Scooter and I just finished the Long Trail a few days ago. I last left off on the last post right around the time of climbing the big 4,000' mountains in the Northern Section of Vermont. A lot changed over the course of the remainder of our hike. Our dynamics on trail changed. The pace of our hike changed. The feelings I was experiencing about the Long Trail changed.
Now that the big peaks were behind us, we had some breathing room as far as terrain, miles, and beauty goes. We had about 160 or so miles left and we made our attempt at finishing before Scooter had to be home to fly out of Philly.
Once you reach the middle of Vermont, the terrain mellows out into more of a trail, and less of a technical boulderfield for miles on end. The water sources become more reliable, cleaner, and clearer, while the amount of weekenders, backpackers, and other thru hikers sky rocket as well. Scooter and I quickly realized that we were going to be able to start doing bigger miles, so we took advantage of that and put in 3 back to back 23 or more mile days to get to Main Junction, where the LT meets back up with AT. And LET ME TELL YOU, seeing the sign that read 'Appalachian Trail', sparked something deep down inside me and gave me more motivation than I imagined.
The Long Trail was beginning to drain me of every ounce of energy I had, and being back on the AT quickly changed my perspective and shifted me back in the right direction. Suddenly, I felt like the remainder of Trail was going to be relaxing, familiar, and beautiful all together. It was, just not in the relaxed manner I expected. It was still strenous, it still took a lot of mental fortitude to finish, especially after a long hiking season.
We had planned for a resupply in Rutland, then Manchester Center, both AT towns that we were familiar with. Only two resupplies left, I should be cherishing the last few days, not cursing them. I was tired, but not that tired.
As we neared Rutland, my friend Furball, who just completed the PCT, decided she would hang out with us in Rutland on her road trip back from the West Coast, so we pushed to the shelter where we ended up taking a side trail down to a forest road where she picked us up with her ADORABLE dog, Bea. We had originally planned to hike 12 miles further south, but when the cold damp air brushed against my face that morning, I convinced Scooter to take the shorter side trail down, putting us another 12 miles behind where we should have been. I knew we would make up the time in the latter half of the trail, so I wasn't too concerned. On the other hand, Rutland was one of the bigger towns we were looking forward to because of the Yellow Deli, a hiker hostel run by the nice, but interesting folks of the 12 Tribes.
If you don't know anything about the 12 Tribes, they are a religious group who believe and practice Judaism. Their small group consists of under a few thousand people in the world, but their views and practices stick with some wandering hikers who may be looking for something or someone. They let Hikers stay st the hostel on a donation basis, and sometimes even offer to take you to their organic farms to work! They make great food, but my god, they are an interesting people. Anyways, so we stayed at the hiker hostel, and Scooter, Furball and I proceeded to go drink as many $1 Margaritas from Applebee's as the establishment would allow. Turns out, 3 every two hours is their limit.
As the drinks wound down, we meandered back to the hostel. We hung out in the common room for a few hours before hitting the sack. The next morning, we woke up and Furball took Scooter and I back to the trail head so we could get some miles in. Before we hit the trail, Furball busted out a beer for us to enjoy. It was 9 am. Too early? I don't think so.
Roughly 125 miles of trail lay between us and the VT/MA border. Our goal for the first day out of town was 23 miles, and with a late start we knew that we would be strolling in right around dark, if not after dark. The day started off with an extremely narrow, leaf covered trail that made it difficult to keep your footing. That's how the LT was, constantly keeping you on your toes, literally. We reached the shelter just around dark, and within a few minutes, we were both ready for sleep so we set up and called it.
Quite frankly, that's how the remainder of our trip went. We got into our hiking groove, putting in 5 back to back 22+ mile days, with a small day of 15 miles to end our hike.
Along that stretch of back to back 20+ mile days, we came across the all too familiar sights and sounds of Vermont along the AT. Glastonbury fire tower, Bromley Mountain Ski Lift, Manchester Center, and most importantly, the half priced pizza at Papa Johns in Williamstown when we finally arrived on the 22nd.
I could go into detail after detail about how I felt, what we saw, and how we experienced those last few days, but it almost seems lIke a blur at this point. It was everything and more than what it was last year. Being back on the same trail that led to my curiousity of what was around the next bend needs no explanation.
The Long Trail wasn't just a quick 270 mile jaunt through the woods. The trail is just plain difficult. There's no getting around the thousands of rocks and roots that try and trip you along every turn. There's no getting around the humidity that leaves you drenched day in and day out. It's relentless with its elevation gain and loss. It's pure, unadulterated, technical and rugged. With those difficulties comes great reward however. I felt at home within the green tunnel, the tunnel that I missed so badly out on the CDT. When the views opened up, the foliage of the autumn season shone brightly and the trees and mountains seemed to go on forever. The Wilderness of Vermont is one of my favorite spots I've ever hiked in. Clear skies were in our forecast the last 6 days, and with each passing day and night, my affirmation for my love of the east coast grew stronger.
We slept in warming huts, enclosed shelters, and in our tents. We drank from the streams, Springs, and beaver Brooks. The trail tripped us up more times than we could count, and each day presented its own challenging climbs and descents.
To be quite honest, as I write this I'm not quite sure how I feel about this year as a whole. The Long Trail pushed every button that I had, day in and day out. It tested me through every mile, physically and mentally with each step.
I found myself in a metaphorical purgatory coming straight from the CDT. My heart was set on finishing that trail, but not in the way that the options allowed. When I came out to hike the LT, I was ecstatic to spend time back east where I developed my love for backpacking in general, but I wasn't quite sure if my heart was in it. That quickly changed with each passing day.
Although I was perpetually exhausted each day, I wouldn't have wanted to spend my time any other way. Walking through Autumn in Vermont along the LT/AT is something everyone should experience.
This trail is something else. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but damnit, I'm glad I spent the last three weeks out here with some of my best friends doing the thing we love most. I'm not too sure what's around the next bend for me, or if I'm even done hiking this year, but it's been a hell of a year so far and I can't wait to see what happens next.
My next post is going to be a gear review. Stay tuned.