Monday, November 30, 2015

Day 110: The Dalton Day Zero

June 25: Today would be immensely boring, but lots of fun! =) The funnest boring day you can imagine!

I woke up early at dawn like I usually did despite being in a hotel room. Habits are hard to break! And I spent most of the morning and afternoon just working on these blog posts. Knocked out a whole lot of them, but that's pretty boring. It's pretty boring to do, and it's pretty boring to read about, so I'll skip ahead to later in the afternoon.

Waterfall in Dalton, MA.
I headed back over to Tom's place at around lunchtime, both to look for somewhere to eat lunch along the way and because I was hoping Tom could help me. He's the trail angel who owns a house directly on the Appalachian Trail, and I did pass by it yesterday although Tom had currently been off giving rides to hikers or something.

In any case, I dropped in to see who was around, but more importantly, after over three months without a haircut, my hair was getting a little unwieldy! I needed help! I started the trail after shaving my head bald and I wanted to go back to that state. I didn't really need a fancy, trained professional to cut my hair. I could have done it myself without a mirror! I just needed clippers to buzz the hair off, and I was hoping it might have some that I could borrow.

This time around, Tom was there, but he asked if I could wait a bit because he was going to give some hikers a ride somewhere. Sure! No problem! So I sat down on the front porch and chatted with other hikers until he returned maybe 20 minutes later. At first, he didn't realize that I was a thru-hiker. My clothes had been freshly laundered, my shoes were brand spanking new, I was freshly shaven, and not carrying a giant, bulky pack because most of my gear I left back in the hotel room. Not the typical look for a thru-hiker! Of course, he hadn't known that I'd already spent one night in town and had time to clean up a bit!

He pulled out the clippers he had, telling me about all sorts of hikers whose hair he'd cut over the years. "I'm just looking for something simple," I told him. "Bald!"

"Sure you don't want a mohawk?"

"Nope. I just don't want to mess with any hair at all. It's a hassle. Get rid of it all!"

After over three months of hiking, I've gone from bald to this wild mess on my head. Goodbye, mess!

He went to work, buzzing my head and he seemed to take great pleasure in the experience. After a few minutes, he gave me a small mirror and asked me what I thought.

It was a mohawk.

"You missed a spot!" I joked.

He just wanted me to see it, just in case I would change my mind. But I didn't--I wanted to get rid of it all. I was amused at him wanting to give me a mohawk, though.

You missed a spot!

He quickly buzzed the rest of it off and it felt great getting rid of all that extra weight. I offered to sweep up the mess from his yard, but he said not to worry about it and swept my hair under some bushes. "The birds like it for nesting material," he told me. I nodded with approval. =)

While Tom was putting the clippers away, two other hikers with a dog arrived. Cauliflower and.... I don't remember the other girl's name. Street something? One of them already had mohawk hair, but the sides around the mohawk were growing back and she seemed quite excited about the opportunity to get rid of some unwanted hair as well. So she took the seat and her friend buzzed her head as well, leaving the mohawk in place. She missed my short-lived mohawk but I showed her a photo of it that Tom took on my camera and she said I should have kept it. Nope!

Ahhh.... much better!

The girls asked if it would be okay to camp in Tom's backyard, but it had to tell them no because of the dog. He, personally, doesn't mind dogs, but he'd had neighbors who've complained about barking and undisciplined dogs during the night so he can no longer allow them. Apparently, not all of his neighbors are was welcoming of thru-hikers as he is so he has to walk a fine line in accommodating hikers and keeping his neighbors happy. He tells hikers not to throw trash in any of the neighbors trash cans, but tells us where in town we can dispose of it. And he's had to set a cap on the number of hikers who can camp in his backyard at any given time.

I'd mentioned that we actually met briefly back during my 2003 thru-hike and asked if he still had the register he used then. He did, and went into his house to retrieve it. It took me about 5 seconds to find the entry I wrote--mostly because it was marked with the green turtle stamp that made it especially easy to find.

He'd seen my current turtle stamp in this years register, but was surprised to see it in the 2003 one. "You had a stamp back then too?" he asked. "Yep, I've been stamping for a long time...." It's not the same stamp, however. The one I used then had been lost years ago, and my new one was much more intricate and representative of my carving abilities now.

My register entry at Tom's from my 2003 thru-hike! Back when I was still known as Green "Turtle."

In any case, I eventually wandered off. There were other things to be done! But I really enjoyed catching up with Tom. He is, I think, the only trail angel I met on both my 2003 and 2015 thru-hikes. (Well, there's Amanda, but she's a stalker who actually goes out to look for me on the trail!)

Late in the afternoon, I headed over to Manny's Pizza. I'd predicted a week earlier when I would arrive into Dalton, and knowing I'd be taking a zero day here knew I'd have a little flexibility in my arrival, so I announced my upcoming arrival online as a letterboxing gathering. Anyone who wanted to come out to meet me or chat with some other letterboxers, come on out!

