Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Suddenly I See

 "And when I look around, I think this, this is good enough, and I try to laugh at whatever life brings. 'Cause when I look down, I just miss all the good stuff. But when I look up, I just trip over things."
-Ani DiFranco 


7/27: 14.4 miles. Dalton, MA to just north of the Mark Noepel Shelter (Catch found a super awesome stealth campsite for us on a ridge line)

7/28: 13.6 miles to a stealth campsite just past the Massachusetts-Vermont border. We're in Vermont! There's cheese here!

7/29: 13.9 miles to Vermont 9. This is where Dumptruck's Uncle Bob picked us (Grim, Whistle, Dumptruck and I) up to take us to his home in Vermont for the night! We were going to bring Catch, but there wasn't enough room in the car, and Catch very graciously made plans to stay in town with another hiker. WE'LL CATCH HIM AGAIN, BY GUM. 
Uncle Bob is Dumptruck's Father's Uncle. IT'S BEAUTIFUL HERE. Uncle Bob and Aunt Martha made us so much food, there are no words. Uncle Bob took us to the Vermont Country store, took us on a tour of a local carpentry shop that makes only drums, and let us play around in the yard like children. Bob and Martha treated us as family, even though the last time Dumptruck had seen them he'd been only 14.


Sometimes, when I stand on the top of a mountain, there is a moment of freeze. The world around me doesn't grind to a halt;  it simply stops halfway through an inhalation of breath. I am weightless and hovering, my toes just brushing the crest of the ancient seismic wave beneath me. This does not always happen, though views are beautiful as a general rule. This absorption of time, this second without ground, only happens when I suddenly become aware that I can see where I came from, and I can see where I am going. 

I don't mean that I usually hike with a blindfold on, smashing into trees and causing all manner of hullabaloo among the startled forest creatures that scramble out of the way of my noodling legs. To the contrary, I try my best to hike with my eyes wide open. This does not reliably save me from falling over rocks, tripping into logs, slipping over invisible leaves, stumbling over my own feet and face-planting into puddles of mud, but at least I can usually see where I'm going. When I am in motion, I need full use of my visual senses, lest I become one with the trail in a much more intimate way than I am prepared for.

Two nights ago we were hiking in an evening thunder storm, rain pouring over our bodies, and suddenly it became pitch-black even though it was only 7pm. Dumptruck and I had to stop hiking, even though we were about a quarter of a mile behind our hiking partners, because our headlamps were nearly out of batteries and we were literally hiking blind. Using our hands to pat the ground, trees and rocks, we found a flat enough spot to set up the tent just off the side of the trail. We unpacked and set up in complete darkness (and rain), so accustomed to the routine that it was remarkably easy to do everything blind. The air mattresses were inflated, we changed out of our soaking wet clothing and dug through our food bags to find some tuna and an avocado to eat. I suppose we don't always realize how much our muscles have learned until we are robbed of other senses.

When I say that sometimes on the peak of a mountain, I can see where I am going, I mean that I can see the path that the trail will take me over mountains to the north. This happens much more rarely than you might imagine. There is often a lot of tree cover in the way, and even if I can see some peaks to the north of me, it's usually tricky to figure out exactly which ones the trail will snake me over. It's sometimes a little bit easier to figure out where I came from, if I can see to the south, because I have the recent muscle memory of the climbs behind me. But even that is rare. There haven't been a lot of 360 degree views over the past few months (though I know in New Hampshire and Maine we will be getting more), which means I've mostly given up on laying a cartographic grid over the landscape in my view.

We spend so much of the time with our noses facing downward. For us hikers, we have to look down most of the time, lest the roots wrap themselves around our ankles and yank us down to do involuntary trail inspections. For Dumptruck and I, before we left for the trail, we were looking down at smart phones. Maybe we were looking into the enveloping warmth of a line of text from someone we love. Maybe we were looking down to read something new that we hadn't learned before. Maybe we were looking at a map. Even when we were trying to get somewhere, we looked down to move forward. Now the modus operandi is the same but the scenery is different.

So, on the rare ocassion that I can stand on the peak of a mountain, looking straight ahead, and see the future in front of me, and my past behind me, laid out in perfect visual form, it makes my breath catch in my throat. The thin line between what will come and what has already come to pass. The line between forward and reverse. The line between hope and memory. I can see where I am going to be. I can see where I have been. Is that all that fortune-telling is? Being high enough in the sky that you can see farther than people on the ground? Probably not. Real fortune telling involves the bones of small mammals, an 8-ball,  a bunch of sticks, some fairy dust, Whoopi Goldberg and a motorcycle. Or something like that.

