Friday, December 8, 2017

Day 48 / 15: Holt to Yellow River Trailhead

Dec. 8, 2017

This was one of my more difficult hiking days. The weather was gray, rainy and 40 degrees all day long. 

I began in the town of Holt and headed south on a 3.5-mile road route toward the Yellow River Water Management Area. It was drizzling most of the time, but nothing too bad. The wind was at my back -- yay!

Nancy said trail volunteers were supposed to have trimmed back the trail in the Yellow River area yesterday, but since there was some rain yesterday she wasn't sure they got there. First, I missed the turn (it wasn't well marked) and walked about a quarter-mile out of the way. Then, when I got in, it was clear the volunteers hadn't made it.

The trail was pretty rough, and full of prickly plants that tore at my billowing poncho. Then a steady, heavy drizzle began to fall. I was soon soaked and cold. The rain stopped after maybe an hour. At that point I had to ford a creek. I had planned to take off my boots and shoes and wade across in sandals, but my boots and socks were so water-logged, it didn't matter. So I plunged through.

When I got out, I had so much water in my boots I had to stop. I actually poured water out of my boots and then wrung out my socks. When I put them back on, my feet got tremendously chilled. I also had only thin, cotton gloves to wear. Not smart of me, especially since I have Raynaud's Syndrome. I tried to wrap my gloved hands in plastic bags to help protect them, but they still got soaked.

By the time I stopped for lunch, I was pretty miserable. I got out my hand warmers, which helped my hands. But my feet were frozen. So when I started hiking again, I was half-jogging on the trail. That helped; my feet warmed up.

After 11-ish miles the trail spit me out onto a connecting road route of 6.5 miles. The first portion was in a neighborhood. Nancy appeared, bearing a steaming cup of hazelnut coffee for me. WOW! She is so awesome. That put a spring in my step. Then THREE people stopped their cars to see if I needed a ride into town. Restores your faith in humanity.

My final 2.1 miles were along a highway under construction -- which was great, because I got to walk on the new portion cordoned off from traffic. 

When I reached Nancy, I was chilled once again and so glad to be done. That wonderful woman handed me a contained of hot soup for my dinner tonight! She is honestly so awesome.


Day 47 / 14: Jr. Walton Pond to Holt

Dec. 7, 2017

So far I've had nothing but sunny, warm days during my fourth and final trip here. And in fact, during my previous three trips I can't recall any rainy days. Today, however, marked the start of two days of rain.

I lucked out for the most part. The first 7.6 miles were on a lovely, wooded path through the final portion of Eglin Air Force Base. Trail angel Nancy met me halfway in. It was gray and cloudy, but no rain.

Nancy and I parted when the trail emerged onto Hwy. 85, then headed uphill about three or four miles in and through Crestview (hence the name of the city).  There was a strong headwind, which combined with the incline to make a bit of a dreary slog. The positive side: I found 81 cents along the way. :)

After passing all of the chain restaurants and stores, the route took me through the historic portion of Crestview. This was much more pleasant -- less traffic, more interesting scenery. I also found a local coffee shop, where I treated myself to a toilet, warm building and a breve. Then it was back out into the cold. 

The trail hooked west along Hwy. 90, so the wind wasn't in my face anymore. Nice! But a heavy drizzle fell around 1:45. It let up after a half-hour or so, but I was still fairly wet and pretty chilled.

I met Nancy again at the Dollar General in Holt, at the end of my day. What a trail angel! She brought me some chili for dinner, as she knows I've been eating salads in my room. Nancy rocks!


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Day 46 / 13: Bob Sikes Road to Jr. Walton Pond

Dec. 6, 2017

For the last two weeks of hiking, I've had nothing but temps in the upper 70s and mostly sunny skies. That changed today. It was 58 and gray when I started out on the trail in Eglin, with the forecast for rain and falling temps.

I lucked out in that the rain was mostly sprinkles on and off during the day. It was a little cooler than I anticipated, though; I could have used thicker gloves and my hand warmers. Plus my coat. Still, it was fine.

Eglin continued to be lovely, with many areas full of deer moss -- it kind of looked like snow. The deciduous trees and pines were wonderful, and it was fun crossing all of the creeks. The boardwalks were all quite slippery, though, due to the rain.

Nancy dropped me off in the morning, then headed to the western end later in the day to hike in and meet me. So I had wonderful company the last few hours of my hike. We saw an oak snake (Nancy identified it for me) and a few more of those awful banana spiders.

