I replied, "You should have seen the first part of this
descent!!" What he saw near the bottom was less gnarly than the top.
I think he's getting a better understanding of why I'm out on the Trail so
long some days.
I have to agree with Jim's assessment of my mental state. I've got to be
crazy to get out here day after day, running and walking 2,175 miles on the
But then, "normal" folks think all ultra runners are crazy anyway, so Jim's
almost as crazy as me.
The long, tedious descent from Jug End came at the end of an eleven-hour trek
full of steep, rocky climbs and descents from at least six mountains.
This was one of two descents that were almost as heart-stopping as the one
two days ago from St. Johns Ledges; the other was coming down the north side of
Bear Mountain. At least Bear Mountain has an alternate trail for inclement weather; Jug End
doesn't. You wouldn't want to do either descent when it's wet.
And to think, AT veterans and current SOBOs say "this ain't nuthin'" compared
to what I'll encounter in the Whites in New Hampshire.
What have I gotten myself into??
At the top of the screaming descents, I'm thinking, "Good gosh! How am I gonna get down
cliff safely?" (That's not exactly what I'm saying to
myself, but since there are sensitive folks and youngsters reading this journal,
I'm trying to keep it G-rated.)
You know, I'm starting to relish the challenge. As long as I go slowly enough
to avoid a long or hard fall, it's actually fun to maneuver up and down
these rock walls and "steps."
But I have to choose my route and MO (modus operandi) carefully.
Up or down, I first scout out the best way to get from Point A to Point B -
right, left, through the center, or zig-zagging side to side to take advantage of
shorter hand and foot holds. Usually there is some choice involved. If not, I
have only the methods below to consider.
Then I determine how to put the least stress on my Granny Knees. Going
up, this means not taking giant steps unless that's the only way to get there. I
often use my hands to grab onto trees or rocks to help hoist myself up - or
Going down, I have more options. If I need to use my hands, I toss my
trekking pole somewhere on the trail, steps, or ledge below, then use rocks and
trees to lower myself either forward or backward. Going down backwards puts
less stress on my knees. I can also slide on my butt if the rock is smooth
enough, or sit down and have less of a "jump" to the next level of rock or dirt
Are we having fun yet?
What I've learned to avoid are long steps down that force either knee to less
than a 90-degree angle. I also avoid jumping down; it's just too stressful on my
joints. I'm not 25 or even 35 anymore. Arthritic old ladies (and gentlemen)
can't put that much stress on their joints. Younger folks can, but they may
regret it in a few years.
Again, I don't understand how the hikers can manage some of these steep
climbs and descents with 30-40 pound backpacks.
I've had to learn to re-balance
myself this week because my pack is heavier. After running out of water several
days ago, I've been carrying TWO 100-oz. bladders of water in my Camelbak HAWG.
That's 12½ pounds of just water, plus probably another 6-7 pounds in my pack
(gel, food bar, light jacket, emergency supplies, camera, cell phone, pack
weight) and a 28-oz. bottle in my hand with concentrated Perpetuem. The extra
water weight in the morning has caused me to lose my balance more than once (and
it makes it harder to run). I'm
gradually learning to adjust.
It was great to see Jim, Cody, and Tater a half mile from the end today.
Because of the heat Jim hasn't been too eager to run in to meet me late in
the afternoon since we left the Shenandoahs. I've been wishing for cooler
weather as we head both north and toward fall; one reason is because my crew is
more likely to come meet me at the end of long days. Thanks, Jim!
FUN IN THE MOUNTAINS
I loved almost all of today's section in both Connecticut and Massachusetts -
my eleventh state, folks! Ten down, four to go. I passed 1,500 miles today, too.
(I adjusted the mileage above to reflect the correct distance per the 2005 AT
Data Book. I made a math error somewhere. I'm also including the distance
Today's fun included Mt. Prospect, the Giant's Thumb, the Barrick Matiff, the
ledges on Lion's Head, the very popular Bear Mountain, gorgeous Sages Ravine,
crossing into MA, and great views from Race Mountain, Mt. Everett, Mt. Bushnell, and
The last two days have included more elevation gain and loss than I've had
since the Shenandoahs. Today's lowest point was about 600 feet near the Great
Falls in Falls Village, CT, where I began. The highest point was on Mt. Everett
at 2,602 feet, also the highest since the Shennies, I believe.
I'm glad to be going higher up where it's cooler and the views are better.
The longest climb today was about 1,700 feet from CT 41 (Salisbury) to the
top of Bear Mountain (2,316 feet) but that was mostly gradual and spread over
five miles. The climbs to Prospect Mountain and Race Mountain were both about
1,000 feet and more moderate. The steepest climb going north was about 700 feet
in less than a mile to the summit of Mt. Everett.
I pretty well kept pace with a young male backpacker on that one!
The total gain and loss in 24+ miles today was about 5,500 feet and 5,300
feet, respectively. There were no flat miles today.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGHS
I got to share the beautiful views from the top of Bear Mountain with about
twenty day hikers on this sunny, warm (mid-80s) Sunday, but saw only a couple
day and weekenders on the rest of the course. This mountain is more accessible
than Race and Everett.
