The Long Trail, 2008

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August 13, 2008: Off to The Long Trail – Rutland, VT

Today we left Germantown to head north for an action-packed week or two in the Green Mountains of Vermont. First would be the 2nd Annual Long Trail Festival, where we would be giving two presentations and I would be plying my Native American flute on Saturday evening. Then it was off to the northern terminus of The Long Trail, in North Troy, VT, where we planned to hike south for eight days to Smugglers Notch, VT. With this section completed, we would only have the trail from Smugglers Notch to Waitsfield to do in 2009 and we will have completed the entire Long Trail. “Always Changing” & “Never the Same”, a couple we met at Trail Days and who were still thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail north, were going to go with us. Unfortunately, they had to leave the trail for various reasons and were unable to make it. We drove half way today, to a Quality Inn in Cairo, NY and called it a day. Along the way we became nostalgic as we passed the AT trail marker where it crossed the NY State Thruway near Harriman State Park. Oh, how we remember the long day we passed through there in 2006 on our way up the mountain to “The Lemon Squeezer,” an increasingly narrowing passage through large boulders, and on to the shelter for the night where we met up with “Bama” and “Little Wing.” The drive was long but what was notable was that in every state we passed through to get to our resting place for the night, we saw hawks flying over the road. After a scrumptious country breakfast at Ursela’s Log Cabin Restaurant, it was off to Rutland, VT and the festival.

 

August 14: Killington, VT (Inn at the Long Trail) Day hike – 6.4 miles RT.

Late in the morning we arrived at The Inn  at the Long Trail, our base camp for the next few days, and once again, nostalgia took over, as we found ourselves staying in the same room that we stayed in during our ’06 thru-hike. This was shaping up to be a memorable adventure. With some time to kill before dinner, we decided to do a day hike up the old AT trail from the inn to Pico Camp; a modest 6.4 mile round trip. But, before we could do hat, we had to stop by The Mountain Traveler Outfitters to pick up a day pack. Seems we had thought of everything for this trip except our daypacks. The weather was beautifully clear which was a rarity for this area. New England had been hammered with unending rains for the last month or so and today’s weather was a welcome respite form the downpours that had turned all the trails to muddy obstacle courses. On the way up the trail, we heard a strange noise up ahead, much like the sound of a plastic wheels rolling on a concrete sidewalk. There were also loud, excited voices. As we neared what we thought was the source of these out of places noises, we left the trail and headed toward it. What we found was vacationers tearing down Pico Peak on the Alpine Slide. The riders were coming up the mountain on the ski lift, grabbing a strange-looking sled and careening down a concrete bobsled run- all with no protective gear. The emergency staff person sitting at the top told us that at least one person flips over on the banked turns and gets hurt. Still, there is no safety gear requirement. After watching for several minutes, we returned to the trail and forged ahead. As we neared the top, we came upon the shelter at Pico Camp and went inside to check it out. An older shelter, it showed the wear and tear of years of brutal weather, numerous hikers and hungry porcupines. (the shelter showed the telltale signs of their snacking on the wood where hikers’ had sat and where there sweat had turned it to a salty delicacy.) “Mom” had purchased a new pair of bots (what a surprise) before this trip; a pair of Keen Targhee II mid-height. They were a men’s size 8, which gave her  bit more room in the toe box than the woman’s version. They were working well for her and she really enjoyed the fact that they were waterproof, considering all the mud we were walking through. As we left the shelter, we ran into northbound AT thru-hiker, “Babu Simba,” and stopped to chat for a while. He looked very familiar to me but our conversation offered no evidence as to why that was so. We bid him good luck on his thru-hike and wandered on to “Jungle Junction,” the intersection of both the current AT and the old AT down to Sherbourne Pass, by the inn. We were beginning to get hungry, so after a short break, we headed back down, passing numerous day and section hikers on their way up. We considered grabbing a sled at the alpine slide and riding down, but decided that with all the activities we had scheduled for the week, getting hurt was probably not a prudent thing to do.

The pub at the inn serves some great food and, of course, delicious Long Trail Ale, so that is where we spent the remainder of the day. I ordered the Shepherd’s Pie and “Mom” got a Reuben. We both ordered Long Trail Ale and finished off our meal with apple crisp and ice cream.  The most memorable part of the evening came when “Babu Simba” wandered in and joined us for dinner. As we talked, the reason I thought he looked familiar became apparent. He lived in Harpers Ferry and volunteered at the ATC headquarters there; that is where I had seen him before. We swapped trail stories and life stories and eventually two couples at adjoining tables, after overhearing our trail tales, joined us and we stayed up until 9:30 talking about backpacking and other adventures. It was quite a day.

 

August 15th: Rutland, VT

Since the Long Trail Festival did not start until tomorrow, we had an entire day to just hang out, do some sightseeing, and offer “Trail Magic” to any hikers we ran in to. “Babu Simba” joined us for breakfast and we offered him a ride into Rutland to pick up supplies for the next leg of his trip. First it was off to the local WalMart, the thru-hikers toy store, then to the library so he could check emails and on to Mountain Travelers again so he could get some rain pants and a new set of trekking poles. With our “Trail Angel” duties out of the way, It was back to the inn to pre-pack our bags for Sunday and ran through both of our presentations for the festival. The weather was again beautiful, just right for a drive, so we headed out to explore the back roads of Vermont and to locate the Mountain Meadow Inn; a place we had passed on our through hike and where “Brownie” and “Souleman” were married just before their ’06 thru-hike. On the way back, we stopped to view the new Thundering Brook Falls re-route of the AT and we were astounded by the amount of work the GMC had done over the last year. Near where the AT once wandered through a marsh here now stood an extensive wooden boardwalk leading from the road to the base of a waterfall near a small electric power plant. There was a platform overlooking the falls in the early stages of construction and south of this, and further up the mountain, the trail had been rerouted; eliminating a long road walk. Kudos to everyone who worked on this reroute – it is an amazing piece of engineering and expertise. As we were driving back to town, we came across two weary hikers standing alongside the road with their thumbs out. We were by them before we realized they were wanting a ride so we turned around at he next road and went back to pick them up. They were AT thru-hikers – a father and son from Israel- and they were curious how we knew hey were thru-hikers. Perhaps it was the smell or the wondrously glazed look on their faces, but there was no mistaking they were on their way to Maine. On the ride to Rutland, where they were staying at the 12 Tribes Hostel, we chatted and through their broken English, we discovered that the son had recently gotten out of the Israeli army, which is mandatory for every boy after graduating from high school, (interesting concept, we thought). We also found out that his mother had come to the U.S. to hike with them for a week or so while they were in New York. Unfortunately, she contracted Lyme disease after two days and they spent 7 “zero days” in New York City while she recovered in the hospital.  Now they had to do big miles to complete the AT before their visas ran out. After dropping them off in front of the Walmart parking lot, we went into town to take part in Rutland’s summertime Friday Night street fair. The main street was blocked and there was food and goods vendors lining the sidewalk and two stages were set up for entertainment. We grabbed some dinner, watched a hysterically funny comedian/acrobat and listened to a local band on the larger of the two stages. Earlier in the day, when I went into the library to look for “Babu Simba,” I saw a young lady sitting at one of the computers and thought I recognized her – I just could not place the face. As we were getting ready to leave the street fair, we saw her again, sitting at one of the tables lining the street with a bunch of other hikers. She called out our names but we still could not put a trail name with the face. So “Mom” asked. It was “Rodeo” and she stayed with us for a few days at the B&B in Damascus during Trail Days. She was still on her AT thru-hike and had been in Rutland for four days.

