1,500 miles on the Appalachian Trail: Home Stretch

July 14

WINSTED, CT

The last two weeks have been a blur. It feels like I sprinted, or at least the next closest thing in a 3o pound backpack, from central Pennsylvania to my home state of Connecticut.

I didn’t take any zero or near-zero days and only had two or three that were under 20 miles. There was only one thing on my mind, getting home.

The plan was to take a few days off when I got back to Connecticut. I had a few errands and a lot of nothing planned, then would head back out on the trail with my dad slowing me down for a few days. After finishing the state, I planned to spend a few days at Greenwood Trails summer camp, where I’ve spent the last four summers as a counselor.

The trail between Port Clinton, PA and the Connecticut/New York border consisted of a lot of unique experiences. Pennsylvania continued to be a rocky pain in my ass, and New Jersey wasn’t much better. Looking at a map of the state, it doesn’t seem like it would be difficult, but many of the relatively small ascents were rock fields that would give PA a run for its money. There was also a surprisingly large number of bears. I saw more in New Jersey, and closer up, than I had the entire rest of the trail.

Any rock formation I have to vault myself over while wearing a pack does not count as a trail.

I ended up ducking off the trail for a night while at High Point State Park. It started raining when I was about four miles from the shelter, but heavy enough to soak me through. I knew from the trail guide that Mosey’s Hostel picked up from the park office and I decided that between the rain that day and the probable wet night I’d have the next day, I wanted to start off in dry clothes. A warm bed, shower, set of clothes and breakfast later, I made the right decision.

It was a good thing I got the park headquarters when I did, because the New Jersey state legislature didn’t pass a budget the next day, and it closed, trapping any hikers who showed up the next night in the rain until Mosey showed up.

Thanks, New Jersey.

The next night at Wawayanda Shelter was an interesting one. It was a long day, 25 miles, and all I wanted to do when I got there was make a quick dinner, lay out my pad and crash. When I got there, however, I found a few pairs of section hikers hanging out in the shelter overhang, and a freaking tent set up inside; a huge Wal-Monstrosity.

I asked politely, but tersely, for the people in the tent to move it, since the rain had stopped a few minutes prior. A little bit of unsolicited advice: read up on trail etiquette before heading out. The shelters are for everyone, especially in the rain, and putting up a tent inside one and taking up that much space seems selfish and disrespectful, even if that wasn’t the intention. For these folks, it was an honest mistake, but it still shows a lack of preparation that I find a bit worrying.

Most of the rest of New Jersey and New York passed in a blur. The weather seemed to switch between cold and raining to hot and muggy on a day by day basis. I think I saw more people in the span of a few days on the week of Fourth of July than I had on the rest of the trail, and almost none of them were thru-hikers. Mobs of people were at Bear Mountain and the various state parks I stopped in along the way. Now that summer is in full swing, the mosquitoes have been voracious, as well. The hours just before sunset and just after are a flurry of motion, trying to get everything done as quickly as possible so I can dive into my tent or get moving.

It was kind of weird to be passing through other people’s traditional summer day when mine are so atypical. The smell of charcoal, barbecue and sunscreen brought back so many memories, I seriously considered just joining a random family at the beach. I opted against that. Probably for the best.

There was one great day along that stretch. My friend, Kyle, joined me for a day. It was great to have someone to talk to about things other than the trail. All hikers talk about the same things; how far they’re going, when they started and what food they want to eat in town are at the top of the list.

After months of that and a few days of almost no other hikers, talking about Connecticut politics, movies, memories from college and reporting practices was a welcome respite. So, thank you, Kyle.

Kyle Constable, Ace Reporter.

Kyle met back up with me to finish Connecticut and do the first few miles in Massachusetts. It was a great throwback to our section hike last year, and it’s just nice to spend time with the guy. He’s always positive and down for a bit of adventure.

After a day at home, Dad and I headed back out for four days. The plan was to do the whole state in four days, but we had to stop in Salisbury instead of Bear Mountain. Yes, there’s another one in Connecticut.

We were moving at probably a little less than half my regular pace. It was a nice rest for me, but I don’t think Dad thought that. It reminds me of how far I’ve come since starting. There are things I take for granted, or do by muscle memory that I had to explain or wait for him to figure out. I wanted to be frustrated, but I remember when I had to work my way through all that three months ago.

My dad, Al. He stuck it out like a champ. Next time, we’ll do the whole state.

It was great hiking with Dad, even if it was only a short time. We haven’t got to spent as much time together as I would have liked in the last few years, and it was great to just hang out. Dad got to experience a bit of what it’s like to be a thru-hiker and I got a bit of a break. Hopefully, we get to do it again soon. Though, next time he’s carrying his own tent.

After hiking the state, I took a couple days off. After only one day off in two weeks, I thought I earned it.

Greenwood Trails is a second home to me. I’ve had some of my fondest memories and met some of my best friends at the camp, and I was excited to get back to it, even for a few days.

This place always feels like home. It’s one big, crazy, amazing, somewhat dysfunctional family. It’s always great to visit for a few days.

It wasn’t all rest and relaxation, though. The days were spent running high-ropes elements and lessons in go-karts and outdoor cooking. I even got the chance to run my favorite activity, “Terror of the Deep,” which involves flipping kids out of boats in the lake. I fell right back into my role as “Nature Nick,” and I loved it.

That’s the great thing about working at camp. After a while, it just feels like the natural thing. The kids and staff welcomed me back as if I’d never left. It’s like a big family.

By the time this is posted, I’ll be back out on the trail again, but right now, I feel like I could stay at camp for the rest of the summer. I need to peel myself away quickly, like a Band-Aid, or I’ll never leave Winsted.

That’s one of the hardest things about hiking the trail. Hiking for so long means missing a lot of the things that mark the year. Camp has been such a big part of my life for so long, that a year without it feels empty somehow, even when it’s filled with such a grand adventure as this.

It’s almost like I’ve stopped hiking because I want to, but because I want to finish the trail and DON’T want to quit. I know that’s just my nostalgia and comfort at the routine of camp talking, but it doesn’t make it any easier to leave.

Regardless, the trail is still there, and Katahdin isn’t getting any closer on its own. As John Muir said, “the mountains are calling and I must go.”

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