AT Sobo part 17 -Connecticut, Cornwall and Drought
The states were moving faster now that we were not crossing them end to end; the trail snaked its way across corners and dog legged left and right to keep itself oriented south as we moved along. It was warm and lovely when we passed from Massachusetts to Connecticut; a state I wasn’t particularly looking forward to. The going on foot hadn’t been as dramatically tough as Maine and New Hampshire, but these states were still not giving us a break. Their pathways were full of short and steep ups-and-downs, but many more of them. This may sound better, but it wears you out in a different, relentless way. You rest your quads and glutes on the downs, but your knees get shredded and you swap over on the way back up!
Connecticut was the home of one of the first ‘challenges’ we would come across – the stuff of trail lore. This one was to hike all of the 52 miles of the state in one day. I was an immediate nope. Smudge and Captain were in however, got up at 2am to begin, valiantly starting the challenge from the northern border. I was rooting from them (from a long way back) but by the time I got hold of them on the phone at midday they told me they had stopped, because Smudge had given himself shin splints from going too fast too soon. Instead, they had decided to do the 24/24/24 challenge: 24 miles (they’d done this) with 24 beers (we were hiking towards these) in 24 hours. Well it was going to be an interesting attempt to watch!
The next tiny town we arrived into was called…. Cornwall!! I couldn’t quite believe it and was totally delighted, getting my picture taken with the sign about 20 times. A local we spoke to told me people sometimes visit and ask where the nudist beach is, totally mixing up our Cornwall and the Connecticut one. Ha! We went to the Cornwall Package Store, which is what they seemed to call an off licence, and the boys picked up their beer for the challenge; including a free one for being hikers! We walked a mile down the road to a national camp ground and set up with our other friends Stump and Mandolin. Stump had hiked too far without water that day in the heat and had become significantly ill; being sick and retching any water he tried to take in. It was a sobering lesson about being aware of your hydration on the trail and we looked after him well. The boys didn’t finish their challenge that night – exhaustion and hunger trump the desire to drink 24 cans of beer in the heat, so we all settled down to sleep under huge trees with stars twinkling through. We took our rain-flys off and had a fire crackling between our tents as we drifted to sleep – heaven.
It was the next morning that I received the sad news that a dear family friend had died back home in Falmouth. I was so upset that I cried all through breakfast and beyond, knowing the others were sympathetic but also needed to set out to hike. In the end I make the decision to jump miles that day. I accepted a ride from a local lady who didn’t like to see me crying and she took me the 18 miles by road to the town that my friends were hiking towards; Kent. I didn’t want to miss the miles but I was in pieces, and I will go back and hike them before the 12 months is up. On this occasion it was absolutely the right thing to do. I arrived in Kent and spent some time on the phone with my parents, and then sat in the town library replying to emails and getting up to date with comms until it was time to go. I managed to get a ride with another hiker and his lovely dog whom I spotted on the other side of the street, and we got dropped at the trail head to hike a mile up through the forest to the nearest shelter site. It was an emotional day and the first tough day I’ve had caused by off-trail things. It was hard to know people were hurting at home and I couldn’t be there, but always knew that something like this could happen when you’re out on a long expedition.
Over the next week or so I hiked through deep mist, dodged squishing of hundreds of bright orange salamanders who loved chilling out on the moist path of the trail, hugged the largest and oldest oak tree on the whole AT, had our photos taken by professional photographers who hang out on the trails near their town during Sobo season offering portraits as trail magic, and watched Captain swim in a potentially radioactive lake as he was so crazy hot in the roasting weather. There’s never a dull day on trail! We crossed into New York and it stayed baking hot. The heat I could cope with, but the lack of water was beginning to be an issue. Kind trail angels would leave ‘water caches’ of gallon jugs next to the roads we passed, filling them up multiple times a day. We were so thankful for them, and I have regularly wondered how I can pay the kindnesses from strangers on by doing nice things for coast-path hikers in spring and summer around Cornwall.
New York immediately proved to be an awesome state in many ways. It was home to the ‘deli blaze’, where there was a deli to hike to almost every day if you were prepared to put in a few extra miles, but more of that next time – those incredible sandwiches need a column all to themselves!