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Take me home          
Ursa Minor
An unexpected appearance by the demigod of the AT.

Williamstown MA to Great Barrington MA

October inspires thoughts of falling leaves and autumnal color, with Massachusetts and Vermont nearing peak. In Massachusetts, bus service solves the shuttle issue, so we're back on the familiar road the Berkshires, passing through the quaint Stockbridge of Alice's Restaurant fame (a song that's now part of our annual Thanksgiving ritual), hoping to relax in some charming New England B &B before starting our hike.

9/30 Williamstown MA - Wilbur Clearing Lean-To (3 miles)

"The heights by great men reached and kept
were not attained by sudden flight,
but they, while their companions slept,
were toiling upward in the night."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As we reach Williamstown darkness is falling fast, as is the temperature; and our search for lodging begins. The plan crashes to a halt as we find all accomodations totally sold out, sending folks such as ourselves many miles in search of alternatives (the result of a weekend event at the campus here). Our only unsavory choice is to mount up our gear for the 3 mile climb to the first lean-to. Parking at the Greylock Community Club with permission from the bartender (and his final admonition to "stay warm"), we disappear into the night.

We're off at 7:00 pm, with spirits high as we head down the street, although they quickly diminish in the woods. Williamstown lies in a bowl, with a generous climb out in all directions (recalls my first flight into here, on a beautifully clear winter morn over a pristine snow-covered landscape), and as we start the climb, the dark and the ascent quickly conspire against us. We wait too long getting out flashlights, and suddenly find we've lost the trail, clueless even which direction to look for the widely-spaced blazes. Now a little scared, we press the flashlights into service, a short search finding a blaze again. Coleen prefers I carry the light so she can use both poles, but this proves insufficient, as she tires and stumbles behind me. She's badly discouraged, but finally the trail finally reaches the summit. After a minute to survey the breathtaking night overlook of Williamstown, we turn down the trail for what the guidebook calls a "short distance" to the shelter trail. This proves fanciful - it's actually a long descent through a red cedar grove before finally reaching the trail, with shelter finally moments ahead

Soon the smell of wood smoke and the sight of a roaring fire permeate the woods. Leaving the path, we bushwack straight to the fire, finding a group of 5 young men, speaking both in Russian and English; and offering hospitality in the form of with cognac and kielbasa. Tempting indeed, but we first need to find the shelter (though I hope to get back to them on their offer), finding the area littered with tents, and fires on the way down. The shelter's fairly full, but its occupants bid us join them, though it looks more comfortable to tent behind the shelter. Over dinner we get acquainted with our shelter mates - 2 weekenders, and 3 southbounders who we'll find to be Caveman & Spike (a couple) and Red Horse (met Caveman on Katahdin 7/12). I stoke up their dying fire as we dine, and after chatting, we retire at 11:15.

10/1 Wilbur Clearing - Cheshire Cobbles (13 miles)

" He deserves Paradise who makes his companions laugh."
The Koran

Sleep comes late, with the "Mad Russians" up breaking firewood and yelling well past midnight, but eventually we nod off, being the first ones up the next morning. Over breakfast we find Caveman the jester of the group, having committed to memory the text of every Monty Python movie made, and performing same with an excellent English accent. Spike's rendition is almost as good, and they send us off chuckling (Caveman has a great story about renting one of his two hiking poles in Maine). After catching up on all our trail friends in the register, we write a short tome before departing at 09:38, the trio a few minutes ahead.

We start up Mt. Williams, just catching the trio before stopping for pix, the valley below filled with cloud. It's a beautiful Sunday morn as we approach Mt Greylock, a solitary mountain whose appearance is said to have inspired the writing of Moby Dick (in winter it resembles a white whale from Melville's desk). Just as the climb steepens, we see the tower at the summit, passing a group of weekenders taking a nature hike on our final assault (stopping for a quick taste of the ripe mulberries here). The summit's crowded with tourists - some photographers shooting a teen girl's Sr. pix, and hosts of Spandex-clad bikers finishing up a rally here. It's crowned by a stone tower as a memorial to our fallen veterans - we find the trio here (Coleen dubs them the Three Amigos), and after a brief chat we climb to the top of the memorial, a long climb up a dizzying spiral staircase.