Back at the inn, we stopped into the pub and saw “Babu Simba” talking with two other hikers and he introduced us to them. One was “Sanford,” another ’06 thru-hiker we had heard about but had never met and the other was “Cobweb” who completed his AT thru-hike in ’07. Seems you cannot keep an AT hiker off a trail even after they have walked over 2,100 miles. “Babu” informed us that he was getting back on the trail the next morning so we wished him well and told him we would keep in touch.

 

August 16th: The Festival Begins!

We had breakfast with “Babu,” “Sanford” and “Cobweb” and then drove “Sanford” and “Cobweb” into Rutland so they could do some re-supply at Price Chopper. With another gratifying “Trail Angel” mission out of the way, it was off to the Vermont State Fairgrounds to set up for the opening day of the festival. No sooner had we set up our display table with our DVDs, CDs, books and AT photos, then who should walk up but “Quoddy” our old hiking friend from the Long Trail in 2007. We had camped with him back then and had also offered him “trail magic” in the form of a ride to Hyde Park where we all stayed at a local motel and pigged out on pizza at a local pizza parlor. It was great catching up on what he ad been doing since we last saw him but were concerned to hear that he was having some critical problems with his feet- problems that made it almost impossible for him to hike any great distance. We chatted for what seemed like hours and then he was off to pitch his tent with the other hikers at the festival. We also had our 2006 hikemate, “Sleepy the Arab” stop by. Seems that no matter where we go, if it is near a trail, “Sleepy” is there. We had a great deal of interest in “Mom’s” photos and we sold two DVDs to a local bookstore that was set up right next to us. In the afternoon we gave both of our presentations, “The Joy of Backpacking as a Couple” and “The Care and Feeding of the Long Distance Hiker” - both were well-attended and we received many compliments. At 6:30 p.m., it was time for me to perform on the small stage near the vendors and it went quite well. I received a number of compliments and several people said they enjoyed listening to something different after having listened to folk and Irish bands all afternoon, The coolest part of the entire presentation was when I was done and “Landshark” instructed me to look out into the sky behind the stage. Apparently, as I was playing my last song a large rainbow appeared over the mountains in the distance. When I looked up, the remnants of it were still glowing in the late afternoon sun against a backdrop of sunset-painted clouds. The Native spirits must have been happy with the music and offered up their own type of applause. It was a very moving moment for me. With all of our stuff now packed into the car, we grabbed a wonderful chicken sandwich from the folks at the Back Home Again Café, listened to a band named “Gypsy Reel” and then drove back to the inn to prep food and pack our packs for our week on The Long Trail which would begin tomorrow.

 

Sunday, August 17th: Canadian Border to Shooting Star Shelter (4.4 miles) (6.4 miles from Journey’s End Road drop-off, 5.0 miles from Journey’s End Shelter).

For us the festival was over and now the journey was to begin. After a final gut-stretching breakfast at the inn, we drove to Johnson, VT, where just north of there, we would drop our car at Nye’s Green Valley B&B and get a shuttle to North Troy, VT. We would be staying at the B&B on Friday night when we arrived at the trailhead north of Johnson. The plan was to re-stock from the supply bin in our car, have them shuttle us back to the trailhead and then hike for two more days to Smugglers Notch. That was the plan, anyway. 

We arrived at the Green Valley B&B at around 11:00, after making a stop in Hayden, VT, to pick up a couple of subs for lunch. We met our hosts, Dave and Marcia (and their two dogs) and confirmed our plans for the week with them. Leaving our car behind, we jumped into Marcia’s car for the long ride to North Troy and our drop off point on Journeys End Road. The recent rains had washed out a section of the road leading to the trailhead making it impossible for Marcia’s car to make it all the way. So she dropped us off about one-half mile short of where we wanted to start. It had been some time since we had carried 30+ pounds on our backs so the walk to the trailhead was a real adventure. Upon reaching the trailhead, we met Don Hill (not Down Hill), who was picking up the trail register. As we signed in, he told us that he was responsible for four separate trailhead registers along the Long Trail. We thanked him for his hard work and started the long climb to the Journeys End Shelter where we planned to have lunch. The Journeys’ End Shelter was a welcome sight since it was here that we spent the night in 2007 waiting for “Low Impact” and “Backtrack” so we could drive them back to Burlington upon completing their end-to-end hike of the trail. As we were packing up, having completed our lunch, “Sway” and “Chief”, a father/son team, arrived and celebrated the completion of their thru-hike of the Long Trail. They told us, in no uncertain terms, that the last month had been one of the greatest times of their lives. After congratulating them on their accomplishment, we were off again, up the long ascent to the concrete marker at the Canadian border. It was a perfectly clear day and as we alternately took each others picture at the marker, we gazed off into the distance at the lush Canadian wilderness for several minutes. With Shooting Star Shelter only several miles away, we donned our packs and began what we thought would be a leisurely walk to our destination for the night. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The trail, which is difficult even when it is dry, had been reduced to a mass of mud and exposed roots by the preceding month of unending rains. And when we weren’t negotiating mud and roots, we sloshed and tripped through miles of roots and mud obscured by the overgrown vegetation. Sometimes it was impossible to see the trail a mere 5’ in front of us. As we bushwhacked our way south, we ran into a lot of northbound thru-hikers and several day hikers – we were amazed at how busy the trail was. At around 3:30 p.m. we arrived at the road crossing at VT-105 and began the long 1.8 mile hike up to Shooting Star Shelter. It was a torturous climb, slipping and sliding through the mud and tip-toeing over and around all the exposed roots. We looked forward to dropping our packs and calling it a day at the shelter. What we also looked forward to was the fact that there was a water pump at this shelter so I would not have to work quite so hard refilling our hydration packs. We had read on the internet that the pump had recently been repaired and was operating perfectly. What a shock it was to find, upon our arrival, that the pump was not repaired and had, in fact, been completely disassembled. I had to make a 500’ descent to a small, murky, puddle of water to get what we needed to cook dinner. I have to say, though, that our new MSR Hyperflow Microfilter worked like a champ on its first outing and I was able to fill our hydration bags in only a few minutes. As the sun began to set over this wonderful shelter, it became apparent that we would have the shelter all to ourselves. We ate our dinner, took in the wonderful view out front and reveled in the peace and quiet – the peace and quiet that we hoped we would experience the entire trip. With the sun now below the horizon, the air turned quite cool so we prepared ourselves for a cold night’s sleep. There had been no sign of rain all day and we hoped that the weather would hold until we completed our journey.

