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.
It was fun getting to know you. Seeing “our” little mountain range through your eyes has given me a new appreciation for them.
A minor correction: We teach at Mt. Holyoke College, not Holyoke College. (There is a Holyoke Community College nearby, so the names can be a bit confusing!)
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