In all, seven people came out: RIclimber, ladybugsmom, Bungalow Boxer, Honeybearclan, wishful thinkin' and Kimoppi (with son). I was the first to arrive and grabbed a table, then ordered a meal which included a can of Coke with my name on it. Literally, it was one with my name on it. I saw it in the display case and thought I definitely should get it to put on the table so everyone would know it was me--in case they didn't recognize me without my hair. =)

We dined, exchanged stamps, and generally just had a good time telling stories. But as they say, all good things must come to an end and this was no exception. Many of them had quite lengthy drives to get back home as well.

I think it was RIclimber who took this photo. I didn't think to get any of the mini-meet in Dalton.

While walking back to the hotel in the growing darkness, it suddenly occurred to me that today didn't have to, strictly speaking, but a zero day. I walked down the main street to the hotel, which was off trail, but the trail led through a residential neighborhood and passes just a few blocks away from the hotel. I could walk down the actual trail for the quarter mile--if that much--walk back. Then jump off the trail again and walk the few blocks back to the hotel. I don't normally hike at night because it's hard to get the photos I need, but it's such a short section of trail.... I'll give it a try! There are lights in the city too, which at least partially solves my problem of it being too dark to get photos of anything.

So I followed the trail the short ways back towards my hotel. The photos weren't easy to get. Despite the lights of the city, it's still dark enough to give my camera seizures. I'd have to rest my camera against a telephone pole to keep it steady enough to get photos that weren't horribly blurry. But I got a few, and they looked like they'd be suitable for my purposes. I figured I probably just saved myself a half hour of hiking tomorrow by no longer having to hike so far back to the trail, just to walk on a nearly parallel street back where I started.

And then I was done for the night. Into my hotel room, and back to working on my laptop.

Walking back to my hotel in the dark along the Appalachian Trail. It was still hard to get decent photos in the darkness. Even using telephone poles and such to help steady the camera, the images are still blurry!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Day 109: Into Dalton!

June 24: I didn't sleep well during the night. I'm not sure why, but I kept waking up every 20 minutes or so then going back to sleep again before waking up again. I finally got up for good at 4:29, one minute before the alarm clock in the room was scheduled to go off. I don't normally use alarm clocks on the trail (and don't carry one with me), but the hotel room had one available and since I needed to hike 20 miles to the post office in Dalton before it closed at 4:30 (PM), I needed to make sure I got an early start!

I spent an hour packing up all of my gear and eating breakfast back in the lobby, but didn't get back on the trail until 5:45 when it started getting light enough to take photos for Walking 4 Fun.

The weather was beautiful and I had no complaints on that count. The trail was terribly, terribly muddy, which I complained bitterly about. At one point I slipped off a bog bridge and landed in the mud next to it, covering the whole side of my body from feet to shoulders in mud. *grumbling*

About a half hour later, I went to grab my 1 liter water bottle and discovered it was missing. Undoubtedly, it fell out of my pack when I slipped and fell into the mud. Argh! It wasn't a critical issue since I still had my 1.5 liter water bottle which was still half full with water. I wasn't out of water, but it was still an inconvenience.

Despite the mud and slips, however, I burned up the trail quickly making it into Dalton by 2:00 in the afternoon.

The trail runs right through the streets of Dalton--no off trail necessary to get into town! And it passes Tom's house, who's been helping and supporting hikers walking past his house for decades. He'd been helping them for decades when I first met Tom on my 2003 thru-hike, and he's still around helping hikers. I didn't see Tom outside this time around, but I did catch up with Tropical and Beetle lounging on the patio who I chatted with a bit before continuing into town.

Since I got into town well before the post office was scheduled to close, the first thing I did was check into the Shamrock Inn so I'd have a place to sleep for the night. (Tom often lets hikers camp in his backyard, but I wanted a room!) It seemed a little surreal to be getting another hotel room after having slept in one the night before. How awesome would it be if we could just hike from hotel to hotel along the entire length of the trail? =)

I unloaded my pack then walked the block or two over to the post office where I picked up my laptop and a box from Zappos with new shoes. The shoes would be my third set for the trail and, as it turned out, the last pair I'd use on the trail.

I headed back to the hotel room where I took a shower and did laundry, then headed out again to loop around town picking up food and check out a few restaurants to see which ones had enough space to accommodate a group of people for the next day....

But that was it. Then it was back to the hotel room where I got on my laptop and caught up with emails and messages for the rest of the evening.