At the summit of Bear Mountain is the largest rock cairn I've ever seen,
probably 25 feet square and about 12 feet tall. It is the remains of a tower
built in 1885 by Owen Travis, a Salisbury mason, and paid for by Robbins Battel,
who leased the top from the Millerton Iron Company. The tower stood unharmed for
eighty years but has since been vandalized. It is now only one-third of its
The cairn is easy to climb and makes a nice perch to sit and view the
surrounding valleys and mountains. I stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the
breeze and conversation with a young couple from New Haven.
I thought the best views of the day were on top of Race Mountain, however,
and since it is difficult to reach I had the whole long summit and ridge mostly
to myself. Two NOBO thru-hikers, the kilted "Sundance Kid" and "Blotter," were
also up there and we talked some more. We played leap-frog most of the
I was the tortoise, they were the hares.
The tops of Bear, Race, Everett, Bushnell, and Jug End are all schist rock,
which is more grooved than the puddingstone I liked running on in New York. The
rocks were scraped and scored by glaciers moving north to south until about
10,000 years ago, when the ice melted.
You can run on the rock but I chose to walk much of it so I could
enjoy the views. The summit ridges are not exactly like the balds in the south,
but the pine trees and shrubs are mostly low enough to see over. And on Race
Mountain there's nothing to block the view of even the shortest person - you
are walking right at the edge of a precipice there, about 1,200 feet
above the valley. I'm glad the rocks were dry.
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF THE DAY
The last few days in Connecticut have offered some of the most beautiful
forests I've seen thus far on the AT, and lots more creeks and rivers than in
the mid-Atlantic states. I
especially love the "hemlock cathedrals" that are dark, cool, and have softer
dirt trails covered with needles. These forests remind me of the magnificent
redwood forests in northern California.
The paper-white bark birch trees are also lovely and remind me of good times
visiting northern Minnesota along Lake Superior (I've run Grandma's Marathon
three times, well before I was old enough to be a Grandma!).
Today I added another place to my list of favorites along the AT, places I
want to return to some day to show Jim and relive the experience: a
half-mile section of trail on the CT/MA state line, Sages Ravine. The scenic
Sawmill Brook flows through the ravine. It captivated my soul with its quiet
pools of water here, rock flumes, cascades and waterfalls there. I didn't want
One of the largest water falls along the Trail is near Falls Village, where I
started my trek this morning. Although the AT guide warns that the Great Falls
are usually dry in the summer due to the diversion of water for hydroelectric
generation, there was enough water flowing on both sides of a rocky outcropping
that I was satisfied (see Day 101 for a photo). It's interesting how different the Housatonic River is
from one point to the next. It looks like the water is barely moving in some
places, and in other places cascades rush over shoals and rock ledges.
How can that be? Doesn't it all have to flow at the same rate downstream?
(There's one for the science students to look up!)
THE GIANT'S THUMB
The most interesting rock formation today was the Giant's Thumb, a single
rounded rock protruding up about fifteen feet from the ground on Raccoon Hill.
The dirt was well-packed around it, indicating many people have walked around
the base. I did, too, wondering what was on the other side (absolutely
I believe it was between Lion's Head and Bear Mountain where I saw hundreds
of mushrooms along the Trail over a couple miles. The color range was unusual -
salmon, sage green, eggplant, and the more common oranges, yellows, reds,
browns, cream, and white. There was also at least one fungus that looked like a
loofah sponge. (It was firmly rooted in the ground.)
There were numerous signs today warning hikers to bear-proof their food at
campsites because black bears have been prevalent from Salisbury to Jug End. I
saw neither bears nor bear scat anywhere. The most interesting wildlife I
observed today was a turkey couple and their young brood crossing the road on
the way to the trailhead, and some deer.
There were no "tree registers" in CT for me to sign and I didn't go to any of
the shelters (called "lean-to's" there). As soon as I crossed Sawmill Brook I
saw the "Welcome to Massachusetts" sign and used their register. I didn't take
the time to see who was where ahead of me, though, as Blotter and Sundance Kid
arrived right after me and also wanted to see the book.
Yesterday I forgot to ask Sundance if there was a "Butch Cassidy." There is -
his dad, who has section-hiked with The Kid twice since he started his
thru-hike. Dad ended up with Lyme Disease and is OK now.
Earlier in the day I met three young NOBO thru-hikers taking a break in the
grass on the edge of a cemetery on the outskirts of Salisbury. I'd seen them
several states back, but never knew their names. One is a young lady wearing a
long skirt; she goes by "Lady Scarecrow." The young men are "THX" (from a
movie) and "Getty Lee" (from a member of the band, Rush).
THX is hiking with his dog, who he indicated is "doing better than I am."
He's recently returned to the Trail after being very sick with Lyme Disease. He
got treatment and stayed in the home of Scarecrow's aunt, who lives in CT or MA.
THX is one of about ten hikers I've heard about who have contracted Lyme Disease
this summer. I'm sure there are more. Sounds really rampant this year.
The person who inspired me the most today was an older fella slowly but
steadily climbing up Prospect Mountain. He appeared to be 80 or older and was
hard of hearing. But he was interested in my story and asked thoughtful
questions. It was a good little climb where I saw him, and my thought after I
went ahead was, "Man, I hope I can still do that when I'm 80!"