The Intruder on the AT, A 225 Mile ZODIAC Trail Record, and A Mountain Peak Sunrise for the Worst Coffee in the Best Place - My 1000 mile LALO Year of Adventures.
Every year is unusual I guess, but this one is more unusual than most. My outdoor plans have been more limited than usual due to health restrictions put in place and it’s left me time to reflect on some of the most thrilling adventures I have done in the last year. My biggest surprise was not the stunning views or the people I met but the realization that all these highlights had three powerful things in common.
The Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail was the brainchild of Benton MacKaye back in the 1920s and stretches from Georgia to Maine in the USA through 14 states and over a total of 2200 miles. It’s estimated that 2 million people visit this trail every year.
In July last year, some British friends were thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and had got to the Connecticut Border where I lived. I spent the weekend with them hiking and camping through the entire Connecticut section in high temperatures and humidity.
Highlights that weekend we passed the St Johns Ledges, Great Falls, and stunning views from many of the peaks the trail passes over.
Although the entire weekend was horribly humid with temperatures in the 90s a combination of lightweight minimalist gear and the right footwear choice meant I had the protection I needed from snakes and foliage without my feet getting blisters.
The New England Trail
In August I became the first person to thru-hike the entire New England Trail. The New England Trail is now 10 years old. It comprises 4 separate trails combined to traverse 225 miles from the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border to Guilford in Connecticut on the coast in Long Island Sound. In essence, the route takes in most of the Metacomet Range that runs down through the middle of Massachusetts and Connecticut.
5 Days / 4 Trails / 3 States
I put a bold target of completing the NET in 5 days. I actually completed the course in 5 days and 19 hours which still meant I averaged more than 40 miles per day. This was some of the most hostile environment I’ve ever moved through with 90F temperatures, very few places to source natural water and constant high humidity.
I stayed wet for nearly 6 days solid. The trail is very rocky and I totaled nearly 38,000 ft of ascent on the trail carrying a pack that was close to 18lbs in weight with all the water, food, and camping gear I would need to stay on trail alone.
The trail has a huge variety of terrain, from deep ancient woods in Massachusetts to the high traprock ledges on the Metacomet ridge. The trail also traversed swamps and lowlands, whilst avoiding any built up areas. In my first 3 days I saw one person on the trail.
Highlights included Ragged Mountain, The Holyoake Range and Mount Tom and wading across two significant river sections. I reached the beach in Long Island Sound 5 days and 19 hours later as the first person to ever traverse the New England Trail in one go. I also had no blisters on my feet because of my choice of shoes and socks.
Mount Marcy and the High Peaks Wilderness
In September I took an overnight hike through the Adirondacks to join the Rat Race Test Pilots as they figured out how to travel from the Source of the Hudson at the Lake Cloud of Tears to New York where the Hudson meets the Sea by the Statue of Liberty. The Source to City adventure is an annual event that takes adventurers along the entire length of the Hudson on Foot, Bike, and Kayak over 3 days.
The organizer needed a few people to act as guides through the High Peaks Wilderness route between Mount Marcy and the Calamity Brook Trail.
The Adirondacks sit dramatically in the northern part of New York State and include the High Peaks Wilderness area which is the largest state park in the USA. The Native Americans called Mount Marcy ‘Tahawus’ which means Cloud-Splitter and at 5,300ft it is the highest point in New York State.
The Calamity Brook Trail and Mount Marcy Trail are tough. Really really tough. On the outbound night hike we found the dense woodland, high trees by the trail and narrow trails very oppressive. It was like being stuck in a hedgerow maze at night. The trails transformed on the return leg the next day and in bright sunshine they were a joy to amble through.
After the lows came the highs. As the trail got even steeper the sky went from black to very dark indigo. The trees thinned out and got shorter, we started seeing berries and shrubs and a sign on the trail proudly announced we were entering an ‘Alpine Arctic Zone’ which coincided with a sunrise on Mount Marcy and the goal of our trek.
The Worst Coffee Shop in the Best Location
All we had to do now was set up some camp coffee and bacon sandwiches for the trekkers as they passed through then lead them back down the mountain through the High Peaks Wilderness to their next checkpoint towards mid-afternoon.
I got back to the car exhausted from being up for nearly 24 hours but thrilled by what I had seen. The terrain had been really hard and the combination of wet mud, rocks, and elevation had done their best to trash my feet but my choice of footwear meant my feet needing little more than drying out on the drive home.
Making My Commute an Adventure, not a Grind
You can make the daily commute adventurous too. From August I taught at a High School 4 miles from where I lived. The most direct route was via the Naugatuck Trail offroad so I used to run commute every day to and from school. In the winter I ran through a winter wonderland in the woods with spikes attached to my shoes and as the weather got warmer in my shorts ( and daylight !).
‘There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing and shoes’
So what do all these highlights have in common? The first one is that I realized all of them happened within 200 miles of where I live in Connecticut,I didn’t have to travel the world, but instead found everything within a few hours drive of my home in the USA.
The second was that the difference between a horror show and an adventure usually comes in the choices of equipment you make and how well you take care of your body. As well as good planning for water and keeping gear minimalist and light I often stress to people I talk to the overlooked importance of taking care of your feet. In all of these highlights, my footcare was pivotal in me completing my task.
The final thing in common was they all involved the same footwear company. When I went out into the unknown with a wide range of choice in my closet I had opted for either the LALO ZODIAC ATs or the LALO Intruder boot every single time. When it came to protection from rocks and wildlife, moisture and long hours on feet I had chosen the same company.
I'm sure my outdoor adventures will be different this year, but a few things will stay the same, my main footwear choice and that I’m not even close to exploring everything that New England has to offer.