In the past week and a half I’ve gone from New York through Connecticut and Massachusetts and into Vermont. When I finish Vermont there will be only New Hampshire and Maine left for me to complete. I’ve spent basically no time in New England before, so this section is completely foreign to me. So far the scenery has been beautiful, with a lot more conifers than I’m used to down South. The downside of that is that it feels like there’s a lot less wildlife, or at least a lot less noise, and some stretches of forest feel really dead and eerie. It’s also gotten palpably colder, with temperatures that feel more like fall than summer. Unfortunately the bugs are still horrible. All through Connecticut I essentially had my own personal cloud of gnats that followed me wherever I went. Before I moved to New York I thought that there were no mosquitos up North because it was too cold, but I was definitely mistaken. If anything they might be worse up here.
Once I got back on trail after NYC I started to meet an increasing number of Southbounders, who are basically just doing the trail in the opposite direction. They start mostly in June, and it’s not nearly as popular because they tend to deal with more weather extremes and start with the toughest sections of trail. The nice thing about having them is that I can ask lots of questions about upcoming sections of trail or towns and they can give me the most accurate answers since they just hiked it.
This week I also started feeling like I’m ready to finish. I’m sure I’ll miss the experience once it’s over, but I’ll definitely be pretty excited to sleep in a real bed again and not be at the mercy of the weather after I get to Katahdin. Because of that, and because I spent most of the week alone and got bored, I’ve actually been putting in a lot of miles. I’ve also been reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which is an excellent book and has helped keep me occupied in my free time, and even excited to get in my tent early to read for a while.
When I got back on trail after my visit to NYC, I was in a space between two bubbles of northbound hikers so no one was around me. That means that I’ve spent most of the last week and a half with very little human contact, which has been both a good and a bad experience. It was especially jarring since I had just come from seeing all my friends in New York. It’s definitely given me a lot of time to think and process lots of things, which was especially good since I’m approaching the end of my hike. However, spending so much time by myself also started to mess with my head a little bit and sometimes makes feelings a little bit too intense. Things got pretty weird, I’m not going to lie – just picture what it would look like if you talked to almost no one for a whole week. I literally spent almost 30 minutes the other week deciding which plants are straight and which plants are gay. Being alone so much has also led to some boredom, which actually means I’ve been doing more miles than usual because if I don’t I’ll wind up with an excess of free time. I think this time has overall been healthy for me, but I’m glad that I’ve started to catch up to the bubble of hikers that was ahead of me so that I can have some companionship when I want it.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the similarities and differences between thru-hikers and homeless people. We don’t have regular access to showers and laundry, which is true of many homeless people, and we also exercise all day so we wind up smelling pretty foul. Because of that and the fact that we look grimy and have large packs, we often get dirty looks and are told we can only sit certain places at some businesses. I think the most striking similarity is actually a lack of privacy. I often find myself doing intimate things like changing clothes or putting Gold Bond on my upper thighs (don’t ask) in a public or semi-public place, even in towns, because I just don’t have somewhere else to do it. Many homeless people face similar challenges because there simply just aren’t places for them to get to do things in private, but then face discrimination for doing so.
But despite those similarities, thru hikers are treated significantly better than homeless people – literally just because we have expensive gear, a little spending money, and presumably a place to live somewhere. Towns will sometimes provide a place for us to camp free of charge, even including a shelter with electricity and running water in one place. But they usually go out of their way to try and ensure that only hikers are staying there – not homeless people. When a town doesn’t provide us with resources or a place to stay, many churches or community centers will open their doors to us. People provide us with “trail magic”, which can be anything from simply placing fresh water along the side of the trail to giving rides and putting together elaborate cookouts. I haven’t seen anyone doing anything remotely similar for homeless or otherwise disadvantaged folks in any of these areas, even though they have many of the same needs as us – shelter, food, running water, and generally less money. I think it’s actually pretty fucked up that people will sometimes bend over backwards to take care of us when we come through town, but won’t do the same for members of their own communities.
Even though parts of this stretch were really hard, I still feel pretty good. I’m taking a rest day in Manchester, Vermont, today and hope to hop back on trail with renewed energy and enthusiasm. Plus my friend Amy should be coming back sometime in the next week to hang out and slackpack me a little!