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Trip 22 -- NYC-Boston Walk
Day 8: Woodstock to Uxbridge
Today: 52790 steps/40.77 km/25.33 mi/8h 45m
It's one in the morning at the Mansion at Bald Hill, and I decide to see what's under those Band-Aids on my feet. The left heel is fine. So is the side of the right foot. Then I go to my walking nemesis, my right small toe. I try to pull the Band-Aid straight off, and it's stuck like taffy.
This is impossible physics. I've put Band-Aids on my small toe before, and they always come off immediately -- sometimes before I want them to. Any attempt to remove them usually results in their becoming dislodged and sucked to the bottom of my sock, such that I have to reach in as though pulling a lobster out of the bottom of a tank and fumble for it for a few seconds in order to retrieve it.
But this time, it's as if the Band-Aid has been grafted onto my toe. They're one and inseparable. I manage to get it halfway off, but any further motion threatens to remove the entire toe. I almost resign myself to living with a new parasite from Johnson & Johnson.
The housekeeping staff has left a bottle of Windex on my sink. I think of the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," and I think about spraying Windex all over my foot, just in case it really does cure all ailments.
I step into the shower; I need a body cleaning anyway. The toe doesn't hurt, and I hope that the water will loosen whatever glue is adding a new permanent creature to my body.
It doesn't work well, but it works enough. I'm able to separate most of the adhesive, slowly and painstakingly, as though removing gum from the bottom of a shoe. A strand of the adhesive flits through the air, a vestige of the barnacle that was.
The top of my toe is tender. I may have lifted a few layers of cells. But the callus from a couple of days ago is gone. I go to sleep, my feet slightly elevated and my toes stretched out as far as I can.
Breakfast is at nine. I dress and don socks, slowly, and they don't hurt as much as I expected. A table is set for me opposite the bar in the dining room. I'm the only customer. I believe one other person stayed the night, but no one else is at breakfast.
"My Way" is playing. "I've traveled each and every highway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way." The lyrics are fitting, even if "each and every" is nauseatingly redundant.
Breakfast is in two courses: first a granola parfait with berries and a white-chocolate-and-blueberry scone, then a white-cheddar scramble with four pieces of bacon and two potato pancakes. I have what feels like a tablespoon of grapefruit juice (why do places always skimp on the juice?) and black tea with orange and spice.
The chef and I talk about the area. He's from nearby Pomfret and knows the Airline Trail well. He says this area of Connecticut, the extreme northeast, is known as the Quiet Corner. It's often overlooked in favor of the southwest (near New York), the southeast (the shore towns of Mystic and New London), and the middle (Hartford). But he and I agree that the Quiet Corner has immense beauty. I've never explored it much, even with many trips between Boston and New York City, but I would return to enjoy it at leisure.
I'm not quite ready to walk. My room contains a copy of Engaged magazine. I flip through and try to read the headlines, which are in an obnoxious cursive typeface whose letters I can't make out. Is it Jam or Sam? Neha or Heha? There's a checklist of prenuptial plans. "7 to 6 months prior: Book honeymoon (if applicable)." Well, it depends. That's likely to be too early to find good international airfare, and too late if you're booking on points. To my astonishment, the magazine has pictures of a few non-white -- or even mixed-race -- couples. But it's not until page 116 that a same-gender couple appears.
Well, I have to get going eventually. I limp out the eastern end of the property; I entered through the western end. Cars are supposed to go back the way they came from, but Google Maps has me sneaking out the back. There's a locked gate, but the stone fence is short and I climb over.
In Bill Bryson's recent book "The Road to Little Dribbling," he mentions needing to agree to a falsehood in order to pass his British citizenship test. The official word is that the longest distance between any two points in mainland Britain is from John o'Groats in the north to Land's End in the south. But there's no straight line connecting the two that doesn't cross water. You have to skirt around the coastline, and once you start allowing nonlinear travel, you can maintain that any two points have the longest distance between them.
I think of this as I head toward the extreme northeast of Connecticut. Less than a week ago, I entered the state at its extreme southwestern point. I've traversed just about the longest length across Connecticut possible, I want to say. But I haven't gone in a straight line, obviously -- the Airline Trail is the closest I've come to staying on that track, albeit a track that's been removed. So all I can say is that I've walked almost the longest straight distance possible across the state along almost as short a route as possible. It still feels like something.