It began raining steadily during our last 30 minutes of hiking. Not bad!


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Day 45 / 12: Hwy. 331 to Bob Sikes Road

Dec. 5, 2017

Today was a big day because I entered Eglin Air Force Base. Eglin is an Air Force base, but also a place where they practice explosives, as in they practice exploding ordnance. Yet the place also has hiking trails open to the public -- not where they explode the ordnance -- plus hosts the FT. Interesting! I would have thought the two were noncompatible.

You need a permit to hike in here, and the base may be closed at any minute if they need to practice exploding things. So you're lucky if you get to walk throughout the base. There are about 100 miles of the FT on Eglin.

Trail Angel Nancy Basque Frey dropped me off at my starting point on Hwy 331. I had about a mile or so walking in the woods, then it was along the busy highway. However, there is construction going on. I was able to walk on the side that was cordoned off; I essentially had a highway lane to myself. Nice! I could have even used a porta-potty on the highway, but I decided to pee in the woods instead. :)

Eglin was fantastic! There were lots of deciduous trees here, which you don't see much of in Florida. I shuffled through several inches of leaves for many miles, which was delightful. There were also many fun creek crossing on boardwalks, and then a ford through the Alaqua River (or is it creek?). There was once a bridge across the Alaqua, but it appears to have been wiped out. A new one is in place and almost finished; it just needs the steps. I almost crossed on the bridge, which was cordoned off, but decided to be good and ford instead.

I think I saw many holly trees. I didn't know holly was a tree, but there were many trees with holly-shaped leaves and berries, so there you go.

All in all, a delightful day.


P.S. I did hear a lot of noises that sounded like explosions. Maybe they fire off blanks, too?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Day 44 / 11: Bruce to Hwy. 331

Dec. 4, 2017

Today started off with a 5.6-mile road walk north of Bruce, continuing from yesterday's road walk along Hwy. 20. But as I started off, following my paper map, I realized my app map showed a different route - a trail. Hmm. Turns out a new trail segment was developed in December 2016 that isn't represented on my maps. The maps I paid $100 for! They could have at least put a sticker on that page and said there was now a trail to replace the road routes. 

Oh well. Too late. I finished the road walk and then hopped on the trail at the Nokuse Plantation, a private pine plantation. (It's pronounced NO guh see.) The trail was great, winding through some beautiful pine forestland. I love those. The ground is so cushy with the pine needles, and the trees are beautifully and symmetrically lined up.

But then it went through some kind of grassy meadow, then into swampland, then along several creeks -- just a wide variation that was a lot of fun.

I was enjoying myself immensely when I looked at the map again and got confused. It looked like I had many more miles to hike than I thought. Long story short, I missed jotting down one trail segment on my itinerary so I had 3.7 more miles to hike. This meant I'd end up hiking in the dark once again.

Luckily the last few miles of this trail were in pretty open land, and it takes about an hour from official sunset for it to get dark. I hit the trailhead just as the sky turned inky. But the trailhead was on a busy highway under construction. Judy and I had to figure out how to find one another; she was pulled over on the side of the road, not knowing quite where I'd come out. It took us about 10 minutes, but we did it. Phew!


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Day 43 / 10: SR 77 and SR 20 to Bruce

Dec. 3, 2017

Judy slept in again today while I headed out to the trail early. I had nearly 8 miles of hiking along SR 20 to start the day. I was hoping that since this was Sunday, there would be little traffic. I'd say the traffic was moderate. But the temperature was cool, so all was good.

At one point a man in a truck slowed down and asked if I needed water. I thought that was awfully nice. Turns out he was a trail volunteer on his way to the weekend work project. He knew I was Snowshoe and kept offering water or food. What a nice guy!

Judy was heading out from the hotel just as I entered about 9 miles of trail in the Pine Log State Forest. She was going to come in from the other end and meet me.

The first few miles weren't much of anything -- just walking along power lines parallel to the highway. Still, it wasn't walking on the highway and the noise was much reduced, so I appreciated it. After 2.2 miles of this, the real trail began. 

It was a nice mix of pine forest, creeks, titi and swampland. I passed through the Sand Pond Campground at one point, also very scenic. 

Unfortunately Judy couldn't find the trail, so she only ended up hiking some side roads. Oh well.

The last 4.9 miles was along SR 20 again. Ugh. There was lots of traffic now. Oh well, that's the hiking life.


