At this point, if I could describe the first 50 miles of the Long Trail in one word, it would be; brutal. One by one, the climbs have worn down my calves and quads, causing me to question how good of shape I'm actually in. Coming from the CDT, I was positive that I was going to eat this trail for breakfast. Doing 25+ miles everyday on the CDT would have surely trained me for 20-25 everyday on the Long Trail, right?
This trail thus far is relentless, rugged, and technical. It's required more mental focus and stability than any other I've attempted. Within these first 50 miles, I've realized that this trail is no joke. In fact, it should be viewed as some of the toughest hiking in the country. I'm writing this like I've finished the trail already, but in reality, we've just begun.
I flew directly from Denver to Philadelphia, arriving in my typical fashion; late. Scooter was waiting outside at the airport for me and never having flown, I was confused and lost as could be. I eventually made my way outside and hopped in his Mazda. After a quick reunion, it was like we were hanging out a couple days prior, when in reality I hadn't seen him since Trail Days back in April. We proceeded to go into Philly to also meet up with our good friend Snap who lives outside of the city in Jersey. We got some beer and grub, meandered the city, and went and paid the Rocky statue a visit while we waited for Wankles to get in on the Grayhound. He arrived relatively late in the night and we ended the day with a nice catch up session on the ride back to Scooters place. We stayed up until 2:30 that night filled with anxiety, anticipation, and most of all, excitement. Our gear was sprawled out on the floor, all of us making last minute adjustments and messing with our packs like the nerds we are. Finally, sleep approached and took hold. We woke up the next morning with only 4 hours of sleep, groggy, but ready.
Some four hours later we arrived in Massachusetts where one of Wankles family members picked us up and took us the last three hour stretch to Mont Pilier, VT where two trail angels by the names of Tim and Rick had plans to pick us up and host us the night before we started. We were in for a treat and we didn't even realize. Tim and Rick hiked the Long Trail last year, and in between their day jobs and hobbies, put hikers up once in awhile and shuttle LT hikers. Tim is a phenomenal cook and incredibly genuine dude while Rick is a pastor for his local church and Minnesota native who loves canoeing. They cooked us a delicious dinner and then shuttled us to the trail in the morning among cooking us breakfast sandwiches and providing endless laughs.
On the morning of 10/02/17 at roughly 8:15 A.M we began our journey to the VT/MA border from Quebec. We really kind of threw this together in a matter of days. I jumped straight from the CDT to the LT with no planning at all, while Wankles and Scooter had been planning via text for a couple of weeks. We may not have had much of an idea about the trail, but we knew we wanted to create a project together out of this trail.
I had the idea for a name of a project on this trail from the first time I thought about even hiking this long trail. For some reason, the east coast brings back nostalgic thoughts and feelings of being home. Living how I'm supposed to live. It's difficult, rugged, and absolutely exhausting, but it's real in every aspect. Everything from the amount of work you put in to get up the next 1,000' climb, to the sweat drenched shirt you put on everything morning, it's real. It makes you feel alive, it makes you tune into your surroundings and make sense of what is happening.
I came up with the name "Life on the Long Trail". I don't want to give away too many details, but having three photographers who are good friends on a thru hike is leading to some epic creativity. We are all pushing each other's boundaries and creative sides out here each day. We are collectively putting all of our thoughts and efforts into something that will invoke feelings that a lot of you will remember and miss dearly. We are incredibly stoked to show you guys what we have up our sleeves.
As we headed out into the Vermont wilderness, the faint smell of Fall was in the air as the trees still held onto their green color. The first few miles flew by in an instant without much of a hiccup. Scooter and I cruised through the woods as Wankles took up the rear and settled in. We all hiked at our own pace, and still continue to do so even 50 miles into the hike. Our first big climb of the trip was Jay Peak, an intense and straight vertical climb up the Ski slope essentially. With the sun beating down on us in the middle of the day and the humidity in the upper 90%'s, I couldn't help but think why I missed the East Coast. It's ironic how one day you'll be dreaming of something, and then the next you want nothing to do with it. That was a quick thought that of course disappeared.
