Thursday, May 12, 2016

New England Trail and Robert Frost Trail - Part 2: MA/CT Border to Guilford, CT/Long Island Sound

I awake to continuing light rain atop Suffield Mountain, just passed the border into Connecticut. Over the night my sil-nylon single walled tent has become loose overhead. As I pack my belongings inside my tent, my head and shoulders rub along the underside of the top of the tent and I get wet. None the less, my shelter has done an adequate job. My sleeping bag is mostly dry, but everything else I have ranges from damp to soaked. I slip on my wet socks and shoes, stuff my tent into my pack as well, and hike on into the mist.

Half a mile from my tent I pass a woman out for a morning walk. We are high up on a ridge and its 6am on a dreary weekday morning, so I am surprised to see her, although If I lived here I'd want to walk here too.

I spend most of the day following ridges, which is a pattern that will repeat itself throughout Connecticut. Road crossing, climb, ridge walk, decent, repeat. The mist blankets the landscape. The cliffs overlooking the landscapes below becomes the edge of the world. The drizzle turns to rain.

My guide pages suggest that I "stop for lunch in the quaint village of Tarriffville." I look forward to arriving to a trail town and fantasize about the pizza I'll order and the soda I'll drink. As I descend upon the town I begin to hear airplanes... no, it is thunder. The rain turns to a storm. The two or three restaurants in town are closed since it is only 11am. With no place to get a meal, nor buy the plastic spoon or fork I was hoping for, I spot a gazebo in the town common and take shelter. I play the role of a strange vagrant hunkering under this small roof as the rain blasts down and bounces off the concrete streets around me. Everything is soaked. I rehydrate some ramen and eat it "push-pop style" out of a zip lock bag while shivering in a rain coat and short shorts under the gazebo.

The thunderstorm breaks and returns to just a heavy rain. I'm sick of sitting here and developing hypothermia so I refill my bottles at the water fountain nearby and walk on, regaining my internal heat as I stomp carelessly through puddles. I can't get any wetter.

Heublein Tower
The rain is mostly returned to mist as I reach Heublein Tower in Talcott Mountain State Park. I'm surprised to see this massive building emerge in front of me. I read that the tower is the old summer home of some super wealthy guy and he had a party here where Dwight D. Eisenhower was encouraged to run for president. I shelter in the barbecue pit for a short break.
I pass through a McMansion town in the evening. A disappointing, but brief section amongst an otherwise fantastic trail. I briefly consider a hotel stay to dry out and rest but I can't justify the outrageous $160+ nightly fee. Since I can't camp here, I push on and settle down once returning to the woods after having hiked nearly 30 miles. The sun peeks out for the first time in two days for the final thirty minutes of the day and the night is dry.

I wake to rain once more. It is now the third day of rain. I hike four miles as quickly as I can to the next road crossing. My left knee feels weird but I excitedly carry on because I've spotted on my phone that there is a shopping center with a supermarket, coffee shop, movie theater, and all the rest half a mile off trail just ahead. As I walk this ridge I see the stores at first off in the distance... then closer... then further away as the trail bends away. I hit the road and take a right. I'm drenched and stumble along a road definitely not designed for pedestrians, but I'm glad to be here. I get a giant cappuccino, banana, and veggie bowl. My first hot food and fresh fruit and vegetables since I started 5 days ago. I'm thankful to have a fork again and stuff it in my backpack's side pocket.

As I return to the trail along the shoulder of the busy road, I see another hiker coming towards me on the opposite side. He crosses to my side and we chat among the whizzing cars and pouring rain. His name is Woody and he is thru-hiking northbound. We share info about the respective sections we've completed and part ways. My spirits are boosted to have met another overnight hiker. He was the first and only other overnight hiker I saw on the trail.

Back in the woods, my left knee is getting worse. Bending it hurts enough that I don't want to do it, so I start limping, trying to keep it straight. I'm thankful to have trekking poles giving me three other working legs. After I few hours of this, I decide to pop a few pills from my first aid kit in hopes it'll decrease inflammation and reduce the pain. I worry if my slowed pace will prevent me from making my goal of Cat Tails shelter tomorrow night. I carry on..

Castle Craig, Hubbard State Park.

I reach Hubbard Park and Castle Craig. The castle is truly a tower and is made of the trap rock I have been scrambling along for hours. Visibility is barely 100 feet, but the sign at the base of the tower says the 32ft tower has the "distinction of being the highest point within 25 miles of the coast from Maine to Florida." The ridge is only 976ft so I doubt the validity of this claim. Regardless, I climb the spiral staircase of the tower, and stand alone atop the world with no views. The world is my oyster!

Descending from Hubbard Park, the view opens enough for a nice panorama.

