Sunday, August 28, 2011

When it rains, it pours! And...the trail is closed. When Zack wrote this blog early yesterday at a coffee shop in North Woodstock, we had no idea that a few minutes away, the cabin where we had stayed with Ry and Vanessa was flooding, due to the rains brought on by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene and the overflowing nearby river. When we got back after a trip to the movies, we were shocked to see the cabin complex underwater. Ry ran into the cabin to rescue Fern, their dog, and as the water receded, we were able to go in and retrieve our possessions. As nomads these days, it was a strange feeling to not know whether our only belongings would be salvageable, but we are grateful to report that after a trudge through the water, we were able to gather it all - except my phone, which drowned when the waters rose - from the sopping cabin.

Ry and Vanessa dropped us back in Glencliff, NH, where our trail crossing is, but we had to take a roundabout way because so many roads had flooded. Now, we are at Hikers Welcome Hostel, and though it's a beautiful day today, the water levels everywhere are incredibly high, so there's no hiking today...or maybe even any time too soon. The USFS has closed the White Mountains - and all sections further north - until further notice. Apparently, that's never happened before. We're hoping that the USFS will be able to open the trail soon, and that our dream of finishing the trail this year will be a reality.

We're ready to get moving (feeling restless), but we don't have much of a choice. We also discovered that Zack's pack is broken, so he went on a journey back to Hanover, to get a new one. We're very grateful that things weren't worse, humbled by the news coverage of people, homes and towns (even ones we were in as recently as a few days ago) washed away. We're staying positive too, and as my Dad says: "You two just keep making memories!"

Here's what Zack wrote yesterday, pre-Irene:

We've completed twelve states now, and have two of the roughest, most rewarding left to go. New Hampshire has to be one of the most talked-about states. One section hiker, heading southbound, grimaced when we asked about the terrain to come, then cackled, "Enjoy NEW HAMPSHIRE! AHAHAHAHAHA." We've heard dozens of times now that the Whites are unlike anything else we've seen on the trail. Our plan? Take the challenges in stride like we have for the last 1700+ miles and enjoy every minute of it.

Manchester, VT to Mountain Meadows Lodge (near Killington, VT)
We left off in Manchester Center, VT at the Green Mountain House hostel. From there we caught an excellent view from a fire tower on top of Bromley, got our boots soaked in pond run-off and narrowly evaded a boisterous electrical storm. The northern section of Vermont is a flowing, needle-covered, primrose path, adorned with spruce and pine. We built a Cairn on White Rocks and made friends with some Czech students on a "genius," whirlwind trip around the U.S. Then--surprise!--we met up with the most lovable of fellows, Matt S., near Clarendon Gorge for a visit to Camp Sangamon ("oh Sangamon, oh Sangamon, oh Sangamon our home!!!"). He even took us to ice cream. What a guy.

We were able to dodge two thunderstorms in the same day, one on top of Mt. Killington, another on the northern face. Passed Maine Junction, where the Long Trail diverges, after 100 or so miles, from the AT, and turned due East towards a little slice of heaven. Situated on Kent Pond, the Mountain Meadows Lodge proved to be a glorious afternoon respite for two weary hikers. Bill and Co. took us in for the evening, even though they were shampooing the carpets. We loved it there, and can't wait to go back.

Mountain Meadows to Hanover, NH and Beyond
Happy and full, we left Mountain Meadows for our last Vermont section. The "flatish" terrain turned out to be a real roller coaster of ups and downs--some of our toughest days in the state. Our good friend Bruce, prescient with detailed elevation maps in hand, sent us off one morning with a shout of, "YOU'RE GONNA CLIMB TODAY, BOY!" Alas, even downhill segments felt uphill on our way to Hanover. Lucky for us, the home of old Dartmouth is chock-full of motivating temptations for thru-hikers: Free bagels at the Bagel Basement. Free Pizza at Romuntos. Free Coffee at the Dartmouth bookstore. Strangers upon strangers offering their apartments for nights on end. We found a nice balance between asceticism and indulgence, feasting at the Bagel Basement and food co-op, getting our chores done, and still making 17 miles that day. Hanover definitely makes our list of "must-go-back"s. (Our weather timing was not quite as good that day though; after nervously awaiting storms all day, we stayed dry through 17 miles, until we got poured on in the last five minutes of our hike.)

Hanover, NH to North Woodstock, NH
Two more big days over Smarts Mountain and Mt. Cube gave us a taste of what's to come: long, rocky, rooty, slick climbs with incredible views at the top. Can't wait to hit the trail again with Mt. Moosilauke (hopefully) on Monday. The weathermen say we've got some beautiful weather in store for the week, so we're hoping they aren't pulling our leg this time.