 

August 18th: Shooting Star Shelter to Jay Camp Shelter (7.8 miles)

Last night a beautiful full moon lit up the sky and bathed the inside of the shelter in an electric-blue glow. It was cold but our 40° bags worked just fine and the stillness of the evening washed over us like a gentle massage. As we lounged in the shelter eating breakfast, we discussed our plans for the week. Based on the condition of the trail, which made going very slow, and the fact that we would probably not be in trail shape for several days, we decided that we may have to alter our plans a bit. It was bit discouraging to think that we may not make it to Smugglers Notch by Sunday but making big miles each day, at least for us, may be difficult. As we perused our trail maps, we began to formulate some alternatives to our original plan. The distance between shelters seemed to be either short or beyond what we could comfortably do in a day. The dilemma – do we satisfy ourselves with shorter and more relaxing days, and probably not complete the entire section of trail we set out to conquer, or push late into the evening and arrive at camp thoroughly spent – which would jeopardize our health, safety and enjoyment? Since Jay Camp was our planned destination for the day, we decided to wait to make any decision about the rest of the hike until later in the week.

Today was filled with more mud and roots and narrow passageways through the underbrush that made moving forward very slow and difficult. At times there were puddles of mud stretching for 15’-20’ in front of us and some were now 6’ wide from hikers circumventing them in order to save their boots. I could not help but lament the fact that this “granddaddy” of all long trails was in such bad shape. It seemed that if no trail maintenance was done over the next year to cut back the weeds hiding the tread way, by next hiking season there would be no evidence that the trail even existed, other than the faded white blazes along its length. At around 11:00 a.m. we arrived at the Laura Woodward Shelter and decided to take a long lunch – we had all afternoon to make it to the Jay Camp Shelter. We kicked off our boots, ate lunch and just relaxed until noon – quite unusual for us. With our protracted lunch over, we were off to tackle Jay Peak, one of the few scenic overlooks on the trail. For over two hours we trudged through the woods and up the boulder-strewn access trail that dumped us onto the ski slope below the peak. As we exited the forest onto the grassy trail that come winter would be a slope covered with 5’-6’ of snow, we were hit square in the face with a very strong wind. It mercilessly buffeted us all the way to the summit that stood next to the Jay Peak tramway and lodge. We took the wooden steps up to the highest point and were presented with a truly spectacular, 360° view of the surrounding valleys, mountains and lakes. We sat on the marble, memorial bench located there, ate a snack, snapped numerous photos and commented on how much this rocky peak reminded us of our time in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Our moment of reminiscence over, we started back down the rocky trail, across the ski slope again, and down, down, down, a treacherous, boulder-strewn section of trail. Each step had to be calculated so as to not slip on the damp boulders and roots and go crashing down into the valley below. Our journey down went off without incident and by 3:30 p.m. we arrived at Jay Camp.

What we found was an old, but relatively well-maintained, fully enclosed shelter with the water source right outside the door. The shelter had functioning windows and something we had not seen before – a large wooden panel in the front wall, hinged at the bottom, which opened out to make a work space to prepare food. Very clever. Since our clothes were soaked from sweat, we proceed to hang everything we had on clothes lines outside the shelter in order to take advantage of the breeze that made its way through the camp. A trip to the privy disclosed that this was an active walkway for moose because there were hoof prints everywhere. We were both excited about the prospect of seeing a moose in the wild. The only downside to our location was that we were surrounded by water, flowing and of the mud puddle variety, and with that came MOSQUITOES! It was a constant battle to ward them off – a battle that we were loosing miserably. Not even 100% Deet was an adequate deterrent.

The day was coming to and end, the sky was getting ominously threatening and it looked like we would have the shelter to ourselves for the second day in a row. Even the wildlife made themselves scarce. We saw a few toads, some yellow finches, a garter snake and a hawk but, other than that, the wildlife was as absent as the hikers. Just after finishing our dinner, the skies opened up and it was a mad rush to pull our clothes off the lines and bring our bear bag of food into the shelter. It was good that no other hikers arrived because we had clothes hanging everywhere inside the shelter. As we nodded off to sleep, with the rain still pounding on the shelter’s tin roof, we hoped for better weather in the morning.

 

August 19, 2008: Jay Camp to Hazen’s Notch Shelter (5.4 miles)

It had been a restful night with the steady patter of rain on the roof of the shelter serenading us with a natural lullaby. But now it was morning and we wanted the rain to stop so we could get going before it got much later. As got ready to prepare breakfast and pack our packs, we discovered that for the first time in all the years we had been backpacking, mice had gotten into our food. Normally we hang our food bag outside, unless it is raining. Then we hang it in the shelter from one of the “mouse resistant” hangers. For some reason, perhaps it is because the shelter register made only one mention of a mouse in the shelter, I hung our food bag from a nail on one of the beams in the shelter. I thought I heard a strange squeaking noise during the night but gave it no mind. My mistake. As I pulled down the bag, there were two distinct holes chewed through the bag and further investigation showed that there were two matching holes in my personal food bag inside. Fortunately, our mouse friend was either not very hungry nor very industrious because he only got a small portion of cheese and some trail mix. I would have to replace both the bags at some pint, however.

