NET: Day 12 Air BnB

August 28, 2018

We got an early start just after dawn and without cooking breakfast because it was so buggy at our tentsite!

We soon came to a view of our future, an overlook of the Farmington River. From our precipice, we looked down on the small town of Tarriffville. We speculated about the origins of the name, spying on a landing on the opposite side of the river. “This would be a perfect vantage point for invaders to signal each other about boats approaching the town!” And, “This must have been the place where tarriffs originated!” We add “Tarriffville” to our growing list of places inviting further research and start our descent to the river.

In thirty minutes, we came out onto Rt 189, with just a narrow shoulder. “I sure hope there’s a shoulder on the bridge across the river!” To our relief, there was, and we got a leisurely crossing of the Farmington River as the morning traffic zoomed by.

Tarriffville seems friendly enough as we follow the blue blazes through town to the city park. We’re too early to enjoy the restaurant and the bar across the street, but make note of them to recommend to other hikers. We take advantage of the water fountain in the park and have a friendly conversation with an affirming resident walking her dog past the park gazebo.

Shortly, we continue south, turning on Mountain Road. We lose the blue blazes though and at the end of the street we see a sign for a 20-acre town woods. It’s not the NET, though! We turn back and return to the last blaze we saw, a double blaze! That means the trail goes into the woods, but where? We search, and find an overgrown path with a blue blaze hidden on a post about ten feet into the vegetation. Got it! The path shoots straight up the hill, naturally, and takes us steeply up a hundred feet to a wide, rocky old dirt road. Soon, we reach a local historic landmark, Bartlett Tower, one of my favorite features so far! I look it up with Google and find out there was a lodge here! How could that be, when the old chimney is only about ten feet from a lumpy rock outcrop?!! The ridge is narrow here too!

With our curiousity piqued, we continue our day’s walk, which takes us over more ridges through the forested rocks and atop The Pinnacle with views, then down to Lake Louise, a secluded and picturesque pond, rounded by a popular network of trails. We discuss the option of walking around the next pointy-looking profile on our map, but choose to follow the blue blazes, finding the route through Penwood State Park to be pleasantly gentle! We cross paths with one northbound runner, and see her again at the base of the mountain, completing her loop to the parking lot at Rt 185, our destination for the day! It was only 3 p.m. too, one of our shorter days. We had planned it that way when John had made a reservation for the Bloomfield Air BnB last evening! We would take a break from the heat and sleep inside after a mere 7.4 miles.

The half-mile walk to Paul’s place on Rt 185 was scary! There was no shoulder, with a sloping berm covered with knee-high weeds next to it for walking. We crossed to the other side of the road at a curve so the drivers had a better chance of seeing us! Fortunately, we came to a section that had a wide, mowed lawn between the road and a subdivision wall where we could walk safely. To our delight, our host, Paul, was pulling out of his driveway just as we got to the address. He greeted us and described how to get into the house. The private, two-bedroom wing seemed like a perfect retreat! After a long, hot shower, I hopped into the big bed and took a two-hour nap!

When I woke up, John reminded me that Wade’s Farm Store, another half mile down the road, was open for another hour, so we set out again, braving the busy road. Our terror was rewarded with tantalizing food!

We followed our habit of buying something to eat immediately, choosing a miniature lemon-meringue pie to savor under the plant shade. Then, we shopped for a cucumber, red pepper, and cheese to pack out the next day plus an ear of corn, chips and a big tomato to eat for supper and banana bread for breakfast.

On our walk back, I experimented with encouraging drivers to give me space to walk and started signaling to them with a downward and outward wave meaning “Slow down and move over!” It seemed to work with all but one honking driver. Cars were slowing down and moving over!

We even got our laundry done when Paul’s girlfriend directed me to the laundry room. We chatted about hiking while she folded a big pile of laundry. “I don’t know how you can go for a whole week with a single outfit!” she marvelled. “This is what we needed for our week away!”

NET:Day 11 Connecticut Begins

August 27, 2018

Soon after we got started, we reached the bog bridging the farmer at Calabrese Farm Store had told us about. It was, indeed, a significant project, and a welcome dry crossing of the bog!

Just a short way south, we came to a small road with residences. The trail followed a wide green swath of mowed grass lined with a vegetation fence to our right. It looked to me like the landowner had created a clear easement for the trail, complete with a signed parking area at the road junction. The kiosk there displayed a map with Trail Section #1 to our north. That would mean that Connecticut was just across this road! Well, almost!

We followed the white blazes through a back yard, then stayed on the mowed pathway, confidently walking south. We passed an empty field lined with white signs declaring that this field was used to grow “industrial hemp”. We stayed on the perimeter, towards the next field, and around a pine tree, then stopped. Hmm. The path had lost its clarity and it seemed like we were headed straight for a house. “Maybe we missed it.” One of us said.

Turn around. Retrace our steps to the last blaze. Search carefully in the vegetation. Yep . There it was, a white blaze on a post just past that first yard, not past the hemp field, but to the left, through the uncut Jewelweed. Grumbling that we would have kept Section #1 well maintained, we got back on trail.

Now, we were on track to leave Massachusetts and enter our third state. In a quiet pine woods, the “Welcome to Connecticut” sign greeted us, along with a three-foot cube of concrete, a monument perhaps. We used it for a kitchen counter/seat and cooked the breakfast we had skipped to get away from mosquitos at our tentsite.

