Limestone source for Itinerary 7
Crimson Mountains Camp for Hot Pizza Camp
AT miles: 24
Total mileage: 1533.3
Altitude change: Gain of 5121 feet, loss of 5384 feet
As far as track days go, today was busier than most. Not only did I cross another state line, but I also eventually caught up with other hikers I was chasing from Lake Fontana. What, that was almost two months ago? That alone was reason enough to make it a day worth celebrating, but then arrange a hot vegan pizza date in town, and you have something truly special. Not to mention, the weather was great all day, and the scenery superb. Again, Connecticut and then Massachusetts made me work hard for all that glory, but again, it was worth it. As long as this history does not change, everything will be fine.
Despite a good night’s sleep, I found myself groggy and unmotivated when my alarm clock went off. The day was clearing up and the birds were singing their morning tunes, but all I wanted to do was turn around and take a nap. Since I was eating chocolate covered almonds, I resolved to go to bed earlier from now on. The snack and the promise to do better were the only bargaining chips I had. I wiped the dirt from my eyes and continued.
Two hikers passing by piqued my curiosity, but not enough to hail them from my hidden corner. Who were they, where were they going? It was a weekend, so chances were they hadn’t crossed over, but something about the way they walked suggested they had been practicing their quick stride for a long time. A little later, I packed my bags and walked in the same direction. Either I would catch them or I wouldn’t.
The first few miles were as easy as it gets and I followed the trail gradually through a forest of tall shady pines. The morning was already starting to warm up, so I didn’t have to work hard to get and stay at a comfortable operating temperature, despite the dense canopy above. At the bottom of what I was descending I joined a road through the outskirts of Salisbury. The witch hazel bushes were an explosion of electric yellow, the brightest thing in a sea of new growth. Everywhere something new was sprouting or unfolding new buds. On the time scale used by plants, everything was going fast. Yet, in human time, this lazy Sunday was calm and peaceful. I had the pavement mostly to myself and enjoyed the smooth walking and easy look.
I found the restroom I was desperately looking for at the next trailhead and made good use of it. I also learned from another hiker that the two I had observed from camp were indeed the ones I had observed for hundreds of miles. They were only about ten minutes ahead of me. The hunt was on.
I turned on the jets as the trail began to rise, climbing up to ride the long roller coaster of peaks between me and the end of the day. The trail was friendly and gradual, so I had a good time without enduring too much hardship, although the sweat started pouring out of my nose. A large troop of Boy Scouts wobbled beside me going the other way, and I smiled at the memories they brought back to me. A weekend night with my friends from Troop 28 had always been a welcome retreat from high school life, and I wondered if these youngsters felt the same way.
At the first big stream, I finally caught my prey. In Tune and Moment had just filled their bottles with goodies when I slipped in, trying to look casual, feigning surprise when they told me their names. Like a pet dog that ends up catching the neighborhood squirrel, I didn’t know what to do now that I had caught up with these two. I tried not to sound scary by telling them how long I had followed in their wake, inserting the tidbits of knowledge that had been passed on to me by the section hikers they had met. For the most part information flows one way on the trail. I had learned quite a bit about them, but until now they had no idea I existed.
We all hiked, got to know each other and compared notes on our experiences on the trail. Who we knew, where we were, where we were when the snow fell. It was fun picking their brains, filling in the gaps between my uneven details, and it turned out that they were both way nicer and cooler than I had imagined. Quality people, all the way. And believe me, I would know after riding a few miles with them.
The conversation blurred the details of the trail to the top of Bear Mountain where a huge platform of stones had been built long ago for some reason. The views were glorious through the clear air, although there wasn’t much that I recognised. Lots of hills, lots of valleys. I ate a sea bass and tried to memorize the scene, knowing it would soon be buried, only to be resurrected every few years as I flip through my photo album.
The steep descent on the north side of Bear was much more interesting than the ascent. Steep rock slabs showed how loosely the term “trail” can be interpreted. Polished smooth by thousands of cigarette butts in front of us, we carefully chose our foot and pole placements on the gleaming granite. However, with care and focus, we all made it through without drama. It was even quite amusing.
The next walk through Sages Ravine was enchanting. The ground was all roots, moss and pine needles. The stream rushed beside us as we walked through the deep shadow, paralleling the waterfall as it tumbled over rocks and relaxed into clear pools. The narrow canyon seemed old and untouched, a safe haven for the wisdom of the forest, and I was grateful for the opportunity to visit it.
When we crossed the water, jumping from rock to rock, we left Connecticut for good. There are only four states left to go now. The others stopped for lunch in a little spot of sunshine, but with big plans planned for the evening, I pushed on, knowing and hoping that I would see them again.
I walked as hard as I could, a strong desire for pizza pulling me forward. SpiceRack had located a pizzeria offering vegan fare in the nearby town, and we had decided to make it a date. With many miles to go and a deep spiritual hunger for a good pizza, I resolutely pushed forward, limiting my own lunch to a ten-minute break while I filtered water. I ate chips and peanut butter as fast as I could, then laced up my wet shoes for the final push.
The hot day and the many ups and downs worked hard for me, but the rewards were awesome. The open ledges of the Mount Race cliffs were spectacular, a highlight of the past few weeks, and the top of the dwarf pine was also pretty cool. The next descent punished my knees and slowed my pace, but it was nothing compared to the last big ascent of Mount Everett. In the scorching sun, I withered in the heat as I tried to maintain a reasonable speed on the steep stone slabs. Sweat was gushing and my heart was pounding in my chest. More than once, I had to stop to catch my breath and let off steam. Standing in tiny bands of shadow was more of a psychological boost than a physical one, but that’s how desperately hot I was. Once I finally dragged myself to the top, the breeze was all the reward I needed. Views had ceased to interest me. My brain was focused on pizza, and pizza alone.
With the last big climb behind me, the rest of the ridge seemed relatively easy despite my foggy, heat soaked brain. I spun over pine needles and encrusted stones, picking up pine whispers when I wanted to listen, conserving my water by sucking up root beer candies. Finally at Jug End the ridge ran out and the trail turned to join the valley floor with a titanic switchback. It was only four flat miles to Spice. Four flat miles to pizza.
Tall pines alternated with swamps and pastures as I cut straight east, feeling roasted now that the heat of the day had moved on. Spice and Tango found me about a mile from the van, and after a hug and the handing over of the keys, they continued on their way as I continued my hike. A snapping turtle rustled through the leaves, then a beaver slapped a pond. I reached the van, parked along Route 7, kicked off my shoes, and pulled out an ice cream from the freezer. I had succeeded. Plenty of time for pizza.
When Spice returned, we showered and changed into our evening clothes, which, judging by local fashion, were only a slight step above the homeless. Not quite true, Spice looked amazing, but I felt like a rat dressed in wrapping paper. We sat outside, enjoying the warm evening air, overwhelmed with choices. It was pizza heaven, well worth all the sweat and knee crunch.
We couldn’t choose between so many intriguing options, so we chose four, splitting two pies in half. And let me assure you, dear reader, they were all excellent. Oh too good. We did our best, but I’m embarrassed to say we had leftovers. However, the pizza for breakfast will certainly not be the worst tomorrow. After a walk through downtown Great Barrington to help digest, we headed back to the trailhead to rest. The night was warm and peaceful except for the rumblings in my belly and the noises produced afterwards. We slept with cracked windows.
This article was originally published on my hikefordays.com blog. Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including CDT and Sierra High Route.