We waited for the rain to let up for as long as we could but by 8:00 a.m. we just had to get going. We put on our rain gear and ventured out into the still-falling rain. We had not gone one-half mile and we were already dripping wet – not from the rain but from the body heat trapped inside our rain gear. To this day, I am still trying to figure out what they mean when they say “this jacket is waterproof and breathable.” “Mom” and I have owned many rain jackets and have, as yet, to find one that repels water and keeps us dry from our sweat at the same time. Thankfully, the lingering rain did not last long and we were soon able to remove our rain clothes and strip down to our shorts and tee-shirts. However, by then the damage was done and our clothes were soaked again. The heavy rain overnight made the trail even muddier, if that were possible, and it was a tiring chore to keep from slipping on the wet rock and roots. And now, with the vegetation overhanging the trail soaking wet, we were drenched from waist to feet as we pushed through it. Just before Chet’s Overlook, we ran into our first hiker in over two days. “Gatorade Tiger” was on his way to the Canadian border and we stopped and chatted for awhile.

By 1:00 p.m. we made it to the Hazens Notch Shelter and sat for a moment gazing at the view stretching before us. This was another fully-enclosed shelter with windows and a front door but no fold-down work table like at Jay Camp. It slept eight, on two four-person bunks and was quite a bit newer. As we worked on building a campfire, the first we had ever built on all our years of backpacking, we discussed the fact that we were still working on our trail legs and we probably would not be able to make it another 6.2 miles, up the steepest climb of the trip to the next shelter, before dark. The bottom line was that we were wiped out. It was becoming more and more obvious that our original plan would need to be altered dramatically and we would stay here for the night. We recalculated our mileage for the next five days and found we would arrive at Johnson, VT on Sunday – not Friday as originally planned. We agreed that this would have to be our new plan but it presented us with a new quandary. Did we have enough food and toilet paper to last us an additional two days? There were no re-supply points between here and Johnson. And would we be able to contact Dave and Marcia to tell them of our change of plans? Up until this point, cell phone service had been spotty at best, so we were rightly concerned about making contact with them in time. We hoped for the best and began to do an inventory of our remaining food. By splitting up some of our lunches and making meals out of nutrition bars and breakfasts out of “Anita’s AT Power Cookies,” we came to the conclusion that we could make it with what food we had. It would be difficult but doable.

Toilet paper was another issue but we would deal with that as situations arose. Hopefully, eating less food would result in needing less TP. Confident that we could make it, we sat down to eat lunch. As we did, “Brendon”, a northbounder, arrived to have a late lunch before pushing on to Jay Camp. He stayed for quite awhile and we had a wonderful conversation with him until he packed up and headed out. We wished him well. Both he and “Gatorade Tiger” planned to finish their hike the following day. For us, that was hard to imagine but both had been on the trail for a month and had their trail legs under them so they were very strong.

Not long after “Brendon” left, in came “Stumpknocker” and “Yolanda Vega” (a.k.a. “Mrs. Gorp). Hazen’s Notch was their destination for the day. As they sat and ate their dinners, we discovered that “Stumpknocker” was a multi-thru-hike AT thru-hiker and last did it in 2006 – the same year we did ours. When he mentioned this, it occurred to us that we had heard about him from “Bama” and had seen his register entries at several of the shelters along the AT. “Yolanda Vega,” who adopted this trail name for soutbound hikes and reserved “Mrs. Gorp” for northbound hikes, is also a veteran thru-hiker. We sat for hours and relived our past adventures and told them of our dilemma in not being able to make it to our re-supply point by Friday. “Mrs. Grop” who is from Vermont and has thru-hiked the AT several times had also spent a great deal of time on the Long Trail. She suggested that on Friday we take a side trail down from Corliss Camp and have our B&B hosts pick us up. That way we could restock for the last two days and they could take us back to where we left off.

“Mom” immediately got out her maps and located the Davis Neighborhood Trail that would take us down to where we could be picked up. We were saved! What a great idea. We still would not make it to Smugglers Notch by Sunday but this was a reasonable alternative. We thanked “Yolanda Vega” for the idea and pulled our food out again to prepare a huge dinner. Since she and “Stumpknocker” needed a place to stay when they reached Johnson, we suggested they call the Green Valley B&B and gave them the number. It was the least we could do for them bailing us out of our situation. With all the logistics out of the way, the sky getting dark, and our stomachs full, we bid them good night and they left the shelter to go set up their tent. We went to bed satisfied that the rest of our journey would be more than we originally hoped for despite falling short of our intended goal.

 

August 20, 2008: Hazens Notch Shelter to Tillotson Shelter (6.1 miles)

With renewed vigor, we left the shelter but not before spending a few precious moments viewing Jay Peak off in the distance shrouded in early morning clouds and bright sunlight. “Stumpknocker” and “Yolanda Vega” were enjoying their early morning, fresh-brewed coffee as we headed down the access trail but we knew, with their speed, they would catch us before too long. By 11:00, they did just that and snuck up behind us just as we were negotiating our way across a downed tree spanning a huge mud hole (one of the hundreds on this trail) It is no wonder that hikers have nicknamed Vermont, “Vermud.” Lying ahead of us was the long, steep climb up Haystack Mountain and it was slow going. There were a few minor view points but most were blocked by trees. After reaching the top, actually a false summit, we headed back down, walking through rich stands of pine and spruce. It smelled like Christmas and it was marvelous. Part way down, we reached the Haystack Mountain Summit Trail, which would take us 0.2 mile up to the “actual” summit of the mountain. We chose not to make the trip and instead sat down for a snack near some puncheons on the access trail. I could not imagine, with so few mountaintop payoffs on this trail, why the trail could not have been routed directly over the summit of Haystack Mountain rather then 0.2 mile below it. Oh well, this is not The Whites. As we snacked on protein bars, along came two northbound brothers, “Wherezablaze” and “Therezablaze.” We chatted for awhile until all of us became chilled by the cool breeze wafting across our sweat-soaked clothes. We wished them safety and good luck on the rest of their journey and started back down the rest of the mountain, passing “Natty Carriage” on his way north.

