Tuesday, August 17, 1999

We didn’t get very far in our hike yesterday, after four sweet miles we hit a small shelter of timber that sat on a cliff overlooking the Connecticut Valley. It was so beautiful we sat and just admired the beauty. We took our shoes off and leaned back against the log wall and were just silent. After awhile, one of us pulled out a book and began to read and the other started to make lunch. After lunch neither of us wanted to put our packs on so we continued to read and talk and stare out across the valley. Then dinner came and then the most peaceful and colorful sunset. Then in the morning the sunrise streamed into the shelter waking us up, we both felt very refreshed and excited to hike and move on. We never saw another hiker.

We crossed into Massachusetts in the morning, our 11thstate.

We hadn’t seen many people in the last few days making this hike feel more and more remote. As Llama and I were eating lunch, three wonderful women above my age strolled down the trail and when they saw us they unloaded their backpacks and joined us. As they introduced themselves they shared their joy, fresh fruit, and enthusiastic conversation. Llama and I just kept stealing glances at each other as we wondered what was happening. We were caught in a whirlwind of chattering and laughing women and we had no idea how to get out of it.

Later in the afternoon we began to climb Mt. Everett, our toughest single climb in months. Our time with the flock of women helped us because Llama and I spent the entire climb replaying the conversations that the warm hearted women exposed us to. We laughed our way up the entire trail. But as soon as I reached the peak I was surprised and overwhelmed with the amount of people milling around having driven up the backside to the top. An older man was looking at me as he walked the path towards me so I greeted him with a smile and a “good afternoon.”  But he just pinched his lips and pushed me off the trail to the side as he passed.  “Ouch! Excuse me sir.”  What a contrast in just one hour of how people respond to me. Well I decided to just feel bad for the grouch and to continue to keep my smile on. When Llama and I made it to the bottom of the mountain a couple who just finished a picnic were excited to see us and ran up to us and offered Lama and I fresh bananas, cookies, and an unopened bag of Doritos. What a great surprise.  What an encouragement. 

I read in a trail register of the continuing battle against the mieces. T-bone and buzzard are but a day ahead of me and have just faced a fierce battle against an elite team of specially trained miece commandos. They gnawed and sliced two holes in their tent, entering under cover of darkness while T-bone and buzzard slept soundly and unaware of the danger about them. Into their food packs they charged consuming their breakfasts and lunches leaving only destruction in their wake.  “Aagh!” They struck and struck hard upon T-bone. Across his body they climbed searching for more food to consume.  What evil was ahead?  They bit him on the finger waking him up from his rest. T-bone jumped up while in the tent and crashed around striking out blindly while holding his wounded finger, bleeding against his chest. He tossed everything in the tent to try and find the mieces but they were very crafty. The mieces commandos were thrown off balance in the battle and fled the tent to reorganize and take stock of their situation. None were hurt and all accounted for. It was a victory for the mieces but we have all learned to never close both eyes to the enemy. Llama and I push onward to comfort our battle-weary friend and to join him on the front lines. On to victory!

Thursday, August 19, 1999

While I sat munching on a bagel I calculated the average miles a day I would need to hike if I want to make it by October 7thto Katahdin. I need to do about 13 miles a day. That is a very doable number, that doesn’t make me panic or stress out, I’m right on track. October 15this the last day that a hiker is legally allowed to hike to the summit before they close the mountain down. And though it is possible to make it, the further north I go the slower I’m feeling like I’m able to go. My body is getting tired, I’m noticing that I don’t have the energy that I did earlier in the trail. I see that my body has lost most of its excess weight, I’m under my high school weight which though it’s cool, I’m also aware of the gradual slowing of stamina. I’m not worried or concerned but I am aware and mindful. Llama is also struggling with the continual exertion. She lost 10-15 pounds before she met me and then soon after hiking with me she lost another 5 because she was averaging more miles a day to meet my pace. She is getting worn down. Our spirits are still high but our bodies are showing signs of wear and tear.

I do love how beautiful it’s getting as we get further north, its more rugged and green. I’m also noticing that there is more moisture and water around. we are in the land of water, mostly marshes, which translates into mosquito breeding grounds.  And these mosquitoes are faster than any I’ve ever encountered. Its like they have been bred for speed and stealth. There are over 2,000 species of mosquitos in the world, all born in water, and all are seeking me out. I hate them all. 

