AT RunVenture Project Segment No. 13
AT Segment #13 June 8-13, 2022 Cheshire MA to Pomfret Rd 1582.5- 1733.5
Things are getting real. The AT has been taking us further and further north for almost 15 months now. We begin this segment 18 miles south of the Vermont border in Chesire, MA at the base of Mount Greylock, Massachusetts’ highest point. It’s an 8 mile climb, but most of the mountain climb is very user friendly, meaning simply that the grade is not very steep. We were excited to climb this as our start to this segment and share it with Katie, Celia’s friend who had decided to come along for the entire 151 mile stretch and support us.
This segment we were blessed to have Katie. Katie flew up to Albany with us, rented a vehicle and drove us to our start, supported us throughout and drove us back to Albany at the end. We were prepping for one of our hardest segments yet with 151 miles and limited support/ access to civilization/ resupply before Katie agreed and made this one of the easier segments we’ve gotten to experience. Between her kindness and my Brother and his wife allowing us to bunk at their house on either end (not to mention use their garage as my staging place for our Big July segment) we had a very easy logistical game this round. Thank Goodness! Less of the story wasted on travel drama. So let’s get to it!
It was a gray, damp morning as we hopped out of the car at the community center in town, the same place we’d stopped the last segment. We couldn’t really figure out what to wear as we knew it was going to be wet most of the day, but warm up into the 60s and we’d be climbing. We all dressed lightly under our rain gear and headed out onto the trail.
I took the lead as Celia expected I’d pull ahead and Katie behind me, with Celia in the back. We chatted and then the rain had me putting my hood up so I couldn’t really hear anything but the rain and the crinkling fabric in the ears. I opened my gait with every intention of staying as a group for as long as possible. I love starting slow, Day 1 is always the hardest for me. Up and up we climbed on the very hikable trail. We weren’t getting our butts kicked but our heart rates were high. Katie’s in particular. She hadn’t been feeling great all morning. Short tangent, Katie and Celia are both Gluten Free, as in Celiacs and pretty darn strict, even a simple exposure to trace gluten can send their bodies into an autoimmune tizzy. So, Katie opted to stop hiking with us, let us go and do her own thing.
We worried a little bit but she’s a very experienced hiker and we trusted she’d have said so if she really was not okay. We continued on up and up and up. As the rain continued I got very cold and stopped to add all my layers which helped immensely.
Finally at the top of Mount Greylock there are gorgeous structures. There is a topographic map of the AT built in metal and a large memorial towering into the fog. Here would have been the view, were the clouds not sitting at ankle level. It was white and wet in every direction and we headed for the descent without any photographs.
We descended another 8 miles to meet Katie at the car and spent a few minutes there getting situated for the next chunk of miles. The rain had stopped so we dropped some wet gear and prepped for just another thunderstorm at some point that day. Our next climb would take us into Vermont. We left town and climbed the next mountain to a rock garden with no view. I had started to separate from Celia already, I tried to hang on to the nice easy pace but still found myself pulling away. I reached the 1600 mile marker and then shortly there after the Vermont sign which also highlighted the Vermont Long Trail. The Appalachian trail and the Long trail run together for the next 100 miles or so. The rest of the days’ miles took us through a slow gradual descent passing a few small ponds. The trail was made of mud or wooden planks. The wooden planks were bouncy and forgiving on our legs but also slick from saturation. Vermont looked exactly how I expected it to.I started to see more hikers in this section, all starting out on the Long Trail. I even had my first Trail Magic of the season! At a dirt road crossing there was a truck and 3 hikers hanging out. My mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening = at first but then “Bacon Wrap” asked me if I’d like a grilled ham and cheese and I immediately said, “Yes, please, that would be great!” I don’t actually like ham much at all, but you don’t turn down free warm food in the middle of wet long day. I ate the fairly charred gift and enjoyed a Mountain Dew as I chatted with an AT Thru hiker and 2 Long Trail hikers (who had thru hiked the AT last year). As soon as I was done I took off running and could not get the charr flavor out of my mouth. I started to feel a little nauseous and just let myself hike for most of the remaining 4 miles.We met Katie at mile 1615.1 at a Parking Lot. Katie left me to take care of myself while she hiked back toward Celia to get the rest of her own miles for the day. I ate dinner, changed into warm, dry clothing and packed my stuff for the next day. There was no service at the lot so I hung out and organized until Celia and Katie arrived. Once we were all packed up, (Katie’s pack full with ALL of our sleeping gear and breakfasts) we hiked up the trail another mile or so to the shelter. We arrived at Melville Nauheim Shelter around 8pm and everyone was already in bed. We were surprised to find the shelter very nearly full. We squeezed into the shelter, me on the last sleeping spot and Katie and Celia snagging the floor space for their “beds.” Celia ate her dinner and I had a few more calories of rice and then we climbed into