The trail was extraordinarily muddy today! And don't slip off these bog bridges. Just trust me on this. *nodding*

Hiker trash on Tom's front porch. =)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Day 108: Upper Goose Pond

June 23: I woke up to overcast skies, and for the first time since two days earlier, I felt hungry! I ate a full breakfast. I still wasn't at 100%, however, since I never really got hungry during the day and ate perhaps 30% of what I normally did during the day. A big improvement over the day before, but definitely not normal either.

Late in the morning, it started raining, but only for an hour or so--just enough to annoy me--before it stopped and largely cleared up.

The day was largely uneventful, and I didn't see anyone for most of the day until I arrived at Upper Goose Pond. The shelter here is a wonderful, two-story building. Calling it a shelter is something of a misnomer since it's a full-fledged building with staircases instead of ladders, all four walls are accounted for, and there are even walls in the structure to create separate rooms. These are deluxe accommodations, right off the shore of Upper Goose Pond.

Even better, thru-hikers are allowed to take the canoe out for a spin at no charge! I always regretted having not done that during my 2003 thru-hike, and I had no intention of repeating the mistake. I signed the waiver, put on a life vest, and Nancy (the caretaker) helped me throw a canoe into the water and off I paddled!

I asked Nancy if there was anywhere in the lake I should head to. Some sort of interesting destination to check out, and she suggested a small island near the middle of the lake and that's where I headed.

Hiking on the trail, I didn't feel much of a breeze, but out on the water--holy cow it was strong! On the way out, the wind was behind me and made the paddling easy. I had a bit of a challenge making it back, however, when I turned around and the wind was in front of me.

The island I aimed for was a tiny little thing and I longed to camp on it. How fun would that be? It couldn't have been more than 50 feet across. I could land the canoe and claim the land for... I don't know. Be a conquistador for a day. =)

One side had all sorts of elaborate cairns set up in the shallow water that I tried to paddle close to get photos, but the wind was hard to deal with. As soon as I stopped paddling to pick up my camera and take a photo, the wind would whip the canoe sideways and push me away from the cairns. I made several attempts and took a few sad photos from a distance, but I never did get the photo I was looking for.

I padded on a bit further to another strange dot in the distance that I couldn't quite make out. As I got closer, I identified it as another large cairn just off the shore. Even though it was on the shore of the "mainland," I suspected the person(s) who created it probably paddled out since there appeared to be no trails near this section of the trail.

After that, I paddled back to the shelter, making sure that I circumnavigated the small island I passed earlier. I'm an explorer, and explorers have to circumnavigate stuff. By the time I got back, my arms were exhausted having battled against the wind.

After getting back to the shelter, I sat for a half hour chatting with the other hikers there which included Forrest, Neon Mountain and a southbound girl who was section hiking for a week but whose name I didn't catch. Plus Nancy, the caretaker.

As I sat there, I could see some mean-looking clouds coming over the horizon. I really wanted to stay here for the night, but I had already made plans to meet some people a couple of days from now ahead on the trail so I pushed onward. Not only that, but I had replacement shoes and my laptop shipped to me in Dalton and I wanted to get into town before the post office closed tomorrow. I needed to get closer to Dalton tonight.

I said goodbye to everyone and continued on. Maybe a half hour later, an absolutely drenching downpour struck. A heavy, demoralizing downpour. The trail crossed I-90, then US 20 where my guidebook pointed to a hotel--the Berkshire Lakeside Inn--0.1 miles east. As heavy as the rain was, I'd take it! It was too late in the day to hike 7.3 miles to the next shelter and I sure as heck didn't want to set up my tarp in this downpour.

I walked into the hotel lobby and asked about the availability, and the woman said she might have a room. Hmm.... What did that mean? For the right price she'd kick someone out of an existing room?

Then went on to explain that she had one room left, but someone had called asking about it and said that they would "call back." Presumably, they were calling around to several places getting prices and if the price was right, they'd stay here. But so far, she hadn't heard back and didn't want to give it to someone else if they were interested, but asked if I wouldn't mind waiting for 15 minutes.

No, not really. It was pouring buckets of rain outside. I was happy to stay indoors, even if it would only be for 15 minutes. She called the people who had called earlier and left a message on their voicemail explaining who she was and that there was another person standing in the lobby already interested in the room and that if she didn't hear back from them within 15 minutes, she'd give the room to me.

I went into the small room next to the main office--used for the continental breakfast in the mornings--and took a seat and waited. I grabbed a Coke out of the fridge dropping in quarters into the honesty box inside the fridge to pay for it. I asked the woman if I could connect to the wi-fi using my smartphone, and she gave me the code to do that. So I caught up with email and messages while waiting out the clock.

Fifteen minutes later, I paid for a room and stepped outside to cross the parking lot to my room. I was somewhat taken aback at the abrupt change in weather. Not only had the torrential downpour stopped, but there were breaks in the clouds and at this moment, the sun was actually shining brightly!

