A surprising opportunity to return to Connecticut came during the final week of December in 2021—surprising because we couldn’t have planned it, but the last few weeks of the year had been less cold than usual, and snow had not yet accumulated in the most southern of the New England states. Since Maple and I were both now working at American University, our vacation times coincided. So, we quickly made travel arrangements, purchased winter-rated sleeping bags, and on the day after Christmas headed up to the Days Inn in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Our plan was to hike as far as CN-41, near Salisbury. The AT crosses CN-41 less than a mile to the east of Salisbury, and a trail parking lot at this highway crossing is where we parked our car on the morning of Monday, the 27th.
“Big Lu” Young, the co-proprietor (along with Pat “Hudson”) of Bearded Woods B&D, picked us up promptly at 9:00 and dropped us off at the AT crossing at Old Sharon Road. Our previous venture in Connecticut ended at CN-4, and we were starting one-fifth of a mile from that position. The reason for this leap is that between CN-4 and Old Sharon Road runs Guinea Brook, which requires, at least, knee-deep fording, and Maple and I didn’t want to begin our hike by walking through winter’s water when the temperature outside was in the upper 20s. In fact, when Guinea Brook is running high, a blue-blazed trail guides hikers from CN-4 to Old Sharon Road. We simply opted not to do the road walk, but to let Lu drop us off where the AT dips back into the woods.
We were to rock-hop across many creeks and streams this day. Five miles into our hike, we crossed West Cornwall Road, and then had our lunch. Afterwards began the hike up to Rogers Ramp, two huge boulders between which the upward trail passes. We weren’t making great time; in fact, we were progressing at a much slower pace than we had made plans for. Our expectation was to stop and set up our tent at Sharon’s Mountain Campsite, 8.2 miles from our beginning point. But our last backpacking adventure had been in June, and although Maple and I, lately, had been regularly on the treadmill, our backpacking muscles had evidently gone soft on us. Plainly stated, we were out of shape. Six hours into our day we arrived exhausted at Pine Swamp Brook Shelter. We had hiked a measly 5.7 miles. Granted, the trail had been constantly up and down, and our path had not been smooth. Still, we were a bit stunned and embarrassed by our performance.
Since a winter’s advisory heralded sleet and snow during the night, Maple and I were already tempted to sleep in a shelter rather than in a tent, so we didn’t have to do much mutual arm-twisting to persuade ourselves to remain at Pine Swamp Brook. But we knew that, given our physical condition and average hiking speed, this meant that there was little hope of making it the following day to Limestone Spring Shelter. So, after we had coffee and talked it over, we decided that our best bet was to pull out of our hike at Falls Village. So, I texted our shuttle driver and successfully made plans for an afternoon pick-up at Falls Village Café.
Shortly after our arrival at Pine Swamp Brook Shelter, we were joined by “Tentpole,” a flip-flop thru-hiker, who was now southbound on her way to Harper’s Ferry. She was hiking with her canine companion, Beans. They were evidently used to unfavorable weather, since Tentpole declined our invitation to take half the shelter and set up her tent a couple hundred yards away. About half an hour later, we were joined by a man with his teen-aged daughter, Wayne and Althea. Althea was planning on doing a SoBo thru-hike in 2022, after graduating from high school, and this was her shakedown. They were pleasant company, but after finishing our dinner, Maple and I climbed into our new 15-degree sleeping bags and were quickly oblivious to the world around us.
When we awoke just before sunrise, we discovered a layer of ice covering everything outside the shelter. Surprisingly, Wayne had also decided to tent, leaving Althea with half of the shelter to herself. We all packed up together and left the shelter at about the same time. Knowing that they could not be as slow as ourselves, Maple and I bid them farewell, wished Althea the best, and hoped that our paths would cross again somewhere in New Hampshire or Maine the following summer.
During the day, when we came upon a brook crossing, where a blowdown obstructed the path, we discovered a directional note kindly left for us by Althea. Fortunately, when we finally arrived at the Falls Village Café, at 2:15, we found father and daughter there enjoying a lunch, and Maple and I were able to thank them for their thoughtfulness. Maple and I each grabbed a coffee and a BLT, while we awaited Lu, who arrived to pick us up right on time at 3:00. The trail had been hard, but we were thankful to have, once again, experienced a small part of it.