Trail Report – August 17 (1878 miles)

Trail Report
trail map

elevation map

Dear friends,

I routinely have used the past tense in sharing my Appalachian Trail adventures with you. But, as I am writing this right now, at 3:00 pm on Thursday, August 6, I am switching to the present tense. I am writing on a pad of paper, later to be typed into a computer and send to you by email.

I am sitting on top of Mount Liberty in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I feel truly blessed to be here because it seems that the entire creation is spread before me. The weather is gorgeous with patchy cumulus clouds, blue sky, a wind gusting to 20 miles per hour, with a temperature around 70 degrees. Because I was told that the weather in the Whites is so often severe with snow possible during every month of the year, I feel so lucky to be here under these conditions.

The entire Franconia Range lies before me. I am looking north. On my right is Mount Lincoln, my introduction to peaks named after US presidents. Just beyond is Lafayette and then Mount Garfield. Way in the distance looming above all the mountains, on a different ridge actually named The Presidentials, is Mount Washington.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be heading to Mount Lincoln and moving slowly toward Washington. I am finding that my typical mileage on the Appalachian Trail has been cut in half by these rugged White Mountains. The terrain is very rugged. Often I find myself climbing hand over hand over huge rocks on very steep trails. I’ve been told by fellow hikers for months now, “You ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen the Whites.” At first, I resented this comment. I felt that I had seen plenty along my way up the spine of the Appalachians on the East Coast. Now, sitting here atop Mt. Liberty, surveying these high mountains that lay in my path on the way to Maine, I am inclined to agree with these voices from the past.

I am humbled by this experience. I feel small, but I also feel empowered. My own two legs have brought me here. I have come 1807 miles over 149 days to see what is before me. More is yet to come. I have many miles to go before I reach the end of the Trail on Mount Katahdin in Maine. But right now, I feel complete and very, very lucky. I feel privileged to have friends like you with whom I can share these feelings and experiences.

Let me back up a bit and tell you how I came to be here on Mount Liberty and add a little more to tell you what has happened to me since this glorious afternoon.

On August 4th, I started the day by thanking Baltimore Jack and Uncle Walt at the Hikers Welcome Hostel in Glencliff, New Hampshire for their hospitality and hiker’s advice shared with me over the last couple of days. I headed toward the first mountain of the Whites, Moosilauke. This mountain, at an elevation of 4802 feet, gets its name from the area’s Native Americans and is translated “The Bald Place.” It took me four hours of steady uphill climbing to get to the top. As I climbed, I noticed that the fir and spruce trees were getting shorter and shorter, finally reduced in size to just a ground cover. The sky opened up around me revealing a summit comprised of rocks and dirt. I could see for miles! After taking a few photos, I took a very steep trail down the mountain that followed a stream of water that, fed by springs, increased in size to a beautiful series of waterfalls tumbling over boulders and slabs. This Beaver Brook Cascade led me to a road crossing at Kinsman Notch. Remember now, we call these valleys “gaps” in the South, but they are called notches up here.

It was getting late afternoon, but I decided to push on and climb up up toward Mount Wolf. Before I reached the top, I found a spring to replenish my water supply and then made a camp for myself a short distance off the trail As I have confessed in my past emails, I love this kind of “stealth” camping. It gives me a sense of independence on one hand and a feeling of dependence on the natural world on the other. After supper, I got out my maps and, with my headlamp in the tent, determined I had hiked 11.5 miles that day. In my previous life on the Appalachian Trail, this would have been a short day for me. But today, the rugged nature of the White Mountains left me totally exhausted. I was proud of my effort on this first day in these formidable mountains I had heard so much about. I felt very fortunate that the weather had been beautiful. I went to bed both tired and happy.

The next morning, I met old thru hiker friends Blueberry and Wizard on the trail and hiked with them to the Eliza Brook Shelter for a quick lunch. We then climbed very slowly up a steep rock pile that I would scarcely call a trail to the top of South Kinsman Mountain. We had another sunny day, and the views on top were phenomenal. After another ascent up North Kinsman, we scrambled down a rocky trail to a shelter at Kinsman Pond. It was only 5:00 in the afternoon with plenty of daylight left. But, again, I was exhausted. I enjoyed sitting on the rocks at the pond’s edge and marveling at the powerful beauty around me.

On Thursday, August 6, I hiked alone to Lonesome Lake and the first Hut on my northbound trail. The Huts throughout the Whites are operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club and provide tourists with lodging and meals. They are rather expensive at $90 per person, but when you consider that most of the food has to be backpacked in and most of the non-compostable trash has to be packed out, it’s not a bad deal. I wanted to see what the inside of a Hut looked like. I took off my muddy boots, and timidly poked my head inside the main door. I was greeted by Jeff in the kitchen. “I’ve got some things left over from breakfast,” he said. “You are welcome to help yourself if you are hungry.” Well, I am always hungry! I helped myself to pancakes and three different kinds of coffee cake. I thanked Jeff profusely and returned to the Trail. I hiked three miles to Franconia Notch and crossed a busy Interstate 93 with an underpass. I now began my ascent to the Franconia Range, the series of above timberline mountains that I wrote about at the beginning of this email. That night I stayed at the Liberty Springs Campsite near the top of the ridge. I made friends quickly with the caretaker, a former thru hiker by the name of Cup-of-Joe. We discovered to our mutual amazement that both of us had sons stationed at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Cup-off-Joe invited me to hear the weather report from Mount Washinton at 7:00 the next morning at his tent. “I’ll have the coffee pot on!” he exclaimed.

The next morning dawned clear. I packed up and was at Cup-of-Joe’s at 6:55. The radio crackled and a female voice came through with the forecast. “The day will begin with the clouds teasing the summits. The day will progress to sunny conditions with a slight chance of rain in the late afternoon.” I was elated. I had heard so much about violent weather here. I could not believe my continuing good fortune.

I shook Cup-of-Joe’s hand and headed up the mountain. I first climbed Haystack Mountain and then broke above timberline to summit Mount Lincoln at a 5089 foot elevation. Clouds had formed in the lower valleys, but I was basking in the sun. I had a field day with my camera snapping up the views.

I followed the ridge to Mount Lafayette at 5249 feet. It was near the top when I heard the thunder. Wait a minute! That sweet voice on the radio didn’t say anything about thunderstorms in the morning! I had been warned about being above timberline in an electrical storm. I looked to the north and saw dark clouds moving in fast. From that moment on, the clouds were not the only things moving fast, I was too! I was jumping over boulders to make it to lower ground. I found refuge in a place surrounded by rocks and small fir trees of uniform height. I put on my raingear just as the rain arrived. I was pelted with hail. I hunkered down, ate a candy bar, and prayed.

I tried the technique of counting the seconds after each flash of lightning and dividing by five to calculate the distance in miles of the storms center from me. First it was two miles to the north, then one, and then one mile to the south. The storm was moving away from me! I was still alive! I said a prayer of thanksgiving but waited a while for safety’s sake. I then continued my hike along Franconia Ridge.

