Friday, September 15, 2017

Day 12: Royalston to Alexander Hill Road and then the Northern Terminus!

Friday, Sept. 15, 2017

Triumph! But first, yet another long, harder-than-expected day. Yet I suppose it was fitting, seeing as how this trail has fought with us the entire time.

According to my NET maps, we had just 16 miles left to hike. After numerous days of +20 miles, that should be easy. We allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit, then drove to the trailhead.

Today called for hiking 14.6 miles southbound, shuttling the cars, then finishing the last piece of trail northbound. That's because the last bit of the trail is a .7-mile walk into the Royalston Falls area, where the trail officially ends in the middle of the woods at the border with New Hampshire. (Another trail continues on from there, but it's not the NET.)

As soon as we stepped onto the trail, a trail volunteer did, too. His name was Tom, and we learned two interesting things. One was that another volunteer loved to build trail, but wasn't good at it. He often ran trails up and down steep hills without employing switchbacks. (Groan!) The other was that he liked to constantly re-route trails.

Tom was chatty, so we didn't get started until 10 a.m. The hiking here was just lovely. The footing was largely soft pine needles and moss, so different than the rocks in Connecticut and a few other spots in Massachusetts. We passed lots of burbling brooks and enjoyed looking at the foliage, which is just starting to turn.

At one point we ran into another couple. I thought it was Keith and Karen at first, the Florida hikers we met with Parks a few days ago, but it was Dan and Ruth. They live in the Finger Lakes area (NY) and recently completed all of the North Country Trail.

Moving on, this area of the trail is well-marked, with lots of signs indicating the distance to the next road crossing. After a few hours, we saw a sign indicating that Alexander Hill Road, where our car was parked, was farther away than the map indicated. Not again! We figured from what Tom said that the other volunteer must have re-routed a lot of trail somewhat recently, and that the maps didn't reflect this. We ended up hiking three more miles in this section than we planned on.

So that meant we got to our little .7-mile out-and-back (1.4 miles total) at 6:30 p.m. We hurried in without our packs, and much to our dismay there was no northern terminus sign – just a sign saying we were now in New Hampshire, and the distance of locations that lay ahead. Oh well. We took pix anyway and split a celebratory beer.

On our way back to the car, we took a .3-mile detour to see Royalston Falls, but the detour was poorly marked and we could only see a tiny portion of the falls (we were probably in the wrong spot). We couldn't spend any more time looking for a better vantage point, though, because it was quickly getting dark. We reached our cars just as night fell.

We shuttled Parks' car to a campground a few miles up the road; he'll pick it up sometime in the next few days, when he finishes the trail.

Thus ended our thru-hike of the New England National Scenic Trail. We enjoyed the majority of our time, but we did find the hiking difficult. But it's the difficult things in life that often prove the most rewarding, isn't it?

Snowshoe and Stubs

Map Miles: 16
Map Miles to Date: 231.6
iPhone Miles: 18.8
iPhone Miles to Date: 237.8
Steps: 46,785
Steps to Date: 600,464
Flights Walked: 159

Flights to Date: 2,093

Day 11: Alexander Hill Road to Quabbin Reservoir

Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017

Our last two hiking days were supposed to be shorter and easier. Today's hike was slated at about 17 or 18 miles. I didn't have an exact total, because the starting and ending points were within marked segments – not at the start/end of segments – so I had to estimate.

It was another warm day with highs in the mid-80s and a fair amount of humidity. The gnats were still out.

The first section was along the Upper Bald /Stratton Mountain in the Northfield State Forest. We had a nice vista by a campsite and cabin, which also featured a giant cairn and two Stonehenge-like arrangements.

After a road walk we passed through Hermit and Rattlesnake Mountains, then reached the Wendell State Forest. This is when things started to deteriorate. The trail was underwater at one point, so we had to do some bushwhacking around it, then just walk through some wet parts. It wasn't bad, but we lost some time strategizing about how to handle it. Next, this section was longer than the map indicated.

The worst part came when we were finally exiting the state park area. The trail was supposed to lead us through a town park and onto the road for a road-walk to our car. But the blazes suddenly were sending us in circles, and we eventually realized the park had its own set of white blazes – possibly for a cross-country course – that had nothing to do with the white blazes of the NET in Massachusetts. Note to NET staff/volunteers: Ask the Lake Wyota folks to pick a different color for their blazes!

The day ended at nearly 24 miles instead of 17-18. We went back to our motel room exhausted once again.

Snowshoe and Stubs

Map Miles: About 20.7
Map Miles to Date: About 215.6
iPhone Miles: 23.8
iPhone Miles to Date: 219
Steps: 55,641
Steps to Date: 553,679
Flights Walked: 97
Flights to Date: 1,934

Day 10: Quabbin Reservoir to Bay Road

Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017

Today was one of the most enjoyable days on the trail, despite the fact that we were covering a lot of miles (about 23). That's because while we had some big hills at the start and end of the day, the vast majority of the trail = undulating paths with good footing.

