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: www.forgivenesswalks.com/reginameetsmountains
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.