This is my original Appalachian Trail journal from 2001 (Edited for grammar).
It includes additions that were written sixteen years later (in 2017). These are in italics.
Monday, August 27, 2001
South Egremont, MA to Great Barrington, MA
Today’s Miles: 3.6
Trip Miles: 1493.9
Today’s hike was very short – simply into the town of Great Barrington. I was curious to find out about the winning Powerball number – it’s apparently up to some obscene amount. A lot of hikers were talking about it and I bought a ticket in Cornwall Bridge.
Cyborg was the only hiker that I saw today. It was three miles to get into town from the trail, and I decided to walk the additional distance along the road instead of hitchhiking.
On the way I came to a little hamburger stand and thought I’d stop to eat there – I was still about two more miles from the heart of town. A guy there asked about my trip, and the lady through the window must have overheard. “What’s the total for the food?” I asked.
“This will be on us today,” she said.
Once again I got a hotel room in town.
To this day I’m still amazed that the hamburger stand fed me for free. It’s not especially uncommon for customers to buy things for other customers, but I think it’s exceptionally rare for an establishment to do so. I hadn’t done or said anything to give the impression I was low on fund and it was completely unsolicited and unexpected.
Tuesday, August 28, 2001
Great Barrington, MA to Tom Leonard Lean-to
Today’s Miles: 6.4
Trip Miles: 1500.3
I finally made my way out of town after a good, hot breakfast of pancakes and sausage. I walked the distance to the trailhead, which was a little bit of a hike in itself.
The trail wound along some picturesque backroads before heading out of the valley and back into the mountains. I met a southbounder along this stretch called Yoda – a cool name.
There were some good views and neat little rock scrambles when I reached the ridge, and it looked almost like some rain was on the way. The wind blew through my hair.
Upon reaching the shelter I met a young couple that was out for a few days. I debated a few moments as far as whether to stay or go. It looked like it could rain, but then again, maybe not. I chose to stay, rather than continue on in the gloominess. The sun is setting a lot earlier than it used to.
What do you know, Yahtzee rolled in! I thought he was ahead of me. He immediately launched into cursing and complaining about how he missed the side trail to the shelter, because there was no sign. Then we informed him there was apparently no spring or water source here, which really pissed him off! He was cursing so much – the couple that was there sort of made themselves scarce! It cracked me up. I guess you just can’t get any peace out here near most of our thru-hiking crowd.
A southbounder arrived, so now it will be the three of us in the shelter and the couple out in a tent. It’s great to be with another Katahdin-bound hiker again. We vowed to do big miles tomorrow. It’s so necessary at this point. Well, time for bed. Life is good.
Wednesday, August 29, 2001
Tom Leonard Lean-to to Upper Goose Pond
Today’s Miles: 21.1
Trip Miles: 1521.4
Yahtzee was out and hiking just after dawn. I was up and out maybe two hours later. I’d been lingering and went down to Ice Gulch, where there was indeed water after all.
I was going at a good pace when I came upon Benedict Pond – it was absolutely beautiful, so of course I had to stop and take a break.
My pace slowed after that, and I took another long break in a nice area among some pines later for lunch. There I met an energetic southbounder.
“Do you want some candy?” he asked.
“Sure, thanks,” I said, mildly surprised at the peculiar offer, “I’m Duct Tape.”
A-ha! So amusing.
He told me all about Upper Goose Pond, which I’d encounter farther up the trail. It has a cabin and a caretaker that makes pancakes, and a great canoe. He told me he took two zero days there with Spyro, and just sat in the boat on the lake all day. It sounds like pure bliss. I decided that I would make it there tonight, even though I would surely run out of daylight very soon. We chatted for a little while longer before he continued along on his way.
Soon I had a minor dilemma on my hands. The water source I was counting on, about eight and half miles from my destination (Four hours of hiking or so), was basically dry. My bottles were empty. There was no water to count on between here and there, but I checked the map and it looked as though it showed three small streams, one of which was named.
