Tuesday, July 1, 2008

18 July 2008: AT hike over - I quit.

18 Jul 2008: AT hike over. Yep, the bad right knee has made sleeping in the hammock difficult for too many days in a row, forcing the decision to quit the trail because it has been just plain NO FUN ever since Pennsylvania. Throughout New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts the Hiker kept on keeping on in the hopes that the steep rocky downhills would moderate. Instead every successive New England state seems dedicated to showing its worst terrain to the through-hiker, implying elitism & provincial trail routing. No doubt the chills and night sweats that accompanied entry into Massachusetts accelerated the decision, but the bottom line is that the trail is no longer fun; so bye, bye trail; hello motorcycle touring.

To All my hiking friends, I'm sorry to say a final goodbye. I won't be back because the "pointless ups and downs" in New Hampshire would certainly destroy the bad knee and I'd be likely to fall and break bones on those nasty, nasty downhills.
It is the people who "make" the trail. The AT community is made up of volunteers, hostel owners, trail angels (THANKS), service providers, outfitters, trail maintainers, ridge runners, and, of course, we hikers suffering through the same terrain, the same bugginess, the same weather, the same stress and struggle.

15 July: Roy & the Cookie Lady shuttled Ron from Levarde's in Dalton to the airport in Rutland, Vermont for R & R. From there we spent three days at the Inn at Manchester Center before heading to the delightful Inn at Long Trail west of Rutland, Vermont.

14 July - Kay Wood Lean-To Shelter - 3 miles from Dalton - a nine mile day. The Hiker is exhausted and ready for sleep at 7 PM. This morning he did not have a cell phone signal at the shelter to make the usual early morning phone call; it was also raining so he went back to sleep several times. The rain hindered hiking until eleven AM. Cell phone signal was spotty through the day and my traveling made matters worse. We are both looking forward to R&R tomorrow!

13 July - 9:30 AM - Ron is in Southside's car - en route to Hwy 90/Massachusetts Turnpike or mile # 1535.6. He had a fitful night with lots of sweating, and awakened every five minutes from midnight until 2:30 AM. He seems to be feeling OK this morning despite little sleep; he is taking an oral antibiotic (Doxycycline) for four weeks until the Lyme Disease test results come in.
1:00 PM - Uh, oh... Smooching Sounds Heard From the AT Again: The Hiker has been Smoochiketalking for the past hour describing a lovely farmhouse and lake, unmarked trail, rocks, etc. and saying he feels Ok. He said his joints are still painful - and he is quite covered up with a turtleneck sweater and mosquito netting hood but not warm despite the heat today. He and Southside put out a cooler of Trail Magic (Ron was able to carry this cooler loaded with food/beverages for a 1/4 mile). A younger southbound hiker said that the Whites were no problem for him ... he merely slowed down. After listening to the limitations of the bad knee, the youngster inspired a confidence by suggesting that the hiker could make it through the Whites - slowly. It is possible that the hike in the North could have been enjoyable if the Hiker had take inspiration from Baggins to slow down, read, and rest in the middle of those long rocky descents.
9:30 PM: October Mountain Lean-to Shelter - a 7 mile day; he had a nice long nap this afternoon and is looking forward to a good night's sleep tonight. He has about 14 miles left to Dalton, Massachusetts.

12 July - 7:30 AM - Fever Free - Ron is wondering if the illness might have been caused by possibly contaminated water he drank at the Corn Crib on Mass. Hwy 7. He is feeling better today and looking forward to the evening festivities. 11:00 PM: Exhausted Hiker is in bed ready for sleep; he enjoyed a delightful day with Southside's family. Southside will take him to the trailhead Sunday morning.

11 July: - 9:00 AM - Ron may have had a flu bug. He sweat buckets last night and is improved today although he is still chilled and fatigued and not at all well. When he called again mid-morning, he was enjoying coffee and breakfast with Southside. They were en route to Southside's boat for a pleasant, sunny Friday afternoon cruise. Southside has invited Squire to drive down tomorrow to join them for a celebratory BBQ.
10: 30 PM: The Hiker is ready for sleep; he had a good day - but he is still chilled, a bit feverish, fatigued and uncomfortable enough he will have some blood tests in the AM for Lyme Disease just in case.

