This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
Shake’nBake drops me off at the trailhead for the long trail. It’s only 2 miles on a side trail to the start, but I stop at the shelter a mile in. So much has happened in the past few weeks that I want a night to process. Physically, I’m ready to hike, but I need to let my emotions settle first.
It’s a quick hike to the border in the morning. I snap a couple selfies, trying to make sure Chester is visible. And then I start to walk. The trail is rough, the way I knew it would be. I’m here to try and listen to my body this time, the way I totally failed to in the whites last year. If that fails, I know I’ll at least listen to Chester. I expect Chester to struggle, but the little monkey has no problems. He develops an annoying habit of waiting for me at the top of scrambles, like he’s disapproving of how long it takes me to get up. On the rare occasion that he can’t jump down from a ledge, he stands at the top, waiting for me to lift him down. I’m slow though, my trail legs gone from over a year of trail and my injuries, and my pack heavy with dog food. I’d like to blame Chester for our speed, but he is having the time of his life, jumping around, sniffing stuff and chasing birds. It takes us most of the day to reach the top of Jay peak, where a group of YMCA campers surround Chester, asking to pet him. I drop down to Jay camp. It’s only about a 12 mile day once you add in the side trail, one of my lowest ever. But I have 25 days that I have to be on trail and only 270 miles to hike. Plus, listening to my body and all that… Chester is perky in the morning, but I struggle again. Everything seems to be straight up and down, and I’m slow as I try not to bother my knee. I meet some section hikers as I climb haystack peak, a fun jumble of boulders and slabs and chatting with them distracts me from my slow pace. Chester is the star of the show as always. In the morning, the tables have turned. My hiker legs are starting to come back, but Chester is tired. He jumps on my lap when we stop, rather than tugging at the leash to keep going. I decide to do an on trail Nero- only eight miles, which we accomplish by 1, even with a break to swim in the lake. I’m not sure how to feel about our milage. It’s hard to shake the mindset of having to make miles, and that we don’t have time to swim or check out side trails. But my heart isn’t in the long trail the way it was in my other trails. It’s still my happy place, but it’s somewhere to hang out for a month in the woods while Shake’nBake is gone. Chester is still tired in the morning, despite our short day, so I throw him on my backpack. I want to try and do 15 miles, to make our resupply easier, but that’s a big day with the way the trail has been going. Luckily, the trail gives us a break. There are still some big climbs, but the trail is much smoother, making it easier to carry the pup. I do 15 easily by three (Chester did about half that,) It thunders all night and I barely sleep. I think it’s stopped in the morning, but a mile down the trail, the heavens open. Chester is already on my back and my umbrella mostly covers him. Still, it’s a wet two miles to town and we’re both soaked by the time we get there. We stop at a hiker friendly hardware store, where a nice employee Google’s Chester’s symptoms and we figure out he has harvest mites. I get some stuff to hopefully treat them along with dog food, then we hitch to town for people food for me. I check the weather and it doesn’t look good. Still, no where in town that will take Chester has space, so we head up four miles to the shelter. We have an hour or two of peace and then a kid camp group shows up before a thunderstorm rolls in. I have service on my phone in the morning, and I message with Shake’nBake for a little. It’s amazing what that does to lift my mood. I’ve been missing him so much- it’s been so nice to spend a full two months with him, and while I’ll always want to do solo adventures too, I really wish he was here. It’s a long and slippery 7 miles between shelters, with everything wet from the storm the night before. Whiteface is supposed to be the first really tough peak for sobos, but we don’t have much of a problem with it. More rain is threatening by the time we reach Sterling pond though and we’re both soaked, so I’m more than happy to sit and dry off. We go down to the pond and spend a lot of time sitting on a bench with great views of Mount Mansfield. I feel like I’m getting three thru hikes worth of chilling on the Long Trail. There’s a weekend hiker at the shelter who tells me bad weather is coming. I race it seven more miles to Taft lodge, high on Mount Mansfield. I make it just before noon, as the first showers are starting. The rain comes down hard and I’m glad I’ve stopped. I’m up early as always. We scramble up towards the summit. I’m a bit worried about some of the scrambles, so I make Chester wear his harness. We reach the top before 8am and we’re completely alone up there, despite it being a Sunday. Somehow I