After an enjoyable zero in Great Barrington, MA, I would love to say I was ready to hike. But, honestly, the newness and excitement of hiking had long worn off. My feet were still sore, my legs stiff. I suppose that is one of the many mental challenges involved in hiking–delayed gratification. Successful people continue to work hard for a goal even when it isn’t fun or easy. I have committed myself to this hike and come hell or high water (or both), I’m going to finish! So, onward I hiked.
I did decide that I was tired of pushing high miles. The terrain was still fairly flat and enjoyable, so why not start enjoying it? The next few days I hiked somewhere between 11-15 miles each day. I stopped at the post office in Tyringham, MA around lunch one day and had the most pleasant experience I have ever encountered at a post office. The post mistress, Louisa, was so sweet and helpful! Tyringham is a sleepy little farm town, but they have a library (with electrical outlets and wifi) and post office all conveniently located near the trail. Not a bad pit stop for thru-hikers.I even met a nice crew of day hikers from New Jersey that have a time share in Tyringham. It was refreshing to meet so many people who were excited about my thru-hike–and I love trying to encourage people who are tempted to do it in the future! One of my favorite places I stayed during this stretch of trail was Upper Goose Pond Cabin. It is a half mile off trail, but totally worth the extra mileage. The Cabin is managed by Appalachain Mountain Club (AMC) volunteers and is located on what I was told is “the clearest pond in all of Massachussetts.” There are canoes at the cabin in which hikers can row around the pond or cross over to the island…in case they haven’t exerted enough energy for the day.
After a good night’s sleep at the cabin, I devoured a fantastic blueberry pancake breakfast with a pile of other hikers. There was a fairly even mixture of north-bounders (NOBOs) and south-bounders (SOBOs). The blueberries in the pancakes were made possible by the SOBOs who carried the blueberries 11 miles from the Cookie Lady’s house. Which brings me to my next favorite place I stayed… The Cookie Lady’s house is a well known pit stop. She and her husband live on a nice piece of property in which they allow hikers a free place to camp and charge their phones and unlimited access to water. They greet each hiker with a smile and free cookies! In addition, you can purchase boiled eggs and however many blueberries you would like to pick from their plethora of bushes. Make no mistake, I gorged myself with an amassment of both.
After the the Cookie Lady’s house, the trail led me to Dalton, MA. It was there that I met well-known trail angel, Tom Levardi. Because their aren’t many low priced lodging options in town, Tom opened his porch and back yard to hikers for free camping and has done so for years. He also has electrical outlets/charging stations and water for free. Unfortunately, while I was at his home, he talked about shutting it down after this year. He said he has dealt with too many inconsiderate and rude hikers from the Class of 2015. I heard a few days later that there was an incident and he closed his doors right then.
This is where I would like to take a minute to address an ugly truth I’ve had to realize about the AT. Just like in life, there are flat out cheaters and liars on the AT. They work very little, have little to no respect for those who do work hard, and feed off the benefits like a hideous flesh-eating bacteria with no remorse. This folks, is known as the “yellow-blazing” crowd. Yellow-blazing is a trail term used to describe the act of riding in a car to skip a section of trail. Therefore, the people who do this have not actually hiked every mile of the 2,189.2 mile trail. Simply stated is the definition of thru-hiking in accordance to the ATC:
Therefore, at best these yellow-blazers can be termed “section-hikers.”
So, why do I care? The problem is, these bottom-feeders have been known show up at trail magic by hitch hiking from road to road and completely devour the food. A few minutes later actual thru-hikers show up on foot to find out the last hot dog has been gobbled or the last coke drank. I’ll tell you, it’s really quite difficult to race a car by foot.
This careless bunch hops from town to town, maybe hiking a few days in between, and camps/stays at all the free locations and sucks the generosity dry. Some of them have been known to party excessively and cause traditional landmarks (such as Tom Levardi’s house) to be shut down. These people continuously attempt to excuse their actions by misusing the phrase, “Hike your own hike (HYOH).” As in, let me be me and do what I want. You see, for that saying to be relevant you have to actually…well, hike. Anyway, HYOH was meant to justify ones own choices such as wearing boots vs trail-runners, hiking with vs without a dog, dry food vs cooked food, water tablets vs a filter, etc. It was never intended to excuse someone from hiking miles so they can still claim to have thru-hiked. Plus, once their actions and glorified road trip/hiking mixture begins to infringe on my experience then they are suddenly ruining my hike, and that’s a problem.
Another reason I care is these people are greatly skewing the AT thru-hike success rate. The ATC claims that about 1 in 4 thru-hike attempts are successful. I’m willing to bet it’s closer to 1 in 7. The problem is the completion rate is honor system based…and strangely enough, liars lack honor. So, when asked if they will sign a document stating they’ve hiked the entire trail, psh, why not?I suppose there are liars and cheaters everywhere. I had naively hoped that Appalachian Trail was somehow sacred and might be safe from these types people. To be fair, I don’t care if someone wants to have a section hiking and road tripping adventure. In fact, I’d encourage it–as long as they don’t wear the facade of thru-hiker to try and reap any undeserved glory.
The truth is, liars can present a great story to others, but deep down within they can’t lie to themselves. Whether they were too lazy, weak or impatient people who misrepresent themselves will never know the true feeling of the accomplishment they claim to have. There are no differences between those who cheat themselves in everyday life and the yellow-blazers of the AT. They mask failure with a false success, and there is really nothing that can be done to stop them. However, it’s wonderful to know when I stand at the summit of Katahdin and feel the ache in my feet from each mile of the 2,189.2 mile trail that has beaten me down physically, mentally and emotionally, I will proudly stand strong, smile and realize that I just accomplished one of my biggest dreams in life…and nobody can take that from me or experience the unamaginable feeling unless they, too, have done it.
Katahdin, here I come!
Below are several other pictures I have captured during this section of trail: