At the sign I went left toward town. It was a sweet little town with a great burger joint, but there was nowhere to stay. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy mid Atlantic office is in that town. The door was locked, but the building had a spacious front porch with two large picnic tables. One other hiker was getting water from a spigot behind the building. He was the first person to tell me about stealth camping. After dark he planned to set-up his tent under the trees beside a lake in town, and be gone by sun-up. He said sometimes the police look for campers, and because of that it is important to remove any reflective material that might be seen in a spot light.
I was going to stealth camp that night, but as it turned out I went back to the designated camp area and listened to the trains all night. There was too much reflective tape sown into my tent.
It rained that night. I had a light weight alpine tent made for high altitude camping where it never rains. The tent didn’t have a rain-fly, and one was not available. The Appalachian Trail gets as much rain as any place along the East coast of the North American continent, and because of that I had to figure out a way to use my poncho as a rain-fly. The poncho got stretched across the top where the tent would otherwise leak. Mosquito netting windows on two sides of the tent were unrestricted, but on windless, warm rainy nights the tent got damp inside because it couldn’t “breath” on top. It was better than getting wet. The night when the trains went by it wasn’t warm outside, and there were constant gusts of wind. It worked well that night.
In New York the trail crosses a road where in the distance I saw a green road sign that said New York City 35 miles. I never thought I would be that close. My sister lived near that city in Connecticut. Soon after that I stopped at Fort Montgomery where the trail crosses the Hudson River on the Bear Mountain Bridge. From there I took a train South. She picked me up at the station and for two days I had a wonderful visit. On July 4th I took the train back to Fort Montgomery, and the next morning bright and early headed North across the Hudson River with a full belly, new hiking poles, a pound of homemade granola, and good thoughts.
There is a walkway over the Massachusetts Turnpike. A sign identifies it for motorists. “Appalachian Trail” is what it says. For years I drove under that bridge and knew there would be a day when I would walk across. I took off my pack and stayed on the South side a long time enjoying the moment.
Falling down was something I had to deal with often enough. The first time was on a long easy down hill slope leading to the Nantahala River in North Carolina. There and other places it was always the same: the going was easy and I wasn’t paying attention. Usually I was able to break my fall with my arms, but in Massachusetts I tripped on a totally flat stretch of trail, hit my head on a rock, and broke my glasses. There was blood everywhere. The bleeding stopped, I mopped up the blood on my face, found the lens that popped out, and taped my glasses together. In the hour I was collecting myself two other North bound hikers went by who I had talked to in Kent, Connecticut. They were 10 minutes apart. After stopping a moment the first one said how she hoped I was feeling better, turned and went on in her humorous way. The second seemed more concerned, and asked if I needed help. After convincing her I would live she followed her friend.
After that I went to the next shelter to stay the night. That was the October Mountain Shelter. It was the middle of the afternoon when I arrived and no one was there. I set up my tent close to the shelter and no sooner than that a noisy group of six people arrived. Four of them were children, and their adult mother and father. The teenage children arrived first. Their energy and excitement was apparent. The mother and father and a small child arrived a few minutes later out of breath, but happy to be there. Everything they had looked new. I moved my tent to the furthest extremity of the shelter area to give them more space. They understood. Then I came back to the shelter to make dinner, and be sociable.
Nearly every shelter on the trail has a picnic table. I sat on the end of one of the table’s bench seats. Their stuff took up most of the table. The mother asked me if I had enough room. Then from the other side of the table she asked me about the open gash above my eye and the dried blood on my face. I thought I had washed the blood off, but had no mirror to see. I explained as a matter of fact my fall a few hours earlier, and said it was humiliating more than anything else.
The father was setting up a tent next to the shelter where mine used to be. The mother and the youngest child were inside the shelter fixing up the child’s sleeping bag. The child was thrilled at the idea of camping and having her own sleeping bag. They were all going to sleep in the shelter except the father who had the tent. Maybe he snored. I don’t know. I had conversations with all of them while I was there fixing and eating dinner.
he father said they were from the nearby town of Pittsfield and they were going to hike to Upper Goose Pond cabin the next day. He said I should get stitches. I had made no plans to have it looked at, but to make him happy said I was going to stop in the next town and have medical people take a look. Before that all I was aware of was that I would have to get new eye glasses.
A teenage son was sitting on the open end of the shelter with his feet dangling over the edge. He asked what town was the next town. I couldn’t think of it, but said I would know it if I heard the name. He said the name of several towns to the North, and I said that’s it, Dalton. Both the father and mother were behind me talking quietly, and then she came around where I could see her and half looking at her husband she asked me my name. I said my trail name is Jocko and that it is also my real name. She looked at her husband again and said, “good,” like if I couldn’t remember my name I might have gotten a concussion from the fall.
While I was still sitting there she said they had some butterfly bandages and some antibacterial ointment. She said her husband was a doctor. He never said much, but when I was done with my food I took them up on their offer to fix me up. I was too tall so he told me to sit on the edge of the shelter. He applied the ointment to the deep wound and to some lesser scrapes and cuts on my face. Then he closed up the open gash with three of the bandages and gave me a few extra ones for the days ahead. I thanked him more than once. I collected my dinner ware and went back to my tent.
That was the first day of their hike. The next morning at dawn on my way out I went past the shelter to get water. It was dark, but light enough to see. They were up. No one was fixing breakfast. The teenage son who was so excited the day before was looking glumly at the ground, packed and ready to go. Then I noticed they were all sitting there glumly, packed and ready to go. They were waiting for the father who was still asleep in the tent. In July the misquotes will eat you alive in the shelter. All night long I heard their voices and the zipper on the tent open impatiently. I don’t think anyone got any sleep. That morning when I went past it was practically dark. No one saw or responded to my wave goodby. I think they were all going back to Pittsfield to try again some other day.
I was quite content not to talk to, or see people, but if they were there I’d talk to them. Some people were brief like me, however I never met anyone unfriendly. In my 1,584.8 miles of hiking the Appalachian Trail (there was a total of 37 miles in three places I didn’t hike) I never came across a doctor until then. I met some highly professional people, but I was not aware of meeting a medical doctor on the trail or an anonymous person who could have been a medical doctor.
As I hiked out of there I wondered, was Jehovah watching out for me. For sure God knows what is going to happen and can make happen whatever. The Bible says there are unforeseen occurrences that befall us all, but could God be with me every day, all day? I had to find out. I did find out. In the Hebrew Scripture of the Bible in the book of Psalms chapter 91 verse 14 Jehovah God says, “Because he has affection for me, I will rescue him. I will protect him because he knows my name.” I became fearful that by mistake I might do what is not right, and Jehovah would not be there. I thought if I remain faithful then whatever happens, if I live or die, it should be accepted as a matter of course. Then I told myself out loud, “Pick up your feet dumb ass so you don’t trip and bash your head against the rocks again.” It made me laugh and feel confidant even if I was slightly insane.
When I came out of the woods on a side street halfway between Williamstown and North Adams I stopped my hike for the year. 650 miles remained. I would do that the next year. A man in a black pick-up truck was going up the paved road I was walking down. I stopped him and asked if I could get a ride to town. I got in, he turned around, and drove me to North Adams. He wouldn’t accept any money for his trouble. He said he lived on the side street and that many hikers came through there every year. He said his close friend who died recently hiked the entire trail. He always helped hikers. He pointed to where the bus left for Pittsfield and when I got out I went to a nearby motor lodge to clean up. The next day I started the long odyssey home by bus.