In 2011, I set out to thru-hike the Long Trail. I did not succeed.
However, I did manage to cover the Long Trail sections I had never hiked before. I was also very fortunate because I had only two windows of opportunity to hike the LT that summer: one in June, and one when Hurricane Irene hit. I chose the earlier window on a whim, and thus, although I did not succeed in thru-hiking, I did succeed in not being on the trail for the hurricane. So I’ll call it a win.
Why didn’t I succeed in thru-hiking the LT?
- This was only my third long-distance hike.
- As a southbounder on the Appalachian Trail, it had been a long time since I’d hiked in Vermont and my memories of eastern hiking were more recently of the southern Appalachians. I’d forgotten just how slow New England hiking can be. They say mothers forget the vividness of the pain of childbirth. Well, that’s my experience with New England. I don’t necessarily average two miles per hour in New England like I can count on anywhere else.
- Rain! It poured, all the time. It was freezing cold rain, too. Over half my days on the Long Trail involved me making a survival decision to get to a shelter and warm up.
- I had a very tight schedule — my bus from Massachusetts to the Appalachian Trail Biennial in Virginia was booked. I had no flexibility.
- I was applying for jobs and was trying to track down cell reception for various interviews. I am no stranger to applying for positions while on-trail or on a ship or wherever I might be, but it can slow an already slow pace.
- I decided mid-hike that pushing to thru-hike would ruin the experience — why was I out there? Not to be miserable. I decided to accept simply hiking the sections I hadn’t previously done. It was a good choice.
The following is a journey from Canada to the Inn at Long Trail. The remaining sections of the LT can be found if I ever import my stories from the AT.
June 9, 2011
Laura Woodward Shelter
Today my friend Gabe drove us from Burlington to Journey’s End Road near Quebec. I do not know how I would have made this trip happen if not for his kindness and generosity.
As I got out of his car it began to thunder. An omen? I began my hike but took shelter at Journey’s End Camp for half an hour to let some of the storm pass. After that I carried on.
Highlights of the day:
- seeing a frog swimming in a moose track
- lots of moose poop
- many ladyslippers
- hearing a moose
Miles are hard here. Butt-slides, near-misses, rocks and roots. One 4.5 mile stretch took me 3.5 hours. But I am happy to be here, and I arrived at this shelter 15 minutes before all hell broke loose. Big dark storm all around me, and no other hikers anywhere near.
June 10, 2011
Hazen’s Notch Shelter
My choices were to stop at 2:30 or hike until 8:30. I chose to stop. My feet are not doing so great. The mountains here are rocky and rooty. I struggle to go more than a mile per hour.
Today I got lost ascending Jay Peak. I am still not sure what happened, but I ended up where I was supposed to be.
I love lazy afternoons in shelters.
June 11, 2011
Today, before the cold rain of doom started, a saw a baby bunny. Things went downhill from there.
I hiked through a cloud for most of the morning and it was just starting to rain when I hit this shelter. This is an old, holey cabin with a stellar view of clouds. It’s under 50 degrees and pouring rain. It wasn’t a good choice to stop here; it was a great choice.
I took two naps and woke up in a panic each time.
June 12, 2011
Spruce Ledge Camp
I can barely write due to frozen fingers. Everything I own is cold and damp and I’m off schedule due to the weather and my own inability to hike quickly.
I woke in the rain’s lull and wanted to get up Belvidere Mountain as dry as I could. Hah. It rained again even before I was packed up. Belvidere was fun; it’s a bouncy mountain. I had three nasty falls on the way down though. I hurt a wrist, an arm, and a pride.
It stopped raining by the bottom and I enjoyed my first two mile per hour section. Very exciting to be back to normal. But then I hit Devil’s Gulch, Little Mahoosuc.
I hit this shelter at 1:30 and sat to take a break. Suddenly it began to pour. Decision made. I could have been 1/2 mile in either direction and the rain would have resoaked me, but I was mostly dry.
