Saturday, December 17, 2016

Appalachian Trail: Bear Mountain, New York to Dalton, Massachusetts

Walking out of the campsite, I didn’t see any more of the dying moths which had so characterized the previous day’s hike. Nor did I ever see so many of them again. It was as if they had all chosen a certain day and a certain part of the forest to die in. But things like this occasionally happened in the woods. In Maine, there were two or three days, certainly no more than four, in which I was coming across baby toads with a frequency of about 1 per half hour. Before and after those few days, I never saw any more. We look at peoples who live closer to nature, unable to understand how they can predict certain events, without realizing that the clues to these events are all around us and that we’ve chosen to disregard them or, worse, to vilify or, alternately, deify them, neither of which seem appropriate for something which would otherwise be seen as no more than natural.
Bear Mountain, New York was 23 miles away from NYC. The city’s skyline is apparently visible from the top, but I couldn’t see anything but the Hudson and the hills which crown it.
I hadn’t gotten too far in the morning, when I felt the tendon that stretches across the arch of my foot, begin to tighten, like a calf with a tight cramp. The best thing seemed to be to step on large rocks so that they should hit the middle of my foot and force the toes and heel down. Walking more on the ball of my foot only seemed to exacerbate the condition. I’d had brushes with planters fasciitis before, but I’d never felt it so consistently as I did now and I worried that if it got worse it might be enough to take me off the Trail. Walking every day forces one to recognize the importance of the feet and how little we concern ourselves with them, despite all they do for us. After the Trail, I had every intention of doing something nice for my feet. Almost two months since I finished and this still has yet to happen. Poor bastards.
From the lookout on Bear Mountain, I met two Czech girls who had come to the US on vacation. They must’ve felt bad for me because they seemed interested in talking to me, despite the fact that I was the dirtiest person for miles. When I told them what I was doing, they didn’t seem to understand. They thought I was just out camping in the nearby woods for the last two months. Even when I parted with them, I don’t think I’d entirely convinced them that I’d walked about 1,500 miles.
On the way down from Bear Mountain, I passed ‘Cheeks’ another thru-hiker, who I’d last seen in Wyanesboro, VA. We said hello, talked for a few minutes and then I went on, as I had a faster pace down hill.
At the foot of Bear Mountain, the AT goes through the most antithetical area of the entire Trail which is part walking path, part amusement park and part zoo. When I hit this area with all of its signs, smells and sounds. I had to sit down for a second. While I was sitting, I heard a distant ‘boom’ which I immediately recognized for the sound of a falling tree, a sound that is perhaps more terrifying than a bear’s roar or the crash of nearby thunder. When you visit the forest for an afternoon or, even a weekend, the trees seem timeless. It would never occur to you that one might fall while you were around, but when you live in the woods, the trees seem much less steady. You begin to notice the way they are scattered all over the forest floor in various horizontal positions, the way they lean on each other, the way they seem to break off half-way after they die. You notice how they stir in the wind and how they shake in a storm and, more than anything else, you notice how they are always right above you, threatening your life with their precarious limbs. Stories of trees falling on tents on the Trail were more common than stories of any other means of death, leading one to the conclusion that it must happen more often. For my part, when I set up my tent at night, I always took a good look at what was above me.
A few minutes after I heard the tree fall, ‘Cheeks’ came out into the clearing, visibly shaken.
“What happened,” I asked.
“A huge tree almost fell on me back there,” she responded. “I saw it start to break, but I couldn’t decide if it would be better to run back up the Trail or stay where I was. It was so big, it seemed to cover the whole forest as it fell. I didn’t think I’d be able to get away in time.”
I told her that I’d heard it fall and I could imagine it must’ve been a huge tree. When she told me that she was OK, I continued back on my way to the zoo that’s actually on the stretch of Trail that goes through the park surrounding Bear Mountain.
Passing the enclosures, I saw all the animals I’d been seeing on a regular basis in the woods, caged up. Foxes paced in their cages, snakes lay coiled in their terrariums, there was even a bear in a large enclosure. I couldn’t help myself. I stopped next to a group of teenagers who were marveling at the bored-looking bear.
“You know,” I said leaning into their group, “if you go straight down this path,” I gestured south, “you’ll see plenty of those in the wild. I just saw one with her cubs two days ago.”
The teenagers regarded me with the incredulity I deserved. “Oh yeah?” They asked. But they said it like they didn’t want an answer. What they implied was that they hadn’t come to Bear Mountain to see a bear in the wild; they’d come to see one in a cage.
