Monday, September 17, 2007

Six Days in the Berkshires, 1987

One of my regular readers is getting ready in a few weeks to head to the Berkshires to hike. I’m envious, but since I’ve already covered that ground thought I’d go back to my journals and recreate my hike across Massachusetts back in the summer of 1987. Photo is of Sages Ravine.

Hiking north, I dropped down from Bear Mountain into Sages Ravine where I crossed the Massachusetts line. Its early afternoon on July 13th and I’ve already covered over a dozen miles. The gorge is dark and cool. After a week of hot humid weather and swarms of mosquitoes, it feels good to leave Connecticut behind and the cool air is refreshing. I drop my pack, fill up my empty water bottle from the stream and drop in a purifying tablet. Then I pull out my journal, a copy of Herman Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldman, along with my lunch. I have two cups of steamed rice that I’d made at breakfast along with some slices of cheese and some dried fruit. As I eat, Ben comes along and we chat for just a few minutes. We agreed to meet up again that night at Glen Brook shelter. After eating and reading a dozen pages, I take a nap, only to be awakened by a dog belonging to a young woman out on a day hike. I read some more, then pack up and shoulder my pack and set out northward on the trail. After a short while I run into the woman again, wearing a red swimsuit and coming out of a pool of water. We talk as she dries off and pulls on her boots. Then she joins me as we make our way to Break Rock Falls. Her name is Brenda; she’s from New Milford, CT and is a third year college student, studying Health Education. While at the falls, we begin hearing distant thunder. Brenda and her dog turn around and head back to their car while I keep heading north. A short while later, hiking the ridge between Race Mountain and Mt. Evertt, a strong line of thunderstorms move through. The air turns chilly and the wind blows hard enough to break branches. Luckily it only keeps that up for a few minutes. Then the lightning starts popping around. I pull on a rain parker and with no where to go, keep hiking, praying that my luck will hold out.

The rain stops before I get to Glen Brook Shelter, but the air remains chilly. I quickly changed into dry clothes. Ben is busy sautéing day lilies and offers me a sample. Over the past few days, I’ve gotten to know him a bit. He’s a former government economist who took an early retirement and then went to culinary school. Divorced and with kids grown, he spent the last two summers on the trail and has worked in a variety of restaurants in ski areas during the winter. On the trail he’s known as Luck Ben. I’m the Sojourner.

The next morning I get an early start. After yesterday’s storm, the air is cooler and there’s less haze, but with no overlooks in this section it doesn’t matter much. Late morning, I pause at a rock marker noting the last battle in Shay’s Rebellion, a farmer lead tax revolt that occurred shortly after the revolution. Reagan isn’t the first tax revolutionary our nation has seen and he probably won’t be the last. In the late 18th Century, the government was burdened with massive debt from the Revolutionary War and raised taxes. This resulted in many farmers losing their land and a group of them fighting back, but their fight was quickly subdued by the better trained state militia. I make pretty good time the rest of the day and stop at South Wilcox Shelter, arriving right before the rain. As I fix dinner, I run out of fuel. Ben let’s me use his stove to finish dinner. I’m hoping to get gas tomorrow in Tyringham. I spend the evening reading from a Gideon Bible and more Hesse.

The air feels cold when I wake up on July 15 and my thermometer reads 50 degrees. That’s a good 20 degrees cooler than it’s been being. The wind howled through the hemlocks all night. It feels like fall. The wind and cooler air reminds me that the summer will soon be gone. I get a quick start hiking as a way to warm up and arrive at the Tyringham Post Office at 10 AM, having covered 8 miles. On the road into town, I pass several large estates. According to a southbound hiker, the widow of Nat King Cole lives in one of them. There are no stores in Tyringham, only a Post Office and library. I stop to write a few letters and to update my journal, leaning against my pack which rests on one of the pillars holding up the porch of the post office. There doesn’t seem to be much going on. Felipe, a reporter for the Union News in Springfield, stops by and chats. He’s assigned to write a story on the 50th anniversary of the Appalachian Trail and is hiking the trail through the state. We talk for a while, with him taking notes, and then he shoots a couple of photos of me leaning up against my pack. When he goes into the post office, I take off heading north.

The trail continues along the road heading out of town and I soon run into Scott, Denver Jane’s boyfriend. He’s driven out to help Jane make miles by shuttling her pack and was trying to reconnect with her. I haven’t seen her in several days and assume she’s somewhere behind me. He offers me a cold Mountain Dew from a cooler and we talk a bit. When he asks if there’s anything he can do for me, I mention that I’m out of fuel and he offers to fill my bottle from a can of Coleman fuel he has stashed in his truck. He continues on to find Jane and I make good time, crossing over I-90 and on to the cabin at Goose Pond, arriving at 2 PM. It’s a short day. I take a swim and a nap. When Ben comes in later in the afternoon, he suggests we hitch into Lee for dinner. We don’t get any rides going into town, but it’s only a couple of miles from the cabin and without packs, we make good time. We eat at an Italian place. Ben, the trained chef, is surprised at the quality of the food, especially for the price. When we get back to the cabin, Felipe is there talking to the caretaker. I hike out around the lake and meet Mary, a bubbling redhead who’s staying with family friends at their cabin for a week. She has a canoe and we paddle around the pond as she talks about her plans for college in the fall. The sunset is spectacular. Shortly afterwards, I head back to the cabin and chat a bit with the caretaker. He completed the trail several years ago and now spends his summer running the cabin for the Appalachian Mountain Club. The job doesn’t pay much, but I can image a better way to spend the summer.