Before we knew it, it was 1:00 p.m. and we were already at the Tillotson Shelter and who should already be there finishing up their lunch but “Stumpknocker” and “Yolanda Vega.” “Yolanda” had been carrying a 1 lb. bag of M&Ms for the last several days and offered us half just before heading back onto the trail. Gotta love “trail magic!” As we ate our own lunch, in came the first of many hikers who would call this shelter their home for the night. First there was “Shane” who was on his way to Canada and had been sick for the last several days. Despite nausea and diarrhea he was continuing his trek. Next was “Alex” who had been waylaid for quite some time atop Mt. Belvidere by a gentleman who prepared him some hot food. He and “Shane” had been hiking together and “Shane” expected “Alex” to already be at the shelter when he arrived. The fact that he was not, concerned “Shane.” As we all ate, we saw another hiker walk up behind the shelter. He shortly reappeared and dropped what looked to be a 100 lb pack onto the huge rock slabs in front of the shelter. His pack was huge and strapped to the outside of it was a fully-loaded day pack and a two-burner Coleman stove. Our first thought was that, with all that equipment, this has to be a local day hiker coming in to party for the night. No self-respecting backpacker would deliberately carry that much stuff. Our concerns were ill-founded when he announced that he was part of a GMC trail crew and the others would be arriving shortly. It was going to be a full house at the shelter tonight. Before long, four other trail crew members arrived carrying the rest of their gear, including a 10-quart stainless steel pot, a huge frying pan, axes, chain saws, and enough food, in large plastic buckets, to feed a small country for a week. Oh yes, they also had two one-gallon glass jugs of a locally brewed beer. It was going to be an interesting day! As it turned out the crew, Erika, Kurt, Sal, Emily and crew leader, Alfonzo, were a great bunch of kids. They were up for a few days to build puncheons north of the shelter. We had walked across some of their work earlier in the day and saw the pile of timbers they would be using hidden in the woods where a helicopter had dropped them. It was obvious that they enjoyed each other’s company as well as working on the trail.

Both “Shane” and “Alex” had to leave so we wished them luck. We were soon to learn that “Alex’s” luck was bad. About 45 minutes or so after “Alex” had left, one of the trail crew members commented that they saw someone, with a blue bandana on much like “Alex” was wearing,  running north on the trail just above the shelter. We thought little about it until “Kilgore Trout” (not the one we hiked with in ’06), arrived and told us he had met “Alex” hiking on the trail south of the shelter. “Kilgore Trout” told “Alex” that he was on his way north and “Alex” said so was he. Problem was, one of them was going the wrong way and it was not “Kilgore.” Apparently, “Alex” had turned the wrong way at the trail intersection above the shelter and had hiked 45 minutes the wrong way. Good thing he ran into “Kilgore” or he could have hiked for hours before realizing his mistake. The blue flash seen passing above the shelter had indeed been “Alex’ running north to make up lost time.

As they day wore on, several other thru-hikers arrived including “Dogbait,” and “Ridgerunner” and “Kilgore Trout” showed all of us photos of the black bear he had just seen at a pond near the shelter. We spent the rest of the day discussing our hiking adventures and peppering the trail crew with questions about themselves and what they do for the trail. When dinnertime arrived, it was a real kick watching the crew preparing pork chops, cabbage and an array of other culinary delights. In fact, Kurt, made fresh donuts, dusted with powdered sugar and offered them to everyone. What a treat that was after eating tuna and peanut butter for days.

As the sun began to set, we all sat on the rocks in front of the shelter and longingly gazed at the fire tower atop Belvidere Mountain – a place “Mom” and I would visit the next morning. The sun gave way to a beautiful moon and clear skies as we all laid down to rest our weary bones.

 

August 21, 2008: Tillotson Camp to Spruce Ledges Shelter (8.6 miles)

Content with our new plan of taking our time and doing fewer miles each day, we headed out at 7:15 a.m. to do the 8.6 miles to the Spruce Ledges Shelter while it was still relatively cool. It was another sunny, cloudless morning and it appeared that our string of days of great hiking weather was continuing. It was a morning of long ups and downs through lush surroundings augmented with the aroma of pines and spruce which made for a delightful morning on the trail. We still had to negotiate extensive areas of boot sucking mud, but it was still a great day to be alive and free. By mid-morning we arrived near the top of Belvidere Mountain and stopped to take a break and the access trail that takes one to the fire tower above. As much as another view would have been nice, it was further to the fire tower than we were willing to go. We snacked on “Power Cookies” and fresh raspberries from the bushes along the trail and just took in the fragrance of the morning. Now we would make the long descent to the road crossing at VT-118, along a beautiful creek, and have lunch before starting back up to the shelter. After relaxing for 30 minutes in the shade and wolfing down tuna, cheese and bars, we crossed the road and found ourselves in a completely different environment than we had been all week. Now the pines and spruce had been replaced with oak, birch and maples, the trail was wide and free of overgrowth and we could actually see through the woods around us. It was a wonderful section of trail – the nicest we had experienced on The Long Trail. Even though we had to make a rather long ascent, the fact that the trail was free of bushes, slippery rocks and roots that twist your ankles in every direction, it was a joyous walk. Our decision to walk slower, do less miles each day and enjoy the trip more was reaping huge dividends. We were more relaxed than we had been in a long time and we were actually enjoying being in camp by early afternoon and just doing nothing. As we ran into more and more hikers and told them about our short, unhurried days, they voiced their approval of our style of hiking. Doing 20-25 miles a day on this trail was brutal and reeked havoc on bodies not yet attuned to the rigors of the trail.

As we neared camp, we looked forward to a section we had been hearing about for days – Devils Gulch – a mini-version of the infamous Mahoosic Notch in Maine. For those who had never done Mahoosic Notch, Devils Gulch was a seemingly insurmountable and death-defying scramble over and under huge boulders. We did enjoy climbing and slithering our way through it but it could not hold a candle to the sheer magnitude and difficulty of Mahoosic Notch. Once we were through it, we had to laugh a bit wondering what all the fuss was about.

The Spruce Ledges Shelter is a very new and spacious shelter and is unique in that it has two sliding barn doors, lots of windows and two skylights that make for a very cozy and bright environment. It is dedicated to Don Hill, the trail maintainer we had met at Journeys End Road when we were singing on to the trail. Out on the porch were three benches just made for resting tired feet and legs. And off to the side, a few yards away, was a bench overlooking Ritterbush Pond, hundreds of feet below, and in the distance, Belvidere Mountain. Rising up from the south slope of Belvidere we could also see the mountainous remnants of an old asbestos mine; its grey/white profile standing above the sea of green around it like some gargantuan sand pile. We wondered why, when the mine was closed, why this large mountain of ashen debris was not pushed back into the gaping hole from where it was removed years ago. We unpacked, hung up wet clothes and then I was off to find the spring. On the way I scared up a flock of grouse (or partridges as I was told they are called in Vermont). Since there was plenty of clean water available, we decided to wash our hair (away from the water source, of course) and washed up a bit. It felt so good and took whatever little bit of energy we had left right out of us. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and were able to contact Dave and Marcia with our new plans and the logistics for picking us up the following day. Our plan was to reach Corliss Camp by late morning and then hike 1.5 miles from there down the connecting Davis Neighborhood Trail to Cross Road where we would be picked up. If our estimates were right, we would be lounging in the comfort of the Green Valley B&B by mid-afternoon. With that out of the way, we simply enjoyed the rest of the day and each other’s company.

