New England Camping Experience (NECE) #1 – Mount Greylock, MA

NECE: an introduction

So, a short and sad story for you.  I had, with me in Warshington DC, for 5 years and change, all the camping gear one would ever need.  It was mostly left over from my days as a Boy Scout, and it was all in mostly good shape; my dad even bought me a $150 Eureka tent, which I never even opened.

But I let things like school and work, and not having fun, get in the way of going out and thriving in the elements.  I regret this deeply.

So, with a car of my own, and my camping gear mostly still with me, I came to Yale intending on camping quite often.  But I promptly fell into that bad habit of too much work and school, again, up until about a year ago.

That is over, now.  I am stacking my class schedule for  the fall to be Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday only.  That means 4-day weekends, every weekend.  That means between 1 and 3 camping trips to New England locales per month, every month, until I escape this New Haven in May 2014 (and let me assure you, I am quite ready to escape).

This blog post chronicles the first of these NECE trips.

Prep and arrival; black bears, not as many as expected

That said, about a week ago I finally said to myself “the summer is nearly done, and I am still nowhere close to my goal of camping at least once per New England state.  Why the hell am I putting this off, what is stopping me??”  What, indeed.

preparing to camp

preparing to camp

I started researching places in Massachusetts with good hiking and better views, as the state is close enough to be a good test run, but still a very different creature than Connecticut.  Lo and behold, Mount Greylock, the tallest mountain in MA at 3491 feet, came up.  Besides being a serious backpacking experience (one has to hike 1.5 miles or so, from the parking lot to the campground), the trails there are reputed to offer interspersed GREENERY OVERLOAD with “my goodness gracious, I didn’t know scenic vistas were legally allowed to be THAT gorgeous.”  As the photos posted below will demonstrate, those are both fair contentions.

Greylock is in prime black bear country; the otherwise-primitive (no water or electricity) campsites all came standard with locking bear-proof steel boxes, to store food and pungent items (toothpaste, deodorant) inside at night.  Sadly, no bears were encountered… though I had purchased a combination tomahawk-style hatchet with included saw, both for woodcraft AND fighting off all the bears the woods could throw at me.

Greylock's "front" "door"

Greylock’s “front” “door”

A Saturday spent hiking and soaking in the absurd beauty of the natural world

one of many photos I took of the forest, and one of  the brooks coming down from the summit

one of many photos I took of the forest, and one of the babbling brooks coming down from the summit

The hike in at night up the mountain went alright, and camp was set up without too much of a problem.  Therefore, my Saturday was spent with two goals in mind: hike to the point of exhaustion, and get excellent photos of  the summit and forest before the first goal was fully realized.  Speaking of the forest, apparently the elevation of the mountain is such that the humidity is high enough, and the temperature low enough, for the coniferous trees to count as part of the boreal forest (the largest biome in the world is the boreal forests of Canada and Russia, which go north into the tundras, and it is fascinating to have been in such a southerly part of it).  As such, the conditions lend themselves to a whole hell of a lot of green and shade, even when the day itself is quite sunny – this will be seen below, as the photos from within the forest all look like late afternoon or dusk, whereas the summit was quite sunny and warm (a good 15 degrees warmer than within the trees).

pristine wilderness perfection, now with more Mike-dream-house

pristine wilderness perfection, now with more Mike-dream-house

one of many shots I took from the summit - see below for the rest

one of many shots I took from the summit – see below for the rest

The summit holds a World War I memorial, and it was sad to see how much it had deteriorated – to the point that it is structurally unsound to go up in the observation tower atop it.

decaying WWI memorial

decaying WWI memorial

An attempted Mohawk Trail State Forest interlude

Having had a lovely day on Saturday, I asked one of the rangers about my other options for things to see and marvel at on the way home, and he suggested I check out Mohawk Trail State Forest.  The oldest trees in the state of MA, more than 500 years old, are massive hemlocks within this forest, and I wanted to check it out and hike it.  Google Maps was given the address, and took me through the back trails and hills of MA, places so pristine (save for the road and a handful of houses) that I had trouble believing I was in New England.  Eventually, I was told to turn right onto some sort of “Black Briar Street” and came upon this sign:

This seems like a good plan, right?

This seems like a good plan, right?

Well, that didn’t sound THAT bad, right?  The road went from 2-way paved, down to barely one lane and gravel.  And it kept getting more and more narrow, and the ruts for wheels got to the point where my car bottomed out twice, until I got to the edge of (I presume) Mohawk Trail State Forest:

... the road kind of disappeared, and turned into wilderness

… the road kind of disappeared, and turned into wilderness

Those ruts are for some kind of vehicle  that has 1) tires larger than tiny; 2) more ground clearance than “a smidgen.”  Not sure if accidentally finding the smuggler’s rear entrance (?) to the forest counts as visiting it, but I decided I was too hungry to drive all the way around, and started the trip back home…


… but the recent (maybe 1.5 month old?) loud road noise I have gotten above 35 mph suddenly got a LOT worse.   Like, to the point of the steering developing a LOT of play in it, and vibrations throughout the whole car.  My initial diagnosis, of tires wearing unevenly (which has happened to cars owned by my family before, and I know it isn’t unsafe, just a noisy nuisance) was suddenly untenable.  I stopped at a Firestone tire, they lifted the car up, and diagnosed the following:

MFALCON on the lift, this wheel bearing is the culprit

MFALCON on the lift, this wheel bearing is the culprit

1) how is this 1996 vehicle in such great shape?!?
2) I want to go offroading in your car, dude (I told them about Mohawk’s back entrance, and how it isn’t as viable as I had hoped)
3) the front right wheel bearing has gone VERY bad, and will need replacing soon
4) both rear tires internal rings have slipped, meaning you’ll get unpredicatable behavior from the tires and need to replace them
5) we will close in less than 2 hours; we don’t have the time to do these repairs by 5 and don’t want to strand you here; and you can probably make it home to New Haven, its only an hour away!


20 minutes later, this happened, in the fast lane on 91S:

the damned tire blew up on me

the damned tire blew up on me

The tire is gone.  Turns out that unused 18 year old stock tires, even when stored in a heated garage their entire life, and with no visible cracks or problems, aren’t the best choice.  My folks bought me two brand new tires for the front, back in March; the tire dealer assured me the rear stock tires would last another year.  6000 miles later, one of them went on me, in an explosive way… so I will be replacing both rear tires this very week, I should think.

As for the wheel bearing, its a $90 part… and will cost me $311 to have replaced.  Time to buy some tools and roll up my sleeves, and teach myself how to do it (and check the integrity of the other 3 stock 18 year old bears, while I’m at it).  Stay tuned later this week.

wore out a wheel bearing, a tire, AND this pair of shoes this weekend

wore out a wheel bearing, a tire, AND this pair of shoes this weekend

That said, I am still basking in the memory of how glorious nature is, and how much this dumped fuel onto the flames of my desire to go buy a big chunk of land and turn it into a self-sufficient paradise.  I have the sense that these NECE trips will do the same thing over and again, and I am OK with that 🙂

Oh, and some necessary gloating:

Total miles traveled: 311.4
Cost of fuel for the weekend: $33.20
MPG (including SERIOUS mountain terrain, and 75 miles driven on the spare tire): 38.9
Cost of campsite: $18 for 2 nights.

$51.20 for a weekend of THAT level of awesomeness? Yes, I think I will, thank you very much.  🙂


Finally, the gallery of all the photos, for those interested parties:


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