The weather remains cool on the 16th and I quickly clock off the 17 miles to Kaye Wood Shelter, arriving there at 3:30 in the afternoon. This is a new shelter named for a former president of the Berkshire Mountain Club. I spend the rest of the afternoon reading Hesse and being surprised with a visit by the shelter’s builder along with Kaye Wood herself. A number of other hikers come in. We all call it an early night and are asleep by 9:30 P.M. when Felipe arrives. He makes a lot of noise getting ready for bed which grates on Ben’s nerves and the two share some unkind words.

Ben wakes up at about 5 AM on the 17th. It’s still pitch dark, but he starts packing up, making as much racket as possible and mumbling about having been awaken in the middle of the night. He’s trying to get back at Felipe, but he’s now getting on my nerves. He leaves while it’s still dark and I fall back asleep for another hour. We all start getting up and I fire up the stove and begin boiling water for tea and oatmeal. When Felipe gets up, I apologize for Ben’s behavior. I’m not sure what the issue between the two of them is, but they don’t like each other. A little later I head out and catch Ben before he gets to Dalton. There we buy food and also share a washer at the laundry mat. With both of us packing light, we have less than half a load between us. I finish reading Narcissus and Goldman. I’m also about out of pages in my journal, so I stop by the post office and mail both my notebook and Hesse home. As we’re getting ready to leave town, Scott comes by in his truck. Jane along with Slim Jim and Big Daddy Longlegs are right behind us, slackpacking. He’s got their packs and offers to take ours and to shuttle them to the hostel in Cheshire. We take him up on it and knock off the eight miles in three leisurely hours, stopping to enjoy the views of the town from the cobbles. After dinner and a few beers in a local restaurant, I spend some time cleaning up my gear and sewing up a rip in my boots up with dental floss. Before bed, I start reading John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie, a book that Shari had suggested when she was on the trail. I was surprised at the Post Office in Kent, Connecticut to find a letter from her and a copy of the book.

I wake up on the 18th a bit disgusted, having dreamed about my ex-wife. We’ve been apart for four years, yet this was my third dream about her while on the trail. Nothing about the dream made sense as we were arguing about proceeds from selling a house, but we never owned a house as one or the other of us was a student the whole time we’d been married. Maybe the cause of the dream had to do with Ben complaining to me about his problems with selling a house after his divorce.

The accommodations are good at the hostel and Scott offers to shuttle us up to a county road three miles into Vermont and then let us hike southbound to Cheshire. I take him up on the offer; it’s a chance to do a large number of miles without a pack and will allow me an opportunity to hitch into a town and see if I can find a new pair of boots as mine have been falling apart and are held together with dental floss. Yet, slackpacking has its drawbacks. When backpacking, I’m self contained and don’t have to depend on anyone. When slackpacking, I’m forced to depend on someone else for rides and to watch over my gear. Jane and Ben crawl into the cab of Scott’s truck; Slim Jim, Daddy Long Legs and I jump into the back. We’re dropped off on a dirt road and make good time heading south. After seven miles of fast pace hiking, we reach Massachusetts highway 2. I hitch west into the town of Williamsport where I’ve been told there’s an outfitting store, the rest continue on south. I tell them that I’ll see them in the evening. I find the outfitter, “The Mountain Goat,” which is well equipped, but I don’t find any boots that fit. After eating lunch at burger joint, I start hitchhiking back to the trail and am given a ride by a young woman. Between puffs on her cigarette, from which she keeps flickering ashes out the window, she flirts and invites me to a party on some lake. She promises to drop me off back in Cheshire at night and can’t understand my desire to get back on the trail and not to skip a section. I worry that I might have to jump out of the car, but she finally comes to a stop just beyond the trailhead and after thanking for her the ride, I take off heading up Mount Graylock. The views from the top are beautiful and Bascom Lodge looks to be a nice place to stay with incredible views. The cooler air makes me want to linger. This is the highest mountain I’ve been over since Virginia. I spend an hour or so exploring and napping and talking with a young couple in matching Slippery Rock University sweatshirts. They’re both from the Pittsburgh area but now live in Boston. Afterwards, I head down the trail toward Cheshire and am surprised by a porcupine. He freezes and I move down the trail a ways and wait. After a few minutes, he moves across the trail and goes on, but in the shade I’m unable to get a good photograph.

We all leave Massachusetts in the back of a truck on the morning of the 19th. A half an hour later, Scott drops us off at the same place he did the morning before and we hike north, into the Green Mountains of Vermont. After a day and a half of slackpacking, it feels good to have the pack back on my back.