our sleeping bags.The next morning we were surprised to have so much light at 4:30am. We were able to see and manage breakfast and even hot coffee without our headlamps. We did not rush this morning, but took our time and got ourselves together. We were chilly and hesitant to leave our puffy coats behind but knew it was the best choice.The morning was very gray. The sky white and damp, but no rain forecasted. We climbed the first 10 miles of the day to the top of Glastenbury Mountain at 3,750ft. At the top there was a lookout tower so I climbed up it and snagged some windy photos of the cloud drenched piney tree tops. From there the trail descends or rather rolls, downwards. There are always more climbs, even on the way down! I passed a beaver pond and I stayed there for a few minutes hoping to see a beaver as there was notable beaver activity in the area. I did not see any critters after 5 minutes and so I continued onward. I saw Katie midday here, I passed her hiking in towards Celia and snagged the keys to the car parked at Kelley Stand rd. I was excited for this pit stop because I was about to try something new. I was about to change out of my running shorts and shirt and put on a sundress. I’d never hiked, run or hardly even spent much time at all in a sundress but I’d read about some amazing hikers who seem very happy in them. First, I immediately felt silly, but a fun, cute silly. I was a trail runner in a dress!I ate many snacks, refilled my bottles and repacked before heading back on the trail to ascend Stratton Mountain. As I climbed in the heat of the day I was loving the lightness of the dress, I felt pretty too which is a funny emotional bonus while on the trail. I was curious mostly about how my pack would feel after miles and miles on an open back dress with spaghetti straps. This was a test, and it started out very well.At the top of the mountain was another lookout tower. I climbed up and took some pictures. The view was breathtaking! When I was satisfied I descended the tower holding my dress down and tight so none of the other hikers who had stopped for a break would get a show. From Stratton Mountain I descended to Stratton Pond and took some more photos. There were numerous sections of the wooden planks and I jogged comfortably most of the miles from there to meet Katie in the woods. She was again hiking back towards Celia and she explained that she’d checked into the hotel and I should go and get cleaned up. When I arrived at the parking lot, I found there was no cell service. I used Far Out to navigate to the hotel and found Celia and Katie’s room. I showered and ate and then, I stressed out.Our plan for months was to stay on trail for this segment and then when Katie agreed to help us out we were going to be shelter sleeping but in style! So when Celia asked me a few days before we started if I’d want to stay in a hotel on the second night I felt like a poor sport when I absolutely did not want to. I didn’t want to spend the money, stay in the bed or leave the trail. So when I shared this with Celia she understood and we agreed it’d be a great opportunity for me to spend the night in the woods alone. This had become half a plan, but now with Celia finishing at nearly 8pm and Katie out there too, we had no plan for meeting in the morning. Celia and Katie texted me to go on and logistics would be fine, but I like having a plan or at minimum a solid back up plan. Finally, they had enough service they called and we agreed on a plan. Phewww! At least that was figured out. My emotions about our change of pace from the prior year, they were not so “figured out.”
This project has been a strange and beautiful journey and deep lesson in relationships and giving. It has shown me the loner I truly am. It has shown me many things I do not necessarily like about myself, but deeply love and cling to. I doubt I’ve ever been so okay with it and yet I found myself in a panic in the hotel room. “Why can’t I just stay in the hotel? Why do I have to be difficult? Why aren’t WE staying on the trail? Why am I always, always alone?”
I texted our friend Keith and chatted with him as I do when my demons find me. He listened as vented about how I haven’t been able to enjoy this year’s hikes like I did last year. I am much more stressed by work and home and the miles aren’t challenging me and then… I didn’t know it then but I do in hindsight of the weekend, and then, I was just alone.
I called my husband but he was busy with the kids, I was alone and when I really thought about it, all I wanted was more space to be just that, alone. I packed up and drove back to the parking lot. I got myself set and hiked up to Bromley Shelter alone and found it absolutely empty. I had a nice view, a clean shelter and no one to answer to, and I had cell service, which took any stress of logistics off my shoulders.
I texted Katie and Celia. I chatted with my husband and boys and then I climbed into my sleeping bag and panicked internally at every sound for a few minutes before falling asleep.
The next morning was lovely and dry. I woke up and packed up slowly. I was ready to hike by 5am and continued to the top of Bromley Mountain where I caught a lovely sunrise. I was loving hiking with Celia’s 30L pack, it was so comfortable I even did some jogging with it as I descended to the first road crossing to meet Katie. When I arrived she was just pulling up, the timing was perfect. She had a cup of instant coffee, still lukewarm for me and I chugged it. I pulled my 8L vest fully packed for the next 16 miles or so out of the 30L pack and switched my water bottles from the pack to my vest. I had a snack and topped off and was on my way in less than 5 minutes.