Inspired by the view, we head to the Bascom Lodge, finding the Amigos consuming their 2nd burger each. We join them for an early lunch, with southbounder Bill, who's spent the night in a work-for-stay program. We find Caveman and Spike are a couple, she having joined Caveman and Red Horse at Hanover NH on their way through. She's from Pittsburgh, having met Caveman in Grad School, seeking degrees in Drama Therapy (I had the same look on my face too, but they're licensed therapists). They've just graduated, and sent out a host of resumes hoping to start work after the year's end, by which time they expect to have finished the trail.
Mount Williams overlook
Clouds fill the valleys below in the early morn
Mount Greylock Memorial
After a long, satisfying lunch we head down the mountain, quickly passed by Bill, and soon after by the Amigos, who'll leapfrog us all day. The trail alternates between hemlock, spruce, and fir forest at the higher altitudes, with hardwoods lower, and considerable bogs and puncheons still lower. After a couple hours we pass them at the side trail to the Mark Noepel Shelter, where they're taking a break and soliciting info from two other hikers there. They plan to camp at Cheshire Cobbles, a rock outcropping with a magnificent view we'll encounter this evening. This sounds good, and we push on towards the town of Cheshire, the last few miles seeming an eternity. In an autumnal pasture just prior, I the trio pass us again; though crossing a small knoll, we see them ahead stopped dead in their tracks before a small herd of cattle. They look as if they've never seen a cow before, almost recoiling in terror as I walk up to the cows to show their good nature. They relax a bit after this, and reluctantly let me photograph them there on their camera before pushing on to town.

Finally we come to the outskirts of Cheshire, all headed towards a convenience store, for a cold DC and water refill (the Amigos now well ahead, with a mail drop and with other town errands to run). By the time we pull up, they're long gone, and we guess they've gotten some trail magic from a passer-by. Coleen and I down a 2-liter bottle of DC on our pleasant Sunday afternoon walk through town. There's a large monument of a cheese press in the city center just before the post office, and we get a good view of the Cobbles protruding from the hillside ahead. Some of the locals are chatty as we pass, but it's near enough to dark to impel us forward.

The last turn out of town takes us totally by surprise, the guidebook stating it heads into the woods via a private drive. We wander around this house for 10 minutes before Coleen finally finds a blaze further down the road, and we're back on the trail again, no help to the guidebook. A moderate climb takes us to the Northern Cobble, accessed by a side trail. We guess the Amigos stayed in town for the night (and don't know where they'd camp anyway), so we bypass this one for the western cobble, situated right on the trail. We don't see any of the allegedly numerous campsites, and soon we're on the western cobble at sunset, still needing a level place to tent. The trail turns downward into dark forest, but unable to find a good campsite on the cobble, we decide we'd better continue. It darkens quickly, and we take occasional forays into the woods at possible sites, without much luck.

Finally we find a level spot with a sitting log nearby, sufficient for our late arrival. We start dinner and look for rocks for a fire pit; laughing at the notion that this is the only time on the AT we'll ever want for rocks. Soon we have a blazing fire, (lots of birch bark here for quick light as needed), and after dinner, Coleen erects a small drying rack for her bra and socks as I work on my journal by the fire. We get the food hung and the fire dispersed, settling into bed at 10:15.

10/2 Cheshire Cobbles - Pittsfield Rd tentsite (14.9 miles)

"When the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride,
He shouts to scare the monster, who will often turn aside.
But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male."
Rudyard Kipling

A deer stumbling through our site wakes us briefly in the pre-dawn hours before we're finally up for good at a foggy 07:10. As we head out, the fog slowly lifts passing the glassy Gore Pond, stopping to check out the register there before finding a huge boulder for our am break. The Amigos pass us here, having camped right on the face of the Northern Cobble, and now headed for Dalton, where they need to do laundry. We leapfrog them again as they filter water, heading to Dalton in search of town food. It's a long walk through this slice of small-town America, but finally we reach the heart of the quaint but busy town. The white blazes take us past Duff & Dell's, where we stop for sandwiches and chips in our window booth as we plot a strategy for a town night in Lee tomorrow.