I climbed Mount Garfield under clearing skies, descended a long rocky trail running with water from the storm. I climbed again and arrived at the Galehead Hut at 4:15, the perfect time to ask for “Work for Stay.” If I was accepted, I would be given the leftovers from supper, a place to sleep on the floor in the dining room, and leftovers from breakfast the next morning. I would be asked to do some kind of work for the Hut. I found that Blueberry and Wizard had already been accepted. I talked to a college-aged young woman, Elizabeth, in the kitchen and was taken in as well. Things were looking good until other hikers started arriving. By supper time there was a total of 12 thru hikers all hoping for Work for Stay. To the credit of the “croo” running the Hut, all the hikers were given a place to stay. The leftovers were meager. Cold pasta, three bean salad, stale bread, and water. After eating after the paying guests, we were given jobs ranging from sweeping the floors, to washing dishes, to stocking the shelves with canned goods. I was asked to delay my work until morning which was fine with me. But what was sad was, not only were we hungry, we were treated like dirt, particularly by one member of the croo. Maybe he was just having a bad day. This situation would have been unbearable had it not been for the friendships we thru-hikers made with the guests. The guests generally like us and are interested in our stories. I myself, made fast friends with three men about my age from New Haven, Connecticut. When I explained that my twin brother, Coit, worked for an organization affiliated with Yale University and that I was planning on visiting him after my AT hike, they all invited me to look them up. “We’ll take you kayaking!” they said.

The next morning, after wiping the dining room tables down and sweeping out the bunk rooms of the guests, I hit the Trail after a pitiful breakfast of one pancake, a bowl of cold oatmeal, and half of a canned peach. I climbed a long, steep, and rocky trail up to the top of South Twin Mountain. The weather was clear and the view was spectacular. I could see the towering peak of Mount Washington far in the distance. I could hardly believe I would be walking all the way there in just four or so days.

I hiked to Zealand Hut by 2:00 that afternoon and treated myself to two huge pieces of pumpkin spice bread and a cup of hot cocoa, on sale in the dining room. I visited with several friendly guests who were all interested in my thru hike. I hit the Trail at 2:30. I slipped once on a slick rock and bent my left leg all the way back at the knee in the resulting fall. My knee screamed with pain, but I got up, gave it a good massage, and continued on. This same knee had been protesting loudly over the last couple of days about the treatment I had been giving it on the trail. Routinely, my steps up and down on some of the trails were running 16 inches, each time either pulling up the weight of my body plus my forty pound pack or braking as I stepped down. Luckily the trail leveled out to an old railroad bed and was very easy as it led me to a campsite at Ethan Pond.

Ethan Pond was beautiful at sunset, and the caretaker, Thomas, was very friendly. I met an older section hiker camping there by the name of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic for short. Chronic’s name was really a misnomer because this guy was full of energy. He must have been in his early 70′s. He had sectioned-hiked the Trail from 1976 to 1993 while working full time as an elementary school psychiatrist and counselor. He then thru hiked in 1999. He completed yet another section hike from 2000 to 2007. He admitted he was addicted to the Trail. Chronic and I hit it off. I visited him in his camp and sang him my “I am a Hiker” song. He joined in on the choruses. At the end, he was crying. “That song really touched me,” he said.

Chronic was a fountain of knowledge about the White Mountains and taught me a great deal that night. For instance, Mount Washington was not named for a president after all. It was named for a general! General George Washington became president after the mountain was named for him. Mount Jackson was not named for President Andrew Jackson, it was named for Charles Jackson in 1835. He was the State Geologist for New Hampshire. There was a movement, not too long ago, to re-name one of the high peaks for Ronald Reagan, but it became a political conundrum and didn’t happen.

I soaked my aching knee in the cold water of Ethan Pond that night and again the next morning at 5:30. Chronic came by the shelter and gave me his phone number. “When you get to Pinkham Notch give me a call. I live close by, and I’ll do some trail magic for you.” We shook hands. I knew I had made a real connection with this guy.

I caught the weather forecast at 7:00 at Thomas’ tent. Rain late today. Near hurricane force winds possible on the summits. With this sobering forecast I hit the Trail at 7:30 and made good time to the highway crossing at Crawford Notch. I needed a few groceries like peanut butter and bread, but I was hesitant to hitchhike the three miles to the closest store. I wanted to stay on the Trail and not be hiking in the late afternoon when the chance for thunderstorms were the greatest. I decided to stick out my thumb for ten minutes. If I didn’t get a ride in that amount of time, I would make do with the food provisions I had and keep on hiking. I positioned myself strategically on the side of the road, allowing an easy pull off place behind me for cars. No sooner than I had raised my thumb did a pickup truck pull up behind me from the small parking lot for hikers. The truck had AMC on the door, Appalachian Mountain Club. A guy rolled down the window and asked, “Where you heading?” I said I was going to the Crawford Notch General Store. “Hop in!” he said. I had been befriended my Murt. Murt works in trail maintenance for the AMC. We listened to Utah Phillips music on the CD and talked about hiking on the way to the store. Once there, Murt told me that he would wait for me and give me a ride back. I offered to buy him a sandwich, a soda, a cup of coffee. “No thank you,” he said. “I’m on the clock.”

I got my groceries and returned to the truck. When Murt dropped me off at the trailhead, he said, “Wait a minute, I got something for you.” As I was getting my pack and hiking poles out of the bed of the truck, Murt approached me with a small backpack. “I got some food for you,” he said. I was stunned. Murt wanted to give me much more that I could carry or fit in my pack. I gratefully accepted a bag of trail mix and a block of cheese. Once again, the Trail and the people of the Trail had taken care of me.

I made it up a treacherous climb up Webster Cliffs and ascended Mount Jackson. I came down to Mizpah Spring Hut at 4:00. Amelia in the kitchen enthusiastically accepted me for Work for Stay. I volunteered to do a program about thru hiking the Appalachian Trail for the guests if needed. Amelia sounded interested. By late afternoon, the MD3 girls (Maryland Three) showed up. They were old friends of mine I hadn’t seen since Harpers Ferry, WVA. We were thrilled at our reunion. That night, after the guests ate, Amelia served up a wonderful pasta dish with pesto, almonds, sausage, and spices. We had chocolate cake for dessert. She clearly took an interest in our well being.

As soon as I finished eating, the guests gathered in the dining room for an announced thru hiker program. Snooze and Pokey of the MD3 joined me. We had close to thirty people hanging on our every word about the Trail and why we were motivated to hike it. There were a lot of questions. What did we eat? How did we cook? Where did we get our water? What kept up going? And why, why on earth would anyone attempt to hike 2,200 miles over rugged terrain? We did the best we could in giving honest, detailed answers. For a finale, I got one of the croo members to join me with his guitar, and I sang the hikers’ song. The guests along with Snooze and Pokey joined me for all the choruses. We had that place rocking! I went to bed that night on the floor in my sleeping bag on my sleeping pad. I felt very satisfied that I had made a contribution to the experience of the Hut for all these people.

The next morning, Monday, August 10, I made the steep climb up Mount Clinton. No, it is not named for Bill Clinton; it is named for Dewitt Clinton, former governor of New York and botanist. The wildflower Clintonia is named after him. This mountain is also called Mount Pierce for Franklin Pierce, a former New Hampshire resident. As I continued up the bare summits of a separate Mount Franklin and Mount Monroe, I was met with whiteout conditions and winds from 40 to 50 mph. I had to remove my glasses to keep them from blowing off my head! Besides, they were so fogged up, I could see better without them. All of a sudden through the mist, a building loomed in front of me. It was Lakes of the Clouds Hut.

