This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
I get a room at the inn at the long trail. I shower and do laundry, which I haven’t done in two weeks, charge my almost dead electronics, and, most importantly, talk to Shake’nBake. Talking to him helps, but when I head out in the morning after breakfast, that hollow pool of missing him builds inside my heart again.
I take the Pico trail up to Killington, rather than the long trail. I had an almost perfect white blaze AT hike last year, so why not do some alternates? I get on the AT and within the first hour see more people than I would in a day on the Long trail. An hour later, a SoBo thru hiker passes me and notices the patches on my pack. He fist bumps me and congratulates me on my triple crown, but it feels weird. No one cared I was a triple crowner on the Long trail. I summit Killington, which I skipped last time because it was an icy luge. It feels weird being up here and it not being snowy. There’s so many people here too, and I’m suddenly so glad I had a non traditional AT hike. The ghosts of La Copa and Footprint, who I hiked this section with, follow me down the trail- I miss my trail friends. It’s a hot day, so I drop down to the shelter I stayed at last year when Butt Tape and Tourist visited me and settle in to enjoy my hiker box book. A million people slow up until the shelter feels like a festival site. This is so different from my hike last year, with shelters to myself and the quiet solitude of the woods. People are noisy and I sleep poorly, as does Chester. A half mile down the trail in the morning I hear the rumble of thunder. It’s seven am… My earliest storm yet. I hike until it starts to rain, then throw up my tarp to wait it out. Three hours later, the rain is less, but just a mile down the trail, it starts again. I wait two hours this time, and then make another dash for it. It takes a few hours for the storms to come back and this time there is no where to stop, so I throw Chester on my backpack and open my umbrella. We climb up and up, not my favorite thing to do in a storm, until wet and grumpy, I finally find a flat spot that isn’t awful, even if it’s higher than I’d like. Around dusk, a porcupine climbs a tree by my tarp. Chester is very interested, but I keep him restrained. In the morning, toads are everywhere and Chester keeps trying to catch them. He finally bumps his nose on one, sneezes a few times and then throws up. And people told me to watch out for owls and hawks with him…. Toads and porcupines are much more trouble! It’s a mellow day as we climb and fall and follow gentle rivers through the trees. I get lost in the memories of my hike last year. It’s amazing how my memories don’t always line up with the trail, and how some things look so different when there are leaves on the trees. The next day, we climb up and up, but it’s mellow and gradual, the way the long trail in the North never was. We reach a ski hut on Bromley after 14 miles- that’ll do for the night. Hikers trickle in and we all head out to watch the sunset. In the morning, we do the same for sunrise. We run down the hill in the morning and hitch to Manchester for more food. It’s an easy hitch even with the mutt and we’re in and out in under an hour. The trail is mellow when we return to it. I make a group of AT thru hikers’ day when they spot Chester riding on my pack. The trail gets muddy after lunch, so Chester spends a lot of time on my shoulders. We reach Stratton pond in good time though, and stay at the impressive shelter there. It’s an easy climb up Stratton in the morning. It’s foggy at the top, so I miss the view, yet again. At the bottom, I have an interesting interaction with a couple that can’t believe Chester climbed the mountain, much less had hiked nearly the entire long trail. Maybe I have a chip on my shoulder from people’s reaction to a small woman hiking, but I’m starting to get really tired of people doubting him, and it’s hard for me to stay polite. Still, the rest of the day is mellow, and we stay at a shelter with a view, which always soothes my soul. We climb up and over Glastonbury in the morning. I bring Chester up the fire tower- he doesn’t love it, but after all the ladders earlier on the hike, he’s learned to trust me. It’s a long ridge walk down, which I remember being awful to come up as a NoBo but it’s fine as a SoBo. I carry Chester for much of the day, and people stop me to pet him and take our photo. There’s four young female NoBo at thru hikers at the shelter when I roll in. One notices my patches, which leads to them asking about my other trails. Somehow meeting Shake’nBake comes up and they oooh and awww as I tell them about our trail romance. It’s only ten miles to the border in the morning, but I have two more days until Shake’nBake can pick me up, so I decide to out and back to the same shelter. I’d been feeling a little bummed about not breaking a twenty mile day on this trip and this will give me a perfect twenty. The terrain is easy enough for me to carry Chester, so I throw him on my pack and away we go. I reach the border at lunch. It’s anticlimactic, the way these finishes always are. The Little SoBo bubble (three other people…) that has built up over the past few days trickles in and there’s the required photos. Then I turn around to retrace my steps. Thunderstorms are forecast for the next afternoon, so I want to make sure I can do the five miles to town before they hit. We make it easily and then there’s nothing to do except get clean and wait for Shake’nBake to come get us. I really loved the long trail in the end. Especially the northern section, with its amazing views. But missing Shake’nBake and hiking with Chester made it an incredibly difficult trail. It’s so hard to hike someone else’s hike, especially when that person can’t talk and tell you when they’re hungry or tired. I couldn’t have done a longer trail with Chester and I found that making sure he was healthy and well taken care of was very stressful. But I’m so glad I took him- him curled up in my sleeping bag at the end of the day and that adorable face trusting me when I was having a tough time made it all worth it.