Before we get away however, we run into a couple of gents outside, one seeming the demeanor of the town mayor (sporting a BSA emblem on his lapel). He chats a bit about the AT, introducing another friend who's active in scouting and thru-hiked in 1960. It was a fun chat, and the hospitality wasn't yet over, as we soon passed Tom Levardi's house, obviously trail-friendly from the sign out front showing the mileage to Katahdin, along with a message board on the front porch and a sign pointing to the water tap (he lets hikers camp on his porch and yard). After short chat with Tom (who tells us of some bear problems at the Oct Mt shelter) we return to the forest, initially climbing Day Mt., with a good view of Dalton.

We're passed by Bill (he did laundry in Dalton), and just as boredom's setting in, I hear a thrashing in the woods to our right, and about 50 yards out, see a large shape walking through the trees. "Look, a deer", I whisper to Coleen, getting the reply - "there's a bear there too". Moving a little to one side I get a good look at what is a fairly substantial adult bear, although long before I can get a camera, he takes a short look at us and runs off into the woods. It's a big moment though - our 1st wild bear on the AT. It's funny - it's just a bear, but the black bear is so revered on the trail that it's a genuine rite of passage seeing our first one. I guess after this we won't be impressed until he rifles through our packs some night.

After our pm break we turn uphill through a large field of waist-high brown ferns towards the summit of Warren Hill. It's a nice change of terrain, but as we enter it we hear a conversation between two unseen males ahead. Each time we stop and look, the voices stop, but resume as we continue walking. Eventually they drift around to our rear, though I remain a little suspicious, as we'll be camping near here (though we're tempted to push on to the Oct. Mt shelter in hopes of seeing more bears there). After the summit, we descend into a tall stand of mature evergreens with bare understory but a dense canopy - majestic with their long straight trunks.

From here we can camp anywhere and still make a town night at Lee tomorrow, but it's very marshy. We wander through the bogs, hoping to camp at a stream crossing in a mile. Finally we soon come on a gravel-bed stream with the clearest water around and a small campsite adjacent looks like our best bet - a small area with barely a tent space, a sitting log, and a fire pit. A few rocks from the steam supplement the fire pit, the stream also being convenient for washing and such, and it'd be great if only it had a little more room. I get a quick laugh as Coleen loses a slipper in the bog helping hang the bear bag (we take it seriously now), and we relax with dessert and cocoa around the fire, turning in for another beautiful clear night at 9:40.

10/3 Pittsfield Rd - Lee, MA (11.4 miles)

"Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, only a signal shown, and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

After a good night's sleep and a quick breakfast, we're back on the trail for the long parallel to Pittsfield Rd. It's almost an hour before we cross it, on a level, but muddy trail (recalls a note from Morningstar how the mud transforms us all into acrobats of the trail). As the fog lifts we pass a large beaver pond, and thence the October Mt Shelter, finding a pack, but no sign of its owner until Bill finally emerges from the privy (Coleen tries it later, amazed he can stand it that long). We have a long chat with him, finding that he started in Aug, heading southbound as far as he can make it by his 12/20 deadline. He's a late riser, and likes to linger around the shelters in the morning, making up the miles with his quick pace and long days (or nights).
Beaver Pond reflections
A beautiful glassy pond, courtesy of our friends, the beavers
We follow him out after reading the register (very few bear reports recently, though one was the infamous "bear entering the privy" story - a Kodak moment if there ever was one), the trail crossing Bald Top Mt before descending back to another unnamed beaver pond. There's considerable mud and a few rocks, and Coleen lags badly, trying to keep her boots pristine. I take a few pix as I wait, and we finally break for lunch at a large log by a rushing brook, Coleen a bit miffed at my pace.

After a short and quiet lunch, Coleen immediately falls well behind again - I cross a small local road, where the trail appears to turn right, and head down that direction, buoyed by a couple of old blazes on the trees. Soon the blazes end, and after trying a couple alternatives, I return to the road crossing to see if Coleen has come through yet. There's no sign of her, and my yelling several times returns only silence. Now I notice a fresh blaze across the road, the trail continuing straight ahead, although it doesn't seem like I've been off long enough for her to have passed this point, so I backtrack looking for her before finally turning around and heading back south on the trail to catch up. Now I'm feeling guilty now about pushing ahead, though we're close enough to Lee that I can always check in, drop my pack, and return. I hurry down the trail, occasionally yelling, but with no sign of her ahead. I'm having doubts about not going back further looking for her, but I push on, and soon reach a rocky outcrop above a large lake. As I stop to take a pix I see Coleen standing down by the lake, finding she's just been waiting a few minutes.