We lost our way once, missing a turn but ending up on the road we needed to be on anyway. It was hot again (80s), but every time we got too hot we seemed to tuck into thick woods or a cool breeze would spring up. The gnats were annoying, though.

Tonight we picked up Parks, who was also staying in Hadley, and went out to eat at Texas Roadhouse, which gave us a free appetizer for staying at the Hampton Inn. We all had steaks and enjoyed our onion blossom appetizer. We got to know Parks better and learn about all of his adventures. It was a fun night.

Snowshoe and Stubs

Map Miles: 21.6
Map Miles to Date: About 194.9
iPhone Miles: 22.7
iPhone Miles to Date: 195.2
Steps: 52,931
Steps to Date: 498,038
Flights Walked: 86

Flights to Date: 1,837

Day 9: Lake Holland to East Mountain Wildlife Management Area

Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017

Just when you think you've had your hardest hiking day, you haven't.

Today was slated to be a great day. We'd hike up Mt. Nonotuck at the Mt. Tom State Reservation, shuttle around the Connecticut River (too large for a water crossing), then hike around Mount Holyoke. We did do all those things, and it nearly killed us. Okay, so that may be a bit of an exaggeration. Here's how the day went.

We began hiking up Mt. Nonotuck in the morning. It was a long climb (a mile or so), but the grade was gentle and the footing wonderful, so it wasn't bad at all. Once we got on top we enjoyed the beautiful vistas that have characterized this hike.

At one point a young woman joined us. It was right at the point where we found the highest peak – which, unfortunately, was covered with various towers and gizmos. That's one thing we've noticed on the hike. Every peak is topped with metallic structures. Not sure if they're for weather monitoring, satellite stuff, etc., but it kind of ruins thing (although I'm sure it's necessary).

Anyway, it was a little funny here because someone had spray painted "Mt. Crumpit" (sic) and "Whooville" (sic) on top. It was also interesting to see a large Christmas star. The woman with us, who has lived in the area five years, said she didn’t think the star was lit during the holidays anymore. We also noticed some concrete steps and railings up there. She said there had once been a resort somewhere up there. Can't imagine people being allowed to walk up to a railing right at the edge of a mountaintop, but years ago I suppose they weren't as cautious.

After hiking down the other side we got into our car, picked up the second car, then shuttled ourselves over the river. Then we dropped the cars for our hike along Mt. Holyoke. This is when things got rough.

First, it took us 90 minutes to do the shuttling. That seems so long, considering our cars weren't very far apart. But you're driving through tiny towns with curving roads and low speed limits, so that's why. Long and short of it: we lost 90 minutes of hiking time.

Then, with less hiking time than normal, Mt. Holyoke turned out to be the most difficult hike we've had. No one believes in switchbacks here. The terrain was uber-steep, and very rocky. In a lot of places it was scree: loose rocks that you slip and slide along. When you combine that with steep climbs and descents, it's pretty dangerous. We were inching our way sideways on many of these.

Our pace slowed dramatically to 30- or 40-minute miles. By the time we got to a cool, old resort building on the final peak – where there were quite a few people lounging on its expansive back deck, taking in the beautiful sunset – we had to zip past, because we knew we were now in a race against the clock to finish the hike before dark.

As we descended down the mountain, we kept slipping into the woods, which were very dark. We fished out our headlamps, and of course mine instantly died. I almost stepped on some kind of snake I didn't recognize, which was alarming because earlier I'd noticed a warning sign about snakes. It didn't look dead, but it wasn't moving. Ed was going to poke it! NO! We walked around it, and luckily it didn't do anything.

We got off the mountain right when it became completely dark. We were exhausted from the strenuous hike, the bottoms of our feet were killing us from the rocks, and we prayed we'd never have another day like today.

Map Miles: About 17
Map Miles to Date: About 173.3
iPhone Miles: 18.6
iPhone Miles to Date: 172.5
Steps: 49,743
Steps to Date: 445,107
Flights Walked: 339
Flights to Date: 1,751

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Day 8: East Mountain Wildlife Management Area to Sunrise Park

Monday, Sept. 11, 2017

Every day on the trail is interesting. This was definitely one of those days!

We started off in Massachusetts, which was a little weird. Due to our shuttling system, we keep heading north, yet we hike south. So we still had a little trail in Connecticut to do, but we'd hit it at the end of the day.

East Mountain WMA is just northwest of Holyoke, Mass. It features the requisite climbs, followed by killer views. The morning was quite strenuous, as the trail featured lots of very steep uphills and downhills. The trail people here just don't believe in switchbacks. Everything is steep, steeper and steepest. 

At one point, the trail dipped down to a spot where someone had left a weight bench, then put a log over the crossbars where the weight normally goes. Stubs checked it out (but couldn't quite get in position due to the pack on his back).