10 July: Lee, Mass. 1:00 PM - The night was painful. The knee required hours of massaging before the Hiker was able to fall asleep. The emotional turmoil left him unable to get back to sleep after awakening. No surprise then, that the day started miserably. There was no potable water available until the Hiker found a gallon jug in a cooler and poured a couple of cups into his platypus for sipping. He dragged himself out of camp exhausted but early - the first one up. He again missed a trail marker and walked an extra mile on the road. Plodding through the woods was tiring, but the hiker trudged on like a zombie with no energy and no enthusiasm. He was soon overtaken at a rocky outcropping by a hiking club consisting of older retirees. When asked, the hiker said he had started at Springer Mountain, Georgia but was giving up the hike since it had been NO FUN for so many miles. One of the club members offered to give the Hiker a ride from their trailhead to Lee, Massachusetts where Southside could easily rescue him. In his weakened state, it was not easy to keep up with this group, the oldest of whom may have been eighty. After crossing several roads they finally came to the cars and did indeed give Ron a ride to the Friendly's in Lee, Massachusetts. once the destination was determined, a call was placed to Southside who said he could leave immediately and be there in two hours. Ron found a banana split, a Fishamajig sandwich, and a friendly waitress at the Friendly's. Since it was approaching lunch hour, the Hiker left to lie down & nap in the nearby city park. Good lie, no nap before it was time to return to Friendly's to wait for Southside. It was a delight to see Southside's smiling face when he arrived. The ride to Warwick, Rhode Island was smooth and comfortable and Southside understood the situation surrounding the knee and quitting. Southside found clothing to fit and a very welcome shower and laundry were initiated immediately. Southside's wife, Pam, is another delight as was the good dinner at a nearby restaurant. That night the hiker was continually chilled and experienced night sweats that soaked the sheets.

9 July, 8:30 AM: The Hiker is en route with surprisingly low energy despite a very good/long night sleep; he asked for an infusion of coffee via cell phone - Silly Hiker. He is out of the edible chocolate-covered coffee beans which, unfortunately, don't provide useful caffeination. His knee was comfortable last night and the night turned pleasurably cool enough for a sleeping bag. After awakening at the first light of dawn, he fell back to sleep until 7:30 AM. By then the scattered campsites were empty and ALL of the other hikers were gone except Bruhawk and Magnus. The day was already very humid - perhaps contributing to a lack of energy. The next goal is to meet Southside at the Mass. turnpike (mile 1535.6) by tomorrow (Thursday) night or early Friday morning. Today he faces a steep ascent of 800 feet and then those torturous downhills ... and another climb of 1000 feet to the Ledges Campsite.
6:30 PM: more updates from the Hiker, close to Sheffield, Mass - and uncomfortable. His knee is complaining strongly. Today's hike was horrendous with two falls and many dangerous slips on steep, sloping, wet boulders. There were spots where a person could easily fall and break bones. The fourteen miles today were not fun. He is still 28 miles from the Massachusetts Turnpike. The nasty trail in Massachusetts was the final straw.
Thru-hiking the AT has been no fun since leaving Pennsylvania and Ron has decided to quit the trail. The trail itself has been no fun in New Jersey, no fun in New York, no fun in Connecticut, and now no fun in Massachusetts with worse trail promised for the rest of New England. The trail maintainers and routers have neglected or perverted their duties. Trails are poorly marked and poorly maintained. Too many times the trail climbs straight up hill with no switchbacks, crosses wet boulders unnecessarily, and exposes hikers to risk of injury gratuitously. These dangerous conditions could be corrected if the maintainers cared to do a little work. It appears as if NO ONE in the North wants to improve the Appalachian Trail into a scenic and interesting trail. It is now a risky extremist's challenge suitable only for day hikes.
On the other hand, the camaraderie of the hikers and generosity of trail angels and support of local people have been uplifting. Trail magic in New York was awesome! These experiences renew one's faith.

