About the Author, Leah LaRocco: “Hi there, I’m a Long Islander who lives in Franklin, Tennessee. My first love was the ocean, but growing up camping and hiking around Vermont also contributed to a deep appreciation for the mountains. Public lands are some of my favorite places to hike and Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a regular weekend getaway. I work full time, but believe dreams and passions can and should be pursued outside of the everyday 9-5. As a naturalist, I hope to convey how incredibly healing the woods, water, and wildlife can be when we make the choice to step outside.” Find her via her Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Website.

Click on Leah’s name above to read more about her adventures!

Day 3: Mt. Algo Shelter to Cornwall Bridge, 15 miles

The day dawned bright following last night’s storms and I left early so I could get into Kent to figure out why my phone wasn’t charging. I think the port is dirty, and after blowing it out a bunch, it started charging again. 

Kent is adorable. I felt like complete hikertrash walking through there, but I think they’re used to seeing homeless looking vagabonds roaming their streets. After waiting for the bathrooms at the welcome center to open up at 8 am, which they never did, I brushed my teeth on their porch and spit behind a bush because that’s what ladies do. Luckily the IGA and post office were next door. 

Every step in town feels like it takes so much more energy because you know how hard the trail is going to be when you leave. After switching all of my food into ziploc bags outside of the store, just enough to get a few weird looks, I got a cup of coffee at a local shop where some union contractors were having an all out venting session about whiny clients, their bosses, and life in general. It was so awesome. I freaking love the northeast so much because southerners wouldn’t be caught dead talking like this in public. So refreshing! 

As soon as I got on the trail, I changed clothes and immediately felt more comfortable in the woods. It’s crazy how easily it starts to feel like home. The AT couldn’t make up its mind today on whether it wanted to kill me or let me relax. The climbs and descents were insane. Like…in…sane. And in between that insanity was 5 miles of relatively flat walking beside the gorgeous Housatonic River. Here are some examples of the trail today.

Just before the river I met a lovely retired man who used to work for Hofstra University and we talked for about 2 miles. It was so nice to have the company and be with another person who really appreciates the beauty out here. 

Before ending the day in Cornwall Bridge, I had another 1000 ft climb and a steep 500 ft descent to the road. Then a mile downhill into town. I was toast by the time I got there, TOAST, and will be hitching a ride back to the trail tomorrow. No way I’m walking up that hill before hiking up another mountain. Thank goodness the country store was still open and I got some homemade soup and an enormous ice cream cone that made everything better.

The place I’m staying is so charming and a shower never felt so good. 

Day 4: Cornwall Bridge, CT to Rt 7 past Balter’s, 12.1 miles. 

I can’t recommend the Amselhaus in Cornwall Bridge enough. You guys, I had an entire 3 bedroom, gorgeous historic guest house overlooking the river, to myself!!! It’s all downhill from here. Every place I stay in will pale in comparison. This is not a hiker hostel, but the owner is very hiker friendly. I would suggest this lovely house to anyone traveling through the area.

The day started with a cup of coffee and a hitch to the trail. Standing on a corner with my thumb out was a new experience, and then I had to argue with the guy who pulled over about where the trailhead was, because I wouldn’t know, me, a frail waif who just hiked out of there yesterday. His kindness was most appreciated though and I’m so grateful that he stopped. I couldn’t handle the idea of walking uphill for a mile. The elevation profile map for today looked like a beast and I needed every advantage I could get. 

All I can say is that today was really, really humbling. The first 5 miles were great, like I was riding high and dealing with all the hills with a super positive attitude. Then, I think I crashed a bit. I’ve got to get my lunchtime nutrition dialed in because granola bars and skittles are not giving my body the fuel it needs to do what I did today, which resembled a jagged roller coaster. Definitely had to tap into the mental reserves in a big way. 

At some point, the knee started doing its usual thing, and the miles felt longer and longer. I hate going slow, hate it, hate it, hate it. And yet, in order for me to be out here, I am being forced to crawl over these mountains at a snail’s pace, gently picking my way down every hill, tenderly stepping so as not to jar the leg. Part of me is infuriated because I’ve never hiked so slowly in my life. The other part of me is like, dude, you’re almost through Connecticut on a freaking lousy leg and you’re doing this, so shut up already. The doctor said I wouldn’t do permanent damage by hiking on this, and I keep hoping it gets stronger. After all, this is only the 4th day. Baby steps…literally. 

It’s been 4 days and I haven’t seen any other women out here. There are these groups of Princeton students doing freshman orientation by hiking parts of the trail, and there have been some women in those big groups, but in terms of lady hikers on a section or thru hike, nada so far. The impact of this on my psyche is interesting. Granted, I’m hiking in shoulder season when there are way less people out to begin with, but there’s something about seeing someone like yourself doing something similar that gives you the boldness to take it on yourself. The guys are fine. The men will always be here as they always have been, not having to worry about things like periods, creeps in town, constantly having your ability underestimated simply because you’re a woman, or getting assaulted while hitchhiking. Lucky them. For me, it’s the other women who’ve done this trail that inspire me to hike. 

Liz Thomas recently posted that she’s seeing a ton more women on the PCT, which she believes is a positive effect resulting from Cheryl Strayed’s writing in Wild. That is amazing!!! The supposed statistic on the AT of women to men hikers is around 40/60, but a thru hiker I stayed in a shelter with the other night thought a more realistic number would be that about 15% of the hikers out here are women. I don’t know what the real number is, but regardless, it shows a disparity between genders and makes me question, why is this still a thing???

So in spite of the lack of ladies and the lousy leg, the beauty out here is beyond. The mushrooms, my gosh, the gorgeous fungi that cover the forest. I can’t stop and take pictures of every one of them, sad I know, but I have seen so many that amaze me. 

Today I pushed a bit farther than I wanted to. I kept feeling ok about the distance and thinking to myself, it’s only 2.2 miles to the next campsite. Well, when I got to the Belter’s camp, I looked at it and gave it a big, fat NOPE. There were widow makers everywhere. The entire day, the wind has been blowing and I’ve been listening to branches fall around me, little ones, big ones, enough to make me jump every now and then. So when I got to this campsite, it was surrounded by lovely old pines that had dead limbs hanging all over them, dead limbs half fallen and snagged on other trees, dead trees that had fallen sideways and were leaning on other trees. Trees were waving and gasping with each gust of wind that came through. The forecast tonight calls for more wind and rain, so I dialed the nearest hostel owner and he picked me up at the next road crossing. Sometimes, you just have to make a decision, and that was the one I needed to make in that moment. 

Plus, I was able to eat an entire chicken parm sub for dinner, and all is right with the world. Until tomorrow…