Being up so high and surrounded by mile and miles of forest made this location the quietest we had been at so far. We loved the peacefulness and wondered how we would adapt to being back in civilization tomorrow. We would soon see.

 

August 22, 2008: Spruce Ledges Shelter to Corliss Camp (6.7 miles)

We arose to a much warmer morning than we had experienced all week and walked to the Ritterbush Pond overlook and marveled at the beauty of the mist rising from the pond up to the top of the mountain glistening in the orange glow of sunrise. It was quite mystical. Knowing that our day would end at the B&B and with a home cooked meal in town, we headed out with a newfound lilt in our steps. Even “Mom’s” sore heal, the result she believed of adjusting to her new boots, seemed to disappear. We first conquered the north slope of Bowen Mountain and then ascended down, for what seemed like hours, to Basin Brook. The sweat was already flowing but we did not care – it was going to be a great day. From there it was a long, moderate, ascent to the summit of Butternut Mountain at 2,715 feet where we stopped to take a few photographs and called Marcia with an update. Once again, we had marched to the summit of a wonderful mountain and there was no payoff – unless you consider cell service a payoff. This was getting pretty frustrating. Beside no views there were also no moose – but that fact did not surprise us. There was, however, numerous blow downs as yet to be removed by the GMC trail crews. It was extremely slow going as we had to circumvent the large tress blocking our route. What was very interesting was that Butternut Mountain was not shown on the trail profile on the map we had with us. Seems that our map was a year old and the new version, as we later found out, had been corrected to show this “stealth mountain.” Despite the long climbs and blow downs, we arrived at Corliss Camp in record time – 11:30 a.m. – and decided to have lunch. We contacted Marcia one last time with directions to our pick-up point and an estimated time of arrival. Everything was set. After lunch, we decided to change into some less “smelly” clothes so as to not stink up Marcia’s car on the ride back and then headed down the Davis Neighborhood Trail to Cross Road. We laughed at the name of the trail because it reminded us of The Davis Farm on the AT. This farm and its sprawling acres of fields were nestled in the valley far below us and for literally hours on end it could be seen from the trail every time we looked down. Could this be the same Davis family whose name graced the trail we were now walking on? Hum.

At the end of the Davis Neighborhood Trail, we came to Cross Road, the place we told Marcia to pick us up. Since we were a bit early arriving, we decided to start walking down the road where she we would see her coming. When we looked at the name of the next road we came to, we discovered that the map we had had mislabeled road names and the road we were on did not even exist on the map. Oh, oh! We tried to reach her but to no avail so we continued walking – for more than a mile. It was getting close to our pick up time when we came to another intersection of three roads and only one of them appeared on our map. Figuring that going further would have us missing Marcia if she tried to locate us, we took off our packs and sat down near the intersection. Thankfully for us, Marcia was a native of the area and knew the back roads well. She realized that the information we had given her was a bit off so she drove around until she found us. Were we ever glad to see her? We drove a scenic route back to the B&B where we found “Stumpknocker” and “Yolanda Vega” checked in. It was great seeing them again and we were happy that they had been able to get a room.

After checking in and putting our gear in our comfortable room, we took much needed showers and asked “Stumpknocker” and “Yolanda Vega” if they would like to join us for dinner. On Dave’s recommendation, we headed into Jefferson to eat at the 158 Main Street restaurant. We were a bit early for dinner and they were not open yet so we headed down the street and did what hikers do best – shopped for food. With our shopping out of the way, we headed back to the restaurant and after sitting in our car for a few minutes until they opened, went in. Dave’s recommendation was right on target. We ordered wine, salad and Tai wraps as appetizers and when the food arrived we could not believe our eyes. There was more food on our plates than we had ever seen (except for maybe the first pass down the line at an AYCE buffet0 And the prices were more than reasonable. We highly recommend this restaurant to any hiker who can get off the trail in Johnson for a few days. As we sat and thoroughly devoured our meals, “Yolanda” threw out the idea that with a couple of shuttles, we could do our last two days on the trail as day hikes. Why hadn’t we thought of that? What a great idea! That is what we planned on doing.

We drove back to the B&B, dropped off our dinner guests, grabbed our maps and headed out to do some recognizance for the following day. We located the trailhead at Codding Hollow, where we would drop off our car on Saturday morning, and went back to the B&B to pack and get some sleep. Oh yes, we did have to let our hosts know of our change of plans and they were more than willing to make the necessary shuttles. What great people! Our plan for Saturday was a day hike (with day pack) from Corliss Shelter, via the Davis Neighborhood Trail, over Laraway Mountain and down to Codding Hollow and our waiting car. Dave and Marcia had an available room on Saturday night, so we could drive back and stay there again. This was going to be so cool!

 

August 23, 2008: Corliss Shelter to Codding Hollow via the Davis Neighborhood Trail. (trail miles – 4.8, total miles – 6.6)

We had our final breakfast with “Stumpknocker” & “Yolanda Vega” at the Green Valley B&B and during our breakfast chatter, “Yolanda” told us about a hiker they met on the trail the day before who was quite upset with people who did sections of the trail with a day pack. To his way of thinking, anything other than tramping up and down mountains with a 30+lb. pack was “cheating.” Today (wink, wink, “Yolanda”) we would be cheating. Since our regular shuttle driver, Marcia, was taking a well-deserved day off, we jumped in our car, with Dave in pursuit, while “Stumpknocker” retreated to the privacy of his room to complete his trail journals. We wished them well on the remainder of their journey south and promised to stay in touch. We arrived at the Codding Hollow trailhead, parked our car and then jumped in Dave’s car for the ride back to Cross Road and the Davis Neighborhood Trail trailhead. The morning air was chilly, so the ride in Dave’s convertible was rather refreshing. At the trailhead, we said good-bye to Dave, told him we would see him again later in the day and began the 1.5 mile trek back to Corliss Camp and the Long Trail.