It's OK to take it slow, I tell myself. I'm limping a bit, but I'm not in a particular hurry. I just have to get to the Quaker Inn and Conference Center in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, ideally while it's still daylight. It's a marathon, not a...faster marathon.
I'll pick up the Airline Trail again, but I have four hours to go before I reach it. I'm heading southeast along Route 171. It's a beautiful morning, with little traffic. The air contains the blissful aroma of freshly cut grass. The red Brunn Barn dates from 1822. Fairvue Farms is a dairy farm with the fresh scent of mulch and healthy cattle and an American flag happily blowing in the wind. Across the road, next to a cornfield, is the Pinecroft produce stand, whose giant "Open" sign has just been erected for the day. I investigate, but it's all dinner vegetables; I'm not about to walk around all day snacking on a raw eggplant.
A little farther down is something more conducive to my eating plans: Next to another cornfield is Butts' Western Beef Bar-B-Que. They're freshly smoking giant beef slabs for sandwiches. I've just had a giant breakfast, but I can't resist. I buy an $8 sandwich for later. I ask whether the cattle are local. "They buy their beef at Stearns," she says. It's a butcher about 15 miles away in Charlton, Massachusetts.
My toe is doing much better than it has any reason to, considering that I pulled off a few layers of cells last night. I'm walking slower than I want to be, but at least it's just under 11 minutes per kilometer.
There are farms aplenty but no convenience stores. The only dog that barks at me is a tiny creature on a leash. I turn onto West Thompson Road, toward West Thompson Lake, and a car stops. The passenger asks where the driver can buy cigarettes. I have no idea. I tell them that two miles ahead they'll come to a highway. But all I can guarantee is beef sandwiches and fresh eggplant.
Today's directions are simple: nine miles on West Thompson Road and East Thompson Road, then ten miles along the Airline Trail, which continues as the Southern New England Trunkline Trail in Massachusetts. West Thompson Lake has a lovely picnic area near the West Thompson Dam, but I'm not ready to stop. I enjoy the view of the dam and the white Creation Church across the bridge.
I reach the intersection of West Thompson Road and Route 12. This is the last food I'll see until I come off the trail in Uxbridge, so I have an early lunch, not two hours since I started walking. I've got the beef sandwich, but I want to sit somewhere at an establishment, and it's not right to eat food from elsewhere.
That establishment is Riverside Pizza. I sit inside, where it's cool; there aren't many people. The TV set has on the Game Show Network, and someone is doing badly at "Let's Make a Deal." I have a small veal-parmigiana sandwich and a lemonade and a Gatorade, the last mainly so I can refill the large plastic bottle with water and take it with me.
It's another two hours before I'm on the trail. Along the way, there's a tiny dead snake in the road shoulder, and there's a dilapidated metal chair marked "Free." An ancient stone marker says, "50 Miles to Hartford CH." There are a golf course and a speedway, and people in the distance are practicing their daredevil automobile maneuvers. It's the noisiest thing in the Quiet Corner.
I turn onto the Airline Trail for its last mile -- even less -- in Connecticut. I meet Charles and Paula, two friends in their early 60s. They're both carrying giant walking sticks and from afar I wonder whether they're practicing archery. Charles is investigating a bridge over the trail; he's climbed up to it, but there are too many slats missing and it's impossible, or at least inadvisable, to cross on foot.
"The Hermit Cave should be just around here," I say. They've been looking for it, too. Paula's brother-in-law, John, appears with his dog, Chewy. John knows where the cave is, just a minute's walk away.
It has a small eyelid-shaped opening that's just high enough for Charles to climb through. He's able to stand inside. John thinks the cave was built by Vikings, though it was possibly constructed by the indigenous population as a heated room. "I bet a lot of people have gotten laid in here over the years," Charles says.
A little farther along is the turn-off to the tristate marker, .3 mile off the main trail. It's a rocky, unkempt trail with some moderately steep sections; it takes us all about ten minutes to reach the obelisk that marks the spot where Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts all meet. We take turns walking around the marker, and I contemplate the ramifications of all three states' imposing quarantine mandates and it taking us six weeks to round it in compliance, waiting for fourteen days as we step into each state.
