Day mileage: 20.1
AT total mileage: 1,740.8
Time: 7.5 hours
The night in the barn was stifling at points, hot and still air sealed in as we were all filled into a tiny area of the expansive (and very much occupied) floor space. I was apparently exhausted from the day before, and didn't end up waking up for good until nearly 7:00 AM. By that point Rocket, who felt guilty about not making it to where Dorothy hiked on to the night before, had left almost a half hour earlier in order to make it up to where he was. The three of us who remained hit the trail around 8, with some seriously steep climbs ahead of us and the coming heat already exceptionally present in the morning air. The terrain for the day would look like the heart rate monitor readout- steep climbs, steep descents, and very little level hiking. Combined with the weather that was already suppressive, it would turn out to be another frustrating and taxing day on the northern section of the Appalachian Trail.
Santa and I hiked the entire day together, beginning with an abruptly strep climb out of VT12, a hell of a way to warm up in the morning. I don't mean to sound like I've been endlessly complaining about these past few days of trail, but it truly is much more physically demanding to climb and descend 1,000' hills (for lack of a better geographical word) than to ascend a 4,000' peak over a few miles then hike on ridges of different elevations before descending. Regardless, we hiked on at a completely acceptable 2.5-3 miles an hour, exerting an immense amount of effort to overcome the mountains placed before us. At some point during the hike Naila joined us, an indication that Legs was close enough ahead that the dog could painlessly run back and check on us. She ended up hiking alongside us for long enough that we adopted her into our hiking group, cautious so that she didn't encounter road crossings on her own. Half a dozen miles into our day, with sometimes excruciating heat, it was timely that we crossed by the Cloudland Market. Some 1/4 mile west of the trail, the Cloudland is an organic farm of sorts, with a small store and a large function hall and restaurant. A pastel yellow farmhouse sitting atop rolling grassy hills nestled between mountain ridges, Cloudland appears to be newly renovated with gorgeously stained structural posts visible throughout the place, intertwined with modern sheet rock as a nod of the hat to older farm construction styles. When we arrived Santa and I dropped our packs, taking Naila around the side of the building and spraying her down with the hose and spigot as she stared at us with a look of complete dissatisfaction despite the heat. We set her up in the shade and made our way inside there we discovered an array of locally made ice cream and drinks available. Each urchasing a pint of strawberry ice cream and a strawberry-rhubarb soda, we made our way back to the expansive wraparound porch to eat in the shade with Naila before heading on.
The rest of the day would consist of more roller coaster mountains, disgusting combinations of heat and humidity, large and overgrown field crossings undoubtedly full of ticks, and rocky descents following steep climbs. Around 1400hrs we emerged from the woods to find Legs walking the trail, at this point following a paved town road, headed to meet up with Rocket & Dorothy. They were situated at the home of a trail angel family, the Harts, across a bridge and beside a large river. Arriving there we were offered cold sodas and a dip in the river, which many locals jump from the bridge above the water down into. Being one for adrenaline rushes, I immediately stripped down to only my shorts and began the 200' walk to the area of the bridge deemed safe to jump from. With some convincing, Santa and Legs decided to jump as well, so we hopped the railing and lined up on the ledge facing the water some 40 feet below. Hesitantly, Santa went first, followed by myself and Legs. I'm not one to think twice about this kind of activity, and very much enjoyed simply letting go of the railing then jumping towards a free fall into the quickly moving river below. The fall was exhilarating, and only my feet hurt as I hit the water. Swimming in place as Legs jumped, I then made my way over to the edge of the river and climbed up on the rocks to dry in the intermittent afternoon sun. One jump was enough for each of us, as we still had mileage to make before the end of the day, so we headed back to the Hart's house where plans for the afternoon were made. As Dorothy had spent a bit of time at the house that day, he was aware of a trail angel whose house we could stay at for the night in Hanover, NH, another 10 miles down the trail. We agreed to this, watching ominous storm clouds move across the sky above us, and began to hike on. It would only take an hour or so before the skies opened up nearly instantly, dumping gallons of water onto us as we hiked along, it became the second time in a week that 'embrace the suck' came to mind. Eventually we reached the point of the trail where it turned out of the woods onto paved road, bringing us towards Hanover. At the end of each driveway was a cooler of sorts, an endless variety of trail magic from residents. The second house on the left would be where Rocket, Legs, and Dorothy had made it to, so Santa and I walked up the driveway to the gorgeous home of the Thayer family. An incredible couple providing trail magic of infinite proportions, the Thayers open their house up during hiker season to anyone passing by, offering beer, sodas, hot showers, electronics charging, and even rides into town if need be. Not wanting to impose, I took them up on a quick shower to warm up from the cold rain, then sat on their massive porch with a half dozen other hikers passing the time over a couple beers
Our plan for Hanover had actually been loosely determined many days ago. If you remember the group of UConn grads that we met while canoeing back in Vermont, then you may remember that one of them had offered some trail magic when we got to Hanover. The girls have been texting him organizing this, and the plan was that he would pick us up and take us to resupply and get a few drinks while we were local. Sure enough, Parker stayed true to his word and arrived at 1930hrs to pile us into his car for the trip into town. After resupplying a bit at a Shaws grocery store, we made our way downtown to a place called Three Guys BBQ. A nice bar/pub located underground via a seemingly out-of-place door reminiscent of a prohibition-era speakeasy, we made our way down and ordered a variety of food and drinks as the Red Sox and the Cubs played on every television. I ordered a Sam Adams summer ale, an insanely delicious appetizer of bleu cheese stuffed meatballs in a peach glaze with pickled onions, and a 1/3 lb 'American' burger with cheese, bacon, and a fried egg. We ended up hanging out there until just after 2200hrs, then headed back to the Thayer household. Thanking Parker for everything he did, we ventured up to the porch to settle out doing laundry, then split ways. Due to arrival times and limited capacity, only Dorothy and Rocket were able to stay at the Thayer's house. Luckily there is an unbelievably large network of trail angels locally, and the three of us remaining were able to secure a space just down the road at a trail angel named Betsy's home where we would sleep in the garage for the night, Naila included.
The garage was stuffy, much alike the barn where we slept less than 24 hours before, but was dry and free- two things that can't be looked past. We set up our gear and laid down on the concrete floor, which hopefully won't be exceptionally uncomfortable. Tomorrow we will actually cross into New Hampshire, then hike on an undetermined number of miles to an undetermined place. As July 4th rolls around I'm pushing towards the White Mountains where I'll be able to hike with my dad over the weekend. My hope is that the tropical storm and potentially building hurricane don't interfere with that.
Tomorrow we hike, but for now I try and sleep. I can't believe we're going to be in New Hampshire.
Onwards & upwards :)