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Trip 22 -- NYC-Boston Walk

Day 6: Portland to Mansfield Center

Today: 54399 steps/45.43 km/28.23 mi/8h 26m
Total: 234085 steps/229.63 km/142.69 mi/42h 50m

Today I cover the longest single-day distance of the trip, and two-thirds of it is on a hiking trail. I'm excited as I go to sleep, and I want to get out early. But at two o'clock in the morning, I find myself Googling "airline trail ct bears."

I don't know why, but my head has turned the delight of an easy, secluded walk to concern over black bears. I find no mention of them on my route, however, and I fall asleep.

I'm up well before eight, raring to go, but nature has a different plan: rain throughout the morning. Worse yet, the rain hasn't begun. I have about 15 minutes of perfect hiking weather -- cloudy and cool -- before the drops start falling. They come in right on cue, and I decide to stay put. The rain is supposed to taper off by around noon, and while there might be showers after that, it should be decent enough to make this long journey of 28 miles.

Yesterday has made its mark: I have a large blister on my right foot and a smaller one on my left heel. I pop them carefully and apply Band-Aids.

MTV goes back on. This time it's a show called "Catfish." Sadly, it's not about southern cooking, but rather about people pretending to be other people and luring unsuspecting romantic interests into online relationships.

My family got cable television in 1984. Before it happened, I remember looking at the channel lineup, seeing something called Music Television, and fantasizing about doing homework while the TV set showed concerts of the works of Beethoven and Mozart. My mother disillusioned me and pointed out that it wasn't that kind of music.

But back then at least Music Television had music. On "Catfish" the only music playing is to accompany a sad moment when Bianca finds out that Brogan isn't really who she says she is.

I amass a strange breakfast of leftover Vivace Bambino cheese (which has developed flavor in the refrigerator overnight), approximately twenty stuffed olives, half a small apple pie, and raspberry soda. I notice that the tag is still hanging from the ceiling light. But at least there is a ceiling light; at the Clarion Suites, I'd turned everything on and still couldn't get the room bright enough.

I almost wish I could stay. The Solano Inn seems to be a community of friendly people, and I'm curious to get to know them better. But I have more than eight hours of walking to do. At 11:15, the rain has dwindled to a steady, misty trickle, and I head out.

Route 66 is not much more forgiving at noon on a Wednesday than at peak hour the afternoon before. There are still too many trucks, and when they go by on the wet pavement, I get sprayed with mist. I wave them over toward the oncoming lane, and I give a thumb up to drivers who oblige.

I try to make up time. I average just under nine minutes per kilometer for my first four, compared to my usual target pace of ten. I'm hustling, and in less than 40 minutes I reach the turnoff to Route 16.

It's a little calmer, but there are still lonely, winding stretches with no homes in sight. The shoulder is wide enough, but when traffic is zooming past, and there's no sign of domestic life, I feel vulnerable. Occasionally a cyclist passes me, and I'm more connected to humanity. When the houses resume, I'm less anxious.

An hour later, just before another truck whooshes by, I make a left onto Flatbrook Road. "Na na," I say to the truck. The road takes me steeply down -- the kind of steep that surprises you when you drive it -- and after ten minutes I go left on Daly Road. This is supposed to take me directly to the trail that I'll follow. The road goes back up the incline I've just descended, and it deposits me at a dead end, where three horses wonder what I'm doing there.

It must have been that little path veering away from the road. I go back down a moment and take this tiny connector over to the Airline Trail. In less than a minute I'm following the route that I'll stay with for most of the afternoon.

The Airline Trail (sometimes signed as Air Line Trail) has nothing to do with planes. Anyone who's taken the train between New York City and Boston has probably wondered why the route goes the long way next to the shore rather than taking a more direct path. Well, there really was passenger service from the 1870s to 1902, along the "air line" -- the route the crow flies -- between the two cities, at least for much of the way from New Haven to the Massachusetts border. Here I am, on a walk from New York City to Boston, on the very route that planners more than 150 years ago calculated as the shortest route between the two cities.

Building this route was challenging, due to all the hills, valleys, and brooks, but the route was successful. In time, however, railcars became longer and heavier and traffic shifted toward the coastal route, which could handle the newer stock. The Air Line remained open to cargo and local traffic until 1955, when flooding along a section of the route made it clear that the line was no longer viable.

Because of the Airline Trail's history as a rail path, it's a nearly flat, almost straight, wide, and easy walk. I enter it close to its western end and soon reach mile marker 2. (The next one I'll see is 8.) It's still drizzling, but the tree canopy offers protection. At least I won't get sunburned today.

I'm walking a straight path through the woods, but eventually there's a bit of a clearing and I can see the extent of the forest for miles off to my right. Several viaducts were built on the Air Line, and the trail often has steep drop-offs on the side, or a steep ascent on one side and a descent on the other. There's an occasional bench, sometimes with a table for picnicking.