Day 42 / 9: Scott Road Trailhead to SR 77 and SR 20

Dec. 2, 2017

What a (mostly) great day! Judy slept in and I drove myself to Scott Road, where I left off yesterday. It was a nice, cool morning (mid-50s). I had about 18 miles of hiking through the beautiful Econfina Creek Water Management Area ahead of me.

The trail was hilly here, winding up and down while following the creek. There were lots of boardwalks and even several swinging bridges. One was called Apple Bridge, and had a carved apple on it, although I don't know why. Another was called Fender Bridge because an old, abandoned fender was nearby.

I ran into a trail crew early on; this weekend they were working on this section of the trail. We exchanged pleasantries and they took my photo; workers always take photos when they run into hikers. I didn't see Eric Lewis, the man I met the other day, but the workers said he was in the area.

At one point I passed what is called Devil's Hole on the map. It appears to be a large sandy area that eroded away into sort of a funnel shape. 

A snafu occurred mid-afternoon. Judy was hiking toward me and said she saw signs saying the trail was closed due to logging. I said it was not; I'd just hiked about 14 of the 18 miles just fine, plus the trail crew didn't say anything about closures. So she kept hiking eastward toward me.

Well, I suddenly crossed a road and saw a sign that said the next mile of the trail was closed for logging in 2017 and 2018. A re-route was in place. What to do? Judy was hiking toward me, and if I took the detour we'd pass each other. My Guthooks app did not show the detour, which it normally does. The signage looked brand new. The trail crew did not mention any detour.

I decided the trail crew must have just created the detour this weekend, and no logging had started yet, so it was best to forge ahead and find Judy rather than get separated.

Bad move.

Judy had turned around by this point, unbeknownst to me because our cell phones weren't talking to each other in real time. After one-third of a mile, I emerged into a clear-cut area. It took me about 20-30 minutes of thrashing around in the ruins, and then the scrub, before finding where the trail continued on. 

When I finally met Judy at the trailhead, I still had nearly 5 miles on the road to squeeze in before dark. I just made it!


Day 41 / 8: SR 71 to Scott Road Trailhead

Dec. 1, 2017

Today's hike was 99% roads. But it wasn't all bad.

The first few miles were along a curving, hilly, scenic road. It always amazes me how you can be in the countryside near only tiny towns, yet cars and trucks are regularly whizzing by on these back roads. These aren't all retirees. Who are these people, and where are they driving?!

After a mile or so, I tucked into several miles of trail. It was just lovely, and passed a pretty creek. When I emerged -- onto Look 'n Tremble Road (ha!) -- Judy was waiting. She walked with me on the connecting road route for a few miles before turning back.

I had +15 miles on the roads, which wasn't so great. I did find .37 cents. :) The nicest part was finding a big sign on someone's lawn welcoming hikers to stop and rest. The family had set up a small fridge and filled it with all sorts of things a hiker might need: water, oatmeal, grits, raisins, bandages, needles, etc. and welcomed you to take whatever you needed. I didn't need anything, but left a note of thanks.

Met Judy .5 miles short of the trailhead. The path here was sandy, and she was afraid her car would get stuck, so she stopped a bit early. Fine with me!


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Day 40 / 7: SR 65 to SR 71

Nov. 30, 2017

I thought I was going to have to take a zero day today. Both of my heels are sporting huge blisters from those newer running shoes of mine that don't work well with my orthotics. At least not when it comes to walking in them 20 miles at a time. A little slipping in the heels is one thing when you're casually walking around the house or walking the dog, but quite another when you're hiking an NST.

My hiking boots, which worked well yesterday, were killing me this morning. I considered hiking barefoot for about one second. Then I tried wearing my running shoes without my orthotics. That felt pretty great. The only thing was that I had left the shoes' normal removable bottoms back home. After all, I always had my orthotics in them instead of those little foam bottoms. I knew it was risky to try hiking 20 miles in them. Without those little foam bottoms, there is exposed stitching that is also likely to cause blisters. But I had little choice.

So I headed out and hiked on the connecting road route today. I did end up getting one big blister on the bottom of one foot, but I think it will be okay bandaged up tomorrow. And I went to Walmart and picked up some cushy inserts that I'm hoping will be thinner than my orthotics and be just what I need going forward.

One bright spot of the day was meeting Eric Lewis, chapter chair of the next trail chapter I'm entering (the Econfina area). What a nice guy! I also enjoyed hiking across the +2-mile bridge over the Apalachicola River and along the bike path through Blountstown.