Llama and I arrived at the brightly red painted Upper Goose Pond cabin on the edge of a small lake. It was a bright beautiful treasure nestled in the trees, we got very excited to end our day here. As soon as we set our packs down we knew exactly what to do next, we ran down to the water and jumped into the refreshing pond. The dirt and sweat was washed off in the surprisingly warm lake with fish again interested in attempting to nibble on my flesh. As everyone was getting their dinners ready the caretaker of this house told me to see if she had anything I wanted. I started to look through the fridge and cabinets and found that she had tons of cabbage sitting lonely and forgotten. I wanted something refreshing so I looked around and found all the ingredients to make a huge batch of fresh crisp coleslaw for all those staying the night. I know its not much and not a craveable dish, but it was delicious and brought smiles to everyone as they all dug in for seconds and thirds until the entire bowl was consumed. Tomorrow the caretaker promised fresh picked blueberry pancakes for breakfast. I don’t have a love for pancakes but I have a feeling I will love these and will struggle to want to leave tomorrow.  Two of my favorite people on the trail came walking in, T-bone and Buzzard. They gave me big hugs and shared story after story of their own adventures. They are just real, earthy, warm people that I wish were my family. When I see them my heart jumps and I get excited to be around them. I wish this is what my family made me feel also but that’s a rabbit hole to not go down. The night slowly wore on in the most wonderful way and I hated the moment I had to go to bed and end the day. This has been a great place to stay!

Friday, August 20, 1999

The mountains are growing under our feet. The climbs are steeper and the boulders are developing my mountain goat legs as I jump from rock to rock. My progress is getting a little slower but I’m having the best time with the fun challenges these mountains are giving me. They don’t let you get bored.

There are people who pour out their heart and abilities to keep this trail running smooth safe for hikers. Thousands of men and women work to repair damage, design and build new trails and build and repair shelters for hikers to stay in. This evening I talked to a man who does trail maintenance and he told me that one of his best friends who was the structural engineer for building shelters died on the scene of a shelter construction just over a month ago. He just fell over from a heart attack, he died instantly. There was a medical doctor on the scene who was also helping to build the shelter but he could do nothing to save his life. He is still grieving and wanted to share with me about the people behind the scenes that prepare the way for me to do what I’m doing. I am deeply thankful at the dedication and investment others are giving to make this trip an amazing journey for me.

Llama and I hiked at different paces today and it was a long trek. We made it 20 miles which meant that I had 20 miles of silence and solitude, time to think and process. About a week ago I had a conversation with a store owner in a town I was passing through, he had talked down to me thinking I was poor, a form of homeless, lazy, and directionless. I stumbled over my words to try and defend myself though I should have just walked away and not let it bother me. I certainly don’t need to defend myself to some guy who I will never see again and whose opinion should have no shape or influence on me. But I got so angry having felt slapped that I jumped back into the ring with him. My mom has always said, “start nice, you can always get mean later.” So I began with what I had hoped had some humor, “I do have direction, I’m walking north.”He didn’t see any humor in that one. I then went on to share my education level with hopes of impressing him, that got me nowhere because he thought my degrees were junk. Then I tried to share that I wasn’t destitute, the cost of this equipment and trip was far exceeding even my estimate of what it would cost. He just scoffed at me as “trying to find yourself bologna…”and he walked away thinking he put me in my place and his opinion didn’t need to be redirected.

That whole conversation was replaying in my head as I beat the trail. No matter how simply I live on the trail I am still rich. My life is equal with those with means and not the poor who truly live in simplicity. My base desire in life is to want the pleasures and power of life, I want the comfort and the luxuries. I know deep inside that those things will not satisfy me or bring me real joy, but I still want them and how I live my life shows that I do value them higher than I want to admit. Peace, contentment, holiness, downward mobility…these are the things I want and the only way I think I will ever really get them is if I make a conscious decision. I remember reading a book by Viv Grigg in seminary a few years back that challenged some of my goals in life. He wrote about living a life of simplicity and justice. He said “the rich are to live simply, to use their capitol to help the poor, to seek justice as Jesus did, to live humbly and simply without excess and to share everything with all who are around.  Jesus did not make a call for people to live in destitute poverty, but to get rid of excess, the things that distract us in time, energy and money from a relationship with God.”  I believe that God wired me and loves it when I enjoy life to the fullest, and He wants me to work hard and earn, and then to consume little, hoard nothing, to give generously, and to continue to celebrate life with every step. If I want to live life humbly, I think that takes more courage and strength than to be filled with the accomplishments of pride. And my exchange with the store owner, I think I will do better next time someone looks down their nose at me. I won’t like it and I think I will respond better. 

