I have officially been hiking for 100 days on the Appalachian Trail and finally have the privilege of tasting Fresh Ground’s cooking. Enjoy reading my latest journal entry as I backpack the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. If you missed it, here are my previous entries and videos from the trail.
If you missed it in the last post, here’s my latest video from the trail featuring my hike through the state of New York!
The day began like any other on the trail. It was a cool morning as I set off. I was hungry and thought I must not be getting enough calories as of late. It was overcast with a chance of rain early on. After a few miles I approached a road where I could see a car parked and several hikers standing around a folding table. I smiled…this must be Fresh Ground.
I first heard about Fresh Ground back in the beginning of Virginia. A hiker named Tennessee told me that there’s this guy who goes by the name of Fresh Ground and he feeds hikers. He parks his car at various points along the trail and cooks ridiculous amounts of food for thru-hikers. Tennessee was so excited because Fresh Ground was supposed to be at Fox Gap that day. My mouth salivated but when we got to Fox Gap no one was there. A 24-pack of Coke was left behind. Tennessee was devastated. Ever since, I’ve followed Fresh Ground’s Facebook page and I’ve watched him move north on the trail. Every time I’ve gotten close to catching him, he’s packed up and moved farther north. I figured I was never going to catch up with him, especially after my stint in NYC. However, just the other day his Facebook said he was in Kent, CT, which I had just passed through the day before! I just couldn’t win.
But now my luck had changed. I reached the road with a smirky grin. Pritch, Milo, and two other hikers were just finishing their breakfast. They all knew my story of misses when it came to Fresh Ground and had told him ahead of time. Fresh Ground was pleased to serve me and wouldn’t let me lift a finger. I sat down and was treated to coffee, banana pancakes, an omelette, apples, and Kool-Aid.
The others left and we talked a while as I ate. Fresh Ground is a military vet who had drug problems but is clean now and found his calling feeding hikers. This is the farthest north he’s traveled feeding hikers and is running on donations. He always takes pictures of the hikers and posts them online and I was no exception. It began to rain and I didn’t know of any hikers behind me so I helped him pack up and was on my way.
Despite the cool temperatures, the rain felt nice. It wasn’t a downpour and the woods were pretty in the rain. However, once the rain stopped, things took a turn.
It was a bloodbath. They came in swarms and soon there were corpses all over my body. My phone was smeared with guts and appendages (it actually made for a good weapon). My trail name had become The Mosquito Killer. It was insane how they just kept coming at me in coordinated attacks. I stopped for five seconds to take a picture of a tree that looked like a penis and ten of the suckers landed on me at once! No good deed goes unpunished.
The day continued like this for a while, my kill count ever increasing. I passed a hiker named Chopsticks whom I’d met before, though he didn’t recognize me. A little later on, I ran into him walking towards me. He asked me if I was heading south now. Apparently I had gotten turned around while fiddling on my phone or swatting bugs. I turned around and it wasn’t long before I found the place where I had made my mistake and the trail looped back on itself almost. I wonder how long it would have taken me to realize I was going the wrong way without Chopsticks.
Later on I continued walking down a dirt path, having missed the turn off for the trail. This time there were white blazes indicating a different trail but they looked the same as the AT blazes. I didn’t get far before I realized something was amiss. I’m falling apart, here!
With the sun out, the trail passed by Ice Gulch, a small and narrow rock canyon. I saw a dead porcupine carcass. The sun came out for a time as I came upon a few nice views and a lake. Eventually I passed an enormous pond that was formed by a beaver dam. It was a beautiful sight and I caught sight of a beaver swimming back to its lodge.
A little after 7pm I reached North Wilcox Shelter. It slept ten but only one person was there, already sleeping. I began making dinner and he woke up. His name was Illini and he was 70 and hiking sections of the AT. We talked until dark. I noticed a bird nesting in the shelter, incubating her eggs I presume. The mice were noisily active as I went to sleep. I have been on the trail for 14 weeks.
Day’s Mileage: 21.4
Total Miles Hiked: 1,544.0
Remaining Miles: 655.7
It was a beautiful day when I awoke. The trail was easy and wound through forests of tall trees with ferns all over the floor. I like when the forest isn’t so dense and you can see farther into it.
Around lunchtime I came across a farm stand for hikers. It was an honor system to pay for snacks and sodas. I had a Pepsi (no Dr. Pepper) and wrote my trail name in chalk on the wall. See if you can find it in the picture below. They also sold alpaca fur for $10. I was tempted but figured I had enough going on with my beard.
I hiked on through some small fields with cows lazily watching me. Next thing I knew, I came across a road and Fresh Ground was set up there. Two days in a row, I must be lucky. He fixed me two cheeseburgers, a grilled cheese, pasta salad, and carrot cake. I also ate Oreos, chips and Cheetos, strawberries, an apple, and a banana. I was stuffed by the end of it. While I ate, three section hikers joined me. Mondamin is one of them and is heading north. We keep running into each other.