We continued south, noting one significant change in the trail’s messaging. The blazes were now blue. From this point on, we would be searching for the blue blazes of the CT trail system. I was curious how the trails would be distinguished from each other, if all the trails were blue-blazed ones.

I’m writing this after our walk and can’t actually remember details about the first 8 miles of Connecticutt. The trail followed a pretty direct southward line along the ridge, called the Metacomet Ridge, actually. We got many good views of the countryside a few hundred feet below. This was a section where we entered several conservation areas owned by various land trusts, a significant feature of this trail. My pictures of this day show four signs for different land trusts, including one for “The George L. Harmon Woodlot” which was a beautiful stand of trees. I was grateful to Mr. Harmon for his role in protecting this woods. We walked through it graciously!

Just before noon, we reached one of the eight designated overnight spots on the trail, Windsor Locks Scouts Primitive Campsite at mile 106 from the NH border. We had planned to camp there that same night, but were ahead of schedule, arriving too early in the day to stop, and feeling pretty good about “sleeping out” in the trail corridor. We felt even better about our practices after seeing what an approved campsite looks like.

Here’s what we noticed:

  • The campsite was within sight of the trail
  • A side trail had been built to it
  • The vegetation had been cleared from the 300-400ft square area
  • An insulated box filled with gallon milk jugs refilled with water offered water to campers

We prefer our style of low-impact use which we believe current NET thruhikers would generally adopt. “If this is what the trail administrators regard as ‘camping’, then we hope they never allow it on the NET!”

Just before 2 p.m. we reached Rt 20, our turnnoff for our second maildrop at East Granby. This was an easy walk into town along a paved bike path all the way to the town services center, a half mile from the trail.

The Post Office, library and other govt buildings were within the same few acres. We picked up our box and sat outside on the lawn in the shade sorting it out. We had too much food now, so we packed up a couple pounds, plus partially used ointment, completed sketches, and the Massachusetts map and guidebook and sent them “home” to my Mom’s.

With that chore accomplished, we walked over to the library for internet and charging time. The librarians welcomed us and chatted about the trail. We plugged in our phones and got logged in online. A couple hours later, we filled our water bottles in the library kitchen and set out again. Libraries and post offices are welcome community services in our long-distance walks!

Right around the corner was a strip of businesses including four eateries! We chose Wok on the Wild Side and took a seat in a booth. We were the only customers there! We did notice a sporadic stream of Take Out customers, so felt better for the restaurant. We ordered two dinners and couldn’t eat all that food! I filled my lidded bowl with extras and packed it out for later. At 5 p.m. we were back on the walkway to the trail.

At the trailhead, we read the sign indicating the ownership of the land we were entering, The Galasso Company. It makes crushed stone and paving materials. We were grateful that the company had set aside an easement for the trail along the ridge above the huge quarry we walked by. It took us an hour of climbing and walking to get past the quarry. Then, we started looking for a tenting spot. We had a little trouble because the woods was fairly open and criss-crossed with bike or ATV trails. Every time we stepped off our usual 20 feet or so, we’d hit another trail! We did eventually find a spot as it was getting dark and set up for our eleventh night on the trail. It was really hot, though, so we decided to sleep in just the net, leaving the rainfly off. It was also quite buggy, so we squeezed into the net and ate our leftover Chinese food. We couldn’t keep it over night! I wasn’t even hungry, but it tasted good, even better than in the restaurant!

This was probably our most uncomfortable night what with the heat and tight fit. Without the fly to pull out the sides of the net, our bodies touched the sides, exposing our skin to the voracious mosquitos!

NET: Day 7 Rugged

August 23, 2018

We got an early start from our hidden tentsite, soon reaching a sign that said “Queen Street”. I saw only trail, so didn’t know what Queen Street meant. We were getting near Amherst. Maybe Queen Street left town and kept going into the forest. A good question there!

The forest seemed typically New England, with lots of mushrooms, birch trees, ferns and northern flowers. I took a few “typical forest” shots.

Here’s a link to an album of mushroom photos taken today. There are so many mushrooms!

Mt. Lincoln was our first summit, topped with communications towers and a firetower we couldn’t get into and no views.

Around 8 a.m. we reached a scenic spot called Scarborough Pond, complete with a picnic table, a perfect spot for our snack of rehydrated applesauce from my mom’s trees. It came out more like chunks of leather than sauce, but reminded me of being at my mom’s in Ohio watching her favorite backyard apple tree. We heard voices near the pond and soon discovered we were at Gulf Road, our next road walk! I was getting interested in noticing the many organizations who owned land along this trail! The one near the pond was Scarborough Brook Conservation Area. In the next section we saw signs for the Kestral Land Trust. Very cool name!

The rest of the morning occupied us with walking through the outskirts of Amherst. At the turn off from Bay Road back into the woods, there is literally a rope to help ascend the cliff that takes us back onto trail. Apparently, the trail corridor is too narrow to allow for a contoured ascent. I stowed my poles and grabbed onto the rope, grateful for strong arms and legs.