It was only 11:00 in the morning, but conditions on Mount Washington only 1 1/2 miles away would likely be horrendous. I asked a young lady in the kitchen if they had any vacancies for guests. She said they had one bunk available for a full house of 91 guests (This Hut is not called “Lakes of the Crowds” for nothing!). I got out the credit card. I wanted to experience the life on the other side of Work for Stay.

I had a wonderful time. I ate at a regular supper table with regular guests, family style. This time, no pasta. There was soup, alpine salad, chicken breasts cooked in white wine, steamed vegetables, and homemade chocolate chip bars for dessert. After supper, one of the croo approached me and asked me if I would do a thru hiker program. “We heard good things about you from the Mizpah croo,” she said. I agreed. This time, I had fifty people! A fellow named Drew from the croo joined me on guitar for the hiker song. After the program I was swamped with people. Several people offered me food: cashews, power bars, etc. A teenage girl bashfully asked, “Can I have my picture taken with you?” Of course I enthusiastically obliged.

The next morning as I made the climb up Mount Washington, I was met by hikers who were guests at Lakes of the Clouds and Mizpah. They greeted me by name and wished me well on my hike. It felt great to be recognized. I was energized like never before.

I was at the summit of Washington at 9:30. Everything was white with fog and the wind was blowing lightly. I went into the Summit House and had a tuna salad sandwich, cup of coffee, and a banana. I briefly visited the Mount Washington Museum downstairs. I met a ranger named Bob. Between Ranger Bob and the museum, I learned a great deal about Mount Washington. A carriage road was built to the summit in 1861. It took 7 to 8 hours by horse drawn carriage to bring tourists to the top. A cog railway was built in 1869 called “The Pepper Pass” to provide more comfortable and faster transportation. A weather station was opened at the summit from 1871 to 1892 to record the unusual weather. From 1871 to 1907 a grand hotel accommodating 150 guests, a newspaper, a weather station, and a telegraph office all rested on the top of this mighty mountain. In 1908 a fire on the summit destroyed everything except one building, the Tip Top House, a place for dining and entertainment. Mount Washington is in fog 60% of the time. The highest wind velocity ever recorded on the surface of the earth, 231 mph, was recorded here in April of 1934. The record cold is minus 47 degrees Fahrenheit. Maximum temperature, 72 degrees. Maximum annual snowfall of 246 inches. Below 0 degrees 20% of the year. Hurricane force winds 100 days per year. Mount Washington is the Northeastern United States highest peak at 6288 feet. Whew!

That day, Tuesday, August 11, I continued over Washington to Mt. Clay, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Adams. I got caught in another thunderstorm near a place right at timberline called, ironically, Thunderstorm Junction. This time, the rain came down so hard it hurt! Yes, there was lightning. And yes, I was scared. I made it to Madison Spring Hut by 4:00 and asked Keith in the kitchen to tell me about the Osgood Trail leading down the mountain. “Oh, it’s not too bad, a few rocks, but nothing you can’t handle,” Keith said. Based on this advice I decided to move on to the Osgood Tent Campsite a mere three mile away. Once I scaled an almost straight up Mount Madison looming above the Hut, I looked unbelievably in the distance to see huge boulders as far as the eye could see. Rock cairns marked the path of this so called “not too bad” trail. I hiked over the two miles of boulders and then descended a steep, slippery trail of mud, tree roots, and rocks. I stumbled into the tent site three hours later with just enough time to pitch my tent, make supper, and hang my bear bag before dark.

The next morning I hiked to the Visitors’ Center at Pinkham Notch by 11:00. I had called my new friend Chronic on my cell phone and told him I would be there by 12:00 noon. At 11:30 Chronic walked through the door, happy to see me. He treated me to trail magic like I had not seen before. We started out with lunch at a local barbeque place. He took me to his home in Intervale, NH where he and his wife run the Brookhill Bed and Breakfast. Chronic and Susan gave me their outlying cottage to sleep in. I took a luxurious hot shower. They washed my clothes. They treated me to a steak dinner that night. I serenaded Susan with my harmonica. Chronic and I sang the hiker song to her, only Chronic didn’t cry this time. He was too busy smiling.

The next morning on Thursday, August 13, Chronic took me back to the trailhead at Pinkham Notch and “threw me to the wildcats.” The next five mountains that awaited me were the Wildcats with serious ups and downs, rock faces, and lots of tricky spots to negotiate. I did the seven miles of the Wildcats in seven hours and ended up at the Carter Notch Hut. Lindsay, Matt, and Jeff (the same Jeff that had given me baked goods at Lonesome Lake) welcomed me enthusiastically for Work for Stay. They fed me great. I inventoried canned goods for them in their woodshed.

The next day I made it 7.2 miles to the Imp Shelter and Campsite. A young section hiker named Dwight and I shared the shelter. I witnessed a beautiful sunset that night with Ryan the caretaker and several campers. The next morning, I joined Ryan at his tent for coffee and the weather report at 7:00. Another good day was in the forecast! That morning I climbed Moriah Mountain and descended into the Rattle River Valley. Once I had made the descent, the trail was easy all the way to Highway 2, the road leading into Gorham, NH. Sitting in the parking lot was a thru hiker named Yak that I had met when I was coming down with Lyme disease back at Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania. Yak had come down with Hepatitis A, had been treated, had recovered off the trail, had skipped a few hundred miles north, and was now doing low mileage making his way to Katahdin. He would go back and fill in the missing section later this year. He would still be considered a thru hiker. “My wife is coming to pick me up,” he said. “She comes and gets me every week or so and fattens me up for the next part of the trail. We’ll give you a ride into Gorham.”

So this latest little bit of trail magic is how I have come to where I am now. I am staying at The Barn hostel in Gorham, named so because it really is a barn. I am sleeping upstairs in what would have been the hayloft. New England is having its first real summer temperatures right now, and it is hot during the day in the loft. It cools down at night. I am pulling two “zero’s” here to fatten my own self up and let my knees rest. I have only 16.5 miles to go before I reach the Maine border. Reaching Maine will surely energize me, but I will still have 297.9 miles to go before I reach the end of the Trail on top of Mount Katahdin. Even though I am out of the White Mountains, I still have some challenging mountains ahead. The famed Mahoosuc Mountain Range looms in front of me. My last challenge will be the 100 Mile Wilderness, a place where civilization does not cross the Trail for that many miles.

But you know, I can do this! I have come so far. I have so many people behind me. I will set out tomorrow, bright and early, on what will be the last part of my journey. Lucky is an understatement. I am walking a dream.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

Trail Report – August 3 (1776 miles)

Trail Report
trail map

elevation map

Dear friends,

I left you last when my thru hiker friend Ironman and I were staying at the Mountain Meadows Lodge in Killington, Vermont. We had a fine time there and even got to paddle a canoe around Kent Pond. I was able to get close up photographs of a loon and a great blue heron. But all of these luxury times had to give way to making our way north lasix 40 mg.

Ironman and I headed out of Killington on Tuesday, July 28. We hiked sixteen miles that day and ended up at the Winturri Shelter. I was excited to find a couple of my thru hiker friends there that I had not seen in a long time: Mr. Ed and Lightweight from New Zealand. Mr. Ed always seems to have a smile on his face and just picks my day up every time I see him.

