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Volume 43: Wed October 1, 2003
Sorry for the long delay since the last installment of my Great Adventures, but Internet access had become much more difficult to acquire to send them out, but at long last, the saga continues....
I last left you with my arrival in Vermont, where I was drying out in a motel in the quaint little town of Bennington.
After a great night's sleep, I checked out and headed into town to resupply and check out the area. The town is cute, and much larger than I anticipated. In the distance I could see a memorial for the Bennington Battle, a Revolutionary War battle that actually took place in neighboring New York but Vermont wants all the credit for. At least that's how one local explained it to me, so I could be wrong. I don't research this stuff, you know.... New York naturally calls the battle by some other name—I forget what, but obviously emphasizing the New York aspect of the battle. It's a petty argument if you ask me, especially since nobody outside of that area has even heard of battle in the first place.
By 4:00 or so I was done shopping and wandering and I was ready to hit the trail. Actually, I was still sick of the rain and mud on the trail (even though it was a beautiful day!), and spontaneously decided to stay another night. I checked back into the Autumn Inn, slid under the covers, and gorged myself on television all night once again.
The next morning I decided that I HAD to get back on the trail once again, rain or not. The trail was just over five miles away, so I placed myself strategically at the side of the road and stuck out my thumb. I wasn't walking no five miles just to get back to the trailhead!
It didn't go well. A half hour later I was still standing there, my sex appeal apparently not being what it used to be. A couple of kids walking by told me that nobody picks up hitchhikers in this community but wished me luck. I flipped them off after they turned their backs. I'm kidding, of course, but I wasn't too thrilled with their vote of confidence just the same.
When things were looking bleakest, a mini-van pulled over and picked me up. Three people were in it—Appalachian Trail fans that asked me all sorts of questions about my hike. They were very friendly and nice and delivered me straight to the trailhead.
I tore up the mountain hoping to regain the time I lost standing by the roadside. I heard thunder in the distance. I hiked faster.
Five minutes short of the Goddard Shelter, the rain let loose. Even drops of hail added to the effect. I walked into the shelter, angry and frustrated moaning about why it couldn't wait for another five minutes—was that too much to ask?
The storm passed, and a half hour later blue skies even peaked out. I picked up my wet pack and headed out once again planning to make it a few more miles before calling it quits for the day.
At Glastenbury Mountain I went up the observation tower where I admired the view. And what a view! By now the clouds from the sudden downpour were long gone and I could see miles in every direction, perched there a hundred or more feet in the air. And how could I not do it? I peed off the top. (Hey, I was alone—it was allowed!)
The trail was a mud bog from the brief but drenching downpour, and in frustration I declared war on mud. I started digging drainage ditches using my trekking pole and throwing large rocks or logs into the mud bogs so people (including myself) could walk through without trouble.
I did this for an hour or so before it started to get late enough where speed was of the essence. I trudged along unhappily through the muck and mud.
I did stop once more when I spotted a moose—the first I've seen on the trail. I've heard moose are in Vermont, but it's very rare for hikers to see them. As it turned out, I was the only thru-hiker I know that actually saw one in Vermont, although there were plenty of evidence of them being in the area.
I pulled into the Kid Gore Shelter and made myself a mac and cheese dinner before heading to sleep. (Not all my meals are elaborate blueberry pies and pizzas! I usually only brag about the impressive meals that I make....)
The next day I hiked up Stratton Mountain, supposedly the 'birthplace' of the Appalachian Trail since Benton MacKaye first thought of the idea for the AT while sitting in a tree at the summit. Now there's a rickety firetower with a sign warning that only four people at a time are allowed up.
Naturally, I had to go up. The wind howled, but the skies were clear yet again making for a fantastic view. This time, however, I did not pee off the side since a few hikers down below probably wouldn't have appreciated the gesture.
But for the most part, there wasn't much to report on this day of hiking before I headed into the Spruce Peak Shelter.
The next day I headed up Bromley Mountain. On more than one occasion I've scratched my head over the seemingly strange route the trail follows, but never until this day did they actually put up an official sign pointing down the hill that read: "Run Around". I always thought getting the run around was just a figure of speech!