At this point, it’s going to be hard to get to Massachusetts in the time I have allotted. If I don’t aim for Massachusetts but am content with stopping my hike at the Maine Junction, then I could take more naps. This is the first time I have been truly on my own for a hike — no hiking partner, no one to call to bail me out — and I like the ability to redesign my hike on a whim. I like choosing for ME when to stop hiking each day.
My green hat is falling apart. It’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had with a hat.
June 13, 2011
Al and Alice’s
I woke up to RAIN. I hiked out in the RAIN. A cold, wet, miserable RAIN. RAIN RAIN FREAKING RAIN. I AM SO DONE WITH RAIN.
So I made it to Johnson where two trail angels live. They are wonderful and I’m inside, out of the RAIN.
Bear Hollow Shelter
I feel great. I spent most of the day in town
- Drying clothes
- Calling Kael and Ash
- Finding clovers (4- and 6-leaf)
- Eating pizza
Later Ash visited, drove me to the trail, and hiked halfway here with me.
June 15, 2011
Sterling Pond Shelter
My first beautiful day! This morning’s 2,500 foot climb felt easy because there was sunshine. Black flies are out, but it’s worth it for sun.
I took a spur trail to the overlook at Whiteface and ate lunch at the shelter.
I spent all afternoon by Sterling Pond drying my clothes, soaking up sun, and enjoying the general splendor.
I am pretty sure I saw the White Mountains today.
June 16, 2011
Today was beyond glorious. I awoke at 4:30, partially to seek revenge on the three idiots and two stupid dogs who kept me up all night. I met Kaelyn at the picnic area where we drove through Smuggler’s Cove. We later summitted Mount Mansfield together where we ate strawberries and I called my dad to wish him a happy birthday.
At Kael’s house for the night, I got caked. Which I totally deserved. It’s an Alabama thing.
June 17, 2011
Currently: 3200 feet, windy
The rumor: thunderstorms incoming. All I’ve heard so far is the Ethan Allen Firing Range. Who decided to route the Long Trail by a firing range? That was an interesting choice.
June 18, 2011
Bamforth Ridge Shelter
I slept in until 5. It was, alas, raining. I went up Bolton, wiped out in a stream. I’m okay.
Ghost Pirate visited me. From the roadwalk we carried ice cream sandwiches to hand out to other hikers. He also brought fruit, salad, sprite… total magic.
Packed shelter tonight. Fun to share it with Ghost Pirate.
June 19, 2011
Cowles Cove Shelter
I. AM. A. ZOMBIE.
This day had the craziest terrain. Ladders, places that really should have had ladders, rock climbing…
Ghost Pirate and I summitted Camel’s Hump by 9AM. It was glorious up there. I felt a little bad about my pace — Ghost Pirate is used to going faster up mountains. A good reminder why I am better off alone.
From Camel’s Hump we could see everything: Washington, Moosilauke, the Adirondacks, Lake Champlain… incredible.
My neck is really stiff.
I hit my head on a branch — hard.
My collarbone is done with my pack.
I hurt my shoulders trying to shimmy down from a rock.
My wrists are sore from poles.
My hips hurt from life.
My knees are way unhappy.
My ankles say WTF.
My feet ache.
I got a sliver on my leg.
My thumbs hurt from poles.
My boobs only kind of hurt.
June 20, 2011
Theron Dean Shelter
Today is a day off. If you’d told me a week ago that 8 miles could ever feel like a day off on the Long Trail, I’d have been incredulous.
Things were great until the Molly Stark Mountain fiasco. I had a spontaneous fall and then sliced open my kneecap with a branch. I got to the road and gave myself 30 minutes, no more, to hitch into town.
The second car got me.
It was a van full of kids, so I had to huddle in the back. But I made it to town, ate a pizza, charged my phone, and on the way out of town the third car stopped and gave me a ride. YES, I CAN HITCH ALONE!
Theron Dean may just be my favorite shelter of all time. It has a view of Camel’s Hump, I was able to trail-magic my iodine to some hikers in need, and I have leftover pizza in my pack.
June 21, 2011
Beautiful hike on the ridge between Mount Ellen and Mount Abe!