The map shows this to be Finerty Pond, just hazy enough to negate my attempts at fall pix (I'm still looking for moose in the lakes, also without success). The ball of Coleen's foot hurts badly, making our small jump over Walling and Becket Mt's slow, the descent into Lee even slower. Finally we emerge onto the busy US-20 to find the Gaslight Motor Lodge immediately across the road. It's a run-down motel, sandwiched between two busy highways, but situated at the end of the beautiful Greenwater Pond, and we pull up to the office only to find a Closed sign on the door. There's no date or time, so we park on the picnic table to wait, and soon notice a woman inside washing dishes. She sees us and comes out to advise that they're closed indefinitely, although we're welcome to use the pay phone.
Laurel Hill Motel Coleen's immediately in tears, as the only easy option appears to be to go on to Goose Pond to camp. I suggest a hitch into town, getting a tearful agreement, with the two of us heading across to try. After about :15, with over 20 cars passing without a hint of a hitch we give up and elect to try a cab. The Laurel Hill Motel offers a good hiker rate, but with no one around to give us a ride (they tried), we call the local cab company, the operator saying he'll be out in :20. Just as I'm about to abort, the cab driver pulls up - familiar with the hiker crowd, and suggesting some dinner options. The town is far larger than I'd imagined, with the Laurel Hill Motel sprawled out on a hill at the far side of town. After paying an inflated $14 cab fare, we head to the office, where the girl inside's been expecting us. She's more than helpful, giving a good $45 rate for a nice room with a queen-sized bed. It's wonderful, and Coleen immediately starts a shower and bath as I consider dinner, settling on an order to Pizza Hut as she soaks.

In no time we're clean and dining on our pizza, watching tv (good cable, but pre-empted by the 1st Presidential debate), and relaxing with the worst of our gear washed and drying. It's wonderful, and after a bit of the debate coverage, and the weather (deteriorating), we turn in warm and comfortable at 11:00, nodding off immediately.

10/4 Lee - N Mt Wilcox Lean-to (15.6 miles)

"Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature."
Albert Einstein

The alarm finds us soundly asleep at 06:45, and prep is easy, though several calls to Park Taxi fail to get an answer. Brian (motel owner) offers to drop us when his wife's up and around - most kind of him, and during the short wait we have coffee, juice, muffins, and a leftover slice of pizza. It's a great drive chatting with Brian, his hospitality far exceeds expectations, and at the trail he vehemently refuses any money. Our faith in the human spirit restored, we're afoot, with a brief stretch of woods before crossing the Mass Turnpike, a busy highway needing two separate bridges to cross, each fenced in like the I-70 bridge in MD. The trail hops over the ridge before a descent to the beautiful Goose Pond shoreline, resplendent in autumn color peeking from between the conifers.

We march through a series of beaver marshes as the sky gradually clouds over, and soon after the am break we come to a beautiful long bridge across Cooper Brook. After a few pix here, we continue on this, our long mileage day, which we hope to take us all the way to the Mt Wilcox shelter. Coleen's anxious about the mileage after her feet's pummeling yesterday, but with the rain coming in this afternoon, a shelter seems best. Besides, I've had her replace her orthotics with some foam under her arches, which seems to have cured yesterday's pain.

After a hop over Baldy Mt we descend to Tyringham Rd, the guide offering no hope of a town meal, so we break here for lunch, eating quickly as the promised rain begins. The trail here crosses the Hop Brook floodplain, with puncheons taking us much of the way across. The now moderate rain darkens the afternoon skies, putting a very autumnal cast on the changing foliage around; and we nostalgically ponder life in the warm, dry, and lighted farm houses as we walk by. Cobble Hill offers a side trail to the Cobble, but we stay our course, hoping to reach the shelter at a decent hour.
Goose Pond Color
Cooper Brook bridge
A Rainy Day in Massachusetts We descend towards Hop Brook, with rain continuing on and off, and bringing the usual orange efts and frogs out on the trail, and brightening the color of the leaves on which we walk, often filled with brilliant reds. Several times today we walked through areas of overpowering yellow color, although it'd be difficult to capture the effect on film. Hop Brook is a swift torrent, with some picturesque farms across, and soon after pass the Shaker Campsite, finding an appropriate log for our pm break. We continue up and down over mountains and through marshes, and soon cross Beartown Rd, signaling our final ascent to the shelter.

