I was thankful to awake headache free at Upper Goose Pond Cabin proving the antibiotics were doing their job fighting off the Lyme disease. After we broke down camp, we headed to the cabin for breakfast. There’s really nothing better to a hiker, or I guess anyone for that matter, than a hot breakfast and coffee to start your day. After eating, the NOBO’s headed down the AT with blueberry stained smiles from the delicious pancakes and a little extra caffeine in our steps. Many of us were shooting for the small town of Dalton, MA, 20.6 miles north.
In the past few days, we had started noticing the southbound hiker (SOBO’s) bubble crossing our path as they made their way to Springer over 1500 miles south. They had already conquered Katahdin, all of Maine, and the Whites, and we were happy to exchange must see’s, do’s, and stops for the remainder of our trips.
Around noon, we crossed a highway and our guidebook mentioned the house of “cookie lady” .2 down the road. Unfortunately, she wasn’t home when we arrived, but we were still allowed to get water from her spigot and take a break around the picnic tables.
I took the opportunity to check my phone for service to make a call. I still needed a new prescription for the remainder of my Lyme disease medication which entailed me calling the doctor that had frustrated me so much in the past 10 days and politely asking for a new, more affordable scrip. I tried to erase all the four letter words from my head and put on my sweetest voice. Despite my feelings for her, I ultimately still needed her help.
After a series of automated menus and redirects, I ended up getting her voicemail. Shoot. I left a message and was surprised to see my call returned minutes later. I calmly explained the pharmacists recommendation for the switch from Doxycycline Mono to Doxycycline Hyclate, my now lack of insurance, and the affordability of the latter drug. She obliged without hesitation, asked where to send the new prescription, and wished me luck on the rest of the hike. I guess I was hoping for some sort of apology but was unsurprised when it never surfaced. My new prescription was now waiting for me 10 miles north in Dalton, and my contact with this doctor was done.
I rejoined the group of hikers, happy with my success, when a man pulled in the driveway in his van. He popped his trunk and started unloading large backpacks. We caught on quick – some hikers were out there slackpacking, and this was the meet up point. The man joined us, confirmed our suspicions about the slackpacking, and introduced himself as Tom.
“Levardi??” I asked.
“Yes, actually” he laughed.
“Well… I’m on my way to your house!”
Tom Levardi, mentioned in our beloved guidebook, allows hikers to use his lawn to camp overnight as the AT runs right down his street in Dalton. He said the SOBO’s he was helping slackpack would be arriving momentarily. It took me no time to see the opportunity here – we could slackpack the rest of the ten miles to Tom’s house.
I’m sure he saw my face light up as I quickly put the pieces together, and without much hesitation, I asked if the slackpack would be possible. He cheerfully agreed, and we waited for the SOBO’s to arrive. Within minutes, happy hikers came down the driveway, and we put our bags into Tom’s van. BigFoot and I, accompanied by Dirtface, did a NOBO / SOBO high five as we took their sweaty day packs from them. The three of us practically skipped back to the trail happy for the slackpack surprise. We finished the day’s hike in less than three hours and arrived in Dalton still wearing the smiles that began this morning over blueberry pancakes and coffee.
Tom Levardi’s house was easy to spot with a double white blaze painted on his mailbox post and two trekking poles lining the sidewalk leading up to his front porch. He greeted us with smiles and led us to the garage to grab our packs. He gave us a run down of his simple rules – keep your voices as low as possible, ask before borrowing the bikes, and no smoking. No problem, Tom. We inquired about a bus to get to nearby Pittsfield to pick up my medication and hit the Old Country Buffet that hiker’s dreams are made of. He was quick to offer to drive us and any other hikers that needed to eat or resupply. What a gem.
We pitched our tent and were off to buffet land in no time. Tom said to call when we were done, and he’d swoop us up and take us to the pharmacy. The food shoveling began plate by plate. I scarfed a big plate of salad, and before I knew it, my first heaping plate of hot food also disappeared. BigFoot went to the carving station for a steak and returned with one the size of his plate, too eager to wait on anyone to cut it down to an appropriate portion. He was proud to eat the whole thing, easily 16 oz. I grabbed my second hot plate and got through about half of it when my stomach began feeling a little overwhelmed. Suddenly, I was very light headed, surprised by these unfamiliar pains. The pharmacist warned me of stomach pain as a side affect of my medication – the tick strikes again! I sat jealously watching the rest of the table devour their food while I suffered, feeling robbed of precious calorie intake. My stomach eventually settled, but I was unable to eat anymore. Sigh…
Once the hikers pulled themselves away from the trough, we called Tom and he was on his way. He arrived with another van load of needy hikers and smoothly orchestrated and organized our stops. It took him more than one trip to get everyone where they needed to go which he did without complaint or the slightest indication of annoyance. Soon, I had my medication in hand, the new prescription costing $100 as opposed to $300 for the previously prescribed meds. We made our way back to Tom’s for the evening and enjoyed a short bike ride through Dalton before retiring to the tent.