Now, we were at the northern end of the Holyoke Range. We could see from the elevation profile in the guidebook that the next 11 miles would be a sawtooth of ups and downs. The peaks weren’t all that high, barely breaking 1,000 ft, but the trail went up and down “every” rock outcrop along the ridge. Is there a rule in New England that one has to go straight up and down a climb, taking the shortest distance to get from the bottom to the top, then go directly back down? I kept asking that question and variations of it, “What were the designers of this trail thinking? For whom is this designed? Was this route planned or did it just get pounded out by athletic conquerors competing to top the most summits?” I was sincerely trying to come up with an answer that I could honor and respect, open to reframing my distaste for the steep, relentless ups and downs. I was feeling judgement and anger at the people who had made this trail, while ceaselessly practicing my Meet the Mountains Technique to maintain my stamina, prevent injury, and make the traverse easy. In my mind, I sincerely sought to choose an affirmative view for appreciating this style of trail. I practiced out loud with John. “Ahh. I love the challenge of this trail! It’s so great to get to another climb! Wow! So glad I didn’t miss this outcrop!” John heard my trial affirmations as complaints. So, I kept my mouth shut and kept walking, working out my frustration in silence.

A little after 1 p.m. we got our first view of Mt Norwottock, still 2 miles away, and the highpoint of today’s walk.

I was beginning to accept the jagged terrain and silently maneuvered it, focusing on taking each step safely, bending my knees, using my trekking poles consistently, and stepping accurately on each step. The ascent up Norwottock included a feature called “The Squeeze”, a slot through jagged boulders that young boys would love and old ladies like me endured. I faked a smile when John insisted on taking my picture surmounting The Squeeze.

Norwottock was indeed a worthwhile achievement where we looked over the widespread landscape to the north.

Now, we watched our time. Our next landmark was the Notch Visitor Center, described in the guidebook as having restrooms, water, and outlets for charging. It closes at 5 p.m. We diligently covered the 1.2 mile steep descent, meeting a handful of dayhikers walking in this popluar area. We reached the Visitor Center a little after 4. We found the restrooms and water fountain easily. The outside receptacle didn’t work, but the outlets in the lobby near the bathrooms worked. None of these would be available to hikers outside of open hours.

I studied the 3-D map of the Holyoke Range and discovered that we had just traversed “The Seven Sisters”. Oh yes! We definitely went up and down all seven of them!

Our next adventure of the day was to continue south, across busy MA 116 and up out of the Notch to Bare Mtn. Resuming our steady, athletic rock climbing, we joined several other hikers on the half-mile, 400-ft climb to the precipitous view of the notch and the northern Holyoke Range. In plain view was a quarry, stair-stepped with carved away earth, the negative space of the mountain on which we perched.

On our way up, we were passed twice by a man apparently using Bare Mountain for his exercise therapy. He wasn’t smiling, but he was stepping quickly both up and then down that mountain. Now, here was someone relating with the design of this trail in a significantly transformative way. I was content to be ascending Bare Mountain once.

Our sensitivity about camping out along the trail was tested when we met a couple who asked, “Are you camping here?” “No.” I answered, meaning that I was not camping right there on Bare Mountain! “Where are you camping, then?” We walked away, saying “further south.” Although we were getting more comfortable with our way of sleeping off the trail without leaving a trace, we support the rule of “No Camping” realizing that a general view of camping is to clear a large area of vegetation, build a fire ring with a fire and leave it all behind as an established campsite. We weren’t doing that.

We went up and down a couple of jags until we reached the sign for Hitchcock Mtn. Not wanting to go much further as dusk settled and this rugged day’s mileage had already topped 14, we left the trail toward the northfacing ridge and plopped down on a tiny flat spot about 30 ft off the trail, as far as we could get before going down the slope. As always, we hung our food bag, cooked on our stove, and quietly blended into the forest as darkness fell and an owl called.

NET Day 4

August 20, 2018

The nearby chuch bell chimed the hour all through the night. I heard it each hour except 2, so I must have slept soundly at least a couple of hours. At 6 bells we started to get up. The morning woods was quiet, peaceful, and tingling with life! Even though we weren’t supposed to be there, I felt that we were honoring the forest by being there reverently, protectively.

We descended gently down from Little Grace Mountain past Bass Swamp and Bass Road. A quaint, handpainted sign laid out our day. We were aiming for Farley and beyond, 15 miles south.

What a full day of landmarks, terrain changes, and a good surprise!

We reached Stratton Mountain, decorated with a stark monolith and an altar-like stack of boulders. I imagined Aslan, the great lion from the Chronicles of Narnia, lying there in sacrifice. Nearby, the 7-ft high solid rock, standing symbolically on its end, reminded us that humans like to erect monuments. These would have taken some big machines to stand up and stack!

Just a few minutes away, winding through the forest, we arrived at another landmark, the Richardson-Zlogar Cabin. Our original itinerary had put us here tonight, but now we were ahead of schedule. It was just 10 a.m.! We did enjoy a nice break here, gazing north with a perfect view of both Mount Grace and Mount Monadnock, 38 trail miles back. That was a nice feeling of accomplishment!

The cabin looked cozy and dry. It would be a good place to stay if we could be certain of our arrival date and reserve it in advance.

Two more miles of gentle descent through Northfield State Forest took us to our first significant road walk, Gulf Road. We crossed the road and saw signs for a preserve area and wondered why the trail wouldn’t go through it. The sign and kiosk posters alerted us that the trail was closed 1.4 mile ahead after Crag Mt, so we would have to take the road walk.

Addendum, Next day, I received this email from Jim, whom we had met on Mt Grace.