I said goodbye to the bear-watchers and went into the town of Fort Montgomery, NY to pick up my water filter from the post office. It was a hot day and the post office was farther from the Trail than it looked to be on the map, but despite the heat and the braying of the traffic around me, I was glad to be out of the woods, out from under those murderous trees for a while. The sun felt good on my back and seemed to dry some of the sweat from the morning’s climb.

Fort Montgomery didn’t have much in it. After I got my water filter, I got back on the Trail where it crossed over the Hudson River on a beautiful bridge. Watching the people in their cars, stuck in traffic, I felt the incredible freedom of movement which comes when one becomes comfortable walking everywhere. After walking through nine states, I had begun to feel like my feet could carry me just as far as a car or a plane. All I needed was time to get there. As I walked across the bridge, I felt confident walking on feet that had carried me from Georgia. At that moment, nothing seemed as terrible to me than to be forced to sit in a car on such a beautiful day when you could easily walk there and get much more out of the trip.
I climbed out of the gap from the Hudson River Valley up toward the Graymoor Center, a monastery that offers shelter to AT hikers on a soccer field. The monks (or probably someone working for them) had even built a small pavilion and an outdoor shower stall which, later in the afternoon after days of intense heat and climbing was very welcome. I washed my clothes in the icy water and hung them up on clothes line which had also been provided, even with only about an hour of daylight left, the heat and direct sun dried everything out before I’d even gotten into my tent for the evening.
The walk the next day was nice and rambling, there were no strenuous climbs and the sunlight looked like paint that had been flung all around, dappling every available surface.
Around mid-afternoon, I came to a lake with a built up concessions area around it. I took a shower and bought a jar of peanut butter at the little camp store inside. According to my guide, there was a deli just off the Trail about six miles up that allowed hikers to camp nearby. The deli closed at 7 and I wanted to get a snack before settling into a camping spot. If anything, I wanted to camp there so that I could wake up in the morning and get a decent cup of coffee. I’d run out of coffee a few days earlier and had been drinking—gasp!—instant for nearly two mornings. Like nothing else, I wanted a decent cup of coffee again.
After the lake, I hurried through another beautiful section of forest that brought me up onto a hill by alternating level and ascending portions of trail. It wasn’t a switchback and it wasn’t a constant climb. I’d never seen the trail move up like that. It was like it had been spaced into giant stair segments and I found it very interesting.
Different portions of the Trail are maintained by different groups and individuals. Through New Hampshire, the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Dartmouth Outing Club maintain the Trail. Further south the Potomac Appalachian Club handles a section and there are many other venerable outfits. In New York, it seems that a lot of trail maintenance has been allotted to individuals. The last two-mile section I walked that day, mostly going up-hill toward the road was maintained by a guy who had used white paint to mark nearly everything that looked like it could trip an unwary or tired hiker. He’d also put up a few informational placards about his section of the Trail. As I finished my hike that day, I felt distinctly that I was walking through something that a human cared for, and it wasn’t a bad feeling. If anything, I liked the personality that had rubbed off in the years of this man’s care for the Trail. The wilderness remained the same, but the Trail had a little more personality.
I got to the deli about 20 minutes before they closed. A young girl was working the counter and she happily pointed out the empty lot down the street where the township, the deli or whoever allowed hikers to pitch their tents. I bought a half-gallon of orange juice and a soda and gulped both of them down in a few minutes. Before leaving, I checked to make sure the place would be open early and that there was a coffee maker on premises. After two days on instant, I couldn’t wait for a decent cup of coffee.
That night, the small, recently mown little lot was like sleeping in someone’s yard. I had gotten in the habit of leaving the flap on my tent open and positioning myself so I could look up at the stars while I waited for sleep. That night in the lot, without the usual dense trees of the forest obscuring the view, I saw them clearer than I had in a while.
I was so excited to get a good cup of coffee, I nearly ran to the deli in the morning. I was disappointed to find that the coffee was about as watery, if not more, than it would’ve been at a gas station. I had expected more of a New York deli, even if I wasn’t in the city. However, what I had underestimated turned out to be the bagels, which had been delivered fresh that morning from some place in Manhattan. Other than bread from the tiny Republic of Georgia, I have never had such a great flour and yeast product. I ate three of the bagels while standing in the parking lot drinking my watery coffee before going back to buy more. I was excited. At last, I was in the north. The bread, including bagels, was sure to be better now. But I was only partially right. The rest of the Trail, indeed all the way to Maine, the bread was much better than it had been down south, but I never had anything like those New York bagels again. It was worth the watery coffee to have such a great bagel.
