We were heading home from the Berkshires today, but we wanted to do some hiking before we had to say goodbye. We chose a piece of the Appalachian Trail that would take us to a secluded lake and a cabin in the woods. I’ve always admired those thru-hikers who could endure a marathon journey like the Georgia-to-Maine trek on the AT. I like to camp, and I like to hike, but the prospect of hiking and camping for six months straight, well that’s daunting. I can come up with so many reasons not to do it: the planning, the weather, the bugs, the blisters, the danger, the bears, the roots, the routes, the food, the effort, the loneliness. With all that, it’s still awfully tempting to the adventurous side of my brain. Today, though, I discovered a new reason not to go “thru” with it.
Nancy and I headed out along Route 20 for the first stretch. It felt odd to be walking next to a guard rail for a quarter mile. It felt even more odd a quarter mile later when we came out of the woods and crossed over two bridges that spanned Interstate 90. Soon enough the sounds of the tires and engines faded, and we trudged deeper into the forest. The trail showed the wear from thousands of pairs of boots. Mostly roots and rocks with a dash of dirt sprinkled between. The trail was a steady uphill, not too steep, but enough that I noticed my own breathing. We knew this was a short hike, so we didn’t make any stops, except to examine a newt or sniff a toad (the latter was Farley’s idea, not mine).
I wondered if we’d meet any thru hikers heading north. It seemed unlikely, since they’d be well behind the usual timetable if they wanted to arrive in Maine before conditions got really cold. Sure enough, the only other hiker we saw was a woman who said she was “section-hiking.” I didn’t know that term, but I got the gist. She wasn’t day-hiking like we were. She was camping, but only doing a section of the trail. We talked for a bit, but let her get back to her trek.
After another mile, we crested a ridge and the trail sloped down, again not too steeply. Farley was a bit more eager today, pulling on his leash as though he had an inkling of where we were headed. Knowing this was a brief hike, I tried to take in the scenery, the giant boulder off to the right, the mountain laurel that lined the trail, the way the trees filtered the sunlight, speckling the ground. I wasn’t expecting much from the cabin. I imagined a primitive shelter, thinking even that probably felt luxurious to a weary thru-hiker. We passed a set of tent platforms in a small clearing. Basically saggy floors six inches off the ground, they would keep your tent or sleeping bag out of the mud, but that was about it. We followed the trail as it curved to the left and then bent back to the right. “Oh, I think I see the cabin,” Nancy announced, pointing toward a patch of red between branches up ahead. After a few hundred feet, we reached a clearing and saw the cabin. It was nothing like I’d expected. First, there was the size. It was a big structure, two stories tall with a peaked roof. Then there were the features, a stone chimney signaling an impressive fireplace, a large porch, complete with rocking chairs, looking out toward a pond. A sign on the side said, “Welcome, hikers. Occupancy 14.”
“Okay, I could stay at a place like this,” I thought to myself. Then we spotted the sign saying, “Beach,” with an arrow pointing down the hill. We followed a narrow trail down the hill. At the bottom, we saw two canoes with the AT symbol on their bows, and then a small dock reaching into the clear waters of a sky-mirror pond.
“Hmm,” I thought, “Reason number 357, not to be a thru-hiker: Why would you ever want to leave?”