Around lunchtime the trail spit us out into a grubby viaduct, where we nevertheless managed to enjoy a nice lunch. :) It was interesting to see how the trail was signed through this scruffy urban area. Instead of blazes on trees, there was a blaze on a rusted old drum, one on a metal spike, etc.

Shortly after lunch we had our one and only river crossing on the trail -- the Westfield River in Massachusetts. It wasn't very far across, and for the most part the water was only calf-to-knee deep. But in one section the water was thigh-high and rushing. I made Stubs come back and link arms to make sure I didn't fall. 

Right after the river crossing we ran into Parks. He was accompanied by Keith Paulk and Karen. I had never met Keith and Karen in person, but they are Floridians and trail fans, and I had met Keith on Facebook. He bought my book, Thousand-Miler, and was kind enough to write a nice review. So it was fun to meet them.

Parks said the trail ahead of us was easy. We, unfortunately, had to tell them that the trail ahead of them was NOT easy. 

Parks was right. Our afternoon was a lovely stroll on relatively flat terrain. At one point, we passed the NET's Connecticut/Massachusetts border.

One state down, one to go!

Snowshoe and Stubs

Map Miles: 19.5
Map Miles to Date: 156.3
iPhone Miles: 19.2
iPhone Miles to Date: 153.9
Steps: 53,016
Steps to Date: 395,364
Flights Walked: 175

Flights to Date: 1,412

Day 7: Sunrise Park to Metropolitan District Reservoir

Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017

Today started off crisp and cool. As soon as we started hiking we ran into a large group of hikers. They were part of a club and/or Meet-Up group. One woman had lived in Appleton for a while, so that was fun.

There aren't many spots to camp along the NET, but we found one here. We knew Parks would be camping here, so we scoped it out for him. It was spacious and quite nice.

As always in Connecticut NET hiking, the trail led us up some mountains -- first West Suffield and Peak Mountains -- where we enjoyed lovely views. There's always a scenic spot to take a break or have lunch on this trail, that's for sure.

Around noon we ran into a dad and his 5-year-old son, Fisher. They were hiking several miles of the trail, and Fisher could keep up. It was pretty impressive! 

Stubs and I ate lunch by this stone fireplace in the woods. We've seen several of them now, so it seems there were lots of cabins up on the mountaintops at one time. I wonder what it was like to live there?

We ended the day hiking through Talcott Mountain State Park, and saw many families, couples and singles out for hikes. We had seen Parks earlier in the day, and he said to make sure and see the Heublein Tower, which is in the park. The trail passes right by it, he told us, but unfortunately it was closed when Parks passed it. Fisher's dad also told us to see the tower (tours are free).

Parks said the tower closed at 5 p.m. When Stubs and I got near, we realized it would come down to the wire. So we hiked two miles up the mountain as fast as we could, and got to the tower four minutes before it closed. Panting, we asked the attendants if we could still get in. They said yes.

We were so excited until we realized that meant we had to sprint up five or six flights of stairs to reach the tower look-out, take in the views, and get back down so they could close up. Ouch! We didn't get to see the museum displays, but apparently some man built this home/tower for his wife. He is somehow behind A-1 steak sauce and Smirnoff vodka.

Our hike ended around a reservoir, where the path was pretty flat. YES!

Map Miles: 21.2
Map Miles to Date: 136.8
iPhone Miles: 21.2
iPhone Miles to Date: 134.7
Steps: 52,654
Steps to Date: 342,348
Flights Walked: 192

Flights to Date: 1,237

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Day 6: Metropolitan District Reservoir to Long Bottom Road

Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017

Before I talk about today, one thing: If you've been reading this blog and there was an entry with no photos, go back and look. Sometimes I don't post the photos until later. And the photos are the best part!

Another beautiful day today, with temps in the low 70s and sunny skies.

We drove to the day's starting point, a parking lot across the highway from a reservoir. It was packed, as the trails here are popular for hiking, mountain biking, dog-walking, etc. But we found a space.

The morning passed uneventfully, with lots of beautiful scenery, reasonably good markings and footing that was relatively easy (not too many rocks or hills). The one funny part was this small patch of scrub that the trail passed through. It was probably only 10 or 20 yards long, but the scrub/shrubs were so thick that you could not see any path at all -- just a blaze at the far end. I tried bashing my way through with my trekking poles to no avail. I tried powering my way through with no luck either. So Ed went ahead and we made a train of sorts and he was able to bash us through. Ridiculous! But funny.

We had lunch around this really cool grouping of rocks just before the poetically named Will Warren's Den. Not too long after that we ran into Parks again, and warned him about the scrub.

The afternoon was pleasant, and the best part was reaching our car at 4:30, an hour earlier than we thought. We only covered about 18 miles today, which seemed positively lazy of us. Ha!

Snowshoe and Stubs

Map Miles: 17.4
Map Miles to Date: 115.6
iPhone Miles: 17.3
iPhone Miles to Date: 113.5
Steps: 42,310
Steps to Date: 289,694
Flights Walked: 134

Flights to Date: 1,045