My intention the next day was to hike fourteen miles into West Hartford, VT. I was a hot day, one of the few I have had. At one road crossing, I met a 77 year old man who was out hiking the mountains. When I asked him his trail name, he said, “Tailwind, my wife named me that!” Our eyes met, and we both busted out laughing! Tailwind reaching into his daypack and pulled out a banana. “Here,” he said, “I know thru hikers don’t get enough fruit. I bring fruit out here in case I run into you guys.” I enthusiastically took the banana and ate it on the spot. Tailwind asked for the skin back, for his compost pile.

The rest of the day went well with lots of stops for water, but around 4:00 that afternoon, I could tell a thunderstorm was approaching fast. I was four miles away from my destination, and I knew the rain and possible lightning would catch me before I arrived. With the wind whipping up around me, I decided to hike a ways off the Trail and pitch my tent to ride out the storm. I just didn’t want to get soaked again after my last experience on Mount Greylock. I was moving fast. Ground cloth down first, tent up next, fly on last. I finished just in time, the rain was starting to come down. Just before I dove into the tent with provisions for supper, I noticed a big white birch tree next to my tent. Then, I looked up. There was no top to the tree, it was a dead mast of several hundred pounds just waiting to be blown down by the next strong wind. I know this sounds foolish, but I hurriedly tied this tree to several other trees in the opposite direction of my tent. I used a long section of parachute cord that I normally use for hanging my bear bag. The rain was starting to come down hard now, and I got into the tent just in time to avoid getting soaked.

I had a cold supper of bagels, peanut butter and honey, trail mix, and dried fruit. For the first time on my Appalachian Trail journey, I kept my food bag in the tent. By now the sound of the rain on my tent fly was almost deafening. I had two thoughts. One was that the birch tree was going to fall on me, kill me, and no one would find me for a very long time since I had camped a good ways from the trail. The other thought was that the bears were going to smell my food and come get me. I prayed a lot that night.

Dawn came with me still alive. It rained all night, around four inches evidenced by the pot I had left outside for measuring purposes. But the rain had stopped. The first thing I did when I got out of the tent was to affectionately pat the birch tree. I thanked it for being strong during the storm. I said a prayer of thanksgiving for my safety, packed up, and was on the trail by 7:00. I had one thing on my mind. There was a general store in West Hartford. My Trail Guide informed me that it served breakfast. At a good hiking pace, I was two hours away. I was not disappointed. The folks in the store were very nice to me. I had the “Big Breakfast” of scrambled eggs, pancakes, homefries, and bacon. Oh yes, the coffee was excellent.

As I climbed the mountain out of town, I remembered that I forgot to leave a tip. I felt bad that I had represented the thru hiker so poorly. Soon though, I met a southbound hiker from Maine coming down the trail. His name was Cargo Pockets. He was planning on stopping at the store for lunch. He agreed to take a tip to the ladies for me. I felt much better.

With this breakfast under my belt, I was a charged up hiking machine. I made the next eight miles into Norwich, VT in record time. When the Trail reached town, it put me out on a residential street. I followed the white blazes on telephone poles to a busy intersection. Out of the blue, a strikingly beautiful young woman came up to me and said, “You must be Braid. I have heard all about you from the other thru hikers. You play harmonica and sing. My name is Victory.” With a little more conversation, I ascertained that Victory was from Williamstown, Massachusetts. She was section hiking the AT with her adopted father, Papa Trip (named this because he always carried three different versions of maps for the terrain they hiked), in preparation for hiking the Long Trail. The Long Trail is the oldest hiking trail in the United States, conceived in 1910, and runs from Massachusettes, through Vermont, and on up to the Canadian border. Victory and Papa Trip worked together in a surveying business, so they were used to being in the out of doors. I ended up hiking the urban streets of Norwich with Victory and Papa Trip. We approached a bridge over the Connecticut River. Halfway across the bridge, we stopped to take our pictures, passing cameras back and forth. Why? We had just crossed over into New Hampshire!

Another mile found the three of us on the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. In observing the people on the street, I deduced that you either had to be smart or rich to live in Hanover. We followed white blazes on telephone poles and were attracted to a Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream shop. After downing generous helpings of ice cream, we stopped by a pizza parlor nearby that offered a free slice of pizza to all hikers.

The three of us hiked out of town and climbed the steep .8 mile ascent to the Velvet Rocks Shelter. Since the shelter was already full, we tented nearby. Victory and I stayed up after all the others had gone to bed. We cooked yet another meal and talked quietly while we ate. Victory asked if it was still possible to hear me play the harmonica and maybe sing a song. I said, OK, but we would have to hike down the trail a good ways so as not to disturb the others. With our headlamps illuminating the trail, we made our way almost all the way back to the AT. Victory took a seat on a rock. I remained standing and fished out my harmonica from its ziplock bag. A full moon shone through the trees overhead. I played the melody and chorus of the “I am a Hiker” song and came in with the words that trace a hiker’s journey up the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. On the second chorus, I was surprised to hear Victory’s voice come in. High and almost haunting, her voice harmonized with mine. It was a fine rendition of this song! With the song over, we talked a while more before heading back up the trail to the shelter.

For those of you who might be hoping for a romantic conclusion to this story, let me tell you that Victory is young enough to be my daughter. Sometimes, one just needs to set boundaries. Besides, there are times a woman just needs to be treated like a lady. And, on this moonlit evening, it was enough for me to enjoy the company and attention of a beautiful woman.

The next morning I was the first up in the camp, fixing my breakfast. I packed up, and Victory came over to help me hoist my pack to my back. We had made a nice connection between ourselves. As I headed down the side trail back to the Appalachian, it started to rain. Sigh.

It rained the whole day. I was proud that I trudged on. The mud got deep, and the trail was often running with water. REI had been generous enough to send me, free of charge, a brand new pair of hiking boots that I received back at the Mountain Meadows Lodge. My new boots! It almost made me cry. They were constantly being submerged in two to four inches of rich, black mud. I made it 15.2 miles to the Trapper John Shelter. I joined Ironman, Blueberry, Wizard, and a new acquaintance, Pusher, in the shelter. I was soaked but changed into dry clothes. It rained all night, likely another four inches. I dreaded the condition of the Trail.

The next day, Saturday, August 1, was sunny which helped my spirit endure a trail even more muddy than before. One thing I was beginning to notice. The mountains were getting higher. Instead of the 500 and 1000 foot climbs I was used to, the elevation changes now were 2000 and 2500 feet. I was approaching the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I made it up the steep ascents and descents of Smarts Mountain and Eastman Ledges and I crossed a raging stream, fearing for my wellbeing, before arriving at the Hexacuba Shelter, the only hexagonal shelter that I know of on the Trail.

A peaceful night at Hexacuba set the stage for Ironman and me to climb the formidable Cube Mountain. On its peak at 8:00 AM on August 2, we could see mountains stretching away in all directions bathed in a peach colored light. We planned this day to hike fifteen miles to Glencliff, NH, the last town before entering the Whites. It started raining around 12 noon. Ironman was ahead of me. As I started to make the descent into Glencliff around 3:00, I passed a beautiful spring. I was almost out of water, so I stopped to fill my bottle. As I did, I noticed a shadowy shape moving in the sky over my head. I looked up. It was an eagle! With the stark lighting difference from the dark forest to the lighter sky, I couldn’t make out if I was a bald or golden. But I was certain it was an eagle. I shouted out, “Booshoo Migizi! Miigwetch!” This is the language I learned while working at Red School House in Minnesota in my first teaching job just out of grad school. It is the language of the Ojibwe and means “Hello Eagle, Thank you!” I was truly thankful for this sign, this blessing.

