5 days (8.16-8.21)
When you hear the word “Massachusetts”, what image do you conjure up? Assuming you aren’t one of the 6.7 million people living in this great state with a unique and intimate perspective, perhaps you might imagine…
Cobblestone streets in Boston…
Lighthouses and quaint fishing villages on Cape Cod…
Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch…
All reasonable first thoughts. What child born in the U.S. wasn’t taught about the midnight ride of Paul Revere? The Kennedy Compound summons memories of this country’s 35th president, his family and the beautiful, slow-paced living of Cape Cod. And, if all else fails, 99.9% of people on this planet are assuredly aware of the six-pack abs belonging to the perfection that is Mark Wahlberg.
But to think of only the above omits a whole pleasant side to this state:
Weathered, tough, yet incredibly kind people…
If you have not already, I’d urge you to check out the Berkshires for yourself. For now, I’ll give you a glimpse into our wonderful time here.
We entered Massachusetts in a fury. Think “Fast and Furious”-style just immensely slower and not nearly as sexy (albeit just as sweaty). After getting an early start in Connecticut, we had covered much ground and decided that we were going to shoot for a 20+ mile day. We were feeling strong (despite falling down a couple of times on the steep slope of Mt. Everett) so when we crossed the main road to Great Barrington, we initially decided to keep making ground North. It wasn’t until we crossed paths with two or three hikers staying in Great Barrington that we decided to change plans.
They were staying with the same trail angels who left a cooler of pop alongside the main road. After describing their wonderful set-up, we wanted to meet these marvelous people (and their shower) and thus backtracked back to the road leading to hiker wonderland.
Best. Decision. Ever.
Bearwalker and Buttons did have a welcoming home.
We ended up pitching our tent in their backyard because their place was already full. Having thru-hiked a few years prior, they knew exactly what hikers wanted. They permitted free range in their kitchen and grill area, had a shower with all the toiletries available, a hiker room with a high-speed computer, shuttles around town, and, most importantly, slackpacking. After a good night’s sleep, they drove us 20 miles up the trail to do our first slackpack of the trail. Using the small backpack that they provided, we were able to walk SoBo back to their house with only water and snacks on Rob’s back. 20 miles is still 20 miles, no matter how you walk it. Being able to do so without a full pack on your back, however, made you feel free and weightless. It is pleasant being able to walk the trail, enjoy nature, and not have the weight of a toddler on your back.
I’d highly recommend taking advantage of any slackpacking opportunity presented to you… your back and feet will thank you.
Great Barrington is a lively town with a vibrant downtown area. A plentitude of restaurants and bars make this a great stop for the overworked, nature-saturated, hungry (thirsty), croc-wearing hiker to get some culture.
Refreshed and anew, we headed North leaving Great Barrington in our dust. Not long after is Upper Goose Pond Cabin. This incredible spot is maintained by AMC volunteers for use by section and thru-hikers on the A.T. If you get there early enough, you can nab a spot inside the cabin on one of their double bunks. Otherwise, tenting platforms are provided outside. A canoe is also available for use to explore the beautiful lake this idyllic cabin is set upon. If that doesn’t float your boat, indulge in one of the many books and games inside the cabin.
If you’re lucky, you may get pancakes made for you in the morning.
If you are wise, you will stay here and enjoy all of the luxuries it offers.
We were not wise.
We did not stay.
No pancakes. 😦
Sometimes the desire to conquer miles distracts from enjoying the present. This is something we were guilty of multiple times and, while necessary occasionally (after all, those miles won’t hike themselves), there is a good balance between work and play. You just need to find it.
The universe balanced itself out as we walked into camp that night. We arrived shortly after dark with our heads down from enduring a long, pancake-less day. At the exact moment we threw our packs on the ground next to the crackling campfire, a faceless man in the dark inquired if we would like some bacon-wrapped chuck roast.
Sir, you had us at bacon. You could have been a mass murderer killing Americans one arsenic-laced bacon slice at a time but at least we’d be in food heaven during our final breaths. Thank you, kind sir, for this gracious gift. It meant more to us than you will ever know.
And thank you for not being a mass murderer.
Not much farther north brings you to another A.T. legend… the Cookie Lady.
The Cookie Lady, and her husband Roy, have a small homestead close to the trail. It would be a hard stop to miss as shelter logs and signs practically demand that you make a stop. It’s not one you will regret. When they moved to the area 30-some years ago, they did not know of the Appalachian Trail and their close proximity. After learning how many people walked through their area, they thought it would be nice to offer free cookies to spark conversation. Their generosity has persevered for many years and, on top of delicious cookies and wonderful conversation, they sell Klondike bars, pop, eggs from their own chickens (we ate ten… hard-boiled eggs that is, not chickens), provide free water and camping amongst their blueberry farm.
Heaven provided in the form of two angels.
Terrain heading north wasn’t too tough – either that or the hard-boiled eggs gave us a nice protein boost. We reached Dalton, MA in no time and were faced with yet another dilemma – to stay at the Birdcage or not to stay at The Birdcage. Rob Bird, hence “The Birdcage”, opened his home to thru-hikers at no cost and the refusal of any payment. His place was stuff of legend with word spread for many, many miles. With as many hikers as there were in town at that time, and so little miles having been hiked that day, we decided to head on (reference the paragraph right underneath “No pancakes :(”). With some research, it appears Rob has moved from the area but is providing trail magic along the Southern A.T. so you could still be in luck.
Tom Levardi remains in Dalton providing the same services as the Birdcage and appears to have quite favorable reviews from current hikers. He’ll be listed in the AWOL guide so look him up when it gets to that time.
Leaving Dalton is a bit of a climb. Here is a snapshot from the following day:
08.20.2012 – Day 158 (Candice)
Happy First Anniversary to us! We left camp decently early and stopped at “The Cobbles”. It is a pretty spot overlooking the town of Cheshire and Mt. Greylock with these cool marble outcroppings.
After snacking and talking with my dad for a bit, we descended down to Cheshire and stopped at Diane’s Twist. We had some chili, pasta salad, and a peanut butter cup milkshake. It was all delicious but the older lady serving was quite cranky. I suppose I would be too if I had to smell dirty hikers all day, every day.
After leaving town, we began the long 8 mile climb up Mt. Greylock, MA’s highest peak. It was a long and demanding climb. Fortunately, we’ve been walking for what feels like decades so we took it like champs! On the summit, there is a neat lodge built by the CCC in the 1930’s named Bascom Lodge and an amazing monument dedicated to veteran’s of war.
It was on this climb that I really felt that we entered the New England I pictured in my head – mountains, small towns, and a land taken over by pines.
We packed out some wine so we toasted to the veteran’s, and ourselves to celebrate our first year of marriage, while overlooking the land spanning miles upon miles. It was pretty special.
We finished up our day at the first shelter after Mt. Greylock where there was a large group of Yale incoming freshman doing a hike as part of orientation. What a great idea! I feel like this would be a wonderful concept to incorporate at more institutions. All was well except that they were loud as shit and really annoying.
It’s 8:00 kids! Time for sleep!
Rounding out the state of Massachusetts is the town of North Adams. We decided to stop at a “Friendly’s” for breakfast and were put in the back corner away from everybody. Not very “friendly” but makes sense. We were content as they put us close to a plug – score!
NEXT UP: Vermont