That day, I finished the last section of New York and crossed into Connecticut, which marked the boundary of the states I’d previously visited (all except West Virginia) and the New England states I’d never seen.
I stopped a little early down by the Ten-Mile River just after crossing the State line and had dinner on the rounded rocks of the shore, listening to the smooth sounds of the shallow water running over the riverbed. From this modest introduction, I never would’ve guessed that Connecticut would be so wild.

While the days that followed may have blurred together a little, my first day in New England remains an incredibly memorable day. One of my reasons for walking the Trail was to find a suitable way to see the states north of New York, the only states in the lower 48 that I hadn’t visited. Since I’d begun the walk, I’d been curious about reaching this point and despite the fact that I’d never really seen Virginia either, it didn’t have the same appeal—what I came to call the Big Three (Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine)--had for me. Hitting Connecticut, I felt like I had come into a new part of the country. Though it was only late July, the early mornings felt slightly autumnal and I noticed there were more yellow leaves in the canopy which, up until that point, was exclusively a bright jungle-green. After the mid-Atlantic states, flatter and nearer to large populations, I expected to walk onto a page of Robert Frost poetry in New England. I knew this wouldn’t happen over night, I expected it to be a more gradual change, like after a few days in Massachusetts, I would come to a low stone wall and realize I was walking through an old apple orchard, a few maple leaves would fall and as I savored the tang in the air, I would know that I’d entered New England. Of course, it didn’t happen like this. Nothing on the Trail is gradual and if I hadn’t expected Connecticut to be New English and thorny enough, I was about to be surprised. Even outside the town of Kent, Connecticut was wilderness. Never again did I see a section of trail, not even in Maine that the inhabitants of the forest so confidently owned.
I woke up by the Ten-Mile River in the clearing where I’d pitched my tent. There were two other tents near mine and, as the other campers looked to already be stirring, I thought it best to take myself into the woods, which began about 100 yards away, to pee.
Stepping into the forest from a clearing is always an experience. Even when you’ve been living out in the woods for months, something changes in you when you take your first step among the trees. First, your eyes need a second to adjust to the dimmer light. Everything looks grey for a moment. The temperature also goes down slightly, which your body usually registers with a slight chill. The bright birdsong of the meadows and fields is replaced with an expectant silence. The sounds that do abound, such as the rustle of chipmunks, are greatly dampened by the trees and leaves. The light pulls back as if a curtain had been suddenly dropped between you and the sun.
Every time I stepped into the forest, I found myself glancing around, perhaps as an unconscious reaction to these changes. I didn’t feel afraid, the change was more subtle, it was more like the reverence that causes you to talk in lower tones in some places without knowing quite why.
This morning, I had to pee too badly to pay much attention to the difference between the forest and the clearing. I was already about half-way done when I noticed the prickly sensation of being watched. I looked up and found myself about 20 feet away from a doe with her young fawn. The doe was almost blatantly unconcerned with me, but her fawn was still young enough to regard me with an incredibly wide-eyed curiosity. The way he looked at me indicated that I must have been the first human this deer had ever seen, the look of total incomprehension was too complete. He wasn’t afraid. He was still too young for fear and rather than run, he took a few steps toward me, as if to see what I’d do. I was somewhat embarrassed to be watched in such in eager manner, even by a deer, while peeing. I turned my back to the curious fawn, which only increased his wonder and he practically trotted up to me like a dog. I zipped up and turned back to him. He was almost close enough to touch. Now, I didn’t regard this as the fascinating phenomenon you would expect. Since the Shenandoah, I had seen many deer, and many of them had been very bold. Countless times, they’d come right up to my tent while grazing on the shorter, more tender grasses around the shelters. I regarded this fawn for a moment and then turned back toward my tent, appreciating his curiosity, but without much mutual feeling.
The surprise came when I heard the young animal take a few lively steps behind me. I turned to see that he’d followed me. I stopped and looked at him again. He looked back with a sort of ‘well, what-are-you-stopping-for look.’ Cautiously, I took a few more steps. The fawn bounded right along side me. You’d think he was a dog. I stopped and looked at him again. He was so close, I could’ve reached out and touched him, but I knew he’d run if I tried this. I watched him for a while, knowing he probably wouldn’t follow me all the way out into the clearing and then I turned to get on with my day.