The next few miles took me up and over Styles Peak then down and across Baker Peak with a long steady descent to USFS 10 parking lot. Here there would not be support so I continued on past a lovely small pond. I snapped a few photos and continued on intrigued by the Far Out label “Rock Garden” on the upcoming descent. It must have come and gone, I couldn't tell you where a rock garden was, it was nothing like “Rocksylvania”!
After a long descent I arrived at the VT Route 140 parking lot, excited to see Katie. Unfortunately when I arrived she was still 30 minutes away. I sat on a rock and went through my pack. I had enough to finish the day without support. So I texted back that I would move on and meet her at the next lot, our stop point for the day. One more climb and long descent with the "Airplane lookout" for a photo op took me down, down, down to Clarendon Gorge. I shared the skinny foot bridge with two hikers. The first on the Southern end who had to walk all the way off the bridge to allow me to pass and the second on the Northern end waiting for me to complete the bridge. As I passed her and thanked her for waiting on me she immediately asked me about my sundress and how comfortable it looked. We had a brief conversation about it which left me feeling proud to venture around in the wilderness in my little floral dress.
When I arrived at the lot Katie was waiting. We talked about me continuing but the only thing I was thinking about was food. I hopped in and we agreed to go find Subway after we didn’t find the Farms Market. We chatted through many scenarios of me adding on some miles since it was about 3:30pm and the weather was perfect, but truly the logistics did not make sense. After I had some food and had my Firefly recovery straps on we drove to the options of road crossings ahead on the map just to see if I hiked on, if there would be a place we could car camp safely for the night, but alas, there was not. We drove back to meet Celia and her new thru hiking buddy, “M&M” or “Mike from Maine.” She had met him on the descent from Bromley Mountain and had been hiking with him all day. He was about to complete his first 30 mile day by staying with Celia. They topped off food and water and continued on towards Clarendon Gorge.
Katie and I drove back to the lot where they’d meet us. We cooked and ate our dinners. We hung out chit chatting until Celia and “M&M” arrived.
When they’d arrived Celia needed a few minutes to organize her sleep gear and prep for the following morning. Then the four of us hiked straight up a cliff wall past Clarendon lookout and down a hill to arrive at Clarendon shelter, which, like the first night, was packed. We utilized floor space for our three sleeping pads and prepped for sleep. Mike set up his tent and camped as he usually does.
I slept better than usual but was still tossing and turning by 1am, which is fairly standard for shelter sleeping. I snoozed off and on until 4:20 or so when I woke up to begin some ankle mobility silently in my sleeping bag. My achilles had been hurting for the past couple of days and I needed to put another big day of miles on it. I wanted it warmed up and my feet and ankles as mobile as possible before we started hiking up Killington.
In no time at all Celia, “M&M” and I were climbing Beacon Hill. After the slight descent from our first climb, we would then gradually ascend Mount Killington for the following three hours. I wanted to stay with Celia and Mike for the climb. Firstly, because ascending Mountains is more fun with others. Secondly, because I wanted to spend some time with the two of them and get to know this hiker who had already created quite a bond with my running partner and also hiked 30 miles only to wake up at 5am to agree to reach 40+miles (with his full pack mind you). Most of the thru hikers think we’re nuts but Mike was intrigued, which in turn, was intriguing.
I wasn’t as social as I wish I was, but that's par for the course. I can never really maintain ongoing conversations with anyone unless they straight up ask me questions constantly to extend the verbiage. I would pull ahead a little and wait, and honestly with the ascents, there was not much “getting ahead” as we were all working our tails off. As we climbed the trees and plants changed, the dirt changed, the smells changed. We were only going to 4,235’ but the mountain was a true mountain. It was breathtaking and not just because we were working so hard!
Finally we got to the shelter where you have the opportunity to ascend the final 0.2 miles to the peak of Killington. I had pulled ahead here and didn’t know if I should wait or go, I didn’t know if Celia and Mike would do the extra half mile to the tiptop. I went for it. The climb was rough, rock wall scrambling to the top, but then, the view was worth it all. I took pictures and video and was about to begin the precarious descent when Celia and Mike arrived. I was elated to see them! It’s more fun to climb mountains together!
We descended together, carefully. Then we took on the 6 mile descent to US route 4 where we’d meet Katie for resupply. I pulled ahead quickly on the descent and went with it. It was a tough descent and not due to rocks but due to the twists of the trail. Many sections on or around ridgelines descend in a pattern that would look straight from far enough above but reality is that every 4-6 strides the trail bumps around a tree or rocks in a way that forces your gait to pause. When attempting to run, it causes a constant pattern that feels similar to “Stop and go” traffic when you think you’re finally moving, but then you break hard again, over and over. It’s more fun on your feet than in a car, but it does create an emotional tension.