When I got to The Cobbles, an outlook that gives one a view of the northern part of Massachusetts, I could see exactly the path I was going to take to go over Mount Greylock. In the photo below, Mt. Greylock is the tallest peak toward the right of the frame.

Is it the boots that bring me there, or my feet?

It had been a fair amount of time since I felt that weightlessness, that feeling of floating above the passage of time. But there I was; there we were. My hiker family and I. Grim: strong, confident and hilarious. Whistle: kind, playful and gracious. Dumptruck: dumptruck, dumptruck, dumptruck. And Catch, who I am still getting to know, but I would describe like an adorable tree frog. And we could see our future ahead of us, just on the other side of the valley.

And it was good. Just that. It was good. And that is good enough for me.

Clever Girl 

Sorry for the lack of specific stories this round; to make up for it I am including many photos. Feast your eyes!

The second to last day for these sandals

Libby- I hate for you to find out about it this way. But at least she looked good!
"Catch, how did you get up in that tree?" "Oh, Grim put me up here."

Catch tried to make a hammock out of his tarp.
Who needs sleeping bags when you've got fleeces like this?

Atop Mount Greylock

Dumptruck and Uncle Bob
Strawberries from Martha's garden!

 At the drum factory. A multi-purpose sign if I ever saw one.

 Better living through passive aggression.

 Whistle being amazing. Grim can also juggle, but I didn't manage to get a good photo of it.

 Martha and Bob's cat: Foxy.

Oh look, a giant pink rubber ball. Let's hit each other in the head with it.

Oh look, a hose. Let's hit each other in the head with it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Looking Up

7/21: 13.2 miles from just north of Salisbury to Glen Brook Shelter

7/22: 7.9 miles to US 7 crossing and hitch into Great Barrington, MA. Dumptruck and I got a ride in a refridgerated truck! We've also been hiking with a great guy named Catch 22! We've been leap-frogging him for months. He has fantastic energy.

7/23: A ZERO DAY. This was our first zero day since the 4th of July. Granted we haven't been doing huge mileage, but we've been constantly on the move in 90+ degree heat for 19 days straight. Yikes. So we spent the day eating donuts and playing indoor mini-golf with Catch and Grim's friend Ashley who was visiting us. Yes, please.

7/24: 17.6 miles to Shaker Campsite. We got a ride back to the trail from town from an excellent guy named Ron! The weather finally started to cool down in earnest, and we could hike more miles without melting into puddles of humans.

7/25: 18.7 miles to October Mountain Shelter

7/26: 11.8 miles into Dalton, MA

Current AT mileage: 1565.8 miles


There are two different types of joke-tellers. First, there is the type that will finish his joke with a flourish, looking straight into your eyes with an open-mouthed, expectant grin, waiting for your obligatory response of mirth. It doesn't matter to him if you chuckle or guffaw, all he cares about is that you show recognition and appreciation for the humor. Most people tell jokes this way; we want to amuse others. I certainly do. I tell jokes for the benefit of those around me.

But then, there is a much rarer, second type of joke-teller. This type tells jokes only for his own amusement, unconcerned with whether anyone else is following. He finds humor and delight in almost everything, and it's totally cool for him if you're not along for the ride. He will find a simple pun that sends him into transports of giggles, and it doesn't matter to him if you think puns are stupid. You can groan and roll your eyes all you want, but he's too busy shaking with laughter to notice.

My father is the second type. My father's constant refrain of barely stifled laughter was the hug of parenthesis outlining the parenthetical statement of my childhood. I have countless memories of watching my dad spit-take his coffee, wipe tears from the corner of his eyes, or cough from accidentally inhaling a bite of food in the grips of a giggle fit. My sister and I would stare at him in amusement and confusion, never quite grasping the puns, but happy to see our father so happy. 

For example, he convinced my sister and I that the air in the center of a donut was poisonous to children under the age of 12, and any part of the donut that touched the aforementioned air was infected. Nelle and I, ever trusting, would dutifully eat our donuts in a circle, leaving behind a ring of donut which we would then hand to our father for safe consumption. This ruse was up when Dunkin Donuts introduced Munchkins (donut holes) for the first time, and I started screaming in the shop that they must be trying to kill all of the children. He told me, through tears of laughter, that he had lied about the donut poison.

The night before last, as everyone sat in their tents chatting, I let loose a peal of terrible gas. Dumptruck coughed, and I decided this was the right time to exit the tent and brush my teeth. As I stood in a clump of bushes, Dumptruck's strangled voice drifted over to me,

"Oh god in heaven, I don't know how it's possible, but the smell has gotten even worse since you got out of the tent."

"Well you know what they say," I said, squeezing a dollop of toothpaste onto my brush.

"What's that?"

"Absence makes the fart grow stronger."

