This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
I’m not eloquent enough to explain how much the kindness of others has meant to me on the AT. This thru hike has been more about the people I have met than any other trail. Safety Pin and Leapfrog pick us up, feed us, and let us clean up.
I’m getting to the point in my hike where fatigue is an issue. Thru hiking is rough enough, but three summers back to back is taking its toll. My feet have grown again, so I have heel blisters and foot pain. A muscle in my hip twitches and pops. I need a mental and physical boost and Safety Pin and Leapfrog provide it. Safety Pin packs us banana bread and lunch and drives us back to the trail in the morning. It’s raining a little and our friends the salamanders are out. We hop up hills and bound back down again. Towards the end of the day, we pass Upper Goose Pond Cabin. It’s closed for the season, but I’ve heard so much about it that I have to check it out. I leave my pack with La Copa and jog to the cabin and back. By the time I get back, Safety Pin and Aspen the dog are waiting too. We hike back to the car and round two of food, showers and comfy beds. It’s the same story in the morning, except Safety Pin pushes us to do more miles. La Copa let slip that Footprint passed us, so we are no longer the first real Nobo thru hikers (I am still the first woman, now Anish is off trail, a thought that freaks me out) and Safety Pin wants us to reclaim the number 1 spot. We start out fast, but it’s roots and rocks. We make a brief visit to see Footprint, working on his blog in Dalton, but then we keep hiking. My feet ache and burn from the rough trail. We climb and drop and Safety Pin is waiting for us at the bottom. We say goodbye to Safety Pin in the morning. We are leaving Massachusetts today and she’s been so kind to us while we are in her home state. She loads us down with baked goods until I can barely lift my pack. And then there’s nothing left to do but climb, up to Mount Greylock, Massachusetts highest point. We immediately pass Footprint, taking down a soggy tent, and share some of the wealth of muffins and cookies with him. We climb up and up. Greylock is the first major climb since we crossed the Mason Dixon line, and before the summit, we get into sub alpine pine forest. Patches of snow linger in the twist of roots. We break for lunch at the summit (Pizza! Muffins! Thank you Safety Pin!) And then drop down, to climb back up to a ridge where we scramble along marble boulders. We show up to an empty shelter, but Jake shows up, and then Footprint and Scratch. Footprint has packed out beers for us, and we sit and drink them until after the sun has set. We head out early in the morning, as always. It’s slow going- blow downs cover the trail, and roots grab at my feet. La Copa is having a rough day, yawning and stumbling. We stop for a long lunch with Footprint, and then start the long climb up to Glastonbury Mountain. There’s patches of snow near the top, but nothing too major before the shelter. We say goodbye to Footprint, who is pushing on, and set up for the night. It’s a short climb to the top of the mountain in the morning. There’s a fire tower and we run up it. The sun is just over the horizon and it warms the tops of the pines below. We drop down, postholing through soft snow for a mile or so, until it turns to patches and melts out. In the afternoon, we climb Stratton mountain. While the climb up Glastonbury was long and soft, Stratton is sharp and short. It’s higher than Glastonbury, but there’s less snow up here, most of it hardened to ice. We slip and slide back down, legs skidding and arms flailing, til we get to our shelter. I’m exhausted in the morning, despite my best night of sleep in a while. The miles are getting harder and it’s taking a toll. Still, we’re able to get moving, running the six miles to the road to Manchester, with our hitch depositing us at a cafe a little after 8. We have 2 hours to kill til the gear store where La Copa has a package opens, so we eat and drink and charge our stuff. The barista figures out what I’m doing and buys my pastries for me. Everyone in the cafe asks if we are hiking and I feel like a minor celebrity. Back on the trail, we climb up and down, in and out of the snow. We climb one mountain with a ski lift at the top- luckily the snow is melted enough that we don’t see anyone out enjoying the slopes. It seems like we’re going to be postholing for the rest of the trail. In the morning, a few miles from the shelter, I check my phone. There’s a message from Tourist, a PCT friend. He’s heading up to Vermont with his wife, Butt Tape and they’re coming to hike. Where am I? We quickly coordinate a meeting in a parking lot a few miles away. The trail is rough and it takes us a deceptively long time, but Butt Tape and Tourist are waiting with hot coffee, cantaloupe and Russian pastries. They shoulder their packs and head up the trail with us. It’s much easier going than the morning, and, as most former thru hikers can, Butt Tape and Tourist have no problems keeping up. We wander along, reminiscing about the PCT and swapping stories. In the morning, I’m exhausted from cumulative nights of bad sleep from a hiker who repeatedly shows up late at the shelter. We leave quickly and quietly to try and not wake up Butt Tape and Tourist, who are back tracking to their car. A mile up the trail, La Copa stops for breakfast and tells me I’m welcome to keep going if I want. Instead, I throw down my poles and curl up with my head on my pack. I am so tired. The trail doesn’t give me much of a break though. We climb up Killington, and the snow starts 400 feet from the summit. There’s a long summit ridge and we posthole our way along, feet soaked from the streams underneath. The way down is a little better, the snow ending quickly. At the highway, we bump into Foot Print, on his way back from Rutland. We skip on a town trip, opting to hike with our friend for a little. The elevation profile for the next day is misleading. It looks a little bumpy, but in reality, this is the mean older brother of Virginia’s rollercoaster. There is no flat land anywhere: we are either going straight up or straight down. The gradient is much sharper too. I limp into the shelter after 23 miles, exhausted. I don’t get much of a break though. Thunderstorms are forecast for the morning, with a high enough percentage that even normally blasé La Copa suggests getting an early start. I wake up at 4:45 and hear La Copa stir too. It’s go time. We run, up and down Vermont’s crumpled landscape. We climb up and drop down, the path a sharp, vertical zig zag. Somehow, we average 3mph, despite the tough terrain. We reach Hanover as dark clouds build overhead. It’s 10:30, and I already want to go back to bed. Exhaustion fogs my brain and builds in my body like lactic acid building in my legs. It’s time for a break. It’s time for my first zero since Delaware Water Gap.