About 2 miles from the bottom I saw Katie hiking up and we talked briefly before I took the key and headed towards the car. When I arrived at the sunny parking lot it was hot! I may or may not see Katie at the next lot so I needed to pack for the next 28 miles to be safe. I ate, drank and had 2 instant coffee packets. I was ready to do some running!
I took off on the trail and was running smoothly! I wanted to try not to check my phone and watch and just "flow," so I did. In no time though the trail felt “off”. The leaves now covered the dirt, the trail was less worn, and then, a deer. On the Appalachian Trail you rarely see deer midday because it’s just too populated with people. Still, I kept running because I was following the white markers. The further I went without seeing anyone the deeper this “you’re lost” feeling went. When I knew it in my bones, I pulled out my phone and it agreed, I was lost! Did I turn around? Nope! I said to myself, “I’m following the white markers though, I’ll go just a little further” and so I did. I popped out to a dirt road crossing with a sign on either end that said “LT N->” and the one on my end “LT S<-” and I knew I’d done it.
I was 4 miles deep into the Long Trail and had blatantly missed the trail split I’d warned myself about all weekend! I took off running back towards the AT. I was stressed but not upset. I had watched myself make this mistake and enjoyed it. I knew the amped feeling was adrenaline though and it would crush me later in my now 48 mile day. I agreed with my emotional self to run with it until I caught up to Celia and Mike and then I’d recover and reassess my body. I ran hard for the next 6 miles which took me back to the trail split, which I was hoping looked less obvious. Sadly, I’d obviously taken a pretty significant left turn off a straight trail, so I really had zero excuses for my mistake.
When I finally caught up, Celia and Mike were surprised to see me. I stopped and hiked with them and told my silly story. Celia seemed very sympathetic but I didn’t feel it was a scenario that needed or deserved sympathy. I was perfectly happy with the day and although I appreciated her kindness it pushed me away. It immediately made me feel somewhat unwelcome in their hike, especially as I again could not keep up with their conversational pace. I was drawn to run away, as always, but I wanted to stay with them until the next parking lot. I tried but slowly pulled ahead.
I was tired and decided I would just wait at the car for them and give myself a break. At the car I put my feet up and closed my eyes for 5 minutes. I stopped my Coros watch and agreed to start the remaining 19 miles to VT route 12 mentally fresh. I would hike until I was ready to run.
The coming miles were hard. Celia, Mike and I hiked and hiked and hiked. We climbed and descended a series of steep ups and downs. After at least an hour or two I took off running. The miles were hard and beginning to feel “endless.” I’d been wanting a hard day that felt like this though, so every time I started to feel overwhelmed I remembered that and I would just slow down a bit to enjoy the challenges.
The rain we’d expected arrived. We’d actually watched the forecast all weekend as it went from bad, to worse, to really bad to maybe it’ll rain a bit. We did get some rain but with the canopy cover we never even pulled out our rain gear. I hiked up my dress knowing that after 5pm in the rain I literally wouldn’t see anyone. It meant no wet fabric against my legs, it was very comfortable. I ran hard and felt really good. I popped out to the amazing meadow as sunset approached and the fog made this amazing view. I was stunned and stopped dead in my tracks to take it in. From here I plunged into a meadow of very wet grass and ran through it, collecting endless seeds and grass pieces against my legs and soaking everything below my midline. I arrived at the parking lot and Katie was yet to arrive. I was soaked!
Once she arrived only 10 minutes later I changed, ate and worked on rehabbing my legs from the 45 mile day, I had decided that the extra miles would wait until morning. We prepared to sleep in the car that night. Celia and Mike would share his tent. After dark when Celia and Mike arrived everyone did their own thing to get set for sleep.
After a very restless night in the car we all got up one last time to finish the remaining 4.62 miles. Mike came with us and would continue on to Hanover, NH that same day. He’d found that next level and was excited to use it all the way to Katahdin! Those last miles were full of drenching meadows and short steep climbs. It was fun but messy! We finished before 8am and repacked all of our things. We took photos with Mike and gave him food, electrolytes, snacks and coffee. He continued North and we drove south back to my brother’s place near Albany.
This was a fantastic segment. We are eternally grateful to Katie for making what was going to be our most logistically complicated segment into a piece of gluten free cake. A huge thank you to my sister-in-law and my brother for allowing us to use their home as our in between and for the ride to the airport. Finally, a huge thank you to Mike from Maine for the hours of companionship and inspiration.