Saturday, September 1, 2012

Town Hopping Massachusetts (July 23-29th)

The four of us woke up the next morning ready to get to town. Great Barrington was our destination that night, 15 miles away. DS had decided to do some work for stay at a farm nearby and wouldn't be joining us. Not really looking to do any farming, I packed my stuff and started my trek to the brewery. The beginning of the day was pretty easy as we maneuvered our way through the ravine. We had climbs over Mt. Race, and a steep never ending one over Mt Everett before we landed at Guilder Pond Picnic Area for lunch. Pace, Hungus and I had a nice lunch with Prometheus and a few of his friends who were picking him up. Pants had plowed ahead trying to catch up with me, not realizing I was actually behind him. He'd figure it out.  After lunch the 3 of us had an easy 8 mile stroll through fields until we arrived at US 7, ready to hitch into town. Pants met us at the Travel Lodge, and we all quickly showered and did laundry so we could head across the street to the Great Barrington Brewery. B1 and a couple of his friends who were hiking with him for the week showed up and we had a long night of tasting beers and eating food.

We tried all of them...
Unfortunately I went to bed early because I wasn't feeling too well. In fact I hadn't been feeling well for a few weeks and was having trouble keeping down food. I felt fine otherwise, just every time I would eat it would come right back up. It was starting to make me feel pretty drained, so Pants and I decided to zero the next day, hoping a day of sleep was all I needed. We said goodbye to Pace and Hungus the next morning as they headed out the door, and I proceeded to lay in bed and watch Law and Order all day, emerging only once to walk across the street and resupply at the Price Chopper. The rest did me good cuz I woke up the next day ready to hike. Pants and I headed out of Great Barrington with no real plan other than to hike north. We hitched a ride from a couple in a red van who were in the area dealing Japanese antiques. They were interested in our adventure and seemed bummed we only needed a ride four miles up the road.

Using leaves as pipes to get water
We got dropped off at the trailhead, crossed the Housatonic River (again) and started the gentle climb up East Mountain. DS had left the farm and apparently Gribley had caught up with her and they were only a bit ahead of us. We were warned by hikers ahead of us that MA was dry dry dry, and it was proving to be true (I have since learned that July was the hottest recorded month in US history, great time to be living outside). Pants and I made our way up to Mt Wilcox South Shelter. The water source there was a tiny, stagnant puddle, so we decided to push the two miles to Mt Wilcox North Shelter. The shelter was .3 off the trail and someone had left a note indicating the water was dry. It was already getting late so we decided to just give up and go to the shelter. It was an ok shelter, and no one else had bothered to make the trip down so we had the place to ourselves. We set up our tents but made dinner in the shelter, before we were once again chased back to them by the infernal pest that is the mosquito.

The next day we planned to do an easy 14 miles to Upper Goose Pond Cabin. UGP was a half mile off the trail, but we were told it was worth the walk. It was a hiker cabin right on the lake, had plenty of tent platforms or a bunkroom in the cabin if you preferred. There was a caretaker who lived there permanently and made pancakes for all the hikers who stayed. There was also games and a canoe we could take out, all for free:) The hike there was easy, there was a nice breeze, very few bugs, and the trail was pretty quiet. Still no water anywhere, but you can't have everything. We passed an old chimney ruin from days of yore, and came upon the turn off to the cabin. The HH and Spirit were sitting on the porch and the told me DS and Gribley had set up their tents in the back. I made my way back there for the reunion, the four of us hadn't been together since NYC. They had gotten there early in the morning and decided to stay since it was so nice. Towelie and Cheesewater had made their way there as well and abandoned any plans to go further. They told us the sad story of Slugger having to get off the trail back in CT due to a broken foot. We never like to hear of anyone having to get off for an injury. It's one thing if other opportunities arise or you just lose heart and motivation, but if you are still really dedicated to being out here but your body just won't let you, it can be very depressing for a person.

Pants and I set up shop and enjoyed the rest of the night, drinking whiskey and eating dinner and watching Cheesewater fish (he carries a small fishing pole). I finished an entire book ( My Side Of The Mountain- the main character, Sam Gribley, is where Gribley took his trail name from. It's a cute story about a kid who goes to live in the woods, we all took turns reading it). We all woke up the next morning to pancake chaos. Since we were tenting in the back we didn't realize how many hikers were staying in the cabin. There were probably 20 of us sitting around eating pancakes. Eventually we put the pancakes down and started hiking. The six of us set our sights on Dalton, MA, the next town a mere 20 miles away, which the trail went right through. Pace and Hungus had gotten there yesterday and were zeroing today to await our arrival.

