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 5: Route 7 to Riga Shelter, 13.1 miles

Continuing the theme of having entire huge old houses to myself, I stayed at the Hanta Yo hostel last night and had the whole place to myself. The door didn’t lock, it was drafty, and windows and doors suspiciously didn’t lock or close, but it was the perfect place to avoid the evening rainstorm. 

The town of Lakeville, CT is adorable and I just can’t get enough of these small, pretty New England towns. I want to move here in the worst way. Before I hit the trail, the hostel owner took me to the market in Salisbury so I could resupply, which saved me from having to walk all the way into town later. It’s a beautiful place and Meryl Streep has a home here, which is why everything in the market cost double (or more) than what I pay for the same things at home. Cream cheese and a box of crackers was a whopping $9! 

Today has been my favorite day so far. I think I hit the SOBO bubble because I saw 9 of them and got to talk with each one. Also, lady hikers!!! Finally. Having human interaction made a world of difference! The trail was also less jagged even though it was no less difficult. I also saw a bear cub running up a tree!!! Didn’t see the mama around, but it made my whole morning. 

Another thing that made the morning was the gorgeous Great Falls in the town of Falls Village. What an awesome spot!!! The trail takes you right up to the top of the falls, where the sun was warming up the rocks. The sound of the water was mesmerizing, and it’s a great place to sit and soak up a few rays while gathering strength for the climb up Mt. Prospect. I could have sat there all day, but forced myself to move on. 

Water is a problem out here. The Riga Shelter has no water, so I didn’t cook and snacked for dinner instead to make sure I have enough to get me to the next stream in the morning. Guthook hasn’t been updated in a couple weeks on some of these streams so I’m trying to update it as I go. Many of the smaller streams are dry, and some that were flowing freely were listed as being dry. At this time of year, these notes really help, especially for SOBOs coming through. 

I’ve been told that tomorrow will involve some rock climbing over Mt. Everett. Lord help me. I’m only 5’5” and some of these boulder scrambles have been challenging because I’m short. 

The knee update is that it still hurts. Every night I have new knots in my leg muscles because I’m walking weird to compensate. Right now I’m digging a tennis ball into my achy calf, which feels about as good as it sounds, but doing that seems to help release the muscles. Next time I need to find a massage therapist who hikes and trick them into doing a section with me. 

There is so much happiness in hiking. I know I haven’t been out long enough to dread the next day, but only having a short time to do this really makes me appreciate it that much more. 

Day 6: Riga Shelter to Hemlocks Shelter, 10.4 miles

The morning dawned with a red sunrise that I got to see from my sleeping bag. The view from Riga Shelter was the best I’ve experienced at a shelter on the AT. It looks down into a valley with lakes, ponds, farmland, and picturesque houses that look like something out of a Grandma Moses painting. 

Today there were 3 mountains to summit, Bear, Race, and Everett. Everett was the stuff of legend, and it turned out to just be really steep and not nearly as bad as I imagined it to be based on what I’d heard. Going north, it climbs about 800 ft in .7 miles, so it’s no joke, but there are some steps and good footholds along the way. 

I’m finally in Massachusetts!!!! The Sages Ravine area was simply gorgeous, cool, and mossy, with a pretty river running through it. It reminded me so much of the Smokies and made me realize how much I truly have come to love those mountains and miss them when I’m away. 

I was really drained of energy today, so every climb seemed to challenge my fatigued muscles more than usual. I’ve been thinking about it all day, and if the knee isn’t better by the time I get to VT, I’m not going to do the entire Long Trail, just the AT portion of it. The northern portion is said to be very difficult and not as well maintained or marked. I can come back and do the that part when I’m not nursing an injury, and I can head back down south and keep hiking into North Carolina and Tennessee and see how much of those I can finish. This is disappointing, but I think this section is teaching me the lesson of learning to go with the flow. I am bad at this. My Type A personality likes to plan and know what to expect, but out here, those who can adapt easily make it for the long haul. 

The summits today were hard won, but glorious. MA captured me with her expansive views and I can’t wait to see what else she has to offer. Mt. Race was especially gorgeous because there’s a half mile stretch of trail that overlooks the same valley I could see from the Riga Shelter. At one point I was watching vultures and hawks at eye level or below and I felt like I was just as light as they were, floating on the breeze. Being on top of these peaks, looking back and seeing the ridge lines you’ve walked over is an exhilarating feeling. My body feels heavy as lead at times, so these moments at the top are a welcome respite from the weight of my own bones and the pack I carry. 

Tomorrow is a town day and I can’t wait. I’m going to send a couple of things home and buy some more meds for the knee. There are a few things I’m not using yet that I don’t want to send home, like my mittens and waterproof socks, which I know will come in handy soon. The weather has been stellar for a week, how lucky! Rain is in the forecast for this week though, so that’ll be interesting. I can’t imagine what some of these mountains would have been like in the rain. Altras are really comfortable shoes, but they are slick in the rain. The tread seems to wear down quickly and I am having to be very intentional with every step. 

Last minute tonight another sobo thru hiker named Loner rolled in at the Hemlocks Shelter.  He’s hiked the PCT and a zillion other trails, so talk turned to gear and questions about upcoming towns. There are no strangers out here. Hikers support each other and help each other out, give advice about water, aches and pains, best places to eat in towns, and who to call for a shuttle. Talk is easy, and completely void of the social anxiety that often comes at parties and work events. This is home. We’re all at home.