At Gulf Road crossing, you’ll see a sign that says “trail deads ends” in 1.1 miles. It does not. I hiked that section on Friday. You can proceed following the white blazes, and at that 1.1 mile point there is no trail closed sign or anything, but the blazes do stop (you can see them painted over with brown). The trail is easy to follow, and in another mile or so the blazes are actually blue for a bit. Keep following the well-worn path, with a couple of nice views on Crag hill, and then you’ll come out on a dirt road, which is a driveway, and turn left, and in a couple hundred yards you’ll hit Mountain Road, and rejoin the official route. Just before the road intersection, you’ll see a sign on your right side (west) that indicates it’s private land and stay on trail, but nothing about a closure.
I suspect what happened here is a landowner closed it, and then decided to reopen it or maybe it’s a new landowner, but in any event, it saves almost three miles of road walking.

The road wasn’t bad for walking, with a shoulder and moderate traffic. We imagined a few of the houses, now boarded up right next to the road, being converted into hiker shelters. To our surprise, part way down the road, we saw signs for “Farm Store.” It was right there on the road, too! No one seemed to be there, however, and it looked like the front porch was still under construction. Was it open?

Yes. It was open for self-serve! What a nice surprise! Food on the trail! We found eclectic delectables too – kimchi, kombucha, fresh corn, cucumber, and I threw in a bag of “profits go to autistic kids” potato chips and used the iPad bolted to the counter to pay. We sat on a bench made from a board suspended between cinder blocks and snacked on kimchi and kombucha, eating it down enough that the rest could fit in our lidded bowl to pack out.

My receipt from Northwoods Store appeared in my email.

We walked the last half-mile of Gulf Road, then climbed up Mountain Road, locating the double blazes indicating the turn off into woods next to someone’s house.

The next stretch of woods was short and beautiful, emptying out onto a gravel road. Our next treasure hunt was the turn off for Hermit Mountain. This section has the mystique of a side trail to a “Hermit’s Cave”. We didn’t go there, but stayed on the white-blazed trail, winding up to a scenic overlook in Erving State Forest, with a sweeping view of Millers River below.

It was tempting to sleep out up there, but while we walked south looking for a spot we kept going all the way down to Rattlesnake Mtn, which was too close to the road and in a popular area for climbers. Soon, we were out on the road again in a residential neighborhood where people’s front yards were roped off for parking.

We carefully crossed busy Rt 2 and found the blazes on Bridge Street to cross the Millers River. No stopping here! Now we were committed to the 2-mile roadwalk on Farley Road to Wendell State Forest. This was an ok roadwalk, past homes and a woman calling from the mailbox down to the house below. Apparently, she was looking for a walking companion. She passed us where we had stopped along the road, finding a fresh-looking spring to fill our water bottles. I wonder if she enjoyed taking her evening walks on a national scenic trail!

It was a little tricky finding the blazes at the end of Farley Road, but we discovered them taking us a half mile west on Mormon Hollow Road before turning off into the woods. Soon, we discovered why. The trail designers wanted us to tour the ruins of the mill town along Mormon Hollow Brook! Fascinating!

Past the ruins, we came to a footbridge, cordoned off with “closed” signs. We studied the bridge and decided to cross it, trusting its sturdy-looking I-beams instead of fording the stream below. We made it, no problem. Later, we realized that maybe it had been closed so snow machines or big groups didn’t use it.

We walked south up the mountain on an old road, finding a flat area where the trail turned sharply. We walked into the woods about fifty yards and set up our tent, threw up our bear line, and cooked dinner on our canister stove just before dark, confident that we were invisible off the trail.

This was our longest day, so far. 18 miles.

NET: Day 15 Pleasant

August 31, 2018

If I had only one word to sum up today, it would be “pleasant.” Here are ways it was pleasant on my walk today:

We started the day at Stephanie’s house playing with her two young daughters and getting to know Stephanie. We had met briefly on the Appalachian Trail, probably in 2014, but none of us know exactly where. Funny, I had a “distinct memory” of meeting her at a hostel in Vermont. According to her, she never went there, and wasn’t even on the trail the year of my memory! Her offer to pick us up from the trail yesterday evening gave us the chance to meet each other in a memorable way! We pitched our tent in her back yard. See if you can find it among the yard objects in this photo!

It was pleasant on the trail today because the forests were all beautiful, we got our first glimpse of Long Island Sound, our destination under 50 trail miles away, and especially because there was a section of trail that had actually been cleared of rocks, making a smooth path on the hillside. I felt honored and welcomed by that!

It was pleasant today because I followed through on an idea from yesterday to take photos of feathers. I was delighted to find so many and of diverse types! Here’s a photo album of today’s feathers:

Album of feathers

It was pleasant because I met a local hiker who touched my heart with her willingness to share her heart. At a landmark viewpoint, Castle Craig, I offered to take a woman’s photo as she perched on the wall of the observation tower. “No, that’s ok,” she said. “I’ve got plenty of pictures because I’ve been coming up here almost every Friday since Spring.” Later, I met her again at a different view point and offered again to take her picture as she sat gazing over the reservoir below. “This time, yes!” she replied. I snapped a couple of shots with her camera, then said, “Ok. One more. Show me what’s in your heart.” She smiled, then said, “That just made my day. You see, it’s been a hard week. My aunt died.” We talked. She shared so much! She’s from Kenya, coming to the U.S. with her family 8 years ago. She’s studying to work in women’s empowerment and moving to England in two weeks to do that. She spoke of her aunt as a rebel, who had finally been released from her challenge of being kept alive longer than she had wanted to be. “I have an idea that you’re like her.” I offered. She smiled. I gave her my email address and invited her to connect later. Spontaneous and genuine interactions like that are pleasant for me!