The 20 miles to Dalton were smooth and easy. It was a relatively long and flat section with little to see so we all blew through it with ease, and arrived in Dalton around 5pm. We headed over to the Shamrock Inn, where Pace and Hungus were staying. Towelie, Cheesewater, Pants and I all shared a room. DS and Gribley hadn't arrived yet, and they had mentioned they might camp at Levardis (the trail goes through Dalton and right past his house, he lets hikers camp on his property for free). When DS and Gribley arrived they decided to share a room with Pace and Hungus, and the 8 of us hung out on the porch of the Shamrock Inn drinking beers and eating pizza. While most of us crashed around midnight, Towelie and Cheesewater decided to go to the bar, and didn't come home until 4am to entertain me with drunken shenanigans, which involved attempting to eat sandwiches, attempting to properly go to the bathroom, and attempting to lay down. None were done successfully.

Cheese wearing his rain jacket as pants while doing laundry
The next morning was a slow start. I managed to get up and get laundry going, then headed over to the coffee shop for a breakfast burrito. I came back to switch laundry and hung out in their lounge while waiting for everyone else to emerge. The Shamrock is super hiker friendly and though they needed us to be out of our rooms by 11 so they could clean, they let us hang out in their lounge until our laundry was done.  While Pace and Hungus hiked out, the rest of us sat around procrastinating. It was finally decided that we should go to Batman instead of hiking. The problem was there was no movie theater in this tiny town, but there was a bus stop in front of the Shamrock. We would take that to Berkshire Mall in some other town we didn't know the name of, go see Batman, and take the bus back to Dalton and hike out four miles to Crystal Mountain Campsite. A marvelous flaw proof plan. Well everything went according to our agenda (Batman was awesome) and we headed back to the bus stop after our movie. Here the flaw revealed itself...our movie got out at 5:38, the last bus to Dalton was at 5:30.

So now we were stranded in this random town at this random mall, with all our packs, far away from the trail. Plan Fail. A bus pulled up and I got on to ask the driver how close she runs to Dalton. She said she could take us to route 9. From that point it was 2 miles down route 9 to Dalton and the trail. We would just have to hitch from there. There did not seem to be any taxis in this town nor did we want to pay for one. So we hopped on the bus, and got off right in front of McDonalds on route 9. Towelie decides to go in and get food while DS and I perused the drive thru line to see if there were any pick ups we all might be able to hop into. No luck. We decided our best bet was to split up into twos (no one is gonna pick up six hikers with packs) and walk down the road to hitch. DS and I immediately ended up ditching the boys, knowing the two of us will get picked up quickly without them;)

We let the boys get a bit ahead, and as predicted, a nice couple let us hop in the back of their truck and deposited us at the front door of The Shamrock. We waved to the boys walking down the road as we flew by:). We figured we would walk up the street to Mill Town Tavern and grab a beer while we waited for them. They all finally trickled in, eventually having gotten rides. The Olympic opening ceremony was on (very bizarre) and the bar was full of hikers so it was clear we weren't really going anywhere. DS and I may have gotten a ride first, but Gribley definitely won, some guy who couldn't give him a ride (a former hiker I believe) gave him $65 while he was hitching. Gribley put it towards the bar tab which was steadily growing (enforcing the stereotype that if you give a bum some money, he will most likely spend it on booze, though he did give $20 to the guy who ended up giving him a ride).

After we took multiple shots of Jack to celebrate America, it occurred to me that we were becoming ever more intoxicated, it was nearing midnight, and we had no where to stay. The Shamrock was full we new from this morning. Everything we owned was in our packs in the corner of the bar, which would eventually close and make us leave. So this is how drunk homeless people feel.  I realized Tom Levardis was just down the street. I would assume he normally prefers hikers to ask permission first before just squatting in his yard, but he was probably asleep. I figured I could go set up my tent all quiet and stealthy while it was still kinda early ( it was midnight), then go meet everyone at Jacks or Jakes or whatever the name of the next bar we were going to was, and when I was ready to pass out at 3am I could stumble back quietly to my ready made home in this strangers backyard without waking anyone up.

I put my plan into action. I walked up to Levardis, went around back, noticed 4 or 5 other tents, presumably with sleeping hikers in them, then spotted Towelie and Cheesewaters packs against a tree. They apparently had the same idea but got distracted by the bar before they got their tents set up. I went towards the back of the yard to put my tent up ever so quietly, but I'm sure it was the kind of "quiet" drunk people think they're being when they come home late and start eating Cheetos while tripping over furniture. I also decided it was a good idea to blow up my neo-air (not a quiet process) so I could pass out in comfort. I then proceeded to pass out. After I had constructed my home and bed, I was enticed by how comfortable it looked and no longer had any desire to stumble my way halfway across town.

