Day 108 – Mass, Tom’s, and Vermont

A lot has happened since I last wrote. The day after the stressful night I last blogged about was much better, I went into Salisbury and was able to dry out and get some a few hours of rest before finishing my miles for the day.

Since coming to the north the character of trail towns have definitely changed. People aren’t quite so friendly, more often distant and reserved than happy to say hello. But at the same time when people are interested in helping or saying hello to a hiker, they definitely go out of their way to do so. In the past few towns at least one person has said to me “Hey! Welcome to X, we’re glad you’re here.” or some variation on that theme. As far as the general coolness goes I think it’s a combination of an unfortunate truth that northerners are less warm, that the towns have generally been much more affluent, and that they’re not quite so used to seeing hikers. Salisbury fit this general trend exactly, I wasn’t unwelcome but I didn’t feel at home either.

After Salisbury I had another good day, then a few very hard ones. I was once again all alone, I don’t think I saw even one thruhiker. All the days alone had really started to wear on me and it was almost as hard as my worst days in the Shenandoahs. I like to hike alone during the day for the most part, but with so little opportunity for socialization my own thoughts became claustrophobic.

Thankfully my schedule finally overlapped with a small bubble and I’ve had company ever since. I met a guy who I hadn’t seen since the smokies. I really didn’t like him back then, but I think the trail has mellowed him, or perhaps me, out a bit and we’ve been hiking together for the past 4 days or so.

Finally having company showed me what I was missing when I was alone that made it so difficult. With no one around I had no one to share the small triumphs and failures of the day, no one to debrief with. It took the pleasure out of the triumphs and made the failures harder to bear. But also I wasn’t fully experiencing the trail. It’s so much easier to knock on the door of that disconcertingly run down house knowing that a friend is already there or just passed trough than to do it alone.

By the time I had company again I was about halfway through Mass, about a day from Dalton. After spending the night 3 miles outside of town I walked in to do a quick resupply and then ascend Greylock, the highest peak in Mass and the largest climb since Virginia. I had to pick up fuel, but about half a mile into the road walk in town I realized I had already passed it and had to go back. At the time I was really frustrated, but it turned out to be a very fortuitous mistake. On my way back into town, retracing my steps, the owner of a house I knew you could camp behind was standing outside. I had taken some water from his spigot in my way into town, so I stopped and thanked him. Before I knew it I was sitting in his kitchen eating pie, donuts, bagels, and icecream.

I quickly learned that Tom, the owner of the house, not only let’s people camp behind his house, but when he has room invites them to sleep inside, gives them a shower and does their laundry, and often cooks them dinner. Not to mention offers almost all you can eat ice cream.

Many people along the trail do the same thing, but nowhere on the scale that Tom does, or with the same generosity. Most trail angels take in a hiker or two a season. Tom takes in almost every single hiker that comes through. He says that by the time the hiker season is in full swing word of his generosity has spread up and down the trail, so nearly everyone stops in. He only turns people away that he literally cannot house, though considering he has a 5 bedroom house packed with spare beds, that number is quite high. He’s not
unaccustomed to crowds of 25 or more. Because its so early in the season I hadn’t heard about his house and was quickly kicking myself for not going in the night before.

As I was preparing to leave, with a heavy heart because I was sad to leave such a wonderful place, Tom mentioned that he often shuttles people north of Greylock to slackpack back to his house to stay another night. I quickly took him up on his offer.

Long story short I ended up spending two days at his house and since he shuttled me to the top of Greylock, hiking down Greylock twice. It was a truly wonderful time. When I got up in the mornings it didn’t feel like I was waking up as a guest, but as a family member. As for Tom, words can’t describe his generosity. I’ve seen a tremendous amount of selflessness on the trail, and a good bit back in real life too. But all of it has been self interested selflessness. Sometimes in a bad way, but more often in a good way. Tom’s selflessness, while im sure he enjoys it, goes so far beyond any reasonable measure that it cannot be called self interested. If anything, he actively sacrifices his own comfort and standard of living to give to hikers.

I think perhaps my entry in his trail register says it best: “Words escape me. Perhaps there are no words. Without being overly sentimental I can honestly say that I did not think that people like Tom existed in this world. Never have I met someone so generous, so worthy of thanks, yet so unmotivated by them. These few days will be ones that I will remember and reflect upon for years to come, I’m sure. Tom, thank you for everything, the food, the shelter, the company, but most of all, thank you for the whole of all you do, which is so indescribably greater than the sum of its parts.”

After leaving Tom’s, I had about 4 miles to go until Vermont. I’m about 30 miles in at this point. On the one hand, it’s awesome. I’m finally back in a true wilderness area and the forest and views are beautiful, but on the other the bugs are TERRIBLE. The bugs started getting bad in Mass, but it was only mosquitoes and only in the low lying sections. Vermont is an entirely different can of worms. The black flies are here along with swarms of horseflies (I think that’s what they are anyways). If I stop for more than a few minutes during the day, I’m quickly covered with them. By the end of my walk today my legs were covered with scabs and rivulets of dried blood, thanks to the black flies. I’m hoping their season ends soon… But my hopes are not high. I suspect they might just get worse and worse. Oh and it’s really friggin’ hot too. That being said, it hasn’t been too bad all in all.

Looking forward, I’ve slowed down my mileage a bit. I’m aiming for 18s now instead of 20s and I feel less pressured to not take zeroes. I’m slowing down mainly because I want to enjoy my last month on the trail, but also in the hopes that Chris will catch up, so that we can finish up together. Only 560 miles to go!

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