Beard Length: Yukon Cornelius
Showers Taken: 32
Beers Drank: ??
Bears Spotted: 16
Zero Days: 11
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TOM BRADY!!
Ok, on to the blog.
Way back in southern Virginia, a former thru-hiker had told me to stay at a place called, Upper Goose Pond Cabin once I made it to Massachusetts. It’s a donation based cabin maintained by a caretaker throughout the summer. So on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon in the middle of July, I showed up at the cabin as the first hiker to arrive for the day. A white bearded man named Peter who was one of the caretakers, immediately picked me out as, “a strapping young man, ready for an amphibious adventure”.
With just barely enough time to remove my pack and change from my trail runners for flip flops, I was now donning a life jacket in preparation to canoe from Upper to Lower Goose Pond to help transport one of the four resupplies of the summer back to the cabin. After about 45 minutes of paddling, my first arm day since April, we arrived at a dock on the distant shore. Once there, we loaded 120 pounds of pancake mix, 8 gallons of maple syrup, and 2 large canisters of coffee into the canoe and then turned around and paddled back.
Upper Goose Pond Cabin is trail famous for it’s pancake breakfasts that have been feeding weary hikers for years. Peter estimated that they serve up over 4500 pancakes each summer. The scenery itself isn’t bad either. Sitting 0.5 miles off the trail, the red painted chestnuts that construct the cabin overlook the bathwater-like pond. For the rest of the day, a few other hikers and I canoed out to an island and took trail showers (swimming) in the warm summer heat.
Shortly after the pancake breakfast I was out on the trail for an exciting day because I was meeting my parents and Nana B. This was the longest I have ever gone without seeing my grandmother so it was wonderful to be reunited. Along with my mom and dad, there is no one who supports me as much as her. And as I have stated multiple times, she is one of only three people I would walk 500 miles for. We had such a great visit together and I’m so thankful for my mom and dad organizing such a nice weekend out in the Western part of Massachusetts.
Following their departure, I climbed the highest peak in Massachusetts, Mt. Greylock. On one of the clearest days of the week, I spent an hour watching people hang gliding from the summit. Each and every day I learn about new and more efficient ways to get from Georgia to Maine than walking.
And in other positive news, a nice woman hiking south on the Long Trail gifted me the remainder of her Sierra Nevada Honey Spice mustard which has led to the creation of one of my favorite trail meals! Cold soaked cous cous, the mustard and goldfish (crackers)!
What do you get when you have two friends from Scotland, one from Ireland, and your college buddy fly out to hike with you for a week? Drunk, you get drunk.
To say that I have good friends would be a vast understatement. As much as I enjoy the solitude and time of reflection that the trail has given me, I would be lying if I said I didn’t get lonely or miss the people from my normal life. Whenever anyone offers to hike with me for a day, I am thrilled, but when they offer to come out for a week… well, I think they’re out of their mind.
Especially since the week they choose was exceptionally soggy and muddy. Although the southern section of Vermont is generally known for it’s sections of mud versed in the ways of stripping shoes straight from a hikers foot, the stretch of rain amplified the effect. Nevertheless, on a Sunday evening, my dad picked up Brian Higgins (Utah), Ruth Molloy (England), Tom Power (Ireland), and Fiona Smith (Scotland) from Logan airport and shuttled them to the brewery I was at in Bennington, Vermont.
Back in November I had met Tom and Fiona at the Everest Marathon in Nepal. Ever since spending close to a month trekking with each other in the Himalaya, we have stayed in frequent contact. And when they heard I was doing the trail, clearly they must not have done too much research, because they were very eager to come join me for a stretch. Needless to say, I have some unbelievably amazing friends. Fiona dragged Ruth into coming and I brought Brian to the mix, and a month later, our “American Adventure” began at a bar in a town that none of them had ever heard of in the south of Vermont.
Although hesitant at first to adjust my pace, I now laugh at myself for second guessing anything at all. Over the course of the week I became a “spoiled” thru-hiker, sharing more laughs and memories than I could ever recall with people I was thrilled to share it with. It would be a drastic stretch to say that my crew was rewarded for their efforts with elegant peaks and stunning vistas. If you were to ask the four of them to sum up their trail experience in one word, my guess is that they would tell you, “trees”. But the grim weather, tough trail conditions, and lackluster views did not dissuade my temporary trail fam. They embodied the trail for what it is and what it represents, embracing the lesson that it’s not necessarily about the place but rather the people you share it with. On top of being grateful for them sacrificing time, money, and comfort to hike with me, I’m glad they got a true trail experience and honestly did not complain all that much. They even endured the standard Appalachian Trail diet which consists mainly of fruit snacks and granola bars. Everyone was a real trooper.
Part of this though, was due to a few separate groups of kick-ass friends that for some reason beyond my knowledge, care about me and my thru-hike enough to do some above and beyond trail magic.
On the second night of our American Adventure, everyone was soaked to the bone from the previous day. Now donning trail names, Old Smoothie (Tom), Ca-Shew (Ruth), Lady Loch (Fiona), and S.D. (Brian), everyone felt like a real AT hiker. However, everyone, including myself, longed for a cold beer and a dry bed. One of my good buddies and former coworkers, Pat Laforge, after working a 12 hour shift, made the drive with his son Noah with their camper to Stratton Mountain. Since there was no real road crossing for us to meet him, we had to actually hike off the Appalachian Trail to the top of the ski mountain and then down the steep slope to the lodge. This hike down the ski trail did pleasantly surprise all of us with some of the best views from the weeklong jaunt.