I continued. The streams turned out to be shallow, muddy messes. They’d barely even qualify as puddles. Thankfully I came upon a trail maintainer and asked him about the water sources in the area. He said not to drink them, they flow from cow pastures! Augh! He told me there’s some good tent spots in the area though, and asked how much farther I planned on heading. No red flags from this guy, so I told him I hoped to get all the way to Goose Pond tonight. His face suddenly changed and he gazed at me as if I was a crazy man.
“Well, I hope you have a good flashlight,” he said.
We parted and darkness soon consumed the woods. About the water situation – It dawned on me that I used to do my sixteen-mile plus marathon training runs without so much as a drop of water. I had about eight miles to get to the pond. Plus, the nights are getting cool and the sun was down, so I figured that I wouldn’t sweat as much as usual. I could make it without the water. It weighs too much anyway.
So I hiked into the night, and the miles went by as they do… until something utterly frightening went down.
My headlamp reflected off of something. Two dots, about ten yards or so to the left of the trail. They were probably two little surveyor’s or hunter’s reflective stickers, which I often see on the trees while night hiking. The path brought me closer.
They were eyes.
Looking at me.
I stopped dead in my tracks and turned to get a look. The eyes blinked, and sort of shook. My light gave no clue as to what it could be – just eyes. A raccoon, I thought, a porcupine… but no, something seemed different. These eyes were yellow, like a cat’s. I swear. And set fairly wide apart. AND considerably high off the ground.
Now the scary part is this – everything in the last five months along the trail has ran away from me – the squirrels, the rabbits, the deer… and especially the bears – they’d shoot off running like an arrow at the awareness of my presence.
This thing wasn’t going anywhere. It was staring, and interested. Did I mention that I was alone in the middle of the friggin, woods in the thick dark of night? I took some slow steps ahead down the trail, watching it.
And oh yes, the eyes turned, following my movement.
I inched ahead up the trail gradually, until finally those eyes were out of sight. Then I picked up the pace. A lot. I got the hell out of there.
Okay, so I couldn’t help but think the words “mountain lion.” It was probably just a raccoon sitting up on a stump… but you never know.
I feared a cat-like pursuit in the night for at least the next hour. The miles wore on. My thirst became the primary thought in my mind, making the notion of mountain lions into more of a memory.
Finally, yes, I came upon Upper Goose Pond. I think it was about ten thirty, and I found a spot on the trail where I could climb down to the water and get a drink.
Oh, it was so beautiful. The moon was out and reflected and shimmered on the wind blown, flowing crests in the water. Stars shined above the shadows of the treetops on the far shores. Small waves lapping up on the shore were really the only sound I could hear, save for the slight rustle of leaves in the trees. All was quiet and peaceful and good. I sat and filtered water and drank to my content. I shivered from the chill air – the season’s change.
After a half hour of circumnavigating the trails around the pond, I was at the cabin at last. All was dark and silent, and I stealthily picked my way inside the cabin by headlamp. The caretaker and others I assumed were asleep in the cots upstairs. There was a single cot on the first floor, as if it was there just for me… so I wouldn’t disturb the others by arriving so late. I put my head down to rest among four walls and a roof. Life is good.
This was certainly one of the more memorable evenings of the entire trip. The pond was stunning under the starlight and I was thankful to be in an enclosed structure for the night.
Thursday, August 30, 2001
Upper Goose Pond to Dalton, MA
Today’s Miles: 20.6
Trip Miles: 1542
I’ve just done two 20-mile days in a row! Maybe I’ll get to Katahdin before it becomes a glacier after all…
I owe it all to coffee and spectacular weather. Okay, maybe just the coffee. I woke up in the six o’clock hour to the sounds and smells of coffee brewing and pancakes being made. Now that’s an awesome caretaker!