I woke up at 4am to go to the bathroom and noticed Cheesewater passed out in the grass. Apparently he and Towelie never did get around to setting up their tents . I didn't spot DS, Pants, or Gribley, but my 4am half drunk brain couldn't be bothered to look too hard. I woke up again at 6am, and conceding that I wouldn't be getting anymore sleep with this hangover, coupled with the fact that I had set my tent up in someones yard whom I had never met, I thought it best to pack up and move out.  It didn't take long to get my crap together, and while doing so did a quick check for the other three. CheeseTowel (quicker to type) were sleeping beauties in the grass, but no sign of everyone else. I started to get a bit concerned for their whereabouts, wondering if they had drunk night hiked into the woods. Other than the Shamrock, which we knew was full, and Levardi's, there was nowhere else to stay in town. Unless, that is, you count the parking lot of the church, because that is apparently where they ended up. After several phone calls and finally being assured that my friends were safe in God's front yard, I decided against going to breakfast. What I really needed to do was get the fuck out of Dalton.

The trail went through a residential area for about a mile before it finally crossed into the woods. I hiked about another mile until I found a giant flat rock where I decided to post up and make some coffee and breakfast. I had failed to do any sort of resupply in town before I stumbled back into the woods that morning, but I still had about a day and a half's worth of food, which would hopefully hold me until North Adams, just on the other side of Mt. Greylock. I made some coffee and oatmeal then laid out my Z-Lite and took a nap on my new rock home. Two hours later it was time to start hiking. Gribley, Pants and DS were still in town trying to find the will to walk, CheeseTowel were going to get slack packed south over Greylock and stay in Dalton another night.

I hiked on past a dried up spring (anticipating this I carried a shit ton of water from town) and arrived at Crystal Mountain Campsite just in time for the rain. While debating putting up my tent and just slapping a big old F on this day, Gribley appeared and we decided we would at least go to Cheshire, another town 5 miles away that the trail walks through. Another thing Mass. seemed to have in common with PA (besides the utter lack of water), was that it turned us from wilderness hikers to vagabond travelers, as the amount of small towns we passed right through was getting out of control.

The rain started coming down hard, but Gribley and I didn't notice as we lost ourselves in conversation. We also didn't notice where we were going. We all the sudden looked up and realized we were no longer on the AT, but in some random clearing in the woods. Not knowing how we got there, we started to backtrack. Gribley stopped to go to the bathroom while I tried to find our way back to the trail. I found some stone steps that I honestly couldn't remember if we went up or not, but they plopped me right back on the AT. We must have accidentally turned onto some blue blaze trail.
I called back up the hill to Gribley that I had found the AT, and Gribley surprisingly called back from farther up the trail. He had found his way back to the AT via some fern patch and was now walking towards me as I walked towards him. The conversation that ensued was as follows:

Gribley: "Which one of us is going north?"
Me: "I don't know"
G: "Well we are on a hill, but I can't remember if we were going uphill or downhill, do you?"
M: "I honestly don't"
G: " How the fuck did we get off the trail?"
M: "No clue"
G: "Which way do we go?"
M: "No idea"

With our conversation solving no problems, we started hiking up the hill, based on no real evidence that it was the correct way. It was raining, we were hungover, had clearly entered some alternate universe twilight zone in which the last 30 minutes of our hiking experience had been erased from our minds, and we just needed to get moving somewhere.  Gribley stepped over some rock that he swore looked familiar, and not long after, we got to a vista that also looked suspiciously familiar. At this point it dawned on us to check our elevation profile. Based on the time, we had to be close to Cheshire, and the last few miles were downhill to town. We realized we had just climbed back up the mountain we had just climbed down. We promptly turned around and hiked right back down it, again.

We eventually made it to the Main St of Cheshire, MA, pop. 3,000. The trail kept going down Main St then turned right down Church St., right in front of a little deli called Diane's Twist. The rain had let up and Diane, an adorable older lady, made us a couple sandwiches which we enjoyed on the one picnic table she had. It started raining again mid sandwich, but we didn't even care as we finished our lunch in the wet rain. We decided to go wait out the weather in St Mary's church down the street.
St Mary's has two "hiker rooms." There are no beds, you just put your pad on the floor, but they are always open to hikers. We had access to the bathrooms as well (no showers). Other hikers were already in there, mostly ones who had also stumbled the 7 miles or so from Dalton. Gribley, who is a very devoted Catholic (and attended the seminary for a bit) decided he would stay the night so he could attend mass Sunday morning, something he rarely gets to do. He stripped off his wet clothes and laid down to take a nap. I , incapable of making any decisions at this point, sat around in my wet clothes starring exhaustedly at a wall. A few minutes later DS walked through the door. She was unsure of what she wanted to do as well, but knew she wanted food.