Less than 400 miles to go.
Zack (and Lara)

PS - Check out our pictures! Click on the thumbnails above.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

We made it to Vermont! Now, that seems really far away from where we started. Since our last post, we have had some of our best trail moments, and - thanks to the near-constant rain - a few of our not-so-best trail moments. But, we are now refreshed and "caloried-up," as they say in hiker-speak, in Manchester Center, VT at what might just be the best hiker hostel evah, Green Mountain House.

In lieu of keeping things interesting, and not having to write a novel every time we do a blog entry, we are ditching the day-by-day format and going for a more free-form style. So, here's what has happened to us since we left the comfort of the Berkshires back in Massachusetts...

Great Barrington to Dalton, MA
After stuffing ourselves silly with Cousin Eddie and Mickey, we got back on the sunny trail with heavy packs and full stomachs. Massachusetts continued to impress us with some amazing vistas and wonderful shelters. We had heard about the wonders of Upper Goose Pond Cabin, an Appalachian Mountain Club facility, operated by a volunteer caretaker, and had planned our mileage around getting there with enough time to spend a leisurely afternoon on the pond. The picture-perfect pond atop the mountain made for an amazing time, indeed. We took a canoe out and paddled the perimeter of the pond, and cooked our dinner on a real stove. And, in the morning (this is the stuff of legends among thru-hikers), the caretaker makes all-you-can-eat pancakes! And coffee! Needless to say, this was one of our favorite places on the entire trail.

The next day, we stopped for lunch at a blueberry farm along the trail and picked ourselves a pound of fresh berries. Our guidebook referred to this farm as the residence of the "cookie lady," which seemed curious since clearly it is a blueberry farm. But then...they brought us a basket of freshly baked cookies, and we happily understood the nickname. Energized, we hiked a long day into Dalton, where we stayed with Tom Levardi, who, for 31 years, has welcomed hikers into his home for laundry, a shower and a cushy floor to sleep on. And we thought the cookies were as good as life could get!

Dalton to Adams, MA
After stopping at the local diner on the way out of Dalton (for "grilled" coffee cake - which means, coffee cake + more butter), we hiked a short day to the next town over, Cheshire, MA. There, we met up with Emily Hishta Cohen, one of our most favorite people. She had driven all the way from Boston to spend the day with us, and we were thrilled to be with her. First order of business, of course, was finding some place to eat second breakfast, so we made our way to the little town of Adams, and stuffed ourselves on the biggest blueberry pancakes you've ever seen. (At the end of this trip, I think blueberry pancakes will rank #1 on our list of "Items most ordered along the A.T.") After running some errands and checking into Mount Greylock Inn, a charming bed and breakfast, we went to the Berkshire Mall, where destiny called...
"Let's finish this the way we started it...TOGETHER!"
(Harry and Voldemort - for no apparent reason, except that it looks awesomely cool, leap from the top of a tower at Hogwarts and engage in some free-falling, face-grabbing combat. Then, after some additional moments of light-saber-like light traveling between their wands, Harry is the victor! Brilliant.)
We finally saw the final Harry Potter movie! Our viewing was followed by a delicious dinner of pizza and ice cream in the mall food court, featuring in-depth discussions of the series. (What does it mean for our generation that the series is now over? Does evil cease to exist in Harry's world now that Voldemort is vanquished? And, more importantly, why didn't they film Ron and Hermione's kiss from a better angle? Etc...)

The next morning, we returned to Miss Adams Diner for more pancakes (I surprised Zack by sneakily ordering some for us while he had gone to the restroom), and then Emily dropped us back onto the trail and headed back to Boston.

Adams, MA to Manchester Center, VT
We hiked up Mount Greylock in a thick fog, and unfortunately, when we reached the top, we had no view at all. We've added the mountain to our list of sites to come back and see in better weather because we've heard it's a view not to be missed. We had only planned to do a 16-mile day to a campsite, but as we got closer, we ran into a friend who heard that big rain was on its way, and advised that we aim for the nearest shelter instead. That's how we ended up in Vermont a day early, and that's when the rain began...

Unfortunately, our first two days in Vermont featured a near-constant downpour and chilly temperatures. We were able to slog through it, and keep some of our clothes dry, but the infamous "Vermont mud" made hiking a bit slow and sloppy. The trail at times looked more like a river than a trail. By day three, the skies cleared and we got to see more of the Vermont we had been expecting - the Green Mountains finally emerged through the fog, and the bright sun began to dry out our drenched selves. We also crossed the 3/4-mark, and felt a sense of accomplishment in that.

