Last Wednesday, just as our annual Passover retreat ended, I decided that the best way for me to recharge after working for nine 12-16 hour days was to pack my backpack and take to the Appalachian Trail for an overnight hike. Unlike me, many of you are probably the types who like to kick back and rest after working a vigorous schedule like what I’ve described. But many of you aren’t also introverts. See, I love my job and I love people, but being alone on the trail for two days, no matter how physically demanding it might be, is just the thing I needed after nine days with 200 of my “closest friends”.
Here is part one (day one) of a two part blog post about my two day trip. Part two (day two) will be published on Thursday.
Day One – Thursday, April 24th, 2014
I started out on Thursday morning with a stack of two gluten-free buckwheat waffles, delicious local maple syrup, three poached eggs, a cup of coffee with a dash of coconut milk, and half a liter of orange juice. While devouring this breakfast of champions, I reached over to pick up the closest reading material (I often this do while eating), which turned out to be Ralph Waldo Emerson’s classic essay entitled “Nature”. Here is a brief excerpt of the chapter I read while eating my eggs:
“Standing on the bare ground, –– my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, –– all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, –– master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.”
Emerson, as usual, has captured the feeling I and many others have also experienced when standing upon the bare ground in the wilderness, under the sky that seems to go on endlessly. At once separate from the rest of my fellow humans and also connected to all through the matter and energy which established our Universe.
My meal completed and grace after meals sung, I started to begin final preparations for the two day sojourn. These final tasks included double checking that my 13 year old EMS Summit XL backpack contained what I needed (it did) and lacing up my hiking boots. Then I looked over my route.
Since the Appalachian Trail (AT) goes (literally) right by my house, I decided this would be a good place to start. There is nothing quite like walking out your door and onto a trail! I would take the AT north, through Falls Village, CT and by the Great Falls, and into Salisbury, CT to the summit of Lion’s Head and to Riga Shelter, where I would stay for the night. The second day I would continue north, climbing Bear Mountain and then descending on the other side into Sages Ravine. From Sages Ravine I would hike up to the summit of Mount Race and then onto the summit of Mount Everett, ending at the Jug End trail-head in Sheffield, MA. All said, if completed, I would hike an approximate total of 19 miles over these two days. Ambitious for a novice, of which I am not, or for someone who is slightly out of shape following a rather sedentary winter (despite three-times weekly trips to the gym), which does apply to me. But I was determined.
Around 11am, backpack on my back and hiking stick in hand, I began my journey north. Most of the hike is what I consider Easy to Moderate between Falls Village and Lion’s Head, though after that it starts to become strenuous. In the first few miles I walked along the Housatonic River (where I saw a gorgeous Great Blue Heron), passed through the village center, and stopped to take some photos when I arrived at the Great Falls.
As I passed the side trails to Prospect Mountain and the Limestone Spring Shelter, I saw a family of White Tailed Deer, two does and two fawns. A friend pointed out to me that one of the does could have been a buck – since they are without antlers this time of year – but I assured him they were both does.
Continuing on and up Raccoon Hill, I came to a standing stone. My AT Guide Book informs me that this is known as the Giants Thumb. I chose this place to rest for a few minutes. My eyes could not stop staring at this geologic monument, wondering how it came to be and how it came to have its name – who named it? (I would later discover the answer to how the moniker came to be via Google, of course.) I ate an apple and some chocolate with almonds and went on my way.
Some couple of hours after I left Raccoon Hill, I started my ascent to Lion’s Head. Switchbacks were a main feature of this section, allowing a slower climb to the top, but I made a mistake…
Now is as good a time as any to mention that I was starting to have some doubts about my ability to hike all 19 miles. Remember the brief mention I gave early about being somewhat inactive this winter? I was exhausted by the time I started to head up to Lion’s Head and having already hiked this section last year, I was not paying as close attention to the AT’s familiar white blazes as I should have been.
It wasn’t until I came to some criss-crossed logs over the trail that I noticed I had not seen one of the trail markers in awhile. Realizing I also hadn’t made a switchback turn for a bit, I looked back to see if there were any white blazes behind me, a technique for seeing if you are heading the right way. None. So I turned around and started back from whence I came, but there wasn’t really a clear trail. How did I end up over here, I wondered? Now I was bushwhacking. Thankfully I had my compass, a map, and the orienteering skills I learned as a kid. Within ten minutes I was back on the trail. Let this be a lesson (for myself and others) to always remember a compass, a topographical map, and, most of all, to pay attention.
When I did finally make it to Lion’s Head, I was handsomely rewarded by a beautiful view of the western horizon – fields of farmland and mountains in the distance. A glance at my watch told me that it was only an hour until sunset. This meant I needed to hike the last mile to Riga Shelter quickly enough to still have time to set up my sleeping bag and cook myself some dinner.
Only 20 minutes later, I arrived at the Riga Camping Area, which included the Adirondack-style shelter I stayed in. I was quite pleased to find that a well-made bear-proof box was provided just down the trail from the shelter, giving me more time to cook and enjoy dinner (normally, when there isn’t a bear box, you must find a tree at least a dozen feet from the shelter, throw a rope over a branch at least 12 feet from the ground, attach your food bag, and hoist it up).
For dinner I made a stir-fry with one cup of red quinoa, one chopped granny smith apple, and an egg tossed with spicy peanut sauce. Yes, I took eggs backpacking and so can you – especially if they are farm-fresh eggs that haven’t yet been washed and refrigerated yet. As I ate, I enjoyed the beautiful from the front of the shelter. Then I washed my cookware, packed up, got the food in the bear box, and sat on the ledge of the shelter to watch the stars come out.
If you haven’t seen the stars in the Northwest corner of CT, you’re missing out. The only place better in Southern New England is the Mount Washington area in Massachusetts. The stars came out, but by 8:30 I was ready to sleep. Once snug in my sleeping bag, I was out immediately.