I agreed to accompany her to Cobbleview Pub and Pizzeria, down the street and around the corner. I was too lazy to even change out of my soaking clothes, but I did put on a jacket and go to the bathroom to try and wipe the mud off my legs and feet ( It is amazing how my threshold for physical discomfort has increased, I hardly notice nor mind when I'm sopping wet anymore). Unfortunately there was a wedding going on in the church, and the only bathrooms were the ones we were also suppose to use. I smiled as politely as I could to the guests in the restroom in a way I hope conveyed "Sorry your wedding experience is being invaded by mud people." We cleaned ourselves up best we could and headed out the door.

We walked into Cobbleview and sat ourselves at a hightop when it dawned on me, Jesus, it hasn't even been 24 hours and I have managed to walk to another bar in another town. This hike is turning into a pub crawl. I ate a brownie and some hot chocolate while DS went to work on her burger. We sat around a bit, watched some Olympics, and chatted with Warrior, Ducket and Spirit who were also there (and staying at the church). We made our way back just in time for the wedding to get out so we could be in the way of the fancy guests in their dresses filing out the back door. I snuck back into the hiker room, which was starting to smell pretty ripe as it filled with wet hikers and packs. I looked back out to the church common area and through the spattering of wedding guests it looked like they were setting up for some type of Sat.night raffle. Yeah....wasn't about to stay here. I put my wet socks and boots back on, said goodbye to everyone and headed to the woods.

I thought I would go to Mark Nopel Shelter, about five miles away, when some SoBos gave me the heads up there would be an entire troop of boy scouts there that night. Not interested in having anything to do with that, I pulled up about two miles short of the shelter, halfway up Mt Greylock. Mt Greylock is the highest peak in Massachusetts, and I had at least got the toughest part of the climb out of the way. Though I was honestly in some exhausted zombie daze that I hardly realized I was climbing. I put my tent up right next to the trail in a small clearing. DS had also left the church but only made it a mile out of town. Pants eventually showed up at my site around 9pm and called it quits as well. The lesson of the day was hiking hungover in the rain sucks and should be avoided. You will most likely end up sleeping on a random rock, getting lost in the twilight zone, and have to zombie hike 1000ft up a mountain to get away from an Asian wedding/raffle combo. You will also wake up with slug tent the next day.

Now I realize "slug tent" is not a common problem for those of you out there who usually sleep in buildings, but for the rest of us, careful measures should be taken to avoid it. If you wake up in the morning to find your tent completely covered in slugs (they really like tents) as Pants and I did the next morning, take the time to extract all offending slugs from your tent. If you do not, and you roll up your tent with slugs still attached, you will squish their slimy sticky bodies and their smelly guts will get all over your tent and incubate as you hike all day long. Squished slug guts do smell, and stain, and you will have to sleep in slug tent. Take proper precautions people.

After Pants and I de-slugged, we headed up the rest of Greylock, which really wasn't so bad now that we were at full operating capacity. Normally when you climb a mountain, it is pretty quiet and peaceful at the top, as there are not a ton of people out there trying to climb up mountains. There are, unfortunately, a lot of people willing to drive up them. A lot of the highest peaks have roads leading to the top of them, culminating in some building or lodge of some type that usually has a snack bar so the tourists can come inside and grab a sandwich after they climb up whatever ugly tower was put at the top and then hop in their cars and drive back home and brag to their friends how they were on the top of so and so mountain. I'll take refuge in these buildings and I'll climb up the tower with the rest, but I would rather they just not be there.

Mt. Greylock tower
Pants and I headed into the lodge to make some lunch in their covered porch so visitors could enjoy the view without being touched by the weather. We decided to eat the food we were carrying rather than buy their $10 grilled cheese. We milled around waiting for the rain to clear with Warrior and Spirit, then went to climb the tower. Once we got down the tower, it was a bright sunny day, the crowds were moving in and we decided it was time to get down the mountain. North Adams was six miles away at the northern base of Greylock and we needed to go there to get resupply. We made our way down the mountain to Phelps Ave. pretty quickly. We followed the road for a half mile before it intersected with MA 2.

We looked at our map, the Price Chopper was about .7 away, but we noticed the Holiday Inn was just another 2 was already 5pm.....It didn't take much to convince ourselves to continue our town hopping and get a room.  In fact we were treating ourselves since the Holiday Inn was much nicer than the motels usually available to us.  We hitched a ride to the Holiday Inn (don't ya love that sentence) with a nice guy pulling out of the gas station.  We quickly showered and walked over to the Mexican restaurant to grab some grub, after which we headed to the movie theater to get our Ice Age 4 on.  We spent the rest of the night watching HBO (True Blood, WTF is happening?) and sleeping in our own giant comfy beds ( a rarity since we are usually sharing rooms with many more hikers).  The rest was much needed after the craziness of the last few days.  DS and Gribley camped right before town and were coming in the morning to resupply.  We decided we would resupply at the Price Chopper on the way out of town as well, then we were all headed out of Massachusetts and into Vermont!
In case you get lost

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