1,747 miles on the Appalachian Trail: The other Long Trail

July 29


Vermont passed by in a blur. One second I was in a hotel in Bennington, just over the border of Massachusetts, the next, I’m in a hotel in Hanover, just over another border in New Hampshire.

That blur consisted of very long days, lots of rain, an excellent cheeseburger and about 100 miles of the capital “L” Long Trail.

Actually getting to Vermont was a lot of fun. I hiked most of Massachusetts with a group of hikers I’d met on and off over the course of the trail, many of whom I last saw months ago and didn’t hold out any hope of seeing again.

They’re the of the mind that if the trail passes by a restaurant, of course they should stop for lunch. It was a good time.

One particular shelter gave the best experience since walking off of a snow-covered mountain to a three-course meal in North Carolina.

Upper Goose Pond Shelter is a half-mile off trail, but it’s worth the walk. It has bunks with mattresses, lake access and caretakers that fed all the hikers present a pancake breakfast and hot coffee in the morning. Definitely worth a second visit.

Hiking in the Green Mountains of Vermont started out well, too. I had a few days of great weather going into Bennington and made plans to meet up with some family a little further down the trail.

A few shorter days of hiking brought me to Stratton Mountain, a favorite winter destination of mine, and lunch with Auntie Paige, Uncle Emmett, Auntie Cindy and Uncle Ted. They treated me to a fantastic burger and my uncles tried on my fully-loaded and smelly pack.

After a fruitless search for an emergency blanket for the coming colder weather, I headed back out.

I planned out the next week’s mileage to get me to Hanover in time to meet my parents on the weekend. That schedule had to be readjusted after the weather on Monday left me stranded at the warming hut on top of Bromley Mountain.

I hiked all morning through constant rain, and as the elevation grew, the temperature dropped. All I had for insulation was my rain jacket, since everything would soak through anyway and my body head would keep me warm. Sort of.

I rushed inside to get out of the rain and wind for a bit of lunch, but when I took off my jacket, i couldn’t stop shivering. Even though it would mean I’d have to make up the miles later that week, I wasn’t going to risk hypothermia. I changed into my sleeping clothes and stayed relatively warm there for the rest of the day.

There were three other people there; another man who was thru-hiking, and a woman and her nine-year-old daughter hiking the Long Trail. The kid was obviously going a little stir-crazy in the but. We talked a lot and I got to show off my skill at memory match games.

The next few days were difficult. I had to make up the miles I’d dropped on Bromley. Instead of four days of just about 2o miles each, each one was at least 21, with one almost 25 miles. It may not seem like much, but a body knows it’s limits, and that was certainly pushing it, at least for that long of a stretch.

The weather also wasn’t very cooperative. It threatened to rain all week. Most days had some kind of precipitation. Nights are also getting colder as I spend more time at higher elevation. I got my cold weather gear back from my parents and I’m hoping the almost three pounds of weight is worth it.

Despite it’s challenges, Vermont was fun to hike through. On a clear day, the views from the mountains are beautiful. The trail often passes for miles through stands of pine and hemlock. The other day I walked through a forest of young maple trees, none more than a few inches thick, standing straight and tall with no branches before the top. When the breeze blew, they all swayed back and forth with the same rhythm.

From what all the southbounders tell me, all this is just the prelude to the White Mountains. Despite it being recognized as the hardest part of the trail, everyone I’ve spoken to said it’s the most beautiful part to hike.

Things like that are what’s keeping me going on this. I’m not going to lie: I’m tired. It’s hard waking up every morning, eating cold oatmeal and shouldering a heavy pack for another 20 miles or so, do that for five days, then get a teasing rest in a real bed. Then know the cycle repeats itself.

My feet, knees, back, shoulders hurt. I’ve got a sore throat and a headache most mornings. I itch all over from dozens of bug bites.

Despite all this, I can’t stop. I have to believe this is all worthwhile. I need to know I’m still doing the right thing, that everyone was right to believe in me and encourage me to try this.

I’m reminded of a poem I like. It’s one of the few I know well. There’s a line in “If” by Rudyard Kipling that goes,

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you,

Except the Will which says to them, ‘Hold on.'”

That’s all I’ve got left. Just a desire to finish, and an unwillingness to quit. Everything in between is all burned out.