Actually, it was the name of a ski slope—the top of which I had just reached. A huge, industrial strength ski lift (not in operation being summer and all) dominated the top. A warming hut was left open for thru-hikers to use. And an observation tower nearby allowed us to get a view over the trees and deep into Vermont.
The trail meandered back down the other side of the mountain past scenic lakes and the usual sorts of stuff before I called it a day at the Big Branch Shelter.
Where I met my good buddy, Papa John, once again. He was already there, earphones plugged into his head listening to rap, as per usual.
Naturally, the topic about his urinating on Jollies came up—this was the first time I'd seen Papa John since I heard about the incident and I wanted to hear his side of the story.
It was the same story, though, exactly as Jollies had told it. However, it seems Jollies had been writing nasty things in the registers about the incident, and Papa John has been "editing" them in an attempt to cover up the incident.
Papa John is quite mystified why Jollies would hold a grudge against him. He explained that he was really wasted at the time—perhaps more so than any other time in his life—so it wasn't really his fault. It was an accident. And sure, nobody likes to be peed on, but it wasn't deliberate or anything, and he can't understand why Jollies would hold such a grudge.
Then he asked me, "You don't think this has been hurting my reputation, do you?"
I considered my answers, and decided to stick to the truth. I shook my head and honestly replied, "Not really." Granted, I did not elaborate and explain that it *reinforced* his reputation, but I could still tell him the truth and not hurt his feelings.
That's my kind, sensitive side coming out. =)
I drifted off to sleep, wondering when Papa John would ever grow up.
The next morning I woke up early and headed out before Papa John even got up. I passed by the Lula Tye Shelter, voted by thru-hikers as the shelter most likely named after a prostitute.
About midday, nature called in a big way. For those of you not familiar with outdoor etiquette, the proper way to poop in the woods involves digging a small, six-inch hole, doing your thing in it, then filling it up again. Marking it with a couple of sticks in the shape of an X helps ensure other hikers don't dig it up in the future when nature calls. For those that don't want to pack out used toilet paper (since it's politically incorrect to bury it), one can use leaves or smooth stones. More than you wanted to know, huh? =)
Anyhow, at one particularly nice viewpoint, nature called. I started digging a hole and had the unfortunately luck to hit an electric line. A huge, blue light flashed—much like lightning—and a loud CRACK! echoed through the rocky, canyon walls. The shock blew me about five feet back as I laid in the grass wondering if I'd just been struck by lightning.
Later, I would learn that I knocked out power to 50 million people from Canada to New York City.
Yes, folks, that was me.
Okay, maybe not. But wouldn't that make a great story if it were true? =)
I heard about the power outage affecting the northeast almost as soon as it happened from other thru-hikers that learned of it from their radios. (I'd since ditched mine so must rely on others for news.) Many people sent e-mails wondering if I was affected. It was a rough couple of days without the electric toothbrush, and I couldn't blow up my pillow with the air pump, but I survived.
Seriously, though.... I was on the trail when the blackout happened, not a trail town, so it didn't affect me at all. And even if I had been in town, I was in Vermont at the time—which by all accounts was unaffected. You could see the Vermonter's pride while reading the local paper, proud as a peacock that their system survived the Great Blackout of 2003, and their glee at pointing to their powerless neighbors.
It's strange, but for days that power outage was the talk of the trail even though nobody on the trail was affected by it. The truth, boring as it may be, was a non-event, so I'll just return to the story of our lone adventurer....
The trail crossed VT103, where I got off the trail long enough to resupply my snack supply and eat a pint of Ben and Jerrys best. It seemed criminal to me not to eat a Ben and Jerrys while visiting their home state of Vermont.
Then I trudged uphill to the Clarendon Shelter for the night where I was greeted by a barrage of weekenders. They were a friendly bunch, and even had a campfire going—the first one I'd seen since Pennsylvania. Campfires weren't allowed in New Jersey or Connecticut, and it was too wet in New York and Massachusetts to start them. I skipped dinner since my belly was still bulging from the pint of Ben and Jerrys, slipped into my sleeping bag, and fell promptly asleep.
The next day I'd be hiking up the dreaded Killington Peak—the highest point on the Appalachian Trail in Vermont.
