Were past the midway point now, so I figured I’d share some of the random things Ive noticed on and off the trail. For the most part, theyre in chronological order:
<br />
<ol>
<li>Blackflies are <em>much</em> worse than mosquitoes. Folks told me blackflies in Maine were bad, but I was cocky and thought they couldnt possibly be worse than the mosquitoes in the South. Well, I was wrong. The big difference is that mosquito bites itch for an hour or so, whereas blackfly bites itch for a week. </li>
<li>New Englanders love pro sports. Ive never seen a region so united behind their pro sports teams. Im chalking this up to two factors First, they dont have many big D-I schools to support. Second, their teams- the Celtics, Patriots, and Red Sox- have won lots of championships in the past five or six years. </li>
<li>There are lots of Volvo station wagons in Connecticut. If our hometown of Asheville had an official car, I think it would be the Subaru Outback station wagon (with at least five bumper stickers on it). Well, if Salisbury, Connecticut, or Kent, Connecticut had an official car, it would have to be the Volvo V70 Station Wagon (with maybe a prep school bumper sticker on it). I think I saw 50 of them in two days. Dem folks is got some money </li>
<li>Bear Mountain State Park is bumpin on a summer Sunday afternoon. Picture a fantastic collage of picnic tables, grills, beach towels, soccer balls, bathing suits, and Latino music. Our friend Jay said Bob Dylan wrote a song about Bear Mountain back in the 60s. I think an updated theme song could be Steve Earles City of Immigrants on <em>Washington Square Promenade. </em>What a fantastic collection of people and cultures. </li>
<li>Speaking of bears black bears are <em>awesome</em>!!! Last week, I saw my first black bear on the trail. He was probably a year old, decent size- 150 pounds- but not entirely coordinated yet. When he saw me, he kind of lumbered through the underbrush before he got maybe 30 yards away behind this log. He just watched me for a few minutes then kind of waddled off. It was by far the most amazing animal encounter of my life. </li>
<li>You can get <em>killer</em> hotel deals by picking up coupons at interstate visitor centers. We stayed at this sweet new Best Western in Shippensburg for $60 ($35 less than the regular rate). They had free breakfast, free <em>USA Today, </em>a heated indoor pool, and- wait for it- a <em>HOT TUB</em>!!!<br />
</li>
<li>7. Rednecks (and I use the term affectionately) live up North, too. I pictured all Northerners wearing designer jeans and driving European cars through smog-infested cities. So the Dale Jr. flags, NRA bumper stickers, and camo hats came as a shock. Did you know they have a NASCAR race in New Hampshire? Crazy.</li>
<li>I was not at all impressed with the AMC (the Appalachian Mountain Club), and heres why:
<ul>
<li>Its the only place on the trail where you <em>have</em> to pay for a shelter or tent site. (One guy jokingly told us AMC stands for Appalachian Money Collectors.) </li>
<li>Their signposts prominently display the names of rinky dink day loops but only faintly display the most famous footpath in the world. </li>
<li>Their Lake of the Clouds Hut Croo was more interested in flirting with each other and riding scooters around the dining area than with getting me more soup. </li>
<li>Jen got lost for 20 minutes through Mahoosuc Notch and I (and two other hikers) walked 2 miles out of my way at Franconia Notch because the trail was poorly marked. Youd think if they charge shelter fees and have their own stinkin magazine they could afford to buy a few buckets of white paint. </li>
</ul>
<li>
Wives can get cranky after 8pm if theyve hiked 40+ miles and havent eaten dinner yet. Whats that? You dont have this problem? Oh. I guess its just me. J</li>
</ol>

‘Sherpa Excursions'<br />
<br />
Here are some the fun outings Ive taken while Jens been hiking. They more or less fall into three categories and they pretty clearly reflect my interests: colleges, historic sites, and breweries.<br />

<ol>
<li>
Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH)- I didnt get to see too much of the campus, but then again, the campus isnt that big. Ive only seen a handful of Ivy League universities, but I cant imagine one being more out of place with its surroundings. Hanover itself is yuppy, but as soon as you leave the city limits, youre in a very rural, and from what I saw, a very poor community. Dartmouth Green is beautiful and you certainly feel academic just walking around the campus. Jen was recruited there for basketball but she decided not to attend because she thought it would be too cold. She complains anytime its below 70 degrees, so I think Samford was the right decision.</li>
