The sound of rain pelting against my tent woke me up early this morning. I am fortunate to have decent cell service here so I checked the weather radar. The radar indicated a thin line of showers that should pass through by 8:00 am, so I decided to wait it out.
Groceries, on the other hand, has mastered the art of packing everything, including her tent, while remaining under the protection of her rainfly. She popped out from under her rainfly wearing raingear, took down her rainfly and stuffed it into the outside mesh pocket of her backpack, put on her backpack, and took off. That sort of practiced precision is the sign of a person that has a whole lot more outdoor experience than I do.
As predicted, the rain stopped shortly after eight and, as I had already eaten breakfast, I was mostly packed and ready to go. So I stumbled out of my tent, rolled up and wrestled my wet tent into its tent bag, packed the remaining half of my backpack, and carried everything over to the shelter where I could put my shoes on before going to the privy. That is the sort of morning chaos that is the norm for me.
When I finally got everything together, I headed down the soggy trail walking in the clouds. In about an hour, I crossed the railroad tracks and started down a residential street into the town of Dalton, MA.
Dalton, like all of the little New England towns through which I’ve passed, looks like a set for a Norman Rockwell painting. The trail goes by rows of perfect freshly painted houses surrounded by flowers. I have a theory that because the winters here are so harsh, the winter survivors go crazy in the spring and plant flower gardens and spruce up their homes. In any event, many of these homes are pleasing to the eye.
As I was walking past a row of these homes, I walked past a lawn decoration that I recognized and I knew I was at the home of Tom Levardi. Tom is an iconic trail Angel that has been giving assistance to hikers for years and I wanted to stop by and introduce myself and thank him for supporting the hiker community. Tom chatted with me and told me about the different restaurants and other services that are available in town. When I asked him if there was a store in town that sold small fuel canisters, he told me no but to wait a minute while he disappeared into his house. When Tom reemerged from his house, he had a brand new fuel canister (the last one he had in stock) that he sold to me at the bargain price of $5. The trail does provide because that is what an icon does.
Tom also told me that when I got to Main Street, to continue straight, instead of following the trail uphill, and I would find a Cumberland Farms (like a Circle K) hidden by the trees. Now that is useful intel! Ten minutes later I was washing down a cinnamon roll with a Starbucks Double Protein shot.
After doubling back to rejoin the trail, I walked for a mile down a residential street before entering the woods to start the gentle climb up Crystal Mountain. I passed the pretty Gore Pond on the way to the wooded summit. On the back side of Crystal Mountain, I descended to The Cobbles, a marble ringed outcropping overlooking Cheshire, MA. There were a couple of local fellows there that talked with me about my hike and made town eatery suggestions.
Once at the bottom of the mountain, I again found myself walking along residential streets. The trail continued uphill on a muggy street before finally turning left into the shade of an easement. I took a break in the shade to call Merrell Customer Service to complain about the fact that the toes on my shoes were delaminating after a few hundred miles (I forgot to mention the Pennsylvania Rocks). They agreed to send me a new pair, free of charge, to the next town at least nine days ahead of me on the trail. I call that excellent customer service!
After taking care of shoe business, I walk out of the shade and through a corn field towards MA 8. I was dying for a soda and the A.T. Guide indicated a gas station located several tenths of a mile (I was more than willing to walk it at this point) to the west. As luck would have it, I immediately came upon a Dollar General that had only been open for two weeks! So I bought cheese, cold cuts, and Gatorade and had a short impromptu lunch beside the new building.
After crossing MA 8, the trail starts a 1,800 foot climb to the ridge line you can see in the distance in the picture from The Cobbles. I detest end of day climbs and this was made worse by the heat and humidity. During this climb, I met a section hiker named Otis. Otis just finished his first year as an inner city high school teacher in NYC and is taking a long hike to recover (my words, not his). Otis and I leapfrogged each other for nearly two hours up that entire mountain as we took turns taking breaks.
Arriving pretty well spent at the Mark Noepel Shelter, Otis and I set up camp and ate a quick dinner before climbing into our tents. There is still more climbing to be done tomorrow.