We started the morning with a bike ride to get bagels and coffee before getting back on the trail. After many, many thank yous to our wonderful host, we began our 14 mile day. 9 miles from Dalton we found ourselves walking through the small town of Cheshire and couldn’t resist a quick stop for lunch before beginning the climb up Mt. Greylock. From Cheshire, it was 5 miles to the shelter we were shooting for with an 1800 ft climb. Mt. Greylock, Massachusetts highest point, was our first climb of that size in quite some time. In fact, it had been 700 miles and nearly 2 months since we had an 1800+ ft climb, and our legs noticed we were a bit out of practice. However, the climb involved very little struggle, and we completed the 5 miles in about 2 hours. We considered hiking the remaining 3 miles and 600 ft ascent to the summit, but the next listed campsite was an additional 3 miles north so we called it quits for the day. I hatched a plan to wake up very early for a chance to see the sunrise from Greylock, committing myself to break out of the bag around 4 a.m.
When early morning came, I awoke to darkness just then remembering my broken headlamp. Shoot. I laid awake waiting for enough light to start packing. At about 5:00, I awoke BigFoot and started rolling up the Therma-rest and sleeping bag. We managed to get packed and walking by 5:38, a new early start record. But, ultimately, the broken headlamp and 3 mile walk stole our chance of seeing the sunrise at the summit. Nevertheless, early mornings are always my favorite time to walk, and I still felt lucky to witness a peak at the color changing sky during the walk.
We took second breakfast at the summit very happy to feel like we were actually back in the mountains again. We chatted with a SOBO who was taking in the view a bit differently – he saying his goodbyes to the peaks as he headed towards the mid-Atlantic states.
After finishing our snacks, we continued down the mountain and found ourselves in yet another town 6 miles later. Our last shower had been in Great Barrington a week before and, although not our longest stretch, it was time to clean up. Thankfully, North Adams YMCA offers free showers to hikers so we hitched a ride from one of the more erratic helpers we had met. Read: she was a crazy person, but nice enough to help out a couple stinky hikers.
After cleaning up, we made our way to a laundromat which was a parking lot away from a Chinese buffet. I tried to eat a bit slower this time but was again halted by the Doxys. Grrr.
After showers, laundry, and lunch we decided we’d go for a hike! It wasn’t before long that we hit the MA / VT state line leaving us just three more states to traverse. This spot also marks the southern terminus of the near 300 mile Vermont Long Trail which coincides with the AT for about 100 miles. At camp three miles north, we noticed an increase in people. Not only were the northbound and southbound AT hikers colliding, now we had northbound and southbound Long Trail (LT) hikers in the mix. Eventually, we find a flat spot for the tent and passed out for the night.
Morning came, but we didn’t feel like moving. We had a 13 mile day planned which meant we didn’t have to hurry. We sat and enjoyed coffee and oatmeal uncharacteristically taking the time to have a hot breakfast. We didn’t start hiking until about 11 a.m. I guess yesterday’s 5:38 start wore us out a bit.
It was a pretty day, and I was quite content with our slow start. The feeling that we were nearing our final destination was starting to set in with less than 600 miles to go until Katahdin. We could barely believe we had made it to Vermont and reminisced on our first few days way down south in Georgia.
We completed our 13 mile day feeling very relaxed and enjoyed a campfire built by the AT SOBO’s and an LT NOBO that were camping nearby. You see, most of the AT NOBO’s had already given up the chore of creating and maintaining campfires. Way down south, campfires were built almost nightly due partially to the chilly weather and partially to the thrill and enjoyment of finishing the day around the fire. Perhaps it was the weather, perhaps it was the chore, or maybe even the campfire had lost its excitement or appeal, regardless – campfires had become a rarity for AT NOBO’s, and this one was a particularly nice reminder of the beginning of our trip.
After a good night’s rest, we managed to get up a little earlier than the day before and set out for a 17 mile day ending at Story Spring Shelter.
This site would put us 7 miles away from the summit of Stratton Mountain where we had made plans to meet up with BigFoot’s friend and former manager, Matt. We were not only looking forward to a night in a bed, shower, and hot meals, but the possibility of setting up jobs with Stratton Mountain Resort for the winter ski season. Hello snow!!
The next morning we woke up early and set out for our short 7 mile hike up Stratton Mountain. We enjoyed the beautiful blue sky and well graded trail up the mountain. Once at the summit, we enjoyed the view from the firetower and could see the gondola on the other mountain peak down.
BigFoot called Matt who agreed to drive up the mountain and pick us up at the twin peak. We made our way down the side trail and were greeted by Matt upon arrival. We came down the mountain directly to breakfast and hot coffee happy to be on a short day of hiking. Matt showed us to our room for the night, and the rest of the day was all about relaxation and making hiking dreams of full bellies and smelling decent come true. We were even fortunate enough to discuss winter jobs as well as catch the Saturday concert series featuring a Johnny Cash cover band.
The next morning we awoke revived and ready for our next stretch of hiking. Well, almost ready. The resort didn’t really have needed hiker resupply so we planned to hitch into town that evening to grocery shop. Manchester Center was 14 trail miles away so, as always, it was time to make moves.
After our quick trip up the mountain, we took the side trail to the opposite peak and continued northward on the AT. I had completed the first week of Doxys, regained a bit of my strength, and felt a bit of my usual overly confident self coming back. Though somehow, despite all the beauty and magnificence of the trail, I was still feeling drained. I was getting tired of walking, tired of the physical feat that is the AT. I found myself craving comfort in many forms – food, couches, entertainment, keeping dry in the rain.
But the battle in my head never lasted long. Somehow deep down, a little voice continued to remind me…
I absolutely 100% knew that I could do these final 551 miles. I knew the treasures that awaited me in the White Mountain National Forest and had heard tales of the beauty of Maine. Giving up wasn’t ever a real option. We would walk on.