The exchange above took place near the end of my run today, on a beautiful
wheelchair-accessible part of the AT along the Housatonic River. (The trail
surface is dirt, not paved.) I was standing at a trail intersection, trying to
see which way the AT went when the 30-something fella read the sign and made his
I never did get his name or trail name even though we talked for about five
minutes. He lives in Connecticut and has section-hiked the AT in three states,
but the concept of hiking (or running) the whole Trail at once is hard for him
to grasp. He was a good source of information about the part of the Trail I'm
running tomorrow, so I'm glad I "ran into" him.
For a beautiful Saturday (low 80s, lower humidity than the last few days,
nice breeze, sunny), there weren't many people on the AT where I was. I saw
maybe ten day hikers but only one backpacker, a NOBO thru-hiker who goes by
"Sundance Kid." I neglected to ask where "Butch Cassidy" is! Anyway, he got my
attention because he was wearing a red plaid kilt.
I was too shy to ask about the kilt. Some of the young women on the Trail
wear skirts designed for hiking (hygiene reasons) but this fella is the first
I've seen in a kilt. Whatever works.
DOING MY PART
Yesterday's thunderstorm left dozens of branches on the Trail. I started
early, so not only was I the "web catcher" for the first seven miles, I was
in charge of clearing the Trail for those behind. I chose the latter role. I
figured it was easier for me to flick the branches off the Trail with my
trekking pole (or bend over and pick up the heavier ones) than it would be for
the backpackers to do it.
It made me even more glad I wasn't out on the Trail yesterday during the
storm. Some of those branches could have done serious harm to a hiker's head if
s/he was under them when they came down.
The storm left the rocks wet so I had to be extra careful until they dried off
later in the day. The rain did make the Trail less dusty along the Housatonic
River (where the surface was sandy dirt) and in the pine forests. Everything
looked fresh today, not wilted like yesterday.
Most of this section was forested and very beautiful. There were "pine
cathedrals" with huge, tall pine trees and lush ferns and mossy rocks below.
Most of the trees were hardwoods. I'm seeing more and more birch trees, whose
white bark just glistens in the sun. Unlike other days this week, I didn't see
any berries today.
I no longer have to worry about losing my conditioning going up and down
mountains. This section offered more than enough steep climbs from 400 to 1,000
feet high, usually full of rocks. It's not just Pennsylvania that's rocky! There
were several miles of very smooth trail today, too.
One of the toughest descents I've encountered so far on the AT came early
this morning on the way down from Caleb's Peak and St. Johns Ledges. My heart
was racing the whole way down, almost as badly as when I climb up a steep rocky
wall of rocks. The AT guide says the local trail maintenance crew has installed
ninety rock steps here. It's still a scary descent because of the pitch and the
distance between the rocks. I can't imagine anyone negotiating this descent with
As proof of the difficulty of this descent, I offer the following quote from
the MA-CT Appalachian Trail Guide: "These rock cliffs, named after
an eighteenth-century owner, Timothy St. Johns, are used frequently for
This difficult section then segued into the easiest section of trail
all day, a five-mile fairly flat, sandy road and trail along the Housatonic
River. This river walk is the longest on the entire AT. I wish it had gone on
longer because it felt like a superhighway by AT standards. It was very
runnable! Only problem was, since I was going upstream by running north, the
Trail was also going uphill most of the way. I ran until it got too hard, then
walked to get my heart rate down - over and over. It's the same thing I do in
training runs and races.
Several fishermen were also enjoying the river and the beautiful day:
Although I was able to run about one-fourth of the distance today, my overall
pace was very slow (24:30 minutes per mile, including all stops) because of the
numerous rocky climbs and descents that slowed me down. As in every state north
of Tennessee, this one also plays the game of "come up and see our cool rock
walls at the top of the mountain."
I actually enjoyed the rocks on Mt. Easter - they were quartz and came in
many lovely colors and designs. They were very sharp and hard to run on, though.
It's the only place I saw them today.
I got more than I bargained for when I signed up for this course!! Kinda like
some ultra races I know . . .
The only annoyance today was a very LOUD motor speedway in the valley west of
the last two mountains before Falls Village (Mt. Easter and Mt. Sharon). I could
hear the racket for over an hour 'way up on the mountains. If you do this
section try to find out when the cars are racing and do NOT hike then. It
totally destroys the peace of the AT.
There was a little excitement about three miles from the end of this section.
A sign warned hikers there was a detour around a train wreck; the AT has been
temporarily re-routed on a nearby road until the wreck is cleared. I admit to
having an insatiable sense of curiosity. I took the AT right past the train
wreck! Fortunately, no one was there to admonish me or turn me back. (I'm
finally admitting seven months later that I did this. I didn't want to be a bad
influence on any of my younger readers while I was actually on the Trail. I'll
include a photo of the wreck in one of my photo essays.)
The only unusual critter I saw today was a little orange salamander. I
haven't seen one of those for several states. This one didn't have the purple
circles on his back, though.
I had a long but very satisfying day on the Trail today. This whole section
is worth your while to run or hike. I really like the Trail in Connecticut.
Tomorrow I leave the state, however, and enter Massachusetts, my eleventh