let hikers camp on the lawn and use the bathroom which is a nice gesture. Apparently they used to let hikers sleep inside the church until last summer, but some kind of coding or zoning rule now prohibits them from doing so. I don’t mind camping at all except for the fact that it may rain again tonight.
Tomorrow I’ll be passing by a gas station that has a Dunkin’ Donuts inside, so I’ll hit that up on my way back to the trail. I’ll then face Greylocks Mountain, the highest climb since southern Virginia. Gulp. I’m hoping I don’t have to do it in the rain!
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Brandon Chase is a writer, endurance athlete, and guide based in Maine. He is a former Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State and spent nearly a decade overseas serving at embassies in Egypt, Cyprus, and Pakistan.
Along with a 98-day thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, he has summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiked the West Highland Way, fastpacked in the Himalayas, and trekked around New Zealand and South Africa. He also regularly competes in ultramarathons at the 50k, 50-mile, and 100-mile distances. He is a Lead Guide for Andrew Skurka Adventures and the New England Outdoor Center.