Our wonderful host woke us up with the smell of coffee and bagels wafting up the stairs from the kitchen. I went down, eyeing the couple that I had seen setting up downstairs the day before.
“So what’s you guys story?” I asked.
“Well, my husband and I tried to go for Mount Greylock last week, but he ended up tripping going down the Northside and broke one of his ribs. We went to the hospital last week to see if he could get it cleared up so we can keep hiking and have been resting since, so maybe we can get going again today.”
The age-old tale of hikers going mad with summit fever. We crave and starve to finish this trail. Once the machine has begun turning, it is near possible in our minds to stop without finishing. The massive burst of willpower spent in the first few months creates a mentally unstoppable machine that will find and seek any means possible by which to reach completion.
This is how we are wired. I look at this man who is barely able to breathe and he is the epitome of who we are. Relentlessly walking animals. People on the outside wonder how we are able to walk through rain, thunder, cold, bugs, days and days on end with a goal that is so far insight it doesn’t seem real. But like anything you do repeatedly over and over again, it slowly becomes a habit. It’s a rhythm, a pace, a beat that synchronizes with our human existence.
But thru-hiking is like a habit on steroids. After exerting so much physical energy into one thing, the mind creates an immensely strong bond, almost unbreakable by anything external (or internal). It’s a drug, I guess.
Incredibly thankful and renewed by Tom’s kindness, I set back out again on the trail to head towards this mysterious, dangerous Mount Greylock that had taken down hikers before and would continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But before that, it’s time to play a bit in town.
I had heard a rumor that there was a sauna in town at the community center. Not that I needed to detox anything from my system, but I figured it would feel nice to sit in a hot room and build up a bit more heat tolerance as the summer continued to wear on.
Going up to the lobby, I paid $5 to get my one day pass to the community center. There really wasn’t much to it. A basketball court, a swimming pool, and some activity rooms for whoever was interested in whatever was being taught about that day.
I headed down to the men’s locker room, to of course be greeted by Pizza Man and Airborne down there wrapped in their loin clothes (the towels were really really really small). Airborne was in the midst of sharing the story of the lady that had come to town and put him up in a hotel last night. How he had gotten one, blows my mind.
Getting out of town was an adventure in and of its own. What felt like endless road walking through neighborhoods led us past white blazes painted on every other traffic and street sign. Quite a typical small American town, with large dated houses with even larger yards. Some decked out nicely with plants and flowers, others showing the hoarding tendencies that only Americans exhibit: piles of old lawnmowers, computers, and whatever else worthless junk seems to be worth something to the proud owner.
A half a day later, into the town of Cheshire I go.
Cheshire sits at foot of one of the biggest mountains we thru-hikers will have climbed in almost a 1000 miles. It is a massive, sharp peak against the white starched pages of our elevation profiles, and certainly the horizon (well, if I could see it).
There wasn’t much to see in town. A small river passed through the center. A post office (that had my new hiking boots), an ice cream store, a small blow-through downtown, and a church.
I went by the church to see if there was any space available for the night and quickly discovered that the only sleeping surfaces were the linoleum floors that lined the dining hall. Looks like I’m gonna get back to the woods and find some trees.
And so the ascent began. The side of Greylock immediately began to rise. Incredibly sharply. So much so that the trail was completely washed out in some sections.
Like muscle memory, my legs took over the hiking as my mind began to wander. But not long after starting my ascent, my calves began to burn, slowly creeping up into my quads. What the hell, I just walked 1500 miles here?!
Regardless of the pain, I pushed on, forcing my unadapted muscles to press harder and walk faster.
I had been walking on virtually flat mountains for months now, so it only makes sense that all of my power had disappeared. I can’t remember the last time I saw a hill this steep.
In due time, the power will come back. I just need to give my body time to re-adjust to the climbs.
After chatting with a man on a four-wheeler at a trail intersection, I hiked on alone in my own thoughts for a long time. Deep meditation overtook me as the trail finally flattened into a nice gentle incline.
The night was beginning to set in, creating that typical red fade that scatters the forest with that eerie glow.
Suddenly, a loud crash shakes a bush just up the trail to my left.
Reflexively, I being clacking my trekking poles to alert whatever animal it is of my presence. I slow my pace down a bit to try to get a sighting on what animal it could be. But fuck me the underbrush is so thick and I can’t see a damn…
BOOM! Just a rocks throw to my left a gigantic black bear ass starts hustling up the side of the mountain. Swinging back and forth wildly, those massive furry butt cheeks wave goodbye as he bolts up the side of a shrubbed cliff faster than I’ve ever seen anything else move.
And just like that, I saw my first black bear.
All us hippies in the wood, staying safe and talking shit about the “real world”. Tonight, it’s just me and a brethren weekend warrior posted up at the shelter chatting about the usual.
As we chatted, we noted a very peculiar sighting.
Like moths to the flame, MOSQUITOES dived to their death into our nicely going fire.
I figured we would have been tastier feasting, but they didn’t bother us this night at all…