We reach the trail to the Lean-to as expected at 5:30, though it's longer than we'd hoped, and substantially more downhill. Finally it levels in a small bog, followed by the shelter, old and dark, but large, with no obvious porcupine damage. There's a few nests in the rafters, but no talk in the register of mouse problems, and with the rain, it's a no-brainer. The floor is far from level, but by sleeping sideways our Thermarests cover the gaps in the boards. Firewood is well picked over, but I get an initial pile, and with a break in the rain light it off - easier than expected. There's a stream adjacent for water, and the rain lets up in the evening, with Coleen sitting out by the fire as I catch up on my journal entries. After cocoa and coffee we fly the food, turning in at 10:00. Shortly after we do we're awakened by what sounds like a porcupine gnawing on wood, but the flashlights show nothing, neither do the sounds stop (as mice would) We get back to bed (the stars actually coming out), treated to this same sounds several times throughout the night.

10/5 N Mt Wilcox Lean-to - Greater Barrington MA (5.1 miles)

"Traveling is like gambling: it is always connected with winning and losing, and generally where it is least expected, we receive more or less what we hoped for."
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

It's a cold and drizzly morning, but with the shelter to ourselves, prep is easy, getting out of camp at 08:20. With a short morning ahead, we take our only break at the Mt Wilcox South Lean-to, a mere hour ahead just off the path, and a good place escape the waning rain and peruse the register. It's been very solitary since we pulled ahead of the Amigos and Bill at Dalton, and we search in vain for any notes from them. As we sit here a chipmunk cautiously approaches to the fire pit, so we throw him some gorp, watching him sneak a piece at a time when he thinks we're distracted.
Mom always said, "It's just a little rain - you won't melt".
Beaver Lodge
Beaver Lodge
It's a quick hike through more small mountains and marshes, and by 11:30 we're at Mass 23, from where we hope to hitch into Great Barrington to catch the bus to our car. We put our thumbs to the breeze, and incredibly, the 1st car along, a small white Corolla pulls over immediately, the cute Christina offering to take one of us, as her friend pulls over in another car to take the other. She has a cello in the rear seat, but gladly lets me stow my pack in the trunk; and we're off, Coleen riding with Sachi in the 2nd car.

We're both dumbstruck at our good luck, and they're interesting folks, if a bit free-spirited. She longs to be out hiking (though Sachi tells Coleen otherwise), and we talk about her cello playing (she performs with a fellow playing a Celtish drum), my job, and a recent trip of hers to Hawaii, where she met Sachi. Sachi is driving cross-country, and she's guiding him through the local area. They drop us downtown, where I I phone the bus company (the noon bell sounding from the church behind me) they tell me their next departure is at noon!
Color underfoot
It's beautiful even underfoot
Our great fortune continues, the van pulling up immediately - for our mere $3 each, we're able to go the entire distance, albeit with 3 transfers. The small van transfers us at Lee to a full-sized bus giving us a good chance to mix with the great unwashed. Our clientele include some truly hefty folks up front, one a self-appointed expert on the AT, explaining to us the little-known fact that the trail requires a ferry trip across Goose Pond by boat (you'd think we'd have noticed this). Another vagrant-looking sort claims to have hiked the AT in 1990 from Springer to PA before running out of cash. There's also the usual punkers in mohawks with all manner of studs and piercings to add local color, and no one gives us so much as a 2nd glance. Our car is intact, so with scarcely a look back we make tracks for town food, changing clothes as we drive (we're still using AT social mores, and the heavy rain keeps other drivers' eyes on the road). After chili, coffee, and ice cream we're restored again and ready for a long and rainy drive home - at least this time our home is unscathed on arrival.

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