The hiker was exhausted miles before he quit today. Rumors said that there was a hiker-friendly gardening center at route 7, the Corn Crib, which sells ice cream, allows hikers to camp overnight, & offers some resupply. As Ron crossed road after road in this swampy part of Massachusetts, he pushed on for miles trying to get to the Corn Crib before dark. He even walked a half mile on a road before discovering that it was the wrong road. Unfortunately his daily snack supply was exhausted, the bugs were bad, and his energy dwindled. After dragging himself to the Corn Crib, he was so badly disappointed by the derelict business that he ate only one Klondike bar and one soda (for $3) before setting up the hammock in an abandoned horse stall and retiring for the night exhausted and dehydrated. Several signs proclaimed, "DON'T DRINK THE WATER," so even that necessity was denied. Camping is beside a large stagnant pond - mosquitoes galore. This was undoubtedly the worst camping choice of the entire hike.

It may not be possible to convey the emotions and disappointment that attended this abandonment of the thru-hike. Katahdin is the goal. Anything less seems like failure. Daily hardships and doubts of all kinds have been overcome for four months to hike the 1500 miles into Massachusetts. After all that dedication and sacrifice, it is hard to adjust to the notion that physical limitations and risk avoidance require quitting. The decision was easier after hearing from Spruce that the Whites had destroyed his knees and from Southside that Stride had shreaded her legs in falls in the Whites.

Papa Bear's sister-in-law, Lori, gave permission to add her E-mail to this blog:


My husband is Papa Bear's brother. Dan and I have had the pleasure of meeting Ron on the trail twice now. Once at the Rt. 501 shelter in Pennsylvania, and just on Sunday, July 6th, at Cornwall Bridge, when we, unfortunately for Papa Bear, stopped by to pick up Mama Bear and return her to the rest of her children at home.

Ron looked and sounded great on Sunday, though he was mentioning his knee issues. He was very positive and upbeat, and very thorough in finishing up every drop of ice cream, even helping some of the boys who were too full to finish their plates. He didn't look too thin, just more like a lean, mean, hiking machine! Thanks for the postings. I treasure any mention of our nephews, the "Preacher Boys."

My husband and I were going to Boston for the weekend and decided to surprise them all by finding them on the trail on our way. That was when Mama Bear offered to come along and REALLY surprise them, by hiking with them for a few days. The look on Papa Bear's face when she came walking out of the woods was beyond priceless.

(It is a wonderful family - Ron's right!!) It is such a rewarding endeavor to deliver food and sustenance to thru hikers! Ron says you'll be meeting him soon. You must be so excited to see Ron! Thank you again for the postings!


8 July - Sages Ravine Brook Campsite, Massachusetts Mile # 1492.2 - 7:20 PM. The Hiker reports he had a very enjoyable day apart from monster-sized mosquitoes and microscopic food portions. Early this morning, he got a ride to Salisbury from a house painter (female) arriving about 7:30 AM with nary a cup of coffee to be found. Nothing was open. By the time the Bistro opened he was mighty hungry - but disappointed to find the portions "challenged." He ate a cinnamon sticky bun (little bitty but good), Burrito (minuscule) and a piece of blueberry cobbler with two malnourished scoops of ice cream and drank two cups of coffee. Papa Bear showed up but he had already purchased groceries so they had another cup of coffee and a doughnut with crisp edges outside the Bistro until the owner politely asked them to move because they were not eating Bistro food. Later, Ron spent quite a bit of time talking with Kat and on the way out of town Pineknot waved at him.
since she was clean & dressed in town clothes, he did not recognize her initially, but they spoke for quite a while, too. Ron said she has the same questions he does, "Why am I doing this? Why are the trails so unnecessarily difficult in New England for thru-hikers?" Just as he was fully resupplied, packed up and headed out of town, another woman waved at him. Upon visiting with her, he realized it was Maria (of Maria's Hostel fame - a highly recommended site for hikers). He spent about 2-3 hours talking to her, "She is quite a dear," he said, " taking in about 100 hikers a year for the past 8 years - at $35.00 a night to pay for her insurance." Listening to his description of the conversations reminded me that he is "quite a dear," so very gifted at making people happy they met him - and they don't forget him, either.

