Day mileage: 13.5
AT total mileage: 1,463.2
Time: 4.5 hours
Life is about adventure and the excitement of the sometimes unplanned. As we've discussed I'm a big fan of schedules and plans, but today I let the Trail be an adventure of its own dictation. I had initially planned a 30 mile day, and was set on that number as the appropriate distance to hike. Getting an early start, I'd have easily been on track to do the mileage. Though a few left before me to attempt to make it to the post office in Kent, CT before they closed at 1300hrs, I leisurely hit the trail around 7:30, making it a quarter mile before I realized I had the wrong trekking poles and had to return to the shelter to get them exchanged with their rightful owner. Underway for the second time I descended the small ridge and crossed over the Connecticut border unceremoniously at a sign posted 15' up in a tree. Welcome to state #10.
The morning would begin with a silly 800' up & over type climb, dropping the trail back down alongside a gorgeous wide river. Had it been a little later in the day I would have considered swimming, but at 8:45 it wasn't reasonable. I passed a few day hikers, each of whom told me I was just minutes behind 'my group' and could easily catch them. In this moment I was torn... I knew they were heading into town which would undoubtedly net a short day while I was aiming for a long one. On the flip side, spending more time with them would absolutely be awesome, so I agreed with myself to hike at an pace that was comfortable, if I came across them again I would reconsider town, and if I didn't see them I'd simply keep hiking. The trail followed along a gravel road after leaving the riverbed, then began a 1.5 mi, 1000' climb up to a ridgeline that would extend 6 miles before dropping down to the next road crossing. I began my climb up and found myself frequently taking short breaks, having already soaked my bandana through with sweat by 9:30 AM. It was supposed to be unbelievably humid, and I cringed at the thought of uncomfortable and sticky hiking. I took my sweet time beginning that climb, with no need to race myself or overexert any energy. It was a great surprise when I came across Deep Blue, Rocket Girl, Legs, Dorothy, and Finn sitting around a trail magic cooler drinking beers halfway up the climb. The cooler is left and resupplied daily by Dora The Explorer, a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker who now does local Appalachian Trail magic. I had a beer and a soda, and then continued on with the other 5 hikers I've spent the last day with. We hiked at a good pace, my iPod synced wirelessly with Rocket Girl's Bluetooth speaker allowing music to be heard by everyone.
Hiking as a group is something I'm not used to. I'd honesty say the last time I hiked with more than one person was when Papa Doc, Keegan, Crusoe and I were together before the Smokies (mile 70-160 for those keeping track). It's quite difficult to maintain an even stride when the person in front of you doesn't maintain one either. I ended up leaving a little space between myself and Deep Blue, and our pace as a whole picked up. The ridgeline would include two very steep climbs of a few hundred feet, which exhausted almost everyone in the early summer heat. Eventually reaching the road crossing for Kent, situated 0.8 miles east, Legs, Deep Blue, and the puppy Naila got a hitch in a pick up truck. The rest of us arrived in scattered groups over the next 10 minutes and after attempting to hitch, decided it was better to cut our losses and hike into town. Kent seems to be an absolutely gorgeous place, old pastel colored Victorian style homes lining a quaint Main Street opposite small shops and boutiques. We passed an antique shop with an old sign post still standing in the driveway, which I immediately noticed was once home to a Texaco sign from the late 60s. Rocket Girl thought this was ironic and took a photo of me under it. We met up as a group at the grocery store and I bought a deli sandwich, having no need for new food as I'll see my dad this weekend. I took a half hour nap under a tree with Naila the pup while the others visited a thrift shop. We were invited to stay in the yard behind a store on Main Street, which raised a big moral debate for me. Did I want to go back to the trail and A) hike the 17 more miles I'd planned on, B) hike 7 miles to the next shelter, or C) spend some more time with this great group I've found. In the end I'm staying here in Kent for the night. The miles will always be there, the people may not be.
We pulled out some lawn chairs and sat in the lawn for quite a while, utilizing the outdoor shower and clean towels that the store 'Country Clothes' owners Carol & David leave in a shed for hikers to use. Cleaned up and in comparatively clean clothes, Rocket Girl, Legs, Finn, and I headed to the ice cream shop across the road. We stayed there for quite a while enjoying the air conditioning and comfortable chairs. I ordered strawberry ice cream and a grilled cheese, with both disappearing far too quickly. I got to have a great talk with Rocket Girl, a blonde in her early 20s, who left a job at NASA to hike. As I've said before, the variety of people out here is amazing. We settled up our bill and headed back into the humid outdoors, taking everyone's laundry and tiptoeing to the laundromat. Per hiker word of mouth and many newspaper articles, this laundromat bans hikers due to foul language, smell, carelessness, and the occasional nudity scandal. Not everyone on the trail carries 'town clothes' to change into during laundry times, so some strip down and wash everything they've got. Luckily Legs and Rocket made friends with the owner, and were permitted to do laundry. I was simply there for moral support, and got verbally 'kicked out' a few times by the owner, though she never did anything about it. As we were leaving and she noticed my presence, she yelled out 'didn't I kick you out a few times already?!' After the laundry was finished we went back to the yard and cooked dinner as a group, fighting the surge in mosquitoes.
We talked for a few more hours, watching the stars emerge and the occasional satellite fly by above (Rocket was quick to point these out). Instead of cowboy camping, we fit 5 of us inside the shed due to the threat of violent lightning storms overnight. Deep Blue set up his hammock. In the morning I'll carry on, getting back into the swing of the mileage I'm used to. For the first time in a long time I exchanged phone numbers with most of the group, and will look forward to keeping in touch with them as time goes by. Hopefully the rain will bring down the temperatures, though tomorrow is supposed to be equally as hot and humid. I'm not sure how that will impair my hiking, but I'll have to be extra cautious to up my water intake.
In the end I'll remember these two days fondly. It's amazing how much you can connect with people having known them for such a short time. I wonder how much influence the trail has on this, stripping us down to sweaty and grimy hikers all out here challenging ourselves in a way many will never understand the extent of. There's no time or care for bullshit or fake fronts, you are only who you truly are. I'll miss that part of this when all is said and done.
Onwards & upwards with the suppressive humidity.