I made it to Glencliff by 4:30 and found my way to the Hikers Welcome Hostel. This is a funky place with outdoor shower and laundry facilities. Because the place is at capacity with hikers, Ironman and I are staying in a large tent outside the main hostel. The rain has stopped. I don’t know what we will do tomorrow. We might make our way up the first mountain of the Whites, Mt. Moosilauke. We might stay put for a day, let our feet recover a bit from hiking in wet boots for three days, and rest.

My spirit is still good. I am ready for the high mountains that lie ahead.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

Trail Report – July 27 (1690 miles)

Trail Report
trail map

elevation map

Dear friends,

I left you last when I was in Bennington, Vermont. In thinking back over my last email to you, I was struck by how much I emphasized eating. But it is true, I have to eat in order to hike. I am likely burning 5000 to 6000 calories a day, and I am lucky if I can consume 4000 calories a day on the trail. I make up the difference when I come into trail towns, which averages about every five days. I find that thoughts about food keep me motivated on the trail, and memories about food give me comfort. For instance, during our night in Bennington, Ironman, Bon Bon, and I went to an Italian place called Allegro. It was a much more upscale restaurant than we were told by our hotel proprietor. Even though we were in hiker clothes, we were welcomed inside. Business was kind of slack that Sunday evening. We had a fabulous meal of cream sauces over pasta with chicken for Ironman and me and shrimp for Bon Bon. We toasted the Trail with glasses of Merlot wine.

The memory of this meal helped me survive Tuesday, July 21. You see, after one night in Bennington, and most of the day spent at the post office, library, and outfitters, I hit the Trail after catching a shuttle to the trailhead five miles outside of town at 3:00 PM on July 20. With such a late start I was only able to hike 10 miles before darkness started setting in. I found a level place off the trail and set up a solo camp. I found myself smiling, sitting on a log, fixing my supper, and listening to wood thrushes singing around me. I slept incredibly well that night.

The morning of July 21 came overcast, but I have a saying: “Never judge a day by its dawning.” After breakfast, I hit the Trail at 7:00, hiking 9 miles before an early lunch at 11:00 at the Kid Gore Shelter. This is when my day changed. The rain started slow at first with falling temperatures and gusty wind. Then it poured. I hiked on anyway another 4.6 miles to the Story Spring Shelter, arriving at 1:45 that afternoon. I found the shelter full of wet hikers, both section and thru, already hunkered down for the day. Even though I had only hiked ten miles for the day, I made he decision to stop. It was another ten miles to the next shelter, and the colossal Stratton Mountain, standing 4000 feet in altitude, stood between my current location and there.

I have never concluded a hiking day so early, but I rolled out my sleeping pad in the shelter, spread out my sleeping bag, and made a cup of coffee to warm myself up. My intention was to keep on my wet clothes and let them dry from my body heat. I watched for the signs for hypothermia: numbness of bay parts, shivering, slurred speech, and irrational behavior. Fortunately none of this set in. I decided to use some of my afternoon time in writing this message to you, to be typed in on a computer when I next got internet access.

I find that as I write this out on a little piece of paper with very small handwriting, I feel satisfied that I did the right thing today by warming and drying off in the shelter. Warmth is gradually coming to my body. I am sure it will be an early supper and bedtime for me with hopes that tomorrow will give me better weather for hiking. The memory of that Italian meal with Ironman and Bon Bon comforts me as I listen to the wind and the rain hitting the shelter roof.

So, today, July 27, I am in comparative luxury as I sit at a computer in Mountain Meadows Lodge outside Killington, VT. Classical music is playing the background as I type this message to you shortly before breakfast is served to all the guests. Let me back up and tell you what has happened to me since that rainy day in the shelter.

I got up the morning of July 22 concerned about the conditions I would find on the Trail since it rained all night long. After a standing up breakfast with water dripping on me from the trees above, I hit the Trail at 7:15. It was a two hour climb up Stratton Mountain, but I felt great after all the rest from the day and night before. When I reached the top, shrouded in fog, I discovered that this peak was very important to the Appalachian Trail and to the state of Vermont itself. It was on this peak in 1921 that Benton McKaye — forester, author, and philosopher — conceived the idea of the Appalachian Trail, a footpath that would link the scenic ridges of the Appalachian Mountains running up the entire East Coast. It was also on this peak, in 1763, that a new state in our Union was named Verd Mont, French for Green Mountain, and shortened to Vermont.

I have been hiking in the Green Mountains from that day until this. I reluctantly admit that the thing I will remember the most about Vermont is the mud. My fears on that morning after the heavy rain proved true. The Trail has turned to mud in many places. I am talking thick, black, boot sucking mud up to eight inched deep. I have tried to keep my feet as dry as possible by skirting the deepest puddles and also by stepping on rocks and tree roots. But let me say that stepping on wet rocks and tree roots is an invitation to catastropic falls if not done very, very carefully!

Ironically, I spent that night, July 22, with another thru hiker by the name of Roots from Hiawasee, Georgia, We stayed in the beautiful Spruce Peak Shelter, built in 1986, with four windows, a sliding door, a woodstove, and big wooden bunks for our sleeping pads. Sweet! I felt good about my energy and output this day. I had hiked 18.3 miles, at least half of it in the aforementioned mud.

The next day I continued hiking in the incredible variety of environmental diversity that Vermont has to offer. I climbed steep mountains, I hiked through bogs, and walked boardwalks through swamps. All this time I was looking for the largest variety of deer that North America has to offer, Moose. Moose can get as large as 8 feet tall and weigh as much as 1,400 pounds. They love the aquatic plants that thrive in the bogs and cattail filled ponds in northern New England. No, I have not seen my first moose, but I have found tracks and scat right on the Trail. I stayed that night at the Peru Peak Shelter and, much to my surprise, both Ironman and Bon Bon showed up around dusk for a grand reunion. Thunderstorms moved in during the evening and it poured rain all night long. Ah, the mud!

Ironman and I hiked together the next day, ending up at the Greenwall Shelter after a 14.5 mile day. We had the place to ourselves and had a very peaceful night even though we were pounded by yet another thunderstorm. Everybody here is getting tired of the rain. Even the locals I have been running into on the Trail have commented that this is the wettest spring and summer New England has seen in many, many years.

One thing that is happening now on the Trail is that I am starting to run into thru hikers who started in Maine and who are moving south. These hikers are called Southbounders and pride themselves with the fact that they have done what most regard as the hardest part of the Trail — New Hampshire and Maine — first. I have enjoyed talking with them and finding out about what they have experienced in the area I am now approaching. The Southbounders (or Sobos as they are affectionately known) tell me they had 31 days of rain in Maine followed by good weather for the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The Whites are intimidating to most anyone. They are tall like the Smokies down south, but many of them are above timberline, making for high wind conditions and severe weather. I will likely be entering the Whites in another 7 to 8 days. Debra Bowick, my housesitter, has sent me my winter sleeping bag and long underwear. I am ready and excited for the challenges that await.