Ron was delighted to hear Papa Bear's sister-in-law, Lori, sent a thank-you email to me for including blog updates about her nephews. Her firsthand report about the Hiker's condition was really appreciated: "Happy, positive, upbeat, not too thin, but a lean, mean hiking machine." He enjoyed hearing that description!

The Hiker has a theory he is testing about why he was able to make 20 miles so easily yesterday, albeit, not pain-free last night. His "test" is to go very slow on the downhills and faster on the uphills and level places. Yesterday he encountered a lot more uphills and level places, hence good mileage. His knee was mostly comfortable today.

7 July - Salisbury, CT - Evening Update - The Hiker is in his hammock near the Falls just outside Salisbury with a trillion million zillion sixty three mosquitoes covering the netting. He is shifting to many different positions because his knee is so painful- and he is plotting a letter to the AT Conservancy saying, "The poorly maintained PA, NY and CT trails are a piece of @#$!!." He commented, "The last three days have not been fun with this sore knee." Otherwise the 20 mile day was good: When he left camp early this morning Papa Bear and his boys were behind him. About 1:30 he stopped at the Mountain Inn Cafe for scrambled eggs, blueberry pancakes and apple pie a la mode. Hammerdown, Scooter, Jessee and Nighttime appeared just as the food was arriving. Later, Papa Bear and his boys arrived outside of town; they walked down to the water falls. Ron said that the falls are very nice - but not as pretty as the falls we enjoyed in Virginia. When he left the falls, the Preacher Boys were swimming in the pond.

Good news: Updating the blog is dependent on Ron's cell phone calls to me; we have been rationing weekday minutes because he is back to the contracted allotment - this proved challenging until today: I changed to Ron's cell phone service provider allowing for unlimited mobile to mobile he calls unlimited smooch time.

7 July - Hiker was lost - with no cell phone signal (yesterday). No cell phone calls means I receive no updates for this blog. The white blazes are not well-marked; he took a turn into a woods, seeing no more white blazes he retraced his steps and walked towards a highway. A runner gave him a ride in her vehicle to the grocery store and deli in Cornwall; he ate heartily and encountered Papa and Mama Bear and the Preacher's Boys just as he was leaving. He hiked with them to their campsite for the afternoon, across the Housatonic River that had high water - the rocks were underwater and he got his new boots wet. The Bear family fed the Hiker subs and ice cream: and he ate it ALL UP! The Hiker described a photo of Mama Bear surrounded by her family as having the most beatific smile he has ever seen - and he commented, "Papa Bear must be doing something right." Later, he read Papa Bear's journal entry, "the most beautiful woman in the world is coming out of the woods," and Ron figured out what Papa Bear is doing right!!!!! Ron's knee was troublesome when he tried to fall asleep last night - so he is hiking slow today. He will try to get an earlier start in the mornings and hike more slowly. It seems the faster pace is problematic. If he makes it to Salisbury, CT by tonight or early morning - he should make it to the Mass. Turnpike - to meet Southside - in four days. I Discovered some protein powder (590 calories a drink) to mail to a hiker PO drop to help with the huge weight loss he is experiencing. (photo West Cornwall Bridge - Rick Bennette).

6 July - 8:00 AM - .09 miles to Cornwall Bridge. Hiker had a painful knee last night that kept him awake for a long time. The knee seems somewhat improved this AM as he continues hiking close to Cornwall Bridge - hoping to get a ride into town for breakfast. Cornwall Bridge does not look at all like the slippery, sheer rock he experienced yesterday. He talked to Spruce who said NH is very, very slow and challenging with knee issues. Spruce has not heard from Strides who has stopped logging in the journals... (maybe because NH rocks are so overwhelming). Hope this Hiker moves slowly enough the knee heals again before NH. He is 29 miles (two days) from Massachusetts which has 90 miles of AT.