Finally, the day’s finale was pleasant in its safe roadwalk to a hotel John had found very close to the trail at a point we reached at the pleasant hour of 7 p.m. The place is simple, the owner is pleasant, the place is adequate and easy to pay for. Pleasant. It’s just pleasant!

And I’ll add one more pleasantry. Subway sandwich shop is two doors down the street from Johnson’s Motel on the Berlin Turnpike near the trail’s turn onto Spruce Brook Rd in the Meriden, CT section. Eating Subway subs is pleasant!

NET: Day 10 Safe

August 26, 2018

Today, we reached an important milepoint. Well, two milepoints. The first was Little George’s restaurant on the north side of the Westfield River. It closes at 2 pm on Sundays. We got there at 1:20, just in time for breakfast – and lunch! I ordered an omelette and a Big Burger. John added a couple pieces of French toast. We split it all and felt very happy! Monica, our server, asked about our walk, so we filled her in. Most of the people we’ve talked with ask if we’re on the Appalachian Trail. They’ve heard of the Metacomet Trail, which comprises some of the NET. The AT passes through Massachusetts about 40 miles west of the NET.

The second landmark was right across the street from Little George’s. It’s the Westfield River. There’s no bridge where the trail reached it. We could see the white blaze in the other side. The trail guide says it may be possible to ford it. We looked at it and saw shallow water for most of the 60 yard crossing. It looked deeper and smoother close to the south bank. “We could probably make it. Let’s try!”

Indeed, the part that looked shallow was easy. The part that looked deeper and smoother wasn’t. At that point, I could only stand if I took one-inch steps. The slighest turn would have swept me off my feet. “Too hard! And there’s the bank, less than 20 feet away! So close, but not safe!”

We turned back.

Sitting on the patch of green near the parking lot, we saw Monica and the employees of Little George’s outside the restaurant saying their goodbyes after the restaurant closed.

“Maybe she would give us a ride around to the other side over the road bridge! Otherwise, we could either walk the four busy road miles or call for an Uber. Other hikers have recommended that way.”

“Let’s ask her!”

We did. She said yes, and fifteen minutes later we were at the trailhead on the south side of the river, safe and smart. I explained to Monica that when an unexpected helped turns up we call her a “trail angel.”

She laughed and drove off.

We decided to walk north on the trail to see the crossing from this side. It was a good half mile away and down a very steep slope! Seeing the river from that vantage point confirmed that fording it was not possible with a pack standing up!

Notice the picture below taken from the south shore. That “v” would be perfect for slipping down in a canoe. For walking, impossible!

NET:Day 9 Continuing

August 25, 2018

Breakfast at a kitchen table in an antique New England home, described by the owner as “a great place to have lots of visitors”, was a sumptuous respite from the trail. Our treat for breakfast was smoked salmon from yesterday’s Whole Foods shopping, an English muffin, a banana, and coffee brewed in our host, Mark’s, glass brewer that looked like it came from a chemistry lab.

Easing into conversation with Mark and Dianna, we started looking at Dianna’s pictures of their family of three adult daughters, two spouses, and a boyfriend. The grand finale was a video of their eldest daughter’s wedding dance, a whimsical swing dance with moves the new couple had practiced for this gracious performance. I had fallen in love with their family!

Still, we had the trail to walk so we tore ourselves away and loaded up our packs in Dianna’s car for our shuttle to the south side of the Connecticut River. “It’s always impressive to be living a day that’s been anticipated for a while. This is one of those days! For weeks we’ve been wondering how we would be negotiating this river crossing. And now, we’re actually doing it!” I mused as we drove through the neighborhoods, past the Dinosaur Tracks site, over the river bridge, to the boat launch where we could touch the water. Dianna narrated with historical and geological anecdotes and facts.

Within twenty minutes, we were walking in woods again.

This section rose gently and smoothly up 700 feet over a couple of miles to a popular Day hike site called Goat Peak. There’s a fire tower there and a 360 degree view of the CT River Valley.

On the way up, Dianna and I talked about geology and hiking and other lighthearted topics. Dianna shared some anecdotes of her own walks on 800 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Soon after starting our climb, we met Susan, a gray haired woman who walks her favorite loop in that area frequently. I loved meeting her, feeling that it was her spirit permeating the woods, welcoming us there, enhancing each vibrant aspect of that place. Dianna usually walks on the more rugged north side of river. However, when we continued in the opposite direction from Susan, she said, “I’ll be seeing you again!”

Another walker today was a woman with her dog. “She loves attention!” she called out as we approached. We thanked her for having her dog on a leash. She shared her dismay at hikers whose unleashed dogs threaten her own stability. “I’m disabled with my new hips. I finally got the ‘Keep Dogs on a Leash’ sign put up! After a dog bit someone at another park, they finally listened to my request.” We thanked her for taking action on that to help all of us.

The other people we met on our busy walk up the mountain was a group of seven from two families from Boston. They had driven two hours to get here! I was fascinated that one of the kids was minding a grasshopper on her finger, having carried it all the way up the mountain! When we reached the top of the firetower, that grasshopper was still on her finger!

After descending from the tower, Dianna announced that she was heading back. We said our goodbyes and shot another photo. “We’ll keep in touch!” we promised, as we headed south.

