A pleasant walk occasionally interrupted - Part A
by, 08-07-2012 at 00:39 (315 Views)
The sport of golf has been described as, "A pleasant walk occasionally interrupted by a swing of a piece of metal."* My backpacking walk last week -- a measly forty miles from Dalton south to Highway 23 near Great Barrington -- can best be described as, "A pleasant walk occasionally interrupted by mosquitoes, blisters, scrapes, lack of water, heat, humidity, unfounded fears, and frightened goats." Indeed, I can only say that, if every hike were like these days, I might actually enjoy doing the A.T.
Two days before my departure, I did a home test of my "cooking" skills by making a "add packet to two cups of boiling water and stir as it boils for seven minutes" dinner, using only my cat stove. I had no trouble doing this cooking outdoors, but I made an unfortunate discovery -- mosquitoes LOVE to attack my feet and ankles when I leave them unguarded. I thus realized why these areas had the most annoying bites both during my last hike and this test -- I generally just take off my boots and socks to give my feet some rest, basically advertising to bugs, "Fresh meat!"
My solution was to create a pair of socks specifically for evenings after I stop for the night, spray them with permethrin, and mark these socks as my "evening socks." Once again, Shuttle was able to offer her skill as a seamstress, creating green markers for my socks.
Getting from Philly to NYC is ridiculously easy, particularly if you can plan your exact departure time for Greyhound Express. Getting to the Berkshires is also easy, as this is one of the few rural areas in the U.S. with an adequate system of mass transit. After examining a lot of options, I decided to spend a night in Pittsfield, take the first (ie, 6 am) bus to Dalton, and begin my hike as early as possible.
Although budget accommodations in Pittsfield are not easy to find, I did locate a place less than a mile from the bus depot for less $100 a night. I got in a little after 10 pm and prepared for a 5 am wake-up.
I was dumbfounded to find, however, that my room did not have a radio-alarm. Fortunately, Shuttle not only provides driving and "benefits" for me, but she's also good for a wake up call. I thus had no trouble leaving the motel by 5:20 and getting back to the bus depot well before 6 am. I wasn't sure what would be the cost of a local bus ride to Dalton -- the system charges $1.25 "per town" -- but the bus drivers were all quite helpful. I even got dropped off exactly where I wanted to be -- the Cumberland Farms just west of the junction of Highways 8 and 9. After a quick microwaved breakfast, I was on The Trail.
My daily goals continue to be for wimps -- about ten miles each day, always ending at a designated camp site. Problem is, the two sites south of Dalton are (respectively) about three and twelve miles away. If I could make October Mountain Shelter, the rest of the trip would be fairly easy. But, for a wimp like me, twelve miles would be the LONGEST hike I'd ever done with a backpack -- and I invariably start to fall apart at about ten miles. Fortunately, (1) I got a fairly early start, (2) the only really hard part was right at the start, and (3) weather was not too bad. I got to the shelter with minimal difficulty, although that last hundred yards seemed like a mile (it always does for me -- and I keep "seeing" the shelter at every turn).
The shelter had (1) two other guys who used tents instead of staying under the shelter, (2) their dogs, who were staying in the shelter, and (3) a large group of tent campers in the group area. Because quiet and privacy are VERY important to me, I decided to camp as far from the group area as I could. And, although I was tempted to tell this group to keep it quiet, I'm glad I DIDN'T -- it turns out they were volunteer trail workers, making the trail in the area as good as it was. If you were there on July 31st, my apologies for my nasty thoughts!
It is becoming a habit that I have no appetite while backpacking on The Trail, so I just had a bagel for dinner. I slept better than usual, and had my typical oatmeal breakfast before a (relatively) early start. Since I only had ten miles to go for the day, I had no troubles beyond the usual heat, humidity, and tired feet.
I'm happy to report that, once again, walking The Trail actually made my right knee feel BETTER as the day went on. Maybe I'm strengthening the muscles that need to be stronger, maybe movement is what keeps the MCL limber, maybe anything. I only know that my knee feels BETTER after I backpack than after I sit in front of a computer for too long. Because I'm slowly learning what causes pain, and what avoids pain; my instances of pain are becoming rarer.
The day ended, well before dark, at a place I have to recommend for all hikers -- Upper Goose Ponds Cabin. Enclosed dorms (ie, no buzzing insects as you sleep), mattresses instead of wood to sleep on, washing facilities, a fireplace to dry clothes over, a lake on which you can enjoy swimming, canoeing, or fishing, and (best of all, imho) pancakes for breakfast! It was a a place I didn't want to leave -- which may explain the next part of the story.
* For the curious, the original quote was simply, "Golf is a good walk spoiled." The exact origin of this quote has been lost in the mists of time -- but it most definitely was NOT originated by an American humorist.