It seemed today that southbound blazes left a lot to be desired. As always, I turned around and saw blazes for northbounders. At any intersection, if you blaze for northbounders, why wouldn’t you blaze for southbounders?
June 22, 2011
I hiked 6 miles by 10AM and another 6 by 1PM. I was all set up for a lazy afternoon at Emily Proctor Shelter when it began to rain. Usually I rejoice in being in a shelter in the rain, but this time I packed up and continued to hike. By choice. In the rain.
Emily Proctor Shelter is wide open, a larger opening to the world than an average shelter. Clouds and rain were blowing in, and I knew I would be soaked if I stayed there.
Skyline Lodge is enclosed. I can dry off. I’ll be less wet overall than if I had stayed at Emily Proctor.
June 23, 2011
Thunder. So much thunder. I was considering hunkering down at Skyline and trying to wait it out, but was inspired to at least make it to the next shelter.
Who should show up at the shelter but Coyote, who I know from the AT! I hadn’t seen him since Woods Hole Hostel. Amazingly small world, trails. Coyote reports that after the Long Trail, he’s “DONE with long-distance hiking.” I can see why this terrain would scare anyone off. He was miserable — and hiking through a storm. I was tucked into my sleeping bag, reading and happy.
I made the right choice to not push to Massachusetts. This weather would have been misery to push through.
I wanted to wait to write until my fingers de-pruned, but I think it ain’t gonna happen.
Today was equally as wretched as yesterday. I was standing at the gap waiting to cross the road when a car pulled over and a lady offered me a ride into Middlebury. DUH. So I went to town.
In town, I tried to get a motel room so I could dry everything off. The cheapest price I found was $170. NOPE. But at least I got breakfast and bought real food. Then I ate lunch. It was all about the food.
Ash happened to be in town (what are the chances?!) and he brought strawberries and drove me back to the gap.
For a wretched day, it was also a perfect one.
June 25, 2011
David Logan Shelter
Today might be my last full day on the Long Trail. It started poorly with frigid rain (what else?). I used my tent rain fly as an additional pack cover/coat since nothing can stay dry in this.
After Brandon Gap, I practically flew to Sunrise Shelter. Inchworm brought in trail magic of orange pop, which was SO GOOD.
There are so few obstacles in the trail now. I love being a southbounder.
Now: thunder and lightning (again: what else?!); a very full but happy shelter. Despite the rain and misery, I don’t want to be done yet.
June 26, 2011
Rolston Rest Shelter
I met a northbounder today who informed me that there’s no room at the Inn; on day 4 of awful weather, hikers have all holed up there. I don’t want to show up and scowl when there is no room; I’ve managed to be pretty happy on this trip even with the conditions.
So I decided to stay here. I’ll finish up my five miles tomorrow.
June 29, 2011
Inn at Long Trail
I made it to the Inn at Long Trail and one Long Trail Ale made me buzzed.
I arrived this morning after some really easy trails. It was fun to visit the Maine Junction, and my heart flew north to Katahdin.
Not only did the Inn have a room for me, I also arrived in time for breakfast. I stuffed my face, then rigged up my rainfly as a toga so I could do all my laundry. After a couple of showers, I was almost human again.
I took the bus into Rutland where I wandered aimlessly. I should love the town, but I have bad memories of a broken body from when I visited on the AT.
There is more rain in for the forecast; I feel bad for any hikers.
Now all that remains is this: how the hell am I going to get to my bus in Williamstown, Massachusetts?
June 28, 2011
Village Motel, Williamstown MA
Yesterday at breakfast I met some AT hikers vacationing at the Inn at Long Trail: Shakedown Cruise and his partner Cynthia. Not only did they drive me to Williamstown, they bought me lunch and provided great company. This was so far above and beyond. I cannot even believe their generosity. I am so lucky to have met them, and so grateful for their help.
Trail communities: They are made up of the happiest and most generous people you’ll ever meet. I cannot wait until someday I have the ability to give back to the trail community. I can never fully repay the kindness that has been shown to me, but I’ll try.
Now south: south to my southern mountains, my balds, and my community.