The fawn immediately began stepping after me for a third time. This time I didn’t stop. This seemed to encourage him and he trotted right up alongside me. In this absurd tandem, we walked toward my tent. I hoped that one of the other campers would be moving around to see this bizarre scene. Everyone was still in their tents and, as I approached mine, the fawn seemed to suddenly realize that this was a world with which he was entirely unacquainted. He didn’t run, but calmly turned and trotted back into the forest. I stopped and watched him go, before he disappeared into the woods, he stopped and looked back at me. It was like a Disney movie and gave me great impetus to start my walk that morning.
I was still thinking about the deer six miles or so down the Trail when I heard a movement just ahead of me, a quiet movement, like two sheets of paper rubbing together, followed by a buzzing sound that started up clear and out of nowhere. It was the first time I’d heard a rattlesnake use its rattle. Ahead, I could see the bulk of the snake, about the width of my forearm, sliding off the Trail, clearly a patriarch and in no particular hurry. Someone had told me that Eastern Diamondbacks had stopped using their rattles as wild boars would hear the sound and hunt them down. This snake was clearly unconcerned with boars or anything else bothering it. If his size was any indication, this snake had lived a long time already. I watched the stately animal go, his tail continuing to buzz as he moved through the underbrush. I was glad to see him off the Trail. Some hikers, and you could never tell who they were, killed these animals on sight. They seemed to think they were doing everybody a favor, despite the fact that in the entire history of the Appalachian Trail, only two people have been reported bitten and, of these neither bite was fatal. Diamondbacks may look aggressive, but they are actually retiring snakes. If I wasn’t entirely convinced of this, I was about to have it proven.
I watched the old patrician slide into the woods and continued down the Trail. I hadn’t gone more than 100 feet when I shot up in the air. Coming down a rocky decline, I had nearly stepped on another large rattler. He hadn’t even bothered with rattling, perhaps because he’d been so surprised, but, his instinct hadn’t been to strike at my leg, rather he shrunk back from my boot and coiled tighter. If you ever need proof that your survival skills are intact, try almost accidentally stepping on a rattlesnake. I didn’t know it was possible to turn around in mid-air, but that’s exactly what I did. The snake himself, reveling his retiring nature, didn’t act remotely aggressive; he seemed to be aware that I meant him no harm and slowly unwound himself to better absorb the early morning sun. It wasn’t even ten o’clock and I’d already seen, and nearly touched a fawn and a rattlesnake.
About an hour later, I came into the town of Kent, which was widely regarded as the least-friendly town on the Trail. After seeing the town, I understood why. Kent is a vacation place, a quaint little town with antique and boutique stores aplenty. Unlike the other small towns along the Trail, its not very concerned with drawing hiker business, besides, the grubby hiker is certainly at odds with the well-groomed and well-heeled vacationer who’s lately come up from New York or Hartford, looking for a quiet weekend in the country.
Despite all I’d heard about the town, everyone I met was friendly. A man stopped me on the street to ask if I was hiking the Trail. When I confirmed his supposition he asked me a few questions about hiking. I was just about to tell him about the morning’s encounters when one of his party informed me that the man I was talking to also hiked the Trail, back in ‘98 or something. “Yes,” he said beaming and rocking back on his heels a little, “a lot has changed since then.” It was then that I realized that this guy didn’t really want to talk about the Trail, he just wanted an opportunity to reveal that he’d thru-hiked it, too. I congratulated him, but he hardly seemed to hear me, he was too busy congratulating himself. “Yes,” he continued wistfully, looking more at his friends than me, “I suppose a lot has changed since then.” He said this like he expected we were out there taking elevators up the mountains now. I told him I had to get going and quickly continued down the street.
Just as I was leaving town, I noticed a dark cloud rolling in. I disregarded it, as I continued through town, thinking maybe it would blow over, but when I heard the low, threatening tones of thunder, I decided to turn back and have another long, protracted look at the library.
Probably the most luxurious thing I did on the Trail was to sit in an overstuffed chair, roof over my head, read a National Geographic and listen to that storm pound the roof of that library. Knowing exactly what it would feel like to be walking through such a storm, it was blissful to sit in such a serene and cozy place. I listened to each drop of water on the roof, each pellet of hail on the sidewalk thinking how none of them would get me this time. It was with a certain regret that I listened to the storm fade away, but it was for the best, the library was only a temporary shelter. It was to close in less than an hour and I was glad the storm had retreated before the librarian came around to boot me out.
Out on the sidewalk, the sun was improbably shining and, even with a fresh 20 pounds of food added to my pack, I walked back down the road to the trail with something approaching excitement, or at least ease.
