AT Sobo part 16 – Church porches, retro-blazing and Upper Goose Pond

We were now in Massachusetts; our fourth state. What an achievement! MA’s Mount Greylock was our next big summit, and the last one we’d go over for hundreds of miles as the land levelled out ahead of us. Over we went, in a terrible black storm.  On the other side of Greylock was the town of Cheshire, where we’d been promised that a local church was famously friendly to hikers and would let us in to eat, warm up and sleep inside. I was excited at the prospect, especially with a storm in full effect, but alas… new management!

We were not even allowed inside the building. Instead of home comforts was a portapotty on the lawn and plenty of wet grass we were allowed to pitch our tents on. Now, I’m not being ungrateful, but when you’ve been looking forward to getting warm and dry for hours this was a sad scene. Usually towns are extremely welcoming to hikers up and down the trail, and hikers in turn are very respectful and willing to contribute to towns as they pass through; both with money and trade as well as volunteering to do things to help local people. Perhaps some incident had happened in the church which meant that this closely bonded relationship was broken, but either way it was a total bummer. We all made the best of it and decided that our only option was to sit on the church’s wide front porch under the portico and set up camp in full view of traffic.

It felt a little rough and ready, but no one moved us on. In fact a local woman parked and ran over to us in the rain, giving us biscuits, bananas and yoghurt, telling us that her late father had loved hiking the trail and this is all she could find to buy in the local gas station to give us, as she’d seen us when driving the other way. The six of us lay on our sleeping mats on the porch of the church and tried to sleep. It was tough. Headlights, traffic and the creeping feeling we shouldn’t be sleeping there. It was very ‘un-trail’. The mosquitoes made the final decision for us as they bit our faces and arms so much that we all ran into the dark rainy night yelling in fury, and put our tents up on the wet grass instead. 

Massachusetts was a great state, with deep green woods and undulating pathways. I was happy and excited for our next famous AT milestone; Upper Goose Pond! Upper Goose Pond is deep in the Berkshires and its cabin is set next to more of a lake than a pond. Everyone gets excited to go here and no one misses it out because it’s stunningly beautiful. You can canoe out to islands, swim in the cool lake and dive off long wooden platforms in the sunshine. The cabin and area around it is for thru hikers and section hikers of the AT and is owned by the National Park Service. It’s run by volunteers who live out there for periods of time, and has bunks inside as well as beautifully rustic but well maintained outhouses and tent spaces. It’s remote – even the caretakers have to hike everything in and out, but it’s definitely worth the little detour to visit. We hitched down a road crossing miles beforehand to get drinks and snacks to take with us, and then hiked up the AT and deep into the woods to the cabin. Famously, Northbound hikers tell the Southbound hikers on their way to the Pond to stop at the ‘Cookie Lady’ before they get there. She’s an old lady who now lives alone and gets lonely, so she bakes cookies and has them out on the porch everyday in hiker season so that she can chat with hikers who make the effort to come the few tenths of a mile off trail to meet her and enjoy her free sweet treats. She also has blueberry bushes all around her house. This is important because the tradition is that you go to see her, enjoy a cookie and a chat l, and then pick a bag of berries and hike them in with you to Upper Goose Pond the next day. The caretaker volunteers then use the berries to make blueberry pancakes for breakfast for all the hikers that are staying at the pond. We did this! It was tremendous, and the other hikers who were yet to pass the cookie lady were very grateful. 

I woke early and hiked out of Upper Goose before the others, determined to get a good start on the miles ahead. I spent the day hiking alone and began to feel a little ill. This was my first time of being sick since I was in the 100 mile wilderness at the beginning, and I didn’t like it. Sick and alone is not ok. Good water was scarce on this bit of trail, and I was light headed as well as pukey and faint. The 24 miles I hiked that day felt like 50, and I barely remember how I got to the end of it. I didn’t understand why my friends hadn’t caught up to me somewhere especially as I was so weak and pathetic. It later turned out that they had taken a ‘retro blaze’ and road-walked to get closer to town by nightfall. I called a number from the the AT guidebook when I got to a high ridge line and found some phone service. I was desperate for water, a town with some soda and a shower! The local hiker-helping shuttle driver promised to come and get me when I made it down of the ridge, and I did just that a number of hot and dizzy hours later. It just so happened that my retro-blazing friends emerged from their trail head at around the same time and were keen to head into town with me. Swaying and slightly incoherent, I slid into his car and he delivered us to the local leisure centre where they allowed hikers to use their showers and camp behind on their land in the woods. Such lovely people! I lay on a wooden tent platform under pine trees and waited for my sickness, sweats and blues to pass. I needed to stay fit or my trail family would move on without me!! I still wasn’t ready to be alone…


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