The trail followed the ridgeline of basalt rock for three more miles to its high point at Mt Tom. The basalt formed natural steps, and the glaciated boulders were smooth as concrete.

Today’s trail was a delightful contrast to the route of the past two and a half days over the Holyoke Range. For ten miles the trail went up and down every knob and valley in a very steep fashion, and not on basalt steps but on craggy, broken rock. I’ll have to learn more about what it’s geologic origin is. Whatever it is, the route gave us “quite a workout” as Dianna describes that stretch!

By 4:30 we had reached the end of the gentle and view laden Mt Tom traverse, reaching Rt 202 just past the Whiting Street Reservoir where we gathered a couple liters of water from an inlet stream. We were grateful to find that water until we read the sign at the gated entrance to the area. One of the prohibitions was “drawing or causing to be removed any water from any source.” Was our drinking water contraband?!

Another hour’s walk through a dry oak forest took us to our day’s destination, a “tent platform of unknown ownership.” Its placement within sight of a gravel road that ended at a gun club motivated us to keep walking up the next ridge, however, and find a spot to sleep in our tent in a secluded spot off the trail. Feeling hard to find seems more important to me now than adhering to the “no stealth camping” rule.

We supped on one of our simple dinner concoctions – pasta, chicken, rehydrated pinto beans, and habenero pepper jack cheese. The sound of crickets and other August insect singers soothes us. Starting off our second week in the New England Trail, we feel at home here.

NET: First 95 Miles

August 24, 2018

We’ve walked for a week. Our planned average of 10 miles per day grew to 12.6, putting us at a recognizable landmark – the Connecticut River. The river poses a logistical consideration because there is no trail crossing provided. The trail simply ends, and not even at the riverbank on the north side!

For us, this is where trail community comes in, and why clearing my emotional path before starting this walk helped me! Doing that (using the tools of Radical Forgiveness), opened my mind to asking for help on Facebook. And I got help! Two friends suggested getting in touch with Dianna, who lives three miles from the river crossing. She is a member of the Appalachian Trail: Women’s Group, and has been shuttling hikers across the river. It’s true that calling for a taxi also works for hikers, but Dianna provided additional benefits as well. She hosted us at her home for a half day and over night! Even more, she drove us to a shopping center where we bought a new fuel canister and food for our break. We relaxed, cleaned up, did laundry, recharged phone batteries, and had delightful conversation with her and her husband, Mark, who teaches paleontology classes at nearby Holyoke College. Her contribution to our walk elevated our experience from accomplishment to fulfillment! The thread of trail now connects pearls of friends.

Let me tell you about those pearls! I have already described Annie and her siblings from Day 5 at the Diamand Farm. The next day, during our stop at the town of Shutesbury, MA where we had a box of food held at the Post Office, we added three pearls to our thread.

After our two-hour gentle, rainy descent from our “Rockwell Hill” camp we took the half mile roadwalk into the village. “There’s the library,” I said as we summited a rise in the road. “That’s one of the three places shown on Google Maps for Shutesbury.” Indeed, the pink-trimmed porch of the quaint old house used as a library invited us in! “And there’s the Post Office across the green lawn. That big, white building over there. And whats this? A looming, white, high-steepled building. Ah, the Community Church proclaiming ‘All are welcome’ on its sign.” We do feel welcome!

The third place labeled on Google Maps, the fire department, is further down the road. We don’t visit there this time.

It’s 10 a.m. The library is open today from 11-1. The Post Office is already open. It’s still raining lightly, so after a short discussion while standing under the cover of an outside bank of mailboxes, we decide to go into the Post Office and request our box.

It’s there, of course. We’ve had good service from the Post Office with dozens of maildrops using flat-rate priority mail boxes. We can simply address then to ourselves at General Delivery, writing “Please hold for hikers ETA xx/xx/xx” and rely on them being there.

The clerk, after learning more about the New England Trail and revealing that she has thought about hiking the Appalachian Trail, invited us to sort through it right there in the lobby. “This is a pretty quiet place!” We pull out our bags of dry food one by one and realize we have too much, what with the leftovers from our first 5 days. I pack up four quart-size bags plus some journal pages and sketches and ship them off to Ohio where I can retrieve them after the walk. The US Postal Service helps us a lot on a long-distance walk!

I get the sense that we encouraged the clerk too. “I can’t go for a long walk now. My kids are too young! I walk up to a swimming hole when I get time to myself.” I reply, “Well, I walked the trail when my youngest son turned 18, so you’ve got time! Keep getting out whenever you can! Every walk is great!”

It’s almost time for the library to open, so we walk back there. We huddle on the tiny porch, noticing that it is, indeed an entrance, not just decoration. Right at 10:00, the door opens and a woman walks out carrying an “open” banner to hang on the flag holder. “How often do you have people waiting eagerly on the porch when you open?” I ask. “Well, actually” she replies, “Never!” We all chuckle and enter the small, book-lined house.

Of course, we’re not headed for books but computer and electric outlets. I settle myself at one of two computers squeezed into the room and locate the outlet strips on the floor. I’m all set for my two-hour writing session! John goes on a hunt for water. It turns out that the only potable water available in town is in jugs at the Town Hall across the road. He goes there and discovers a bathroom where he can shave and clean up.

