Hiking the Appalachian Trail (or 13 years of marriage)

Camp Grampers
Camp Grampers

Camp Gramp time is usually a week when Adam and I slip away, and remind ourselves joyously of why we chose to marry each other in the first place. It is appropriate, then, that Camp Gramp week almost always falls on our anniversary. On August 5th of this year, Adam and I marked thirteen years of joyful marriage together. Thirteen has always been a lucky number in my family, as my parents married each other on a Friday the 13th. I’m feeling 13 years lucky myself, these days.

Anyway, the rhythm of Camp Gramp was shifted a bit because my brother had obligations into the second week of August, and this year Camp Gramp was to be held at my brother’s manse* in New York. This had the effect of moving Camp Gramp week into Gencon week – two sacred obligations colliding. Since I could schedule time with my husband another time, I am sending him with goodwill to Gencon where – I am reliably informed – he has the best schedule he has yet gotten (possibly due to some algorithmic javascript software he wrote to help him rejigger his schedule on the fly.) So this year, there was no Istanbul, Austria or Ashland for us.

Still, there was the weekend. We left Friday night – after a full day’s work. This was – of course – the Friday night where the beer truck dangled off the side of the freeway. (An incident only amusing because I ended up making it home in good time due to some excellent and thoughtful reaction by MBTA employees, and because no one was hurt.) I fetched our farm share, prepared that which would not keep, schlepped the rest of it in the ‘fridge and consigned the three watermelons and two vast cantaloupe to Camp Gramp consumption. We packed full the back of the car and cossetted our sons with pillows and blankets.

Come and sit by my side if you love me

The last pink traces of sunset found the Flynn family singing “Red River Valley” in the car, with certain young voices picking up the refrain. I thought as I sang “Come and sit by my side if you love me” about Michael. I remember him crying when I crooned the old words to an infant grandson of his, remembering his lost brother Jimmy. And now those small voices from the back seat may someday fondly remember the same strains, and their beloved brothers. One of those small voices begged anonymity, as though I would ever find a love of singing something to be ashamed of, so you will never ever know who sang so sweetly back there.

Through construction, leaving the Red Sox broadcast area, crossing the mighty Hudson and late into a starlight night we went. Only I was awake when we finally got to Middletown. My mother was waiting for me on the steps – waiting up for me to pull in to the driveway, like she has done so many times. Small bodies were carried upstairs – perilously close to the last time that will be possible. Cantaloupe were unloaded. Blessed flat, soft surfaces were revealed.

How silly is that Unka Matt in the window?
How silly is that Unka Matt in the window?

We left not too late the following morning. It’s funny how little time is required to fall into the cadence of your family. For me this is a blessing – I’m very fond of my family. I ate breakfast, kibbitzed with my brother, brushed my niece’s hair, took a picture of the four of them – Thane clinging to his Kay, Grey with a comradely arm around his Baz – and we were on our way. We only forgot four things, and we hadn’t even left town by the time my mom called to tell me of it.

It was 11 on a Saturday morning, and my husband and I were at LIBERTY. We went shopping. We ate at Denny’s. We pointed the car northward in search of an elusive hike on the Appalachian trail. By the way, in case it ever comes up, I highly recommend searching for a particular unmarked trailhead on the Appalachian Trail as an excellent way of discovering and becoming intimate with the rural ways of Connecticut. We sought for signal to update our directions in the high places of grassy, half-forgotten graveyards. We went round and round main square intersections looking for signs. We accosted random hikers. We went on one-lane, washboard gravel roads thickly papered with no-trespassing signs. We did u-turns. We drove past horses and pastures and woods and rivers. We went past shoulder-high corn, dappled streams, private schools and mansions in Salisbury.

The author, on the Appalachian
The author, on the Appalachian

We finally gave up, and hiked a different section before turning around to Kent for our night’s repose in a fancy inn. Any implication that I picked the Starbuck Inn because of my coffee leanings is purely hypothetical, mind. We had a lovely dinner at the Fife and Drum, right next to the pianist. We laid out in the dewing air and watched the Milky Way stretch itself luxuriously across the country sky, hardly blemished at all by any falling Perseids.

The next day we got a good start on the morning, up in time for the breakfast part of bed and breakfast. Our host, calloused feet clad in sandals, regaled us with tales of what we’d missed the prior afternoon. The portraits and maps adorning the walls of the well-kept colonial attested to the fact that Starbucks had been in New England a very long time. I wondered if he was the hippy scion of a long and proud lineage. Anyway, two blocks to town for a cup of coffee! But look! The bookstore is open! I consider it a moral duty to stop at small local bookstores and find things I desperately need (even if you can get them cheaper at Amazon). So we found the new Arthur translation by Tolkien, and books for the boys. But hardly had we gone a block before we discovered the library was having a book sale! Tables and tables of trade paperbacks, clothbound books, best sellers and all manner of odd books were laid out. Well, that set us back long enough that I had to get a refill of my coffee before we left (happily, four times as many books cost a tenth as much as the bookstore). Finally, we were awa’.

Actual Appalachian Train - I have proof!
Actual Appalachian Train – I have proof!

This time, we did find the Appalachian Trail. We walked our way up the gold and green Connecticut hillsides, punctuated by old stone walls and periodic views. Adam was nursing a hamstring injury (a parting gift of aikido) and a nasty cold, and I was still trying out my new knee, so we didn’t go to far. But we talked and laughed and ate pretzels and talked through the latest developments in Season III of Downton Abby. We noted various interesting bugs and talked about how astronomy and atomic theory seemed on the point of convergence, like a fractal. We missed our children in the cheerfully satisfied way parents miss their children when those parents are perfectly satisfied that the children are having a blast and not missing them at all. Finally, we turned back (the path racing below our feet as we returned). We wound our way north over 7 and returned with abrupt reality to bad traffic on I90 – two days and a vast refreshing distance since we had traversed it Westbound.

And here I am now – at over 10,000 feet – on yet another business trip (missing my husband of 13 years, and my still-satisfied-to-be-gone children). It’s remarkable that although the days seems to blur together in an endless March of sameness, when I cast my memory back I find so many joyfully memorable moments popping up.

Business travel is losing what allure it once had by novelty, but yet I am content. Thirteen years I’ve had with my husband, and two bonny bright children. A thousand joyful memories we’ve made together, along with a home and a life strong enough to endure. I hope for thirty and thirteen more. Maybe then we’ll do the whole length of the Appalachian Trail together!

Housatonic River Valley
Housatonic River Valley

*I discovered later in life that manse actually has two meanings. In a New England context, it’s synonymous with mansion and means a fancy house. In a Presbyterian sense, however, the manse is the house that the pastor lives in. It usually specifically means a home provided for the pastor by the church. It is in this second sense I use it – since it is a classical manse, so close to the church as to almost be touching and built in a similar style. We actually lived in The Manse (a double-wide trailer) for two years when I was a young girl.

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Brenda currently lives in Stoneham MA, but grew up in Mineral WA. She is surrounded by men, with two sons, one husband and two boy cats. She plays trumpet at church, cans farmshare produce and works in software.

4 thoughts on “Hiking the Appalachian Trail (or 13 years of marriage)”

  1. Happy belated anniversary!! I’m sorry I didn’t wish it on the day – packing is eating my brain! 13 years – wow! I still fondly remember the Italian soda truck at the wedding 🙂


  2. Happy anniversary! My husband grew up in Salisbury, so it is highly likely that one of those private schools was the one he attended. It’s a really nice little town.


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