Yahtzee was surprised I made it to Upper Goose Pond yesterday. He was the only other hiker there. We ate breakfast out on the front porch, facing the pond. We all got to talking and great conversation, and ended up hanging around there for most of the morning. It was such a nice spot – it would have been great to stay and take a zero day, relaxing on the dock or out in the canoe, or even on that porch. And yes, it had a wooden screen door. We did the dishes and I eventually pulled myself away. It must be a sweet gig to be the caretaker there.
I hauled ass all day long like a hiking machine and loved it. I felt so good. My only extended break was near a road crossing, in the yard of the famous Cookie Lady’s house. A sweet elderly couple lives there – they offer water from their tap to hikers and occasionally give out home baked cookies too.
No cookies today, but so what, what a great stop. They have a little blueberry patch too where they sell “pick your own” blueberries. An outing group from Williams College(freshman) kept me company during the respite.
At dusk the trail descended into the town of Dalton – a landmark for me, as I have a maildrop with my cold weather gear (My sleeping bag!) waiting at the post office. It seems to be a partially industrial sort of blue collar town, a nice change from the “distinguished,” yuppified hamlets (bedroom communities) here in New England I’ve grown accustomed to.
I found Tom’s house – he’s a great local guy who invites hikers to stay the night on his front porch. Nobody was around the place, but there were some backpacks there. I dropped my pack and went off to explore and get a hot dinner! I had two great cheese steaks and got back after dark to find Yahtzee and two section hikers there at Tom’s. We spoke of some more ambitious miles to catch up with friends that were ahead of us. My body is pretty beat-up. We’ll see about that. Life is good.
Friday, August 31, 2001
Dalton, MA to Crystal Mountain
Today’s Miles: 4.7
Trip Miles: 1546.7
I spent most of the day in town today. I felt very spent and exhausted. Getting up early for breakfast with the others didn’t really help that situation much! It was a great meal, of course.
Next I packed up and headed to the post office, where I was finally reunited with my sleeping bag! Oh my warm purple friend, how I missed you. At that point it would have been wise to start hiking out of town, but I lingered in the library a while. Then I found my way into a pizza joint. Finally I got out of town in the late afternoon, and spied Ronin making use of the local laundromat.
I made it a few miles before sunset, to Crystal Mountain. It looks as though it could rain tonight. There’s no other thru hikers here, but it’s funny, I’m tented near a kid who’s on his first night on the trail. He has all kinds of brand-new gear, and plans to hike southbound all the way down to Springer Mountain, Georgia. He seems so nervous and green. It feels like so long ago when I felt that way. Hell, the trail is as comfortable as home to me nowadays.
Or maybe even more so – more comfortable than home. Life is good.
Saturday, September 01, 2001
Crystal Mountain to Mount Greylock
Today’s Miles: 12.3
Trip Miles: 1559
Today is the first day of September. I am staying tonight on top of Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts. It is awesome.
One hell of a storm blew through overnight, and the rain poured unceasingly. The rain didn’t stop until long after the daylight broke through the clouds.
I of course took note of all this while fading in and out of sleep inside my tent, reacquainted with my beloved sleeping bag. I began to stir and pack up after the rain stopped for good, and realized that there was a significant puddle at the foot of my tent!
I packed up my soaked, muddy tent, and set out for another day on the trail. Soon I came to a place called The Cobbles, and admired the view from the there. It looked over the most peaceful-looking town you can imagine – Cheshire, Massachusetts. This sort of scene was exactly what I imagined the trail in New England to be, standing over a little hamlet with a sea of white birch, with at least fifteen hundred feet of elevation between us. (A photo from this overlook is featured in Walking the Appalachian Trail, the first book I ever read about the AT).
Last night’s storm had washed everything clean. The sky cleared, and a wind that felt like autumn made its way to me. The hump of Mount Greylock dominated the opposing horizon of the landscape.
Fitting for the first day of September.
