This year has been an interesting one to say the least for hiking on the Long Trails in the US. I didn't expect to get off of the CDT for any reason, especially not anything related to weather. Once everything took a turn for the worst out on the PC with the snow and fires, I was pretty stoked to have been out in the remote areas of the Bob, the Sheep Experiment, and the Anacondas along the CDT. Everything changed in Colorado last week or sonand realistically, it kind of grinded at me for a little while because I got so spoiled with good weather.
For me, I've said it before but the reason I got off the CDT was because I didn't want to miss that section in any regard. I wanted a certain experience and my options didn't allow for that. It was like trying to outrun an impending storm that you can see on the horizon. It's inevitable, but for some reason you still try your hardest.
The Long Trail was no different for Wankles. He decided to call it quits at mile 64.7, right before heading up Mansfield. We had taken the two preceding days off at his second cousins house, and he had a lot of time to think. When he came to the decision, it wasn't because he wasn't physically capable or anything like that, but because the timing was off. Timing is absolutely everything out here on trail, and in every aspect of life. In his experience, there were a few different things that were on his mind, and in the short time he was on trail, it gave him the foresight to realize he gained what he needed from the Trail. Sometimes it works like that. Sometimes you dont need to complete a goal before gaining what you wanted in the first place.
In my case, the timing of Winter arriving in Colorado gave me the option to come out to Vermont to complete the Long Trail and put out an awesome idea and create something. Although it was tough to make the decision for both Wankles and I to call our endeavor short, there's always a silver lining to every decision.
Ive been seeing a copious amount of photos of my trail family and the CDT and I already miss it. It would be extremely easy for me to get caught up in my head about my decision. I could spiral out of control with regret about getting off, but what would that accomplish? I finally had made a solid decision for myself and I don't plan on looking back at it with any negative feelings. My decision has opened up plenty of other opportunities, and at this point it's leading to a lot of creative expression.
Since we left Tim and Rick's house last, a lot has happened. Wankles has gone home after two amazing days with his family, Scooter and I have kicked up the miles, and the weather has gotten absolutely amazing. With the temperatures now dropping into the low 30's at night, the leaves are in full swing and actually on the decline as far as brightness and vividness goes. Contrary to the colors, the terrain is in the incline. Roots and rocks litter the trail as it twists and turns throughout the forest, gaining immense amounts of elevation in extremely short periods of time. The trail is rugged, unforgiving, and just plain brutal. With 4,000' peaks scattered throughout the northern half of the trail, each day has left us sore, tired, and ravenously hungry.
In order, the technical and most challenging climbs have come as Whiteface, Mansfield, Camels Hump, and Bolton. With endless views stretching on each ridgeline, the White Mountains of New Hampshire are visible within each mountain. Grueling steps are followed by ankle twisting placement that requires sheer precision. The Long Trail is beautiful in every way. The very few views that have been witnessed have been as impressive as they've been earned.
When I tell you that Vermont makes you earn the views, I mean it. These climbs have been upwards of 4K vertical in less than 4 miles and more demanding than most physical endeavors I've ever pursued. The calves burn as the feet ache for rest. Sweat consistently pours from the face while any mental focus you may have had begins to be questioned. Most of my 15+ mile days out on the Long Trail have been extremely difficult. They've been essentially just as difficult as a 30 mile day on the CDT, and really, maybe even more grueling. Luckily, we have one 4,000 footer left and we are in the clear. The weather has quite a bit to do with how we approach this trail as well as how many miles are really attainable especially with the little amount of daylight that's still available.
From warming huts on top of Ski Mountains to small, cramped, wet shelters on top of beautiful peaks, the views have been well worth every bit of energy. The ridgelines are endless while the plateaus are extremely similar to southern Maine. White blazes are painted along the rocks while steep 3' drop offs await you at every turn and entry back to tree line.
Each morning fog fills the valley as the sun burns it off by mid day, or it remains stagnant. The trail is constantly wet, making each step that much more difficult. I constantly think back to when it didn't rain for 30 days essentially on the CDT. Sure, the 20 mile waterless stretches were hard, and it was hot has hell, but I never sweat this much and I sure as hell was never this sore.
The east coast has it all.
It's nice being able to sleep in shelters, especially four walled shelters. It's nice to smell the pines when I wake up and when I climb along the narrow trail that winds throughout the forest. It's nice to see those white blazes, even if it's only for a short amount of time. It's just nice to be on the Long Trail and soon to be the AT. Timing has presented Scooter and I with a pretty solid timeline on everything, and we only need to average about 16 miles per day from here on out. We plan to do the last 100 miles in 4 days ideally to close it out. The changing of the seasons has been and will be a wonderful thing to witness in such a beautiful area. Not many people have the ability to say they've walked through all four seasons, and I'll be able to say that I've done it two years in a row. Now adding another section of the U.S that I've walked through my mind only begins to wonder more.
There are so many beautiful landscapes out there, and so many miles to walk. Countless ideas come to mind.
Currenty we sit at mile 107, ready to get the last big climb out of the way, which is Ellen and will be climbed today. I'm ready to get to Rutland and head south because we've already done that section last year on the AT so I know what to expect. Each day is definitely a struggle sometimes. Some mornings I feel incredibly awake and rejuvinated, some mornings I don't want to even think about hiking.
As soon as I start to think about going back to work, or going back to the same places I wanted to leave so desperately last year, I can't help but feel a sense of gratitude. This trail especially has put me in a place where time moves quickly again. Seeing those white blazes pass by is a blessing and a curse. On the CDT the markers are few and far between, sometimes leaving you to wonder where and how you got there. The blazes represent time passing in my eyes.
Last year, the blazes led me all the way to Maine from Georgia. This year? I'm not sure where they'll lead me.