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Trip 22 -- NYC-Boston Walk
Day 7: Mansfield Center to Woodstock
Today: 49493 steps/40.10 km/24.92 mi/7h 42m
I fall asleep with swollen feet. By the time I'm awake, they've shrunken back to their normal size, but that doesn't mean they want to go anywhere. I put Band-Aids on the sites of the two previous blisters, and I put another one around my right small toe. It's been rubbing against the next toe, and it's not happy.
I start the walk with a limp -- even going to check out of of my hotel is laborious. The Inn on Storrs is supposed to have a breakfast in Clarion Suites style (the entire hotel seems modeled after the Clarion Suites; the name is fancier than the reality), but it's been suspended. Perhaps that's why they charged me less than I was expecting.
My right pinky toe is the biggest complainer. I'm reminded of a song in the musical "The Most Happy Fella," in which a waitress has been on her feet all day. "And this little piggy is the littlest little piggy, but the big son of a bitch hurts the most!" she sings. I thought my little toe wanted separation, but I misunderstood. After a few minutes, either I get used to the pain or it gets used to the fact that we're going ahead regardless.
That beautiful sidewalk on Route 195 goes away just after I pass my dinner spot -- that is, immediately. This highway isn't bad, though. There are few trucks. It's cloudy, but soon the sun will poke through and take over the sky. At step 2,000, there's a sign for a one-day pistol course.
I'm a little hung over again. How? I had two low-alcohol beers with dinner and an equivalent quantity of water. Is it my age, or is it the walking?
Despite the pain in my head and my toe, it feels good to be on the move again. Google Maps presents me with options: I can continue on Route 195, or I can turn onto Bassetts Bridge Road. The latter adds six minutes to the trip, but it sounds like a much better proposition, especially when the turn-off is signed "Mansfield Hollow Lake."
It's instantly quiet and unquestionably the right decision. It's a quintessential New England rural road, with fields and forests and water and a man using an electric gizmo to saw lumber, although he averts his eyes when I say hello. As I enter Mansfield Hollow State Park, there are portable toilets right next to the trail. How convenient is that? I take advantage of them, since it's a lonely walk until lunch. There's a symphony of birds, much better than the cacophony of cars (which I assume is the proper term of venery). I surprise some deer, who scamper away.
Drivers follow my rules on the rural roads: Where there is no sufficient shoulder, I get to take up as much room as is reasonably necessary at the edge of the lane of oncoming traffic. I do not stop or keep looking over my shoulder to see if I'm in the way of two drivers that are attempting to pass each other. The one coming at me can slow down or stop. I do signal a thumb up in thanks, especially when they give me a wide berth way in advance, and I take care late in the day, when the sun is in their eyes.
I turn onto Palmer Road, which in 20 minutes will take me to the little village of Chaplin. The road veers left and there's a lonely single-story yellow house, opposite a giant field. I'm walking up a slight incline, which somehow feels better than a level road for my toe.
A car comes at me, the first one I've seen in about ten minutes on Palmer. The driver stops and introduces himself as the new patrol officer in town. "I'm guessing you're a resident," he says.
"No, actually, this road is on my walking route between New York City and Boston."
He asks me a few questions and I'm not sure whether they're out of interest or to see whether I'm making this up: where I've been staying, what I do in New York. He's very friendly. "Can I get you a water or something?"
"No, thanks, I'm OK."
"Where are you headed today?"
"Yes, I've got five or six hours to go."
"How are you getting there?"
"Route one eighty-nine, I think it is?" I'll recognize the number when I see it.
"One ninety-eight. Just be careful. It's not a major route, but people do go fast."
I thank him and we part. Palmer Road brings me into the "Chaplin Historic District." There's the white Chaplin Congregational Church, in need of a paint job; the brick William Ross Public Library, built in 1911; a compact white house built in 1840; the tidy Chaplin Center Cemetery; a newer library (open just Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays); and the little police office, barely signed and in a gray house.
I turn onto 198 and come to the town hall, at the entrance to Edward Garrison Park. A plaque tells me that the town's name comes from Benjamin Chaplin, upon whose death in 1795 and at whose direction the church was built, saving the residents future lengthy trips to churches in other towns. The town was sustained by nearby mills and shoe-, hat-, and shingle-making factories that were part of the Industrial Revolution. There were 796 people in 1850; the town declined due to the lack of rail access, and now it hangs on with around 2,300 people.
What it doesn't have is a place to eat or buy food or water, so I have another decision to make. I can stay on this highway for another eight miles, as I told the trooper I planned to do, until I come to a convenience store at the intersection of Route 44. Or I can add yet another 24 minutes to my journey and take Pumpkin Hill Road for five miles to a place farther west on 44, where there's something of a restaurant.
My mind has veto power over my feet, which by now have stopped whining. Besides, where would you rather walk? Something called Pumpkin Hill Road or something called Route 198?
I'm again pleased with my decision, even though I've now added almost two miles to today's journey. Pumpkin Hill Road is steep, but there's little traffic, and there's a glorious breeze. The scenery plays tricks on me: I can't tell whether that thing ahead is a lake or a house. It turns out to be a piece of sky. At the top are bushes and trees, and it feels like another country. "Wow. Wow!" I say.