Perhaps it was due to the cool air during our car ride but we were totally refreshed and the hike back to the camp was quick and effortless, despite the fact that it was all uphill. Once again, there was no hint of rain and the weather was just perfect for hiking. What was equally awesome was the walk up to the 2,790’ summit of Laraway Mountain. The views from this summit were captivating so we dropped our pack (what a joy carrying nothing more than water and snacks), found a huge rock to sit on and took and veeeery long snack break. We had thrown away our watch and our schedule today and simply relished every moment we could with no deadline. All week we had been working on ideas for our next book and the theme we were discussing today was “Simplcity vs. Materialism.” How appropriate this theme was for what we were doing, where we were, and what we were witnessing in the valley below us. We had not a care in the world and the word “stress” had fallen from our psyches and vocabulary. Our break over, we started the 0.6 mile ascent to the next scenic overlook, and even better one than previously and it was also the site of the “Laraway Inn” (wink, wink, again “Yolanda”). Even though tent camping is not allowed along the trail, except at designated shelter areas, it was obvious that numerous “tenters” had used this area and it was not hard to understand why. Who would want to pass up the chance to spend their evening perched atop this magnificent overlook and watch the sun go down? We again took a break, a long 1-hour one, and had lunch. The sky was deep blue and there was not a cloud to been seen anywhere. Our luck with the weather was continuing. Except for Monday evening, it had been a rain-free week; the first one in Vermont for many months. As we were eating, a lone day-hiker arrived with his two dogs; all of them exhibiting the effects of long ascent to this lofty location. We talked for a few moments and then he was off to walk to the summit. We were lucky to have cell service, so I made a call to my parents to give them an update and called my daughter, Rebecca, to wish her well on her marathon run the following day.

We had been here soaking it all in for quite awhile, taking pictures and watching hawks and buzzards (we can never seem to get away from the buzzards), but now it was time to move on.

The walk down was gentle and leisurely and we passed too many northbound day hikers to count. However, that did not stop us from regularly stopping to talk with them before continuing on. One couple was quite interested in hearing about our AT thru-hike, so we must have talked with them for 30 minutes or more. What a difference not having a schedule made. Before we knew it, we arrived at the trailhead parking lot and walked down the access road to the lower lot where our car was parked. We were amazed that it was still only 2:00 p.m. Wanting to wash some of the grit and grime of the day off our bodies, we drove back to the small bridge spanning the creek at Codding Hollow, took off our shoes and jumped in. The water was quite cold but felt so good against our sweaty bodies. It felt so good that we had a hard time extricating ourselves from the refreshment washing over us – but we finally did.

On our drive back to the B&B, we made several stops so “Mom” could photograph two of the many covered bridges that still span the rivers of Vermont. They are quite the pieces of engineering, considering how old they were. I was fascinated. Dave had told us about the incredible damaged nearby from a freak tornado that had blitzed through the area in July, so we made a trip to see how bad it was. We could not believe our eyes! The devastation was immense but what was equally unbelievable was to see not just what the storm destroyed but what it spared, even though they were only yards apart. Mother Nature is an amazingly fickle. Since we still had time on our hands, we drove out to Smugglers Notch and did some reconnaissance for next year’s hike and then, on the way back, stopped at a store in Jefferson to pick up some bottles of Vermont Maple syrup, to send to our parents, and several boxes of maple candy for “Mom” to take to her office.

We suddenly realized we were hungry again, (our hiker metabolism had finally kicked in) so we drove to Hyde Park for an early dinner. We stopped at the Stonegrille Restaurant, a place where we had eaten with “Quoddy” in ’07, and had been quite satisfied with the food. This time was quite different. Both the service and the food were awful and if we had not been so hungry, we probably would have made a fuss. Vowing that we would never eat there again nor recommend it to anyone else, we drove back to the B&B, changed rooms (our pervious one was rented to someone else tonight), took showers and spent the remainder of the evening lying around reading some of the hundreds of books found at the B&B. We were totally relaxed and content with the fact that we would only make it to Johnson by tomorrow rather than to Smugglers Notch, as was our original plan. The only thing that nagged at us was that tomorrow night this peaceful adventure would be over and it would be back to “civilization.” Perish the thought!

 

August 24, 2008: Codding Hollow to Johnson, VT (6.5 miles)

Today would be our last day on the trail for this year and we approached it with both satisfaction and regret. This was not a new feeling for us; it is one that we deal with every time we make a long distance hike. Perhaps that is why we continue to hike every time we get a chance. We ate our breakfast of waffles, eggs and ham with a family from the U.K. who were finishing up their “holiday” in the U.S. They told us that they chose New England on a whim and upon arriving here had no real idea as to where they would go or what they would see. Now that is an adventure. We found out from them that they spent time in many of the New Hampshire towns we hiked through in ’06 and they even did a part of the AT – up Wildcat Mountain, one of the toughest sections on the trail. We wished them well and jumped in our car to drop it off at the Johnson trailhead. Dave followed us in Marcia’s convertible (a present she gave herself on her 50th birthday). With the top down and the morning air waking us up, we drove to Codding Hollow. We bid Dave good-bye, thanking him profusely for all of the shuttles during the week and then marched off into a gigantic stand of pine and spruce. It was a gorgeous day and the soft bed of pine needles under our boots were a welcome change to the roots we had been stumbling over earlier in the week. We knew today was going to be special when we heard a coyote calling off in the distance and it was more than we could have imagined. We wandered and talked, talked and wandered, until we reached Roundtop Shelter where we stopped for a snack break. This was one of the most interesting design we had seen in a shelter, sort of L-shaped, and someone had left a newspaper on the table there which I read while “Mom” looked through the shelter register. The view from behind the shelter was amazing and made us wish that we had a few more days to spend on the trail. Apparently, the July tornado had come through this way, narrowly missing the shelter but there was one tree that had fallen nearby, just missing the privy. As we proceeded from the shelter to the Lamoille River, the tornado damage was readily apparent and there were numerous trees blown down and blocking the trail. The GMC trail crews were going to have their hands full clearing this section of trail. Today, with the elated mood we were in, these obstacles were nothing more than brief annoyances to us. As we walked, I remembered something I had read in a book at the B&B entitled, “Real Vermonters Don’t Milk Goats” by Frank Bryan and Bill Mores. The passage read, “Real Vermonters know the Long Trail is just a pathway for Flatlanders so they can see Vermont without getting lost.” We were certainly Flatlanders, so we understood what they meant. However, we have never gotten lost in Vermont or anywhere else for that matter.

