Bugs, Bogs, and the Kindness of Strangers--July 18
January 1, 1970Multitudes of mosquitoes and deer flies. Temperatures in the upper nineties accompanied by 90% humidity. Rain coming down at one time or another for eight days in a row.
These are the times the test the resolve of an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker.
Our arrival in New England coincided with the height of the region’s mosquito season. At first we tried to ignore them, but when more than a dozen welts appeared on our arms, legs, hands, ears, and face in less than a 30-minute period we resorted to using DEET. We’ve slathered so much of the chemical onto our bodies that we have consumed three spray cans and four bottles of liquid in the last three weeks.
Hikers have taken to referring to the Appalachian Trail’s passage of Massachusetts’s Housatonic Valley as “mosquito hell.” The valley is dotted by scores of ponds, lakes, and boggy areas that are certainly picturesque, but are also perfect mosquito breeding environments. We, unfortunately, crossed it on what has been the hottest day of the summer so far. The thermometer reached 99 degrees that day, with a relative humidity at 95%. Coupled with the insects, this has to have been one of the most miserable days of my hiking career. There was no way to take a break as the mosquitoes swarmed onto us as soon as we stopped moving, and by the end of the day my body had absorbed so much heat that, despite the fact that we had been in a shaded forest, every inch of my flesh felt as if it had been sunburned.
Drought conditions were in effect during our hike of the southern Appalachians, but New England has greeted us with days of rain. Putting on the same wet socks, boots, and clothes day after day can be a trying experience and we have heard about a number of thru-hikers that have decided to quit and go home, even though they were more than two-thirds of the way to making their goal of hiking from Georgia to Maine.
Throughout our journey, it has been the kindness of strangers that has helped me, Laurie, and MacAfee of Knob (The Amazing Appalachian Bouncing Dog) through many of these tribulations. A small plant nursery is located just a few feet from the trail in the Housatonic Valley, and the owners not only gave us cold bottles of water to cool us off after our crossing of mosquito hell, they offered their storage shed as a place to sleep for the night, putting four solid walls between us and the insects. One of their customers provided us a ride into town so that we could enjoy a restaurant meal instead of eating another one of our bland hiker’s meals.
Other people, who remain anonymous to us because we never meet them, have left soft drinks and snacks at road crossings to help us on our way. One family had even set up a small roadside refreshment stand, complete with a 25-gallon jug of ice water (most appreciated on a 95-degree day), homemade cookies, and energy bars.
The trail goes next to Tom Levardi’s home in Dalton, Massachusetts and he invites hikers into his home, letting them take showers and set up tents on his lawn. We, of course, were no exceptions. Even Mac enjoyed his stay, as he was permitted to rest on a side porch out of the sun. Tom surprised us in the evening by preparing homemade ice cream sundaes, complete with whipped cream and chocolate syrup. Hikers refer such people as “trail angels,” and Tom surely must be the supreme angel. He has been assisting hikers like us for more than 25 years (he estimates well over 5,000)—and yet he refuses to accept any donations to help offset his expenses.
At the Massachusetts/Vermont border, The Appalachian Trail joins up with America’s first long-distance pathway, the Long Trail, and follows its route for close to 100 miles. Constructed in the 1920s and completed in 1930, the Long Trail served as the inspiration for Benton MacKaye to put forth his proposal for the Appalachian Trail, whose 2,000-mile route was completed in 1937.
Having now hiked more than 100 miles in Vermont, where we have gone by 30-foot long beaver dams and watched the sunrise create a spectacular atmospheric display of colors while standing atop a fire tower on Glastenbury Mountain, I have begun to realize that being here is where I belong. That being in the outdoors and with nature is my church and is the way I can best express my thanks to the maker of all of this beauty.
I’m writing this report to you as I sit on the shore of Vermont’s Little Rock Pond, whose cool sparkling blue water cooled me off during an extended swim. The pond’s mirror-like surface is reflecting the lush, green vegetation growing on the surrounding mountains. The glow of the sun setting behind the westernmost ridgeline is the final entertainment for what has been a perfect day.
Amidst the greens and the blues of the forest is where I belong and am at the height of my contentment with life.