This blog post is a day late because, well, it’s tough to stumble along a path of nothing but roots and rocks and write at the same time. Yes, I finally got out to the AT yesterday!
It was unseasonably crisp, which was great for this cool weather runner-turning-hiker. Sun/clouds, windy, low 50s helped in two ways: First, it kept me from sweating like crazy, but second, and most importantly, it kept the bugs at bay. Early June here is notorious for unrelenting swarms of black flies, who seem to target the places you can’t hit with bug spray: Eyes, nose, mouth and ears. But the cool, windy day eliminated all the bugs. Perfect!
I tackled six miles of the Hundred Mile Wilderness, and my first impression is this: No amount of running could have prepared me for the endless roots and rocks that make up this section of the Appalachian Trail.
From a cardio standpoint, I did it with ease. And the (pretty much) constant elevation changes didn’t really bother me either. But my feet were (and still are) sore from the effort. Even though I wrenched and torqued my knees and ankles a fair amount, they actually feel fine today. But my feet!
My goal was to hike northbound from the Monson trailhead to the Leeman Brook Lean-to, then back. Short and sweet. I expected to be alone out there, but that short section of trail quickly turned into a hiking superhighway. Within two miles I ran into three sets of southbound (SOBO) thru-hikers. An older gent from Texas hiking with a young guy from Indiana came first, about 8/10ths of a mile in. They were pretty exhausted after a 100 mile slog in the Wilderness, and happy to hear that they were so close to the trailhead. So too was the next duo, a couple from New Zealand who had grown weary of a week spent living among the rocks and roots, and fancied a day off to eat and rest. They were 1.4 miles from their personal nirvana. And finally, two recent college graduates from Florida who were duly impressed with the ruggedness of the trail here stopped to chat about two miles out.
I didn’t ask for photos of these intrepid souls for this blog, though in retrospect, I wish that I had. It’s something I’ll consider on future hikes, for sure.
The last mile to Leeman was serene and beautiful, when I stopped to look. Believe me, time spent hiking out here is time spent watching where every step lands, not strolling along and looking around. If I wanted to soak in the silence and scenery, I had to take a short break.
Finally, after a descent to and rock hop across Leeman Brook, a quick uphill jaunt put me at my destination.
And sure enough, just after I slipped off my pack to take a quick snack break, a recent college grad from New Hampshire wandered in from the north for the same reason. After a brief but enjoyable chit-chat, he took off, and I gave him a few minutes head start and took off for home. That’s seven SOBOs seen in only three miles of trail!
Heading southbound I expected to see nary a soul. I understand that NOBOs typically zero at Monson for a day (or two) to rest and resupply, then strike out much earlier in the morning than when I started. But lo and behold, about halfway back I ran into a guy from Detroit, MI who had come just to section hike the HMW south-to-north. He had thru-hiked in ’14, and wanted to redo just the Wilderness for the enjoyment of it. We talked for about fifteen minutes, then went our separate directions.
I dawdled for mile five, but then pushed a bit harder for the last mile to get back to the car by 1:00PM. Overall, I did the experience in 3 hours 45 minutes, which includes all the talking, breaks (quick one at 1.5 miles, at 3 miles and another quickie at 4.5 miles), photo stops, etc. I was pleased with that, considering the terrain/elevation and the fact that I’m completely new to carrying a backpack.
I learned a few things during my half-day hike. That a good pack is worth the price. Mine only weighed twelve pounds, but it was invisible, even on the steep ups and downs. Two, that a great trail shoe with a rock-plated sole is vital for terrain like this. I can’t imagine what my feet would have felt like if I had worn my usual Asics trail running kicks. Three, trekking poles are going to be a regular and highly valued part of my gear, especially when on the AT.
And finally, when day hiking on the AT, to always carry a bit of trail magic for the thru-hikers. I thought about bringing some, didn’t, and regretted it.
Though only covering three actual trail miles which will be repeated when I do the whole Hundred Mile Wilderness in one shot, my section hike of the AT has (symbolically) begun!