I didn’t get far before the rain began to fall again. It started as a drizzle, but there was a rumbling of thunder in the distance and I assumed the storm was coming back around again. Fortunately, I was at the apex of my walk for the afternoon when I noticed this. I was happy, if nothing else, to be on my way down with the storm coming on. The climb down was difficult with the wet rock and I had to balance myself with my arms at every step, grasping the sides of the steep rock fall I was moving down.

Usually on the AT, one encountered false summits, this climb down seemed to have false bottoms. Every time I hit something that looked like the end of it, the Trail would drop down further. I came to the bottom on a forest service road that went along a wide, rocky river, surrounded by pines. The rain hadn’t picked up and continued to drizzle benignly through the trees. Near the river, in the light rain, walking an even trail, I felt like I was on an idealized part of the Trail. It was like what I had imagined the Appalachian Trail would be like. I walked along, hoping the rain would stay where it was, just barely tapping on the leaves and the dirt around me and that the Trail would stay level until I reached the shelter.
The Trail drifted from the bank of the river, to the woods and back again. There was a thin median of tall trees between the two, but occasionally, a deer path opened a vantage on the river that looked like it should’ve been in Montana or Wyoming; it looked like something that should pour from a mountain not cruise along a dirt road. I was listening to the water combing over the various sizes of stones when the stillness was broken by the weirdest sound I’d heard the entire Trail. It was coming from the opposite bank.
It sounded like a bird squawking, but in a really harassed way, like it was being eaten. There was pain in the wail I was hearing and it sounded like it was being made by a large animal. At the first opportunity, I stepped out onto the river to see if I could spot what was happening on the opposite bank. What I saw was the most bizarre and amazing thing I saw on the entire AT.
On the large rocks across the river, a couple of Great Blue Herons were standing on either side of what must’ve been a Bald Eagle. All three birds seemed to be looking out over the water. I followed their collective gaze and saw the heron couple’s chicks swimming in a line in the water, completely oblivious to the imminent danger. The eagle was looking for an opportunity to grab one of those chicks, that was the source of the squawk I’d heard; the heron parents were trying to get the eagle to go away. They had him boxed in on the shore, but didn’t seem to know what else to do. Every so often one of them would peck at his feet with their stiletto beaks, but he’d hop up and flap his massive wings a few times before settling down again just a few feet away. The herons would then fly over to him and reposition themselves on either side. After a while, they’d peck at him again; he’d fly away and, again, they’d follow. I watched this for about five minutes, which might not seem too long, but watching these beautiful animals, over the sounds of the river flowing over the rocks, it seemed much longer. After about the third attack on the eagle, he bounded up and made a last ditch effort for the chicks, he flew just too high, missed and flew off like he’d never intended to eat one of the chicks anyway. After he left, I stood just watching the scene, the chicks in their line, the heron couple on the rocks, the river, the stones, the pines, the soft rain: it was incredible. Standing there wet with water myself, I felt like I was part of the tableau, rather than an intruder. After all, I lived in the woods. I felt more awkward in town than I did out here. This was were I belonged.
Not too far down river, I found the shelter. A few tents were already set up, but in the rain, everyone was inside. I heard nothing to indicate anyone was even awake. It was still a little early, but I decided to pitch my tent. It was beautiful by the river and I didn’t want to camp too far away from it that night.
After I got set up, I went out into the river. In no place was it over my knees, although it was probably the width of a five-lane highway. I waded out to the middle, just to appreciate the view. The rain had slackened and if I wasn’t standing in water, watching the ripples the drops made, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it. On either bank, the pine trees towered 40, 50 feet into the air. Up river, there was a large island, bifurcating the stone-roiled waters. Even though I knew they wouldn’t dry. I couldn’t resist washing my dirty clothes in the river. I took off everything but my shorts and stood in the calf-high water, beating my shirt against a rock and wringing it out. The noise seemed to make the following silence so much more impressive. Even after I was finished, I just stood in the river, letting the water cool my feet and legs.
Autumn began to deepen after that. At the end of Connecticut the next day, I came to the Riga shelter which was just past the Lion’s Head up on a ridge connected with the peak of (another) Bear Mountain. The shelter had one of the best views of any shelter I’d seen on the Trail. A rock face in front of the shelter, provided a clearing through the trees, from the shelter, you could see out the opening and down into the valley below. It was a beautiful place to sit and watch the sunset. I woke up before dawn to watch the sunrise, which was even more spectacular, given that it came up right in front of the shelter. Later that morning, I walked into Massachusetts crossing and recrossing a beautiful stream cut deep into the rock filled in places with clear rocky pools of blue-green water. It was like walking over a large fountain complex.