Only it's not the top. The next top is up another hill. And then there are a few more tops before I actually reach the top. There's forest, and there's marsh. A thud just behind me signals the presence of pear trees. But there are houses, and it's not for me to pick one. At 25,000 steps, I reach the South Ashford Cemetery, with 200-year-old graves, many of them barely legible.
The town of Ashford is about twice as big as Chaplin and dates from 1714. It has an eatery, the Ashford Dairy Bar & Grill, where Pumpkin Hill Road meets Route 44. While I wait for my clam chowder, clam roll, and black-cherry soda, I walk across the street and look at the white two-story building of the Ashford Academy. It was built in 1825 and used as a school until 1949.
The chowder's a bit gritty and the roll is improved with hot sauce. I have a scoop of dark-chocolate ice cream and water. They don't have a restroom for patrons, but with all these woods around, I decide I can find the back side of a tree if I need it.
It's gotten hot and sunny. Route 44 is busy with trucks, but I don't mind -- the shoulder is sufficient, and when the trucks pass by, they create wind. A sign warns of a 6% grade; fortunately it's heading downward. At the bottom is Bigelow Brook, a few meters of tranquility; does anyone ever stop to notice it?
I have a couple more long rural roads to walk before the end of the day. Old Colony Road takes me to the farming town of Eastford, which split from Ashford in 1847. It also has a public library, a couple of churches, and a place to fix cars, but there is no food store. The water from lunch will have to carry me through.
I turn onto Rocky Hill Road, and my little toe starts screaming for the walk to end. "Ow!" I yell, and my voice echoes across the farms. The cows pay me no mind, but the goats surprise me, and the ducks honk. And then come the dogs: two large, gruff ones. I don't want to mess with them, and fortunately they're fenced in.
Rocky Hill is one road too many. It's almost three miles, most of which is covered in loose stones, and they slow me down and try to pierce through my shoes. When the first dogs bark, the ones across the street join in, and then a bug flies into my eye. It's too much all at once, especially with my toe complaining.
"Why are you hurting so much?" I yell at the toe, angrily. How dare it stay quiet for most of the day and then act up while I'm way out in the countryside? It must be retaliation for my adding a half-hour to the plan. I'm not even that close to tonight's lodging; I have another ninety minutes to go.
There are more dogs, and they're always in almost identical pairs. They bark and bound toward me, across yards with no visible fences. I don't believe they're going to attack, but I'm never entirely sure. At one house a dog is lazily lying on the front porch. It barks softly and I think it's the only one, but then the door opens and its partner bolts across the lawn.
There seem to be people practicing shooting their guns not too far away. I do not like this road; the scenery is fine, but the inhabitants and the road covering are inhospitable. Eventually I reach Route 171, and then it's just another half hour to my inn, during which I stir up butterflies and grasshoppers along the roadside.
My lodging is the Mansion at Bald Hill, a six-room bed and breakfast. I've arrived just after 5:30, and I'm shown to the Garden Room, which has a floral bedspread, salmon-colored walls, and a rocking chair that's comfortable for no more than ten minutes. They tell me that breakfast is promptly at nine. I go down to dinner at 6:15, and I'm encouraged to eat inside because, they say, outside is unusually buggy tonight.
Inside is all right; the tables are spread out. One party is celebrating their second anniversary; the other is getting married here in a year. It's not even 6:30 and they're done with dinner. For me, it's early, but I have plans.
I'm sitting in front of the bar area and looking out onto a fat birch tree that has been here since 1892. Many of the restaurant's main courses repeat what I've eaten recently -- salmon, steak, short ribs -- and I want something lighter anyway. I have a kind of sushi roll that skimps on the tuna, a shrimp cocktail that fits the bill, and a grilled-chicken panzanella, a salad with tomatoes, olives, mozzarella, and croutons. It's just the right heft after the long day.
I have to finish by 7:15 because it's Thursday night, which means my Scrabble club is meeting. It's all online these days, of course, and the games start at 7:30: four matches hosted on a server in Romania. The club is my weekly therapy: For a couple of hours I forget about everything else going on, and I lose myself in the games. Except in extreme circumstances, I don't miss it unless it's for paid work that can't be rescheduled for another time. I usually eat after the games, but this dining room will be long shut by then.
I lose the first game by a hair because I get stuck with the Q. In the second game I get no S's or blanks, and I don't even come close (though I try to get away with "tieover," which is challenged off the board). I start the third game with a seven-consonant rack and exchange four of them, but then I get lucky, playing BERATING, AVERTED, and BEARABLE on the next three consecutive turns. I win that one, and I win the last one when my opponent sets me up to go out with UNRIVET on my last play. I'm two and two, which is good enough for this tired body.
Tonight my feet get some extra rest: I've arrived two hours earlier today than yesterday, and I'll leave a little later tomorrow than today. Which means that hopefully my toe will stop berating me, future pain will be averted, and the walk will be bearable.