One last comment on my latest overnight accommodations. On Saturday, July 25, Ironman and I stayed in the “Secret Shelter.” This is a non-publicized shelter, built by a former thru hiker on her private property. We found out about it by talking to the Sobo hikers. We got directions to it by a very strange way. Just before a particular road crossing, we were told to look for a large shelf bracket mushroom attached to a tree. Directions to the Secret Shelter were written on this fungus! We followed the directions and found a beautiful handmade shelter with pegged hand-hewn log construction. The mysterious owner had left us four cold sodas and four oatmeal pies. We dined by candlelight that evening. The privy or outhouse was the nicest I have seen on the Trail. It was round with attention paid to every detail. Two picture books on outhouses from around the world awaited our visits to the this facility.

My last day of hiking has brought me and Ironman to the Mountain Meadows Lodge outside Killington. Strangely, Ironman’s daughter was married here in 2005. I did not know this, or even know Ironman himself, when I booked these accommodations months ago and had my supply boxes sent here. Another package I was excited to see when I arrived yesterday was from REI, the outdoor equipment company. REI in Washington State, at their own volition, has supplied me with a pair of boots that will hopefully see me through to the end of the Trail, all free of charge. When I called to order a new pair, they looked at my purchasing history and noticed that this would be my third pair of boots for the Trail. “We want to contribute to your success,” the young man told me when he offered the free boots. There was one condition: that I return my current pair of boots so they could evaluate them. I predict that the folks at REI in Washington will get a laugh out of the condition of the boots that have taken me from Virginia to Vermont. The boots are in shreds! There are gaping holes where the uppers meet the soles. And the black Vermont mud have given this pair of boots a very interesting patina!

I look forward to sharing more of my adventures with you.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

Trail Report – July 20 (1597 miles)

Trail Report
trail map

elevation map

Dear friends,

I am in the public library in Bennington, VT. It is a pressurized situation with few computers, lots of people wanting to get on, and a librarian with a bad temper. So, I’ll give you a short update first and fill in the blanks if I have the time.

I hiked into Vermont yesterday. Since I last communicated with you a week and a half ago, I have hiked through New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The gentle mountains are over! I am back in very challenging terrain, and it is getting more and more challenging the farther north I go!

These last states have been very enjoyable for me because the weather has improved. I have had many days of gorgeous sunshine. Because I am mostly hiking under the cover of deciduous and evergreen forests, the temperature has been cool. I have contended with a few violent thunderstorms, but this spate of weather has really improved my attitude. Another thing that has lifted my spirits is that I have finished the twenty-one day course of medication for Lyme disease. I am feeling great. I am concentrating on eating mass quantities of food to keep my strength up and at least a few fat reserves in my body. My body is mostly down to muscle, tendon, ligament, and bone. I truly have become a lean, mean, hiking machine. OK, maybe not mean. I am still a humble person on the Trail.

When I communicated last, I was staying at the home of an old friend, Sandy Rhoades, in Falls Village, Connecticut. Sandy and his wife, Sis, gave me the royal treatment. Sandy and I share a love for American Indian music and Straight Dancing. Sandy also is a rare individual in the Indian powwow world in that he has served as a clown for many powwows. The tradition of clowns among American Indian cultural celebrations goes back a long ways. Sandy told me that his role as a clown at powwows is to remind the dancers, singers, and spectators to not take ourselves too seriously. Yes, there is always a time to be serious and the time to joke around, but the goal is to find a balance between the two. Sandy believes in the healing powwow of laughter. That is what his role as a clown always sought to bring out.

I left Sandy’s and Sis’s and hiked past the falls on the Housatonic River near their home. On the trail by the falls, I ran into a man with a light spinning rod. He was shaking visibly. I asked him if he was all right. He said, “I just caught the biggest rainbow trout of my life! It was nearly as big as my arm! It was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. I just turned it loose in the river; I couldn’t keep and kill anything so beautiful!” I hiked on by and went to check out the falls. I met another man with a pair of binoculars surveying the people gathered around the falls. At first, honestly, I thought he was a pervert. But then I got to talking to him. He said he was trying to prevent someone from “doing something stupid.” He explained to me that two weeks earlier, with the river in flood stage, three teenagers were playing around the falls. Two of them jumped off a high rock into the pool beneath the falls. They had underestimated the power of the flooded waterfall. The waterfall keep sucking them back away from shore. They were struggling to get to the rocks on the edges. The third boy was an expert swimmer and a regular at the falls. He saw everything that was happening and jumped in. He got each of his friends to grab ahold of his shoulders. He swam with all his might to shore. The two boys were able to reach the rocks. Their rescuer, a high school student by the name of Kaelan Paton, was totally exhausted in the 45 degree water. He sunk beneath the surface. They found Kaelan’s body one week later downstream.

The man with the binoculars told me that the whole community was devastated. Kaelan’s funeral was the next day, July 13. He repeated, “I’m here to prevent anyone from doing something stupid.” I shook his hand and told him I was sorry for his and the community’s loss. I hiked back to the Trail and headed north to Salisbury, CT.

I had read about an elderly lady in Salisbury who takes in thru hikers as boarders in her home. I had sent her one of my supply boxes. When I arrived on Maria McCabe’s back porch, she greeted me enthusiastically and handed me a cold soda. That afternoon, she drove me to a grocery store, and I resupplied for the next leg of my trip. That evening, she took me to a laundromat to wash my pitiful clothes, and I treated her to dinner at a local Italian restaurant. Maria McCabe is eighty years old. Maria joked with everyone we saw that night that the two of us were on a date. Back at her house, I explained to Maria how I shared music with others on the Trail with my harmonica. She asked me to play her a song. I did.

This opened up a new dimension between us. She said that my harmonica playing reminded her of the accordions back home in Italy. She told me that she was from the Dolomite mountains of northern Italy. She told me how she had been abandoned by her mother as a little girl and how she had been adopted by a farming family. However, it was not a good life. She was treated practically as a slave on the farm, tending the dairy cattle, and taking care of many chores. She longed to escape. World War II came around, and, as a young teenager, she was told that Hitler was coming and was going to take away all her possessions. She packed a suitcase full of her favorite dresses and cherished items. She secretly dug a hole in the floor of the chicken coop, placed the suitcase in the hole, and covered everything with wood and dirt. Hitler was not going to get her favorite possessions! “That box is probably still there!” she said.

As a seventeen-year-old, and just after the war concluded, Maria fell in love with a local man, a Mr. Duntz. They wanted to get married and take a ship to America to have a better life together, but Maria was too young to get married according to local customs. She got a Catholic priest to sign a document agreeing to the marriage, and a year later, in 1947, Maria and Mr. Duntz came to America. They settled in Connecticut in a farmhouse with wood heat and no plumbing. Maria’s first husband died when he was forty-one, and, years later, Maria married Spaulding McCabe. She raised several children both as a single parent and with Spaulding.

One day, Spaulding was up in the mountains outside of Salisbury at a place called Riga Campground. This is a place on the Appalachian Trail. When Spaulding returned he had an unusual story to tell. Up at Riga, he had met a man from Germany. This man, a Mr. Hohner, gave him a new harmonica in a cardboard box. Spaulding brought the harmonica back to their home and learned to play it. Spaulding has since passed away, but Maria has filled the emptiness in her home with her care for hikers on the Appalachian Trail.