I enjoy overhearing the two librarians’ conversations with each other and with patrons. The most fascinating is the one with a man borrowing the two kayaks on loan! “As far as we know, we are the only library in the world that loans kayaks,” relates Marian, the librarian (Are you singing along ‘Maaarian, Madaam libraaarian’ from The Music Man?) I say, “It’s amazing that your small town has both a post office and a library!” Marian says, “Yes. We New Englanders are good at going to meetings and frowning. When the administrators start talking about closing things, we all frown and say no.

It’s almost 1 p.m. Time to finish up. I ask, noticing that the sun is shining, “Would anyone frown if we set up our tent to dry in the back yard?” She answers, “No. And if they do, just tell them Marian said it was ok.”

While setting up our tiny tent next to the sandbox behind the library, a man drives up and starts hauling out the bags of recycling. I offer to help and carry out a couple of bags for him. “I don’t think anyone has ever offered to help me with this”! he quips. “It takes someone from out of town!”

John returns just in time to snatch up our drying gear as the rain starts again. We dash to cover on the handicap ramp at the back door of the library. We decide to cook some mashed potatoes there, squishing everything out of the way as much as possible. The recycling guy returns, saying, “We have a dryer at home and an outdoor shower you could use. It seems that we could do more for you visitors than offer you a backyard sandbox!” At the same time, Marian comes out the back door and offers to bring us tomatoes from her garden.

What we come up with is that the recycling guy, who we learn is Dave, the husband of the town clerk, will drive us back to the trailhead – at the woods, not on the gravel road. We still want to walk about 10 miles and it’s already 2:00. We hop into his truck with his offering of a perfect cucumber in hand and go directly to the trail. He tells us that his parents were maintainers of the trail while he grew up there, so he was quite familiar with it! When we stop, a mile and a half down the road, he had one more gift. “How about a beer?” I hesitate. John considered taking two. We open one and pour it into our Nalgene bottle. The can goes into Dave’s recycling bag and he waves goodbye. Back home on the trail again with light hearts, we find our pace again in the woods. The beer caps off the celebration just right.

NET: Day 3 Sense of Home

August 19, 2018

Our nice and early departure at 6:45 got nixed when we decided to make the side trip to Royalston Falls. “It’s only three tenths of a mile and it’s unlikely that we would come back here just to go to these falls. So, we should go.”  I don’t usually use should, but this is the kind of time that warrants a should!

Of course, we were glad we went. The 45-ft falls is magnificent! Its unique quality is its carmel color.  How often do you see a falls the color of root beer.  This one is complete with foam!  What’s that song about lemonade springs? Oh, the big rock candy mountain? 

With that accomplished, we set off on the official trail, at a still reasonable start time of 7:00. On the ascent to the first road crossing, we saw the work of a trail crew – gravel filled pads that made solid trail through a boggy area.  I had seen an announcement for trail work on the calendar of the New England Trail Association for August 18. The day before!  Trail work is true trail magic!

The morning walk took us through the Warwick State Forest, winding up and down hills in the moist forest. The most outstanding plant in this stretch are purple mushrooms. I mean really purple!  I’m not sure my photos even show how purple they are.

The other captivating thing we keep seeing in surprisingly great numbers are Red Efts. Are you familiar with them? They are the terrestrial phase of a salamander, the Red-Spotted Newt. These are bright orange, tiny and quite stunning.  We discovered that they eat mushrooms!  One mushroom was surrounded by maybe seven  red efts.  A few minutes later, John saw another mushroom being visited by red efts. “It’s eating it!” he cried.  I love these kinds of discoveries while walking. It’s one of those things that I would never see unless I was out on a path in woods.

By contrast, sadly, this section of the trail had been ruined, yes, I would say ruined, by a single ATV rider. I sighed. Hundreds of hikers have walked along this path, enjoying its quiet traverse in this diverse woods. Just one ATV rider followed the blazes and turned it into a churned dirt track, chewing up rotting logs and smashing the banks of streams. I hope the caretakers of this trail can keep the machines off.

We were glad to see that when we reached a powerline, the ATV track ended. We took a nice sunny gear drying break then turned back into the woods. Surprisingly, the trail didn’t cross the power line! The next section’s woods seemed drier, then curved around a swamp which cleared out into Richard’s Reservoir.  We stopped atop a pine-needle covered rock looking out into the swamp and feasted on a favorite snack of this walk – instant mashed potatoes, hot…. with cheese!

Today’s section also treated us to hand-painted, artistic maps of the trail between roads.  A bit of a whimsical touch for a helpful tool!

At 3 p.m. we reached the Mt. Grace Shelter. We took a snack break – deeelicious rehydrated mango slices as we glanced at the shelter graffiti. We noticed that the caretakers had provided chalk for graffiti artists! Actually, that’s a pretty good idea. Chalk would be easier to clean off than marker or paint.

It was way too early to stop for the day, so we continued on, ascending Mount Grace, the high point of the NET!  This was a perfect section to use my popular Meet the Mountains Technique! It’s so great that I try to teach this to other hikers, because I sure use it myself! Stepping to a count of four. Focusing on my outbreath. Making each step easy. Looking closely and rejoicing in small things rather than up ahead to the difficult ascent. It works!

(Haven’t seen Meet the Mountains Technique yet? Learn it here:

My pacing meditation was broken by our meeting of another hiker! He turned out to be a kindred spirit. He’s been a ridgerunner for the Appalachian Trail, walked the Appalachian Trail, and has walked most of the NET in day hikes.  He understands us!