Note about people: Ben was finishing sections of the trail he hadn’t completed and got off the trail shortly afterwards. We would meet up again in Monson, ME. Felipe made many hikers mad and I seemed to be his only friend. I never saw him after the Kaye Wood Shelter, but when I got back in Pittsburgh that fall, there was a letter from him containing the photo of me as well as copies of his articles. As no one else heard from him, I copied the articles and sent them on to everyone else. Jane was having foot problems by this point in the trail, having lost about half of her toenails. I think she ended up quitting and going home with her boyfriend. Slim Jim and Daddy Long Legs and I hiked together through the Green Mountains. Daddy Long Legs decided that he wasn’t ready to finish the Appalachian Trail just yet, so he hiked the Vermont Long Trail to Canada, then returned to complete the AT a few weeks after me. Slim Jim and I split up in Hanover, NH when I took a day off to shop for boots. We’d meet up again in Berlin, NH and hiked together through Maine. On August 30th, we both climbed Mt. Katadhin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail


  1. Wow! First to comments. What a trail. and vivid descriptions ofpeople you met on your way. In fact this post gives a little glimpse about you.

    You should publish your trails and soon. I know I keep saying it.

    Your writes make those places and people come alive for me. I am going to read this post again. It was truly a pleasure to read this.

    *An Aside*
    The rock marker looks like a lingam!

  2. your pictures always make me want to get up and go for a walk. That's a good thing :)

  3. Loved the story but I'm turning into Murf I guess. The picture of you was even better.

  4. Ed - Sometimes, Sage is a little wordy for me so I look at the pictures and then read the entry at a later time. :-)

  5. Holy... WOW! I'm not sure if I'm more in awe of you doing the entire thing, or you saying you made fast work of 17 miles of it!

    Sounds like quite the memory to have!

  6. Gautami--I have written several essays about my hiking on the trail--and want to do more.

    mistress, walking is good!

    Murf, yeah, I was young once (glad you like the pictures)

    Ed, you worry me! lol

    TC, I couldn't make fast work of 17 miles today--I have detailed journals of the trip to remind me as well as the guidebooks from the mid-80s, which I used to recreate this part of the hike

  7. You really should have these reflections on the hike published, Sojourner! It's nice to hear that the northern part of the trail is similar to the parts I've seen down here. =o)

  8. Another great post from Sage. I love the way you can capture the scene with your words. And the pics are great too. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs!

  9. Great post, Sage! And I love the photos - I can't wait to get out there . . . thanks for wetting my appetite for the Berkshires!

  10. Great post and I LOVE that photo of you leaning on the backpack. I was taken in my that immediately. Do you keep it framed in your home? It just seems to say so much.

  11. thanks Jaded and Joe!

    Diane, I hope you have a great time and look forward to your stories--as for my miles, you will have to remember that I was younger and had been hiking all summer!

    Deana, I had to dig that photo out of a box ;(. I should have it frame. Unfortunately, I couldn't find Felipe's article about me (I had the other newspaper articles he wrote). I'm not sure what happened to it.

  12. Thanks for sharing your hiking story. It was fun reading and obviously an important part of your life.

    My wife and I are back from our honeymoon up in Maine and a little bit of Canada. I posted a sunrise picture this afternoon on my blog that was taken on the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. In the days to come more pictures will follow.

    And thanks for your post encouraging people to visit my blog to give us well wishes on our wedding day. A few did come by.

  13. Love your travel stories I dreamed last night that I settled an argument involving the Clintons--it was very weird

  14. You should try hiking to Mount Doom some time. The scent of sulfur in the air, the tortured screams in the distance... All my troubles just seem to disappear.

  15. Tim, welcome back and great to see the view from your honeymoon, btw, why were you doing up watching the sunrise?

    Pia, I'm coming to check out this dream--I hope you posted about it!

    Grudir, you'd be just a rusty sheet of metal in all the rain.

    Karen, that's because I was 20 years younger! And the trail is easier in MA--in the 90 miles, there's not but a couple of long climbs and the longest I did without a pack.

  16. This is more than just a story and a few! Great post from...what was it, the late 80s? This reminded me of A Walk in the of my favorite books.

  17. Wow, that sounds like so much fun! I wish I could get away for a year to do some real hiking. . . Seems like when I was younger, it was so much easier to just leave.

    That picture is just great! Good foreground, hiker.

  18. Always enjoy my visits to your spot on the web. Great pics, and I love the road to Leopold's at the top. The pic crossing the fallen tree looks like the area portrayed in the movie Dirty Dancing. You didn't dance on the log did you? :)

    It has been so long since I've been on a decent hike!

    Off to work on lesson prep- tootles...

  19. Scarlet, All i can say about Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" (which is very funny) is that he hiked 1/3 of the trail and made a fortune and I hiked the whole thing and wrote an article that paid me enough for a new pair of boots.

    Ing, what are you saying about the foreground... you like my boots?

    Kontan, no dancing, no singing in rain...

  20. I bet you just aren't admitting it. :P

  21. Watching the sun rise from the top of Cadillac Mountain is something no one should miss although I must admit that my wife did miss it. Guess I tired her out too much. ;) But she insisted that I go and take pictures for her to see.

  22. Sage if you do dance in the have to take many pictures for us to amuse ourselves with! lol