NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The rumble of the approaching freight train brought conversation to a momentary pause. The train, with at least 40 cars in tow, rolled past the Freight Yard Grill, its thunder reverberating off the walls surrounding the restaurant’s outdoor patio.
It was the loudest noise Su Mittra had heard all day.
After the train disappeared into the distance on its way to the nearby Hoosac Tunnel to continue its journey east, one of Mittra’s dinner companions inquired about climbing Mt. Greylock, the nearby 3,489-foot peak.
“I did that today,” Mittra said matter-of-factly. “Ten miles in I went up Greylock. That was fun!”
For most of the day, Mittra had been on trails in the woods, enjoying the silence, solitude, and beauty of the state’s scenic Northwest corner. She started at the New York/Massachusetts border where her wife, Sarah, dropped her off. Mittra then began the journey east, climbing up and over Greylock and down into North Adams as part of an 18.6-mile day.
This dinner with Sarah and friends capped a successful first day of Mittra’s planned 175-mile, 10-day hike across Massachusetts. The journey from the New York border to Somerville is the centerpiece of Mittra’s Free 2 Be You campaign to raise awareness and understanding of the Transgender, Queergender, and Intersex communities. Mittra, who is Intersex, is also using the hike to raise money for two organizations that advocate for their rights, Athlete Ally and InterACT.
“The reason I’m doing this is because our community is a marginalized one in our world,” Mittra said in a July 9 video announcing the effort. “And even though we have laws that say we have rights, they aren’t always followed. I think part of this is because we don’t always see Trans, Queer and Intersex people. Something that’s not seen, someone that’s not seen, is not heard, and to some extent not cared about.”
As an Intersex person, Mittra has some characteristics that are male and that some are female. Mittra explained in another video that her Intersex variation is known as Kleinfelter Syndrome. It’s a genetic condition that alters the sex chromosomes in a male to include an additional X chromosome to be XXY, rather than the more common XX chromosome combination for females and XY combination for males. As Mittra explains it, she has sex chromosomes that don’t correspond to a typical male or typical female body.
“I’m an intersex person; I dress a little differently, i look a little different, and those differences can be really scary to people for no good reason,” said Mittra, a Medford resident who grew up in Sudbury. “So one of the goals of my hike is to be visible, and to go through communities that I don’t ordinarily see – particularly ones outside of the city. To be visible is to let people know that there are others like me in the world, and we deserve to be seen, and we deserve to be protected under the law. No one should have to live a life where they are afraid to be visible or afraid to be themselves. No one should have to face ridicule, and no one should have to face violence for who they are.”
Mittra first began dreaming of hiking across Massachusetts two years ago. An experienced ultrarunner who leads the Davis Square Runners in Somerville, she knew she could cover major miles but had typically done so on loop courses. The idea of a point-to-point journey intrigued her and she quickly began scouring maps to identify cities and towns where she could rest along the way.
The west-to-east crossing of the state transitioned from being a big idea to a serious plan in 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping the country. Mittra started training with longer hikes, experimenting with a pack, and finalizing the route. She also began fundraising, which turned the personal adventure into something bigger in that it would also be a way to help others.
The journey felt both exciting and overwhelming for Mittra as the start date of Friday, Aug. 28, grew near. Three weeks before the start she expressed concern that her body wouldn’t handle the distance. But after two years of dreaming, there was only one way to find out.
Fueled by first-day optimism, comfortable temperatures and no precipitation, Day One was a success. She started in Williamstown, followed the route she’d planned, summited Greylock and made it to North Adams in time for dinner.
Day Two quickly revealed the unpredictability that a long-distance, multi-day journey can unleash. Overnight thunderstorms continued into the morning, so Mittra altered the planned route away from steep trails that were surely muddy to paved and gravel roads instead.
She and her pacer for the day, longtime friend Alex Brinkert, began their hike from North Adams to Savoy Mountain State Forest in their rain gear under a steady downpour. The rain subsided two hours into the hike, but they were soon on edge when a red pickup truck with a Trump sticker on the rear bumper made multiple slow passes by them. The truck returned again about an hour later, rolled past them while they met with their crew, and then turned around and crept by once more before parking at a nearby house. The final two hours of the day were largely uneventful. Neither the rain nor the truck returned, allowing Mittra and her pacer to tick away the miles on rolling gravel roads. After a 10-mile effort, it was time for a late lunch and an evening of rest.
Day three was more pleasant with sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70s as Mittra covered another 11.1 miles before reaching her next destination.
With a week and around 130 miles to go, the biggest mileage days are ahead. Mittra will have some days of hiking solo, some days with friends joining to pace, and a community of friends eager to see her march into Davis Square to complete her journey on Sept. 6.