always manage this on mountains that are supposed to be crowded and I am so, so greatful for it. The wind buffets us as we ride along the ridge. We head down at the forehead, with its ladders and fun scrambles. Chester does great, letting me hold him and waiting until I’m ready to grab him. We pass through the needles eye, which was described as a tricky spot. I have to pivot on the scramble to grab Chester, place him on a safe ledge, then pivot back again each time I need to make a move, but it doesn’t give us any real trouble. We drop all the way down and then climb back up to spend the night at puffer shelter, which has one of the most amazing views of any shelter I’ve ever stayed at. It’s a long, hot downhill, but there’s trail magic at the bottom. There’s a three mile roadwalk, so I grab a soda to chug as we walk and a beer for later. I put Chester on my shoulders and put up my umbrella for shade. We amble between the road and farmers fields, where curious turkeys come to the edge of their pen, probably wondering if Chester is something tasty to eat. I find a river half way and dunk Chester, worried about him overheating. Then we climb up to the shelter at the base of camels hump for a sixteen mile day. It’s amazing what you can do when there aren’t any ladders! We climb camels hump in a cloud. There’s already a couple of dayhikers up there by the time we get up- making this my only new summit with no views and people on it. We drop down as the dayhikers start to ascend. Multiple people ask me how Chester is doing on the rough trail and when I say great, they say “oh, well he hasn’t done this next section yet.” This gives me pause, but each time the next section is easier than the one before. We pass through ladder ravine and up over burnt rocks. Chester wants to take breaks on the warm rock- a new development for a dog that so far has wanted to keep going over all of the terrain. It’s too rough to carry him safely, so I call it at the next shelter. It’s five miles to the road, where I wait a while for a hitch. The man has dogs in the cab, so he makes Chester and I ride in the covered bed of the pick up, but he tells us if we can be done in town in 45 minutes, he’ll take us back to the trail. I kind of wanted to shower and charge my phone and talk to Shake’nBake, but I’m not going to turn down an easy hitch, so I hustle through my resupply and am waiting on the side of the road when he comes back through. We climb up out of App gap, up over a few ladders, to Starks nest, an enclosed ski warming hut. The views are amazing and there’s lots of reading material, so I spend a fun afternoon there while Chester naps on my sleeping bag. The sunrise is beautiful, but it’s a little chilly as we head along the ridge in the morning. We’ve gone a few miles when we run into some women camping with an of leash dog. The dog runs up barking and growling and nips at Chester before I manage to pick him up. He’s unhurt, but I’m a little shaken. It’s our first negative dog encounter on the trail. Once we crest Mount Abe, there are tons of dayhikers, most with friendly dogs. I drop down to Lincoln gap. The trail is starting to get easier and I’m so ready for it. We head through brushy overgrown trail to the shelter. It’s all women there. For some reason, the long trail seems to have a higher percentage of female thru hikers- a fact that I love. It rains overnight but I head out anyway. The thunderstorms start a mile down the trail. It’s 8am. Ugh, why?? I wait it out in a hollow where I feel safe but everything is wet. I put Chester in my rain coat and keep hiking, but he’s cold and shivering. I get to a shelter and towel him off as best I can, but he’s still not super happy. I decide to stop after ten miles since I don’t want to camp in the mud. A bunch of people taking a break at the shelter including one who follows me on Instagram! It’s nice to get some hiker culture, although they all move on before sunset and I find myself alone at the shelter. Dusk is falling when I hear something crashing in the bushes, right where I left my food bag. “Hey!” I yell. The crashing gets closer. “Hey bear! Go away!” I yell louder. Chester is on high alert. I’m about to yell again when a moose pops out in the clearing. “Oh! I thought you were a bear!” I tell it. It’s hard to fall asleep after that adrenaline jolt though. The trail is easier the next day. We do fourteen miles, and while Chester is still tired, I feel like the trail is getting easier for him too. Either that or he’s getting his little puppy trail legs. There are people at the shelter that night, which I’m greatful for when a massive thunderstorm rolls in and lightning strikes near the shelter. The trail is even easier the next day. We crush 18 miles, a huge distance for Chester, so I can Nero into town the next day. We camp just 0.4 miles from Maine junction, where the Long Trail joins the AT. And then in the morning, I finish the Long Trail. There’s still a hundred miles to the Massachusetts border though and that sounds like a fun way to spend a week.