Friday August 20

Across from the post office in Cheshire, Massachusetts stands a monument constructed to preserve for all time the making of the Great Cheshire Cheese.  It was the fame of the city to create a 1,235-pound block of the perfect blended crumbly textured beacon of light. It was then shipped down the Hudson river, then to Washington D.C. to present the mammoth glorious ray of perfected sunshine to President Thomas Jefferson which would eclipse all workmanship ever done previous in size and weight.  Every milk-yielding heifer within the precincts of town generously and humbly donated curd to create this precious gift.  In 1802 it arrived on New Year’s Day in a large ceremony and oration that was written in the press across the world. Jefferson put it on exhibit in the White House’s largest room called the East room, nicknamed the Mammoth room after the cheese and not an exhibit of mammoth fossils.  It took over six months for Jefferson, his cabinet, and diplomatic corps to eat it all and they never wanted to taste cheese again after.

Llama and I were about to stay in town with a few hikers but things seemed a bit sketchy. It was drizzly out and a few friends told us that an elementary school had opened its doors for us to crash in. “Really?”They guided us around to the back of the school where there was a door open and inside were 5 hikers setting up camp, moving chairs, reading books, trying to get into the cafeteria fridges… this has the look and feel of pilfering and trespassing. We smiled and thanked our friends for the warm invitation but that we wanted to knock a few more miles before nightfall. We hastily made our escape with eyes and ears open for sirens and police cars.

Saturday August 21

The weather has turned bitter cold and neither Llama nor I have our winter gear. We timed this poorly. We’ve both requested our equipment but it didn’t seem to have arrived where we needed it when we needed it. We know both of our stuff is in the mail but until we get our cold little hands on them I do not sleep at night but count down the hours till the sun rises. Last night the air was moist with mist and dew The water found way into the tent soaking us and chilling us. Llama and I searched for heat from each other and couldn’t sleep. We stayed up most of the night with a few fits of sleep to allow weird dreams to startle us. As soon as the sky showed signs of lightening, we were up and packing our equipment. By time we started down the trail the mist was turning to a shower on us.

We hiked up Mount Greylock (what an evil sounding name) in the drizzly overcast morning fueled with a cup of dark muddy coffee from a gas station at the bottom of the mountain. The texture was chewy but the caffeine did help get us moving.  I love, I love, I love my new shoes because they don’t cause bloody stinging pain blisters. I may have a few more muscle bruising but I love that, I’ll take that any day over what I’ve experienced for far too may miles. Mount Greylock has been the inspiration for many literary figures like Melville, Hawthorne, and Thoreau for a example.  Thoreau wrote “it seemed a road for the pilgrim to enter upon who would climb to the gates of heaven…it was such a country as we might see in dreams, with all the delights of paradise.”  The views are amazing (we couldn’t see any with the dark misty clouds whipping around) as you see New York, Vermont, and northwestern Massachusetts.

At the summit of Mount Greylock (add sinister laugh here) it was bitterly cold with the wind whipping sharply through our clothes. Out of the clouds at the summit revealed a building just feet away surprising us, Bascom Lodge. We found a nook alongside the lodge to hide ourselves from the wet wind and cooked up some hot soup to warm our bodies and to refresh us from the eight-mile slippery climb. Once we satisfied our hunger we wandered inside where we warmed up the outsides of our bodies. The cozy lodge had a small restaurant that we ducked into for hot drinks while we waited out the miserable weather. We dreaded another night without our winter sleeping bags. There was a nice couple sitting at the table next to us who began to ask us questions and we were very happy to talk and delay any chance of departure. David and Cindy, the nicest genuine couple you could want to meet. They seemed to enjoy us also because as they were getting ready to head out they invited us to their house for a warm shower, real food, a warm bed, and more time to talk and get to know each other. “Yes!”

They loaded us up into their car and stuffed our backpacks into the trunk and on our way for another adventure we went. They took us back to their house to shower, get warm, drink hot drinks, and then they ordered us Chinese food. We could not eat enough of it. We talked and laughed and grew a friendship with them that felt like we had met several years ago. They are a little older than us but the years meant nothing, we just fell in love with each other. Llama had the best moment in the evening when David brought out his -40 °bright red sleeping bag that had a full foot loft to it. Llama climbed into it but she is so slim you couldn’t even tell if there was a body inside. His down jacket was just as large, he had used them to climb Denali in Alaska. Llama said she was warm for the first time in months. I on the other hand, as soon as I climbed in and zipped up I couldn’t scramble out fast enough, I began to overheat and sweat within seconds. 

Meeting David and Cindy was the best trail magic ever, we made friends.

Sunday August 22

The next morning for breakfast I had Chinese leftovers and coffee in their dining room while watching hummingbirds dance outside their kitchen windows. Is that not perfect? After spending the morning with our hostess, she decided to skip work, to call in sick and take a zero day with us. So when David came home at noon we took off to get ice cream and then to the Clark Art Institute to see an exhibit on Millet and Homer. This is the most wonderful journey of my life.