The next morning I awake before dawn. It helps that I managed to pitch my tent in the least comfortable place ever and essentially slept upside down. Today is an exciting day. My plan is to hike to Cat Tails Shelter and meet my friend Marty for the night. I think I have about 22 miles to go, which should be okay, but yesterday my knee was so iffy. Thankfully my knee is feeling better today and only really bothers me on the descents.

Lots of scenic cliff walking on Connecticut's ridges.
The day turns out to be a good deal longer than my expected 22 miles, but thankfully I got up early and am making good time. I walk along a number of beautiful ridges with great views. The day is cloudy and threatens to rain but the rain holds off until I arrive at Cat Tails Shelter in the evening. I'm thankful to be in a true shelter. This is the only one in Connecticut and was built by the property owners adjacent to the trail, who are backpackers themselves. It's nice to be able to spread out and hang up all my things for some air.

Marty arrives shortly after dark and in the rain. It's good to see him and really talk to someone for the first time in nearly a week. It seems like we might have a cold, rainy time together. The rain breaks and Marty starts a fire. He brought marshmallows and drinks! This is a real nice way to spend a night out here...

Morning at Cat Tails Shelter
The next morning we sleep in, at least by my standards out here, and head back up into the mountains. Marty joins me for a nice 6.5 mile walk through Tri-mountain state park. It's nice to have a friend to hike with and this morning feels very different than the rest of my time on the trail as a result.  We keep a good pace and our section together is over pretty quickly. Marty has left a bike at the road crossing to ride back to his car that he parked near the shelter. Lucky for us, we discover a nice country store on the road where we leisurely sit and have coffee and snacks before parting ways.

I have about 21 miles left to the ocean and to complete the trail. While there is time to push hard and finish tonight, I decide a more leisurely finish early tomorrow would be better. It looks like I have about 10 miles today, and then 11 tomorrow giving me an early finish. That sounds good.

Almost there...
I realize I had been misreading my data sheet. I only have about 5 miles to the sanctioned campsite I plan to stay at tonight, and its only 11am. I walk as slowly as I can for the rest of the day. It is cloudy but clear and the forecast calls for a dry day. I reach the outskirts of Guilford and climb "Bluff Head". From here I can see the shining water of Long Island Sound. I'm close now. I arrive at the campground in Rockland Preserve at 2pm with 6 hours before dark. I have a very quiet, long afternoon. Some people walk and ride by on the nearby trails, but nobody enters the camping area. My tent dries out for the first time in 5 days. Eventually the sun goes down and so do I.

I wake for the last day on the trail, and its raining again. I check the forecast on my phone and its going to rain for at least two more hours. I figure there is no point in trying to wait out the rain, so I decide to just get going. I'm exciting to finish this hike, and there is a diner with vegan food awaiting me!

I have 17 or so miles to reach the ocean, but they are flat and I'm pumped up so they quickly dwindle. The rain subsides according to schedule. I reach a salty tidal river, so I must be getting close. The sun even starts to come out and I feel its warmth after 6 days of rain, mist, and clouds.

Sun shining in Guilford, CT !
I reach the edge of the woods. I'm in historic Guilford now and appear to have just few miles of road walking to the ocean. I change into my sleep clothes for a more "town-friendly" look and smell. The sun is really shining now! I get to the diner and am seated in a booth to myself. My first soft seat in a week! I order coffee and a big vegan breakfast plate. I eat it quickly, and want more, but I figure I should go finish. I follow a few sidewalks and backroads taking in the historic homes along the road. I cross through the train station and emerge in what is clearly a beach neighborhood. Almost there, I walk a few minutes to the aptly named Seaside Ave!

Chittenden Park - Southern Gateway

This is it! Chittenden Park is at the end of the road with a big sign that reads, "New England Trail / Southern Gateway". I pick up a sea shell as a memento and find a hiker log book. I sign the log, "only need to put my feet into the ocean to complete my Mt. Monadnock to Long Island Sound thru hike!" I cross the field. It's getting windy and cold so I put on my puffy coat. I pass the last two blazes and walk out to beach.

There is an Osprey flying nearby. I step into the ocean. It's cold but feels nice on my tired feet. My hike of the New England National Scenic Trail is complete. I'm thankful to have been able to complete this hike, and thankful for those who create and maintain the trail!

I return to the boardwalk where the grassy field meets the sand. It's nice to have completed this hike with everything but my tent dry. I sit to put my feet back into my now dry shoes when out of nowhere a torrential downpour begins! Before I can put on my raincoat I'm soaked to the skin from head to toe. A fitting way to end a dreary week on the NET! I slosh back to the train station and catch a train to New Haven where Marty is hosting me for the weekend before my return home.

This has been a wonderful adventure.

Mt. Monadnock to Long Island Sound!

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