Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Length of Rhode Island on The North South Trail

Chris and I spent April 23-27 backpacking the North South Trail through western Rhode Island. We started Thursday evening and finished Monday morning. Our daily mileages were approximately 5, 25, 22 ½, 20, and 5.

The North South Trail runs the length of the state, 77 miles from the Atlantic Ocean at Blue Shutters Beach to the Massachusetts state line at the start of the Mid-State Trail. The route connects 8 state-owned wildlife management areas and Burlingame State Park. It is about 1/3 true trail, 1/3 dirt road, and 1/3 paved road (ouch!), but fortunately the road walks pass through mostly rural landscapes and residential areas, so traffic is light. There are tiny ups and downs, but for the most part it is pretty flat walking. Along the way, the NST passes old foundations and cellar holes and literally MILES of old stone walls. Those early settlers sure were industrious!

There is an excellent guidebook by Cliff Vanover -- I purchased mine from The Mountain Wanderer in Lincoln. The guidebook is loaded with detailed and accurate maps and sufficient route descriptions and mileages. Alternate routes are described -- sometimes these routes are more scenic and more trail-like than the actual NST. The route is very, very well marked with blue blazes and plastic NST markers -- we were impressed -- and there were no moments of confusion. The guidebook could have done a little better job as far as pointing out good water sources; there was plenty of water, but much of it did not look exactly drinkable (swamps, ponds, or otherwise yucky).

The camping situation is a little murky, but suffice it to say we never had any problem finding a place to low-impact camp for the night. The one “shelter” at Arcadia Backpackers Campsite, the one that supposedly required a permit, was a hoot: two sides of the rather large cabin had completely caved in leaving only the opposing two walls standing. We set up the tent! The NST passes about a dozen campgrounds, most of which were not yet open, on or near the trail (one was even a nude campground!), and also a one-star motel at mile 53 northbound which we might have considered had the weather been rainy. At the same road crossing, Route 6, the NST passes right through the parking lot of Shady Acres Restaurant. Heaven! (I polished off the 4-piece fried chicken dinner with mashed potatoes, corn, roll, turkey-rice soup, a salad, blueberry pie a la mode, and 3 cups of coffee. Oink!) We saw many, many Dunkin Donuts cups strewn along the roadsides but, alas, the NST does not come within reasonable walking distance of any DDs.

Speaking of litter, there was a lot of it on the road walks. By the looks of of it, a rather scary number of Rhode Island folks apparently like to drink and drive. We saw many empty bottles of every imaginable hard liquor, oodles of “miniatures”, soda cans, rubber gloves (!), fast food wrappers, cigarette packs, etc. The middle section had A LOT of road walking, and we entertained ourselves -- and took our minds off our aching feet -- by counting beer cans. Final count for the day: 339 Bud Light/Bud cans, 242 ALL others. (One street we renamed Busch Road.)

Speaking of coffee, a big shout out to the kind folks at Meadowbook Golf Club, mile 19’ish. We inquired at their restaurant about buying some coffee, and they said it was on the house!

Wildlife is scarce or very shy/smart, but we did hear coyotes the last night, barred owls twice, and we saw 6 turtles, 3 ticks (ick), and 2 deer, both of which were unfortunately dead. With all the road walking, dogs were the animals we saw the most of, and it seems every other resident of rural Rhode Island has a flock of chickens and a rooster these days!

We saw a few other people using the NST: a couple of mountain bikers, a couple of day hikers, one other thru-hiker (she southbound), and a group of 4 section hikers who videotaped and dubbed us “The Indigenous Hikers.” Hah!

Our friend Jim, who lives in northeastern Connecticut, was a godsend. He not only let us leave our car at his home but also drove us to the start… AND picked us up Monday morning at the finish. If you’re reading this, THANK YOU Jim! We owe ya big time!

This was a nice trail to thru-hike this time of year. The trees had not yet budded out, so views were farther reaching.  Unlike the mountain trails in our parts, there was NO SNOW. Temps were cool, and we endured no rain. Big thanks to the trail maintainers and to those who turned the concept of the NST into reality. In my attempt to traverse a minimum of 50 trail miles in each state, this was my third-to-last state left to do. North Dakota and Hawaii remain. Guess which one I’ll finish with?!