Frankly, I thought it was a big yawn, and even on the maps I didn't think it looked too bad, but thru-hikers had been talking about it for days as we approached. The view from the top boasts of being able to see into five different states and even Canada, although it was much too cloudy when I was there to see more than a couple of miles in any direction.
Somewhere near the top, I started developing an urge to sit at a computer and spend all day writing a program. I haven't done that in nearly two years now—not since I lost my job at Intel—and haven't missed it during all that time. And now, near the summit of Killington Peak, countless miles from the nearest computer, I had an uncontrollable urge to write some code.
Of course, being nowhere near a computer, that wasn't an option, and my mind drifted to other programs I'd written. The traveling salesman problem. Conway's Game of Life. Quordor.
It was driving me mad! But there was nothing for me to do but hike on.
I made it to Maine Junction, where the Long Trail headed north another 169 miles to the Canadian border and the Appalachian Trail veers eastward another 487 miles to Maine. I stayed at the shelter there, the Tucker-Johnson Shelter, where I joked in the register about quitting the AT and following the Long Trail into Canada. Then I could say I hiked from Georgia to Canada—much more impressive sounding that from Georgia to Maine—and 300 miles shorter to boot!
I fell asleep with dreams of glowing monitors and clicking keyboards.
It was nice to finally be getting off the Long Trail. I hoped the crowds would thin out and was glad I no longer had to qualify my thru-hiker status as an AT thru-hiker. I was tired of following signs pointing the direction of the Long Trail. I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, and I felt like I was off it while it merged with the Long Trail. No more. It would be just the Appalachian Trail the rest of the way to Katahdin.
I can't report any exciting incidences for the next couple of days as I plodded along through the rest of Vermont. The weather and trail did begin to dry up at long last, and the views from some of the lookouts were some of the best yet.
Where the trail passes near South Pomfret, Vermont, I met an Israeli couple out for a day hike. They asked the usual types of questions about my thru-hike and offered some snacks that I gladly accepted.
A few miles later, after huffing and puffing my way to the crest of a hill with an incredible viewpoint, I found Sheep Stuff drying all her worldly possessions. I stopped to talk—a good excuse to rest as well, although I didn't tell her that.
And I learned that she had seen a naked woman earlier that morning on the trail! Naturally, I inquired for more details and we deduced it was the Israeli woman I had meet earlier. Woah, is me. She was a cutie too. Why didn't I wake up at five AM and hike with Sheep Stuff that morning?
Truthfully, the woman was only naked from the waist down, and perhaps got caught when nature called, although Sheep Stuff believed there was more going on than that. Who knows? In any case, I missed my chance to see a cute, naked woman on the trail. Woah is me, woah, woah is me....
My last night in Vermont I spent in the Happy Hill Shelter, a fact I mention only because I love the name of the shelter. It sounded so—happy, I guess. =) It was also only the second time that I had a shelter completely to myself.
The next morning I hiked down into Norwich, crossed the Connecticut River into New Hampshire and a new state.
Did you notice I mentioned that the Connecticut River separates Vermont from New Hampshire? Reflecting back on the fact that the Delaware River separates Pennsylvania from New Jersey, can anyone be surprised that our kids are flunking geography? It's amazing I've made it so far with convoluted logic like that....
Halfway over the bridge spanning the Connecticut River, I stopped, sat down, and took a snack break. There was traffic zooming between the two states, but the river was rather scenic.
Snack break done, I continued into the state of New Hampshire and the college town of Hanover.
What a cute, expensive-looking, little town. This is the town where Bill Bryson moved to that inspired his little walk in the woods, and I secretly hoped that he would be sitting somewhere on the trail—probably at a coffee shop drinking tea with Katz—handing out trail magic. Alas, I did not meet this great man.
Following the trail into town, I stopped at the Dartmouth Outdoors Club where I made phone calls, checked e-mail, and got information useful to thru-hikers passing through.
I met up with a local letterboxer (of course) named Richard who took me out for lunch.
Hanover was great. I picked up a mail drop, browsed the local bookstore, and surfed the web from the library. Lastly, I picked up groceries before heading out of town. Hanover is a great little town and has everything a thru-hiker could need—except for lodging. Lodging is either eye-popping expensive or severely limited, so my plan was to camp at the Velvet Rocks Shelter about a mile outside of town.