This morning, we hiked a quick 2.8 miles into Manchester Center, where we spent the morning eating (more pancakes!) and running errands in the outlet-oriented town. Now, we're at Green Mountain House - a true home for hikers more than a hostel - with a computer, TV, beds, shower, laundry, kitchen and freezer (we get our own pint of Ben and Jerry's; this is Vermont, after all!).

It's hard to believe we've made it to our twelfth state. More than 500 miles remain, which feels simultaneously like a long way to go, and not much in comparison to what we've done. We're feeling grateful to still have our positive attitudes in tact (unfortunately, it's becoming rarer and rarer to see North-bounders with smiles on their faces) and looking forward to new boots on our feet!

Love to all,
Lara (and Z)

PS - Pictures are on our Flickr site; click on the thumbnails above to see them!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In Massachuuuusetts. In Massachuu-hu-setts. Hey everyone. Sorry it's been forever since we last blogged. It's just...well...there really isn't a good excuse. What tends to happen is this: something exciting and/or time-consuming happens that causes us to put off writing. The the longer we put off writing the more exciting and/or time-consuming stuff happens, and the more daunting a blog post becomes. Forgive us?

We passed mile 1,500 this morning and crossed into Massachusetts, our eleventh state. You may be saying "Hey! What happened to New York and Connecticut?" Don't fret, they're still there in all their stately glory. We had a great time traversing the AT through those states, and while I'd like to give you our typical play-by-play, it's already hiker midnight (9:00PM) and too many days have passed. Our typical format put aside, I offer you the highlight reel of the last two weeks...

Act 1: New Jersey Finito
After the heatwave, hospital visit, and subsequent three days in Branchville, NJ, we took to the trail again on a gray (and noticeably cooler) morning. Being the purists that we are, we insisted on backtracking to the exact point on the trail where our heat exhaustion episode went down. Going back to that spot before continuing northward again gave us some closure and allowed us to maintain the integrity of our thru-hike: no chance of us making it to Maine with a haunting feeling that we didn't really thru-hike because we skipped a 6-mile stint. The rest of New Jersey was gorgeous and included a few swamp-tromps through wildlife sanctuaries via long, beautiful boardwalks. In fact, we probably saw the greatest diversity of landscape to date in that state. If you're looking for a nice week-long hike along the AT with lakes, mountains, swamps, ridges, and dense forests, go to New Jersey. Great bagels to boot. They say the secret's in the water.

Act 2: New York
I'm no geologist, but it's obvious there was some serious glacier action in southern New York. One hiker pithily described the terrain as "God taking a comb through the earth." While in Pennsylvania and New Jersey we spent a good deal of time walking along ridges, we spent most of New York crossing over ridges in a perpendicular fashion. Lucky for us this yo-yo-ing was broken up by a fabulous trip to NYC with mis padres, time spent in numerous state parks, spectacular views of the Hudson River (which we crossed on a big bridge near Bear Mountain), and more bagels. Our two worlds collided as we went from the trail to Times Square and back to the trail in a weekend. We were eating trail mix in the morning and five-star Korean vegetarian food in the evening. One moment we were seeing wildlife in the wild, the next in a "trailside zoo" (yeah, that really does exist). We loved every minute of it (except for the zoo).

Act 3: Connecticut
The 52 miles in Connecticut went by in a flash. After a night at Mt. Algo, we met the parents again for a second rendezvous at Connecticut 4 near Cornwall Bridge, CT. From there we drove to visit the cousins Pear in the adorable town of Lenox, Mass, passing, en route, the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston (lord, the Berkshires they seemed dreamlike on account of that frostin'--anyone?). It would be an understatement to say we were wined an dined. In less than 24 hours we at three excellent meals, saw the BSO perform at Tanglewood amphitheater, and resupplied at not one, but two grocery stores. Hit the trail the very next day and finished the state the next evening. Aside from the intensely muggy air--which we know is no one's fault--we really have very few notable memories from CT. A blur, really. Still, hats off to the AMC-Connecticut chapter who, we now know, maintain something like 27 privies in this short section. Keep up the good work, friends.

Act 4: Back in Mass
So here we are, back at the cousin's place again after only 2.5 days. Happy to be inside tonight as the rain falls, and thankful for our perfect--I mean perfect--weather for the ascent up the spectacular Race and Everett mountains today. Lots to look forward too in this state. Still keeping our fingers crossed for a Harry Potter 7.2 somewhere along the way--we'll keep you posted.

Again, we'll be better about this whole blog thing. Promise.
Zack (and Lara)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hey hey! Wanted to quickly check in with everyone. We've been all over the map in the last week+: NYC with mama and papa Ezor, back on the trail through the end of New York and into Connecticut, then north to Lenox, Mass for an evening with family at Tanglewood (fancy, I know). An extensive post should be coming soon, so hang tight.

Zack (and Lara)