Tonight my good friend Judy, aka Ten-Miler, drove up from Punta Gorda to be my shuttler and hiker pal for the next few days.


Day 39 / 6: FR 107 to 3 Miles Up SR 65

Nov. 29, 2017

Today I bandaged up my poor, blistered heels and put on my hiking boots. That felt much better!

The day was pretty awesome. The first few miles were a bit scruffy, but then the trail became just lovely -- wonderful footing and beautiful scenery. The best part of the day was having lunch lakeside at beautiful Bonnet Lake. There was even a bench there.

The temperature neared 80, but it wasn't too humid. And just as it was getting too hot, it cooled off. That's the perk of hiking at this time of year.

Near the end of the day I had 2.4 miles left of trail, then three miles on SR 65. Things devolved from here. The trail was actually recently trimmed, which was great. Except it was some kind of prairie land. If you've hiked on prairie before, it's very lumpy and bumpy. The path was all that, plus roots. What this meant was that your feet slipped and slid from side to side, which for me equated to more hot spots and blisters. I was happy to reach SR 65 and hike on the highway! 

Tonight I drove to new lodgings in Marianna. En route I passed through Blountstown, which is on the FT and has very pretty Christmas decorations. I loved their lighted Polar Express!


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Day 38 / 5: West End of Bradwell Bay to FR 107

Nov. 28, 2017

Wow, this was a day for the record books! I had one of my longer hikes planned, a 23.5-miler. But due to various circumstances, I didn't get started on the trail until almost 9:30 a.m. With sunset around 6 p.m., I figured I'd have to hike a little in the dark. I had a headlamp with me and wasn't too concerned.

That changed quickly, as one stretch of the Apalachicola Forest was filled with downed trees. Not the trunks that you can easily climb over, but the branches. I probably wasted 20 minutes in one spot, just to move ahead 50 feet. The rest, while not nearly as bad, still involved much bushwhacking. I rejoiced when I came upon a prescribed burn -- yes! All of those thick bushes were burned away. 

To add to the stress, my orthotics caused my new shoes to slip a little as I walked. I knew about this slight slippage before I came down, but at the gym it was insignificant. On the trail, it equated to huge blisters. I stopped numerous times to bandage the sore areas, then duct tape them, etc. I'll probably switch to my hiking boots tomorrow to give my poor feet a break.

I actually made up some time when the trail piggybacked on fire roads, and by the end of the day had only about 1.5 miles to hike in the dark. A piece of cake! Except the minute the sky darkened, the trail led me into a small, dark swamp. Normally not a big deal, but this one was very wet and dark and I couldn't find the trail with my headlamp. I dropped my phone twice in the muck, got my shoes submerged and had to bushwhack my way back out. Thank goodness for the trail app, which shows where you are via GPS. If not for that, I'd still be out there.

As I was nearing my car, I heard this weird whistle. It was the kind of whistle you hear in murder mysteries. I grabbed my mace, thinking some weird guy was out in the woods. Turned out to be Taz, a thru-hiker. He saw my headlamp and was trying to warn me he was there so I wouldn't be scared. Ha! As I neared him (and didn't see him) he called out hello and I screamed, despite having heard his creepy whistling. Which, I guess, was from some spaghetti Western.

Taz and I chatted a good long while. But I had to break for the motel. I needed a shower! I was filthy and had dried blood everywhere from all of the bushwhacking.

Tomorrow I just have 18 miles of the Apalachicola forest left. I'll be happy to leave it behind!


Day 37 / 4: FR 348 Trailhead to the West End of Bradwell Bay

Nov. 27, 2017

Today was a short one -- just 12 miles. That's because five of those 12 were in Bradwell Bay, a swamp hike where you typically average one mile per hour. I wanted to give myself plenty of time.

After conquering Big Cypress Swamp in January, I was kind of excited to tackle Bradwell Bay solo. Linda Patton told me the east end was dry, but the west was wet. I had about seven miles of hiking to start with before entering the east end of Bradwell Bay. These seven miles were pretty overgrown, so I had to do a lot of what I call "bushwhacking light." It wasn't terrible, but annoying. This is the start of hiking season, though, so the volunteer crews are just getting out to maintain the trails. I knew this going in, so no big deal.

At one point while I was hiking in an area akin to a garden/hedge maze -- tight walls of bushes on either side -- I heard this chuffing for several minutes. I realized it was a bear. I couldn't see where it was, but could tell it wasn't agitated. It appeared to be calling to another bear, or maybe to warn that a human was near. I grabbed my bear spray and held it in my hand for about 10 minutes until I was convinced it wasn't coming after me. There wouldn't have been any place to run in that narrow, tight maze.

