July 15, 2014

First Steps: Appalachian Trail, Great Barrington MA – Springfield CT

By Stephon Boatwright In On the Trail

Having been an avid hiker, Bill Bryson fan, and one to romanticize absolutely everything, it has always deeply bothered me I had never been on the Appalachian Trail.  The AT extends some 2,000 miles, running between Maine and Georgia.  One will summit the distance to Mount Everest several times while trekking its entire length, as several hundred hikers do a year (called thru-hikers).  Given my chaotic schedule it’s always made more sense to hike it in chunks (called section hiking).  For the first time in the years I’ve been imagining it, I did it!


My hiking trips normally come out of two places.  Firstly, a genuine love for everything outdoors; secondly, and not necessarily as dreary as it sounds, to clear my head.  Hiking will save you hundreds or thousands in shrink fees and you’ll get a much more fulfilling result.  As are many of my hiking trips, my mission on the AT was motivated by a bit of both.  After a long and ultimately unsuccessful job search (more on this later) my mood was not the greatest.  Syracuse has a way of feeling like you’re living in a lung, every couple weeks the walls start to breathe and close in on you with every inhale, exhaling the stale stench of mediocrity and lost opportunity; I want to choke it to death.  I was in one of these moods when I decided to take a three day weekend and hit the AT.

Hiking the AT can be a complicated task when doing it in sections.  Getting to and from the trail either requires a friend to drop you off, a fellow hiker on an internet forum who doesn’t mind picking you up, or some stranger benevolent enough to grab a hitchhiker from the bus station; I was lucky enough to find the last.  After a couple of miles of walking from the bus stop a pickup truck pulled along side me, rolled down its window, and a young man asked “Appalachian Trail?”.  After a quick nod I hopped into the truck bed and was whizzing down the road, but not after the man who picked me up commented on how soaked I was from the torrential downpour, and implied I was silly because it was New England and “They pick up hitchhikers here.”  I was never so greatful to get a ride, despite the fact that hitching felt wholly and completely weird to me; I guess I’ve see too many horror films.  No matter though,  I was on the trail!


 My feeling of awe, aimed at both the trail and myself for deciding to walk 50 miles in the woods, by myself, in a part of the country I had never even laid eyes on, was interrupted not even five seconds later by my first trail friend, Lauren.  Lauren, who I greatly regret not taking a picture of, was a friendly Southern Bell that majored in Classics at a top-notch university.  We walked together for nearly half the day, with her entertaining me with her fluent Latin and tales of Greek tragedies.  I think I showed a bit too much interest as she would not stop talking after every question I asked.

The trail in Southern New England is generally flat, a bit rocky, and takes you past many farms and country roads.  The sights were gorgeous, but the morning storm turned the trail into a swamp.  I was getting sick of the puddle hopping and mudslinging.  Just as I was about to get annoyed, Lauren and I made our first assent up a steep hill.  Looking at Lauren one would be surprised to know she has run marathons or would attempt the AT, but she stuck with my above average pace all morning.  After the first climb though, it became apparent I was going to have to leave her.  After giving a friendly wave good bye, I was on my own.


I started flying from there, wanting to make up a bit of lost time.  The trail was incredibly slick at the higher elevations; moss, limestone and a hiking pace close to a jog was not a good mix.  As I bopped from hilltop to valley back to hilltop, I must have slipped 20 times, some falls worse than others.  The day had cleared a bit around noon, but at five the clouds rolled back in.  While admiring the erie scene I had put myself in, I took my worst spill of the day, jamming my finger into a jagged boulder as I was trying to slow my fall.  I’m writing this post a month after my trip and I can still see where the chuck of my finger had been ripped off.  At this point I was 25 miles in for the day, soaked, muddy, and still 7 miles out from the shelter I wanted to camp at.  After adding “bleeding badly” to the list, I was completely sick of the trail.  I had no choice but to trudge on though.  I summited the Connecticut high point, just to read the plaque marking it and verbally reply “I don’t give a s***.”  After being almost completely defeated by a midget 2,200ft high “mountain”, I was finally at my destination, Brassy Brook shelter. Trail Brilliant

Sleeping by myself in the middle of the woods was the part of the trip I was least looking forward to; I thought I would be creeped out and uneasy.  Oddly enough, I was right at home, only bothered by the occasional scurry of animals I couldn’t identify.  I woke up the next morning feeling proud of myself, not only for having no fear of the night, but for having no fear at all.  I felt a lot of things on the trail,  but fear was never one of them.


My initial plan was to take on the Connecticut Challenge and hike the entire CT section of the trail in a single grueling day.  Given the trail condition, I knew that was impossible.  I cut off the trail early and headed back to NY on foot.  My trip back to Syracuse involved a 130 mph trip in a Maserati, two trains, and a hippy bus…..no, I’m not making any of that up.  Hitchhiking and mass transit is an adventure in its own right, but that’s another story.  In the first days coming off the trail, I had had it with hiking for a while. Hiking 30 trail miles and another 20 on the road, all in 36 hours, had me feeling pretty adverse to even walking, let alone climbing.  I knew it wouldn’t last long though, and I’m already planning my next jaunt on the AT.

1 Comment
  1. Jake Dean July 20, 2014

    I think Greyhound stops in Bangor, Maine if you ever want to start at the top. What's the story with the Maserati?


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