After telling me all this, Maria excused herself and went into the next room. She came back with a small cardboard box in her hands. “I want you to have this,” she said, and gave me the box. It was an echo harp, a classic harmonica from Germany, with the name M. Hohner on the front. “You play the harmonica so well and have lifted my spirits so much, I want you to have Spaulding’s harmonica.” I was dumbfounded. I played her a song on the echo harp and then packed it away safely.

Since leaving Maria’s, I have reconnected with an old thru hiker friend, Iron Man from New Jersey. I also hiker briefly with a young thru hiked named Huck Finn from Cincinnati. Hanging with these guys has increased my daily mileage and enjoyment. We hiked out of Connecticut and into Massachusetts. We stayed together at the Hemlocks Lean-to and Mt. Wilcox South Lean-to. Next, we hiked to a remote cabin on a glacial lake called Goose Pond. Just a few miles away from the pond, I ran into two women section hikers who were about my age. I stopped to talk with them. In exchanging information, I told them I was from Durham, NC and had just retired from teaching at the NC School of Science and Math. One of the women, Kate Winters “Katydid” exclaimed, “That’s where my son, Robb Winters, went to school! But that was way back in 1985.” I told her that I was teaching there since 1980 when the school was founded. “What’s your name?” she asked. I told her my real name was Joe Liles. Her jaw dropped. “I remember you! You were one of my son’s favorite teachers! I have one of your silk screen prints, the one of the cat and the stove, hanging in my home! You have made my day! I was exhausted, but now I can keep on hiking.” I said goodbye to Katydid and her friend, Nancy. But Katydid didn’t realize, she had made my day. Now I could keep on hiking.

Goose Pond and the surrounding area was obtained by the National Park Service in 1984 as a way to preserve land around the Appalachian Trail. A group of local men had purchased over one thousand acres here back in the late 1800′s. They called their group the Mohegan Rod and Gun Club and built a lodge on the shore of the lake. Their provision was that you could pass your membership on to one male member of your family. But membership dwindled, and the Park Service arrived at the right time to rescue this land.

I arrived around 5:15, too late for a swim by my figuring, but I did go soak my legs in the lake. It was beautiful! Thru hikers started showing up, one by one. Soon, the bunkroom in the cabin was full, and hikers started setting up tents in the woods. Grampy, the caretaker of the cabin, welcomed us all. Grampy appeared to be in his late 60′s. He thru hiked the Trail in 2005. A campfire that night provided the social nucleus for all the hikers. I stayed up late with one other thru hiker around the fire. He was a young guy with the trail name Apache hop over to here. He explained that he was not Native American. “I got the name because I have a patchy beard.” I came to find out that Apache is from Waynesville, NC. I told him I knew all about Waynesville, that I had worked closely in Design School at NC State with a guy from there, Joe Sam Queen. Apache went ballistic. “Joe Sam Queen! He represented our area in the North Carolina legislature! I was on the wrestling team with his son Charlie!” Apache’s eyes got bigger when I explained that I had taught Charlie photography at the School of Science and Math. Apache and I now share a bond on the Trail. It is indeed a small world when it comes to human connections and relationships.

The next morning Grampy fixed all 17 thru hikers a breakfast of wild blueberry pancakes and sent us on our way.

Since Goose Pond Cabin, I have hiked through Dalton, MA. I inquired of a couple of truckers about the best place in town for breakfast. They enthusiastically recommended Duff and Dales Variety Store across the street. I can honestly say that I walked away from Duff and Dales after having the best breakfast of my life: pancakes, eggs, bacon, homefries, and coffee. I live to hike. I live to eat.

I have survived a couple of late afternoon thunderstorms lately. With one, I beat it to the shelter, the Kay Wood Lean-to. With the other, it beat me and Iron Man, too. We were climbing one of the highest mountains in Massachusetts, Mount Greylock. With an hour left in our hike, the heavens opened and drenched us with pouring rain. Lightning was striking all around us. I knew we were taking our chances, but we were still in heavy forest a good ways away from the summit. When we made it to the Mark Noepel Lean-to, Iron Man told me: “You know on that big lightning strike, all the hair on my arms was standing straight up!”

The next morning after a night in a very crowded shelter (I slept on the floor beneath the bottom bunk with only six inches clearance above my nose. It poured the whole night.), Iron Man and I hiked up to the summit of Greylock and had breakfast in the lodge up there. A caretaker took us to see a historic structure. Just below the summit was a “warming hut” built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930′s. It was a warming hut for skiers on the first downhill skiing slope in the United States, the Thunderbolt Ski Run. It was a beautiful piece of architecture with four bunks and four woodstoves feeding into a central chimney. Iron Man and I hiked down part of the Thunderbolt Ski Run until the AT veered off in a different direction.

Hiking into North Adams, MA brought on yet another miraculous experience. We were shocked on Saturday, July 18, to find that there were no vacancies at all in the motels in town. A local woman and AT enthusiast named Bagel saw us as she passed by in her car. She stopped and offered us a ride to the grocery for a cold drink. Along the way, we put together a plan to stay in a hostel in a neighboring town, Cheshire. Jim at the Wayside Hostel treated Iron Man and me like we were royalty. A section hiker, John with the trail name Carribou, a retired judge from Maine, gave us a ride back to North Adams the next morning. We treated Carribou to breakfast at Friendly’s, a chain restaurant that is new to my experience.

Iron Man and I planned an easy 14 mile day to the Congdon Shelter. Along the way, we crossed the border into Vermont. Only Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine left on the Trail! But when we arrived at Congdon at 4:00 that afternoon, found it a zoo with hikers everywhere. We teamed up with a young woman thru hiker from Ohio named Bon Bon and hatched a plan to hike another four miles to a road crossing near Bennington, Vermont. Now, don’t jump to conclusions. Bon Bon doesn’t eat bon bons. She is a birding enthusiast and gets her trail name from John James Audubon. We did this remaining hike in good time, arriving at the road crossing around 6:00, but found that hitching a ride into town was not easy. We had counted on cell phone service to call a local thru hiker shuttle, but there was no reception. Just when we were starting to get worried, a large SUV pulled into the parking area. Hikers piled out to get on the trail north. The driver, Pounce, a thru hiker from 2008, gave us a ride into Bennington and escorted us around town until we found an economical motel with eating establishments close by.

So, as you can tell, I am living the good life. I am hiking around 14 to 20 miles a day. I am eating well both on the Trail and in towns that intersect the Trail. And I am making a lot of friends. The amazing things that keep happening to me affirm in my mind that I am supposed to be doing this. I am convinced that I am being guided by something much larger and more powerful than myself.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

Trail Report – July 10 (1470 miles)

Trail Report
trail map

elevation map

Dear friends,

Today is my “Four Month Anniversary” on the Trail. I started March 10, four months ago. It seems forever since that day down in Georgia when I started out with wide eyes and a lot of questions in my heart. I have learned so much since then about living outdoors, about perseverance, and about myself. I have so much more to learn.

When I left you last, I was enjoying a “zero day” in Greenwood Lake, New York. I stayed at Anton’s on the Lake, a quaint motel at the end of a bay on Greenwood Lake. The lake was carved out of the land by glacier movement in the last ice age. One thing this lake is famous for is, back during the early days of the Cold War, the United States successfully launched a long range missile from the frozen surface of the lake.