Bradwell Bay turned out to be a disappointment. It was 99% dry, something that is very rare. But we live in a time when the climate is never predictable anymore.

The only slight challenge I had was in one soggy part where the mud sucked your feet down to the ankles, and I feared I'd lose my shoes. Once I even sunk down to one knee. Being alone, it was concerning. But I always got my feet/leg out and carried on.


Day 36 / 3: Jack Crum Road to FR 348 Trailhead

Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017

Today I entered the Bradwell Bay Wilderness area in the Apalachicola National Forest. The weather was great, with the highs around 70. 

I came upon a trail journal early on -- I love those! -- and it was fun to see the names and messages from my peeps back from my start in Big Cypress last January. 

The best part of the hike came in the last half of the day. I was able to take my lunch break in one of the campsites, which are really nice here. A retired gentleman has made nice signage for the camps, plus a fire ring, wood protected in plastic bags and a spacious bench.

I ate lunch at the Bent Sapling Camp, but was intrigued by the following Martian Camp (the sign included a UFO picture). Trail angel Linda Patton told me at one point someone etched an elaborate story about a UFO encounter onto the guardrail over the Sopchoppy River. The elements eventually erased the story, but it was remembered by many. So that's why they decided to create a Martian Camp.

The final few miles along the Sopchoppy River were beautiful. Once I get the photos figured out, I'll add them in.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Day 35 / 2: St. Marks to Jack Crum Road

Nov. 25, 2017

Today was an 18-miler through much of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. I started in tiny St. Marks on a recreational path created from an old railroad that once ran from St. Marks to Tallahassee. Temps were in the upper 40s, so it was a tad chilly. But in an hour I had perfect hiking weather.

The trail left the recreational path at Hwy. 98, and the next few miles weren't so great. The trail is supposed to run parallel to Hwy. 98 on the north side of the road. I found it, but it wasn't maintained well. In addition, the blazes kept pointing me onto 98 but not showing me how to get back into the woods. Long story short, I kept hiking on and off the trail/Hwy. 98.

After that, it was back into the National Wildlife Refuge. I'd hiked a little in its eastern portion in March, and it was magnificent. A lot of the trails in the east were on levees, and it was easy to see much wildlife. The western portion is much more wooded. It was very pretty, but the trail here was quite overgrown. I learned later that this section of the Florida Trail is maintained by the St. Marks NWR employees, and they typically don't start maintaining things until much later into the hiking season -- like January and February.

No matter. Part of hiking is the unexpected, and facing challenges. There was only one area with several downed trees that was difficult. I had to cross by walking across some of the downed trees, which were thin, moss-covered and slippery. But I prevailed!

I ended up finishing about 45 minutes ahead of schedule. While waiting for my shuttle by trail angel/volunteer Linda Patton, I was attacked by no-see-ums. Ack! I'd totally forgotten there would still be bugs here. After all, I'd been hiking in snow and 20-degree temps back home just two weeks ago.

Back at my motel, I couldn't find my cell phone. After searching for 30 minutes I recalled setting it on top of my car in St. Marks, something I never do. But my backpack had leaked into Linda's car and I was flustered. I flew back to St. Marks but the phone wasn't in the parking lot. Before heading to the police, I decided to stop in at this restaurant that was one block from the parking spot. I had made a left-hand turn here, and thought maybe the phone fell off here.

Bingo! It had, one of the employees had seen it fly off the roof, and she had been calling all over to find me. I was so happy. Despite all of the craziness in the world, most people are good people.

Bonus: I met Cameron, Karl and Collins at the restaurant; they gave me a booklet that had also flown off the roof. I think it was one of Linda's. We had a lovely conversation. Come visit me in Wisconsin!


P.S. Still working on the photos. There is a glitch with this blogging platform, which is out of date.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Day 34 / 1: Shell Island Fish Camp to St. Marks Visitor Center

Nov. 24, 2017

This is it! I'm going to finish the Florida National Scenic Trail in my fourth and final trip here in 2017! Woot, woot! 

Ideally, I prefer hiking a long-distance trail in a linear fashion, going from Point A to Point B. This didn't happen with the Florida Trail, but that's okay. Nothing in life is ever perfect. 