At the shelter I pulled out the grinder and orange soda I bought at the supermarket, a delicious dinner that required absolutely no cooking of any sort. =)
The next couple of days were rather uneventful. The mountains started becoming larger and more strenuous.
Then, at NH25A, on a lonely stretch of road, I stopped. I took off my shoes, pulled out a book, and started reading.
After an hour or so, a beautiful woman in a white car slowed down as she was driving by, asking if I needed a ride somewhere. I said sure! She turned around and I jumped in.
The woman, of course, was Amanda, and the encounter was not by chance. =) I bet I had you going, though, didn't I?
We decided the Ben and Jerrys factory would be a cool place to visit, so we drove off to Vermont, a state I had thought I put behind me forever—or at least for longer than three days.
The factory was near Montepelier, the capitol of Vermont boasting a population of less than 10,000 people. Amanda says it's the smallest city in the country that's a capitol. I believe it.
There's definitely a Canadian influence in the area as well. Many road signs were in both English and French. And mileage signs were in kilometers only! Very strange indeed.
We found a nearby motel where I got cleaned up—my last shower had been a week earlier in Bennington, Vermont.
Amanda wanted to go out for dinner, so we drove around Montepelier in about five minutes and didn't find anything interesting. So we headed onto the highway sure we'd find something to eat.
About an hour after we started, hungry and tired, we found a Mexican restaurant. I ordered an enchilada, and Amanda ordered some very bad tasting nachos. We ate, we paid, and we left for the long drive back to the hotel.
The next morning we headed off to the home of Ben and Jerrys ice cream. The tour takes you above the factory floor where one can watch ice cream being made, but unfortunately we visited on a weekend and had to settle for a video showing the production floor in action. They don't make ice cream on weekends. Blasphemy, if use ask me. It's not like people stop eating ice cream because it's a weekend, so why do they stop making it on weekends? *rolling eyes* We still got to see the factory floor, but there wasn't much activity.
At the end of the tour they handed out free samples—my favorite part! =)
After the tour, we headed outside to the Flavor Graveyard, where retired flavors can rest in peace. There's about 30 of them now, each with its own tombstone and epigram. Some were very cute, and I copied a few down to share as examples:
mix 'em in a pot!
Plop 'em in a pot!
Plop 'em in your ice cream!
Well, maybe not.
Miz Jelena's Sweet Potato Pie
One potato, two potato,
Sweet Potato Pie,
No one could appreciate it,
So we had to let it die
Here the brazen
Some say that raisin,
Caused its demise.
Our explorations over, we headed back to the car and off to the Rock of Ages quarry.
Neither of us had ever heard of this place before, but we saw a brochure for it at the hotel that looked very interesting, so off we went.
Tours of the active quarry was closed since it was a weekend, but we did get to watch an interesting video about it at the visitor center and check out an old quarry that's no longer in use. It's several hundred feet deep—at least that's what they told us. Since quarrying stopped in 1989, they stopped pumping water out of the bottom so it's slowly been filling up with water. I imagine it would make a great place to dive off from the sheer, vertical cliffs knowing it was impossible to hit your head on the bottom, but fences around it prevented us from trying it.
In any case, this was a really interesting place to visit and if I ever find myself in the area on a weekday, you can bet I'll try and make it out for the tour of the active quarry and the fourth most visited place in New Hampshire. (Ben and Jerry's is the number one visitor attraction in the state, in case you were curious.)
Our fun for the day done, we headed back to New Hampshire and the Appalachian Trail. We ended up camping near Hanover where I got to show my manly ability to set up a tent in near dark without a flashlight.
The next morning Amanda dropped me off on the trail where she picked me up—I would be entering the infamous and feared White Mountains—with credible claims of having some of the world's worst weather and arguably the hardest part of the Appalachian Trail, and I wanted to slackpack as much of the distance as I could.
Will I survive with all my limbs and fingers intact? Will the White Mountains live up to their reputation? You'll have to wait until the next installment of Ryan's Great Adventure to learn the answers to these pressing questions. Same trail channel. Same trail time....
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