Pat pulled out all the stops. A large quiver of beverages including my favorite NH craft beer, burgers, dogs, mac and cheese, tequila, and a warm dry place for us all to sleep. The morning was no different with a nice warm breakfast of bagels, eggs, ham, and even chocolate milk. Pat drove Fiona, Ruth, and I back to the trail where would I have another nice day in the rain together hiking back up the ski slope where we would meet him again at the next road crossing at the end of the day with Tom and Brian.
The magic didn’t end there. Arriving at the parking area in Manchester, Vermont, Pat and the boys were waiting with a cooler full of beers which they also extended to other thru-hikers passing the crossing. It goes without saying that Pat encompasses the true definition of a trail angel and plays a great example of the unmatched kindness of humanity I have experienced over the past several months on the AT.
Before I started the trail, my college buddy Ellis had told me his family had a cabin in Vermont that I could stay at when I came through. Luckily for my friends, it just so happened that I would be in that area during their week on the trail and that Ellis and his sister were generous enough to host all of us! Pat drove us to their beautiful home on the outskirts of Manchester where Ellis prepared an incredible home-cooked meal of garlic bread, pasta, and meatballs. A second night of beer drinking and good company ensued leaving my visiting friends believing that the past 3 1/2 months have been nothing but feasting and drinking for me all the while never having to even consider using my tent. They were relentless chiding me with, “wow this whole AT thing is easy!”
At the end of the hiking week, their trip on the trail was capped off with an epic weekend in Stowe. For the first time in months, I took days off from hiking in a row, and some awesome college friends (Brendan Mullin, Shannon Sholds, Erin Moreau, John and Maggie McNeil) picked us up and drove us to an Air BnB. We partied, danced, ate, and drank our way through the my favorite weekend on the AT. Because of all of these amazing people, each from very different areas of my life, I had an incredible “trailcation” and the best week thus far on the AT. Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart to everyone who made this all happen.
When everyone went their separate ways and caught their respective flights, John McNeil drove me back to his families home in Colchester, VT. Before indulging in his moms wonderful cooking, his dad took us and his sister Maggie out for a boat ride and swim on Lake Champlain during a gorgeous July evening. Sitting their with one of my best friends, wind in my beard, and gazing upon the bluish distant mountains that provide a serene backdrop to the glistening lake I realized how lucky I was to be in this moment. To have so many people that I have been lucky enough to encounter in my short twenty-four years that have made my life more rich and more wonderful. To give and feel love in the purest sense of the term unconditional with friends that are true is an indescribable feeling. I’m not quite sure what I did to deserve it.
The past two weeks, being spoiled with comfort and company have come at a cost. As John very selflessly drove 2.5 hours one way to get me back to the trail, my head was not in it. In the span of one week, I had gone from the (mentally) rough and tough mountain man, to a twenty-something who is really missing the comforts of friends and family. By no means do I feel the right to deserve to complain. For no reason do I deserve to wallow in self-pity. I am extraordinarily lucky to live the life I do and in no way is hiking the AT as hard as others have it. But for me, right now, in this moment, it’s hard. I wouldn’t have described myself in anyway, ready to step back into the woods last Monday.
Retrospectively, I think it is an important lesson that we can all learn from. Too often, we do not give ourselves the permission to be sad or down because we try to take a worldly approach of what others are experiencing and how it is worse for them. The truth is, no matter what you go through in life, you can always conjure a fictional scenario or a real life setting that is worse than the present. But it is healthy and important to allow yourself to feel. Take every bit of emotion in that moment and experience it for what it is and allow yourself to grow and learn from it.
Sometimes, your sadness, even if you tell yourself it is not the warranted or deserved, is the worst and loneliest in that moment just for you and no one else. I don’t want it to be misconstrued that I am ungrateful for the opportunity I have to be out here and for the great week I just had. And I do not want it to appear that I am seeking pity from anyone who reads this blog; I don’t want it. What I do want and what I have tried to do from the start is direct my writing in a way that provides an authentic insight on what it is like to hike the Appalachian Trail from beginning to end.
In summation, although the direction of my posts are for entertainment, my hope is also to share some of the lessons that I have been fortunate enough to learn from the trail. So whatever emotion, experience, high, or low that you are going through, feel all of it. Embrace the joy, embrace the suck and with no excuses or exceptions, just let yourself just be.
Today was a much better day. My spirits are lifted now as I entered the Granite State and write this post from the comfort of Hanover Fire Department. One of the firefighters, a paramedic student whom I precepted in the ER, Rob Diehm, graciously arranged for me to spend the night here. Rob is a fantastic and extremely intelligent guy that I am very lucky to know. Again, God, why are people so nice to me, and more importantly, why am I trusted having students?
Since even before I took my first steps in Georgia I had envisioned what it would be like crossing the bridge over the Connecticut River and into New Hampshire. I feel home now and I feel comfort. I’d venture to say that this landmark is probably only a hair below the Mt. Katahdin sign at the Northern terminus of the trail. So I’m sure all of my friends could make an easy assumption at my feelings when I saw this granite marker; I was stoked. And shortly thereafter I was sitting down having lunch in town with my good buddy Craig Sherman.
This post has too many thank you’s for me to presently recall. But in a consistent theme, thank you to my parents for their continuous support through all my tough times on the trail. Thank you Jim Gagne for another epic care package. I could never show enough gratitude to Tom, Brian, Fiona and Ruth for being the best trail fam I could ask for. And lastly, to the chronicler of my travels, John McNeil thank you for the life chats and just being the amazing friend you are.
New Hampshire, I am very, very happy to be back.
August 3, 2018