AT by the numbers

My plan had been to write a real blog entry yesterday from Fort Montgomery, N.Y. … until my college friend Jeff drove 175 miles — each way — from Westchester, Pa., to spend the day with this smelly old hiker. So I took the day off. (OK, it was a near-zero after hiking 8.5 miles — 6.5 on trail, 2 on road — to get here.) So instead I thought I would give a quick numerical update of my trip so far:


Miles I have hiked.


Miles left to go.


Percent of the trail I have finished.


Days I have been on the trail. (In my first 41 days, I hiked 375 miles, including 32 miles with broken ribs. I got off the trail Aug. 26 at Franconia Notch. After five weeks of zero physical activity as my five ribs healed, I returned to Franconia Notch on Oct. 1 and have hiked 410 since.)


Miles I have averaged in those 86 days. (This includes every zero day I have taken, including the five straight while sick in the Berkshires.)

April 17

The date I will finish if I average 9.13 miles the rest of the way.

Jan. 31

My target date for finishing. (Something’s gotta give.)


Postcards I have sent to my children. (For those scoring at home, that’s 109 postcards to Forrest and 109 to Marlowe. Each has received an average of 1.27 a day.)


Times I was accosted for snoring. As a guy who snores, I am super self-conscious about being rude to others. So during the busy season on the trail (July and August), I spent most nights in my tent, even though most hikers bring earplugs if they plan to sleep in shelters. (Translation: Lots of hikers snore.) Now that there are so few hikers out for more than just day hikes, I sleep in shelters. A few nights ago, an unhappy hiker growled, “We need to do something about your snoring.” I felt like a jerk and told this fellow southbound hiker that it was too late for me to pitch my tent that night but I would the next time I saw him. (And the odds are I could be seeing him for months since we are both headed the same way.) I was sincere and felt like an inconsiderate jerk. That night, I awoke to the sound of a hurricane blowing from this guy’s bunk. His snoring — “This one goes to eleven!” as Nigel Tufnel so perfectly put it in “Spinal Tap” — peeled the paint off the shelter walls from 1 till 3 in the morning. He that is without sin among you — yeah, I’m talking to you, Mountain Man — let him cast the first stone.

Trapped in the Berkshires

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Seven days ago, I was on top of the world. I was in Rhode Island visiting old friends, the latest twist of this amazing journey. What a treat spending two days with Nels and Janet, learning they were even cooler than I’d remembered. (And when you haven’t seen someone for a decade, this is rare indeed.)

I was in great spirits. I’d hit my groove, and the states were starting to fall pretty quickly. In the six days before I took my planned two-day break from the trail, I had hiked the final 12 miles of Vermont and the first 80 of Massachusetts. That included my first 20-mile day on the AT, a 25.1-mile sprint through a nice, flat section of The Bay State. When I would get back on the trail Halloween, my plan was simple: finish  Massachusetts in the afternoon, blitz through Connecticut in two-and-a-half days, then rush through New York and New Jersey in a blur. Soon I’d be averaging 20-plus-mile days and I would be cruising home to my children and indoor plumbing.

One thing the trail teaches, though, is that things don’t always go according to plan. As Nels drove me back to Great Barrington, I felt like crud. I had chills and lacked energy, and my stomach sounded like the percussion section of an out-of-tune orchestra. I had Nels drop me off at the Travelodge instead of the trail; my favorite day of the year, Halloween, would be spent in bed instead of Connecticut. I buried myself under the covers in front of the TV as dozens of teenagers were likewise buried during hours of cheesy horror films. I longed for my kids. It was easily the worst Halloween of my life.


The next morning, I felt worse. I had spent many hours in the bathroom, and whatever I ate went right through me. So I walked the five-mile round trip to the hospital emergency room and found that the only time I struggled to use the restroom was on command from the doctors. Still haven’t heard back what’s wrong, and it might be a week before I do. And so a man on a mission but also a budget keeps hearing that familiar ringing in his hears: ka-ching! ka-ching! ka-ching! A frugal hiker can spend less on lodging in 500 miles than I’ve shelled out this week going  nowhere at the cheapest motel in town.

Let me say one thing about the Berkshires: I absolutely hate this place. I am sick and tired of Massachusetts. I have been trapped in hell for five full days. I cannot wait to put this awful region behind me. There are few parts of the country I have enjoyed less.

Let me say one more thing about the Berkshires: There is nothing wrong with this area. In fact, this little area in the mountains of western Massachusetts is teeming with culture. Herman Melville wrote his classic “Moby-Dick” at his farm, Arrowhead, with its view of Mount Greylock in Pittsfield. Another American literary master, Edith Wharton, called the Berkshires home. You can visit that house, The Mount, in nearby Lenox. And since things — good and bad — seem to come in threes, let’s not forget the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.

After being trapped in my dingy motel for four full days, I dragged myself out Wednesday morning and caught the bus to the Rockwell museum. Don’t let my expression in the photo below fool you; it was amazing. (I just still felt that ill.) With Rockwell part of the American fabric, I never stopped long enough to admire his work. If I’d had more energy, I might have stayed longer. As it was, I only glanced inside his art studio (bottom photo) before heading back to my motel. But what I saw inspired and delighted me. Ol’ Norm really tapped into the humanity of everyday life.



The Wharton and Melville houses are closed to the public in November. Otherwise, my lost week in the Berkshires might not have been so bad. But I learned an important lesson this week just the same. I could’ve been in Key West … or Austin, Texas … or Bloomington, Indiana … or Zion National Park … or any other of my favorite places in the world. When you are ill and alone — and especially when it’s Halloween and you are far from your children — it doesn’t matter where you are. Even the Berkshires seem like hell on earth.