Charlie talks a lot. We've both acquired our shoes as a result of our predilection for gambling; I got mine in Atlantic City, and he won his Skechers as thanks for playing enough poker at Foxwoods. He's been hiking regularly for two years and lost 50 pounds. He makes fun of Paula's weight to an extent that makes me uncomfortable -- "We put Granny in the front" because she's not as fast -- but she takes it in good humor, and it's not for me to judge their friendship.
"Just you wait until I lose my fifty pounds," she says. I think she looks and walks just fine; there's no rush to enjoy the outdoors.
Unless you have to get to Uxbridge by nightfall. We wish each other a good journey and I up my pace. As in Connecticut, the former rail trail is flat, wide, and mostly straight. It's usually surfaced with a combination of sand and dirt that's great for walking, but for brief stretches there are rocks that I feel through my shoes.
I'm walking through forest, past marshes and the occasional lake. I'm high above the ground on both sides -- the rail line was elevated through the forest. Progress is slow -- I'm down to a kilometer every 12 to 13 minutes -- but I calculate that I should reach my lodging before eight.
Nightfall comes quickly, though. Sunset is just after seven, and I still have a half-hour to go. There's no danger of getting lost, but I haven't seen anyone in a couple of hours and it's a little eerie. I've been walking for more than six hours since lunch, except for three minutes to change my phone battery. I increase my pace to around 11 minutes per kilometer. My feet are feeling every rock's protrusion, but it's not painful except when a rock aligns with a blister spot.
Finally I'm off the trail, and then it's just ten minutes until I reach the Quaker Inn and Conference Center. That's an ambitious moniker -- it's no more than a motel. The receptionist assigns me a room that's about as far a walk as can be, and when I'm almost there, he calls out to me.
"Can you come back? That room was already rented!" he says.
"Please just bring me the other key," I shout. "I've been walking for seven hours and I can't walk anymore."
The room smells funny but the refrigerator doesn't, so my uneaten beef sandwich goes inside. The bedspread has an orange floral pattern designed for someone on psychedelics. It's the first hotel room on this trip that was way too hot when I entered, and I find the thermostat and hasten it down to the low 60s.
I have just enough steps left in me to go two buildings over to the Quaker Tavern. I'm in my T-shirt and shorts, but I realize that I need a thin sweater, just in case: I've noticed that I cool down quickly after a long walking day, and it's cool outside.
I've happened to arrive at the tavern on the one night each week that they're open after eight. It's just the place I want: friendly service, a clientele that's totally unpretentious and knows each other, decent food that's well-priced. "Family Feud" is on TV.
The food and drink specials are so far out of touch with each other that I can't help ordering both: prime rib and a White Russian. First I want a starter, and the menu has been printed on a machine that doesn't print all the way to the edge, so the first three letters of each item are missing. I think I want the "bo stuffed clams," and I look in the Scrabble dictionary. There are 17 five-letter words that end in "bo." "Adobo" is one, but that's probably too fancy for this place. "Gumbo" doesn't make sense. Neither does "combo" or "turbo" or "bimbo." I decide it must be "jumbo," and I'm correct: they're enormous and filling.
So is the prime rib. It's the length of a tennis racket, and red-rare, just as I like it. The server apologizes for a section of fat, but that's a component to be expected. It comes with green beans and mashed potatoes. I move on to a Tito's with soda and a splash of cranberry juice.
They closed at nine, but the server is willing to ply me with dessert and more booze. "I saw something about peanut-butter pie," I say.
"What would you like to drink with it?"
"What goes with that?"
"I have peanut-butter whiskey." I'm about to say, sure, what the hell, and then she says, "Or I could make a chocolate martini."
She knows me well. I enjoy them both and then waddle back to my hotel, where I find the TV set tuned to VH-1. Like MTV, it isn't showing music; rather, it's the movie "Clueless." Which somehow seems appropriate, although I'm not sure I know why.
I promised my feet a shorter day today, but the detour to the tristate marker brought the total distance to just above yesterday's and the total walking time to the longest of all on this trip: almost nine hours, nearly seven of them a continuous stretch after lunch. Tomorrow really will be a breather, as I'll be going less than 13 miles, to Milford, Massachusetts. Now let's see if I remember the sandwich in the fridge.