On this day of rest for me, the lake was full of both docked and motoring boats of all descriptions. I used this day, Friday, July 3, to compose and send you my last email from the public library, to get supplies for the next leg of my hike at the grocery store and pharmacy, and to eat my way through town. I enjoyed a down home breakfast at the Village Buzz Cafe and a late afternoon dinner on the front porch of Murphy’s Tavern, a restored older house on the main street. I had the meatloaf special and was not disappointed.

The next morning, Tricia, the motel owner along with her husband Robert, gave me a ride to the trail head four miles out of town. I was on the Trail by 7:00 AM, a nice early start. By late morning I met up with several thru hiker friends I had not seen in a long time: Prairie Dog and Angry Beaver, Leon and his dog Halifax. We hiked together and had lunch on a high rock summit. I had to duck into the shade of a mountain laurel bush because I am supposed to avoid sun exposure while I am on medication for Lyme disease. That night, I tented at the Fingerboard Shelter in Harriman State Park. The shelter was full of young people from New York City. I visited with them a while before turning in for my traditional early bedtime, this time at 8:30. I went to sleep hearing the explosion of July 4th fireworks from the towns below the mountain. I was too tired to climb to a vantage spot and watch.

On July 5, I continued hiking north over very rocky terrain. At one point, on the summit of Black Mountain, I stopped to admire the skyline of Manhattan, some forty miles away. At 3:00 that afternoon, I arrived at the top of Bear Mountain, NY. The place was buzzing with tourists and motorcycle guys. I climbed the observation tower there and learned from the displays how all this came to be. A New York banker, George W. Perkins, worked to acquire wilderness land so that New Yorkers could get away from city life and enjoy the healing effects of the out-of-doors. Perkins and his son worked from the early 1900′s until the 1930′s to establish Palisades Park, Harriman State Park, and Bear Mountain Park, all thirty miles from New York City. They were also able to preserve the palisades rock formations along the banks of the nearby Hudson River.

While I was wandering around outside the observation tower on Bear Mountain, I met a maintenance worker for the park. He told me an interesting story. He said that the thing that got George Perkins started on preserving the area was a prison. In the early 1900′s, the state of New York wanted to build a prison known as Sing Sing on the palisade side of the Hudson River. George Perkins plunked down $100,000 to persuade New York to build the prison on the other side of the river, thereby preserving the rock formations and setting in place the drive to acquire more land for public use. According to the maintenance man, the town of Sing Sing that surrounded the prison decided they wanted to distance themselves from that notorious incarceration facility. They changed their name from Sing Sing to Osing, NY.

The climb down the north side of Bear Mountain was interesting in many ways. One was that tourists would stop me, Prairie Dog, and Angry Beaver and ask what we were doing. They were amazed that we had already hiked from Georgia and were headed for Maine. The big surprise, though, was what we found at the bottom of the mountain. We passed under an old ski jump and came out on a huge field with hundreds of young people playing soccer. There was a carousel merry-go-round, many food concession stands, a lake with sailboats, a huge swimming pool, and thousands of people picnicking. Remember, this was still July 4th weekend. I was struck by the diversity of people. It seemed like every country in the world was represented. I couldn’t resist the food and settled down with a plate of pulled pork barbecue, slaw, and corn on the cob roasted in the husk.

After enjoying this late afternoon feast, Prairie Dog, Angry Beaver, and I continued our hike north. The Appalachian Trail actually goes through the Bear Mountain Zoo. Originally, the founders of the Trail envisioned a educational facility in each state that would educate the people about the animals, geology, and the natural ecosystem of that region. New York was the only state to live up to this dream. Incidentally, the lowest elevation of the entire length of the Appalachian Trail is at 124 feet above sea level right in front of the black bear exhibit. But, much to our disappointment, we learned that the zoo was closed. The three of us had to walk the highway to cross the Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson River. The bridge was built from 1923 to 1924. It is 2257 feet long, 355 feet tall, and takes cars and trucks (and us!) 153 feet above the swirling water of the Hudson. We were safe on a pedestrian walkway, but we had some tricky maneuvering with traffic to get to the trail up the mountain on the other side. We camped that night high above the river. We hiked 16.4 miles that day

The next day, July 6, I ended up hiking with two young hikers from Massachusetts: Brave Little Toaster and Frank N. Stein, oh yes, and their dog, Pork. We ended up hiking 19 miles at a fast pace and camping on top of a high ridge. This was the fourth day in a row of beautiful weather, and we were loving it. That night, we had a campfire with songs and stories. It doesn’t get any better than this!

The following day, I felt drained. It could have been due to the long hike of the previous day. I prayed that it wasn’t the Lyme disease or the effects of the medicine I was on. I still had ten days to go of two pills a day. I cut my mileage down to 12.2 and stayed in a very crowded Morgan Stewart Shelter. It was crowded because we had already endured one thunderstorm early in the day and another one was brewing for the evening.

I was encouraged on Wednesday, July 8, to find my energy back. I hiked to the edge of Pawling, NY, right by a little platform on an Amtrak rail line called the Appalachian Trail Railroad Station. I went to an adjacent business, Native Plants and Landscaping, and picked up a supply box I had mailed to me there. The owner is a former thru hiker and does nice things for hikers. He lets them take showers and even tent on the grounds. It was early afternoon, so I did not stay. I did treat myself to a couple of chili hotdogs from Tim’s Hot Dog Stand a little bit down the road. Another six miles, and I finished a 16.3 mile day at the Wiley Shelter. I decided to tent instead of stay in the shelter due to voracious mosquitoes. The crazy thing was I was only one mile from the Connecticut border with New York. So close, but not quite there!

On Thursday, July 9, I crossed into Connecticut in the early morning. I made a very strenuous climb up Schaghticoke Mountain. I found the climb down to be very rocky and challenging. After fifteen miles, I solo camped on top of a high ridge. I was astounded by the beauty around me. The late afternoon sun made everything glow orange. I had made it to New England.

Today, July 10, after a 14.6 mile hike over challenging up and down elevations and rocky terrain, I was picked up at a road crossing by a guy driving a pickup truck full of old shingles and roofing nails. I rode in the back with the shingles. The ride took me to the town of West Cornwall where a one lane covered bridge crossed the Housatonic River. I hung out like a homeless guy in the deserted parking lot of the Wandering Moose Restaurant. Then, my good friend, Sandy Rhoades, who I have known for thirty years on the the American Indian powwow circuit, picked me up and transported me to his home in Falls Village. Sandy and his wife, Sis, treated me to a lobster dinner. Can you believe that lobster is $7.99 a pound up here? I feel like a new human being after a shower and such a nice meal. Sandy will take me back to the trailhead tomorrow morning, and I will continue my trek north. In two or three days I should be in Massachusetts. I am full of hope for what the future holds.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

PS. I am mainly isolated from current events in our country while I am on the Trail, but I do know this is a time of economic challenges for a lot of people. In the period of the Great Depression of the late 1920′s and early 1930′s, our country accomplished many great things that I am experiencing on my adventure: The Appalachian Trail, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Pallisades Park, Harriman State Park, Bear Mountain Park, the Bear Mountain Bridge, and more. I hold out hope that we can work together in this modern time of similar hardship and uncertainty to create new legacies to leave to our children. Join me in being an optimist. The alternative is just too depressing.