After a brief road walk, we arrived at our last overlook for the week; Prospect Rock. We decided that this would be our lunch location and it was wondrous. Below, the Lamoille River, which we would soon cross, wound its way through the Vermont countryside. Off in the distance we could see the leaves already starting to change into their fall colors, something we had been noticing all week, and a gentle breeze wafted over the bare rocks.

“Mom” took a flurry of photos as I simply stared off into the valley below trying to identify buildings along the highway that we had passed on our travels to Johnson. As we ate, several day hikers arrived and they too marveled at the beauty stretched out before them. What we found odd was how we immediately became invisible to them and they made no conversation with us at all. We wanted to make this last moment on the Long Trail last as long as possible, but it was now getting crowded and noisy so it was time to go. We made the long, but pleasant trip down through a huge pine forest, passing other day hikers making their way to the top, and soon we were standing at the new suspension bridge that would take us to the other side of the Lamoille River and the Johnson trailhead. “Mom” is not a fan of suspension bridges, so as I have always done on past hikes, I waited until she was all the way across before starting over. Forcing its way through the tight gorge under the bridge, the river was deep and swift and it looked so refreshing. A swim would have been nice but we were on a mission. Now across the river, I climbed up the steep bank from the river on an aluminum ladder someone had left there as “Mom” scaled the river bank to my right. The temperature had risen considerably so as we exited the forest into the open field just before the trailhead parking lot, we were dripping wet. Perhaps it was because “Mom” had changed boots for the last two days of our hike so her heel pain would subside that gave her the lilt in her step as we neared the car. Or, maybe it was simply because we had made another successful hike and were thoroughly at peace with our lives at this moment. Whatever it was, we reached the car with smiles on our faces and a sense satisfaction in completing another section of the trail. Next year we would finish the last section, from Smugglers Notch to Waitsfield – a section that would take us over Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump, the two toughest ascents on the trail. We could not wait.

The rest of the day was filled with chores and “trail magic.” We picked up our dirty laundry at the B&B and drove to Johnson to the local laundromat. Since we would be leaving the flowing morning for New Hampshire, we wanted to make sure all our clothes were clean. As “Mom” watched the washing machines go round-and-round, I went next door to the Grand Union and picked us up something to drink. Since this laundromat requires that you purchase a card that you insert into the machines to make them operate, and because it only accepts large bills, when we finished washing and drying our clothes we had over $12.00 left on our card. “Mom” decided to give the card to a young couple who had just arrived complaining about how much money they had lost in inoperable machines at another laundromat nearby. They were grateful and equally astonished when they checked the card and saw how much money was left on it. That’s why it is called “trail magic.” On the drive back to the B&B, we saw a hiker walking along the road heading toward Johnson. We stopped and picked him up and found that he was a section hiker and was on his way to the Johnson trailhead to pick up his car to go home. Problem was, he was walking the wrong way. He admitted to being quite dehydrated and had been sucking on sugar candy to try to ward off his thirst. It was evident that his mental abilities had been severely reduced by the dehydration for he was quite disoriented. We dropped him at his car and wished him well. “Trail magic” twice in 10 minutes. Our day was compete!

We were now hungry, again, (surprise, surprise) so we headed to Jeffersonville to have another great meal and a long-overdue glass of wine at the 158 Main Street Restaurant. Problem was they were closed on Sundays so we were relegated to eating at “Peggies,” a rather austere, loud, and somewhat less than appealing “joint” along VT-15. We quickly drank our beer and ate our sandwiches, all the while swatting the flies that hovered over our table. Since we had been craving ice cream for several days, we walked next door and purchased a sundae and a strawberry ice cream cone and prepared to just lounge in the cool night air on the nearby picnic tables. We had not taken but two bites and were attacked by mosquitoes and had to retreat to the safety of our car. Mosquitoes had been a constant annoyance on the entire trip and we were quite surprised by that. Evidently, the mosquito population has grown exponentially because of all the rain the previous months. Even the locals were surprised by how many there were and at dusk it was near impossible to sit outside for even a few minutes without being eaten alive. Before heading back to the B&B, “Mom” called her parents, AT Trail Angels, “V&A,” to fill them in on our week. They were glad to hear from her and were delighted that we had had a great time. The remainder of the evening was spent watching some TV and reminiscing about our week. Tomorrow we would leave.

 

August 25, 2008: The Green Valley Farm to Seabrook, New Hampshire

Our journey of the Long Trail for 2008 had reached its end. We enjoyed one final scrumptious breakfast with our hosts, Dave and Marcia, and loaded our car for the drive to New Hampshire where “Mom” would be speaking at a conference of nuclear power professionals as I worked on journals at our cabin at the Wakeda Campground near Seabrook. What are our reflections on the week?

First, The Green Valley B&B was a wonderful place to rest our weary bones and eat some great food. Dave and Marcia went out of their way to meet our every need and the many shuttles they provided were far and above anything we had expected. We highly recommend their B&B to anyone visiting the Johnson/Jefferson, VT area.

Secondly, the Long Trail had not gotten any easier from the last time we were there and the months of rain made it even more difficult and treacherous. It is one of the most exasperating trails we have ever hiked and, in many respects, is much tougher than the AT. Having said this, we fully intend on returning next year and will take ten days to complete the remaining section from Smugglers Notch to Waitsfield. Hopefully, we will be in a bit better shape and will get our trail legs under us much earlier.

Third, “Mom” and I still love backpacking together. Each time we do a long hike we learn something new about ourselves and each other and our relationship grows even stronger. Being together on a trail frees us from the stress and chaos of our “real lives” and we come back physically and mentally refreshed; with a new perspective on life.

Fourth, we learned that we could enjoy hiking without a timeline and rigid schedule. We found this hike to be so much more relaxing once we resolved ourselves to the fact that we could not hike fast and that we were not going to be able to cover as many miles as we had planned. How much more enjoyable it was to just walked, unhurried, and reach camp with time to spare – time to relax, take in the mountain air, not feel any stress and just be part of all that surrounded us. For us, this style of hiking was how we would now “hike our own hike.”

Lastly, we were reminded that there is no place better to get a grip on reality than in the relaxing solitude of the wilderness. There is no noise, less the natural sounds of the forest, no stress, no set meal times and virtually no responsibility - short of putting one foot in front of the other. If we could stay out here forever, we just might.