I couldn't even finish the sentence before I was doubled over, snorting with laughter. It wasn't even that funny, but for some reason I was totally tickled. Grim, Whistle and Dumptruck groaned and rolled their eyes so hard that I swear I felt a breeze. But it didn't matter. I've finally become my father. I couldn't stop chortling. Tears were streaming down my face, and I had to stop brushing my teeth several times to cough up foamy giggles. Even now, as I write this, it's significantly difficult for me not to burst into hysterics. Is this what it means to grow up? To finally accept that the best jokes are the ones we tell ourselves? No, it's not as deep as that. It just means that with every day we become more like our parents. Every day I endeavor to be more like my father, and if that means one day baffling my children with my self-contained chuckle fits, I couldn't be happier. 

The past few days have been a beautiful, perfect temperature. It was so hot for so long that my only choice is to believe that I have died of heat exhaustion and this is my fever dream. It's beautiful in the morning, afternoon and evening. It's beautiful while I sleep. I was sincerely chilly the other night. When I rolled over and my knees touched Dumptruck's, it didn't feel like I was accidentally rolling into a hearth ablaze with fire. 

Massachusetts has been gorgeous, with legitimate mountain climbs and pine forests. Moss clings to rocks and the ground is a carpet of soft pine needles. Gentle, cool breeze winds its way between tree trunks, ruffling my hair and bringing me sweet smells of the earth. Before I left for the trail, when I would fantasize about it, I often pictured a forest very similar to the one we're currently hiking through. I've been walking through the memory of a dream.

The trail crosses over I-90, the Mass Turnpike, over a little footbridge. The bridge is labeled "Appalachian Trail" in large letters, presumably to alert the speeding motorists to the presence of filthy hikers just above them. We watched as the world went to work, driving at speeds so much faster than we feel hiking. We threaded our fingers in the chain link fence, remembering the world as it was before we started: a world of rushing. 

But now we live in a world of absorbing, of rushing only as fast as our legs can walk and no faster. We wanted to remind the drivers below us on the highway to stop and see the world around them for a moment. To remind them that looking up is worth it. That each day is worth it. That we need to stop to breathe, to gasp or cry or laugh. To feel something more than the simple sense of urgency. But how? How can you deliver such a message to someone going 75 mph when you're standing completely still?

By mooning them.

A cavalcade of horns blared instantly from the oncoming traffic. Whether they were honking in delight or horror, I have no idea. The thunder of truck horns trumpeted forth, alongside the merry toots of minivans, acknowledging the view of a bevy of white butts on the footbridge above them. 

I hope that as you go through your day, whatever it may bring, you can carry this with you. If you feel like you're getting too caught up in work, or you feel like you haven't looked up from your office computer for days, or you feel trapped in an endless list of to-dos, just imagine this:
Imagine looking up from whatever has absorbed you, and somewhere in the middle distance, wherever you are, someone is mooning you. 

And if this occurs to you, and if you happen to find that sort of thing funny, and if you start to laugh, remember that it's okay if no one around you understands your sudden mirth. Sometimes we tell jokes for other people, but sometimes we tell jokes only for ourselves.

And for us, they are perfect.

Clever Girl

We are being taken care of by an ASTONISHINGLY AMAZING trail angel named Tom in Dalton. He dropped us off at the mall, where we saw TWO movies, ate so much popcorn we were sick, and then picked us up afterward. He also did a huge number of other kind things for us, and let us stay in his home. Incredible.

Nelle- the temp tats you sent us were put to good use. (That's Dumptruck, and Catch in the upper left

Catch in the tail of a mini-golf dragon

Dumptruck with the correct size putter.

Hitchin a ride

All the hikers that stayed at Tom's!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Glitter Redux

Current AT mileage: 1,517.7 miles

We have crossed the border into Massachusetts! Huzzah! We've met a lot of great day hikers. We also had to say goodbye to one of the awesome-est hikers ever: Lost. He was here from Germany on a 3 month visa and had to go back home because his visa will soon be expired. He is hysterical, and I will miss him terribly.


I lay on my back on a stone bench, tapping out a rhythm with my bare feet. Staring up at the sun filtering through green leaves, I sang softly to myself and waited patiently. I was outside the library in Falls Village, Connecticut, and the small building evoked the feeling of a cozy castle. Dirt was caked on my sun-browned skin and I smelled like an apple long forgotten in the back of a 7th grader's school locker. In spite of this, when the librarian showed up some time later to open the library, she welcomed me inside with promises of air conditioning and water. It never ceases to amaze me, the spectrum of reactions we get from the general public. It ranges from awe and respect, to mild interest, to ill-disguised revulsion. We never really know how people are going to react, but we do know one thing: they are going to react. 

