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Mt. Misery

Not a lot to report here, aside from the transition to some beautiful summer-like weather around here: a touch over 80dF today and likely the same tomorrow. The woods are flush with color once again and the assorted plants throughout the yard are rushing to show their colors as well. The maples have begun their aerial assault from above, launching hundreds of helicopters every time a breeze blows. They descend from every conceivable angle and altitude, spinning downward by the hundreds, if not thousands. And the descent is never linear; their “wings” are a living botanical creations and as such, each differ from one another creating aeronautical variations in each one. Some dart left, some wander to the right, some blaze downward while others creep down as slowly as possible. They curve and they curl and they take an endless number of different paths to the ground. It is truly magical to watch them, especially in a strong wind.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my ramblings on this blog wane as the nicer weather waxes. I find days passing by without writing as I spend all day outside basking in the warm sun, doing whatever I can find to keep me out there. And by the time I come in, writing is often far from my mind. I apologize for the infrequent posts and I promise to try harder to be consistent.

Several people have written to me suggesting I use more photos in my posts; I think I mentioned this not too long ago and this will be my first attempt to insert more pics in my posts. Let me know your thoughts please!

I ventured out on a new hike a few days ago. I always go back to the same trails: I know them, I like them, and many are interconnected allowing me to bundle different trails for longer and more diverse hikes. But this time I left the state and headed into the Pachaug Stare Forest in Connecticut, Voluntown specifically. I chose a trail called Mt. Misery Loop listed as 9.4 miles with some good elevation change which is something I always look for in a good hike. My finished stats logged 10.7 miles with 925 feet of elevation change. Yes, there is a 1.3-mile discrepancy between the listed distance and my distance, easily explained by the fact that I…. well…. I found myself in places otherwise intended by the trail. In other words, I became misplaced in my location. Yes – lost. Well, not really lost – just not hiking where I should be.

The map on the left is the intended route – the 9.4 mile loop; the one on the right is my hike. The “gap” at the top is where I lost GPS signal for a while while forging my own trail through the woods to get back on track.

Surprisingly, it began in a park, an actual park with mowed grass and picnic tables. And initially the “trail” was just walking down one of the roads in the park towards another picnic area. But happily, the trail quickly turned into the woods and stayed there for the rest of the way. The first mile had some really nice steep grades which ultimately led to a really beautiful overlook.

The sad part of this hike was that the forest has been, and in fact still is, undergoing a planned timber harvesting. And that sort of activity uses massive pieces of heavy equipment. The result is a torn and ravaged landscape in some areas. Fortunately, the hike only intermittently crossed through the harvest zones so it wasn’t oppressive. None the less, the areas that were harvested made for difficult walking at times and was certainly not the peaceful and serene views you expect on a hike in the woods!

There were some nice sections on this hike: some old cellar holes, a couple of old mills and mill races. And for those unfamiliar with a mill race: early settlers built mills to grind corn and wheat as well as to process timber. They were built with the thousands of rocks and stones that litter our soil here so the foundations still remain. Of course, there was no power back then other than what a clever man could muster out of the laws of physics and mechanical energy. Overwhelmingly the most common source was water; they used the movement of water as kinetic energy to power the mill. They would build near a river or stream with decent water flow. They would then dig a trench – known as a race – from the river to the mill; sometimes these races would be hundreds of feet long and as big as six or eight feet across and sometimes as deep. Absolutely a herculean task given the lack of any sort of powered equipment like a bulldozer or excavator. All they had were shovels and picks and the power of horses or mules. It must have taken months, even years, to construct some of them. I am invariably fascinated and awed each time I find one.

Despite the overlook and the historical remains, I think the highlight of this hike was the sudden appearance of an abandoned farm – including a rapidly disintegrating farmhouse and barn.

You are hiking through a typical New England forest on a typical winding trail when up ahead you notice that you are approaching an expansive open area.

You can always tell an open area of the woods is coming before you see it by the treeline and the light. Often it is a lake, but in this case it was a vast area of fields with a dirt road cutting through the middle of them, lined with stone walls on both sides. And then ahead, I saw it – a white farmhouse.

I approached cautiously as the last thing you want to do is to trespass on someone’s land. The trail is in a State Forest but often there are parcels of private land inside parks and forests and the trail is an allowable passage thanks to the permission of the landowner. But as I drew closer, I recognized that the windows and doors were gone; this was an abandoned and now gutted, house.

Across from it was an old barn, now almost completely barren of siding and merely a suggestion of the building it once was.

I will interject here: I am a devout and diehard horror movie fan – an actual fanatic in fact. One of my greatest pleasures is settling in a dark room on a dark night and watching movies like Halloween or Friday the 13th util 1 or 2 in the morning. And yes – the scene I came across instantly reminded me of sooooo many horror movies with Texas Chainsaw Massacre right at the top of the list. I won’t lie that the hair on the back of my neck didn’t start to rise!!

Of course, I went in; who could resist? I was a little nervous about what, or who, I might encounter inside. Animals freely inhabit buildings once left empty and these days, sadly, so do some people. But all I ran into inside were dozens of swallows, barn swallows I think, swooping and soaring in and out of the house through the countless open windows and doorways. I didn’t stay long mostly because the house was around the half-way point meaning I still had four or five miles to go and as I had gotten off to a late start, time was slipping away.