To recap: I began at the southern terminus (Big Cypress Swamp) in January 2017, reaching a spot just southwest of Orlando. I returned in March, but skipped the Orlando area because my husband had a conference there in May and I wanted him to hike some of the trail with me at that time. So I jumped ahead to a spot north of Orlando and hiked to St. Marks in the eastern panhandle. In May, I returned and did the Orlando section. (Ironically, my husband's conference was cancelled, so I ended up hiking it alone and could have hiked sequentially.)

All of this meant that today I'm picking up at my farthest northbound (NOBO) spot, St. Marks. But again, I have to mix things up. Last March, I had planned to end my hike after crossing the river into St. Marks. But a pending storm meant the boats weren't ferrying hikers across, so I got off five miles short of town, at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.

My flight today got me in mid-afternoon; I reached St. Marks at 4 p.m. The last shuttle boat leaves at 4:30, so that meant I did not have enough time to hike the five miles from the Visitor Center to the river. Instead, I hiked southbound, taking the boat across from St. Marks right away, and then hiking the five miles to the Visitor Center. I got an Uber back to my rental car at Shell Island Fish Camp in St. Marks with Jenny, a lovely local lady.

Oops! Almost forget to talk about the trail! The boat ride was quite nice. The weather was sunny and 70, so perfect. The captain gave me lots of info about the area as we puttered along in the no-wake zone, although I couldn't understand everything with his accent. 

I assumed the five miles here would be easy walking on a levee, as that's what the trail had been like when I got off. Wrong! The first 2-ish miles were singletrack, and due to the recent hurricane and the fact that it's just the start of the hiking season, it was in rough shape. I got pretty cut up by the scrub. Normally I wear compression socks that protect my calves against this kind of stuff, but with the compressed timeframe flying in today I forgot about them. Oh well, it was just two miles. The last three were on wide dirt roads, so it was quite pleasant.

Oh -- the singletrack portion was very fragrant. It was just lovely. I couldn't quite tell what I was smelling, though ...


P.S. I'm trying to add photos, but am having technical difficulties. Please try back later. :)

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

Day 5: Long Bottom Road to Spruce Brook Road

Friday, Sept. 8, 2017

Happy Birthday to me! I'm fortunate to be able to spend yet another birthday hiking along a National Scenic Trail. I was on the Ice Age Trail on my birthday in 2013 and 2015. I guess in odd-numbered years I hit the trail on my birthday!

Today was mostly a wonderful day. Yes, there were still lots of rocks along the trail. But there was a lot more friendly footing. 

We began by parking one of our cars by a produce stand on Long Bottom Road. The owners said it was fine; they have a huge parking lot by their business. Then we began hiking south, even though we're really going north. That's just how it goes when you're self-shuttling.

The trail was lovely all morning, although there were a fair number of spots where the markings were poor and we went off-trail. It was never for very long; if you don't see a blaze, you know something's amiss. But it got a bit annoying for Stubs.

We had lunch by a pretty little creek. Since it was my birthday, we splurged and got Subway subs. Normally we make sandwiches from the motel breakfast bar -- an omelet, sausage patty and English muffin (with hot sauce!). 

In the afternoon, the trail led us along cliffs that afforded sweeping views of the state. They're said to be the best views in all of Connecticut. We could see Hartford in the distance, and we think even Long Island and the Berkshires. (Signage says you can see the latter two on clear days, but since we don't know this area well we can't say for sure that's what we saw).

One of the day's highlights was coming upon the castle, or tower, a 1900 brick tower that you can climb for even better views. It's the highest point within 25 miles of the coast from Maine to Florida.

In the middle of the day we ran into Parks. He was able to give us intel about the trail that lay before us, and vice-versa. We didn't have too much to tell him. There was one tricky spot where the blazes led you in circles, but it was more a problem for southbound hikers than northbound. He, however, told us about a bunch of difficult spots that lay ahead.

Parks wasn't exaggerating. When it was about 4 p.m., and we thought we only had another 90 minutes to hike, we ran into poorly blazed areas, plus several stretches of wildly overgrown prairie with thorny plants that cut us to bits and stuck burrs everywhere. It seemed like we would never get to the road walks ending our day. 

We did, but it wasn't until 7:15 p.m. :( 

Oh well, any day on the trail is a good day. And we celebrated my birthday with pizza, salad and wine, so that's even better.

Snowshoe and Stubs

Map Miles: 20.4
Map Miles to Date: 98.2
iPhone Miles: 21.7
iPhone Miles to Date: 96.2
Steps: 54,484
Steps to Date: 247,384
Flights Walked: 193

Flights to Date: 911