Atop Mount Grace, I climbed the fire tower and got a wide view. I could see not only back to Mt. Monadnock but west to another sentimental mountain of Massechussetts – Mt. Greylock. That’s the high point of Massechussetts and a memorable spot for me on the Appalachian Trail. I was thrilled at this connecting moment of the two trails!

We continued another couple of miles to Little Mount Grace, secluding ourselves in the woods for a night’s rest. What we’ve decided to do about camping on this trail is to choose State owned land, go out of sight from the trail, build no fires, and keep all vegetation intact.  We feel confident that we are respecting the spirit of the “no camping” rule with these practices.

When I awoke the next morning, to the sound of the local church bell chiming the hour, I felt a deep connection to the woods and to the idea of walking a long trail. Sleeping out rather than heading to a bed and breakfast or hotel seems more authentic to a thru-hike. I felt a sense of honoring this forest by being here quietly at this time of day.



NET: 5 Essentials in Practice

August 12, 2018

I’m preparing for a walk and using the Five Essentials for a Radiantly Fulfilling one! Here’s how they’re playing out!

1. Know Your Trail

We chose the New England Trail because John wants to walk all 11 National Scenic Trails. This one is in the Eastern US where we have been this summer. He’s been poring through websites getting information and details, starting with and other sites located by googling the trail name.

What we found out is that this trail winds through a narrow corridor on public and private land, crosses three rivers, and is fairly low in elevation. There’s no crossing at the Connecticut River, requiring a shuttle or very long walk around to a bridge – or a boat ride across! He found a detailed guidebook online. A hiker created it and offers it free! It’s very helpful. I found printed maps and ordered them. We’ve been studying the maps and guidebook, putting together a possible itinerary. We want to walk it as a thruhike. One important aspect of this trail is the stated description that “no stealth camping is permitted.” That means investigating off-trail places to stay in addition to the 8 designated on trail shelters and campsites. We estimate 21 days for the 235 miles. John has played for many hours with Google Earth locating services near the trail.

2. Consider Your Timing

We carved out 24 days for this walk between the weeks living with my mom so she can put off moving into assisted living and a week for visiting my grandkids before starting up my seasonal job on October 1. We figure 10 miles a day is a reasonable overall pace. As we start mapping out the possible campsites, hotels, and Air BnBs it looks like that daily pace can work.

3. Love Your Gear

I have to fix a hole at the bottom of my pack! Duct tape for now, as I don’t want to search for a new pack!

I need a long sleeved shirt since my latest one wore out! I search online, look at Goodwill, shop at the nearby Dick’s Sporting Goods and Elder-Beerman. There’s an REI in Springfield, 60 miles away. We drive there and I buy three shirts! At home, I choose one of them to wear for the walk.

I also need a new bra/bathing suit top that hides my “headlamps” and can be worn alone. I spend two hours hunting, starting at Goodwill where I find a possible swimsuit top and Target. Nothing seems right so I go home discouraged. John goes out with me again the next day. We spend a couple of hours revisiting the same stores. John even goes into the dressing room with me. It’s actually kinda fun, more than other bra hunts I’ve had. I get the swimsuit top at Goodwill plus two others at Target. Again, I must choose one for the walk!

Luckily, most other gear is still good from other hikes! We buy new toothbrushes and check out headlamps to replace my work out one. Nothing! The new ones are all big and heavy! We decide that I’ll use the Black Diamond Ion that John has been saving and he’ll take my old, rickety one as backup. I like to wear mine all the time, so it does get use!

4. Magnetize Your Trail Angels

We find a journal from “Moose” and get ideas from that. I find a winery on Google Earth near the trail. Maybe we can ask them to camp. There’s a Firehouse in Shuttesbury, a half-mile from the trail. I write an email to the Fire Chief requesting an overnight spot. (No answer yet).

This one will take an Inner Journey, which leads me to ……

5. Have Tools for Your Inner Journey

I was churning inside about the way the overnight options were unfolding. John mapped out spots for each of 19 nights – 8 on trail sites, 3 hotels, and 8 AirBnBs. The tab for this was getting up over $800, a price tag bigger than our usual long-distance hiking trips! Besides, we want to sleep outside! We don’t value the decorative amenities of BnBs that give them their price! Several heated conversations ensue, with charged remarks escalating to, “Sounds like you don’t even want to do this trail!!”

Yikes! Time for a Satori Game to shift this energy. I play a solo game, picking the beliefs “I’m too sick or weak, I can’t trust anyone, I have to work hard, and Life is depressing.”

Ha! No wonder this seemed so paralyzing!

Moving along in the game – a metaphor for my inner journey – I picked New Stories “I have everything I need. I am a powerful manifester” and “I can succeed at anything I want to succeed at.”

Whoa! I have some options here!

I write a status post on Facebook, describing the challenge I was having with the “no stealth camping aspect of this trail.” Within minutes I got comments and likes, providing contacts for

  • A current journal for this trail written by a thruhiker who camped every night;
  • A shuttle provider for that daunting river crossing;
  • An offer for hospitality in an inhospitable section.

By using my tools for Inner Journey work, I had shifted my view of this walk as either an expensive, off-trail-services trudge OR a morally challenging, shameful and sneaky obsession to an applauded, connected, supported and exemplary walk in community! Now that’s what I call radiantly fulfilling!

We have just three more days to prepare, so I’m off to do that. I’ll keep you posted on the journey – both Outer and Inner ones!

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Satori Game magic