But the contradiction of that peaceful serene pastoral setting with the tattered and torn house and barn was sublimely spectacular.

I had mentioned the unintentional misplacement of myself on the trail and the resultant 1.3-mile discrepancy in the overall distance. Here’s why. The trail I chose is a loop someone else hiked and posted on a trails app I use. The app uses GPS to locate your exact position while you hike and if you choose to record it, it provides you with a map of your hike, along with distances, elevations, etc. So while this loop followed existing trails and access/fire roads, it was not a contiguous trail. Most of the trails out there are blazed with a blue dot. But while one trail goes left and one goes right, in many cases they each bear that same ubiquitous blue dot. In other words, it is easy to find yourself on the wrong trail. Kinda’ like a town where they name all the streets Main St.

I usually have a trail guide or map of where I am hiking, but in this case all I had was my phone with the hiking app. And this was my first time on this trail so I had no idea where I was going. So I would check my actual location against my intended location every fifteen minutes or so just to validate my direction and progress. And a good thing too because I found myself in the wrong place some number of times. When that happens it is really no big deal – usually I just double back on my tracks until I reach the spot where I took the wrong turn. And in fact, I did that a couple of times on this hike. But… it began to get complicated.

When I got on trail my phone battery was only around 30-40%. By the halfway point it was below 20%. Given the number of times I was taking wrong turns, I began feeling uneasy about the battery lasting for the full hike. And without the phone, I would have absolutely no way to know if I was still on trail and heading for my truck, or if I was unintentionally heading out in the opposite direction into the deep forest! I did not know the area so even if I popped out on a named road or trail, I had no idea which was to turn.

So as the hike grew longer and the battery life grew shorter, my level of stress grew. And when I dared open the app to check my location and found myself a half mile down the wrong trail, rather than double back and waste all that time and battery life, I would just open the app, locate where I was and where I needed to be, and then just turn into woods and make my own trail. Of course, I needed the real-time GPS to ensure I stayed true on my uncharted course to intercept the trail, but it proved to be an effective technique at getting back on trail. Since I am here writing this, you are correct in assuming I made it out of the woods and back to the truck!

Looking at the map there was what appeared to be a tricky section about a mile or so from the truck and I was concerned that I might mess up again there. A wrong turn would send me in the opposite direction of the truck so I was worried the battery might not last and tried hard to memorize the turns I needed to make to ensure I was on the correct trail. Ultimately the battery did last – in fact it lasted up to the point I was unlocking the truck doors. And the area I was so concerned about turned out to not be difficult to navigate at all; didn’t even need to use the GPS for it.

I guess in hindsight the whole battery/GPS/getting lost thing ended up almost enhancing the hike; it added a layer of suspense and intrigue to an otherwise rather routine hike. Well routine, horror house notwithstanding. But wait – there’s more! There was one other moment that was not routine.

There was a shelter sign on the trail during the early part of the hike.

Often there are hiking shelters in state parks and forests place to allow hikers a place to camp for the night; there are several here in RI I’ve seen through my travels. I actually missed the cutoff to it, oddly there was no sign indicating that it was down this particular side trail. How I noticed that I missed it was by looking at the GPS app; the person who had recorded the trail I was following had taken an in-and-back detour and I was sure it was to see the shelter. So, I doubled back and found the side trail and headed in.

The shelter was nicely nestled into the woods and it wasn’t until I was upon it that I noticed there were pots and pans hanging on the side of it. Then I noticed a jug of water by the stone hearth in the front. And when I turned to look inside the shelter, there was a tent inside along with some personal belongings – someone was staying there.

The tent was closed up and I was definitely not going to walk in and look inside it. If someone was actually inside it, we both would’ve freaked out! So, I quietly made my way back towards the main trail to take my leave.

I was a couple of hundred along my way back on the main trail when I heard voices. I stopped and heard someone yelling “come here” so I turned around. There behind me were two men, both with a ski pole in their hand (commonly used as hiking sticks). They were certainly looking my way but I remained uncertain if they were calling to me or to an unseen dog or other person. But being so close to that shelter and appearing so suddenly, I decided to not take any chances with a scene I’ve watched in dozens of horror movies and I waved “hi” to them and then turned away and doubled my pace for the next half mile or so. And yes – when I rounded a turn I would stop to listen and take a sneak peek back behind me to see if they were following. They were not. I can only guess that either they were slower hikers or that they were the people living in the tent in the shelter.

It is unpleasant to feel unpleasant on a hike; I go for peace and serenity, not to feel uncomfortable. And normally seeing two men on a trail is not just somewhat commonplace, it is often a nice thing to see folks and say hello. But that moment of the hike was definitely uncomfortable. An overactive imagination? Maybe. But also a sign of the times; hikers are disappearing and being found dead far more often that I ever recall in all my years. In all likelihood they were just two guys out for a hike on a beautiful day, just as I was. And in the end, Mt. Misery gave me a great hike, good exercise, satisfying mental refreshment, beautiful scenery, and no misery. Stay well dear reader!!

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