I was still soaked from the rain earlier, though, and still glad to be in a room. I was ready for a shower and to burn all of my dirty, wet clothes. Of course, I wouldn't burn my clothes--I still needed them tomorrow! But since I had no clean clothes, I walked around my hotel room after taking a shower completely naked because hey, why not! I was clean and I planned to stay that way! At least until I hit the trail again in the morning. =)

From my room, I could hear traffic from I-90 a short ways behind the hotel. For me, I-90 is something of a landmark because I knew it leads all the way to Seattle. Home. I could jump on that road and it'll take me just a few miles from home. But no, home will have to wait.

My big question, though: Could I hike the 20 miles to the post office in Dalton before it closed at 4:30 tomorrow? I wasn't sure.... I'd be cutting it close!

The Upper Goose Pond Cabin--it was practically a mansion!

It was also undergoing some maintenance....

I push off for my canoe ride around Upper Goose Pond. =)

These are the cairns just off the small island I kept trying to get close-up photos of, but the wind made it all but impossible!

Pumpkin Butt lives nearby, and clearly his family was out on the trail to cheer him on! =)

The trail crosses over I-90 on this bridge. They even labeled it "Appalachian Trail" so anyone driving under it knows it's the Appalachian Trail!

Usually, in photos when its raining, you can't actually SEE the rain in the photo. It's too small and fast. This torrential downpour, though, you can SEE the rain! You can even see it splattering on US 20. But never fear, there's a hotel just 0.1 down the road we'll hit! =)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Day 107: Taking a Turn for the Worse

June 22: When I woke up, I wasn't feeling so great. I'd been up much the night battling the persistent slugs. The mosquitoes had finally called it a night by 11:00, but they were back at the first hint of morning. And as a whole, I just felt awful. I didn't feel sick--just tired and worn down with a complete lack of appetite. I hoped I wasn't getting sick.

I packed up camp and headed out after eating only half my breakfast. The first five miles was exquisitely easy--nearly completely and totally flat. After that, a bit more rugged and muddy. At one point, I slipped off a bog bridge and landed in knee-deep mud. *grumbling* At the next creek, I deliberately walked through the water to clean off the mud rather than use the bridge across it.

After cutting off the shoelace I had knotted the day before, I strung in the new lace. I have to say, I was a little shocked at how white those laces were! Quite a contrast with my shoe! But those laces won't stay white for long...

I arrived at the next shelter after about 10 miles, where I met TJ and Slingshot who seemed pretty excited about meeting me, and I felt a little guilty that I had absolutely no idea of who they were. Of course, they'd been behind me for most of the hike so they'd seen my register entries while I never saw theirs so it makes sense, but I still felt a little bad about not knowing who they were. One of them described me as, "The man, the myth, the legend!" which made me laugh. I liked how it sounded it, though. I'm a legend! But does someone have to become a myth before he becomes a legend? We had a quick conversation about that before they hit the trail again.

I tried to eat some snacks, but I just wasn't feeling hungry. At all. I nibbled on a couple of cookies but that was it. Then I continued onward, because what else was there to do?

Late in the afternoon, I arrived at the Mt Wilcox South Shelters, where I took an hour long nap. I don't normally take naps in the day, but I was just feeling so tired and lethargic I couldn't help myself. It was tempting just to crash there for the night, but after that hour-long nap, I felt a little better and picked myself up, ate a single cookie and moved on.

I didn't have far to go to reach the Mt. Wilcox North Shelter which is where I stopped for the night. Despite eating almost nothing the entire day, I still didn't feel hungry and skipped dinner. I knew I needed the calories, but I just couldn't make myself eat.

When I arrived at the shelter, nobody was there as of yet. Not surprising since it wasn't especially late when I arrived, but as time marched on and nobody showed up, I started thinking that maybe... just maybe... I'd have the shelter completely to myself. If I did, it would be the first time on this hike I had an entire shelter area to myself. By 7:15, that evening, nobody else had arrived, and I wrote in my journal wondering if I'd have the shelter to myself. The next day, I'd write next to my ponderings in a blue pen to contrast with the black ink I used earlier, YES!

Nobody ever did show up at the shelter and I'd have the whole shelter area completely to myself. It was kind of nice. =) I didn't know it then, but it would be the only shelter this entire hike I'd have completely to myself. (Even during my 2003 thru-hike, I only had two shelters completely to myself. It's a rare event to be treasured!)

A lot of flat, easy walking for the first 5 miles of the day!

This monument marks the last battle of Shays Rebellion which occurred on Feb 27, 1787. We do walk through a lot of historical areas along this trail!

See the grasshopper on this flower? He's easy to miss since he blends in so well with the grass!

You just hate to see something like that happen! On the other hand, those laces are no longer such a shocking white!

This pond is the work of a beaver who created this dam!