5 July - 10:00 AM - Hiker slept until ten because it was raining. At 12:00 noon - he was packed up and hiking - the rain had ceased - but the rocks are wet and slippery. His knee is hurting again. About 1:30 PM - he reached CT HWY 341 at Kent, CT. He put down the back-pack about the time a car pulled up offering a ride into Kent; the driver was quite astounded to learn that the Hiker walked from Springer Mountain, GA and was en route to Maine. The driver took him to the grocery store where Ron spotted a couple hikers (did not catch their names); they went to a restaurant for an expensive turkey sub and blueberry pie ala mode with two scoops of ice cream ($13.00). Ron got a ride back to the trail head and was en route again by 3:45 PM; at 6:30 PM - he is close to Stewart Hollow Brook Lean-To Shelter where he will may overnight. He has hiked 10-12 miles today - moving slow because of the earlier rain, slippery rock and very, very rough terrain.

A BEARY Happy Fourth of July...Ron walked from the AT to Matthew's house in NY state late afternoon yesterday. He enjoyed meeting Matthew's father, stepmother and siblings, eating ice cream and watching fireworks last night. Ron and Matthew previously hiked together on the NC/AT in April; Matthew is hiking with him today as they crossed the NY/CT border and taking photos of the Hiker smooching on the cell phone. Later - 8:30 PM - Matthew has gone home; the Hiker is tired after a 15 mile day and ready to make camp as soon as it is dark.

3 July - 7:30 AM - 18 Miles to CT - the Hiker enjoyed yesterday afternoon with Papa Bear and the Preacher Boys; later he treated them to pizza, root beer, a half gallon of orange juice and three half gallons of ice cream. They were joined by PineKnot who stopped for local medical treatment of Lyme disease (lifeguards recognized her rash - symptomatic of tick bites, a hiking hazard). The group moaned and groaned after overeating ... and even left some ice cream uneaten, alas and alack, until Elvis came to the rescue: Elvis Trailsley, that is... a trail maintenance man, who scooped up the remaining ice cream. Today: the hikers had an early start - Papa Bear and his cubs are about an hour ahead of Grandpa Shakedown. Ron spoke with Matthew and hopes to see him yet tonight. He contacted Southside about meeting at a convenient place near the Mass. Turnpike (three or four days hence). And it was good to learn that the guys he hiked with early on the trail (Squire, Spire, Spruce, Frog) are already in Maine - planning to reach Katahdin together. Marathon caught up to join them. "Is the Hiker disappointed to not be reaching Katahdin with the group," He answers with alacrity: "No, I am just delighted to learn where they are - and to have enjoyed my time." Such a Good Hiker!!!!

2 July - 7:30 AM - Mile # 1413: Five Miles to RPH shelter and water - 26 miles to Connecticut. Papa Bear and the Preacher Boys have been feeding the Hiker - good news. They found a package of hamburger buns at the Franciscan ball field (Graymoor Spiritual Life Center) and enjoyed eating the buns by adding peanut butter and honey ... YUM!!! Some food left but he needs to fill the water bladder at the next shelter. If he makes contact with Southside they will have lunch because he cannot afford to take another zero day for awhile - and he is planning to increase mileage to 20 per day; knee is doing OK. He saw Whitefish without Snake (doncha just LOVE trail names???). Snake got off the trail for a few days to spend with family. Saw Mangy Mouse... too. The Hiker is a lot like Johnny Appleseed traveling around the countryside planting seeds - albeit friendship not apples.

1 July - 9:30 AM - The Hiker is close to the Bear Mountain Zoo but it was closed. He enjoyed a leisurely morning sleeping in after several late nights. Off in the distance he can hear the sounds of a military training ground: boom boom boom! Papa Bear and the Preacher Boys came by earlier.

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