Despite its belying beauty, Massachusetts was swarming with mosquitoes. All day they followed me, an obnoxious, buzzing cloud. Moving further north, I seemed to be encountering more and more bugs. Since Tennessee, I’d been dealing with small suicidal gnats that seemed to want to drown themselves in my eyes. As poetic as it might sound, it was incredibly annoying. These gnats would suddenly pop up, hovering just off the tip of your nose where they’d stay for a while before flying, without warning, straight into your eye. I got in the habit of waving them away, maniacally cutting the air in front my face with open-palmed karate chops. But compared to the mosquitoes, the gnats were fine. The mosquitoes weren’t too bad during the day, but when I stopped for the night, they quickly became intolerable.
That first night in Massachusetts, I had a rough five miles to the shelter. I was feeling tired and the Trail continually rose and fell, forcing me to climb and then scurry over every bump in the landscape. I hadn’t been seeing many people lately, but, for some reason, the shelter area was crammed with tents. I had to settle on an awkward square of land on a slope and a with a huge rock protruding from it that I had to get my tent around. At least, I figured, I could eat on the rock, since the picnic table by the shelter was covered with people, their dinners and all kinds of other crap. The sudden crowd had left me feeling very antisocial and I stuck close to my tent, wincing every time I heard someone’s braying laughter from the direction of the shelter. You can always tell a group on the AT because they don’t pay you the same attention an individual hiker will, that it to say, they pay you no attention at all. If you walk into a shelter area and everyone resting there is hiking solo, the atmosphere is very friendly. You are immediately welcomed. The hikers know each other no more than they know you; there is no obvious preference. If you walk into a shelter inhabited by a group hiking together, they pay you no attention and continue to talk among themselves, like a high school clique. I always knew when I was in the presence of a group because when I would walk into the shelter area and say hello, no one would return my greeting. It was like they didn’t even notice you. This may sound uncharitable, but it was what I experienced with every group over four people.
Whatever was happening at the shelter was definitely group-dominated, so I stayed down by my tent and tried to eat sitting on the boulder that my tent was all but pegged to, but the mosquitoes were so bad, I couldn’t enjoy a single bite. They flew into my nose, my eyes, my mouth and, maddeningly, into my ears. I’d put on socks and pulled them up, but every time I looked down, mosquitoes were all over my legs and arms. When I slapped at them, I was in danger of spilling my meager meal precariously placed as it was on the rock. I finally gave up and took my dinner into the tent. I hadn’t seen any bears for a while, so I figured I was safe. Still, with nothing to lean against, it was uncomfortable as hell trying to eat in the tent and also very difficult to not spill my food eating in this cramped position. After dinner, I went to sleep listening to the guffawing of the people at the shelter. It felt like they were laughing at me. After the last few days, enjoying the bounty of nature and seeing so few people, I kept thinking of what Sarte was trying to say when he wrote “L’enfer, c’est les autres.”
The next day, I walked thirty miles, hoping to get away from the crowd. About 20 miles north from where I’d camped there was a famous shelter maintained by a group of volunteers which provided free pancake breakfasts. Thinking the mob was probably headed there, I decided to continue ten more miles to the next shelter. I was feeling almost singularly grouchy and the long walk did me good. I saw very few people, but, toward evening, when I had about five miles left and was starting to feel really tired out, I crossed a road which, according to the sign, was actually called ‘Country’ as in the song. I stepped out into the open space and had taken a few steps before I noticed the fox, standing just a little further down the road, watching me curiously before calmly trotting back into the woods.
When I got to the shelter, there were only two other people there. One was south-bound. For the first time since I’d started, the shelters were usually mixed with sobos (south-bounders) and nobos; before the sobos had been a minority, until Massachusetts, I’d only seen about five and, suddenly, I started seeing them every day.
The sky was darkening. Night was coming on and a storm was expected. I went off and found a spot to put up my tent just before the clouds parted and the rain started to fall in sheets. At least it kept the mosquitoes down.

The next day, I walked into the town of Dalton, did my laundry, showered at the community center and ate some Taco Bell; when I got back out onto the Trail in the late afternoon. I felt immeasurably better. I camped with a few other people about four miles out of town and actually enjoyed their company. My grouchy streak had ended at last.

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