The trail crosses Bull Hill Road, and there's the posted paper sign: "Black bears have been seen by homeowners on Bull Hill Rd, Farm Gate Rd, Orchard Farms Rd in late June and early July." The sign confirms that I should back away slowly if I see a bear. I've also heard that I should walk to the side, but neither of those options is likely to be feasible if there are steep slopes and miles behind me. The sign also suggests waiting in a vehicle or building, but none of those are available to me. For this first stretch of the trail, I'm completely alone.

The sign repeats the advice I've heard that recommends making noise to avoid surprising a bear. If you've been following my trip reports since 2016, you may remember that on Russia's Kamchatka peninsula I took a long walk out to a place called White Cliffs. Bears are common in that area, and so I sang out loud for the flat part of the journey, but the only song I could think of was "La vie en rose."

I decide to reprise that lovely arrangement on the Airline Trail. As at White Cliffs, I don't know more than about ten of the words, but that doesn't stop me. I sing it in various musical styles: aria, Elvis, jazz (with scat), yodel, polonaise, march. Sometimes I throw in words from other songs. "Da, da da da da da da, ooh, what you do to me, mon coeur qui bat."

I keep up this theme and variations for almost an hour, hoping that, if there are bears nearby, they don't like the rain or are at least seduced by badly sung French music. Eventually I see a person, and I'm relieved. If there are enough of us around, there probably won't be bears in the vicinity.

I see a few living beings enjoying the trail: bikers, walkers, dogs, a fisherman hoping to catch something in a small pond. I wish there were more people, but there are enough that I stop singing.

There are few features: a couple of pretty bridges and a break in the trail at a park-and-ride lot where it's blocked by Route 2. The drizzle wanes into a misty fog and then mere cloud cover, except for an occasional brief shower for a few seconds.

There is nothing to buy, and in particular, there is nothing to eat. In the town of Hebron the trail crosses Route 85, and a minute's walk south brings me to the Twin Lakes Cafe. It's closed, but I eat there anyway: I sit on one of the chairs outside and gobble down the breakfast bar from the Clarion Suites. Across the street is a memorial to Ben Labonosky IV, who was riding his motorcycle in 2017 and fatally injured by a distracted driver.

I sit for just 15 minutes, and my feet aren't happy. They need a longer break, but I'm already on track to get in just after dark -- I'm hoping for eight o'clock -- and I don't want to miss dinner, too. I trudge along, each kilometer taking 11 to 12 minutes. It's a little slow, but it's progress.

It's a mesmerizing couple of hours: the same trees, the same hard-packed gravel. I see a deer in the woods, and it looks at me but doesn't hurry away. There's a street crossing about every 20 minutes, just often enough that I have something soon enough to look forward to. At one crossing, there are a shed and cows. For a brief time the side of the trail is marshy, with reeds.

Finally I leave the Airline Trail just outside the city of Willimantic. I've been on the trail for five hours. Now I'm perched high up on a lonely, narrow road. There are a few cars, and it's even refreshing to see them. The first sidewalk of the day appears, ten luxurious squares in front of a single house.

It's fragrant. Mint? And one house has a badminton net, reminding me of a recent National Public Radio discussion of the ethics of trying to lose, as was done by players in 2012 in their attempt to avoid facing certain teams in the next round.

The re-entry is weird. I'm moving across this strange plateau, my feet plodding along on their last bits of energy. It's a constant pace, but it's an injured one. A train horn sounds in the distance. There's a railway museum nearby, but I'm not aware of passenger service. I turn left at Bridge Street, and there's a convenience store: the first food for purchase I've seen today. I press on, though, across the Willimantic River.

I'm so close to the Inn on Storrs, not far from the University of Connecticut. But first I have to ascend a steep hill and then come back down. I walk along Route 165; it has a glorious sidewalk.

I've reached the inn. I've passed an Applebee's, and there's a McDonald's across the street. I ask the receptionist what else I can walk to, and she recommends the Fenton River Grill, "like a five-minute walk away."

To my delight, she's overestimated the walk by about four minutes. I limp over there, every step reminding me of the 56 miles I've walked in two days. My daily target was 20, and I've had to exceed it by almost half because of the location of hotels. I've learned that I probably can't sustain more than 25, and it's helpful to know. Tomorrow I'm back to a peachy 22.5.

I am so tired. "How tired are you?"

I'm so tired that I make moaning sounds as I climb into my chair -- sounds that shouldn't be heard in public.

I'm so tired that I wobble as I eat my tender short ribs.

I'm so tired that I don't bother figuring out how to trim the julienne carrots, even though they're too long to eat gracefully.

I'm so tired that I stab my plate with my fork and lean on it for support.

I'm so tired that I don't have a clever way to wrap up today's report, so I stagger back to my room and flop dwoon ooaon theiaa beoipp ailielinl zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Go on to day 7