It was a Friday afternoon, another impossibly hot and sticky day, and we'd made it to Falls Village, CT. We were scheduled to be picked up by Whistle's mom's cousin, Maryann. I think this means Maryann is Whistle's first cousin once removed. When I was a child I thought this meant that the person had been kicked out of the family. If they were twice removed, they had been kicked out once, let back in, and then kicked out AGAIN. Don't even get me started on three times removed. I was not disabused of this notion until I was 12 or 13, which gave me plenty of years to privately wonder what sort of shenanigans had led to so many of my dad's cousins being booted out of the family. I imagined that most of it had to do with losing bets while playing Hearts.

Maryann brought the 4 of us to her incredible home, where she raises sheep, goats, chickens and turkeys. With Maryann's encouragement, we jumped in the pond in the back yard and swam with a squadron of green frogs that Maryann and Mark call "Jason and the Frogonauts." We lounged on the back porch and watched a distant mountain range that, for a moment, looked simple and calm. Whistle bottle-fed a pair of exuberant lambs. We ate golden beets from the garden and fell asleep in guest rooms so perfectly beautiful they could have been from a magazine. Everything evoked the feeling of a well-loved old farm house, and it reminded me of my parent's home in Maine. It was one of the most stunningly beautiful properties I've ever been to. Nothing too big, nothing too small. Just right. 

Inspired by the closeness of piped water, it occurred to Whistle to wash her cooking pot. She had eaten couscous in it 2 nights previously and packed away the little set without washing it. I was outside when I heard Dumptruck's gagging horror as Whistle unearthed the metal nesting doll of cooking supplies. In the green house of Whistle's backpack, an entire species of flora had been left to flourish and multiply. In the darkness of the cooking pot, the couscous turned into something else altogether. A fuzzy white mold, like fluffy cotton, clustered around everything. A new species of nightmare, born of neglect, was then summarily destroyed by some boiling hot water and steel wool. Leave it to Whistle to play god with bacteria. 

Leaving the next morning felt like tearing velcro. The soft fibers of the beautiful house reaching out while the coarse loops of my fingers clutched at the door frame. I like to imagine that I was torn bodily from the house, Dumptruck holding my feet aloft and pulling me back while I held on to the perfectly antiqued door handle and hollered about true happiness. Don't get me wrong: I was perfectly happy to go back to the woods and hiking. But it was just so cozy and wonderful there that it was hard to leave.

We were brought back to Falls Village in the midst of a thunderstorm, the sky crashing down, a marching band of wetness to welcome us back to the woods.  We took refuge in the kitschy Toymaker's Cafe, waiting for the storm to stomp its way by. When we made our way back out to the wilderness, the mosquitos were partying. The damp evening air was the frat house and our bodies were the kegs. We hiked ever onward, not thwarted by the omnipresent Bacchanals of Bug-dom.

Around 1am I sat bolt upright in my tent and then immediately regretted the decision. My jaw was aching in that tell-tale way, and I knew that GLITTER! wasn't far behind. It didn't feel like hiker flu, but it did feel like misery. I wrapped my fore-arms around my roiling belly, muttering to myself and questioning the judgment of the trail gods. What had I done this time to deserve this punishment? Had I not been digging my cat holes to appropriate depths? Had I unwittingly relieved myself near a water source? Had I killed some rare specimen of insect? Dumptruck woke up and got me a large Ziploc bag to hold so I wouldn't get pony beads all over the tent.

Nearby, in Grim's hammock, his phone went off to remind him to take his Lyme disease antibiotic. I had never been awake before to hear his 1am alarm, and it was a short burst of country music, some lonely hearted man crooning about "the last drug." He snoozed the alarm a few times, and thus it was that my upchucks were punctuated by sudden peals of twanging guitar and Southern earnestness. 

Meanwhile, in Whistle's tent, she suddenly awoke to a face-full of freezing cold water. She had unwisely stored her small purple squirt gun in the ceiling pouch of her tent, and in the middle of the night, the stopper had decided to open itself and empty its contents onto Whistle's sweet, sleeping face. Whistle spluttered and tried to find something to dry her face with, but her hands in the darkness could find only sweat-soaked clothing.

And Dumptruck sat, uncomplaining, as an orchestra of vomiting, country music and wet gasping swirled around him in the darkness. He patted my back in a resigned sort of way, and occupied himself with the comforting thought that had there been any bears in the vicinity, they were now far, far away.

Clever Girl

Margaret!! Thank you for the care package! Loved it :)

We figured out that the glittering was just mild food poisoning. I was better within 12 hours. Probably because I breathed in the air that came out of Whistle's cooking pot.

Whistle and the squirt gun that turned on her

Maryann teaching Whistle to spin!

Grim looking awesome


Bubble pipe from Margaret!