We summited Jay after a good struggle to get to the top and descended into our first camp for the trip, Jay Camp. The thing about Vermont is that there isn't much trail on the northern section of the LT. It's legitimately boulders and rock hopping with tons of scrambling thrown in for good measure. The descents are tricky and risky while ascents are just plain brutal.
We hung around the fire for the night with a few other thru hikers who we won't see again most likely, and went to bed at a reasonable hour for our first night on trail. Our first night back in the woods. Our first night sleeping at a camp with white blazes around. Our first night back home.
The next day brought 17.8 miles of brutal elevation change and tricky terrain. We had planned for 19 or so miles that day, but with over 10,000' of total change for the day, we decided to stop early and stealth camp after crushing some miles early on. Or did the miles crush us? Either or, we were exhausted for it only being day two. I couldn't believe that after only 30 miles I was that tired. Not just 30 miles, but over the course of 2 days. Sometimes that was less than a full day of hiking on the CDT. It didn't make sense. I was realizing that it wasn't about the miles. It was about the technicality and difficulty of the terrain. Vermont was and IS hard.
We stealth camped right near the road and fell into an immediate sleep that was followed by restlessness throughout the night. Between the passing cars here and there and the slightly unlevel ground, I slept mediocre at best.
As daylight began to break, we started to stir in our tents and decided to get a hitch to the local general store to grab some coffee and breakfast sandwiches. We set a time of 20 minutes and by the time that was up if we didn't acquire a ride we would get to hiking. Low and behold the local neighbor actually picked us up and took us in after about 15 minutes or so. We feasted and then spent another 45 minutes getting a ride back out.
The day was going to be filled with a little over 18 miles of steep technical trail. Something we oughta get used to I suppose. Up and down, up and down, the Long Trail rarely presents a flat stretch to get a good clip going at so it's difficult to keep a quick pace. We knew there was an impending storm rolling in around dark so Scooter and I made the decision to not get wet and hike as fast as we could to beat the weather. Climb after climb and descent after descent our knees continued to keep us up while our feet clipped along and took us into the shelter right around 6:30 P.M. Not only before dark, but also before any weather moved in. Wankles was actually waiting for us to our surpise at the shelter. He had met a local who hooked him up with some insane trail magic and showed him a quicker route along the trail. He had arrived not too long before and set up.
We quickly made ourselves at home in the shelter and set up while we made dinner and got ready for bed. Another day in the books, and the following day, today, we knew we were going to be going back to Tim and Ricks place for another night of being hosted by some of the best people. We woke up this morning covered in sweat and condensation from all of the humidity. Even after only 3 days I couldn't wait to shower and be clean again. Out west on the CDT it was common to go 7+ days without a shower and not feel half as gross as you do out here in the East.
As we strolled our easy 3.4 miles into the parking lot, we came down to a ridge that was nothing but breathtaking. At first we were a little worried about the lack of colors, but after the rain and the lower temps, the colors are starting to pop as Autumn takes hold here in the Northeast. There's nothing like hiking in the fall in Vermont, I'll tell ya that much.
So as I write this I'm at Tim and Ricks house with Scooter and Wankles filled to the brim with food. Apple Crisp, ice cream, a fantastic noodle casserole, endless dog pets, and once again some of the best company had been given to us by people who were complete strangers only days ago. These trails seriously have some aura around them that attracts and creates good energy and people.
As we continue to trek along, the colors will continue to appear as the seasons change. I'm beyond happy to be back on the east coast near my home of the AT. I'm happy to be here with good friends and be producing something that we will remember forever. I'm ecstatic to be able to live a life like this and continue to broaden my horizons. I feel comfortable among the white blazes and leaves beneath my feet.
The good times are killing me.