J and I hiked the Taconic Crest Trail on August 12, 2022. It was the second New England Ultra 8 hike that we did together.
August 12, 2022
My alarm sounds. I lay in the darkness.
I will myself out of bed.
J and I stream out the door with our packs,
hoping not to see another bear.
We had dropped water bottles along the trail the day before.
Today, we are ready to hike.
For 37 miles.
We hope to do it in 15-16 hours.
We drive into a dark lot on the side of the road.
We heft on backpacks, snap on headlamps,
and slip into the unseen woods.
5:05 – 5:44 a.m.
Gently, we climb upward in darkness.
The path is thoughtfully packed down with dirt and
politely decorated with stones.
It feels like a godsend.
The soft touch of soil beneath our feet.
So different from our rocky Presidential Traverse the year before.
A hazy pond greets us
before the sun has risen.
At last, we can see our surroundings.
The gradual uphill climb continues,
as we empty onto a striking pond.
Like expensive sculptures,
snags rise from the waters.
Snags, or dead tree trunks,
stretch this way and that;
they frame the water into pockets of prettiness.
We summit Tower Mountain,
arriving at 2198 feet above sea level.
A verdant field of ferns surrounds us at the summit.
And yet, as we dip back into the woods,
signs of drought are all around us.
A stand of striped maples has yellowed and browned.
Each striped maple tree looks sad.
The ferns flop onto the forest floor;
brimming with brownness,
they dry to a crisp.
It is the worst drought
I have ever seen in the woods.
We pass Berry Pond,
a destination location with a beautiful pond
and inviting picnic tables.
We drink in the nearby overlook,
which is framed by blooming golden rod.
Fed by wonder,
we power onto the woods,
which no longer has Taconic Crest Trail (TCT) Markers.
J guides us through the unknown with Gaia,
a trail map app.
With navigational prowess, J leads us onto the right path,
where the blue markers begin again.
A mushroom stops us in our tracks.
Does it look like biscuits?
Or toasted marshmallows?
We cannot decide.
8:55 – 9:50 a.m.
The dirt path empties onto a downhill paved road.
With gravity energizing us, we run down it.
The road flattens out; we trek through the col.
Then the road starts to climb again. Our excitement does, too.
Eagerly, we move toward our first water drop.
I fish out our water bottles from a rotting pile of wood.
Two liters for each us.
We recline in wooden chairs,
which seem like they were made just for us.
I take off my socks and shoes
as a way to dry my feet.
I savor my bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich.
The tomato is so juicy.
All of life tastes delicious right now.
Thirteen miles in.
10:11 – 11:08 a.m.
With a fresh pair of socks on my feet,
I step out for the next leg of my journey.
My wet socks hang securely on my pack, drying;
I am determined to have good foot care for this trip.
J and I trek uphill. It is a frustrating trek.
We can see the top of the Taconic crest,
but it is privately owned here.
We are forced to side hill through a thicket of ferns.
The plants swallow the trail.
Only the markers guide our way
as foliage pokes at our legs.
We make it to the spine of the Taconic crest.
And still we swim through a sea of ferns.
The ferns undulate together in the wind.
They oscillate as one great sea of green.
I test out a bench, just for fun.
We continue to wade through the ferns.
12:30 – 1:44 p.m.
The ferns empty out onto a nice dirt road.
It is such a nice road. We follow it and follow it.
We follow it up a nice hill filled with ATV tracks.
Suddenly, J looks at me,
“We are not on the trail anymore.”
With trusty Gaia to lead us,
we power back down
until at last we discover the TCT blazes
and a well-hidden turn off.
We enjoy the trail for a while
until we come to a confusing intersection
of dirt roads and ATV tracks.
We see a marker among the mix of tracks
and trust we are on the right path.
Minutes later Gaia tells us we are off the trail.
The trail is very close, it tells us, and runs parallel to the road that we chose.
We hike on, waiting for the road and path to converge.
When they don’t, we bushwhack back over to the TCT.
1:45 – 3:59 p.m.
Hours pass as J and I get lost in conversation.
Our pace slows a bit.
A fifteen hour finish now feels like a fairy tale.
Streams of light beam through the conifer forest.
The sweet smell of pine fills my nostrils
as soft needles soften my path.
I stop and drink in the mossy light.
The summit of Berlin Mountain stretches out in front of us.
We enjoy views as we snap selfies.
Twenty-nine miles in, and I have a blister.
I put on dry sock liners and two pairs of running socks.
No quitting now.
4:07 – 5:15 p.m.
We just want to finish.
I take the lead on the flat trails and the downhills;
J jogs behind me.
We jog all the way down to our next water drop.
Ducking under a pine tree,
I grab our water bottles and a bear canister.
Like an eager child on Christmas,
I open the bear canister.
Gatorade. More bars.
I gleefully fish out my bounty.
I pass J her apple and special drink.
Gulping down the Gatorade,
I enjoy the experience of sugar
and electrolytes flooding my body.
I refill my camelback with just a liter of water.
I stuff my garbage into the bear canister.
It is time to travel light.
J finishes her preparations
as I stash the bear canisters back under the tree.
Slinging my pack back on my back,
I crunch down on my apple, ready to go.
J takes the lead up our next uphill;
I speed walk behind her.
We hike through a web of beech trees.
I am delighted to see them healthy and thriving.
No bark disease. No signs of drought.
The suckers, or small trees, grow thickly together,
as if creating their own hidden world of wood.
I peak in through the gaps, thrilling at this secret forest.
6:00 – 7:26 p.m.
Power hike. Jog.
The evening sun glitters through the trees.
Day is done.
7:28 – 8:01 p.m.
We still hold on to the hope we can finish in 15 hours.
It seems unlikely, but still,
we pummel down the steep mountainside,
over grit and scree.
Thank goodness we have poles.
They balance us as we jet forward.
We have held out hope until the last minute
that we would make it in fifteen hours.
We reach another uphill with only two minutes left.
With no end in sight, we slow our running, giving up our goal.
I crest the short hill and see the car.
“It’s here!” I shout, sprinting suddenly for the car.
J starts to run, too. We fly in with a minute to spare.
Wow. We did it.
In 15 hours.
Another New England Ultra 8
endurance hike completed.