We are thrilled to share our fifth update from Rex and Gerry Leonard who are hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise funds and awareness of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) and the disabled veterans we serve. In this travel log entry, Diesel and Pony Express (Gerry and Rex’s new Appalachian Trail names!) highlight a few major milestones: the completion of mile 600, the generosity of the trail community, water sports, and trail hunger! Photos of Vermont and Massachusetts are at the bottom of the post!
They have now completed over 600 strenuous miles of the Appalachian Trail! Let’s show our support and wish Team Leonard our best as they continue with this courageous feat in support of the many disabled veterans whose lives will be changed as a result of their sacrifice.
Read all their dispatches from the AT here: Gerry and Rex Leonard Hike to Heal Veterans
Family and Friends,
Greetings from the Berkshires! Team Leonard checking in with our 5th update from the Appalachian Trail. Since our last update, we have hiked 227 miles, passed through Vermont and most of Massachusetts, completed mile 500 and 600, and climbed 21 mountains and peaks in the Green Mountains and Berkshires. We have 67 miles left to hike in New England…15 in Massachusetts and 52 in Connecticut. We are looking forward to finishing New England—hopefully by 16 August (which for us, represents two-months on the trail)—and moving onto New York and New Jersey. The number of miles we are hiking each day continues to improve and we are beginning to feel more confident about making it to Georgia by Thanksgiving! Here are some highlights from our travels through Vermont’s Green Mountains and Massachusetts’ Berkshires:
Vermont. Vermont is referred to by the hiking community as “Vermud”. After hiking through it however, we’re not sure what the fuss is about…the mud we encountered in Maine was deeper, thicker, and more frequent! What we did find in Vermont was a more subtle and gentle type of beauty than the ruggedness of Maine and the majesticness of New Hampshire. The Green Mountains, particularly between the New Hampshire/Vermont border and Mount Killington, were covered with huge hardwoods and a blanket of lush green undergrowth. Unlike Maine and New Hampshire, we could see forever across the forest floor. Vermont’s mountains (except for Killington, Bromley, and Stratton) were gently sloped and much easier to climb than the Whites. One interesting discovery during our hike through the forests was finding old New England stone walls that once marked farm fields and property lines. These stone walls, combined with an occasional mountain meadow, added to the subtle beauty of the Green Mountains. While we enjoyed our hike through the open forests north of Killington, our journey south of Killington wasn’t quite as much fun (or pretty). The trail south of Killington reminded us of Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness…it was covered with roots, rocks, and small(er) mud puddles, which forced us to look down rather than up. From a historical perspective, it was neat to pass by the battlefield in Bennington, Vermont, where in 1777, John Stark’s New Hampshire militia and the Green Mountain Boys destroyed a large British formation, and to stand atop Stratton Mountain at the same spot where Benton MacKaye stood in 1921 and envisioned a hiking trail spanning the entire Appalachian Range.
Berkshires. Massachusetts’ Berkshire mountains and hills were a step down physically from the Green Mountains, but they were as equally magnificent in their raw beauty. The trail through the Berkshires seemed a bit easier and smoother to hike, which allowed us to tack up multiple 20-mile days. Our favorite mountain in the Berkshires was Mount Greylock, just south of North Adams, MA. From Greylock, we could see mountains and big hills in MA, VT, NY, and NH. Most impressive, was an enormous granite tower built as a memorial to those lost in WWI and a beautiful stone lodge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid-1930s. We enjoyed climbing the tower and eating breakfast at the lodge. The CCC built things to last! We’d recommend visiting Mt. Greylock and staying at the CCC lodge if you ever find yourself in western Massachusetts.
AT Community. We continue to be inspired by the AT community, which we’ve come to learn consists of much more than NOBO, SOBO, and AT section hikers. In our past posts, we mentioned a thing or two about Trail Angels and the many volunteers who maintain the trails. Our admiration for them continues to grow. During the past 200-miles we’ve met a number of AT community “folk heroes”. In Vermont, we met a couple who have lived atop Stratton every summer for the last fifty-one years and do a wonderful job maintaining the trail in that area. Also in Vermont, we spent the night at a campsite set up by Trail Angel Chris Heagerty from Syracuse, NY. Every summer, Chris spends his hard-earned vacation time feeding breakfast, lunch, and dinner to hungry hikers from his expeditionary camp in the woods. We enjoyed shrimp, ribs, and PBRs with a dozen other hikers at Chris’s camp. In MA, we met the “Cookie Lady”, who is famous for serving delicious cookies to hungry hikers who pass by her blueberry farm. Perhaps our favorite experience was meeting the renowned Tom Levardi and spending the night camping in his backyard. Tom has allowed hikers to camp for free in his backyard in Dalton, MA for the past forty years. Spending time with Tom was a real joy. He shared stories with us about legendary AT hikers like Earl Shaffer, Grandma Gatewood, and David “AWOL” Miller. As we understand it, Shaffer, a WWII vet, was the first hiker to complete the AT in both directions (NOBO-1948; SOBO-1965; NOBO-1998). Shaffer camped in Tom’s backyard when he hiked the trail on the 50th anniversary of his first through-hike. Shaffer was 79 years old at the time!
Wildlife. After hiking through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont and not seeing any “big” animals, we were beginning to think our luck had run out. Then on our second day in the Berkshires, we (re: Rex) saw our first black bear (plus three good-sized deer). The black bear, which may have only been a year-old, slid down a tree like a fireman down the firehouse pole and scampered into the woods just feet away from where Rex stood on the trail. Based on what we’re hearing from our fellow NOBO hikers, we are going to see many more bears in NY and NJ. Time to start using the bear boxes to lock up our food at night!
Water Sports. Another highlight of our adventure through Vermont and Massachusetts was jumping off a 30-foot bridge into the White River, swimming in Clarendon Gorge, and canoeing on Goose Pond. Opportunities to take a break from hiking are refreshing and reinvigorating. Going forward, we plan to take more breaks to have fun, rest our legs, and break up the daily routine.
Costly Lesson. Hiker’s hunger is real! Anytime we pass through a town, we stop and grab something to eat. These stops can get costly when you pay more attention to your stomach than your wallet. That reality came into full-view when we peaked Killington at lunchtime. Atop Killington, we discovered a wonderful restaurant with world-class food. After paying an arm and a leg on bison burgers, avocado and grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken wings, potato wedges, and cold beer, we vowed to fill up on peanut butter tortillas before we come across our next fancy food joint. BTW: if you find yourself atop Killington, try the bison burgers and avocado grilled cheese sandwiches…they’re awesome!
Way Ahead. We’ll post our next update from somewhere in NY. We hope to finish New England by 16 August. Thanks for supporting our adventure and our partnership with Project Healing Waters!
Pony Express and Diesel