<li>
Long Trail Brewery (Bridgewater Corner, VT)- Long Trail seems to be the microbrewery of choice in New England and after visiting the brewery, I can see why. They make killer beer. I took the self-guided tour then had a 6-beer sampler (only 4 ounces, parents, dont worry) on the patio while eating five baskets of popcorn and reading David Sedaris. It was a lovely 4th of July afternoon. By the way, my favorite styles were Blackbeary wheat, a spicy coriander witbier, and Double Bag, a high gravity.</li>
<li>Bennington College and the War Monument (Bennington, VT)- Bennington is a quaint little town in southwest Vermont, and the college is a pretty assortment of classic and uber-modern architecture spread out over rolling foothills. The War monument is a very tall, very out-of-place obelisk that memorializes the Bennington militias victory over a Johnny Burgoyne-led British unit in an early Revolutionary War battle.</li>
<li>U.S. Military Academy (West Point, NY)- I took the one-hour bus tour through the campus. My favorite spots were the chapel (with beautiful stained-glass windows by a Philly company that beat out Tiffanys for the contract in the early 1900s), the plane (where the cadets have inspection before filing into the mess hall for meals), and the football stadium where the national championship teams of the 40s and 50s played. The neo-Gothic buildings are impressive enough, but the setting along the Hudson River makes it really breathtaking.</li>
<li>Martin Guitars (Nazareth, PA)- I play some bluegrass guitar and one day, if I ever get good, I want to buy an old Martin. Theyre the classic bluegrass instrument. I didnt know Nazareth was so close to the trail until I was talking to some thru-hikers a day after wed passed the town, but Jen let me drive back to visit the factory and museum. I was late for the tours (they only give them twice a day at 11am and 2:30pm) but the museum alone was worth the trip. It showed the history of the company as well as dozens of signature and specialty guitars, including the 750,000th and 1,000,000th guitars, which are genuine works of art.</li>
<li>Yuengling Brewery (Pottsville, PA)- Again, I didnt know we were so close to the Yuengling Brewery until I compared a bottle label with an atlas and realized Pottsville was 10 miles from Port Clinton. We got to see the bottling line up close (noisy, but super-cool) and the underground cave where they kept the beer cool back before refrigeration.</li>
<li>Gettysburg National Military Park (Gettysburg, PA)- The visitors center is brand new and its beautiful, but its also a complete mad house. I doubt theres another battlefield in the country thats more visited. The museum inside the visitors center was neat, but it was enormous and I didnt have time to go through it all AND see the actual battlefield. Also they charged $8 to watch a 15-minute video narrated by Morgan Freeman. Imean, come on $8? I dont pay $64 for a two-hour movie so why should I pay $8 for a 15-minute one? For that matter, Im at a national park. Why should I pay any money period?! Where are my taxes going?! The coolest stops on the battlefield were the observation tower and Little Round Top.</li>
<li>Harpers Ferry National Historic Park (Harpers Ferry, VA)- Harpers Ferry is a quirky little place. Theres not much to it except some old buildings owned by the Park Service and a few restaurants and tourist shops. Still, it was neat learning about John Browns wacky life and his failed raid. Wouldnt Was John Brown a terrorist? be a great question for my Social Studies class?</li>
<li>Staunton Town Mall (Staunton, VA)- While Jen was hiking near Waynesboro, I went shopping at Wal-Mart, checked out the clothes at Steve and Barrys (Did you know you can buy a <em>really </em>nice Ohio State letter jacket for only $0.98 more than what it costs to view a 15-minute Morgan Freeman-narrated Gettysburg film?), and saw two <em>highly</em> entertaining movies: <em>Step Brothers</em> and <em>The Dark Knight</em>.</li>
</ol>
<br />
Later this week Im going to visit Virginia Tech and Hollins (alma mater of famed student-athlete turned mother-in-law Barbara Pharr.). I <em>love</em> being an AT sherpa!<br />