I almost thought I was going to hurl after eating so much. I left Fresh Ground and had to hike up a steep mountain. I held it down and continued on. Eventually I reached the spur trail to Upper Goose Pond Cabin. This cabin is owned by one of the clubs that maintain the trail and everyone has raved about it to me. Mumbles told me I just had to stay there. Unfortunately it was too early to stop for the day but I thought I should take a look.
The cabin is a half mile away so I was a bit reluctant to add an extra mile to my day. When a I got there, the caretaker, Pete, chatted me up about the property. It’s over one hundred years old and made of hickory. It looked great. People have told me how Pete cooks guests all-you-can-eat blueberry pancakes in the mornings. I wished I could stay but I had other plans.
Before I left I went down to the dock and admired the view. Upper Goose Pond was more like a small lake. There were canoes available to hikers to take out. I stripped down and went for a dip. The water wasn’t too cold and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I also discovered that my Lifeproof iPhone case is in fact waterproof as advertised. Oops.
After drying off I hit the trail. I was running way behind schedule. I needed to get to the next shelter because the following day I was to meet a family friend in Dalton, MA. The terrain was mostly easy so I made good time but it was already after five and I had eight miles to go.
By eight, the sun was low and the woods had gotten thicker. It was almost like a jungle. What happened to the nice open forest from the morning? After sunset, things slowly got darker and I eventually resorted to using my phone’s flashlight for the last half hour. It was getting eerie and I almost thought something was following me. At one point I crossed a stream and couldn’t find the trail in the dark for five minutes.
By 9pm I reached October Mountain Shelter. Shockingly it was empty. I pitched my tent inside to keep the bugs off me. I knew I should have made dinner but it was late and I was tired from 20+ miles and swimming. The guidebook said there were bear cables but I couldn’t find them. I figured I should hang my food bag since I’m alone. Finally I saw that there was a bear box in a clearing. The guidebook had been wrong. Backpacking is a lot harder in the dark!
I went to bed in an eerie silence save for some bug or something making a popping noise now and again. I didn’t hear any mice. My stomach didn’t even grumble, though I was hungry.
It’s been strange ever since I took five days off in NYC. I’m back in this limbo where everyone I’d hiked with is ahead of me by at least a day and the bubble of spring hikers is still far behind me. The trail has been so sparsely populated as of late. I’m not complaining but I do miss the camaraderie with the other hikers that started around the same time as me. We all know each other and have been through the same trials and snowstorms, and terrain.
Day’s Mileage: 22.8
Total Miles Hiked: 1,566.8
Remaining Miles: 632.9
I woke up much too early and couldn’t fall back asleep. At last I got up at six and hit the trail. The section wasn’t that exciting. I was wandering through the woods and there wasn’t much to see but more of the same.
I came to a road crossing and ran into Fresh Ground again! I was the first hiker he’d seen. I told him how I was alone at the last shelter and that he wouldn’t be seeing anyone else until the afternoon. He made me breakfast and we talked about how thinly spread out the NOBO hikers have gotten. He ultimately decided to pack up and head to New Hampshire after I was finished to catch more hikers.
I hiked on through the woods listening to the third audiobook in The Magicians trilogy. After a while I realized I hadn’t drank anything today and had been too tired to fill up my water bottles the night before. My bottles were dry and I hadn’t thought to fill them up from Fresh Ground either. I’m a binge drinker so it’s not uncommon for me to go hours without drinking anything. The streams I passed were half-dried up and looked more like swampy puddles. Not ideal at all for purifying water.
An old man came hiking my way and looked like someone who came to the trail often. Perhaps he was a member of a local trail club. He asked me about my hike and where I started, etc. Then he offered me a small, chilled Gatorade. Ask and you shall receive; the trail provides!
I continued down the trail and crossed another road where I presume the same man had left a bin of chips and snickers for hikers. I always appreciate trail magic.
At last I walked into the town of Dalton, MA. I headed to the post office to pick up my bounce box. I exchanged a few items and finally sent it back to Wisconsin. I was tired of sending it further along the trail. I didn’t need anything in it that badly anymore.
Lynn and her husband, Keith, were waiting for me outside the post office. Lynn is one of my mom’s sorority sisters from Michigan State University and had graciously invited me to her home near Boston for the weekend. Having never been in New England before, let alone Boston, I took them up on their offer.
We had lunch in Dalton before driving a few hours back to North Andover, MA. On the way we stopped at Treehouse Brewery for some great beer. Dinner was flank steak, salad, and asparagus. Dessert was homemade ice cream from a local shop nearby. I was so happy to have showered and sleeping in a real bed. It was a great way to end my 100th day of this hike!
If a year ago you had told me that in twelve months I’d be in Massachusetts, 100 days into an Appalachian Trail thru-hike, about to take a weekend off to visit Boston with a family friend I had not yet met, I would never have believed you. Life is crazy!
Day’s Mileage: 11.8
Total Miles Hiked: 1,578.6
Remaining Miles: 621.1
Daily Average: 15.8
THE TREK BLOG
I also recently posted a new blog for The Trek. I’m way behind with them but it’s okay. If you’d like to read it, enjoy!
Probably my favorite song by Chris Stapleton, this seems to be the theme of my life at the moment.