Soon I found myself ambling through the residential town of Cheshire, down the street and past the post office, around the corner and soon back into the woods to tackle the ascent up Greylock. I met a northbounder named Flying Bear on the way up – he was slacking south and told me that Mojo and Tenderfoot were probably just ahead.
As far as he knew, Mojo and Tenderfoot were planning on stealth camping in what is apparently an emergency shelter on the summit, off limits to hikers. I made a decision to go for it too. I also met a ridgerunner and a college outing group during a quick stop at the Mark Noepel lean to, halway up the mountain.
The forest the rest of the way to the summit was unique to any other I’ve seen so far – lots of different evergreens and a whole different “feel” to the area. It was very nice, and the clear sky and chilled wind reminded me of a crisp autumn day.
Now I am indeed here for the night with Mojo and Tenderfoot inside the skiers “emergency” shelter, and it’s quite a cozy place! Four walls and a roof, and two big heavy doors!
The feeling of the area on top of this mountain is indescribable. It’s somewhat paved and populated, yes, but it’s done tastefully, and the landmark observation tower shines like a beacon. The views are great as usual, the sunset was nice, and it is cold up here! I feel bad for the other two guys here who don’t have their fall/winter gear yet.
The cold outside makes this room all the more comfortable, and it’s incredible how this misty sort of fog is drifting through here – the way it shines in front of the light on the tower and in front of the moon. You can still see the clear sky and stars behind the mist. I love this place. Life is good.
Sunday, September 02, 2001
Mount Greylock to Williamstown, MA
Today’s Miles: 6.3
Trip Miles: 1565.3
Remember the mist that I said was floating by last night as I went to sleep? Well, it went down and rested in the valleys overnight, and we awoke to find that the mountaintop had become an island in a sea of blanketed, white fog! It was spectacular! The sun rose and shined right on in the windows where we were sleeping, and Tenderfoot and I were simply amazed.
Today is a Sunday, and we laughed about how everybody living in these valleys in Massachusetts will wake up, look out the window, and see nothing but thick fog and clouds! They’ll think it’s a lousy day, roll over, and go back to sleep, while we’re high above and in awe of this beautiful clear morning! Ah, the wonders of the trail…
But wow, was it frigid out this morning! Whew! I saw my breath in the air for the first time since Georgia. I made my way to the Bascom Lodge on the other side of the summit, where I treated myself to the hot breakfast they serve there. Pancakes, sausage, and coffee were great! I said coffee!
The sun was up and burned the mist away by the time I was moving north, and it became another lovely, clear, crisp day. Today’s hike was essentially just a descent from the peak to the road to Williamstown, where I paused to resupply for food but now find myself staying the night – the lure of town. Tomorrow it’s back up into the mountains… and into Vermont!
This is the Labor Day weekend, and it sure feels like it down here. The trail came out of the woods at the end of a dead end street in a residential neighborhood. Today is Sunday, and it’s evident that everybody is out enjoying the weekend before it’s time to go back to work and back to school.
It’s funny for me to look at the washed cars in driveways, the bird feeders, the mowed lawns, and all the other accompaniments of residential living. I’m so out of touch with all of this, and how my summer has come and gone without any of these usual nuances is a little weird. I guess it was just refreshing to walk down such a street.
Mount Greylock is so prominent on the horizon. I suppose that’s all it really is for many people that live here – a scenic background. That is, except for when a grungy, stinky, smelly, unsavory-looking hiker guy walks down the middle of the street in front of your house, gazing around as if he’s never seen a basketball hoop in a driveway before!
So here I am calculating again how many miles per day I have to average in order to get to Katahdin before October 15th. This seems like all I do anymore. Life is good.
Isn’t that the truth – sitting in a motel room and calculating my doom, rather than sitting in a shelter and putting in some miles and doing something about it.
Mount Greylock was another highlight of the trip. The effect of waking this morning on the summit as though on an island in a sea of clouds is a moment I’ll never forget.